Archive for October, 2010

Random New Releases Riff Round-Up


Saturday, October 30, 2010

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Hey there. I am traveling this week and do not have access to a scanner. So that means I can’t really continue my grid talks. Forgive the interruption, True Believers. However, while driving, I pondered many topical goings on in comics. Here are my notes:

-I really liked Seth’s new Palookaville comic book. The story in the back is an interesting example of grid layout. It feels very natural and unaffected. I also liked the story because it seems to me that he is purposely playing around with public assumptions about himself and the genre of autobiographical comics. (Yes, indeed, I believe that autobio comics are a genre with their own conventions and tropes). (more…)

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Quick Link: Al Capp’s FBI File


Friday, October 29, 2010

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Did you know that Al Capp’s FBI file (in slightly redacted form, alas) is available online? Go here.

An excerpt:

Both Al Capp (also known as Alfred G. Caplin) and John Kenneth Galbraith are, of course, well-known to the Bureau. In the past, Capp has been praised by the Communist Party, USA (CPUSA) and its publications for some of his comic strips which have implied, among other things, that the American economy was being mismanaged by vicious tycoons, that several persons were converted to outcasts because of questioning concerning them by government investigators and like matters. In 1961, a Congressman criticized Capp for unfair attacks on law enforcement officers in his comic strip, “Li’l Abner,” and, that same year, Capp wrote in a column that during the 1930’s he was too poor to pay a membership fee in a social club that turned out to be the Young Communist League.

God forbid anyone think that the American economy was mismanaged by tycoons.


Learning from Don Donahue


Friday, October 29, 2010

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Photo by another undergrounder gone: Clay Geerdes

I was saddened to learn of Don Donahue’s passing. Don was most famously the publisher of Zap #1 in 1968. According to Patrick Rosenkranz in his indispensable Rebel Visions: The Underground Comix Revolution, Donahue was a former typesetter and production man who hooked up with a printer named Charles Plymell. “Donahue was visiting friends who wanted to introduce him to a cartoonist they knew,” Rosenkranz writes. “It turned out to be Robert Crumb, who had a comic book he wanted someone to publish. Donahue looked at the artwork and immediately agreed to do it.” The story of actually printing the thing and then selling it on the street on February 25th, 1968, is a classic one, and is also a reminder that Donahue was both printer and publisher and everything else. These days we publishers are vastly removed from what he went through. So much so that it’s kinda hard to imagine. But there it is. (more…)

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Reproductive Strategies


Thursday, October 28, 2010

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This month has seen the publication of two anthologies of pre-Code horror comics. One was put out by Abrams, a prestigious art-book house of long standing, and the other was published by a small comics publisher named after the result of mashing together the words “Fantasy” “Fantastic” and “Graphics.” Covering similar territory, both books include several of the same stories, but follow very different presentation strategies—and possibly not the strategies you would expect, at least not based on the previous information.

Last night, it was clear to me which book’s visual aesthetic was preferable, and the contest wasn’t even close. This morning, I am not quite so sure that the matter is a simple matter of right and wrong. But, using images from Basil Wolverton’s classic story “Nightmare World”, why don’t I let you decide? Which do you think is a better way to publish a comic story more than a half-century old? This?:

Or this?:


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The Tradition of the Woodcut Novel


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

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Lynd Ward

One of the great things about the Library of America series is that it encourages renewed attention to unfashionable books. Journalism is very present-orientated; magazines and newspapers need the hook of a new book as an excuse for revisiting a classic. Thanks to the LOA, we’ve had major critical essays in places like  The New Yorker and Harper’s on John Dos Passos and Manny Farber.

Lynd Ward is the latest beneficiary. The Library of America has issued a two volume set reprinting six of his wood cut novels, expertly introduced by Art Spiegelman. This set has already elicited a thoughtful review essay by Sarah Boxer in Slate (see here). (more…)

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Toronto Graphic Arts Event


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

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Jason Logan and Leanne Shapton are two of the most interesting visual artists around. They both have new books out and are holding a joint book launch in Toronto on Saturday. I’ve pasted information about the event below and would encourage anyone in the Toronto area to go to this event:

A government pamphlet re-imagined as a volume of iconic paintings, a book of dusty, smoking frontiersmen — and a secondhand bookshop dedicated to uncommon interests.


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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (10/27/10 – Very Interesting)


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

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A few more 9-panel grids for you, coming out of Carol Swain’s 1996 long-form debut Invasion of the Mind Sappers. Swain tends to work mainly in short stories — many of them collected into last year’s fine Dark Horse hardcover Crossing the Empty Quarter and Other Stories — which means she sort of fades in and out of view in English-language comics. Still, assembling her various works, which would also include the 2004 solo book, Foodboy, and her 2009 collaboration with Bruce Paley, Giraffes in My Hair: A Rock ‘N’ Roll Life (and not her role as colorist on the notorious 1992 Peter Milligan/Brendan McCarthy project Skin), reveals an affinity for this simple, versatile layout.


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9-Panel Grids


Saturday, October 23, 2010

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IF 6 WAS 9


Let’s look at 9-panel grids in North American comics. When I think of the 9-panel grid I invariably see Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man page layouts in my mind. Then I see Watchmen. Both stuck to 9-panel grids for the most part. And I think the center panel – the panel that doesn’t exist in a 6-panel grid – is where some of the power comes from in these works.

If I flip randomly to a page of Watchmen and let my eyes scan the page, usually I look straight at the center – and often that center panel is representative of the whole page. It’s like an anchor. Also, the artist (Dave Gibbons) never gives up the center of the page when he uses a different layout. Never! He never has a center tier that has a vertical gutter in the direct center of the page. I really think this is part of Watchmen‘s visual power. When I flip through the book, my eyes just go from center of page to center of page and I feel more enveloped by the story and by the world created. (more…)

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Gil Kane vs. Burne Hogarth


Friday, October 22, 2010

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Neglected Masterpiece?

Last Saturday at APE I mercilessly grilled Dan Clowes on Don Martin, Curt Swan, Wally Wood, and other pressing topics. No summary can do justice to the gravity and seriousness of this discussion. Clowes was wily and wise and took the day. Evidence is here:


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Talking Comics Criticism


Friday, October 22, 2010

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Dwight Macdonald: one of Gary Groth's heroes

On the Inkstuds program earlier today, Gary Groth, Ben Schwartz and I talked about comics criticism with Robin McConnell. The pretext was Ben’s recent anthology of essays and interviews on comics. You can listen to the show here. The discussion ran all over the place. Among other topics discussed:

1. The transformative  role played by Gil Kane in getting people to talk about visual storytelling as well as literary narrative, and in general Kane as a spark for comics criticism and enthusiasm about comics.

2. The difference between art and entertainment.

3. The importance of destructive criticism (with discussions of the relative merits of Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, and Dwight Macdonald). I wish I had remembered to mention John Metcalf, who belongs in this tradition.

4. The seductive dangers posed by Mencken’s style.  Again, I wish I had remembered Christopher Hitchens’s great sentence about the impact of Mencken on some of his dimmer imitators: “No wonder, then, that in his ill-tempered and misanthropic shape, [Mencken] has been adopted as a premature foe of ‘PC’ by the rancorous crowd of minor swells who put out the American Spectator. ”

5. Why Mark Beyer, David Collier and Kim Deitch need critical champions (although Gary mentioned that there is an essay by Gary Giddins on Deitch’s work. I had no idea that this essay existed and will now have to track it down).

6. The reputational status of Eisner and Spiegelman.

If you are interested in these and related topics, listen to the show.

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