The Kinkiness of Russ Manning & Other Notes
by Jeet Heer
Friday, March 26, 2010
More notebooks, mostly relating to The Comics Journal:
Panter as Talker, Manning’s Kinkiness. Gary Panter was in Toronto last night speaking at our local art’s college and of course I went to hear him. Among his many other talents, Panter is, along with Lynda Barry and Art Spiegelman, one of the greatest talkers in the comics world, indeed one of the world’s great talkers period. He’s lived a great, rich life and has a storehouse of stories but more importantly he can, like Barry, talk about creativity with a directness and honesty that forces you to rethink all your fundamental assumptions. And, like Spiegelman, Panter knows more about the history of art than the entire faculty of your typical Ivy League university. During the talk, Panter mentioned that as a kid he was attracted to Magnus, Robot Fighter in large part because of the kinky short shorts (or was it a proto-mini-skirt) Russ Manning had the hero wear.
This reminded me of the great Arn Saba interview with Manning which ran in the Comics Journal #203. During the interview Manning asks Saba if he’s read the Tarzan novels. Saba says no and the following exchange occurs:
Manning: It is a superb novel. And in it, Jane is about to be raped by the big ape and that’s just the theme he used all the way through it.
Saba: I was aware of that from reading the comic versions of it, yours included. Yeah, I think it’s a fantastic thing, that imagery, because in this primeval jungle you can take primeval sexuality and symbolize it through all these various creatures: the women with the hairy brassieres and all these things … [laughs] I’m embarrassed to say I notice these things and react to them.
Manning: Well, I hope my readers do.
Saba: The fact that all the women in Opar have these strange, long, pendulous, fur things hanging down between their legs – they’re very penis-like things! [laughs] That’s what they look like to me, anyway.
Manning: Just cloth.
Saba: Cloth, but they’re so long and sinuous. [laughter]
Manning: I don’t know if that came out in just a design sense or instinctual or what. They probably look right, so I drew it that way.
Fiore Culling. This paragraph by R. Fiore is too good to let languish in the muck and mire of the Comics Journal message board. He’s writing about Crumb’s stature in comparison to other cartoonists: “The misconception is in thinking that Crumb is reachable as a rival. You can be on a pretty high plane, as Speigelman is, and still not be on the same plane as Crumb. Not many are. Kirby had that kind of oceanic talent, but not the mind. Barks never truly transcends the commercial, and Eisner is a shopkeeper in comparison. Kurtzman is on that level, but he had help. The cartoonists who are at or above Crumb’s level are canonical newspaper strip guys — Schulz, Herriman, Segar, Kelly.” I’m not sure I would put Kelly on the list; a great cartoonist of course, but for me Pogo doesn’t cut as deeply as Krazy Kat or Peanuts. And I would refine the argument by saying that Maus is greater than any one story or book by Crumb, just as Van Gogh’s The Starry Night is greater than any one painting by Picasso but Crumb and Picasso remain towering figures with dauntingly large body of great work. The entire Crumb corpus is much larger and more various than any rival’s.
Little acorns, big trees. What was Alice Sebold up to before she wrote her best-selling novel The Lovely Bones? Why she was collaborating with J.D. King on a comic that ran in the very first issue of Drawn and Quarterly, the house journal of the global powerhouse known as D&Q. Sebold of course has multiple connections to comics through her husband Glen David Gold, also a novelist as well as occasional comics critic. I’ve enjoyed Gold’s essays on comics – an opinion not shared by all. The word on the street is that his new novel Sunnyside has some comics references.
Words worth remembering. “My only interest in Superman, marginal at that, stems from his continuing presence as a symbol of banality and infantilism in the history of American comic books.” Gary Groth, Amazing Heroes #136, February 29, 1988, p. 93
Great Moments in Comics Criticism. In the Comics Journal #77, there is a letter from R.C. Harvey that lavishes great praise on Frank Miller’s Daredevil while dismissing the few pages of Spiegelman’s Maus that Harvey had seen. “Incidentally, I haven’t read Maus, so I can speak of it with no authority whatsoever. But from your discussion of it and the sample pages of it I’ve seen, its drama seems to derive entirely from its contents. No attempt is made to exploit the medium, the form, apart from the curious ploy of casting mice in all the parts. Inspired as this device may be as a way of creating distance between a much-explored subject and the reader, it seems to serve no other purpose except to create distance. The drawings I’ve seen contribute almost no expression to the characters (contrary to your assertions); they are expressionless and monotonous. That’s doubtless purposeful: the feeling of detachment that results creates a tension between the subject and its mode of narration. True, this is a way of having form and content work together, but the impact of the story – at least in your assessment of it – arises wholly from content, not form…You [Gary Groth] crucify Miller for his lack of content; but you ignore Spiegelman’s pedestrian form to applaud his content.” (p. 37)
More Groth. From Groth’s response to the above letter from Harvey: “A brief digression: Jack Kirby practically created the super-hero idiom, which is to say that Kirby almost single-handedly created the comics idiom as it’s known and understood in America. But, Kirby was an anti-intellectual artist; that is, he had the unique, and by no means unimportant talent of translating human experience into something monumental, compelling, grandiose – and utterly moronic. It is a paradox that Kirby, one of America’s most original and vital comic book talents, is the progenitor of this ongoing moronism that has adulterated American comic books from the beginning. Furthermore, comic books evolved out of a corrupt, stupid and poisonous background dominated by hacks, whose major aesthetic consideration was to follow the past of least resistance and whose major influences outside of comics were literally a compendium of the worst aspects of junk culture, the inevitable result of which was coarse, vulgar, primitive work.” The Comics Journal #77, p.42. I would love to see GG expand this paragraph into a full-dress essay. I think Groth’s conflicted relationship to Kirby gets to the tension heart of the Grothian aesthetic, a love of the comics past but also an awareness of the limits of this heritage.
Tweets that warm my heart. “The more I look into Canada’s cartooning past, the more I really feel what the Doug Wright Awards are trying to do,” Kate Beaton wrote on Feb. 27. “There’s so much hidden. And the more grateful I am for having been recognized by them! Thanks, guys.” John Martz on March 5: “Jeet Heer is a national treasure.” Who couldn’t agree with these sentiments?
You hurl a mean spit-ball, Mr. Dorkin. I’ve made a note never to annoy Evan Dorkin, the put-down king of comics, expert card and cut-up. One example: “I know Yoe has a reprint line out, unfortunately I don’t go for his books, he has an editorial approach I can only describe as schmucky, it’s like that doofy haircut of his drips something into all his projects to make them borderline creepy and most definitely corny, like his website, with the Wonder Woman bondage crap and the cheesecake and the ‘naughty’ pictures and dopey writing style. Rubs me the wrong way, as does his writing on comics in general, I just don’t think he writes very well and his observations are shallow and fannish in a way I don’t appreciate. I don’t think I’ve bought one Yoe reprint project yet, not even the Ditko one, which I was interested in, but instead of an art book as titled, it’s a reprint of stories, and not as well-done or readable, to me, as the Fantagraphics volume. Bloated design and not an ‘art book’ as far as I think of them.” Of course when the writing is this vigorous it’s hard not to enjoy it. I’m sure even Craig Yoe had a nice little chuckle at these jests.