Fusion notes


Saturday, July 31, 2010

ACTION THWUP! Howdy and welcome, True Believers, to Comics Comics’ weekend edition, I’m your host, Frankie the Wop. No review of a comic or a soapbox rant from me this week cuz I spent most of the week swimming. And also preparing for a radio interview over at Inkstuds. Mr. Robin McConnell was kind enough to ask me to participate on a show about “fusion comics” where we could talk to two of our favorite fusion guys, Brandon Graham and Michael DeForge. What is fusion? We’re not really sure, but if you listen to the show, you might get an idea of where Robin and I are coming from. What follows are my notes that I looked at while on the air. There were a lot of riffs that I didn’t get to, so I thought I’d share them here. For ideal readers only.
Michael DeForge
Brandon Graham
James Stokoe

All funny – unlike heavy metal artists – not so serious.  Real humor, kinda big foot – Kinda BODE/MOEBIUS. Horny Goof vibe at times – goes back to undergrounds.  I’m not saying all this is so new, it’s just a fresh combination.  Feels fun -timely – not a throw back but a real evolution. A fusion. Being able to have such access to the likes of Bode/Moebius. (In the late eighties, early nineties it was hard to find these books.  Fusion is anyone, yes, but there is a hyper-text crack-addict version of assembling one’s influences these days so it’s more of a recent last 10 years development –

DeForge is exposition like an old Sunday comic.  Slow, deliberate pacing, unfolding narrative. Classic foil for grotesque imagery, grid works perfect in this regard.

Brandon bends his drawings and page layouts.  Compresses time and action beautifully.  It reads without the dialogue. But then the dialogue kills.

James is like a movie screen.  Even though he does these incredible detailed spreads and jumps scale – it’s like watching animation with slow pans and fast cuts. Like I just hold on – trying to follow along very British feeling. Hewlett-esque for the layman – Stronium Dog-like for the initiate.

2000 Jimmy Corrigan Ground Zero
2003 Literary Comics
2006 Art Comics (Kramers POV takes hold)
2009 Boys Comics boom (Charles Brownstein term)

It flips every three years – mutates…

“Fusion” is a miracle grow version of the tree of influence… less apprenticeship to a school for extended periods


1. Process. Ask them both about tools. Get them talking about hanging out and drawing with people. Back to tools. Computers. Old looks trying to achieve, etc – PROCESS

2. Ask Brandon about the blog posts he made for inkstuds and how that MIRRORS his process this FUSION of styles that is vast, encyclopedic or whatever. Just the constant looking and frame that looking since early 2000s when he was in NYC. – Talk about Dash seeing him sitting at Virgin Records cafe drawing comics for NBM – just the excitement of early 2000’s – how his work hasn’t changed all that much and how world has caught up to him a bit–

3. Follow up; Has world caught up because of the Image series – is it cuz it’s a series that it has gained such a following? Was the manga just lost on the shelves?

4. DeForge and Graham and Stokoe have meandering narratives that are classic writer/artist  – do they find that is a weakness? Cuz honestly I’ve heard a criticism of King City is that “nothing happens” in some issues –  regardless if that is a byproduct of the manga switching to the issues or not – it’s a fair charge. DeForge especially is a meanderer – but those are STRENGTHS the writer doesn’t have –

5. Do they think that humor works better with the slow pacing  – ? Gag delivery really works in KC – entire spreads for one little ‘meaningless’ joke (cervix entrance)

6. DETAIL oriented vs MARK making

7. FUSION riff by me then some questions I haven’t figured out yet –

FUSION – it’s just a vague term. To me, there is a hyper-text velocity to influence these days. Like if you think of Miller’s Ronin as Fusion he is essentially fusing his north american POV and incorporating Moebius and Kojema – a european and japanese influence. Simple. But in 1983 Miller was privy to both those ‘outside” traditions – manga nor BD wasn’t available much here in the states then but he found it cuz he was in new york and around people searching this stuff out. Ten years later in 1993 when Pope appears he’s assembling that fusion of world styles with a bigger library – Catalan was publishing european  BD – Epic published Akira – Viz was doing Crying Freeman, etc – but we still didn’t have Tezuka – ten years after that in 2003 we start to see Tezuka and a flood of reprints from everywhere – plus by 2003 everyone is now on the web tracking down more and more obscure creators – so within 20 years I can see this vast difference between the way a young cartoonist assembled a style in 1983 and then in 2003 – and now in 2010 it’s just ridiculous how many comics/manga/bd is available to the general public. It’s awesome. And overwhelming. It’s overwhelming as a reader – I can’t imagine what it’s like for a young cartoonist trying to figure out his or her own style – when I go to SVA and places like that it’s so interesting to see how everyone in the class has a different style. That wasn’t what it was like in the late ’80s and early ’90s – There were like a handful of approaches one might take – all mostly american styles – almost never would you see a full on manga or bd style – you’d see borrowings but rarely would you see a total manga style by an american –

Throwback stylings and fusion creates new forms that take on a new currency – “sampling” and the like – ask them about “sampling” and the comics tree of influence

RICK MAYS story about getting shit for drawing “manga mouths” on characters in 1993 from art director John Romita – who was quality control at Marvel – keeping artists on model.

Get Brandon and Michael talking about what inspired then a few years ago – what formed them.

8. I think the series of KC has brought it attention – but what about DeForge?  I know him through the circuit. He has a series but it’s hard to find in stores – DeForge is in the boat a lot of young cartoonists are in; shut out of Direct Market and instead working the circuit and the blogs… but I think it’s interesting he is putting out short works instead of a graphic novel – which he may be doing – but DeForge has sidestepped the instant thumbs up thumbs down that greets most graphic novels – a series or a slew of short works creates a different kind of momentum…

9. How do they feel about webcomics?

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30 Responses to “Fusion notes”
  1. Chris says:


    I enjoyed this episode and hope to hear some sort of follow up/continuation of the conversation. What do you mean by 6. DETAIL oriented vs MARK making?

  2. For example in King City there are lots of details in the background – whereas in Cold Heat my backgrounds are more made up of “marks” to create a tone and not so concerned with detail…

  3. phil says:

    Really great interview Frankie (& fellow company too of course)

    Didn’t know you worked for Kozik…lucky man. And TOTALLY loved the unguarded enthusiasm you had for your fellow panelists work, total meta-geek out at the end with the 6 vs 9 panel flow thang. I’m gonna have to pick up the King City run next time i’m up in Copa, So many re-iisues of great things of late, time to get current for at least a little bit i guess…

  4. Abhay says:

    Nice episode. The Kyle Baker stuff– I was thinking about his work all weekend; pulled off the Masterworks and How to Draw Stupid off the shelf. Those books have this great tension between … on the one hand, avoiding dogmatic thinking– about looking at where the herd is going and going the other way; but on the other hand, it’s always tempered with this pragmatism, that chapter of How To Draw Stupid where he talks about … you know, “Draw the stupid guy cross-eyed with buck-teeth. It works. People feel good laughing at ugly people.”

    Like, the stuff he talks about in those books, he projects being super-aware of an audience, how to entertain an audience, and always conveys that this is his big focus, this very bottom line attitude, but then in his work itself, he’ll go off and do Captain America: That One, With a Title in that Aragones/graffitti style or the stuff he’s doing now with 3-d (I think he mentioned in an interview building models of basically everything now in Animation Master), that always feels like it’s a couple yards ahead of where the audience is, just yet.

    I can’t handle his Deadpool stuff necessarily, but … he’s mentioned Dreamland Chronicles on his blog but i always end up thinking more about 80’s British head stuff after I see his 3-d stuff, more than Scott Sava. That’s probably not a good comparison, though. (I had an easier time with that black & white Spirit thing he did with Harlan Ellison than the Deadpool stuff, I guess because there wasn’t color involved). I probably wouldn’t really put up with the 3-d stuff from anyone else, but…

    Plus: what is he doing lately?? Is he just doing the Obama book with the mainstream stuff on the side? Has anyone seen anything from the Obama book since that Masterworks interview? Is he back in TV? Besides the mainstream stuff (which he usually claims not to have spent too, too much time on), he’s been relatively quiet since– what– Special Forces finished up March 2009…? For Baker, given that stretch of books he had in the 00’s, that seems like a long time. Every once in a while there’ll be some teaser images of other stuff– that One Spear cartoon where he animated all of his previous characters. He’s mentioned a pretty sizable number of reasonably great-sounding projects in interviews, over the years, so it’s hard to even guess. Maybe they all end up like those formative You Are Here strips that turned up in Instant Piano, about the mopey waitress; I don’t know…

    Anyways, sorry to babble about something 95% unrelated. Nice podcast.

  5. Ian Harker says:

    Frank, explain “Boys Comics boom” real quick. I got lost there for a sec.

    • last summer to now: King City, Prison Pit, Orc Stain- all “boys” comics – less arty more heavy metal magazine-ish. Boom.

      • DJM says:

        I would also include Dungeon Quest in there, but not nearly as good.

        • It’s good. Different visual style and sensibility – his recent MOME story Burrow World was very “boys comics” – like a chippendale / brinkman mashup. But it read like a John Candy movie. Funny.

          • DJM says:

            I wasn’t really griping at the style. It’s different, but very style heavy the others, and it the same sort of questing feel. It just didn’t develop at all, the characters or the story. Just spelled out the whole damn thing. Very boring, but nice to look at. His best yet, visually speaking. I’ll need to check out MOME. It sounds more like a return to form.

  6. Ian Harker says:

    I like the idea of a “new Heavy Metal”, but not in any way that visibly resembles the old Heavy Metal. Just in the sense that cartoonists can do low-brow/genrey work with an experimental sensibility. Old things in new ways.

    I look at traditional comics genres like sci-fi/fantasy like musical standards. All the great post-bop jazz musicians played standards. Look at Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things”. Is it any less great than “A Love Supreme” because it’s Rogers & Hammerstein? Maybe a degree, but not much in my opinion.

  7. darrylayo says:

    Thanks Frank. The thing you said about the middle tier of the comics page is going to haunt me for a long time now.

    But I wish that you guys got into the webcomics talk actually. I have a lot of questions about how the three of you feel about the multiple issues surrounding webcomics.


    One of your last points above–about the difference between “debuting” with a Big, Important Graphic Novel opens a door to a lot of discussions that need to be a show on their own. At LEAST.

    • RE: debuting with a big graphic novel. Think Johnny Ryan – even his “graphic novels” like Prison Pit are serial installments. Same with CF. The lines are getting blurry between what is a big GN – Prison Pit and Powr Mastrs feel like they escape pressure of stand alone GNs – but they only come out once a year (hopefully) – pamphlet series still build momentum and interest best but only biggish publishers can afford to do monthly or even quarterly pamphlets – the landscape is changing so fast – now seeing more webcartoonists upload chunks of narrative at once – daily/weekly/monthly updates versus once a year GN’s or do both? do everything! and lose money trying to DO everything, haha. We’re all doomed.

      • Ian Harker says:

        Powr Mastrs & Prison Pit are mangas for all intents and purposes, and of course so is Scott Pilgrim. Not just in size and shape either, they pace themselves out like mangas. It makes so much sense that it’s amazing.

  8. darrylayo says:

    Ian, I don’t agree.

    Manga exist in the archival form as big books, but in their most raw form are small chapters or episodes. The original magazines publish one chapter at a time, the collections are a later part of the game. Something is lost in translation, with regards to this process.

    This is why some manga that is popular in Japan dies at the doorstep here in North America. In Japan, these manga cultivate their audience in 15-30 page installments at weekly, bi-weekly or monthly intervals, just like our own domestic comic mainstream. The primary differences are that the audience in Japan is used to reading new series every couple of years and also that the series support one another due to the fact that their initial serialization is bundled together. Even a crappy Shonen Jump manga has the advantage of being packaged with Naruto and Bleach. (Side note, I just realized that my computer recognizes “Naruto” as a real word. No squiggly red line)


    My general opinion of serialization is that it beats the pants off of “All-at-once” comics reading. Certainly, collections are a vital aspect of keeping the artform afloat (as well as keeping heavy readers sane, organizationally), but there’s this aspect that sometimes gets lost. For me anyway:

    When I get a big book of comics, I read and read until I’m done and then it’s over. Sure, I can re-read it, but the general instinct is to cover the available ground and then absorb the story. Having done that, the experience is (typically) over.

    But with serialized comics (daily strips, comic books, serials in anthologies, webcomics, what-have-you), there is a period of reading the newest material available…combined with the continued uncertainty of not knowing what the rest of the story is. We’ve all done this, we’ve POURED over those comic issues, especially when we were kids. Memorizing sequences and maybe committing entire issues to memory because we were mentally trying to absorb the whole story when the whole story simply wasn’t available at our fingertips.

    Side effect/implication: a deepened familiarity with the comic and its subject matter, a deeper relationship between reader and the work and ultimately a deeper loyalty to the comic. It’s more immersive for the reader if s/he keeps going back to the work to puzzle over it rather than having the full-deal at his/her fingertips from the get-go.

    And that sells more books.

    • That was a good one – yah. I like series versus collection conversation – it’s a shifting landscape and lots of approaches “work” – so while I do enjoy my King City the series I still love pouring over a graphic novel like Mattoti’s Fires that is one complete experience – it’s different. And sometimes different works “work” better as series than as a collection – sure – it’s a fun game, I think. Who knows maybe we’ll all decide to do monthly webcomics and create our own direct market so to speak, I dunno – As Jim Rugg loves to point out to me no matter how frustrating the industry is right now, it’s still an exciting time –

      • Kevin Czap says:

        This conversation is making my brain sweat. I’ve started to think that there’s something perhaps more in tune with the comics language with a serial or segmented work. I don’t mean the history of the medium (that’s there too) but just the simple fact of multiple parts that are separate, but still resonate together as a single whole. The magic is certainly not lost by putting them all together in one volume, but maybe the big-book books are not taking full advantage of this effect? Something I’ve been thinking a lot about. This all started to occur to me, I think, when I realized what Kevin Huizenga seems to be doing with his Ganges series, and how it’s kind of spilling out into the other little minis he’s doing (one thread holding them together is the Japanese Fight-Or-Run kind of game that Glenn’s wife is working on). I agree, this is an exciting time, for sure.

        Maybe it’s just me, but manga is a format/mode of presentation? I was thinking it was just the Japanese name for comics…

        • Ian Harker says:

          I’ve certainly heard digest-sized collections of Japanese comics referred to as “mangas”, but where I come from people say a lot of stupid shit. Maybe as Darryl points out the serialized magazines would be a better fit for the term though, however that format has never even been TRIED in North America, mainstream or alternative. I’m still calling for a “new action/boys comics” serialized alt-comic magazine, get on that Pbox!

          • darrylayo says:

            Sorry Ian,

            In this context, ie, serialization vs graphic novels, seeing “manga” as only their final version (the big books) misses the point of how they even got so popular to be collected for so long.

            All in all, I still agree that “manga” is good shorthand for Japanese comics in all of their formats.


      • darrylayo says:

        Frank: Monthly webcomics and “The New Direct Market.”

        Brandon talked a bit on his blog about a certain webcomics collective along these lines. I forget their name, unfortunately. And as for ME, I’m in an anthology that even more closely resembles the Japanese print model. Monthly, digital releases of stories bundled into “issues.” It’s for iPhone/iPad devices, primarily…it’s a clever use of technology! Just that the individual participants aren’t in every issue, unfortunately.

        To go all in: I’m trying to lay the personal groundwork to do a monthly digital-release comic and completely side-step the make-believe “comic book industry.” It would have to be an anthology, so: go Shonen Jump. Or “Afternoon,” a superior magazine if I do say so myself.

        Ao and Ian: you’re in the neighborhood, driving slowly, reading the house numbers. You’re almost there…!

        • Ian Harker says:

          Digital anthologies don’t really make much sense to me. Print anthologies exist mostly because it isn’t feasible to print short stories in a stand-alone context. I mean, you can’t really put out an 8 page comic book. The economics don’t support it. The digital format doesn’t have these limitations as far as I call tell. So other than enjoying an editors vision, why not just read the stuff you want?

          Is it a maximum content for minimum price thing?

          • darrylayo says:


            For example, in Comixology, where my group operates, the lowest price you can sell a “book” for is $0.99. Or for free. So if I’m to do a six-page comic story, it would be highway robbery to try to sell that at $0.99. And if I want to sell it and not have it be offered for free, I’d better come up with a bigger bundle than six pages per issue.

            The economics of the anthology persist even in the new world.

  9. Ao meng says:

    Imagine, if you will, mome but weekly

    • Ian Harker says:

      It would be cool, but there is a degree of difference. Most of the stories in Mome are one off short stories. I think a couple of those would be good in this kind of proposed magazine, but the core of it should be serialized stories. That’s what would really keep it going.

      Of course this is all economically impossible.

  10. […] My actual brother came up to visit last week and reminded me that there are funny things out there on the internet (that’s his comic up there that I think he wrote about me…) He’s got me reading the amazing Problem Sleuth from Andrew Hussie’s MS Paint Adventures. I am floored by this work, it really seems to be taking the concept of the true “web” comic to new heights. What he showed me of this and Hussie’s more recent ongoing comic/game, Homestuck, I am really impressed and excited. It’s also got me thinking a lot about video games and fusion comics. […]

  11. Alec Trench says:

    What we all need is a weekly, magazine-sized anthology containing maybe 5 or so serial strips (about 4-7 pages each) which are a mesh of scifi, quasi-satirical high spirits and maybe some historical fantasy, featuring characters like: a bounty hunter who’s part of a disenfranchised mutant work-force; an extra-terrestrial militant anti-fascist named after a goddess of vengeance; a P.I. who specialises in hunting down robot criminals and is accompanied by some cheekily idiotic robot assistants; a super-dense future-city surrounded by radioactive wasteland and policed by executioners on fat motorbikes; a group of women living as welfare-claimants in some mettalic self-contained ghetto, one of whom gains employment on a space-liner only to find that the whole universe is a tragically poignant trap for wandering souls; and also the odd one-off smirky O Henry snap-ending tale, but minus the gratuitous morality of EC or the post-code mystery/scifi anthologies.
    Hey, hows about throwing in the occasional wild-eyed Milligan + McCarthy collaboration too, and then maybe, just maybe….
    no, it’s over.
    time for bed now.

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