Posts Tagged ‘Dave Sim’

Dave Sim/Neal Adams on Color


by

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Read Comments (10)

Hey everybody, Frank Santoro here again this week with an excerpt from Dave Sim’s Following Cerebus No. 9 where he interviews Neal Adams. A great interview all around, but one part of it really caught my eye. It’s a long story that Adams tells about how he managed to re-organize DC Comics production department’s approach to color and how Adams “updated” their color chart. It’s a great, funny story. And I reference it a lot in my rants to friends and I want to reference it in future articles. So, I thought I’d post the original story from the source. But like I said, it’s really long. So, I wrote a letter to Dave Sim and a few weeks later I got the “okay” to reprint the excerpt in full. I think it’s an interesting story that Adams tells, and an important one. It’s these moments in “comics history” that often get swept under the rug, yet they are often moments that ripple through the years and can be seen later as “game changing” events. Please enjoy.

Thanks to Mr. Sim.


DAVE SIM: Rather ungraciously I couldn’t resist interrupting at this point and dragging Neal tangentially off-topic to find out if what he was referring to was a rumor I had heard about, centering on the chocolate-brown color that Neal had pioneered on the cover of Batman No. 245, a color which was formed by using 100% cyan, 100% magenta, and 100% yellow; one on top of the other.

NEAL ADAMS: The science of art and the art of science are wonderful things because they don’t mix together all the time, but they mix together a lot and one of the areas where they mix together is the science of mixing colors. You can make millions of colors just by mixing the different percentages. And the question is, “How many colors do you start with?” You start with three: red, yellow, and blue. You make a guide with percentages of colors, and that guide is made up of dots of color. Dots of red, as an example—if they are spaced far enough apart and are small enough—will make an area of those dots look pink. Smaller red dots spread further apart will look light pink. If you add an area of blue dots, you’ll get a light purple, and so on. And, doing comic books in the 1960s, what you had was 25% of yellow, 50% of yellow, 75% of yellow, and 100% of yellow; 25% blue, 50% blue, 75% blue, 100% blue; 25% red, 50% red, 75% red, and 100% red. With these percentages, mixing them together and using them individually you would get 64 different colors to work with.

DC Comics, at the time I joined the firm [laughs], they had 32 colors. And I didn’t quite understand it until I got their chart, and I noticed that they didn’t have what we call “tone yellow.” They did not have 25% yellow and 50% yellow, and I did not understand why that would be, because I had done a syndicated strip and all kinds of other process-color work using the same basic chart, and I thought, “If you have 25% and 50% of red and blue, why don’t you have 25% and 50% of yellow?” It didn’t make sense. So I asked around a little bit … kind of quietly … and, apparently [laughs] at some point to save money in some weird way at some weird time they decided to do without “tone yellow.” So that if you see a DC comic book from back in “them thar days” you notice that all the Anglo-Saxon flesh is pink. You don’t continue to notice it because after you turn the page you’re reading the story and it isn’t a glaring difference but the flesh is pink. Whereas if you looked at Marvel Comics from the same time period, it’s more of a flesh color—25% red, 25% yellow. Because they only had 100% yellow at DC, if you tried using that for a flesh tone you’d have orange flesh. You couldn’t have all the subtler colors with “tone yellow” values. You lost HALF of the colors. Instead of 64 you had 32.

So, when the full impact of this hit me, I went to see Sol Harrison [DC’s production director at the time] because I was coloring stories with a color palette of 32 colors instead of 64. And I asked him about it … which is one of those stupid things you shouldn’t do, as I would find out … and he said, “No, we don’t have ‘em because it costs more money. By not doing these colors, the company is saving money.” Well, if you were talking about a whole range of colors, that might be possible, but if you’re just talking about 25% yellow and 50% yellow, it seemed to me that that couldn’t be the case. How could two tones of yellow cost that much extra money?


So, I thought about that for awhile. And then I went and talked to some people around DC Comics and asked them if they had noticed this. Most of them hadn’t. So I went to Carmine Infantino, [DC’s publisher at the time] and asked Carmine and Carmine went in and asked Sol and Sol explained that it was “too expensive” and as far as he was concerned, that was it, the subject was closed. And I thought, well, that didn’t work very well. I just ended up back at Sol Harrison. So the question was, “How to get around Sol Harrison?” So, I went to Joe Kubert, who was an editor at DC, as well as the great artist he’s always been, and I said, “You know Joe, ‘we here at DC’ [laughs’ we don’t have tone yellow.” He said, [flawless Joe Kubert impression] “Really.” I said, “Yeah, you think we would.” And he said, “Well, Sol’s probably saving money.” And I said, “Well, okay that’s probably true, except that Marvel has got tone yellow.” He says, “Let me see.” So, I pull out a Marvel Comic and show it to him.” “Yeah,” he says. “Darn. I wonder how they can afford it?” I said, [laughs] Yeah, I mean it’s Marvel, Joe. It’s Timely Comics.” [Marvel—which was really just what was left of Timely Comics—was pretty much of an under-financed shoestring operation compared to DC in those days]. [Sim laughs] “Yes, that’s true. Hmm. I’ll go see Carmine about it.” I said, “No, I saw Carmine already.” So, he said, “Okay, I’ll go see Jack.” Jack Liebowitz, the head of the company. So he walks away and disappears into Jack Liebowitz’s office, about time for a 4 or 5 minute conversation. Liebowitz comes storming out of his office in his pinstripe grey suit, his little mustache twitching and he goes down the hall into Sol Harrison’s office in a rage, muttering things like, “That son-of-a-bitch Goodman [then-Marvel publisher, Martin Goodman] wouldn’t pay one G-damned dime more for his G-damned colors than I would. G-damn it.” Things like that. [Sim laughs] And he goes into Sol Harrison’s office, and he says, “Sol, how the hell much more is it going to cost to get tone yellow? Marvel’s got tone yellow, what the hell is going on?” And Sol says, “Well, we’re saving money.” “Martin Goodman is spending more money on his comics than I am? That’s bulls–t!” Sol said, “Well … I’ll call the separators.” So he picks up the phone, and calls the separator up in Connecticut. The separator hired housewives in Connecticut to come in and do the separations. The brushes that they used looked like the back end of brooms. And they weren’t very subtle about what they did, and it occurred to me, having been up there, if it was the same guy [laughs], he didn’t give a damn about tone yellow. So Sol calls the guy, and it turns out that this guy did the color separations for Marvel and DC. So, Sol got on the phone and—trying to “prime the pump” a little bit said, “How much more would it cost us to get tone yellow?” You know: setting the guy up to give him the right answer.

SIM: “Thousands of dollars.”

ADAMS: [voice of doom] “Yes, thousands of dollars, way too expensive for YOU.” But, of course the guy had a close working relationship with Marvel AND DC so there was no way that he could give that answer. So what he said was, “You want tone yellow? You got it.” [Sim and Adams laugh] So Sol said, “Uh, yeah … we’ll … we’ll take it.” And hung up the phone. And Sol turns back to Jack Liebowitz and says, “We’ll, uh, we’ll be getting tone yellow now.” [laughs] The actual conversation took about fourteen seconds. That day DC got twice as many colors as they had they day before.

SIM: I don’t think you’d even want to look back over the years of DC Comics to see how long they had been without tone yellow.

ADAMS: [picturing it] [laughing] Exactly. So, you can see right there that i should have learned my lesson not to ask Sol questions like that. If I asked him a question he would invariably tell me, “No, you can’t do it.” And not only that, he would explain to me in great detail WHY I couldn’t do it. It actually got to the point that if I asked Sol if you could do something and he said, “No, you can’t,” the odds were that you probably could and easily.

The next one … the story that you are referring to … was when I asked Sol, “Why aren’t we using the dark colors? I mean, it’s bad enough that we only have 64 colors to begin with, but we’re losing about a third of the colors because we’re not using colors like 100% yellow, 100% blue and 50% red [all in combination]. And the answer was, “Well, you can’t use any color that adds up to more than 200% because then there’s too much ink on the page, and the paper will slide off the press.” So, I said, “Well, Sol, we’re kind of printing on [laughs] toilet paper.” [Sim laughs]. I think the paper that we’re using absorbs any amount of ink pretty quickly. I could understand if we were doing Newsweek magazine with some slick paper stock like they use that maybe the paper would slide a bit, but this is pretty much the crappiest paper you can buy and I don’t think the ink is apt to slide on it.”

SIM: [laughing] “Sliding? Sliding is not the problem with this paper.”

ADAMS: He said, “Well, that’s what we had to do during the war.” During the war? [Sim laughs] You’re talking about WWII, right? “Yeah, we had to save money.” Well, yeah Sol, you saved money by using lots of different kinds of paper when there were paper shortages during the war, but, Sol, now that paper is readily available again [laughs] we tend to use all the same grade of paper, the worst grade of ultra-absorbent toilet paper that’s available.

Stupid conversation, I don’t know why I was going on with this conversation, I think I just wanted to hear the litany of bulls–t that was attached to his one was. So he says, “Just don’t use any of those heavy colors.” And I said, “Sure, Sol.” [laughing]

SIM: Don’t go over 200% total color.

ADAMS: So I immediately went to my desk and immediately and in as many places as possible used as many colors that totaled more than 200% as I could. Just to find out. I wanted to see a book come in that slid all over the place on the press. [Sim laughs] In fact, I brought a book to Sol, and he said, “See, it’s off-register [color sticking out over the holding line in the drawing] here.” I said, “Sol, virtually every page DC has ever printed has been off-register because our production standards are crap!” I did a sky color on a couple Batman’s where I think I did 25% yellow, 25% red and 100% blue—which still didn’t add up to 200% but which was still considered “out of bounds” at DC at the time. After awhile, people were coming up to me in the production department and saying [awe-stricken voice], “Did you create new colors?”

Oh, God [laughs], “Come and burn me as a witch!” No, it’s not that I’m creating new colors; it’s that you guys aren’t using the colors that you have.

SIM: [They’d] basically amputated a whole section of the color chart saying, “We can’t use anything from here over.”

ADAMS: [laughs] That’s right.

Labels: , , ,

Cage Match #3: My Brain is Hanging Upside Down (2008)


by

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Read Comments (126)

[TIM: For those new to the concept of the Comics Comics Cage Match, it’s basically a recurring feature that gives us a way to present no-holds-barred arguments about comics and comics-related issues on which we don’t quite see eye to eye. Rules: Frank puts up some thoughts, and sometime in the near future, I will respond (though it’s likely that this particular match will proceed a bit more leisurely than past conflicts). We’ll keep going back and forth until it feels like we’re done. Readers are welcome to throw tomatoes at us through the bars in the comments. (Oh, and if you haven’t read this book yet and don’t like spoilers, you may want to skip this.)]

FRANK: I’m too lazy to write a full review of David Heatley‘s “new” book, My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down, so we’re gonna have a Cage Match. I should take a scalpel to it and slice it up precisely, turn it inside out. I could easily show how there is really nothing there, that once the “shock” of his work wears off, the lines, the forms, the cartooning is all clearly sub-par.

But Heatley’s new book just makes me angry. And I think that’s what he wants. He wants to provoke reactions like mine so that he can “work out” his insecurities, his racism and his issues with women on the page. And be forgiven.

I’ve been waiting to see this cartoonist take the next step and I think his new book is incredibly disappointing.

Since Heatley keeps re-printing the same material over and over again, should I consider this the Heatley I’ve been hoping will emerge? I mean, I liked the sexual history story when it first came out. Five years ago. It was funny. But I feel like I’ve seen it in at least three different collections since then. And now it’s in his hideously ugly new book, replete with self-censorship and no explanation as to why. (He famously placed pink bars over all the genitalia for this new version and added an epilogue of sorts—more on that later)

The book is broken up into sections that are labeled as parts of Heatley’s brain. The “Race” section starts off with a dream comic of David fucking a Black woman from behind and her asking, “Did you stick it in yet?” O the humanity!

“Sambo” is up next, a dream comic about protecting himself and family from “Sambo.” (The last image is of David hitting “Sambo” over the head with a bat.)


A dream comic about the “Projects.”

Then “Black History” begins. The bulk of the new material in this book.

Y’know, it’s not like he grows as a cartoonist. This big new story about “every Black person he’s ever known” looks and reads exactly like 2003-4 Heatley. There’s little measurable growth. (Insert dick joke here.)

And as someone who’s godfather was Black, I gotta say, you’re a fucking asshole for even doing this story, Heatley. My godfather used to say, “I love it when someone says they got lots of ‘Black friends’ like they gotta say ‘Black’ just to impress me. If they your friends, why you gotta say ‘Black’? You think that same person says, ‘I got a lot of White friends’?”

And that’s sort of what Heatley does by inserting “Shout Outs” to his homies within the narrative itself. There are larger panels within the dense page design of the story that include a drawing of a figure, of a real Black person like his childhood friend Winton, with dedications like, “Dude, you were the coolest, stoney-eyed artist around!” To me, these come off as really demeaning.

There are also large sidebars and whole pages of handwritten text that are “Record Reviews” of Black music that David loves. It’s the “voice” Heatley uses to describe getting, say, a Jungle Brothers tape that makes me just shake my head. All that “Yo wassup” white-boy lingo that he spits? Give me a fucking break. Just read it, look at in the store. I don’t have the patience to describe it.

I think it’s the pairing of the two things—the narrative, the comic, these fragments of memory with the “Record Reviews/Shout Out” music-zine stuff—that really puts me off. It’s as though he’s trying so hard to prove that he really loves Black people by listing the music and art made by Black people that he enjoys—just as he lists the trespasses and aggression he feels from Black people or towards Black people. It doesn’t ring true. For me.

(Bell: end of round one)

DAN: OK, I guess I will jump in. I think what riles people up about this book is precisely the public/personal nature of it: That is, it’s a book explicitly about coming to grips with some notion of morality or a way of accepting one’s own behavior. Unlike the demonstrative fantasies of Crumb or meandering auto-bio of Joe Matt, this is direct, speaking to the reader kinda stuff. It’s specifically drawn as, in a sense, therapy. That such a process becomes so public is what, I think, some people find alternately compelling or repulsive about it. I am, of late, on the compelling side, but that is less the “critic” in me talking and more the human being — that is, I suppose, in terms of the “journey” being undertaken: I relate; I empathize. One question worth asking is: How does one judge such a work: Is it reasonable for David to expect moral outrage like Frank’s? Does such a story, and the obvious implications for one’s moral well-being, elicit a like-minded response, as it did from Frank? Is that fair? I mean, David isn’t offering a prescription for how to live — just describing his own journey. But it’s the tone and content, I guess, that Frank is reacting against. Just some stray thoughts here. Tim?

TIM: Wow. Okay, that’s a lot to chew on. This particular Cage Match might take a while, though I have a feeling neither one of us is going to emerge a clear winner, at least not in the sense of convincing the other to change his mind.

Anyway, first of all: I like David’s comics a lot more than you do, Frank. They aren’t flawless by any means, and I have extremely mixed feelings about many of his artistic choices, but they do provoke extraordinarily rich reactions and thoughts. Basically, I can imagine a really full discussion of his work lasting up to a week without exhausting a lot of what’s going on, and that’s something I couldn’t say for very many contemporary young(ish) cartoonists.

But maybe it’s best for now just to respond to the points you raise. First, you’re right: this is the umpteenth appearance of the “Sex History” story, which has been re-packaged a dozen times. Except for a one-page coda to this story, the epic new “Black History”, “Kin” (I could be wrong, but I don’t think I’ve seen this before), and I believe at least part of the portrait of his mother, nearly all of the contents of this book have appeared in previous David Heatley projects. This doesn’t bother me much personally—I like how this all reads when put together. Many of these pieces, which seem too open-ended and inconclusive on their own, gain power and cogency through their juxtaposition. I think, at least.

Second: I’m not a fan of the pink censor bars David has added to his “Sex History” strip, either. And I don’t find the explanation he provided in his Time Out New York interview to be very convincing: “I was getting fan mail from a couple twentysomething boys, saying, ‘Oh, your strip gave me a boner,’ and I thought, This isn’t what I had in mind. It’s really about longing and bad sex and lack of connection.” Mostly because, uh, while David has a pretty cute drawing style, I don’t think they’re particularly erotic as images. If readers were getting “boners”, it probably had more to do with the mental images and memories provoked by the narrative itself than with crudely drawn genitals. I also think that the censor bars make the story feel less honest, less sincere: two of the story’s greatest apparent strengths, previously.

And the coda he’s added! It’s simply bizarre, and a huge disappointment, reading almost like a repudiation of the entire point of the story that precedes it. For those who haven’t picked up the book yet, in the last page, David comes to believe that he spends far too much time masturbating to pornography, to the point where he believes he is a sex addict and enters treatment for it. This really calls into question the original story’s veracity and clashes hugely with its tone, because there’s really just no hint that this has been such a serious issue for him, and coming out of the blue as it does in a single page at the end raises a huge number of questions. I really don’t know what to make of it, but if this topic was something he wanted to explore in his comics, I think it should have been treated at greater length, or at least in a comic more clearly separate from the original.


I don’t want to go on forever, so I’ll tackle your “Black History” argument briefly, and then turn it back over to you. Basically, I don’t think your characterization of it is very fair at all. He doesn’t present himself just as having a lot of black friends, but also includes many interactions with black people who dislike him, or whom he dislikes. And even the vast bulk of his black friendships seem to either peter out or end in anger. He’s obviously playing with inflammatory material here, but it doesn’t seem like he’s trying to be self-congratulatory in that particular way.

As far as the record reviews go, I think you have much more of a solid point. Their tone really feels odd next to the comparatively heavy stuff going on in the larger story, and the “critiques” in them are so shallow and clichéd that they don’t seem to really add anything to the story, either. If the effect of black culture on David’s feelings about race were to be included, he really should have gone into it more, I think. As it is, the only value they add is the presumably unintentional one of revealing the shallowness of his actual thinking about race relations, and specifically his [unacknowledged] white privilege. One of the most unusual qualities of David’s stories is their very conspicuous lack of analysis, of summing up. The record reviews are an atypical aberration in that regard, and I don’t think they add enough context to be worth sacrificing one of David’s strongest and most compelling effects.

And Dan, I wrote this before seeing your post, but I basically think I agree with you, or at least think that it’s a fruitful way to start thinking about his work.

TIM: Don’t neglect the comments section on this one, by the way. Lots of good stuff down there.

TIM: Okay. I guess while we’re waiting for Frank to respond, and now that I’ve taken more time to actually digest Dan’s post and some of the comments, I’ll take another quick turn at bat. As far as whether or not David creates his art as therapy, I guess I’m not really interested. I’ve never really bought the idea of art as therapy, but I don’t really care if David uses it that way as long as the story on the page works for me. (I also think that the therapy bit is probably more of an interview shtick than the actual truth, but there’s no way to know that for sure.) As Dash Shaw says in the comments, “If this book really is play therapy, as Heatley says and as it would suggest, it is beyond criticism and (really) a not-for-print book that happened to find publication, which is an extremely romantic/ideal situation.” But obviously it is meant for print, and obviously David does care how readers respond to it, because otherwise: why the new pink censor bars boner-blockers?

TIM: Also, just to add fuel to the fire, I thought I’d highlight a few possibly relevant quotes from the interview with David in Comics Comics 3.

DAVID HEATLEY: I’m a big believer in psychology and therapy and all that stuff. I don’t feel that what I’m making is art therapy—it’s not that kind of thing—but it’s related to self-discovery and trying to be a better person, and it’s definitely an extension of the rest of your life, too. And most of my time is spent trying to be better in some way, and it’s an extension of that. I don’t think it changes me, but it’s a driving force to make new work.

Here’s another:

TIM HODLER: Do you ever do anything similar in your autobiographical work? I mean, try to make yourself look worse or better to make it more interesting to people? Or other people look worse or better? Or events?

DH: I don’t think I do. Let me put it this way. Chris Ware and I have been writing each other, and one time he said that I was one of the very few autobiographical cartoonists who doesn’t make himself into a character and I don’t know how you do that, but that’s true. I don’t make myself into a shticky Woody Allen/Joe Matt kind of character. I’m not—somehow there’s just a blankness to the “me” in those stories. I didn’t know I was striving for that, but I think I am striving for that. So I don’t think I’m trying to change myself one way or the other….

TH: It sounds like you’re more interested in the atmosphere or feeling of the story than you are in the plot or the characterization.

DH: Yeah. How would a person feel when confronted with this situation or that? How would this feel? [then, self-mockingly] I have feelings!

TIM: Frank gets back at four, so prepare for a late-afternoon explosion. In the meantime, to answer Alex Holden’s question in the comments: yes, I think the crudeness of David’s art is clearly deliberate. And I actually think it works really well with his stories. His drawings are child-like, which reinforces their primal, almost solipsistic tone; his stories read as if created by David’s “inner child”. (It may be a cliché, but it’s true all the same.) Of course, as in the case of the self-censorship mentioned above, this effect is sometimes blunted by David’s other formal choices.

FRANK: Round two: This is what I got. I read through Tim’s parts and Dan’s parts and the comments and I’ll add more soon.

Sigh. It just really makes me angry. Parts like where he says, “I can’t remember if my babysitter used the word ‘nigger’ but…” simply give him such an easy opportunity to “investigate” these “injustices”. He’s so full of bullshit righteousness. He always eventually shows himself doing the right thing, he’s always absolved.

And that’s okay, you know, because he’s an honest to god auto-bio cartoonist and it’s cool, y’know, for comics to be EDGY and REAL. So what that it underscores an incredible hostility and disrespect to others. “It’s like Crumb, man, c’mon…” I can hear some feeble defense of it all… What-fucking-ever is all I say.

And lastly, most clearly, he’s a hack of a cartoonist. Ever notice when he draws panels larger than an inch square you can truly see how shitty his line work is?

My God, look at the last story in the book. It is literally hacked out of the Bristol. It’s unbearable.


Whether his style is “intentional” or not, I don’t care. Sure there are deliberate choices. Those choices, to me, illustrate the limitations of his skill and vision. Line is line. Gary Panter’s line is strong, subtle; there are ebbs and flows. Same with R. Crumb and Mark Beyer (to use an example from the comments section)—there are discernible modulations of line that indicate a craftsman in control. I don’t get that with Heatley.

So what that he’s got the guts to show these sides of himself? There’s little craft, no narrative—just memory fragments arranged like a list. A brilliant strategy for a Truffaut movie but it doesn’t work in this comic. Or any of his comics, come to think of it. Dreams, lists of sexcapades, lists of people. Nothing adds up into a satisfying read. I’m sure to David it’s fascinating. But these anemic story arcs coupled with the Matt Feazell-like wizardry in the art department make for a profoundly disappointing “debut.”

TIM: The weird thing is, in a lot of ways I agree with you, Frank. There’s no question that David’s work so far is limited—to say the least—both in terms of craft and theme. I happen to think his drawing style works really well for those themes, but I hear you. I also agree with you (and disagree with Dan) about a lot of his storytelling. That “Black History” story in particular, as you point out, is far more meandering than anything Joe Matt has ever done, and ends kind of anti-climatically. As you imply, it’s just one thing after another. The “Kin” story, too, ends abruptly (and that’s one story where I agree that David’s drawings are simply not up-to-snuff). But…

But at the same time, I still find his work compelling, often despite myself. Somehow, as David put it in that CC3 interview, “content [leaks] in almost from the outside” despite the fact that he leaves out so much. All the little anecdotes (most of which are actually pretty mundane) trigger half-buried memories and emotions when I read them, evoke barely remembered events in my own life (usually quite different from David’s), and create a reading experience I don’t think I’ve ever gotten from any other auto-bio cartoonist, even those who I think are far superior in terms of craft and artistic ability, and whose work I probably value more highly in the end: Chester Brown, Justin Green, Julie Doucet, Crumb, etc. All the same, I can’t deny that Heatley’s work seems unique to me. (Though sometimes I wonder if the taboo nature of much of his material may make me overvalue them… I don’t know.)

And also, as I said before, I do think that somehow by putting all these stories together, as inconclusive and unsatisfying as they can be when set apart, they combine in context into something more nuanced and “whole”. The portraits of his mother and father in particular seem almost revelatory after reading the sex and race stories—suddenly a lot of weird, unexplained things in those stories spring into focus.

Finally, I really don’t think that Heatley always shows himself doing the right thing. Did you read the part where he was a camp counselor, urinating on a young child? Did you read the part where he freaked out and yelled at the medical workers in the maternity ward? There’s something there in your criticism, maybe, but it’s a lot more complicated than you’re admitting. I think, anyway. Over to you for now.

FRANK: (Round three—jab, jab, jab.) Look, I’m going on my “gut” reaction to his work. I don’t like it. And the more people try and “convince” me that his choices are artful and inventive, the more I feel indifferent to his work.

When Crumb creates a narrative of riding a woman’s shoe when he was a child and getting off on it, it’s a beautiful, repulsive, remarkable expression of lines and forms.

David’s typical choice: to use small, rhythmic panels that quickly build the scene like notes to one’s self–just do not satisfy me as a reader. There is little arc building and narrative give and take, or even a beginning and end. It’s like being told an anecdote.

These anecdotes, in the “Sex History” for example, can sometimes unite the narrative. But in “Black History”, the thread that binds it all is simply “race” and that just leaves me cold. There’s little cohesion. It’s a catalog. It’s not interesting to me. Not challenging.

“Black History” is a totally boring, list-like collection of stories, that begin and end abruptly. There’s no real narrative thread like in the “Sex History” story. That story “works” because the sexual act is the thread. That’s what connects the stories, the memories. The thread of “race” is not enough to sustain the narrative. And that might be fine for a two- or three-page comic with fifty panels per page, but for a comic of this density to go on and on and on is borderline torture for the reader.

I do agree with you that his work creates associations of long dormant memories, and that is different from “the Browns” (Chester and Jeffrey), but again, SO WHAT?


It’s totally boring. And right when I thought, “this is Black History story is totally boring”, David provides an “Interlude” where his Dad says the magic words, “Goddamn Nigger Bitch”, which will haunt David until the end of this insanely long and tedious story. (More on that later when we have the scanner. Wait ’til you see the end of “Black History”!)

TIM: Okay. Well like I just said, I agree with you on the “Black History” piece! At least on its general formlessness.

As far as “SO WHAT?”, I don’t know, I guess I do think that evoking an emotional response is a valid artistic goal. Do you really disagree? If so, you should say why! I’m interested.

Eric Reynolds weighs in with a pretty amazing comment, which everyone should read for themselves in full. But I wanted to respond to a few bits from it, because it brought up a few things I eventually wanted to get around to talking about, anyway.

First: “I liked “Sexual History” when I first read it. At the very least, it indulged my voyeuristic tendencies enough to enjoy the ride. But I also wondered if I was enjoying it in spite of David, because my armchair psychologizing/reading often seemed at odds with the author’s own conclusions (or my own interpretation of them, anyway).”

That really rings true for me, because I think that on the few times David includes his conclusions (such as the new ending to the sex story, the record reviews and shout-outs in “Black History”, etc.), they almost always seem to be at least somewhat wrong-headed, and to undercut, or to be undercut by, the story itself. For me, that kind of paradoxically adds to the whole experience, though yeah, it’s kind of a similar fascination to that which I sometimes get from reading Dave Sim (not that I’m accusing David of being Sim!) or even from the Dick Ayers autobiography. There are more layers to the comics than the cartoonist seems to realize or understand.

Second: “One thing I tend to agree with Frank about is that although I consider myself pretty thick-skinned when it comes to political incorrectness, I can’t escape that there is a fundamentally wrongheaded, racist idea at the core of the black history strip: that the author thinks he can essentially organize an entire, other race of people in a way that is comprehensive and/or meaningful to anyone but himself.”

[UPDATE: Eric modified his thoughts on this a bit later.]

Here I want to be really clear that I agree that the story is at the very least kind of questionable in terms of its approach to race. When I disagreed with Frank over this story, I was disagreeing with how Frank characterized the way Heatley presents himself in the story. I think he intentionally implicates himself several times. That being said, the more I think about the story, the more I wonder if the whole conception of it wasn’t flawed, as Eric suggests. The approach that successfully worked with sex doesn’t seem nuanced enough to deal with a topic this complicated.

I get the feeling that Heatley must’ve realized this himself, at least subconsciously, which may be why he included the really weird record reviews and shout-outs (to which, too, yeah, I agree with Frank: they come off as condescending). The weirdest of all may be his review of the TV show The Wire on the last page (I don’t know if this is what you’re referring to, Frank), where Heatley writes, “It’s certainly the only TV show to alter my race consciousness. I notice certain young black men who would have been invisible to me before, hidden behind the screen of my own ignorance and fear. I’d like to think I know something of their stories now. … Did you know it’s Barack Obama’s favorite show, too?” Now The Wire is a great show, don’t get me wrong, but this bone-headed, totally self-unaware statement, coming after some dozens of pages of pretty intense racial encounters, is a real WTF moment.

FRANK: Round four. Rope-a-dope.

The “SO WHAT” factor is large for me. It’s too easy. I’ve seen so many students, amateurs, AND professionals use “provocation” as an artistic stance. These creators are calculating (to a degree) what the readers’ emotional response will be, and I feel manipulated by the creator’s choices. I don’t like having my buttons pushed in art just for the sake of it. Generally, I think this masks the artist’s shortcomings.

From the comments section: “Is the motivation to make a good comic, or is it just picking a taboo subject so people talk about and buy the book?”

Dreams, sex stories, “Darkies”, and Dad. Heatley’s subject matter in a nut-sack, er, shell. Nut-shell.

(I have to make one last comment about the “Black History” story. It’s when the “Mumia Abu-Jamal” section starts (he went to some rallies). There’s a largish panel at the bottom of the page where the Mumia rallies begin that is like a record review. It begins, “Mumia, blah, blah, blah, I read his book, blah, blah”, and concludes with, “My wife and I joined his movement in mid-summer 1995.” Bully for you, David. Thanks for sharing.)

And then there’s David and Women.

It is interesting that the first depiction of a woman in the book is being punched in the face by David. And the first story in the “race” section contains the scene described above where David is fucking a Black woman from behind. Curious. What IS his intention in these stories? Wait. Forget it. I DON’T CARE!!

TIM: Okaay. And I don’t really have the energy right now, so I’m probably done for tonight, and won’t respond with final thoughts until tomorrow. Anyway, feel free to keep arguing in the comments ’til then.

TIM: All right. I’ve gotten some sleep, and maybe a little second wind. Though I have to say, I think my initial prediction about neither of us convincing the other seems like it’s going to come true. Basically, I don’t know where we can go from here, really, seeing as you “don’t care” what Heatley’s intentions are. That’s kind of a brick wall in terms of discussion.

But, a few quick final(?) thoughts:

First, I don’t think the charge that Heatley is manipulating his audience really rings true to me. He certainly does provoke emotional responses, but he also, I think, engages the reader’s intellect as well. To bring up the Dave Sim comparison again: Sim’s a guy who tries to manipulate his readers, by using various rhetorical tricks, and jerry-rigging his evidence and arguments. Heatley generally does the opposite; he usually presents events without analysis or comment, leaving it up to the reader to make sense of them. (In the few occasions where he does provide analysis, such as the new final page of the sex story, or in the “record reviews” of his race story, I think they weaken his work, as mentioned earlier. But those are relatively rare occasions.)

Second, I don’t think there’s any way to be sure about Heatley’s motivations in tackling these taboo subjects. Are they exploitative, or courageous? Or both? I don’t know, and while I understand why people would suspect bad faith on Heatley’s part, I don’t think I ultimately agree. Despite what you have said, he simply does portray himself in an often unflattering light. I think that he appears to be making a genuine effort to depict the “truth” as well as he can, at least most of the time. And I don’t think it makes sense to say first that he tries to make himself always look good, and then once you admit that he doesn’t, say that it doesn’t matter. Either it matters, or it doesn’t!

Third, and I realize this is only my opinion, and can’t really be argued, but despite the many failings I think can be attributed to “Black History”, I really didn’t find it boring. Exhausting? Sure. (Kind of like this Cage Match, maybe.) But not boring. And I think that the fact that you read the story, which is quite long, under less than ideal conditions—standing in a bookstore (please correct me if I am mistaken—rather than in a comfortable chair, at leisure, with time to digest the content, might have made it more difficult to engage with the story I get the impression from reading your comments that you haven’t really fully engaged with Heatley’s story, or given it the time and thought it deserves to be fair to it. I think that whatever Heatley may get wrong, his stories more or less demand strong engagement if the reader is going to do them justice. He doesn’t spoon feed you; you have to decide for yourself. (And yes, I acknowledge that Heatley’s choice of subject matter is going to cause a lot of people not to want to engage just on principle. But I think that kind of knee-jerk reaction isn’t a very fair or fruitful way to think about his work.)

Fourth, I want to second Eric’s opinion in the comments about David’s design sense, which I think is indeed strong. I also think that we haven’t acknowledged just how good David is at isolating evocative, resonant, telling moments, which greatly enhances his storytelling.

Finally, I think Heatley’s weaknesses and virtues as an artist are tightly interwoven. You have to work out for yourself whether it’s worth the effort to read him. For myself, I have to say that for all my problems with his work, I find it unique, memorable, and occasionally powerful. I’m glad I’ve read him; his stories, warts and all, have expanded my concept of what comics can do.

Over to you.

TIM: Oh, and this isn’t really a good place to put it, but I did want to highlight part of a comment from Tom Spurgeon that I thought was particularly smart, and made a point I hadn’t considered, but which seems obvious in retrospect:

“The thing I don’t like about the pink bars in the sex story is that it changes the context by which he refused to treat his wife the same way as the rest of the people in the book, which I thought was hilarious and somehow meaningful in ways other than the obvious ways.”

Okay, I’m done.

FRANK: Round five (circle, keep feet moving.)

All strong arguments, Tim.

I agree that Heatley’s work is complicated. And that my “knee-jerk” reaction (“I don’t like it, it’s boring.”—I still say it’s boring, no matter how many wacky things happen in the story) is not a sufficient counter-argument, but what else can I say? Even when I totally love something, I often don’t have that much to say about it. Formally, it’s interesting, but not overly so. Deadening and repetitive is a more apt description. If I were to dissect it page by page, I’m sure I’d find some surprises, but it just leaves me cold. I look at stuff like Fun Home and think the same thing: “It’s good, but it doesn’t do anything for me.” Totally different styles, approaches, goals, but still in the “I don’t care” category. When someone says they think Brian Chippendale is boring, and that they don’t like it, what am I supposed to say to them? I say, “OK, that’s cool.” I don’t try and convince people that they need to investigate that further. That’s what the TCJ message board is for. I don’t do that. And while the point of this Cage Match may be to convince each other of the work’s merits or its failings, I just don’t have much else to say.

And if I talk about why it makes me angry, or that I think Heatley is a self-centered careerist, then it just sounds like sour grapes.

When I learned that the original sub-title for “Black History” was “To All My Niggas”, it made me angry. Do I have to qualify that feeling I had/have? Why? Why is the onus on me, the reader?

You write, “I think that he appears to be making a genuine effort to depict the ‘truth’ as well as he can, at least most of the time.” Funny how his “White privilege” is never really discussed. He doesn’t pull back like in the record reviews and provide a context for his actions/thoughts. He’ll show his Dad using racial slurs, but not much else in the way of “background” or a lucid self-analysis, except within the spare narrative. There are plenty of occasions where he shows himself “looking bad”, but I think that’s just part of the endless list of anecdotes. I don’t feel that it balances out the “looking good”. It’s a self-serving narrative device.

To me, he “gets away” with a lot because the work is sort of beyond reproach because it’s auto-biographical. In a work of fiction, there would be an artifice that would act as a filter. Here the rawness is unsettling. That’s its strength, but it’s also a crutch. He’s always free to expose, expose, expose. He’s “beyond criticism” as someone wrote in the comments section. It’s extremely difficult to pin down why it pisses me off, but it does. He’s a good person in his comics, he’s a bad person. So what. We all are in real life. Heatley “investigates” this. So what. Is it good art? To some, sure. To me, it sucks, I don’t like it. I have problems with it. Obviously.

And lastly: I wonder what his rock star buddy Tunde from TV on the Radio has to say about his “Shout-Out” in the book?

TIM: I wonder about that, too. It would be interesting to know; maybe he likes it? In any case, it looks like we’ve reached an impasse here. You’ve raised some good points, even if I ultimately mostly disagree with you. But I don’t want to keep rehearsing the same arguments, and it may be that we are (finally) coming to a kind of natural close here for the Cage Match. Dan wants to weigh in one more time, but probably won’t be able to get to it until tomorrow, due to the New York Art Book Fair. Until then, everyone should feel free to keep arguing in the comments.

TIM: Dan? Are you out there?

DAN: Well, for now, I’ll bow out. Seems like all has been said that could be said. I would like to weigh in again at some point, mostly in defense of the book as a book, and my own feeling that it’s largely successful on its own terms. I suppose I come down with Tim on most things, but frankly I am also too burnt out on this ongoing book fair and other pressing work to be able to post anything nearly as thoughtful or cogent as what Tim has done, not to mention many others. I think this has been by and large a really fascinating discussion. Thanks.

TIM: That’s it, folks. Thanks, and good night.

UPDATE: David Heatley responds.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

SPACE report


by

Sunday, March 2, 2008


Read Comments (12)

Inter-office memo. PictureBox.

RE: SPACE 08 Columbus Ohio

Went to SPACE in Columbus, Ohio. It was okay. Just no traffic really. The only people walking around checking things out were exhibitors. It felt like that until about 2 or 3 o’clock. I passed out some Cold Heat zines while Jim Rugg signed comics for his legions of fans (3 different people brought all their Street Angel comics, from home, to be signed. I’m not kidding! That shit never happens to me!) A little frustrated early on, I looked up to the end of my aisle — and there was Dave Sim. It’s not 1987 or 1995, it’s 2008, and there’s one of the most recognized figures in comics, still on tour, still hawking his vision.

I watched him sign books and look through fans’ artwork a few times, and I mean he really looked at it and gave advice and encouragement. Each time when the exchange was over, he stood up, shook the person’s hand, and thanked them for stopping by. Geez. I don’t care what anyone says about the man, ‘cuz really, he busts his ass and makes it work, whatever it is he does. I went up closer and checked out the exhibit of pages from his new work, Judenhass, which hung unpretentiously behind Sim’s table on wire racks. I was impressed. Like it or not, Sim has made a beautiful photo-realistic pen-and-ink comic book about the Holocaust. I talked to one of Carol Tyler’s students, who had just finished reading the whole book (at a table beside the exhibit set aside for reading it). “It was powerful. I feel sad now,” she said, before walking away. So there it is. I guess he just “reached” someone, right?

I got in line & when I met Mr. Sim (“Call me Dave,” he said), I handed him issue 3 of Comics Comics, and gave him my spiel on my on-going old color printing process series. I told him that I’ve been in touch with Steve Oliff, Kevin Nowlan, Michael T. Gilbert, and — I took a breath here — would it be possible to reprint the section in his Following Cerebus interview with Neal Adams where Neal explained the real reason ’60s DC characters’ skin was pink? (Because DC cut corners at one point and got rid of “tone yellow” when making separations for its books.) “Sure,” said Sim, and then he asked if I’ve been in touch with Richard Corben.
“Corben figured out that he could do full color for the Warren magazines by making his own separations with grey paint,” Sim said. “He did it all by hand, and kept in his head how the seps would overprint to create complementary colors when it was printed.” Did you know this, Dan? I didn’t, and it was like some guarded secret had been revealed to me, production nerd that I am. Sim said that the color articles sound like they are turning into this complicated tangential narrative, that’ll turn into “a book about out-dated color printing processes that no one knows anything about, ha ha!” And I thought, “Hell, YES! That’s my kind of book!”

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

The Effort


by

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Read Comments (6)

I enjoyed Rich Kreiner’s review of Comics Comics. It was, as Tim noted, too kind. So this isn’t an argument, thank heavens. In a long parenthetical thought, Kreiner wonders about our criteria for coverage, and also about our seeming fascination with the fact of something existing, as though the effort alone was enough to qualify our interest. I can’t speak for Tim or Frank, but, as for me, well, Kreiner might be on to something.

Sometimes I see things so sublime or so ridiculous that I have to just wonder about them. It’s not that I like them, per se. I don’t like Dave Sim’s Collected Letters, but what drives a cartoonist to undertake such a project is interesting to me because (a) Sim is clearly a man with his own vision and (b) he’s a hugely important cartoonist, no matter what you might think of the quality of his work. And, on the other hand, there are artists like like Steve Gerber or Michael Golden, both beloved Comics Comics figures.

Let me digress for a moment: During the most recent SPX, me, Frank, and Tim went out to dinner with a large group that included Gary Groth, Gilbert Hernandez and Bill Griffith. Gary ribbed us about Steve Gerber, etc., and Frank, in a moment of comics euphoria confessed his love of Michael Golden’s work to the entire table. I don’t think Bill even knew who we were talking about, and Gary seemed duly horrified, while Gilbert smiled beatifically, as if to say, “I love that this guy loves Golden, but I’m not saying a word”. I mean, Gary’s fought for sophistication in comics for 30 years, and now he has to listen to three knuckleheads talk about Golden and Gerber. Oy vey. See, all three of us were formed, in a sense, by The Comics Journal, and to an extent, by Groth’s own sensibility as a publisher and editor. But we also came up at a time when we didn’t (and still don’t) have to choose between art and hackwork. We can like both, and enjoy both on their own merits, precisely because Gary won the battle for sophistication and seriousness. His efforts have allowed us to sit back a bit and examine the things that got passed over, shunted aside or simply spit at. That means that Frank can talk about Michael Golden because he’s fascinated by his figuration in the context of action comics. Frank wouldn’t, at least, not sober, make a case for Golden as an artist in the same way he does for Gilbert. But then again, he did just post about Nexus. I guess what I’m saying is that a central tenant of Comics Comics is a kind of enjoyment of something within its context. Steve Gerber is an interesting comic book writer. That is enough to make him worth examining for us. And, he, like Golden, like Rude, et al, is someone who has willingly labored in a field with few rewards and a lot of creative restrictions. Those “rules” that these guys bump up against make for an interesting friction and can produce, accidentally or intentionally, interesting work. And part of is also that, to an extent, we take the greatness of someone like Dan Clowes for granted. He’s been written about, been hashed over. For us, it’s perhaps more fun to dig through a body of work that has yet to be poured over, and to find artists whose visions carried them into strange places under odd restrictions.

So, Rich Kreiner, yes, we, or at least I, sometimes like things just because they exist in an odd space, and occupy a strange little niche. And while I’ve never been a proponent of confusing effort with merit (i.e. the praise for something like Persepolis is primarily because people were impressed enough that a comic could be about Iran that they ignored how slight the actual content was), sometimes noting the effort is worthwhile. And I thank Kreiner for making the effort to write about us. Now if we can just make enough time to do that next issue….

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Second Issue Now Available for Download


by

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Read Comment (1)

Because the print run of the second issue of Comics Comics has sold out, we are now making it available for free downloading over at the sidebar.

So if you missed out on getting your own copy (and unfortunately, this one really does work best in its oversize paper form), you can now finally enjoy:

Peter Bagge on Spider-Man!

An interview with PShaw! (He has posted a nice color variation of this issue’s cover on his own site, by the way.)

Part one of a far-too-long essay on Steve Gerber‘s cult ’70s Marvel comics (Howard the Duck, Omega the Unknown, etc.)! (By the way, don’t forget to read the article’s accidentally excised footnotes.)

Kevin Nowlan on color separations!

Dan on Dave Sim‘s Collected Letters 2004!

Mark Newgarden on Michael Kupperman!

A beautiful “perpetual calendar” by the legendary Justin Green!

Comics and cartoons by PShaw, Matthew Thurber, and Lauren R. Weinstein!

And more!

P.S. When you’re done, drop us a line. There’s still time to make the letters page for issue three.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

The Nine Circles of Comics Internet Hell


by

Tuesday, February 6, 2007


Read Comments (7)

There are many wonderful sites on the Internet where the casual or serious fan can enjoyably explore the world of comics, but for every standout example of sanity, there are ten or more online locales that no one should visit unaware, and that greatly offend the TRUE AND KINDLY SPIRIT OF COMICS.

Comic book veterans will be familiar with most of the following destinations already, but as a public service for our less knowledgeable readers, and with apologies to Dante Alighieri, we offer this guide to the nether regions of the comics blogosphere. We call it:

THE NINE CIRCLES OF COMICS INTERNET HELL

Um, this is all meant in good fun, of course.

CIRCLE THE FIRST. LIMBO

Here is the final destination of the honorable pagans, excellent and admirable comics bloggers whose only sin lies in their worship of false gods (i.e., crappy comics). Bully, Mike Sterling of Progressive Ruin, and David Campbell of Dave’s Long Box are only three of the more prominent members of this dignified and respectable but misguided group.

CIRCLE THE SECOND. THE LUSTFUL

The denizens of this circle can be found in many places, and they frequently haunt the less-traveled reaches of eBay .

CIRCLE THE THIRD. THE GLUTTONOUS

To be fair, I am not really familiar with the contents of this blog, but the writer does claim to buy upwards of 100 comics a month, and frankly, he’s asking for it.

CIRCLE THE FOURTH. THE GREEDY

This one is too easy.

CIRCLE THE FIFTH. THE WRATHFUL

Probably the most common of sins in the world of comics fandom, the overly angry and vengeful can be found almost everywhere. Honorable pagan Graeme McMillan has since moved on to greener pastures, but the archives of his defunct Fanboy Rampage still catalog many of the most egregious offenders from past days.

CIRCLE THE SIXTH. THE HERETICS

Dave Sim is the obvious choice here, but other than an unreasonably high admiration for the art and influence of Neal Adams, his heresies are mostly confined to matters unrelated to comics proper. So, even though he probably doesn’t deserve the attention, I direct you to this guy.

CIRCLE THE SEVENTH. THE VIOLENT

One of the most dangerous destinations on the internet, populated almost entirely by vandals, blasphemers, and the suicidal, COMICON.com’s The Gutters has carved out a sure and safe berth in the seventh circle of Hell.

CIRCLE THE EIGHTH. THE FRAUDULENT

Flatterers, panderers, false prophets, and would-be seducers abound in the eighth circle, effortlessly presided over by John Byrne. There are many lowlights.

CIRCLE THE NINTH. THE TREASONOUS

For attacking anyone with the temerity to question the critical wisdom of middlebrow thumbsucker Time magazine (a publication that previously gave us this less-than-astute pick as worst of the year, lest we forget). For burning his “Comics Elitist Fan Club membership card”, a clearer sign of treason than anyone has the right to ask for. (And on that holiest of days, Christmas, no less!) For, less than a week later, excommunicating a fellow blogger from the ranks of the “insanely interesting”, merely for jokingly (obviously) poking fun at an established figure. Most of all, for apparently believing that a book or genre’s financial success is proof of its artistic worth, and entitles it to be exempt from all criticism (at least as long as it sits well on his hobbyhorse). For knowing better. In the ninth circle of comics internet hell, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Dirk.

(Please allow me, as the aforelinked Jacob Covey once did, to affix a ;) emoticon here, and also to inform all readers that this is commonly accepted as an indicator of facetious intent.)

DISCLAIMER: These views do not necessarily reflect those of Dan, Frank, any other contributor to Comics Comics, or even myself. Complaints should be directed elsewhere.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

The New Comics Comics (Reprise)


by

Friday, December 29, 2006


Read Comments (3)

NOTE: As the second issue of Comics Comics is just now being distributed to many comics stores for the first time, this is a special encore presentation of an earlier post.

Well, it’s finally here in all its glory. The second issue of Comics Comics debuted at SPX, and it’s a pretty terrific bargain.

We’ve switched to a much larger size—the second issue is a broadsheet—and though we’ll probably have it available for downloading fairly soon, this is one you’re going to want to own and hold in your hands, if only for the beautiful, giant Justin Green “Perpetual Calendar” on the back cover.

Incidentally, I was surprised at how many people at SPX (ostensibly big fans of “alternative” comics) didn’t recognize Justin Green‘s name. All I can say to that is that he basically invented the modern conception of autobiographical comics, and he is easily one of the dozen or so most important comic book creators of the last fifty years. If you haven’t read his Binky Brown stories, you should buy them and read them immediately. Seriously. Don’t buy a single other comic until you’ve found the Binky Brown Sampler. It is better than anything else you could possibly be considering.

Of course, Green’s not the only contributor in this issue. Did you ever wonder how Peter “Hate” Bagge really feels about Spider-Man, and about the single issue of that superhero’s adventures he created for Marvel? You can find out in Comics Comics #2!

Do you like the strange and wonderful work of Matthew Thurber, recently named minicomics artist of the year by the Comics Journal? You’ll read more here, in Comics Comics #2!

Also, Frank “Storeyville” Santoro discusses the lost art of color separation with mainstream legend Kevin Nowlan!

Comics and a very rare interview from our cover artist, the enigmatic PShaw!

Dan on Dave Sim, Mark Newgarden on Michael Kupperman, gag cartoons by Lauren R. Weinstein, and the first installment in an epic, New Yorker-style (ha) exploration of the 1970s Marvel stories of Steve Gerber!

Does YOUR favorite store carry Comics Comics?

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,