Archive for June, 2006

MoCCA Was a Hoot


Sunday, June 11, 2006

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But now we’re pretty tired. Comics Comics was launched with only one actual gun fight along the way. Here is contributing editor Ben Jones’ cartoon impression:

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Reminders, et cetera


Thursday, June 8, 2006

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You’ve read the blog, you’ve absorbed the hype, now it’s time to actually see what Comics Comics is all about. Could Dan be the new generation’s Art Spiegelman?! (Wha’!?) Only one way to find out – come out this weekend and buy all his junk!

This weekend, Comics Comics will debut at the MoCCA Art Festival in New York City’s Puck Building. Stop by and pick up the premiere issue, t-shirts, and the latest PictureBox releases. Many great artists and cartoonists will be at our table throughout the weekend, including Paper Rad, Frank Santoro, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Gary Panter, Matthew Thurber, David Sandlin, Taylor McKimens, and Jonathon Rosen.

Besides the magazine, PictureBox will be releasing:

Two new comic books: Cold Heat #1, by Ben (Paper Rad) Jones & Frank Santoro, and Incanto by Frank Santoro.

Two new books: Gore by Black Dice and Jason Frank Rothenberg, and Me a Mound by Trenton Doyle Hancock.

Jessica (Paper Rad) Ciocci’s limited run artists’ book, Pig Tales.

A series of large offset “posters for your dorm room or crash pad” by Brian Chippendale, Gary Panter, BJ & Frank Santoro.

And of course, Dan’s amazing new anthology, Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries 1900-1969, just published by Abrams.

If you can only pick one day to attend, make it Sunday, as Dan will be presenting a slide show based on his book at 4 pm.

(Personally, if I didn’t have to be at the convention all weekend, I’d spend Saturday at the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party in Madison Square Park or the Phil Karlson double feature at the Film Forum. You can do whatever you want.)

Then, this Saturday night, between 7 and 9 pm, join us for our magazine’s launch party at Participant Inc in the Lower East Side.

Beer and other beverages provided.

95 Rivington Street
NYC, NY 10002

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Quick Barks Follow-Up


Thursday, June 8, 2006

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Bryan Munn was recently kind enough to link to this site, and he had some kind things to say, for which I’d like to thank him.

He also took issue with my invocation of Robert Louis Stevenson in the post about Carl Barks:

Barks did manage some interesting social satire and his storytelling and dialogue are very sharp, but Robert Louis Stevenson? Maybe it’s just because one of my old perfessors was an editor of the Complete RLS, but I don’t see the complexity of plot or theme in the decidedly adult work of Stevenson mirrored in Barks. Now when we compare Stevenson’s drawing to Barks…

I have two quick things to say in response.

One, I did write, “in some ways”…

And two, I did not intend to compare the complexity of Barks’ work directly to Stevenson’s, which is why I wrote, “In some ways, Barks’ place [italics added] in comics is similar to Robert Louis Stevenson’s in English literature.” Meaning that the grace and apparent ease they display in their story-telling leads many to misunderstand or underestimate their work.

I certainly didn’t want to imply that Barks’ duck stories are as complex as Stevenson’s writings. Though I’m not altogether sure that they aren’t. I’d have to think about it a lot more than I have heretofore.

In any case, generally, I’m not sure if it is really wise (or fair) to directly compare the work of two artists working in such different media. Making comics is different than writing prose, and the techniques involved (and the responses generated) are probably too divergent to make a one-to-one comparison. What they are trying to accomplish is simply too different. Likewise (to use a different art as an example), it would probably not be very fruitful to take, say, Goya’s war prints, set them side-by-side with Ambrose Bierce’s Civil War stories, and proclaim, “Goya’s more complicated”, or vice versa.

Well, it’s all too complicated for a quick post like this one. Food for thought, as they say, and thanks again to Munn.

UPDATE: No one say anything about the (unwise, unfair) Hergé/Tati thing below. I don’t want to hear it. Just pretend it never happened.

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Current Reading List (With Notes)


Thursday, June 8, 2006

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In alphabetical order:

Apocalypse Nerd #3, by Peter Bagge
I know a lot of people have been disappointed with this series, but I’m really liking it. Definitely an improvement over his last effort, Sweatshop (though I liked that, too). The first issue was a little lackluster, but that was mostly scene-setting, and so can perhaps be forgiven. With this issue, Bagge seems to have really hit his stride, and it’s interesting to see a cartoonist who’s mostly dealt with kind of “slice-of-life” social satire (for lack of a better term) change gears and deal with a more fantastic premise. If you don’t like Bagge in general, you probably won’t like this, but if you do, and gave up early, this is worth giving another chance.

The Comics Before 1945, by Brian Walker
I started reading this mostly out of a sense of obligation (what with having to find things to talk about for this blog and all), but have ended up enjoying myself a lot more than I anticipated. I’ve only gotten through the “Turn of the Century” section so far, but this is a really nice anthology and history. Even Outcault clicked with me this time, which has never happened before. After I finish this, it’s back to the Blackbeard books.

The Great Comic Book Heroes, by Jules Feiffer
I just re-read this actually—it only takes an hour or two. If you don’t know, it’s a very insightful and pointed, if too short, essay on Golden Age superhero comics. Feiffer’s take on Superman was somewhat infamously stolen by Quentin Tarantino for a David Carradine monologue in Kill Bill, Vol. 2. Which is kind of interesting, considering what Feiffer writes about the high prevalence of swiping amongst comic book artists back in the day. (I’d hate to think the practice still goes on.) Probably fodder for a blog entry of its own, even, comparing attitudes about swiping between filmmakers and cartoonists. If I felt a little sharper, I’d write it.

Tintin in America, by Hergé
This, too, I picked up as homework. I’ve read very little Hergé (just a few albums about a decade ago) and decided to try again, starting at the beginning (or at least as close to the beginning as I could get without visiting eBay for out-of-print books). The conventional rap is that Hergé didn’t really get good until a few volumes later, but I found this pretty terrific. Gangsters, cowboys, Indians: all the great American tropes of the 1930s, seen through a slick, Continental style. Somewhat reminiscent of Jacque Tati‘s films, only actually funny, instead of just theoretically so.

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Anonymous Psychodramas


Wednesday, June 7, 2006

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It may seem as though we are hopelessly mired in old comics, but maybe that’s the mood we’re in right now. There’s plenty of interesting current work and I’m sure we’ll get to that soon. But, for now, take a look at this original art by Chic Stone and Bob Powell from Tales to Astonish 67. Like a lot of the work I’m most interested in now, the linework, pacing, and compositions are pretty generic, but on each page there are some indelible images. Check out the middle tier on this one. There’s real drama in that sequence, as hokey as it may seem. Or, how about the top right panel here? Note the wonderful scale shift (shades of Little Nemo) and the sense of suspended flight. And of course there’s also unintentional (?) camp here. So what makes these images so powerful? It’s these dramatic moments, stripped of all extraneous adornments, that make these kind of comics worth seeking out. I wrote a longer piece about a related topic in our debut issue. Anyway, as pen and ink drawings (as opposed to the color printed comic pages) these images remind me of the components of paintings by the likes of Christian Schumann, Trenton Doyle Hancock, and Gary Panter all masters of placing mostly mute “characters” in what their mutual teacher, Lee Baxter Davis, calls “psychodramas”. Of course, these artists take it all much further with their use of paint, surfaces, etc., but in some ways the principle is the same: tension-filled narrative image making. Somehow, though, I think of Stone and Powell and their peers as accomplishing small miracles: enacting dramas in the unlikeliest of places and eliciting surprising reactions.

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The Good Duck Artist


Tuesday, June 6, 2006

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This won’t be a comprehensive essay on Carl Barks, but I do want to begin by saying that if Barks isn’t part of your personal pantheon of great cartoonists, you really owe it to yourself to check out his work.

Barks wrote and drew more than five hundred comic stories about Donald, Scrooge, and the other famous Disney ducks, and is directly responsible for much of the lore surrounding them. (In fact, he created Scrooge McDuck personally, though he never signed his stories, and only belatedly received credit for his role.) Many of the stories are among the greatest humorous adventure stories of all time. And amazingly, Barks didn’t start working as a comic book artist full-time until he was in in his forties.

The story I want to focus on (briefly) is from a 1956 issue of Uncle Scrooge called “Land Beneath the Ground”. As you might guess based on the title, it’s a Hollow Earth story, loosely in the tradition of Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

It begins when Uncle Scrooge reads a newspaper article about an earthquake in Chile, and worries that a similar quake may endanger his beloved money bin. Check out this rather shoddy scan of an early sequence:

I love how relaxed his story-telling is. Barks’ tales move with an impressively swift pace, but flow so smoothly that it’s easy to underestimate the grace and skills necessary to craft such a natural-seeming story. (On his good days, Peter Bagge displays a similar, seemingly artless story-telling ability, albeit within a much more profane milieu — part of the reason he’s so often underrated, in my opinion.)

Barks rarely shows off, but his technical mastery is almost always evident. A little later in the story, after Scrooge and Donald disappear into an exploratory underground tunnel, Huey, Louie, and Dewie descend to look for them. They come to the end of the trail and the page …

At the top of the next page, Barks turns things around:

That’s just beautiful, though the effect is a lot more dramatic and effective in context (if that doesn’t go without saying).

His sense of space is outstanding, and helps him to create a feeling of awe all too often absent from most of today’s “mainstream” adventure comics, no matter how many planets and universes are destroyed in them.

I’ll let you discover the rest of the story yourself. For the most part, this isn’t complicated, theoretical stuff that needs a lot of explication to understand, anyway. In some ways, Barks’ place in comics is similar to Robert Louis Stevenson‘s in English literature. They’re both so masterful that sometimes they’re taken for granted, their contributions to our culture overlooked or dismissed as children’s stories. Examine their works closely, however, and their qualities are manifest.

Apparently, Barks originally had aspirations to create more realistic, “adult” adventure comics, a la Hal Foster‘s Prince Valiant. Though Foster was no slouch, for my money, Barks, despite all of the many restrictions he worked under as an anonymous cog in the Disney machine, was able to create a world of danger and splendor even stronger and more enduring.

Someone needs to reprint (again) Barks’ best stories in the durable format they deserve. For now, eBay and cheap collections will have to do.

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Comics Comics Release Party!


Monday, June 5, 2006

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Come join us to celebrate the release of Comics Comics!

Saturday, June 10th, 7-9 pm

Beer and other beverages provided.

95 Rivington Street
NYC, NY 10002

The lovely image above is the cover to our first issue, by Jessica Ciocci. It is available as a poster (see right), and the Comics Comics logo is also a fine t-shirt!

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What Harry Lucey Knew


Monday, June 5, 2006

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Not to go on too much about my book, Art Out of Time, but while getting this blog up and running it seems a good source of material. Anyhow, a few major artists were left out of my book because their work was mostly anonymous and for licensed characters. They just didn’t fit. Perhaps my biggest regret is cutting Harry Lucey (1930-1980?), who, like so many of the other men who entertained generations of children, remains as anonymous in death as he did in life. His career in comics began in the late 1930s and he bounced around various companies in the 1940s, drawing such features as Madam Satan, Magno, and Crime Does Not Pay. In the early 1950s he helmed Sam Hill, creating some wonderful stories in the Roy Crane/Milt Caniff/Alex Toth tradition of lush brushwork and cinematic compositions.

He spent most of his life, however, drawing for MLJ, which published Archie, among other characters, and later simply became Archie Publications. Lucey became one of the lead Archie artists, drawing the freckle-faced teenager and his pals throughout the ’50s and ’60s. He took some breaks from the business to work for an advertising agency in St. Louis, but otherwise was dedicated to comics.

Like Ogden Whitney, at first glance Lucey’s work on appears to be generic and undistinguished, but a closer look reveals the artist to be a master of body language, or, in more concrete terms, acting. Every aspect of a Lucey figure is drawn to express what that character is feeling at that moment. Posture, position, and facial expression are all geared towards maximizing that moment in the story. Take a look at this Sam Hill page by Lucey, and note the precision of his character’s movements, particularly Sam Hill’s relaxed smoke rings panel. Lucey was certainly influenced by film, but brings a cartoon economy to the proceedings that can only be accomplished in, well, comics. And, take away the words (as Lucey did in a remarkable Archie story, “Actions Speak Louder Than Words”,) from a Lucey story and readers still know precisely how each character feels and what that means for the plot. In that sense, Lucey’s cartoon characters seem alive on the page like few others.

The only real inheritors of this tradition are Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, whose Love and Rockets stories continue to be among the most eloquent and passionate comics drawn in the world. They, like Lucey, tell their stories through their character’s precise actions on the page, a topic addressed very nicely by Frank Santoro and Bill Boichtel in the debut issue of Comics Comics.

Anyhow, in most years Lucey penciled and inked a page a day, drawing the complete contents of the Archie comic book every month. Towards the’60s, Lucey developed an allergy to graphite, and reportedly wore white gloves while drawing. In the 1970s he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, and, sometime later, cancer. He refused treatment for the latter and died in Arizona in the late 1970s or perhaps 1980.

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By Way of Introduction


Friday, June 2, 2006

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Dan and I are relatively new to blogging, so it may be a while before this blog (and the magazine it’s related to) turn into the zeitgeist-changing juggernauts they’re destined to become.

In the meantime, I thought it might be a good idea to introduce ourselves.

Dan and I (along with the brilliant painter and Web designer Patrick Smith) worked together on the early issues of The Ganzfeld, a journal which, since my departure from its pages, has become a pretty amazing, sort-of-annual publication of art, comics, and design with very few peers.

Now, we’re putting together something a little different, Comics Comics, a magazine devoted entirely to comics, which we hope will fill in some of the gaps left empty by current comics criticism. It includes reviews, editorials by working cartoonists (the first issue’s op-ed is by Paper Rad), comics by such luminaries as Mark Newgarden and Matthew Thurber, interviews, lists, essays on comics past and present, and other whatnot. Also, it’s free. (You should be able to find it in the same kinds of places you can pick up Arthur.)

Here’s a quote from the introductory essay in our first issue, which should be available in most areas in the next couple of weeks:

This magazine aims to document contemporary and past comics from a pluralistic, affectionate, but critical standpoint. Many of our contributors are cartoonists themselves, and are in a unique position to offer their personal takes on the medium. One particular goal of Comics Comics is to shine a light on corners of the medium that we feel are underexposed (such as the work of Jessica Ciocci) and to examine the work of more celebrated artists (such as Wally Wood) from new angles. We’re also interested in the comics library, and to that end feature book reviews that span the whole history of the medium, from the obscure and out-of-print to the popular and widely available. In each issue, we will feature reviews, essays, and interviews, as well as more unusual features, and, of course, comics from our contributors.

I guess that’s it for now. In the future, posts will probably be a lot more informal. And more frequent.

Next week, I’m going to try to talk about a great Scrooge McDuck story from a new, excellent, and cheap Carl Barks collection, which I highly recommend purchasing if you don’t already have any of his stuff.


One other thing I should probably make clear in the interests of full disclosure: I am married to the cartoonist Lauren R. Weinstein, so any mention I might make about how her new book Girl Stories is one of the best comics releases of 2006 should possibly be taken with that in mind.


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Shameless Spouse Promotion


Thursday, June 1, 2006

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Girl Stories: The Comic Book, Live!

Lauren R. Weinstein, Patrick Hambrecht, Joe McGinty, Joanna Choy, Maura Madden, Rufus Tureen, Bob Sikoryak and Julie Klausner

With the release of Girl Stories, a collection of comics by Lauren R. Weinstein, comes a night of teenage trauma fun! Weinstein presents a multimedia performance of some of her cartoons, including “Morrissey and Me,” “John and I Go to the Movies” and “The Tub.” Sound effects provided by Patrick Hambrecht of Flaming Fire. Musicians Joe McGinty and Joanna Choy (Loser’s Lounge), comedians Maura Madden and Rufus Tureen (Two for the Show), cartoonists Bob Sikoryak (The New Yorker, The Daily Show, Nickelodeon) and Julie Klausner (Free to be Friends) invoke their inner teenagers.

Wednesday, June 7 at the 92nd Street Y’s Makor Center in New York.

Tickets are $12 in advance; $15 at the door.

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