Author Archive

The Mid-Life Moment in Alternative Comics


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Friday, March 4, 2011


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Mid-Life by Joe Ollmann

Over at the National Post, I have a review of Joe Ollmann’s new graphic novel  Mid-Life (click here to read).

A few ancillary thoughts:

The Mid-Life Theme. As can be guessed from the title, Ollmann’s book is about a mid-life crisis. Has anyone noticed how pervasive that theme has been in recent graphic novels? I’m thinking here of Clowes’ Wilson, Collier’s Chimo, Jaime Hernandez’s The Education of Hopey Glass (and the triptych of stories in Love and Rockets 3), Ware’s Acme 19 (and arguably “Jason Lint” or Acme 20, which covers the characters whole life year by year but where the central life-defining actions take place in mid-life). Perhaps related is Brown’s Paying For It, which I haven’t read yet, also hinges I’m told on a pivotal  life-decision the cartoonist made in mid-life. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why the mid-life theme is so pervasive. The generation of alternative cartoonists that now dominate comics were all born in the late 1950s or 1960s and are now facing mid-life themselves. Seth’s an interesting anomaly since it could be said that he cartooned like a middle-age man even when he was young. But Seth is relevant here because he once said that he hoped his audience would grow old with him. That’s what seems to be happening with alternative comics and their audience.

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Cartoonists That Never Were: G.K. Chesterton


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Wednesday, March 2, 2011


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G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) is a bit of a shadowy figure in contemporary cultural memory. There is, to be a sure, a Chesterton cult which cherishes him as a sage but most people have only a small glimmer of his various achievements as a novelist (The Man Who Was Thursday), detective story writer (creator of the Father Brown stories), intellectual sparring partner of G.B. Shaw and H.G. Wells, religious apologist (The Everlasting Man), and literary critic (The Victorian Age in Literature and other books).  

Chesterton was also a cartoonist, as I was recently reminded while reading an essay by Wilfrid Sheed. Chesterton had studied art as a young man and worked as an illustrator before becoming a full-time writer. His cartoons are a bit hard to come by. I’ve seen some here and there in The Chesterton Review and a few of the books, but could only find one online. (The image pasted above.)

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Jane Russell, RIP


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Wednesday, March 2, 2011


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Jane Russell, who died last Monday at age 89, will be remembered fondly for many reasons: her full-bodied sexiness, her saucy performance as Marilyn Monroe’s co-star in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, her various turns as a comic foil for Bob Hope. But comics fans will also remember that she was one of the many Hollywood stars that Will Eisner recruited in his work (Lauren Bacall was an especial favourite). Russell’s erotically charged performance in the 1943 movie The Outlaw, a film in which her cleavage was much on display, was hugely controversial in the 1940s. In the Spirit section of Sept. 1, 1946, Eisner transformed Russell into Olga Bustle, “the girl with those big, big eyes.” Farewell, Jane Russell: your movies will continue to entertain the world, as will Eisner’s affectionate parody of your early persona.

 

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Awkward Word Balloon Placement in Early Comics


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Wednesday, March 2, 2011


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Herriman's Major Ozone, Sept. 29, 1906

As an addendum to my McManus notebook, I’ve been collecting examples of reverse-order word ballooning, that’s to say the tendency of early cartoonists to occasionally have word balloons read from right to left rather than the reading protocol that’s easier in English (from left to right).

A few examples of what I’m talking about:

George Herriman, Major Ozone, Sept. 29, 1906:

Major Ozone: “What! And shut out that fine fresh air? Never, Captain, Never!!”

Captain: “Major,  you’d better close your door – it may storm tonight.”

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Swanky Cartoonists, Part II


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Monday, February 28, 2011


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National Cartoonists Society dinner, April. 21 1969.

 Another example of swanky cartoonists: a photograph of the dinner of the National Cartoonists Society from 1969 (available on the cover of The National Cartoonists Society Album, 1980 edition). Wouldn’t be great if everyone at Comic Con dressed like this?

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Endings & McManus Notebook


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Wednesday, February 23, 2011


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George McManus' Nisby the Newsboy, a Little Nemo parody

This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I’ll never look into your eyes…again

– Jim Morrison (beloved bard of teenagers everywhere)

I’ve been thinking a lot about endings lately, for reasons that cannot be elaborated on at this time. The end of Borders. The end of Comic Relief. The end of collective bargaining. The possible end of the world through ecological catastrophe. Our libraries (themselves an endangered institution) are filled with books that prophesize the end of something or other, the end of ideology, the end of history, the end of art, the end of nature. There’s even a book out there called The End of Everything.

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Swanky Cartoonists


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Wednesday, February 23, 2011


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1923 Illustrators Show.

I really like this 1923 photo of the cream of the cartooning world. Billy Debeck was surpisingly dainty; and Clare Briggs a bit pudgier than he appears in other photos. From The National Cartoonists Society Album, 1980 edition, compiled by Charles Green and Mort Walker.

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