Random Riff Round-Up


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Hey everybody. I thought I’d copy Jeet and post some of the things in my notebook that I’ve been carrying around for the last few weeks. Nothing super substantial but hopefully enough to get some discussion going in the comments.  I just got back to Pittsburgh after a week in NYC working with Dash on his animation project. He and I talked a lot while I was up there and I gotta get this stuff outta my head. Please forgive the randomness of these notes. Maybe someday I’ll turn some of these riffs into more well-rounded posts but until then this is it. 

Why don’t the old guard guys make graphic novels? As someone who loves tracking down old comics by Howard Chaykin, Walt Simonson, Barry Windsor-Smith, Michael Kaluta, and other guys who made “art” comics back in the day, I often wonder why these guys don’t make long form works. Chaykin just did a new Dominic Fortune story but released it as a serialized comic book. His pair of Time2 graphic novels from the late ’80s were amazing and it makes me wonder why he doesn’t “do a Mazzucchelli” and really show us something. Is it the money? I figure he probably knows he can do it as a serialized comic and get paid. I’m guessing that not many publishers can offer guys like him a hefty advance so he can take time off from the pulps and focus on a long form book. But it’s kind of weird, isn’t it?  When I dig through my collection I come across comic after comic from the ’70s and ’80s by guys like Chaykin, Windsor-Smith, Corben, and many others that all held the promise of some future where they could make long form “adult” comics that would appeal to a wide audience. Well, the time is now and it’s strange to me to see them still doing serialized comics. Only Mazzuchelli made the jump. Will others follow his lead and do long form works that aren’t serialized? Does it matter? No, but it is weird, I think.

It’s a crime. It’s a crime that First Second Books reformats European sized albums like Christophe Blain’s Gus into those atrocious looking manga-sized trade paperbacks. At least NBM’s scaled-down versions of Sfar and Trondheim books are readable. If Paul Pope’s THB collection from First Second is that same manga size it’s going to have to come with a magnifying glass. I heard they are doing an oversize black-and-white collection of that (in addition to the manga-sized color edition) so I guess I shouldn’t complain. Still, it’s a real crime what they did to Blain’s Gus. And to Gipi’s Garage Band and all the other translations that I’m forgetting. A crime, I say.

The Elmo Generation. The Elmo Generation is what I’ve started calling the new crop of art comics kids. I remember when my mom, who works at a children’s hospital, explained to me that little kids in the ’90s didn’t like the old Sesame Street characters. She said they were put off by Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch and preferred Elmo because, she said, “he shows that he’s scared of things and isn’t mean.” I get these crazy “art” comics in the mail all the time and it’s like they’ve taken all the bite out of the Fort Thunder style and replaced it with a sort of auto-bio whining and recycled art school theory. One begins to understand the popularity of Ben Marra. Ye Olde Backlash in full effect.

Fusion. I’ve been thinking a lot about Brandon Graham. He’s like a fusion chef or something. I see Vaughn Bode, Moebius, and manga in his work. But I see it combined in a way that feels new and very fresh. Remember that post I did last summer about the “Tree of Influence” and how it’s possible to graft new identities upon the tree without being schooled in the singular comics tradition of old? Well, I think Brandon Graham, Brian Lee O’Malley, and Dash Shaw represent a sea change in comics. Their influences are very contemporary and at once unite American, Japanese, and European influences in a way that I feel is very different from the slow evolution of years past. Think about how accessible all of comics history is now in 2010. It’s exciting to think about what the next generation will contribute to the “tree.” Maybe the tree is over or irrelevant now, I dunno. I spoke to Robin McConnell about all this and he pointed me in the direction of a lot of other artists who he feels are doing similar things. I haven’t had the time to do the proper investigating but this “fusion style” is something that constantly pops into my head when I’m looking at new work on the stands. And a lot of times when that happens I think of Paul Pope as the progenitor of this fusion style. And Scott McCloud’s Zot. Weird. 

Worst comic shop in America. The worst comic shop in America has to be St. Mark’s Comics on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village of NYC. But after a few beers at the Holiday Cocktail Lounge I always want to wander in there to sneer at the prick who runs the place and find a comic for the subway ride. As luck would have it they were having a dollar sale and I found some good stuff. I had totally forgotten that Ho Che Anderson had done an Eros comic called I Want To Be Your Dog. It’s a total Chaykin Black Kiss riff. Amazing. Haven’t read it yet but I was lucky to find the whole run of five issues. Also, while digging through the bins I was struck by how modern the early Optic Nerve issues look. The covers look really good; classic and modern at the same time. And they look totally different from almost every other comic in the bins. Hunh. Also I found an issue with a letter from none other than Tom Kaczynski. I’m including it here for your reading pleasure.

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30 Responses to “Random Riff Round-Up”
  1. Michel Fiffe says:

    Working at St. Mark’s comics was a great learning experience in many ways for me: seeing how the business works, how retailers perceive the comics and how they value it, the subdivided sects of fandom, and generally just discovering cool comics. In the few years of shuffling back issues, I found tons of great stuff, finally completed my Love & Rockets run, old fanzines, Charlton Ditko issues… I mean TONS of stuff. Half the store is literally propped up by longboxes that haven’t been rifled through in years.

    Yeah, the owner rubs people the wrong way, but it was always cool to hear stories of the old Direct Market days.

    I think serialization is the way to go for those guys. Major book publisher’s don’t seem to be into genre material, and I doubt those guys can live off the modest advances of smaller companies. They may not even be interested in doing a longer book. Chaykin did The Stars My Destination (decades ago) which sorta counts… and Miller did Sin City: Family Values which was a one shot book. But yeah, 2 measly examples.

  2. Jude Killory says:

    Oh Frank you are so right about the horror that is St. Marks Comics. I talked with a girl who had worked there and she confirmed my suspicion that part of their job duties is to watch the customers to make sure they’re not shoplifting. When you take your first step inside all eyes focus on you; people stop in mid-stride and 2 or 3 people appear from behind dusty bookshelves to stare at your back as you look at the wall of comics. The whole time you’re thinking,” New York has some of the best comic shops in the country why am I here? Just leave, no can’t let them intimidate me. I will leave on my own accord!” As you uncomfortably make your way through the dark, cramped aisles saying hello to employees (usually the only ones in there); being ignored by those employees as they look back at the comic in their hand or at the ground. You reach the toy section in the back and tell yourself O.K. now I can make my way to the front and leave and feel good about it. Jude

  3. Matt Seneca says:

    The impression I got from Chaykin’s Comics Journal conversation with Ho Che Anderson a few months back was that he’s basically happy where he is, hackin’ it out on a monthly paycheck for various companies. As I recall, he said at one point something to the effect that he doesn’t have much of the “young man’s” desire to do Big New Things like American Flagg or Time2 anymore. (I may be totally off the mark or misquoting, I don’t have the issue with me or anything, but I seem to remember some quip like that.)

    No idea about Simonson or Kaluta or any of the rest, but Chaykin at least kind of seems like he’d be glad to wind down his career as a pulp artist, his art fading back into the newsprint pages that spawned it…

    Would you count any Frank Miller work as “fusion style”? Ronin was definitely an attempt to bring a little European and Japanese flavor to Miller’s version of the American superhero comic, and came out a little before Zot.

  4. inkstuds says:

    I went to St. Marks and had a big stack of stuff to buy and the guy was such a prick, that we just dropped our comics on the counter and walked out, meanwhile talking to Peter at Beguiling had me spending $100 bucks on a handful of books. Just sayin’.

    I am curious about the future of First Second. They put out some great books that we wouldn’t have seen elsewhere(although way too small), but the current and future crop is pretty hit or miss. I couldn’t even open Prince of Persia.

    In regards to the old guard doing “Graphic Novels”, I do think there is some kind of generational gap in effect. I wonder how much being influenced by European albums would have an effect on doing centralized story and less focus in serializing.

    And lastly, fusion, I definitely agree about Pope, but not at all with Zot.

  5. Tom K says:

    Haha! Who knew that letter would come back and haunt me some day! I was (and still am) a big Adrian fan at that time. I vaguely remember the letter being mostly positive. Only the negative part got printed… which is pretty admirable. In my own terrible mini-comics of that time, I printed only the positive part of Adrian’s letter to me…

  6. Yah, I’d agree that Miller was a fusion guy. But then he just went his own way and sort of regressed in a lot of ways. And even though there is that one self contained Sin City book “Family Values”, all of his work has been serialized. Even 300.

    I didn’t read that Chaykin/Anderson interview. Crap.

    Also, I don’t like Zot but I think it’s worth pointing out that Scotty was ahead of the curve. That thing looks dated and fresh at the same time. Just sayin, Robin.

    And Kaluta just did his longest work in 20 some years but again it was serialized. Maybe there is a generational gap.

    Also, why does St. mark’s comics only seem to hire ‘tween age looking girls to work “security”? Creepy.

  7. I’d print Tom K’s letter in Underwater #6 but it isn’t as funny…haha

  8. inkstuds says:

    You could argue that Corben has a good chunk of GNs. Same with Wrightson, but most of his were “Marvel Graphic Novels”. Was Goodwin and Simonson’s Manhuter a GN, with a completed intention. Maybe the problem is that the folks that are putting up the cash for GN’s have no interest or expectation in what those guys have to offer. Marvel has stated a lack of interest in exploring original GNs. And I don’t think New York publishers even have someone like Windsor-Smith on their radar, they would be more likely to have a book by a 24 year old fresh out of art school. IDW reprinting a lot of the cold stuff, is a good start and I wouldn’t be surprised by more great work coming out.

    Zot was ahead of the curve, but in some ways, was point a sign in the wrong direction. Zot was like a getting a manga milkshake, and Pope stepped up with a bottle of Sake and after that, it was Pope’s party.

  9. Oliver Selby says:

    Walt Simonson is writing The Judas Coin, a graphic novel, for DC at the moment. Will let you know when it’s available.

  10. DerikB says:

    On the First Second thing, they do publish some of their translations in larger size (Guibert and… well I guess just Guibert so far) perhaps based on some idea of what will be more popular. The Photographer has a lot of current events relevancy and thus potentially a larger popular audience, while Gus as a kind of goofy (but so lovely) western is not going to have that same sort of cache. Gus would have been a great candidate for the larger size, especially with all the bright colors.

  11. Jeet Heer says:

    Great use of the notebook form. I approve!

    About Chaykin etc.:
    1. I hear that Barry Windsor Smith is working on a big ambitious project.
    2. There is perhaps a hidden history here which needs to be explored. Some of these guys did try to be more ambitious in past but got beaten down. So perhaps they are gun shy?
    3. Perhaps we also need to bring in the concept of “professional formation”; that is to say, everyone, including artists, get trained to work in a certain way, and it’s hard to get over old habits in middle age. That’s one reason why Joe Kubert draws his “serious” stories in the same style as Sgt. Rock. And it’s why it is hard for the old serializing pulp guys to do graphic novels.

  12. RE:#3: Yah, that makes me think of Dick Ayers auto-bio graphic novels that are drawn in the same style he drew western comics. (See Comics Comics #1 download in our “store” here for Tim’s review of that Mr. Ayers’ book)

    RE:#2 Maybe they old guard is gun shy, and maybe it is “a young man’s game”, who can say. Also, Kaluta never really wrote his own material, so maybe it’s not fair to throw him in the mix. Interesting stuff to chew on tho… Excited to hear that BWS is working on a big project.

  13. re: Fusion – have you read Wonton Soup or Orc Stain by James Stokoe? His work fits in a similar sort of continuum as the one you’re talking about. Same with Paul Maybury, I think.

  14. Yah, I gotta check out Brandon’s crew…Robin McConnell gave me a list

  15. I was going to mention Simonson’s and Windsor-Smith’s upcoming graphic novels, but I see Oliver and Jeet have already done so.

    So I’ll just add: Chaykin’s “Century West” (an 80-page book) was published in Europe a few years ago, but it still hasn’t been released in English. He did do an original graphic novel when he returned to comics drawing some years ago (“Mighty Love”, published by DC), but it seems he decided to stick to serialized work after that.

  16. Simonson has been working on a graphic novel for DC for years. Sadly, it won’t come out for awhile.


    Did you consider drawing the Demon/Catwoman story for “Wednesday Comics?”

    No. I’m actually in the middle of doing a long graphic novel for DC that I’m astoundingly late on and I’m only lucky that they haven’t sent hitmen out to deal with me. So until that project is done, I’m not doing any other drawing. I’ve finished all the drawing of all the stuff that I owed people and now I’m just doing this book until I’m finished.

    Has that project been announced?

    It’s been semi-announced, but since it’s a long way to go, they haven’t done much with it, which is fine. It’s called “The Judas Coin” and it won’t be out next year or even later next year. It’s not a secret but I haven’t been talking about it much because I have a long way to go.

    But I have to say, boy, I am dying to draw one of these [“Wednesday Comics”] things. There’s just so much room. Holy cow! And I wouldn’t put in 5,000 panels. I’m not Chris Ware. But you could do tiny panels and large panels, you could really play with the space. I’m kind of hoping when I get done this graphic novel that they’re still doing stuff like this down the road. I would love to draw one.

  17. Oops. Should have read the comments first!

  18. andrea q says:

    hello frank, just to say that the original italian gipi’s garage band is not much bigger that the gus’ first second. also i think that gus is very small, and also we in italy have the same problems with the french books. they are always to small!!!
    i hope for you that first second will go to publish more gipi’s stuff, expecially “S” and “La mia vita disegnata male”, two great masterpiece.

  19. FRANKIE! I’m with you on the Gus thing, although I think First Second’s publishing design is uniform across pretty much all their books. The idea of reading Gus, one of my favorite books of the last ?? years, at album size is making my pants tight. But I suspect they publish at that midget size because of the book market–plus albums have never sold well in American direct market shops, for whatever reason. Comics history is littered with the bones of publishers who tried to do Euro reprints as albums. Seems like the only way they are working is at that “fits snugly into my purse” size that doesn’t look too out of place in Barnes & Noble; or the way Fanta is doing their Tardi books, as high end hardcovers. Different market there though.

    Are the Dungeon books albums in France? For some reason this had never occurred to me, but now that it has occurred to me I can’t stop thinking about it. I might as well just take these pants off.

  20. […] Santoro recently posted a note about ‘fusion cartoonists.’ He sees the work of Paul Pope and Scott McCloud’s Zot […]

  21. Zack Soto says:

    The Dungeon books are indeed printed album-style in France and Spain at least. I picked up a bunch of them in Spanish when I was in Madrid a few years back (got at least one of the Early Years and that Blanquet volume of Dungeon Monsters in glorious HC album format!).

  22. I had a dream last nite that I met Ho Che Anderson at the Strand bookstore in NYC. I told him that I thought the King hardcover collection was like his autobiography. Meaning, there is the story of King but also the pained history of Anderson making the book. There is a call and response back and forth between the history and the making that really resonated with me. He was about to say something and then a giant bookcase fell over and I woke up.

  23. Rob Clough says:


    Can you give me a name or two from “The Elmo Generation”? I’m not sure I’ve seen the works of the folks you’re talking about.

    PS: Have you seen this page?


    When I saw it, I immediately thought you might be interested in reading some of the entries.

  24. I’d rather not at this point since they all seem so impressionable and fragile. They’re young. They’ll figure it out someday. Also I can’t read anything on Facebook cuz I don’t have a Facebook page.

  25. Rob Clough says:


    You don’t need a facebook account to look at this page.


  26. Dan Nadel says:

    Wow, that facebook page is unbelievable. The “how did you get fired or quit” thread is really something. Good stories — the odd professional underbelly of the comics industry. Someone better be copying and pasting all that stuff.

  27. Rob Clough says:

    It was interesting to me because this is a portion of Marvel’s history that hasn’t really been recorded anywhere from a ground-level or oral-history perspective. Hearing some of the perspective behind the end of the Epic line (which really was a weird, interesting period in mainstream comics history), the free-wheeling fun between the end of the Shooter era and the massive lay-offs in the mid 90s, the surprising number of women who popped up in editorial and elsewhere…it made for interesting reading.

  28. Windsor-Smith did that Adastra book which was supposed to be the third part in that X-men Storm/Forge trilogy. And his new project is a riff off a Hulk story he wanted to do once I believe.

  29. BWS is doing a Hulk riff? He’s “doin’ a Mazzucchelli?”

    (get it? Big Man, Hulk riff…)

  30. Indeed, Frank, that was my first thought actually when I heard about it. I love Rubber Blanket!

    Actually just finished reading Asterios Polyp yesterday. I’ve been reading it a few pages at a time. SOO many ideas that people will be stealing from for years.

    Really inspiring, and I wasn’t expecting to laugh so hard on the subway with that ending. I almost wish I’d had milk just to shoot it out my nose a few feet.

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