Another Heroes Con Panel


Monday, June 30, 2008

This time with Dan, Sammy Harkham, and Alvin Buenaventura. The topic is the “new art comics”, and as I believe moderator Tom Spurgeon says at some point (I’m going by memory), it provokes exactly the kind of argumentative complaint-fest superhero fans always expect alternative-comics panels to be. In other words, it was a lot of fun to watch.

This is only the first part, when they’re just starting to get warmed up. The rest of the panel, as well as comments from Spurgeon, can be found here.

UPDATE: And here’s the audio, if for some reason you don’t like looking at moving images.

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17 Responses to “Another Heroes Con Panel”
  1. Dustin Harbin says:

    I thought of writing this in a letter, in response to your earlier request for Comics Comics letters, but this saves the time. I originally planned with Tom this panel expressly to talk about the whole idea of the kind of often abstract or painterly comics–I’m trying to avoid all the boring semantics–that Dan and Sammy and Alvin publish. Not just for myself, but for people around here. But there was almost NO discussion of aesthetic or substantive ideas about the comics themselves, or the ideas that inform them; mostly just business-y stuff.

    I have to admit, I’d show up to watch those 4 people talk about pretty much anything, but I was disappointed at the amount of conversation that had little to do with actually making comics. Even things I personally took part in, like the dumb complaints over Kramer’s 7’s price, which ultimately are just a distraction from more interesting ideas of art, etc.

    Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy the panel, but boy, would I ever love to hear smart people talk about these comics, because I find them personally confounding very often. I feel like a moron each time someone talks about how brilliant Maggots is–it very well may be, but so far it and many “out” comics like it have been largely inscrutable to me.

  2. T Hodler says:

    Dustin —

    Thanks for commenting, but don’t think this lets you off the hook — you still need to write us a letter. Now you have to find a new topic!

  3. knut says:

    I agree, I was looking forward to watching this panel, but I was sad that so much of the aesthetic ground was passed over.

    I’m wondering if that’s an area that they aren’t actually comfortable talking about. I know with my own experiences in the past I’ve had a hard time pinning people down on specifically (or even generally) why this material stands out to them.

    Also, the Andrei Molotiu reference was classic, but I’m afraid he caught the brunt of a negative caricature.

  4. Dan Nadel says:

    Well, I’m always happy to talk about that stuff, but it’s not really the direction the conversation went. Also, you have to imagine us three, sitting there, losing money just by sitting there — no sales, long days, trapped. We were a little grumpy. It’s hard to think about anything other than business in that kinda situation. It would, I agree, be fun to do a panel focused purely on aesthetics.
    Of course, had I known it was being filmed I might not have leaned against the wall the whole time. Somehow I blame Frank for this, but only because I like to blame Frank for things.

  5. Dustin Harbin says:

    Jim Rugg sent me a long and really well-written response to my comment, but I won’t quote it because he TOTALLY trashes Andrei Molotiu! No not really, just kidding. But jeez, any negative caricature of that dude is self-penned, for sure.

    With this aesthetic stuff, the problem I always have is one of accessibility. I’ve actually got a plan to show some of these comics to some painter friends (and non-comics-readers) to see if they “get” them, lacking all the comics background that I do. Dan said something interesting during the panel, although in a kind of pejorative way, about some of his comics being easier to read than any superhero books, and being more in tune with turn of the century strip stuff than with what we think of as “mainstream” comics.

    The Fort Thunder and Paper Rad stuff is the easiest to look at in terms of accessibility, too, at least for me as a comics reader. Much of it seems like purest abstraction, collage art, whatever. Not that that’s bad, but to me it doesn’t “read” as comics. SHOULD it read as comics? Or should I be looking at those pages in Kramer’s Ergot as pieces of contemporary art, rather than trying to discern anything sequential or narrative there.

    To be clear: all this is so super muddy, and ALWAYS ends up being about a name or a label or something, which is never the point. I’m not trying to be obtuse or ironic, I really am confounded by many of these comics, and if there’s brilliance there, I want to be discerning it.

  6. Dustin Harbin says:

    Poor writing in earlier post:

    “The Fort Thunder and Paper Rad stuff is the easiest to look at in terms of accessibility, too…” I meant easiest to discuss, as we can sidestep a bunch of tedious labels by just saying “Fort Thunder” or whatever. I did not mean more accessible. Maybe least accessible.

  7. knut says:

    Actualy, now that Dustin sorta touched on it, a statement that Dan made on the panel made me think. He said that the guys doing photo-referenced Captain America books are more out of touch visually than the guys he publishes. I agree, but does he think that his guys could tackle mainstream genre comics in an interesting way that would still work on it’s own terms, or are mainstream genre comics in essense out of touch themselves?

    Certainly based on the history of this blog alone Dan & the crew have a deep love for old superhero comics, and I’ll agree whole-heartedly that today’s creators have “lost the plot” aestheticaly. What could they learn from Picturebox or Kramers?

  8. Brian says:

    To respond to Knut: What mainstream people could learn from Kramers people is probably the same thing they could learn from older comics: The importance of things like hand-lettering, well-chosen (or limited) color palettes. I could also imagine someone looking at Maggots or Teratoid Heights and being inspired to have more silent panels per page, as a way of conveying movement and speed. You can see this sort of thing in Darwyn Cooke’s Catwoman, if memory serves, but I associate it more with Fort Thunder stuff. (Although I wouldn’t take any coloring tips from the Mat Brinkman strip in Kramers Ergot 5.)

    I thought it was interesting, in the panel, what Dan said about people looking at something like Paper Rad and not viewing it as comics, and then Dustin saying he can’t really read it as comics as someone coming from a comics background. Or- I guess it came up with the Best American Comics 2007 volume, where Paper Rad and CF were treated just like this crazy procession of images that was barely comics. (was it Chris Ware that was saying that?) I absolutely don’t get this. (well, I get the idea of someone reading a Paper Rad comic and not thinking of it in comic store terms because they bought it off Load Records or something.)

    I mean, CF’s comic in the Ganzfeld 4- I guess there’s some stuff that’s sort of abbreviated, not a ton of exposition there, but… I don’t know, it reminds me of comics blogging about Final Crisis, with Thought Balloonists talking about its sort of low-key and affectless presentation, and having a lot of big beats be told by implication sort of throw people for a loop and maybe find it unsatisfying. I think, in some ways, maybe these modern art comics have something in common with modern mainstream comics in those sorts of tendencies away from large amounts of exposition, in a way that would be comparable to a Crumb comic from the late sixties probably having as many words per panel as a Steve Ditko comic from the same period.

    But the arty stuff, now, is probably coming out from more of an influence of having drawn silent comics in the past, rather than writers coming up with a heavy film influence. Also, the mainstream stuff is taking an immersion with continuity for granted, whereas the artier stuff seems more interested in genuine world-building at an organic pace.

    Uh, that’s probably pretty tangential. Sorry. My point was that I don’t get what’s hard to understand about a Paper Rad comic.

    I’ll tell you one thing I don’t get though: People who look at Matt Furie’s Boy’s Club and don’t have the problems they have with Paper Rad with it, even though it totally reads to me like someone biting Ben Jones’ Alfe strips. Is it because it’s drawn with nicer pens?

  9. knut says:

    Something that I’ve grown to love about some of these comics is their sense of boundless ambition. The feeling they convey that anything could happen. It gets to the essense of what we as children loved about comics to begin with. I think Sammy started to touch on this in the panel.

    This doesn’t apply to all art comics however, I feel like some of them are more self-contained, like a poem. You’re supposed to put it down and then “get it”. I don’t get the same enjoyment from them.

    With something like POWR MASTRS I feel like the world lives on in my imagination, and the comic was successful in whetting that daydream process.

  10. Dustin Harbin says:

    You know, I just read Boys Club yesterday, actually. I liked it, but a lot of that liking was due to a review by Spurgeon. That introductory thing is important for stuff that’s outside of your current experience, I think. Ditto for Powr Mastrs–I really enjoyed it, but I think someone had directly told me to read it, and maybe prepped me for how to read it. So I definitely opened the cover with a more open mind that normal, and could feel my brain bending into the appropriate shape necessary to enjoy the book.

    But of all these books, the C.F. stuff seems the easiest to hop into–it’s the most [obviously] narrative, and the pages are laid out in a pretty clear, easy to read style. Maybe I’m just looking for crutches, though.

    Jim Rugg sent me another, EVEN BETTER e-mail about all this stuff. You guys should get him to write about this for the magazine! He’s a great introducer, and has feet in a couple of worlds, so it gives him a lot of cred.

  11. Dan Nadel says:

    Jim Rugg! Post those emails. Don’t be shy. I need some time to properly respond, and I’ll try to get to it.

  12. Frank Santoro says:

    Jim’s afraid of hurting people’s feelings, alas.

  13. Frank Santoro says:

    we talked about “art’ and “aesthetics” all weekend, it was the best hang-out con i’ve ever been to –best con to talk comics– but the panels didn’t really reflect that. Hmmm.

  14. Dustin Harbin says:

    Yeah, I wanted to jump into some of those late-night bar conversations, especially when it was like you guys and Jaime and Sammy and Kevin H. all around a table. You were probably talking about boobs or something, though. But I kept getting waylaid all weekend, although a lot of times it was by fun people and drinks.

    Jim Rugg actually had a ton of sweet stuff to say, especially about Cold Heat and Ninja, two books that have been especially challenging for me. But I am definitely looking at this stuff now in the same way I think of “out” jazz like Sun Ra or Albert Ayler–it’s not always important to understand everything. But it’s often challenging to switch your brain over into a mode that can BEGIN appreciating something that may seem completely broken on first inspection.

  15. sammy says:

    dustin, it might help looking at ninja more like you would Krazy Kat. Kat has its own particular vernacular that can be hard to aproach at first, but once you buckle down and read a stack of pages it’s genius really starts opening itself.
    ninja is one of those comics that when you flip through it, it so completely overwhelming, almost to the point of not wanting to actually try to read it. but again, if you start on page one and stick to the “snake” panel flow (what I think is the hardest thing to get over, personally), and you keep to it for couple pages, you realize that it actually is one of the most readable strips around. I know that sounds nuts, because they should be hard to read with the amount of scribbling, but it’s storytelling is very straight forward, classical cartooning. it reminds me a lot of Roy Crane (copy a panel of chippendale’s, and you will notice how in a few dashed off marks he creates characters that really feel alive and are excellently designed-much like Crane). he is worth totally the effort-no one ever talks about the writing side of chippendale. the strips are really well written and funny and after awhile you realize you are in fact reading something that is very much in tune with the ebb and flow of real life, in the tangled relationships, millions of sub plots not always tying up, and the random and godly occasionally throwing everything for a loop…sorta like what makes Gasoline Alley so awesome as well.
    so fucking read it! and dont talk about sun ra again! woof!

  16. Dustin Harbin says:

    Hey, I never said I didn’t like Sun Ra, and in the right mood I LOVE Ayler. But no, I don’t really like Sun Ra. Haw!

    This is very VERY interesting, because I’ve actually been buying those Fantagraphics Krazy Kat reprints, but have yet to gel with the strip. How gorgeous it is is obvious, but reading it is hard, much harder than other things from the same time period.

    That’s a perfect parallel, actually, because it seems initially inscrutable but obviously is deeply influential to so many artists whose work I dig. Ditto some of these other comics we’re talking about. But I’ll say that if it weren’t for the public discussion of stuff like this, I would probably never make it past that first flip-through. Even just seeing a lot of this stuff in Kramer’s, alongside more traditional cartooning, would make me look twice to see what I must have missed. Which is the best part of a community, I think: it’s ability to share and discuss art.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Hey ‘biting on an artists work’ is tricky to chat, look at rock-n-roll, jazz or blues. Maybe Boys Club is inspired by Ben Jones? Maybe it’s Jones’s pen name. Paper Rad themselves ‘bite’ Jim Davis, haha. There’s a bunch of toy artists that are like ‘Woodring genre’ for example. You gonna tell me I can’t use graph paper anymore because of Fort Thunder?

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