Archive for July, 2006



Monday, July 31, 2006

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The summer is whizzing by. Tim and I are hard at work, sort of, on the next issue of Comics Comics, which should be out in time for SPX in mid-October. There are some fine goodies in store.

Anyhow, after making a fuss and posting about Diamond Comics last month, I never really followed up. After the publicity and support that followed their initial rejection of PictureBox, Diamond reconsidered and has now taken me on as a vendor. It’s a funny thing, the comics community. It remains small enough that the community can, in fact, sway large companies. So, I’m pleased with the outcome, naturally, and while my pride is a bit bruised I feel good about being able to get the books and comics out to as wide an audience as possible. Thanks for reading and chiming in.

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Canons and Blog Blargh


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

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Well, Tim brought up an interesting point in his Monday post. He is quite right that I may have overshot with my comments and is also correct that Barry could stand with Spiegelman and Ware (as could, I would argue on a better day, Aline Kominsky Crumb and easily Julie Doucet). Any converstion about women-in-comics has to basically start with 1968 and move forward. There wasn’t much before then that rises above good, solid cartooning. And nothing on par with the likes of Herriman. But there is a ton after that. Of course, that’s the problem with exhibitions that arbitrarily settle on a number like 15. I understand the desire to want to create a canon (though I disagree with it–canons are so last century.) in order to provide a focus, but I think being a little loosey goosey with the numbers and adding Barry and the Hernandez Bros would have vastly improved the curators’ credibility.

History is a funny thing, yes. Melville and all that. Or Frank King and Tatsumi, for that matter. What’s fascinating about today’s history-making is that so many choces are guided by knowledgable cartoonists, not historians. Ware for King and Tomine for Tatsumi, for example. This has often been the case in other media, but what’s so interesting in this case is that there simply aren’t any historians or critics who command the same respect as Ware, Tomine, et al. I think that is changing, but slowly. And for now, I’m thrilled to have such pro-active (and wise) cartoonists leading the way into the past. And yes, who is to say who will pop up later? I think, for example, that in future years Rory Hayes will emerge as a definitive influence on the 90s and 00s and Gary Panter’s influence on visual culture in general will equal (if not surpass) Crumb’s. And along the way, some long lost female cartoonist from the 50s might emerge. I doubt it, but maybe.

Anyhow, the most interesting thing about the Masters show reaction was found in Sarah Boxer’s Artforum essay, in which she astutely pointed out that it wasn’t only the absence of women in the show but the way women were presented in all of the work in the show. That is, if I remember correctly, women were either absent or villains or cypher, which is an astute observation about comics in general. I wish I could remember a bit more of the argument…Anyhow, it’s an interesting point, and once that should be pondered a bit more.

Ok, over to you, Tim.

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Making Up for Lost Time


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

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Speaking of artistic reputations, sometimes—and it’s not a good habit really, I know—sometimes I find myself unwilling to respond to things simply because they are praised. If everyone is talking about how great a particular movie or book or comic is, I often feel like skipping it entirely, because anything that’s that well-liked probably isn’t all that good.

That approach serves me well in many cases, protecting me from such things as The Da Vinci Code, but sometimes, it also obviously deprives me from enjoying excellent work. In general, though, I feel like anything really great that’s also really popular will survive long enough for me to catch it a few years down the road.

On a somewhat related note, I know I’m the last regular comics reader on the planet to discover this, but Kevin Huizenga‘s a really good cartoonist!

I’m not sure why, but until recently, his work has never really clicked with me. It never seemed bad exactly—I always found it competent enough, and well put together, but somehow it struck me as kind of bland and inessential. (Though I did immediately like Huizenga’s excellent adaptation of J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Green Tea” in the otherwise mostly underwhelming Orchid anthology.)

But people whose taste I respect (including Dan and my wife, among many others) kept telling me he was worth another shot, and recently I picked up Ganges #1. It’s an extremely impressive book, and it finally enabled me to recognize the ambition and care evident in almost all of his comics.

An advance reading copy of Huizenga’s upcoming collection Curses came my way soon after, and, though I’d read most of the stories before, this time they opened up to me, and seemed far richer and more interesting than they had previously. His comics are quietly literate and unassumingly innovative, and I especially like the way he incorporates science and nature. Sometimes, especially in stories like “Time Travelling” and the one about starlings whose title I can’t recall, Huizenga shows the same kind of cosmic depth that Brian Aldiss recognized in Thomas Hardy, a “tremulous awareness set against the encompassing mysteries of space and time.”

I don’t remember who first said it about whom, but it’s a truism that for genuinely original artists or writers, you have to look at or read their work a lot before you actually learn how to really see it. Nabokov’s like that, as is Krazy Kat, as is Henry James, et cetera. It’s good to remember that sometimes, when a book doesn’t work for you, it’s not the writer’s fault, but the reader’s. Not always, not even often, but sometimes. Not to put Huizenga in quite this company in terms of accomplishment—I don’t want to make unfair comparisons—I think that’s the case here, or at least it was for me. (Or perhaps I simply wasn’t trying hard enough the first time.)

Alluding to Thomas Hardy may give the wrong idea, and I don’t want to mislead the few of you who haven’t already read Huizenga. He’s still a young cartoonist, and doubtless his best work still lies in the future. But his work is truly impressive, and I only slightly regret waiting so long to really engage with it, because now there’s much more for me to read, and re-read.

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No More Promises I Can’t Keep


Monday, July 24, 2006

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It figures that as soon as I finally got around to publicly committing myself to a blogging schedule, I’d suddenly get swamped at work, find the air-conditioner-free book-strewn hellhole I call a “home office” rendered uninhabitable due to a heatwave, and generally find any excuse I could not to write.

Which basically just goes to show that transparency in business is overrated.

In that spirit, let’s get things restarted with a little intra-blog debate.

Last week, Dan wrote:

There’s been a lot of hoopla about the lack of women in the Masters of American Comics exhibition opening in New York in September, most of which I think is misguided. There aren’t any because, for most of the century comics were created almost exclusively by men. There’s no way around that.

Proceeding with all due caution into these dangerous waters, I think that Dan is generally right, but not entirely so.

For a couple of reasons. One, the exhibit does go all the way up to quite recent cartoonists, including Art Spiegelman, Gary Panter, and Chris Ware, and even if there weren’t many great women cartoonists in the old days (or at least not many who could actually be considered “Masters” by way of prestige and influence), that’s not necessarily true later on in the century.

As Chris Ware himself suggested in an April letter to ARTnews about their November cover story, Why Have There Been No Great Women Comic-Book Artists?, at least one great 20th century woman comic-book artist does exist, and Lynda Barry could (and should) have been included in the exhibit. Like any good comics “pundit”, I take my marching orders from Mr. Ware, and in this case, as always, he is right.

Secondly, as the older history of comics is further explored, you never know who or what is going to turn up. As Dan himself showed in Art Out of Time, sometimes great cartoonists fall through the cracks, and it can take years or decades before their work is rediscovered (if ever). Who knows what visionary, now-forgotten female cartoonists will find their way into the future canon?

Reputations change with time, as Melville’s did (for the better), and James Branch Cabell’s did (for the worse). One hundred years from now, their positions may reverse themselves once more.

In some future millenium, when museum curators are putting together an exhibit of “20th Century Cartooning Masters”, Boody Rogers may well be hung on the same wall as Milton Caniff, without anyone even realizing that in the actual 20th century, their names would never be uttered in the same breath.

Until that glorious day, let us find whatever small disagreements we can, and argue about them with passion and force, so that the time may pass more swiftly…

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A New Show


Thursday, July 20, 2006

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A few months ago I was asked by Adam Baumgold to curate a show of female cartoonists at his gallery. The show is set for a September 6th opening. I’m normally averse to comics shows and particularly to gender-specific shows of anything, but, given the lack of recognition given to all of the below artists, it seemed like it might be a good idea. There’s been a lot of hoopla about the lack of women in the Masters of American Comics exhibition opening in New York in September, most of which I think is misguided. There aren’t any because, for most of the century comics were created almost exclusively by men. There’s no way around that. But, by opening my little show at the same time as the Masters show, hopefully audiences can see that, yes, female cartoonists do indeed exist. In fact, I’d argue that between them Lauren Weinstein, Carol Tyler, Megan Kelso and Renee French probably released the best comics of the year so far. My choices are highly subjective–I simply based it on who I feel is doing the most visually inventive work at the moment, with a bit of an anchor in the history as well. There are tons of artists excluded, but, well, that’s my job. Anyhow, what follows below is the press release for the show and a few images as well.

Telling Tales: Contemporary Women Cartoonists
Curated by Dan Nadel

Genvieve Castree
Roz Chast
Jessica Ciocci
Julie Doucet
Debbie Drechsler
Anke Feuchtenberger
Renee French
Phoebe Gloeckner
Megan Kelso
Aline Kominsky-Crumb
Amy Lockhart
Diane Noomin
Jenni Rope
Dori Seda
Anna Sommer
Carol Tyler
Lauren Weinstein

Adam Baumgold Gallery is pleased to present Telling Tales: Contemporary Women Cartoonists. Telling Tales is a subjective look at the last four decades of comics drawn by women.

Long a boys club, comics have, since the rise of the late 1960s underground, opened up to women as a medium like any other. Unfortunately, most current historical surveys are notable not only for the absence of women artists but also the absence of women as protagonists or even subjects in the medium itself. And while a gender-based exhibition might marginalize women even further, Telling Tales seems necessary as a slight corrective to the usual historical narrative.

The seventeen artists included here were chosen for their unique points of view and their idiosyncratic approaches to cartooning. All are free from the usual stylizations of comics, making stories that rely as much on line and mark as narrative and dialogue. Each artist has made an indelible mark on the medium, including Aline Kominsky Crumb, who helped revolutionize comics drawing with her scratchy line and brutal abstractions; Debbie Dreschler brings an unthinkably dense patterning to the medium; while Renee French’s lush pencils convey meaning in each stroke. Younger artists, such as Lauren Weinstein and Amy Lockhart, have appropriated old genres, such as confessional and superhero comics, and used them for their own purposes. The larger story of these artists is swiftly evolving and Telling Tales will be just the first chapter of this long artistic narrative.

Amy Lockhart:

Megan Kelso:

Debbie Dreschler:

Anna Sommer:

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Shameless Self Promotion — & More!!


Thursday, July 13, 2006

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First, yes, another review of Comics Comics (the magazine) is in, this time from the redoubtable Tom Spurgeon at the Comics Reporter. (Is that the right way to use “redoubtable”?) Read it here:

“The hilarious thing is that this works.”

Second, it has come to my attention that many (two) of our readers have been asking whether or not our magazine’s content might be made available here on our site. It pleases me to announce that a crack team is currently working on the related technological problems, and some time in the near future you’ll be able to read the amazing Comics Comics features and stories you’ve only heard about right here online.

Third, (and here you readers are privy to confidential business discussions) Dan, I think you’re worried too much about whether or not the comics we talk about here are “mainstream” or not. I don’t know whether that term even means anything any more, for one thing. Also, as you say, great “underground” comics don’t come out every day, and we don’t want to cannibalize pieces that potentially might work better in our magazine. In my opinion, we should just write about anything comics-related that we think is interesting, and forget about everything else. As I’m sure you’d agree, we just don’t want to become a typical comics blog, reviewing all of the week’s releases. Other sites already do that, and probably make a better job of it than we would, anyway. This blog is intended only to fool readers into thinking that the magazine might be worth picking up, or more importantly, considering it as a venue for advertising. (NB: we have very reasonable rates.)

Fourth, for those of you wondering about our publication schedule here, Dan and I both hope to contribute two or so posts each week. Right now, other PictureBox publication demands mean that Dan probably will not be posting quite that often, at least until things die down. In any case, at least three out of five weekdays should feature new content.

Filler ends here.

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Junk Rules


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

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As promised, here I’ll delve into some American and Japanese manga. But first, an aside. Does it seem odd that Tim and I are digging into mostly mainstream titles? It is, a little. For my part, in some ways the obscure stuff seems easy, and I’m more interested at the moment in trying to understand the popular stuff. I really like good genre stories the way I like, say, that new Nelly Furtado song. They do something that nothing else does—it’s very pure entertainment, not to heavy, not too light. Just fun for me. And I’ve had way more fun with this stuff than with my periodic dips into the superhero mainstream. In fact, I’m kind of hooked in the same way I get hooked on shows like “24”. These comics are unvarnished, unpretentious works—they’re very well crafted and, operating on their own scale, very successful. Ultimately that’s the present appeal for me. Underground-or-whatever-we’re-calling-them comics are so often interior affairs (except our beloved Hernandez Bros. and Bagge) all too infrequent (except for Kevin Huizenga’s Or Else series, which thankfully just keeps popping up) and mainstream comics are by and large burdened by untenable ambitions, so Manga is a good middle ground. Also, unhampered by genre constraints, most manga is concerned primarily with telling plot-based stories, which is, believe it or not, rare in this narrative medium.

First up is the first three volumes of the 10-volume Dragon Head by Minetaro Mochizuki. It’s a pitch black apocalyptic story that begins with a massive underground train disaster which is survived by just three teenagers: Teru, Ako and Nobou. The first two books form a scarily meditative narrative of life underground, as psychological phantoms and physical depravation take hold of the kids. The third finds them wandering out into a blurry, decimated Japanese landscape. Despite it’s disaster-movie trappings, Dragon Head is very much about the interaction between the survivors. It’s essentially a plot-driven character study. And while I sometimes cringe at the cartoon acting here, as well as the overdone anime-style storytelling, what occurs within the story is compelling. Mochzuki manages to make convey the shattering conditions without dipping into gratuity or melodrama. The tone is just right, and it’s quite scary.

Monster by Naoki Urasawa is a wonderfully histrionic murder mystery/soap opera. Pitched somewhere between Days of Our Lifes and Alfred Hitchcock, it follows an ambitious young doctor through his up and down career, which includes sinuous ties to a string of murders and the killer himself. It’s all rather complicated, but, as with Dragon Head, addictive. I’ve only read the first volume but certainly want to continue, if only to find out what happens. Is it great comics? Not really, but it’s extremely proficient. Monster does exactly what it needs to, and the spiraling melodrama (sex, death, doctors, etc etc) is fun. It lifts you up and takes you with it. That may be the secret of this kind of storytelling: it’s insistent and immersive, demanding that you both continue reading and actively empathize with the characters.

Well, that’s it for now. I can’t quite tell how insightful I’m able to be about the stuff. It’s very pleasurable, which as Jules Feiffer made clear in his The Great Comic Book Heroes, is the appeal of so much junk. But it’s summer and junk rules. Next time I’ll try out Scott Pilgrim.

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Making History


Monday, July 10, 2006

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In an attempt to beat Dan to the manga-reviewing punch, I recently read the first volume of Path of the Assassin, another ninjas-and-samurai epic from Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, the writer/artist team most famous for the legendary Lone Wolf & Cub series. I read the first four or so volumes of the Lone Wolf series a while back, but eventually got bogged down by the endless sword fights.

It was impressive enough, though, that I decided to give them another chance, especially since this Path of the Assassin series is 1) much shorter, and 2) more directly concerned with ninjas, which I’ve never seen handled in any kind of intelligent way before. (I’m sure Cold Heat will be an exception.)

Maybe ninja stories usually fail because assassins are basically repellent people; I don’t know.

In any case, I liked the first volume of this, though I have to admit much of the feudal politics and gender roles are a little off-putting. I don’t know what Japanese audiences make of this material, but 16th century Japan is almost totally alien to me, which is actually one of the things about it I found most appealing.

In fact, comics seem almost ideally suited as a medium for historical fiction (or non-fiction, for that matter). Unlike in straight prose, the comics artist can immerse the reader directly into the world visually, with unfamiliar clothing, vehicles, and tools depicted accessibly and immediately.

Movies can do this, too, but they aren’t able to easily impart a lot of the factual and contextual information needed without resorting to often clumsy exposition. (“Ever since Custer fell, Butch, the Sioux have been restless.”) Comics, on the other hand, can seamlessly include textual notes, glossaries, maps, et cetera, directly into the story.

Of course there have been many great historical comics. The late, lamented Jack Jackson specialized and excelled in them; and he could always be relied on not to cut out the good parts. Harvey Kurtzman’s period pieces from Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat are still considered by many people (including me) to be a high-water mark for the medium.

This obviously isn’t a comprehensive list, but I’m somewhat surprised that more cartoonists haven’t attempted historical work. Joe Sacco’s Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde are at least partly in this vein, but I can’t think of too many other contemporary artists that apply. (Probably the comic book I am most looking forward to is R. Crumb’s adaptation of Genesis, especially after I learned that he was using Robert Alter’s astounding translation and annotation of the Five Books of Moses as a source.) Oh, and I almost forgot Maus! And Tezuka. And Jacques Tardi

Anyway, time to end the rambling. I imagine that the biggest single reason that historical comics aren’t more prevalent is economic: research takes time, and readers aren’t particularly interested. (Jackson didn’t get rich off Comanche Moon, and Kurtzman’s war comics had to be subsidized by more popular EC series like Tales from the Crypt.)

And I guess, like a lot of things that I wish were better about the world of comics, that’s just the way it goes.

UPDATE: The more I think about it, the more period comics occur to me, from Enemy Ace to the World’s Fair sections of Jimmy Corrigan. I don’t know if that supports my post, or hurts it, or both.

UPDATE II: And Louis Riel! Maybe I’m just stupid…

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Stop Gaps


Thursday, July 6, 2006

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Here’s the problem with running a magazine and a blog: there’s just not enough time. I’m in the midst of closing my Brian Chippendale and Julie Doucet books and editing the next Ganzfeld. Things are hectic. That said, I have been meaning to write a lengthy blog entry on some new Manga and Scott Pilgrim. So much so that I keep carrying the books back and forth from home to office and back again, looking for the spare hours to sit down and write. I expect to find them over the weekend. Until then, here’s a totally lame list format blog entry.

Current Comics Reading List (from memory):

Enigma by Peter Milligan. This odd 90s relic from Vertigo Comics is, well, really odd. I hope to write about it extensively when I’m done.

Sub-Mariner in Tales to Astonish. Bill Everett rules.

I tried to read Civil War from Marvel, just to see…like dipping a toe in the ocean. Man, what a drag. Superhero comics these days are so dour. This is no exception. Kinda boring and short on any real appeal or insight.

Monologues for the Coming Plague: A remarkable new book from Anders…it has the kind of light hearted philosophical heft of William Steig books from the 40s and 50s. Searching, funny cartoons.

William Steig original drawings at Adam Baumgold Gallery. 13 original drawings from The Lonely Ones. These are more lush, striking and daring than I ever imagined, and I already loved the book. Steig, like Steinberg, burns so bright on the page.

Power of 6 by Jon Lewis. One of my favorite cartoonists from the early 90s boomlet returns with this superhero comic. It works–funny, exciting, and authentic. It’s so nice to see his drawings again.

Various Paper Rad mini-comics. I’m combing through for some old material for an upcoming Paper Rad digest book.

Eddie Campbell’s Fate of the Artist. I’m not sure what to think yet. Campbell is a fascinating cartoonist, and this oddly formatted tome is no exception. But I’m still reading it and wondering about it.

Oh, and also various issues of Alter Ego. Hmm.

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Cover Artist Makes Good


Thursday, July 6, 2006

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Comics Comics cover artist Jessica Ciocci has an excellent solo exhibition opening tonight in New York. Here are the details:

Jessica Ciocci: P.E.A.C.E.
Foxy Production
617 West 27th St.,
July 6th-August 4th.
Reception: 6-8 pm.

Don’t miss it!

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