Archive for September, 2007



Thursday, September 27, 2007

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Tonight, in Los Angeles, at perhaps my favorite store in the world, FAMILY, C.F. is doing a rare signing (and performance) at 7 pm! He will be signing advance copies of Powr Mastrs for one and all. FAMILY is located at: 436 N. Fairfax, LA CA 90036. Be there!


CC3 Now on Sale (Duh)


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

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Because we’re basically a bunch of morons, we forgot to ever mention that Comics Comics 3 is now available for online purchase (and has been for some time). Check out the link on the right sidebar if you can’t find a copy at your local store.

And you might want to make it quick, considering how long it took for the first two issues to sell out.


CC at Catastrophe


Friday, September 21, 2007

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The otherwise basically sold-out Comics Comics 2 is apparently available for sale for at least a brief period (along with a lot of other things) at the newly re-opened and kind of awesome Catastrophe shop.

Oh my god. Get your copy while you can!

UPDATE: More on the Catastrophe shop here.

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Heatley’s on the Phone


Friday, September 21, 2007

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David Heatley, great cartoonist, contributor to Comics Comics, and interview subject in our third issue, was the most recent guest on the Inkstuds radio program.

I haven’t listened to it yet, but David’s an articulate, interesting guy, and it should be a good one. Check it out here.

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The New New


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

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Here’s some promotion for my obscure, marginal, and downright fringe-worthy little company of retarded books: PictureBox Inc. Over on the site we have images posted from our adventures in Athens and, just for you brothers and sisters in cyberspace, Brian Chippendale’s Maggots, ready to imbibed with just a click of your mouse.


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I Need To Take a Break


Sunday, September 16, 2007

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Since I’m not exactly the most prolific blogger in the world, here’s a link to a roundtable at Newsarama I was asked to participate in.

I just re-read my answer, and Jesus Christ! “Nabokov” and “mise en scène” in the same breath as Dr. Strange! If that’s not a warning sign, I don’t know what is.

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A Possibly Tedious Clarification


Sunday, September 16, 2007

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Sorry if this post is boring, but I want to highlight one recent comment from Jon Hastings, partly because it makes a really good point, and partly because it gives me an opportunity to make clear something that I haven’t been trying to say over the past few days. Hastings writes:

I find myself agreeing to all of your points, but can’t help being, emotionally at least, on Noah [Berlatsky]’s “side”. For me at least, there’s so much baggage from old internet arguments over the merits of super-hero comics vs. alt/art comics that I find it is really easy to make the kinds of mostly baseless, sweeping judgments that Noah is making here. My beef was never really with alt/art cartoonists, but rather with those comics critics (self-appointed or otherwise) who I saw as using the work of those alt/art cartoonists to attack my beloved super-hero books.

I’m not at all unsympathetic to this view, and couldn’t be less interested in using “serious” comics as a cudgel against other kinds of comic book stories. I think it’s understandable for long-time comics readers to occasionally get a bit defensive when it sometimes seems like only relatively straight, self-evidently serious works approaching “proper” subject matter (Maus, Persepolis, Fun Home, etc.) are seen as respectable in the wider world. (I don’t think this is actually altogether true, mind you, but it can feel that way.) Maus, at least, I think fully deserves its high reputation (I haven’t read the other two, which I guess should be my next homework assignment), but really, this is one more reason to say God bless Robert Crumb, the one artist to have broken through who can’t by any means be separated from the comic book’s anarchic and fantastic roots.

Over on the Fantagraphics blog, the great designer Jacob Covey also commented on this sort-of-stupid blog fight, and his take is really pretty smart, though I’ll admit I had to read it a couple times before I got some of it. Covey writes, “The subject is ‘art comics’ versus superhero comics– a distinction I already find vague and silly seeing how the two ideas rely on a black and white separation though I see a vast overlap. Not to mention that this [precludes] the one genre from ever being considered art, which is a bit presumptuous.” I agree with that comment entirely, except to say that I wasn’t trying to argue that “art” comics are inherently better than superheroes.

Covey also very kindly describes Comics Comics as “the definitive fringe art-comics periodical”, while admitting that with PictureBox as a whole, he can’t help but feel “there’s a bit of validity-through-outsiderness going on at times.” I can’t speak for PictureBox (though I imagine Dan might take some issue with that), but at least in terms of Comics Comics, that couldn’t be further from our intention. That’s why we’ve covered so many “mainstream” subjects in the first place, from Dick Ayers and Steve Gerber to Alex Raymond and the Masters of American Comics show. Whether or not we’re successfully realizing our goals is of course for others to judge.

In his second post, Berlatsky made at least one point that I really agree with: “The cultural space within which a work is produced, and the way it is received, has a lot to do with a medium’s health.” If critics are capable of doing anything at all (and they may not be), they can help shape that cultural space. There are many great traditions in comics, from the Harvey Kurtzman legacies of comic satire and unglamorous war and historical stories, to superhero tales (which at their best can be wonderfully surreal and pregnant with political subtext and sometimes just silly fun), to less easily classifiable work like that of Fort Thunder and Jim Woodring, and a whole lot more besides. All the various contributions of Japan and Europe and elsewhere should be included, and yes, I think that comics that deal with real life in an at least somewhat realistic and serious manner should be, too. Few readers will, or should, find all kinds of comics equally to their taste, but the cultural space I would like to encourage has a place for all of them, and will judge each work on its own individual merits, not on arbitrary generic guidelines.

Again, I apologize for this kind of boring stuff, but I don’t want to be misunderstood, and thought it might be good to have this on the record.

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Some Not-So-Fancy Footwork


Friday, September 14, 2007

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So Noah Berlatsky has responded to my last post, and while he does clear up a few misunderstandings, his response basically provides a clear demonstration of my point: he makes a series of over-the-top judgments and claims, based on apparently arbitrary or contradictory premises, and with little or no evidence to back up his theories.

Here is what we learn:

  • The creators of “art comics” are overwhelmingly obsessed by memoir and literary fiction.

    [Berlatsky does not say what he means by “literary fiction”, or provide examples. There exist many, many examples of comics — Jim Woodring, Julie Doucet’s dream comics, Gary Panter’s Jimbo, Teratoid Heights, Marc Bell, much of Love & Rockets, Paper Rad, Charles Burns, Kim Deitch, etc., etc. — that I don’t think would fit, whatever his definition might turn out to be.]

  • Memoir and literary fiction are very close to the same thing, and hardly “separable”.

    [I don’t know how to respond to this, other than that I don’t understand it. Again, a definition of “literary fiction” would be helpful.]

  • The cartoonists’ “obsession” with realistic subject matter stems from “a desire for literariness and respectability,” a desire Berlatsky sees “as being linked to the pulp past.”

    [This is his key assertion in both posts, and he really should back it up. I don’t want to simply repeat the substance of my last post, but as I mentioned before, other than a few cartoonists who have dabbled in, parodied, or expressed their affection for the genre, it is difficult to identify any younger cartoonists who seem very exercised about superheroes one way or the other. Surely there must be some evidence somewhere for his main thesis…]

  • All memoir and all “contemporary literary fiction” can be described as tedious, pretentious, and self-absorbed.

    [Again, Berlatsky gives no examples, and no definitions of his terms, but is still quite comfortable providing a very broad-brushed condemnation of two enormous genres.]

  • Elegy and nostalgia are also more or less the same thing, and therefore elegy is “just about the worst of all possible modes for art”.

    [Wordsworth, Whitman, Yeats, and Rilke: your stock is dropping!]

  • Michael Chabon’s novel, The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, is the “best example” of a comic book striving for literary respectability.

    [One would think that the absence of pictures would disqualify this.]

  • Berlatsky is happy to use Daniel Clowes as a scapegoat for all the “problems” of alternative comics, but doesn’t feel the need to read the bulk of his work before doing so.

    [Check out his description of Clowes’s comics in the comments of his post: “His stories seem magical-realist in a really perfunctory way that seems completely New Yorker ready.” Are we supposed to take this judgment seriously, applied to the creator of “Needledick the Bug-Fucker”, “Why I Hate Christians”, and “Dan Pussey’s Masturbation Fantasy”?]

  • “Manga is an incredibly vital and diverse art form, with standards of craft and storytelling that leave most American comics whimpering in pitiful little puddles of incompetence.”

    [So what are we to do with all those manga that deal with real-life situations and people, not a superpower or magic spell in sight? Are those manga also “obsessed” with literary respectability? Or is Noah only defending giant-robot and ninja stories?]

There are several other hidden assumptions and unproven assertions and conflations in Berlatsky’s post, but this has gotten boring enough already. In the end, here’s what I take away from his posts: Berlatsky doesn’t like the fiction published in The New Yorker, and somehow, superheroes are to blame.

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A Manifesto Against Vague Manifestos


Thursday, September 13, 2007

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Noah Berlatsky, frequent contributor to The Comics Journal, is a sharp, perceptive, and almost always provocative critic, though he indulges in critical overkill and scorched-earth tactics far too often for my taste; his judgments often appear over-the-top, and based on arbitrary or contradictory premises. That being said, I almost always read his work when I see his byline, which is more than I can say for most comics critics.

Berlatsky recently started a blog, and his post from yesterday is an excellent example of what I often find so maddening about his writing. It’s a pox-on-both-your-houses piece, claiming that both superhero comics and “alternative” comics are fatally flawed for certain, aesthetic reasons. I don’t want to pick on Berlatsky in particular too much for this, because it’s a depressingly common argument, but I’m frankly tired of hearing it.

He begins by deriding today’s superhero comics as largely formulaic exercises in nostalgia, and that seems to me an at least arguably fair judgment; I can’t think of many exceptions. He then goes on to describe alternative comics as the flip-side of the same coin.

[S]uper-heroes still hang over the art comics like giant, four-color, cadavers. Alt comics seem to be constantly looking up nervously at these suspended, bloated monstrosities, feebly protesting, “What that…oh, no, *that* doesn’t have anything to do with me. We just came in together accidentally.” Or to put it another way, alt comics have a huge chip on their shoulders, and they have responded by rejecting everything super-hero in favor of Serious Art — which, alas, often means seriously boring art. Why on earth is autobio and memoir the standard for art comics? Is there an imaginable genre which makes less use of comics’ inherent strengths — the ability to represent fantastic, magical situations with charm and ease? The answer’s pretty clear: it’s the very boringness which appeals. Alt cartoonists are desperate not to be associated with super-heroes, and the best way to do that is by becoming literary fiction. God help us.

As I said, this is becoming a common position (Douglas Wolk made a somewhat similar argument in his flawed but interesting Reading Comics, as did Marc Singer in his Mome takedown a while back), but I really don’t understand the basis for it. Where are all these boring, serious art comics overreacting to superheroes? Is it really that hard to find comics that aren’t memoir? Or any that aren’t obsessed with distancing themselves from superheroes? Aside from possibly a few members of the older guard, I find it hard to apply that criterion to nearly anyone.

At least Berlatsky has the courage to name names, unlike A. David Lewis in his anti-autobio Publishers Weekly rant from earlier this year. (Berlatsky should read Tom Spurgeon’s response to that, by the way.) But his supposed culprits (Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, The Comics Journal) only make his argument more confusing. Clowes and Ware rarely write explicitly auto-biographical comics, and Clowes is responsible for probably the funniest, most merciless satire of boring memoir comics ever (“Just Another Day”, Eightball #5, rivaled only by Johnny Ryan‘s “Every Auto-Bio Comic Ever Written”). Of course, Berlatsky has admitted to having read very little of Clowes, so he may not be familiar with that particular story. (He is partly right about The Comics Journal, which sometimes allows its reviewers far too much room to go on about themselves rather than the work at hand, but I doubt that was his intended point.)

It is true, I suppose, that when Ware and Clowes reference superhero comics, they usually do so through parody or satire, though I think it is far too simple to categorize their approach to the genre as simply contempt or as an attempt to distance themselves from it. Clowes’s Death Ray is one of the best superhero comics I’ve ever read, and while his Dan Pussey stories are fairly devastating in their treatment of superhero comics, they don’t exactly treat the “art comics” world with kid gloves, either. I would also argue that Ware’s references to Superman and Supergirl in his Jimmy Corrigan and Rusty Brown stories are just as much elegiac as critical.

Outside of those two artists, it’s hard to think of cartoonists struggling against superheroes at all. Gary Panter and the Hernandez brothers have made no secret of their affection for the genre, Jeffrey Brown and James Kochalka make decidedly friendly parodies of it, and most alternative cartoonists of today seem more than happy just to ignore it altogether. (Note that ignoring the genre is not the same thing as “constantly looking up nervously” at it.) It’s true that some older cartoonists, such as R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman, and Bill Griffith, haven’t been shy about badmouthing superheroes, but even they have been willing to champion superhero artists they think are worthy, such as Jack Cole and Fletcher Hanks. In any case, when those artists began working, it made some sense to distance themselves from the superhero genre, which still overwhelmingly dominated the public conception of comic books. These days, I don’t think many younger cartoonists care one way or the other about it.

I think the main problem with Berlatsky’s complaint is a confusion of subject matter with form. At the risk of being pedantic, let me explain. Recently, superhero stories have arguably been better told through movies than in comics. Many of today’s superhero comics, slavishly attempting to recreate cinematic effects, are consequently often closer to glorified photo-funnies than real comics. This, however, does not mean that the superhero comics of Kirby, Ditko, Toth, Cole, etc., are any less purely “comics”. They were told by gifted artists and masters of the comics language, who knew how to exploit the medium’s strengths.

Likewise, just because a cartoonist chooses to tell a realistic story about ordinary life (subject matter that has historically more often been tackled in literary prose than in comics), it does not follow that the resulting comic is therefore “literary”. Both Ware and Clowes know the language of comics as well as anyone, and have innovated hugely within the form. It is hard to think of any cartoonists more engaged with comics history. And whatever your opinion of their merits, it is likewise difficult to imagine works more purely “comics” than Building Stories and Ice Haven. I can name maybe a handful of current artists who might actually fit Berlatsky’s description, creating dull, pseudo-respectable “literary” comics stories and apparently unable to or disinterested in fully utilizing the language of comics. On the other hand, I can think of scores of innovative, engaged cartoonists who are advancing the form in many different genres without seeming to worry about literary respectability at all.

Berlatsky’s conclusion also baffles me:

In moments of hope, I think that in twenty years Chris Ware and Dan Clowes and the Comics Journal will all be seen as a quaint detour in the history of the medium, and comics will be a hugely popular, aesthetically vital medium mostly created by women in a manga style. That’s not because I hate Chris Ware or the Comics Journal (I don’t). It’s just because I think, overall, it would be a better direction to go.

Again, this is a not uncommon refrain from comics readers, but its logic escapes me. I have nothing against manga, the best of which seems to me to be just as artistically valid as anything created in North America, and the inclusion of more female voices would be an obviously healthy development, but I will never understand so many comics readers’ apparent desire for “hugely popular” comics, and the implied belief that that popularity goes hand in hand with being “aesthetically vital”. While there are many popular works of art that are also aesthetically vital (Dickens), there are at least twice as many aesthetically vital works that will unfortunately never be hugely popular (Melville).

I don’t care if comics in the future are aimed at 13-year-old girls or 31-year-old boy-men or both or neither. I don’t care what genre they fit into, or what country they’re produced in. All I want are comics that are good. Hoping that cartoonists of the future ignore the best American cartoonists of the recent past, especially for reasons that don’t make a whole lot of sense, doesn’t seem like a particularly promising way to go about getting them.

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We Made it


Monday, September 10, 2007

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The show went up in Athens on Saturday night. Here are some pix of the installation.

And here’s the press release:

Andreas Melas Presents

Curated by Dan Nadel for PictureBox Inc.

Leonidou 15
Athens Greece

Opening reception September 8 12:00 pm-12:00 am.

8 pm, September 8: Live Performance by Blak Pus

Andreas Melas presents Macronauts, a group exhibition in two parts:

The ground floor finds Brian Chippendale, Jungil Hong and art collective Paper Rad, all based in Providence RI, collaborating on a deep space travel adventure via autobus and mini buses. Accompanying them are a variety of earthly spirits and images which serve to delineate all-encompassing cosmic wonder.

The first floor holds an extensive works on paper exhibition by 24 artists from North America, France and Japan. Heirs to the 20th imagist tradition these artists have moved into the new century with a sly combination of word play, psychedelia, cartoons, and sheer chaos. What emerges is a comprehensive statement about the world of personal image making and expression today.

In these two floors Macronauts is a voyage into the pop underground: vibrant pictures, forms and populations hurtle forward, scrambling up the hill, trampling diseased boulders and half-assed scrawls, gaping and peeking, just below the Parthenon, here in Athens, in this September of 2007.

Two floors:

Ground floor: An installation by Paper Rad, Brian Chippendale and Jungil Hong

Mezzanine: A works on paper show featuring work by:

Marc Bell
Brian Belott
Rebecca Bird
Melissa Brown
Bjorn Copeland
Frederic Fleury
Leif Goldberg
Tomoo Gokita
Ben Jones
Sakura Maku
Eddie Martinez
Keith McCulloch
Taylor McKimens
Panayiotis Terzis
Gary Panter
Erin Rosenthal
David Sandlin
Frank Santoro
Patrick Smith
Matthew Thurber
Michael Williams
Andrew Jeffrey Wright

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