Archive for November, 2009

Quite hits: Barks and Tomine


Saturday, November 14, 2009

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1. I’m a regular reader of The New Left Review and a constant re-reader of Carl Barks’ duck comics. So I was naturally delighted to see in the latest issue of NLR has a long disquisition by the German belles-lettrist Joachim Kalka on the disappearance of money as a material object, reflections that lean heavily on the writing of Leon Bloy and the comics of Carl Barks. Kalka’s essay can be found here.
An excerpt:

Carl Barks’s comic-book stories of Uncle Scrooge—a spin-off from the Disney cartoon series—offer a canonical encyclopaedia of libidinous relations to money. His Scrooge is obviously related to Dickens’s miser and kindred topoi of European comedy from Molière to Antiquity; but he far surpasses these classical embodiments of avarice. Uncle Scrooge’s famous money-bin contains a hilly landscape made out of coins, interspersed with banknotes, in which he spends his time. He likes to announce the ritualized programme of actions the money-drive imposes on him with reiterated phrases: ‘I dive around in it like a porpoise—and I burrow through it like a gopher—and I toss it up and let it hit me on the head.’ Clearly recognizable in this trio of money joys are three movements of any playful child: leaping into the pond, rummaging under the duvet and—the earliest gesture of delight—tossing toys high up into the air. The impressive massif of Uncle Scrooge’s money, the backdrop and punch-line of so many of Barks’s stories, might by its sheer volume obscure the crucial fact that for Scrooge McDuck (‘world’s richest duck and darn well going to stay that way’) all coins are individual. This gigantic accumulation of ‘dough’—to use the idiom of Scrooge’s disrespectful antagonists, the Beagle Boys, a gang of safe-crackers for whom indeed only its volume counts (which, according to the magical laws of this narration, in the end prevents them from pulling off a successful robbery)—is for Uncle Scrooge a concentrate of intimacy, in which every item is
saturated with memory.

2. This Canadian Business article has already received some attention from the comics world. I just wanted to point out that for any Adrian Tomine completists out there, the print edition of the magazine is worth acquiring since it has a fine full-page Tomine illustration of Chris Oliveros, a portion of which I’ve pasted above.

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Wally Wood And Jack Kirby


Friday, November 13, 2009

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I read Jeet’s post about Jack Kirby and Dave Sim and thought about Kirby in the early ’70s. Specifically, his transition to DC from Marvel. So, I went down into my basement and dug out a DC comic from 1971. It’s a “Super DC Giant” reprint of all the Kirby Challengers of the Unknown material inked by Wally Wood. When were they first published, the late ’50s? And then I tried to imagine Wood being part of the Fourth World material, just inking one of the books like Vince Colletta did for Forever People. And then I smoked a cigarette. Man, that would have been amazing. For me, anyhow. They could have really turned up the romance angle. Look at those girls. Hubba Hubba.

Can you imagine Big Barda inked by Wood? Oof.

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Dave Sim Versus Jack Kirby


Thursday, November 12, 2009

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Anyone interested in Dave Sim should try and get a hold of copies of Comic Art News and Reviews, a fanzine he frequently wrote for in the early 1970s.

As a teenage fan, Sim interviewed and analyzed many major creators who shaped his art, including Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, and Jules Feiffer. In retrospect, the Feiffer essays Sim wrote are particularly piquant because the young fan praised the alternative cartoonist for his insights into gender relations. Who knew back then that Sim would grow up to be a character out of Carnal Knowledge?

Equally ironic is an outburst against Jack Kirby that Sim penned in the very first issue of Comic Art News and Review. Sim was upset that Kirby had been given too much artistic freedom by his editors at DC:

I maintain, as I have for some time, that Kirby has little or no talent. His writing disgusts me even more than the early work of Gerry Conway. His creations seem to be of less than human quality. […]

Now for some conclusions on this topic. Why do these characters exist? They are Kirby creations and it is a well-known fact that the only way to maintain Jack Kirby as a staff artist is to cater to his wants. One of these wants is total freedom to change, distort or completely destroy anything in the panel art at DC. He changed Superman into something less than he should be, totally demolished anything it took DC thirty years to build Jimmy Olson into….and left both characters when he was through with them. This is somewhat reminiscent of ushering a spoiled child into a room full of antique toys, permitting him to smash them at will and guiding him to yet another room.

Now, the almighty King demands that he be granted a team of artists at his California headquarters that he might continue his Fourth World Farce. Whom would he take? Neal Adams? Jim Aparo? Joe Kubert? Certainly sacrificing these gentlemen to the pseudo science fiction slop of the Fourth World means nothing…if the King is satiated by it.

At least on the issue of creator rights, Sim became wiser as he grew older. The entire magazine Comic Art News and Reviews testifies to the vital fan culture that existed in Southern Ontario in the early 1970s. A run of the journal can be found in Robarts Library at the University of Toronto. If anyone has access to the library, they should definitely check it out: it’s a goldmine waiting to be opened up.

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Paid Advertisement #2


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

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Well, here we go. Mark your calendars to come to Brooklyn and meet tons of artists, including much of the Comics Comics crew (me, Frank, probably Tim, Dash). Now you can tell us that we’re snobs/hipsters/idiots/intellectuals/low-brows in person! Official text below. Watch the web site for panel schedules, updates, and other goodies.

Desert Island and PictureBox present:
The Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival
A gathering of the best of contemporary graphic art

Saturday December 5th 2009: 11 AM – 7 PM
Our Lady of Consolation Church
184 Metropolitan Ave.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Free admission

New York has long been the hub of contemporary graphics and comics publishing, and Brooklyn the borough of choice for many of the city’s best cartoonists and graphic artists. Bringing together an international cast of cartoonists, illustrators, designers, and printmakers, The Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival , founded by local bookstore Desert Island and local publisher PictureBox, is the first festival to serve this vibrant community.

The Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival will consist of 4 components:

– Over 50 exhibitors selling their zines, comics, books, prints and posters in a bustling market-style environment
– Signings, panel discussions and lectures by prominent artists
– Exhibition of vintage comic book artwork
– An evening of musical performances

In the cozy basement of Our Lady of Consolation Church, exhibitors will display and sell their unique wares. Exhibitors include leading graphic book publisher Drawn & Quarterly of Montreal; famed French screenprint publisher Le Dernier Cri; artist’s book publisher Nieves of Zurich, Switzerland; Italian art book publisher Corraini; master printer David Sandlin; and tons of individual artists and publishers from Brooklyn.

Featured guests include the renowned artists Gabrielle Bell, R. O. Blechman, Charles Burns, C.F., Kim Deitch, Ben Katchor, Michael Kupperman, Mark Newgarden, Gary Panter, Ron Rege Jr., Peter Saul, Dash Shaw, R. Sikoryak, Jillian Tamaki, and Lauren Weinstein, among others.

The commerce portion of the Festival is partnered with an active panel and lecture program nearby at Secret Project Robot gallery, down the street at 210 Kent Ave. This mini-symposium will run from 1 to 6 pm and is being overseen by noted comics critic Bill Kartalopolous. Also at Secret Project Robot will be an intimate exhibition of original comic book pages from 1950s romance, western and science fiction comic books, curated by PictureBox’s Dan Nadel.

Finally, at the end of the day visitors can troop over to Death by Audio at 49 S. 2nd Street, for an evening of musical performances by cartoonists, organized by Paper Route, and including performances by Boogie Boarder, Ambergris, Scary Mansion, Nick Gazin, and many others.

The Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival

Exhibitors and Artists:

Our Lady of Consolation Church
184 Metropolitan Ave?.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
11 AM – 7 PM

Panel Discussions, Lectures & Art Exhibition:

Secret Project Robot
128 River @ corner of Metropolitan Ave.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
1 PM – 6 PM

Musical Performances:

Death by Audio
49 S. 2nd St Between Kent & Wythe
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
9 PM onward

Poster image by Charles Burns
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Frank’s Soapbox #3


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

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Why do “art books” by comics artists usually have titles like The Art of [Fill in the Blank] and not just show the artist’s name? This has always confused me. Like when you go into Barnes & Noble or Borders, all the books in the Art section usually just have the artist’s name.



Ware is Everywhere


Saturday, November 7, 2009

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In a recent Inkstuds interview, Seth said that that three most influential contemporary cartoonists are Crumb, Spiegelman, and Chris Ware. For Seth, what sets these three apart is not so much the quality of their work, as the fact that they’ve changed the syntax of comics, greatly expanding the range and depth of stories that can be told in the medium. I agree with Seth, with the proviso that Gary Panter and Lynda Barry also belong on this list.

Will Staehle cover of Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs

The type of influence Seth was talking about is fairly subtle: in the case of Ware it means making other cartoonists aware that comics can have minutely delicate shades of emotional meaning hitherto unexplored in the medium. But Ware’s influence on some artists is also more blatant in the sense that he’s clearly informed their style and design sense. Recent examples of Ware-inflected design include the cover for the new Michael Chabon essay collection, an art catalogue designed by Ellen Gould, and a illustration by Mark Matcho from the August 24, 2009 issue of Time Magazine.

Ellen Gould’s design for Imaginative Feats art catalogue

Certainly Ware has raised the bar in terms of design, just as he has done for comics, but it is odd to see Ware pastiches popping up all over the place. I’m divided on how I feel about this phenomenon. On the one hand, most of the Ware-influenced art is quite good: if you’re going to steal a style you might as well do it from the best. On the other hand, in Ware’s work his style isn’t just for show but is integral to the total artistic package. To take use his style for other purposes almost seems like your missing the point of what it is that he’s doing.

Mark Matcho illustration for Time

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Comics Enriched Their Lives! #15


Friday, November 6, 2009

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Most of the collectors whose libraries we bought were dead years before the libraries came to us, so the only way we could judge the level of eccentricity in the collectors was the books themselves, or from other evidence. …

An Orientalist named Paul Linebarger, whose father, we were told, had been Sun Yat-sen’s lawyer, had absolutely wonderful books, but he had other things, too. He was an early expert on psychological warfare, which I believe he later taught. In one of his closets, for example, we found a huge pile of anticommunist comic books in Mongolian. Paul Linebarger also wrote science fiction, under the name Cordwainer Smith. And he had an interest in ladies’ lingerie. One of the more unusual things we bought from his estate was a bra mannequin, complete with bra. Several drawers full of bras we let lie.

—Larry McMurtry, Books: A Memoir

I realize that most of you have probably never heard of Smith, but that’s okay. We won’t shy away from celebrating the unjustly obscure here. Scanners need no longer live in vain.


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Decoding Steranko


Friday, November 6, 2009

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I had the good fortune of meeting James Romberger at this year’s MoCCA festival. James is, like me, obsessed with color in comics. So, we’re becoming fast friends.

He also has conducted a remarkable interview with Steranko. The magician/escape artist/cartoonist is in rare form. My favorite part: “When the men who created the rules and rhetoric of the comics form got together to decide on the architectural details, they failed to invite me. Consequently I found no reason to subscribe to their tenets. When I joined their ranks in 1967, the narrative devices that had been adopted and sanctioned for about half a century were considered untouchable commandments that were permanently etched in stone. Pages, panels, captions, and balloons were the essence of the comics format, all artifices considered unalterable by my peers.”

I asked Mr. Romberger if he would mind me putting up a link. He said OK but wanted me to mention that it is only an excerpt from a much longer, fairly comprehensive interview that has yet to find a home in print. If we ever print another issue of Comics Comics maybe I’ll beg him to let us publish it.

Check it out here.

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Teach House Styles


Thursday, November 5, 2009

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I studied cartooning at SVA and recently visited CCS, and so how to teach comics has been fluttering around in my mind for a while. What follows is a suggestion of how to run a Cartooning BFA or MFA course, just a potential direction that I think would be worth considering…

Instead of hiring teachers based on their achievements (and many of the current teachers are geniuses, no doubt about it), hire people who previously worked for many years in a now-defunct house style. Someone who drew Archie for years and is now selling their originals at Comic Con? Hire them. Did they draw Hanna-Barbera comics for years? Hire them. Did they ghost draw a daily comic? Hire them. Look for people who knew exactly how to execute a project on a regular basis and know, completely, the ins and outs of that particular assignment. They know everything about how that unique (now outdated) comic job should be done. They lived it.

The courses would be titled their house style—Archie, Hanna-Barbera—or I also think it’d be possible to get someone who has an expert knowledge of something like Little Lulu or Nancy or Astro Boy comics. There would be no courses devoted to “tools,” no penciling or inking classes. People can learn that elsewhere, like in their foundation year drawing classes. When that separation of responsibilities is brought into the cartooning class it’s usually based on an American production model that leads to people struggling with a tool for a whole year when they’re naturally suited to something else. The house style comic courses would require all of the students to draw everything with the same tools: whatever students write with naturally in non-art classes, probably just a ballpoint pen and paper. Everything tool-wise is nuts-and-bolts, no weird “try a Conté crayon” moments or “how to use a rapidograph” lessons. That’s for other classes.

The entire year-long class taught by these teachers would be based solely on teaching their house style. This would do a number of things:

The critiques would actually make sense. The teacher knows exactly how these stories are drawn, paced, structured, etc. Most of the cartooning class critiques I’ve been in are totally scattered, surreal happenings where the teachers are alternating between talking about character design, inking, storytelling, whatever. All of the students have different goals, and they’re often showing four pages of a long project out of context. Believe me: Usually nobody knows what the hell is going on. Everyone having the same goal (example: to tell an Archie story) would level the playing field. The teacher would know what they need to do to make it fit the assignment, how the characters behave, and the students would, over the school year, slowly hone in on the target, critique after critique.

Personal style and originality would be put on hold. In our current cult of originality, the pressure is to have a personal style as soon as possible, and the classroom environments often have this mentality as well. Everyone is freaking out: “What’s my style? What’s my thing?” It’s too much too fast. This race for originality has, over the years, spread from that future-goal timeline to just after college to (now) inside college itself. A safety zone no longer exists. For the most part, hardly anyone is hiring newbies fresh out of college to draw in a house style and then expect them to grow out of it. If these classes are explicitly devoted to learning a specific form, the anxiety for uniqueness would disappear and everyone would breathe out and look at their comics. The college would be the safety zone and after they graduate they’d start doing their own thing.

The more outdated and inapplicable the house style is, the better. They only have the understanding; they’re not being bred for a specific job that currently exists.

These would be year-long courses, so students would devote a substantial amount of time figuring out these comics. Most cartooning courses are extremely rushed-through. That’s understandable, since if you’re trying to teach a general Cartooning course, there’s probably a lot to cover! But these wouldn’t be general Cartooning courses- they’re very specific. And focusing on a specific world of comics for a whole year, I think, would offer more than week-long (one class) samplings of different worlds.

Finally, and maybe this goes without saying, I think there’s a lot to learn from digesting these house styles I’ve suggested. Regardless of what kind of comics you’d want to do later on, it’s probably going to involve some of the same elements that comprise these house styles.

This is all based on the assumption that the students are there (and pay to be there) to learn something, and the teachers exist (and are paid) to try to teach the students things. If they don’t believe that cartooning can be taught, then they aren’t involved in this exchange.

Students will probably hate this plan because they’ll want to work on their own comics. They’ll be pissed off for Sophomore Year, start to do their own thing through/inside a house style Junior Year, and then maybe Senior Year would be open. I donno. I’m still plotting this thing out…


Proto-Graphic Novels: The Prequel


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

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In the aftermath of Jeet’s recent post on “proto-graphic novels,” the inimitable Eddie Campbell has generously agreed to let us post his excellent review of an A. B. Frost collection, Stuff and Nonsense, and Rodolphe Töpffer’s Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck. The essay originally ran in the 260th issue of The Comics Journal, from May/June 2004. As usual, Campbell’s voice is unmistakable, and his ideas are ignored at the reader’s peril.

Jeez, I’m making this sound too frightening. It’s actually quite funny. As the Coca-Cola company so memorably put it: Enjoy.

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