Archive for March, 2010

April Conversations & Events


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Wednesday, March 31, 2010


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I’ll be touring my BodyWorld book in April and doing conversations with different people at some of the events.  I’m hoping to record a few of these, like the ones with Paul Karasik and Chris Ware and Frank Santoro, to post here on Comics Comics.  It depends on how embarrassing they turn out. 

Info under the cut…

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Jack Rules


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Wednesday, March 31, 2010


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Coming May 1, 2010: “The House That Jack Built”. Over one hundred pieces of art by Jack Kirby (and co.) from the 1940s to the 1980s on display at Fumetto in Lucerne, Switzerland. I put this exhibition together with Paul Gravett and we’re both extremely excited about what we believe is the largest Jack Kirby retrospective ever mounted, and his very first in Europe. Among the treasures on display: A complete Fighting American story; stories from the unpublished Soul Love comic, a complete Fantastic Four story, numerous covers and splashes, pencils, remarkable character sketches from the 1940s, paintings, and a lot more. And yes, the credits will be fully visible, as will a brief essay on his past (and his estate’s present) difficulties with Marvel. I’ll say more on this later, but I want to publicly thank Rand Hoppe and the Jack Kirby Museum for so much help. That museum web site is a wonderful overlooked resource. Check it out.


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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/31/10 – Human War! Robot War! FORMAT WAR!!)


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Tuesday, March 30, 2010


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Last week I picked up another fine artifact from the centuries-spanning Fantagraphics empire, this time on the sound recommendation of Milo George – Doofer: Pathway to McEarth, a magazine-sized 1992 comic book primarily written and illustrated by the late Paul Ollswang, working with Taft Chatham & James Carpenter, all authentic “Oregon Hippes,” goes the back of the book. I’d say they don’t make ‘em like this anymore, but they barely made ‘em at all back then, unless I’ve missed some rich vein of socio-political-sci-fi satire-by-way-of-’60s-underground-homage-by-way-of-early-20th-century-Sunday-funnies running circa the Image Revolution. This actually might be the all-around least fashionable comic of ’92, which naturally makes it an eminent candidate for revisitation.

And what a strange and compelling thing it is: an ostensible prelude to a four-issue miniseries titled McEarth, Fast-Food Planet (never published in any form, as far as I know), the book compacts a hodgepodge of verbally fussy, philosophically digressive pun-laden strips from as far back as 1982 with a text-heavy comics ‘documentary’ on the mundane-fantastical Doofer, OR, from the pages of Fantagraphics’ own Graphic Story Monthly, sealed up with radio commentary from high above space-time and cruised-through by town mayor Obie Jacoby, a possible Ollswand stand-in. We’re told with winning prescience that by far-off 1997 an “information revolution” had united Earth into an interconnected mind that somehow got collectively dumber, and a tipping point was reached with the introduction of “Google-Ooh’s”(!!), the advertising jingle for which became a terrorist weapon capable of holding a listener forever in its catchy thrall, not very much at all unlike the titular amusement of the late David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel Infinite Jest.

But while Doofer is likewise dense with concern for the overload of manufactured narratives that is its parodic future, it’s more than happy to hang above the real strife, positioning itself as a fond, scatterbrained account of something that used to bedevil blinkered humans as well as less pliable funny animals, like fast-talking heron Slocni and ex-Weather Underground pup Rube, who grow misty over the revolutionary potential of the ’60s while under educational film surveillance. They seem even older, in that Ollswang (who credits Carpenter with “all of the difficult drawings”) works in a mannered, cohesive style suggestive of some lost-to-time gang of Hearst players dragged into a twilight of crosshatched silhouette. And dig the lettering!

As I mentioned above, nothing more was seen of Doofer, although Ollswang put out two issues of a separate series titled Dreams of a Dog with Rip Off Press, along with various anthology contributions and small works. I can’t say the saga had much (really any) time to take off, but what we’ve got is endearing in its off-handed ambition wedded to a distinctly regional flavor and, sure, a definite nostalgia for things, cast more as fuzzy recollections from well outside of dictated history. So, out of style.

Now for some current well-hyped selections. “It’s gonna be okay – & everything is going to be made completely out of electricity!!

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Jesse Marsh by Tom Oreb and also…


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Monday, March 29, 2010


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As Art in Time gets closer to the big reveal I thought I’d begin to post some extra images I have by or of the cartoonists included. Here’s a rare photo of Jesse Marsh (with pipe) out for a day of sketching with animator Tom Oreb sometime in the late 1940s.

On another note, I stopped by Thirty Days NY, the space/shop that David Kramer and Sammy Harkham are curating in Tribeca (sponsored by Absolut Vodka and TBWA/Chiat/Day) opening April 8. It’s going to be a knock out.

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The Kinkiness of Russ Manning & Other Notes


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Friday, March 26, 2010


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Who Wears Short Shorts? Robot Fighters, That's Who.

More notebooks, mostly relating to The Comics Journal:

Panter as Talker, Manning’s Kinkiness. Gary Panter was in Toronto last night speaking at our local art’s college and of course I went to hear him. Among his many other talents, Panter is, along with Lynda Barry and Art Spiegelman, one of the greatest talkers in the comics world, indeed one of the world’s great talkers period. He’s lived a great, rich life and has a storehouse of stories but more importantly he can, like Barry, talk about creativity with a directness and honesty that forces you to rethink all your fundamental assumptions. And, like Spiegelman, Panter knows more about the history of art than the entire faculty of your typical Ivy League university. During the talk, Panter mentioned that as a kid he was attracted to Magnus, Robot Fighter in large part because of the kinky short shorts (or was it a proto-mini-skirt) Russ Manning had the hero wear.

This reminded me of the great Arn Saba interview with Manning which ran in the Comics Journal #203. During the interview Manning asks Saba if he’s read the Tarzan novels. Saba says no and the following exchange occurs:

Manning: It is a superb novel. And in it, Jane is about to be raped by the big ape and that’s just the theme he used all the way through it.

Saba: I was aware of that from reading the comic versions of it, yours included. Yeah, I think it’s a fantastic thing, that imagery, because in this primeval jungle you can take primeval sexuality and symbolize it through all these various creatures: the women with the hairy brassieres and all these things … [laughs] I’m embarrassed to say I notice these things and react to them.

Manning: Well, I hope my readers do.

Saba: The fact that all the women in Opar have these strange, long, pendulous, fur things hanging down between their legs – they’re very penis-like things! [laughs] That’s what they look like to me, anyway.

Manning: Just cloth.

Saba: Cloth, but they’re so long and sinuous. [laughter]

Manning: I don’t know if that came out in just a design sense or instinctual or what. They probably look right, so I drew it that way.

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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/24/10 – Snow, Swedes & Orcs)


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Tuesday, March 23, 2010


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From A Drifting Life

No messing around – the book I’m most excited to see this week is Drawn and Quarterly’s annual Yoshihiro Tatsumi release, Black Blizzard. I’m always glad to see further Tatsumi in English, although I wonder if my enthusiasm for the the raw nerve agony of his in-the-thick-of-it gekiga work is especially transferable. I’m reminded of a short, critical piece Bill Randall, my choice for the best manga critic writing in English, did on D&Q’s 2008 story collection Good-Bye; he cites the deluxe format lavished on the work by its North American publisher, a real whiff of prestige given to obscure-in-their-time comics, mostly forgotten in Japan and “as subtle as pissing in someone’s face.”

Yes! Exactly! That’s why I like Tatsumi’s work: it’s unrefined, maddeningly dank stuff, the work of an early comics pioneer staggering bleary-eyed into a terrifying, uncertain future and lashing out nervously at every envisioned hell in a titanically blunt manner. One of the best things about 2009′s autobiographical doorstop, A Drifting Life — as lulling and-this-and-this-and-this-and-this a steady rolling comics memoir as one can imagine — is how it contextualizes Tatsumi’s status as a comics innovator as coming much earlier: a post-war, post-Tezuka appreciative reaction from longing for bigger, stronger comics, mostly ‘darker’ genre things like crime and mystery stories. Only at the very end of the book (which is apparently still continuing in Japan) do we get a hint of where Tatsumi’s dramatic picture obsessions might take him, and from that we can infer a most idiosyncratic development from slightly-more-mature genre comics into punch-to-the-mush city terror and perpetually radiating war.

Funny how American and Japanese comics seemed to link up just a little bit in the ’50s – two takes on a medium gradually maturing by way of increasingly harsh genre comics, albeit with manga a little ways behind. I think a close examination of some actual Japanese work of the time will nicely emphasize the substantive differences in formal approach, not the least of which was Tezuka’s fascination with cinematographic principles, inspiring I think an especially potent visual emphasis on early manga that facilitated the decompressed, atmospheric style Tatsumi develops (as a character) in A Drifting Life. Or, if comparative studies isn’t your thing, at least the speculation can become more informed as to how Tatsumi’s own crime/mystery/adventure comics mutated into… Yoshihiro Tatsumi as introduced to North American readers, as opposed to the sleeker genre stuff of peer Takao Saito’s Golgo 13, which started up in 1969 – the same year as the work collected in The Push Man and Other Stories.

This is why Black Blizzard may prove to be the most valuable ‘classic’ release of the year, even though some will regard it as plain juvenilia. It’s an old crime comic from a young Tatsumi, who blew through its 100+ pages in the space of 20 days in 1956, while also working on the monthly proto-gekiga anthology Shadow. A pianist is falsely imprisoned for murder, and escapes while shackled to a more dangerous man, all in the midst of highly inclement weather. Expect many slashing diagonal lines and cinematic techniques, and a perfectly handsome $19.95 softcover treatment. A few sample pages are here.

And there’s plenty more where that came from.

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Word Balloons in Visual Space


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Monday, March 22, 2010


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Clowes' "Wilson", from The New Yorker

Joe’s excellent post on thought balloons got me thinking about comics balloons (or text frames) in general: not just thought balloons but also word balloons, narrative boxes, and labels (like the famous arrows in Dick Tracy which diagrammatically call attention to two-way-radio-watches and other items of interest). It would be great to have a history of text frames in comics. There have been stabs here and there by scholars. Thierry Smolderen’s “Of Labels, Loops, and Bubbles” in Comic Art #8 is a good start.

About thought balloons: When did they emerge? I know Harold Gray was very chary of using them: he only used thought balloons a handful of times in his 44 year run on Little Orphan Annie. I think this was deliberate. While his characters where gabby they were also secretive – this is true not just of Warbucks but even Annie, who never says all she knows. Gray wanted to keep his characters mysterious, hence he avoided thought balloons.

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