Weekend Clean-Up


Saturday, July 11, 2009

(Artist’s rendition of my vacation)

I was away kayaking, fishing, having water balloon fights, eating ice cream, and doing other “manly” things this past week, so I’ve been designated “weekend boy” by my compatriots. What have we learned this week?

Well, for one thing we had an off-blog discussion about the incredible Trevor Von Eeden interview in The Comics Journal. Truly the must-read of the year so far. Like the Dick Ayers autobiography or the Dave Stevens book, it’s a pretty incredible record of a cartoonist’s psyche. I mean, all the stuff about Lynn Varley alone is remarkable — almost (Ok, maybe totally) too candid. Also, it reminds me of how the TCJ interviews use to be — the totally off the cuff candor of Kaluta or Conway or Chaykin in the 1980s. I think it’s less that the Journal has changed (though it has) and more that the culture of comics has shifted so much in the last 20 years. After all, by contrast that interview with Ba and Moon (contemporary young “hot” artists) is remarkable for its contentment and happiness. I mean, the industry is still bizarre but the rewards and possibilities are so much more…lucrative. Comics isn’t small anymore, I guess, and certainly what’s left of public bitching now occurs more on message boards and blogs than it does in the old style interviews. But someone who lived through all of that could speak to this better than I.

Of course, Von Eeden was/is very talented, which is pretty much what distinguishes it from, say, a million other interviews you could do with superhero artists and why I’m at all interested in him. That’s what I love that he talks about more or less drawing in ink, rather than tracing pencils, and that he’s unconcerned with any conceptual logic to his layouts — they seem to just evolve from whatever he feels like doing. Luckily the drawing and storytelling remains clear. I suppose that’s the trick.

Oh, and I sure liked Frank’s Brinkman review. I’m of course biased and I’ve been meaning to ask Mat to confirm a few things. Certainly Frank’s thoughts about relating to the work seems dead on. I also wanted to note that so much of what makes MF work has to do with Mat’s experiments with multiple generation xeroxing and the scale shifts throughout a page. Those are miraculous compositions which, as Frank so eloquently noted seem unimpeachable.

Finally, we learned from Lauren Weinstein that I’m against social interaction and a “killjoy” (oh, Weinstein, you’re in trouble!). She may or may not be right. Next week we’ll have a cage match about that very subject. Also, we have intuited that we will never be as cool as Al Jaffee, but oh lord we can try. Plus, we at CC have given birth (we’re competing with Lauren!) to a new feature which will be unveiled soon. The suspense must be killing you!

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17 Responses to “Weekend Clean-Up”
  1. Inkstuds says:

    I think one problem with interviews in the journal and other similar formats, is the reliance on doing them by email. You lose out on so much of the interesting honest dialogue when someone has a chance to perfect that they have to say.

    Maybe I am just tooting my own little insignificant horn, but that's why i love doing my interviews. I am sure that half the stuff that is talked about on the Insktuds, would not come up in normal interviews. And something has to be said for when you hear Frank Santoro raise his voice and hear the frustration on certain topics.

    I would love to see more folks doing that style of interview. Let someone talk without htinking, you get more honest answers and some stuff they probably didn't want you to hear.

  2. Frank Santoro says:

    I think it was Robin, technically, who called you "Killjoy", Dan.

    Man. Von Eeden. Someday I'll tell my "convention" encounter with him in 2005. I should talk to Evan Dorkin first tho'. I need to talk to him to get me into the zone of describing the con itself. One of those ones at the Penn Hotel acroos the street from Penn Station.

    Anyways. Where's Dash? He needs to comment on that Von Eeden interview.

  3. Dash Shaw says:

    Oh man those letters columns in the back of "Thriller" issues KILL ME! People wrote in talking about how "Thriller" isn't as good as "Ronin" constantly! Can you imagine being Von Eeden reading that?! Your girlfriend breaks up with you to go out with Miller and then you start working on your masterpiece and everyone tells you it isn't as good as Miller's work! Yowch! And it's printed in the work itself! That's different than just bitching on random blogs, divorced from the work. Part of me wonders if Varley caused this because she was one of the few girls hanging out with comic book artists at that time… I donno… I wonder why more people haven't ripped off of Von Eeden. His layouts open so many doors.
    That tcj interview made me think about how when so many mainstream-y guys start doing their own/solo work it's often so much about communicating a message- the most obvious example being Ditko.
    Robin, there's a "The Comics Journal" CD interview sampler and it's AMAZING. Gil Kane talking to Robert Crumb. Groth asks Schulz about Crumb. Kirby talks about romance comics. Walt Kelly sounds drunk. I'm sure they have the full interviews, plus many more, somewhere at the office and eventually they'll put them up as a podcast on the Fanta site. That'll be incredible.

  4. Frank Santoro says:

    What are you talking about Dash?
    I rip off Von Eeden all the time, haHA!

    This is very true what you writ:
    That tcj interview made me think about how when so many mainstream-y guys start doing their own/solo work it's often so much about communicating a message- the most obvious example being Ditko.
    Even Mazzucchelli's new book is like that. Asterios Polyp is full of "preachy" bits. But I wonder if that's in part due to most "mainstream-y" guys being stifled in their early career and then breaking out of that by over doing it a bit.

    Also, the form itself sort of lends itself more to monologues somehow. Panels of two people having a back and forth conversation often just gets repetitious and weighs on the design of the page. So one person talking and the other primary players kinda moving around in the background is more pleasing.

    That's why Crane and Crumb and Archie comics always have the two primary characters walking around in a landscape settings. That's what I think anyhow, formally speaking. The "preachy voice" can still come out between the two characters but they are sort of "stilled" in the frame by walking. Like a dolly shot.

  5. Dash Shaw says:

    Frank, It sounds like you’re building an argument for “Rant Comix.” The rule for rant comix is the uglier and sweatier the person pointing at you in the first panel is, the better the rant comic! Yeah, I know what you mean about conversations weighing down the pages, but that’s because for most of American comics they’re working in size/length restrictions. Like 20 pages or so or a strip. It’s hard to have a back-and-forth conversation in that space without it dominating the whole issue or strip. Makes you realize how good Peanuts is at distilling a whole conversation to 3 panels! Fuck! But with manga and graphic novels and long-form work, artists CAN have a conversation going back and forth for panels/pages and it be interesting. “Monster” is talky as shit but I can get into it.

    My theory about why these mainstream guys turn to sorta “preachy” work when they have their own platform is that mainstream work is so much about thinking about the audience and how best to communicate information to the masses. That sensibility’s been ingrained in their work psyche. It’s not like “alternative” comics where there aren’t many readers or you’re making it not knowing if it’s going to be published (also it’s usually not your job or main income, so you’re not risking any money/life if it doesn’t satisfy an audience.) “Polyp” doesn’t strike me as preachy word-wise the way the Ditko Rand comics are or Von Eeden’s “The Original Johnson.” I love how big and airy the “Polyp” lettering is! Like a children’s book! Ha! But it does show up in a couple ways. I mean, it’s pretty unusual for an “alternative” comic to have an anti-smoking subplot. I can’t remember the last time I got that vibe from an alternative comic. And it’s funny that Mazz isn’t doing interviews about “Polyp” because the comic explains so much of itself in words already through the narration. It’s like the interview is in the book itself. He doesn’t need to do any interviews about it. And if he did, the first question would be “How autobiographical is this?” and Mazz would be thinking, “who cares?” Ha ha. Most interviews blow.

  6. Frank Santoro says:

    " mainstream work is so much about thinking about the audience and how best to communicate information to the masses. That sensibility’s been ingrained in their work psyche."

    Word. But, you know what Mazzucchelli would say to that is something like "You don't think about the audience?"
    So I think the argument has to be reduced a bit. Like, I'm not making comics for the everyday reader. I expect the reader to meet me half way. Most mainstream work spoon-feeds the audience, at times, a little too much for my taste.
    And there are sections of Asterios Polyp that have this detached voice being critical of the detached protagonist and, well, I'm not sure how I feel about that. The doubling of the narration fits the character (purposefully diagrammatical) but much of it feels like an "Understanding Comics" breakdown of the comic being read. Lots and lots of thinking for the lay reader. Not a bad thing but a device that keeps it from being an emotional "personal" work –the kind associated with "alternative cartoonists."
    Somehow that feels purposeful. And that's good. Just trying to wrap my head around it. Some new formula.

  7. Inkstuds says:

    Man, you guys are dorks!

    I am pretty sure it was me that called Dan a killjoy. I do say things out of turn quiet often.

    I have a lot of questions other than autobio talk for Mazz. I think the Autobio aspect is pretty obvious, I am more interested in exploring the tricks in the book. but maybe i would just freeze up and mispronounce his name.

    Dash – I know about the disc of interviews. I think its great to have that stuff available. Patrick Rosenkranz was telling me about interviews he had on tape when he tried to do a radioshow in the 70's that sound incredible. I want to hear what Art Spiegelman sounded like in 1974.

    A really good reference for avoiding the talking head issue, is Eddie Campbell's rule of showing legs at least once per page.

    Grant Morrison is a prime example of using mainstream work to push his own issues in a creation of dialogue. Anyone that read Invisibles all the way through, and then read's Final Crisis, can see a common thread.

    And don't forget Frank "krazy neo-con" Miller.

  8. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I think whether or not your tapes are any good depends a great deal on the style of the interviewer. Gary's a conversational interviewer, so his tapes are usually a lot of fun (although I didn't think much of that CD except as a novelty). I learned to do interviews by doing oral histories, and the vast majority of my tapes are horrible. I look at the final draft as more important than the raw copy and conduct my interviews with that in mind and actually pitch my tapes as work product so that they won't someday be posted. Someone doing interviews intended to be heard seems to me would approach things very differently, and god bless them.

    That said, given their willingness to do so, I'm not sure why they haven't recorded and turned into podcasts all of Gary's interviews. That seems like it would be an easy project for someone, so you'd think they would have done this by now, at least with the dead people.

    It's worth noting that the Journal does offer the opportunity to go over interviews, even/especially the verbal ones. So I can't imagine I'd be happy if I spoke freely knowing I could excise something to have that show up 16 years later on tape. Many creators rework theirs extensively, and at least when I was there this was always hugely to the benefit of the final copy to my eye — except maybe Joe Kubert's. So I've always thought it's more of a interesting cartoonists = interesting interviews more than a process thing.

  9. Anonymous says:

    About "rant comics" as a genre: I think we have to start by seeing that there are a variety of "rant comics." When Crumb or Clowes do their rant comics (My Trouble With Women, I Hate You Deeply), the visuals often undercut the main message or make it more complicated. The rant is tempered by irony. The same is not true, I think of the mainstream artists who do rant comics, which tend towards being humourless and didactic. (Certainly that's what I think of Ditko's work).


  10. Frank Santoro says:

    my favorite rant comic is the Yummy Fur with the "Bible Story" back up of Jesus. He's just yelling. Every panel (a grid) is filled with his face and bared teeth from different angles. Yelling. It's like 5 pages long. All more or less a similar head shot.

  11. Inkstuds says:

    Reason # 389 that Chester Brown is one of my most favoritist cartoonists.

    If I had more time and skill's, I would write up an appreciation of Chet.

  12. Dirk Deppey says:

    Tom: "It's worth noting that the Journal does offer the opportunity to go over interviews, even/especially the verbal ones. So I can't imagine I'd be happy if I spoke freely knowing I could excise something to have that show up 16 years later on tape."

    I don't think I've ever walked on so many eggshells as I did when I was curating the Audio Archives MP3s for TCJ.com. The concerns Tom mentions are quite valid — I saw my job as first and foremost not to poison the well for future TCJ interviews, which meant seeking permission to post online excerpts, and editing them so that they conformed to what ran in the print version of the interview, barring perhaps the occasional aside that was clearly cut for space. I even made a serious effort to remove "uhhh"s, awkward pauses and the like from the files. Making such recordings public isn't, and shouldn't be, something to be taken lightly.

    The Journal seems never to have thrown away a tape in its three decade-plus history, resulting in a massive pile of boxes that I suspect may well be the largest oral history of the U.S. comics industry in existence. There's all kinds of stuff in there, including a substantial number of recordings that have never seen print — the number of casually recorded conversations between Gary Groth and Gil Kane alone would make for a substantial book, should they ever choose to publish such a thing. The transcript of a 1970s panel discussion between Carl Barks and Floyd Gottfriedson that appeared in TCJ #250 was something that I stumbled across by accident and pointed out to then-managing editor Milo George; no one had any idea that the tape was even in our possession.

    I digitized some 240 or so hours of tape during my stay in Seattle, and for every tape I worked, there have to be at least thirty that I never got around to copying. I hope that someone at some point continues the job, if only to preserve them for the day when everyone involved is dead and the files can safely be donated to some university or museum or whatnot. Some of the earliest tapes are in an obviously fragile state; I copied several tapes that broke and required impromptu repair work in order to digitize the rest, and this situation will only get worse as the years pass. Granted, it's a fair amount of work — and it's not like there's an excess of money or trustworthy people for the job — and maybe a quarter of the tapes are unlabeled, making the process of prioritizing the workload all the more maddening. But the results would surely be more than worth the effort.

    Sorry for rambling like this. These tapes were my obsession for several years, and I spent a great deal of time copying what I could in every moment of spare time that I could muster. I'd hate to think that I wound up being the only person ever to do so.

  13. rick says:

    Just wanted to write and say I drove up to the Fantagraphics store in Seattle today specifically to pick up the new issue to read this "incredible" interview and let me just say… I was expecting to be underwhelmed but man, talk about fascinating. I am not familiar with Mr. Eeden's work but I sure as hell am gonna be on the lookout for it from now on. Thanks for the heads up!

  14. Inkstuds says:

    Hey Dirk, how often are the recent interviews done in the same format as the old ones, recorded interviews in comparison to those that are done via email.

  15. looka says:

    That's a way out conversation you got going here gentlemen!

    TCJ tapes… where is the intern army??? And the head executer, to see that all goes well. Lord, why don't I live in SEATTLE??

  16. Dirk Deppey says:

    Robin – I believe that most TCJ interviews are still recorded on tape, rather than conducted via e-mail. I agree that the former reads better since it reads more like a conversation.

    (True story: The reason that there wasn't a Gail Simone interview until Michael Dean's editorship was because we were at opposite ends of this dichotomy. Simone was uncomfortable with a recorded interview, and wanted to do it via e-mail, whereas I hate e-mail interviews and wanted to tape a discussion.)

    "Looka" – The thing is, you don't just need a person to do the recording, you also need the software and the skillset that comes with it. I mean, sometimes I wasn't up to the challenge either — the aforementioned Barks/Gottfriedson panel talk almost didn't make it into the Journal because the recording was nearly all tape hiss, with the participants barely/nearly audible in the far background. Try as I might, I couldn't bring the voices any further to the forefront. God only knows how Milo was able to make all that out and turn it into a useable transcript; I know that it took a while.

  17. Paul Karasik says:

    Uh, nice striped bass, Dan.

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