Posts Tagged ‘Will Eisner’

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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Quick ones


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Friday, September 17, 2010


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I mean, really quick, since Tim totally wiped out my time yesterday by “forcing” me to read the essay below.

I wanted to point out this very kind appreciation by longtime fan/historian Don Mangus of the work of Jerry Grandenetti, news of whose passing just popped up. I particularly love Grandenetti’s spikey work on his Spirit homage, The Secret Files of Dr. Drew, which I sadly had to cut from Art in Time. For my money, Grandenetti, who had some training in architecture, went to psychedelic places The Eisner Studio didn’t manage, but nevertheless, he did so using Eisner’s machinery. His ’70s work for Warren, as Don mentions, also is worth a look – he made woozy large scale drawings on the comics page, somehow conveying a teetering physical motion in gray washes. Here’s an old interview with him, and a good summation by Jim Amash.

And finally (ahem, I’m flying all day, so a longer post will happen after the plane lands) [UPDATE, 9/19: ONE DAY LATER: THAT POST ON RAND HOLMES IS HELD UP, MUCH LIKE THE TRAFFIC ON THE PCH. DON'T BE MAD.], please point your browsers to The Wisdom of Caleb, a new comic by James Jarvis and Russell Waterman, of Silas and Amos fame. It’s off to an excellent start . I’ve been a fan of ol man Jarvis for a long time and it’s a thrill to see him condense it all down to a few or just a single panel. Plus, the “new” style is killer.

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Toth’s Phallic-Sensitive Staging & Other Notes


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Wednesday, March 10, 2010


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Excerpt from Toth's Man Of My Heart

Toth’s phallic-sensitive staging. A 1950s romance comic, one that features a stereotypically weepy woman crying over her love life, is normally not where you would expect to see a commentary on erectile dysfunction. Yet take a look at “Man of My Heart,” (New Romance #16, June 1953 and illustrated by Alex Toth, author unknown). The story is about Pris, a young woman torn between two lovers: Jim Foster who is a long time friend her own age and the much older Dan London, a distinguished gent and friend of her deceased father. Like the knights of old, Dan and Jim compete for Pris’s love by trying to best each other in an athletic competition. Take a look at the key climatic tier on the final page where Dan gallantly explains why he’s bowing out of the competition. “”There’s no compensation for real youth … or the complete sharing of the things you two alone can have!” Dan says in the last panel of the tier. Toth has carefully cropped the panel so that we don’t see Dan’s face, only his torso. He’s wearing a bathrobe with the cords dangling down. Off in the bottom right-hand corner of the panel we see the outline of Pris’s face with an eye lash, an eye brow and part of her hair and an earring. But we can’t see her eyes and have no sense of what she is thinking. Dan’s incompletely viewed body is contrasted with Pris’s incompletely viewed face. The discordance between body and face underscores the theme of sexual incompatibility. Is there any doubt that Toth is underscoring the point that as an older man Dan won’t be able to sexually satisfy Pris? Aside from this, the story is overloaded with phallic symbols: a cane, swords, tennis rackets, a long cigarette holder. The story is both post-Freud and pre-Viagra. Derik Badman offers another reading of the story and more excerpts here. The whole story was also reprinted in Alex Toth: Edge of Genius Vol. 2.

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The Mid-Life Crisis of the Great Commercial Cartoonists


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Saturday, February 20, 2010


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Further to Dan’s excellent post on Wally Wood, one way to think about Wood’s career is to realize that he followed a pattern common to commercial comic book artists of his era. Think of Kirby, Ditko, Kane, and Eisner (and maybe also John Stanley). All these cartoonists started off as journeymen artists, had a mid-life crisis which made them try do more artistically ambitious work, but ended up being thwarted either by the limits of their talent or the constraints of marketplace.

Jack Kirby had his midlife crisis in the late 1960s. He already had a formidable body of work, arguably the best adventure cartooning ever done in the comic book form, running from the explosive patriotic bombast of the early Captain America to the mind-stretching cosmic adventures of the Fantastic Four and Thor. But by the late 1960s he was tired of playing second fiddle that blowhardy glory-hound Stan Lee. So Kirby made is big break for DC and became the auteur behind the hugely ambitious Fourth World series. I’m very fond of the Fourth World series, and even enjoy the aspect of them that is most often mocked, Kirby’s peculiar writing style, which to my ears at least has a kind of vatic poetry. Be that as it may, DC comics wasn’t willing to give the series the support they deserved and the books were canceled mid-storyline, leaving us with the fragments of a promising epic. Kirby would go on doing fascinating work, but he never really got over the sting of losing the Fourth World. None of his subsequent work had the same crazy ambition as the Fourth World.
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the punk connection


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Saturday, November 28, 2009


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Just a quick post about the new issue of Cometbus. The awesome cover by Nate Powell alone is worth the price of admission. But there’s other “comics gold” in this issue too. It’s the story of how Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman came to teach at SVA.

Everyone knows about Punk magazine, right? No? Well, check this out and click around and then come back. Basically, this magazine recorded the early days of punk at CBGB’s. One of the magazine’s founders, John Holmstrom, went to the School of Visual Arts in 1972 before he helped start Punk magazine.

In the new Cometbus, there’s an interview with Holmstrom. And he tells the most fascinating story which I had never heard before. Apparently, Holmstrom wanted to take a cartooning class but SVA didn’t offer any. So he and some other angry students went to the president of the school and complained. The president told them to put a list together of the cartoonists they’d want to teach at SVA. So they put together a dream list which had Eisner and Kurtzman at the top. And the administration hired them!

Think about that. It’s like the secret history of punk rock (and of SVA itself). Holmstrom then wound up working for Kurtzman as his assistant. This relationship honed Holmstrom’s skills and determination to make a magazine that reflected his world. And that world just happened to be one of the most fertile and influential music scenes ever. Talk about passing the baton to the younger generation. Sheesh.

There’s more to the story, but the editor of Cometbus will kill me for spoiling it. So, just go pick the issue up and read it for yourself. Over and out.

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Not Necessarily Deep Thoughts


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Tuesday, June 16, 2009


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I. Did Jean-Luc Godard ever consider becoming a novelist?

Yes, of course. But I wrote, “The weather is nice. The train enters the station,” and I sat there for hours wondering why I couldn’t have just as well written the opposite: “The train enters the station. The weather is nice” or “it is raining.” In the cinema, it’s simpler. At the same time, the weather is nice and the train enters the station. There is something ineluctable about it. You have to go along with it.

—Godard, from a 1959 interview in L’Express, included in Richard Brody‘s entertaining, controversial biography of the filmmaker, Everything is Cinema.

Brody goes on to call this concept central to Godard’s art, and “the basis for a grand theory”:

[Godard's] idea is to define montage as the simultaneous recording of disparate elements in a single image, the simultaneity in one image of two things that would happen sequentially on a page—the train entering the station, the rain falling. In his view, the cinema does automatically what literature wants to do and cannot: it connects two ideas in one time.

II. Is this “montage” really a failure of literature, prose’s unachievable ambition?

How … does the work of reading a narrative differ from watching a film? In a film the illusion of reality comes from a series of pictures each slightly different. The difference represents a fixed chronological relation which the eye and the mind together render as motion.

Words in a narrative generate tones of voice, syntactic expectations, memories of other words, and pictures. But rather than a fixed chronological relation, they sit in numerous inter- and overweaving relations. The process as we move our eyes from word to word is corrective and revisionary rather than progressive. Each new word revises the complex picture we had a moment before.

Samuel R. Delany, from his 1968 article, “About 5,750 Words”, included in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw.

III. These quotes raise that age-old, brain-numbing question: Are comic books more like movies or more like literature? I’m not going to try to resolve the matter here. (Though really, of course, the answer is neither.)

With these particular quotes in mind, though, I recently started thinking about how exactly I experience reading comics. It differs depending on the comic, obviously, but I guess that my default way of reading the average, traditional comic is to first take a quick “skim” of the visual composition and art of the entire page (or two-page spread), then to proceed to a slightly longer glance at the art of the first panel. At that point, I usually read the narration and word balloons, and after that, I look more closely and patiently at the art. And then I go back and forth between the art and the words as often as is necessary to understand everything before moving on to the next panel. (And then sometimes I’ll have to go back to the first panel, sometimes I’ll skip ahead to look at the art for the last panel, etc. It wouldn’t be very entertaining to go on.)

Obviously, none of this is a conscious procedure, and I wouldn’t even swear that it’s perfectly accurate. And even if it is, it doesn’t follow that everyone else (or anyone else) reads comics the same way that I do. (Not to mention more complicated and/or idiosyncratically laid-out comics pages, like the endpapers in Ware‘s ACME 18 or nearly any page by Ron Regé, to pick just two of many possible examples.) But the main point is that, unlike cinema, and like other arts including literature, the process of “reading” comic books isn’t a simultaneous one. It’s not image and word at once, but one after the other after the other.

When people want to connect comic books to film (which used to be the main strategy comics fans employed to convince skeptical non-fans that comics were “art” before they switched to using literary fiction or poetry), Will Eisner is the name more likely to come up than any other. And there’s no question that he was obviously influenced by cinematic ideas of composition and lighting. But it just occurred to me that the one element of his work that is most consistently held up as “unique” to comics, the famous Spirit splash pages that incorporate the titles visually into the mise en scène (to steal some jargon), may in fact paradoxically be the most “cinematic” of all his effects. In a weird kind of way, they provide one of the only examples in comics that I can think of offhand that truly approaches Godard’s concept of montage, a simultaneous connection of two ideas that would normally be experienced sequentially—image and word—in a single instant.


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Best of…


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Thursday, November 15, 2007


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Kick-ass Tom Sutton cover. Santoro, take notes.

It appears to be “year’s best” time, when people begin soliciting for one’s “top ten” comics of the year. In honor of that tradition, I give you:

The Outstanding Graphic Stories of 1967, as printed in Graphic Story Magazine #9, Summer 1968.

“Barbering”
Will Eisner
The Spirit 2

“Master Time and Mobius Tripp”
George Metzger
Fantasy Illustrated 7

“Kaleidasmith”
George Metzger
Graphic Story Magazine 8

“HIM”
Lee and Kirby
Fantastic Four 66 and 67

“The Aliens”
Russ Manning
Magnus, Robot Fighter 17-20

“Luck of the North”
Carl Barks [Heidi must be relieved--ed.]
The Best of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge 2

“The Gifted Cockroach”
Will Eisner
The Spirit 2

“Showdown on Hydra Island”
Jim Steranko
Strange Tales 156-158

“Project: Blackout”
Jim Steranko
Strange Tales 160-161

Prehysterical Pogo
Walt Kelly

“Who Has Been Lying in My Grave?”
Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino
Strange Tales 205

“Mr. A”
Steve Ditko
Witzend 3

Gee, times haven’t changed that much. Funny how most of this stuff is still considered classic– I gotta check out that Arnold Drake story. And, whatever else anyone says, that Steranko period is full of fantastic, retardo Kirby and Op-Art pastiches….man, I knew I shouldn’t keep my “collection” in the office. Ok, back to work. Honest.

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