Posts Tagged ‘Donald Phelps’

Notebook jottings


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

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Glenn Head's Hotwire Comics

Below are some jottings from my notebook. They are not substantial enough to be essays but might spark some thought or debate.

Praise for the competition. Lots of spitballs have been thrown at The Comics Journal‘s new web format, some of them hurled by mutinous writers from the Journal itself. I care more about content than format, so I don’t agree with the general line of criticism. For me the biggest problem with TCJ these days is that there is an overabundance of good stuff. It’s hard to keep up with the magazine since it offers so much to read every day. Put it this way: the magazine features long essays by Donald Phelps, Gary Groth, and R. Fiore. These aren’t just three of the best comics critics around, they are among the best essayists around period. Phelps is a critic of the stature of Manny Farber or Pauline Kael. (In fact, the Library of America’s great volume American Movie Critics has essays by Farber, Kael, and Phelps). Fiore and Groth are a notch below that Olympian level but there essays are as good as anything found in The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Believer or n+1. Aside from these key writers, the magazine offers regular essays from a strong cohort of intelligent, informed critics — Clough, Worcester, Ishii, Kreiner, Suat Tong, Crippen, Garrity, etc. (Anyone who isn’t on the list shouldn’t be offended, I’m writing off the top of my head.)

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It’s Bushmiller Time


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

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It’s a good time to be a Nancy-boy. Fantagraphics is about to launch a comprehensive reprinting of Ernie Bushmiler’s strip, along with Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik’s How to Read Nancy, which promises to be a revelatory look at the language of comics. Coupled with this is Drawn and Quarterly’s great new reprint of the Nancy comic books, done by John Stanley and Dan Gormley. Although slightly different in spirit from the Nancy comic strip – less formalist and gaggy, with longer stories and more sharply defined characters – the comic book is a fine read.

The Cult of Bushmiller, has, of course, long been at the core of art comics. It’s hard to think of a major cartoonist who hasn’t paid homage to Nancy and Sluggo: aside from the aforementioned Newgarden and Karasik, the cult includes Art Spiegelman, Seth, Gary Panter, Ivan Brunetti (Bushmiller’s influence runs like a thread through the first of his Yale anthologies), Jerry Moriarty, Bill Griffith, among many others. Newgarden once sat on Bushmiller’s wheelchair, a veritable cartooning throne.

Perhaps the original Nancy-boy was the painter and film-critic Manny Farber (1917-2008). Farber penned a smart analysis of comics that appeared in the New Republic issue September 4, 1944. That article (along with another sharp Farber piece on comics, and many other valuable essays) is available in a book Kent Worcester and I co-edited, Arguing Comics. Here’s what Farber had to say about Nancy:

It is probable that Nancy is the best comic today, principally because it combines a very strong, independent imagination with a simplification of best tradition of comic drawing. Nancy is daily concerned with making a pictorial gag either about or on the affairs of a group of bright, unsentimental children who have identical fire-plug shapes, two-foot heights, inch-long names (Sluggo, Winky, Tilly, Nancy) and genial self-powered temperaments. This comic has a remarkable, brave, vital energy that its artist, Ernie Bushmiller, gets partly from seeing landscape in large clear forms and then walking his kids, whom he sees in the same way, with great strength and well being, through them. Bushmiller’s kids have wonderfully integrated personalities combining smart sociability with tough independence. They also have wonderful heads of hair – Sluggo hasn’t any and calls his a “baldy bean,” Nancy’s is a round black cap with prickles, Tilly has an upsweep tied around the middle like a shock of wheat.

(Incidentally, Farber’s whole engagement with comics and cartooning is worthy of study. He was a very early appreciator of Chuck Jones and close friends with Donald Phelps, whose own essays on comics are very Farber-esque.)

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Dept. of Psychiatry


Friday, December 19, 2008

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I know everyone’s excited about Punisher: War Zone Watchmen, but this is the comic I’d really like to see adapted into a movie. (Click to enlarge.)

Actually, it would present even greater adaptation problems than Watchmen does, but no need to get into that now. (And yes, I’m aware of The Jazz Singer. Why do you ask?)

(The above cartoon nicked from O. Soglow‘s excellent out-of-print collection Pretty Pictures, by the way.)

Also, a few links:

1. A David Heatley interview, for Frank’s reading pleasure.

2. Charles Hatfield has written the most in-depth review of The Goddess of War I’ve seen to date.

3. Probably 90% of Comics Comics readers have already heard this, but Sammy Harkham (perhaps best known as a CC cover artist) gave a predictably great interview to Inkstuds.

4. Not many of you will find it as train-wreck entertaining as I do, but I can’t keep myself from linking to The Comics Journal‘s go-to superhero guy Tom Crippen, and his hilariously prolonged quest [more (!) here, here, and here] to get other people to read and explicate an essay by the legendary Donald Phelps for him. (I won’t speculate on why Crippen can’t read it himself.) No real point here. I just want to feed the beast so it keeps running, though a wiser man than I has advised me against it. In any case, the whole saga captures the recent flavor of the Journal quite nicely.

[UPDATE: No one has said anything to me about it, but upon reflection I think that posting #4 was a little juvenile. In my defense, I value Phelps’s writing a lot, and I didn’t like the way Crippen and his blogmate Noah Berlatsky were treating such an accomplished guy with so little of the respect he’s earned. I mean, it’s not like they didn’t deserve being slammed. But still. Bill Randall and Jon Hastings both displayed a lot more maturity and reasonableness in their responses. Anyway: lesson learned, and new leaf turned. Merry Christmas, everybody!]

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