Posts Tagged ‘The A.V. Club’

2 x 2


Friday, February 25, 2011

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1. You’ve doubtless seen mention of this already, but on the off chance you’ve ignored the links, you should definitely make some time this week to check out’s Kirb Your Enthusiasm, a series of posts by various writers deconstructing single panels from all stages of Jack Kirby’s career. I haven’t read a bad one yet, but special notice so far should go to Dan, Gary Panter, and Annie Nocenti.

2. The Onion’s A.V. Club has revamped its regular “Comics Panel” feature.

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The Most Amazing Review of the Year


Thursday, December 9, 2010

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Recapping television shows must be draining. Or at least one assumes such to be the case, based on the energy the writers at the Onion’s A.V. Club seem able to muster when writing about comics. One of the keenest joys available for the connoisseur of online comics criticism lies in noting the crazy letter-grade equivalences that pop up in each installment of the A.V. Club’s semi-regular “Comics Panel” feature. Ah, the intellectual whiplash that results from trying to understand what kind of schizophrenic groupthink could lead to assigning Chris Ware’s latest issue of Acme Novelty Library the exact same grade (A-) as the latest undistinguished revamp of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.

To a certain kind of masochist (and don’t all comic-book fans members belong to that persuasion?), this is a fine headache-inducing brew indeed, fer soytin. If you haven’t discovered this pleasure for yourself, search the archives; there is much to savor.

Don't be fooled by this photo — the book does not yet exist!

But all of that pales next to the A.V. Club’s latest and greatest feat, their review of Dean Mullaney & Bruce Canwell’s Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth.

Here is the text in full, as published in the Comics Panel of November 5:

The latest in a flood of biographical collections of Golden and Silver Age comic-book artists, Genius, Isolated: The Life And Art Of Alex Toth (IDW) is easily the classiest of the group. It’s not only that the book is handsome, beautifully designed, and lengthy, with lots of rarities (including the terrific “Jon Fury” material Toth produced in the service). Nor is it that it’s much better written than most such works, by tested comics researchers Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell. It’s that Toth himself is an incredibly fascinating figure. Even if he were only known for his comics work, he’d be considered one of the greats. Genius, Isolated presents enough material showing his brilliance at action drawing and character design to firmly make the case that he deserves the deluxe biographical treatment. But Toth was also a fascinating person, an outspoken critic and defender of the comics medium, a pioneering animator, and a great cartoonist. He’s one of the great characters of the medium, as well as one of its best practitioners, and a worthy subject for this essential biography… A

What makes this review so impressive, of course, is that the book in question not only had not been published at the time of publication, it had not yet even been finished! Bruce Canwell was still researching the text (and is still making final touches on it), and Dean Mullaney is still working on the book’s final design. These facts make one wonder how the A.V. Club can so confidently dismiss the writing and praise characterize the writing and design of the book (much less compare it to other reprints), but it is probably not wise to speculate too far.

I wrote Mullaney about all of this, and asked him if he remembered his initial response to the review. Mullaney’s reply: “Surprise, at first. Then confusion. I thought perhaps I was on Earth-Two, where the book had already been published. Then mild pleasure in noting that we received the highest rating of the week!”

Genius, Isolated will be sent to printers in January, and is scheduled for a mid-March release. Considering the subject, authors, and publisher, it will almost certainly be excellent. I’ll wait until I see it before I say for sure, though.

For more information, go to the Library of American Comics website.

UPDATE: The A.V. Club’s Keith Phipps has responded in comments, and explains the situation in about as gracious and straightforward a way as anyone could reasonably ask, here and here.

In addition to that, Phipps has posted an apology and explanation at the A.V. Club itself, which can be read here.

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Inventors & Refiners


Monday, August 17, 2009

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The Onion’s AV Club did a list of the 21 most influential mainstream comics artists (mainstream being a slightly inadequate term to designate contemporary commercial superhero comics).

It’s not a bad list, as these things go:

1. Jack Kirby 2. Steve Ditko 3. George Pérez 4. Alex Ross 5. Mike Mignola . 6. Carmine Infantino 7. Greg Land 8. George Tuska 9. Jim Lee 10. Carl Barks 11. Dan DeCarlo 12. Steve Rude 13. Will Eisner 14. Joe Kubert 15. Rob Liefeld 16. Todd McFarlane 17. Chris Ware 18. Basil Wolverton 19. Harvey Kurtzman 20. Neal Adams 21. Bill Sienkiewicz.

The people who did this list are much better versed in contemporary mainstream comics than I am, so I think they have a fair sense of who the large, living influences are right now. Even so, I think they made a mistake not to include Alex Toth, who continues to shape all sorts of artists (like Darwyn Cooke, Mazzuchelli, Michael Cho).

And I’m not sure that Chris Ware belongs on the list: I wish he did have a big impact on mainstream comics art but I don’t see it, aside from a few design licks that get stolen time and again. Nobody in the mainstream has learned to copy Ware’s delicate color sense or his ability to think freshly about inherited cartooning conventions, not to mention the emotional range and sensitivity of his work.

Aside from Toth, who else should be on the list bud didn’t make it? I’d say (for a start): 1. Jesse Marsh 2. Bernie Krigstein. 3. Wally Wood 4. Russ Manning. 5. Jack Cole. 6. Gil Kane. 7. Bernie Wrightson 8. Johnny Craig. 6. Al Williamson. 7. Gene Colan. 8. Reed Crandall. 9. Lou Fine. 9. John Romita.

What’s interesting about the artists that didn’t make the AV Club list (Toth to Romita on my list) is that they tend to come out of the illustrational tradition. They’re not, for the most part, master-innovators like Kirby, Kurtzman, or Eisner. Rather, their skill was in refining and extending already existing styles. It’s like the difference between Buster Keaton and Sergei Eisenstein (on the one hand) compared to Howard Hawks and John Ford on the other. The question is, are artists of this sort – refiners rather than inventors – worth remembering? Or are they simply part of the flotsam of history?

We could also have an interesting list of people who should be influential but aren’t: 1. Fletcher Hanks 2. Milt Gross. 3. Boody Rodgers. 4. John Stanley.

What all these lists demonstrate, I think, is the narrow artistic range of the mainstream. The gene-pool here is shallow and hasn’t been replenished by outside influences for a long time. To find a more inbred group, you’d have to go back to ancient Egypt when Pharaohs often married their own sisters.

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Lost & Found


Friday, July 24, 2009

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1. A vanishingly small subset of readers will be interested in this, but for those of you who enjoy discovering the hidden connections between Nabokov and comics, under-appreciated great-novelist John Crowley believes he knows the answer to one of the master’s more obscure comic-strip allusions. (An allusion that apparently baffled Alfred Appel Jr. himself, no less.)

His answer is here.

2. These are all over the internet already, but I would still feel remiss if I didn’t draw your attention to the comics coverage at The Onion AV Club and Vice this week. Some of the content in both is a little hinky (Is “hinky” a word? Does it mean what I want it to mean?), but some of it is pretty good and shouldn’t be missed. In particular, I recommend the interviews with Seth (who I was pleased to learn is a fellow Dick Ayers appreciator), Michael Kupperman, and Al Jaffee, as well as a top ten list from Gary Panter.

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