Author Archive

Lynda Barry


Thursday, February 24, 2011

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Late last year, I met with Lynda Barry to discuss her new book, Picture This, for The Paris Review. But Barry is an inveterate talker, and in addition to the book itself, we covered bad editors, the glory of Drawn & Quarterly, gaps in comics history, and her giant crush on Charles Burns. That part of the conversation continues here.

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Where did the near-sighted monkey in Picture This come from?

Well, I like to draw monkeys. I had been drawing a lot of the meditating monkey—I talk about it in my book—and then I started drawing that monkey with glasses on it. It’s definitely a self-portrait. So I had drawn one and we were broke, so I was trying to figure out stuff to sell on eBay. People will buy monkeys and I like to draw them, so this seems like a natural. I did this little near-sighted monkey and asked my husband if he would do some of the watercoloring. (My husband’s a brilliant watercolorist. He’s so good. He can draw everything far away. We always say I can draw stuff close up and he can draw stuff far away.) So when I got it back, the stuff he had done in the background was just like, Whaaa! We probably did about twenty of them back and forth, and I’d sell them on eBay. Then I was sending them to Drawn & Quarterly, just because they were funny and cute, and I think it was Peggy who really liked them, so they wanted to do a little book of just those pictures. But I had this whole other idea. So the book kind of expanded out of just the monkey pictures.

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Dexterous platitudes


Monday, November 8, 2010

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I’ve been doing research recently on Lynd Ward (whose wordless woodcut novels were just published by the Library of America). I found a trove of New York Times reviews of these early books—they all appeared between 1929 and 1937—and in each, the reviewer has a hard time taking the material seriously.  Take, for instance, a 1933 Times review of Prelude to a Million Years. The review is by John Chamberlain, a syndicated columnist and book critic.

What the ‘reader’ will make of a series of woodcuts which tell this story is conjectural. For our own part, we wish Mr. Ward would employ his dexterity in catching shades of emotion in the illustration of other people’s written stories. The art of painting, or of the woodcut, by its very static nature, is not a good medium for drama, which must march. It is a platitude, of course, to say this, but the platitude has not yet convinced Mr. Ward.

Aside from the laughable “critical” faculties at work here, it’s interesting that the idea of pictures standing in for words seems such a difficult concept to grasp. Chamberlain feels that pictures in books are for illustration; they are secondary to the words and ought to play a supporting role. What might he have said of a comic book, in which words and pictures work together, often on equal footing?

The reviewer’s small-minded conception of the medium makes this quote by Ward, part of his 1953 Caldecott acceptance speech, in which he so succinctly describes what comics alone can do, all the better:

No other medium in which the artist can work has that particular element to offer, and it is that one thing that makes the book a form something different for the artist from what it is for the writer. It is true that the writer works with a succession of words, paragraphs and chapters that because of their sequence in time have a significance completely dependent upon that time sequence; but the turning of the page is not essential to that sequence, and, save at the end of the chapter, is more often than not likely to be an interruption that is tolerated rather than utilized for its own sake. For the artist, however, the turning of the page is the thing he has that no other worker in the visual artist has: the power to control a succession of images in time, so that the cumulative effect upon the viewer is the result of not only what images are thrown at him, but the order in which they come. Thus the significance of those coming late in the sequence is built up by what comes earlier.

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Vanessa Davis


Monday, October 11, 2010

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I’ve really been looking forward to Vanessa Davis’s new book, Make Me a Woman. I’m a great admirer of Davis’s zaftig ladies and of the minimum of lines she uses to describe them—round, undulating, bumpy, and squiggly, but always lively. The image blown up on the cover is a great example: The long, rubbery curve of the figure’s leg, foot, and arms, the off-kilter half-moon toenails. The tiny smudges of red polish outside the lines, which signifies her imperfect painting technique, is splendid. I also love her characters’ upturned noses, bubble mouths, and the occasional double chin. She’s generous in the way she draws people, not just in size (not everyone is voluptuous) but also in breadth. These autobiographical comics—divided between published strips and pencil drawings from her daily diary—are often as much about her as everyone around her. (more…)

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A Drunken Dream


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

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I saw Joe’s post that included Moto Hagio a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve had the galley of the book in hand for a while. Still, not being a big manga reader, I didn’t expect to like the stories nearly as much as I did. But then smartly done genre tales make for some of the best literature, comics, film, etc. What I liked most about the different pieces in
A Drunken Dream is the psychological form of sci-fi she employs (strictly speaking, the title story is the only sci-fi one, but I think a looser definition that incorporates the social aspects of the genre also applies here). I thought often of Tarkovsky’s Solaris. The idea of a reality that is simultaneously real and imagined—like Rika’s appearance to herself and her mother as an iguana, or the little girl sitting on her front step joyfully appreciating a world in which she is an aberration for doing so—are very much the same as Kris Kelvin’s unreal existence in his very real past on the surface of the planet, at the close of Solaris. (more…)
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The Orange Eats Creeps


Monday, August 23, 2010

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That’s a pretty good title, right? It’s the name of a novel by Grace Krilanovich that I’ve just started reading. Here’s the cover:

Look familiar? Let me help you out. (more…)

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Westermann and friends


Monday, August 9, 2010

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Judging from Frank’s most recent posts, he’s spending this month swimming and drinking, which is the way to play it in August. Sadly, I have no pool and I get drunk really easily, so I went to art galleries instead. Lucky for me, though, I discovered a small show of lithographs, woodcuts, and linocuts by the great and massively influential H.C. Westermann at George Adams Gallery. In addition to a few superb color works, such as Red Deathship, from 1967 . . .

. . . the show includes his “Disasters in the Sky” series, small black-and-white linocuts that depict futuristic cities and horrific plane crashes.

The mask-like faces, like the one above, resemble Basil Wolverton’s grim, rubbery caricatures. Some from this series seem to suggest a narrative, and I thought of wordless novels, like Laurence Hyde’s Southern Cross and any one of Lynd Ward’s books. Westermann, Hyde, and Ward all wrote/drew tales with a political, antimilitary stance. The city’s undulating architecture and elevated, snaking roadways made me think of Jimbo‘s La Bufadora, which would be a great place to spend the summer—poolside clambakes, robot fights, special group rates. (more…)

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Russian Comics


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

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In 2005, I went to Russia, and my husband and I decided we would look for Russian comics while we were there. I tried asking in bookstores, but the clerks all gave me a funny look and said no. We finally found a few random copies of something called 2002, which looks pretty terrible, but no stores carried anything that approximated what you’d find at bookstores in the US (that said, our chain bookstores—Border’s, Barnes & Noble—have shit selection of anything other than Marvel and DC collections). Just lately, I started reading José Alaniz’s Komiks, which is the first study of the form in Russia. (It was published by the University of Mississippi Press, which—side note—has a great catalog of comics criticism, including books by Charles Hatfield, Joseph Witek, and CC’s own Jeet Heer.) So I started digging around on the interwebs for some translated materials, but again, there’s not much. There seems to be plenty of creating going on in Russia (there are now two international festivals: BoomFest in St. Petersburg, and KomMissia in Moscow), but it’s hard to tell how much of the work is any good. My guess is that the brilliant-to-crap ratio is probably the same as it is in the West. So here’s a slightly random selection of some work in translation and some that’s not. (more…)

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Comics Are for Kids!


Monday, July 12, 2010

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Last month, I wrote an essay for an online magazine about Birgit Jürgenssen, an Austrian feminist artist whose heyday was in the ’70s and ’80s. In 1994, she issued a booklet called BICASSO Jürgenssen. (It looks exactly like the kind of hand-drawn, simple zines Nieves publishes.) Turns out it’s a facsimile edition of a journal she kept in 1957, when she was 8. She’s unschooled as an artist (she’s 8, so yeah), but in copying works by Picasso—hence the conflation of her name and his to create “Bicasso”—she’s clearly trying to work out some basic ideas while also exercising her imagination. BICASSO Jürgenssen made me think of Brian Chippendale’s Ninja, which incorporates drawings he did in sixth grade into a larger story completed nearly two decades later. All of this made me wonder if there are other comics that are similarly built around work or ideas from childhood.

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Al Columbia Interview


Saturday, June 5, 2010

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Last fall, not long after Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days was published, I interviewed Al Columbia. I thought he might be a tough subject, reticent to talk about his work and himself, but he was quite the opposite: thoughtful, friendly, and easy to talk to. I liked him quite a bit, in fact. If you haven’t already bought the book, do it now.

NICOLE RUDICK: How often do you work during the day?

AL COLUMBIA: Pretty much from when I get up till I go to bed.

You draw all day?

That, and other things. These days, I don’t draw as much as I did a couple years ago. A couple years ago, I would work from when I got up to when I went to sleep, but that would either be a very long day or two days in a row. I spent a lot of time pushing that, going into two days and getting very little sleep and waking up and doing it again. I became very obsessed with what I was doing at the time. For many years, I wasn’t getting very much sleep. I was just working, working, working, working—until it just seemed to turn in on itself, and it became a weird experience to draw, a little less pleasurable. Not that it’s always pleasurable—it’s hard work—but it seemed to scrape at something inside—deep inside, actually—that made me uncomfortable. So I don’t draw as much as I used to.

When did you start?

Really young, very, very young, two or three. I remember seeing Dorothy, from The Wizard of Oz, on the television and falling in love with her. I tried drawing her face, and I remember it didn’t look right. So I drew it again, and it didn’t look right, and I drew it again. I got really upset: I kept drawing her face over and over until I got it as best I could, so I could remember her until next year, when she was on TV again. Back then, they would only show The Wizard of Oz once a year, so that was the only time I would get to see Dorothy. I was kind of heartbroken.


New Issue of The Believer


Friday, May 7, 2010

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The new issue of The Believer is out and is chock-full of comics goodness. First up, the fifth installment of Alvin Buenaventura’s “Comics” column. Some great work by Jonathan Bennett, Lilli Carré, Tom Gauld, and others. And Charles Burns ruins eggs for all time.

“Spiritual Dad,” a story by Jesse Moynihan and Dash Shaw, is tucked in the back of the issue. They’ve printed it vertically on a long section of folded paper, so it reads kind of like a scroll.

Gabrielle Bell’s done a strip (in glorious color!) that adapts a poem by Russian writer Sasha Chernyi about springtime and seasonal affective disorder in gnomes.

And finally, my interview with Dan Clowes, which covers a lot of his comics work—including his new book, Wilson, which really is phenomenally good—and his film projects, including the sad demise of his Raiders of the Lost Ark script. Burns, The Believer‘s resident cover artist, asked Clowes’s permission to make him look horrible for the cover image. It worked. His face frightened my kid. Somehow it manages simultanteously to be quintessential Burns and Clowes.

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