Posts Tagged ‘Chris Ware’

Jack Kirby Was the 20th Century & other notes


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Saturday, March 6, 2010


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Foxhole #1 (1954) by Jack Kirby.

More gleanings from my notebook:

Herriman’s Missing Signature. Michael Tisserand has a question: “Does anyone know (or have any ideas why) George Herriman generally no longer signed neither his daily nor his Sunday comics in their final years? How uncommon is this? Are there any reasons having to do with comics production, or is this a purely personal decision? I also noticed that there were periods of time in Herriman’s early stint at the Los Angeles Examiner where he didn’t sign his comics. These are the only comics in those issues that are unsigned.” Any thoughts on this would be appreciated.

Jack Kirby Was the 20th Century. Jack Kirby was the immigrant crowded into the tenements of New York (“Street Code”). He was the tough ghetto kid whose street-fighting days prepared him to be a warrior (the Boy Commandos). He was the patriotic fervour that won the war against Nazism (Captain America). He was the returning veteran who sought peace in the comforts of domestic life (Young Romance). He was the more than slightly demented panic about internal communist subversion (Fighting American). He was the Space Race and the promise of science (Sky Masters, Reed Richards). He was the smart housewife trapped in the feminine mystique, forced to take a subservient gender role (the Invisible Girl). He was the fear of radiation and fallout (the Incredible Hulk). He was the civil rights movement and the liberation of the Third World (the Black Panther). He was the existential loner outcast from society who sought solace by riding the waves (the Silver Surfer). He was the military industrial complex (Nick Fury). He was the hippies who rejected the Cold War consensus, and wanted to create their own counterculture (the Forever People). He was the artist who tried to escape his degrading background (Mister Miracle). He was feminism (Big Barda). He was Nixon and the religious right (Darkseid and Glorious Godfrey). He was the old soldier grown weary from a lifetime of struggle (Captain Victory). There was hardly any significant development in American 20th century history that didn’t somehow get refracted through Kirby’s whacko sensibility. Jack Kirby was the 20th century.
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Chris Ware: Drawing is a Way of Thinking


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Friday, March 5, 2010


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Chris Ware: Drawing is a Way of Thinking

Very soon a new Chris Ware book will be hitting the stands, a volume that most people probably haven’t heard of. It is not by Ware, but it’s about him. It’s a collection of essays titled The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing is a Way of Thinking (University Press of Mississippi, April 2010), edited by Martha B. Kuhlman and David M. Ball.

I’m in the book so I won’t say too much about it except that the editors are very intelligent and the table of contents (pasted below) looks promising. The book will also have a lovely frontispiece by Ivan Brunetti.

As it turns out, my contribution to the book is relevant to the discussions we’ve been having here at Comics Comics about book design and reprints of old comics. My essay is about Ware’s work on the Walt and Skeezix series and the Krazy and Ignatz series, which I try to place in the larger context of the history of comic strip reprint projects and also tie to Ware’s thematic concerns in his own comics with family history, the legacy of the past, and the pathology of the collector mentality.
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Angoulême 2010 Highlights


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Tuesday, February 2, 2010


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I apologize for the bullet/tweet-like nature of this post. It’s the only way I could get myself to write it. Frank will do a better Angoulême post later.


I was at Angoulême last year, but this was my first trip to the comics museum there. It had an exhibition of older comic originals with newer cartoonists covering the older page, plus the permanent exhibit: a timeline with a bunch of originals and books in glass cases and occasional videos. The original for this page of Johnny Craig’s “Split Personality” was especially moving. That second panel! Wobbly inky lips and cross-hatching! It’s like a pulpy Persona still.

Of course I loved seeing the Ware originals. They had a red pencil Quimby the Mouse page in the permanent collection. Ware’s exhibit at the Whitney Biennial was a life-changing experience for me. The under drawing, measuring… It’s shocking how raw the drawing is. His drawings look so clean when they’re shrunk and colored in print. In the originals they look so labored over, sometimes even crude. You can see the struggle, his thinking on the page. The Quimby original at Angoulême was such an object; the cut zipatone, the scale, the juxtaposition between the interior panels and the more illustrative background landscape. It was engaging by itself, beyond just being preparatory work for a print book.


The Cornelius Red Colored Elegy book is gorgeous. It has red spot color. All of the Cornelius books are unified—they’re clearly a line with a consistent sensibility across books—but you get the personality of the individual artist on the covers. It’s artist first, publisher second. Hayashi told me that they’ve recently released his short animations on DVD in Japan. You’d have to order them from amazon.co.jp and have a region-free dvd player to play them. He was sweet and humored my dumb questions. At festivals like this you find yourself jet-lagged in a taxi with Jose Munoz and you’re thinking, “Holy shit, what do I ask Jose Munoz? What do I ask Jose Munoz?!” and you end up just bugging him about random things. Try to milk those ten minutes for as much as you can.

The Manga Building had a One Piece exhibit, complete with cosplayers and prop sand dunes and palm trees. It was shoulder-to-shoulder packed. The whole thing had a fun energy. One Piece originals look exactly like what you’d think they would look like.

As you’ve probably heard, “dedications” (signings) are important in France, but Ruppert and Mulot have raised the bar. Ruppert did a drawing of me on the first page of the book, then turned to the last page and pulled out a pre-made stencil that marked different points. After placing dots on the last page using the stencil, he used a stamp to make a small frame at the center square dots. Then he pulled out an X-Acto knife and cut out the center of the frame and the outside areas. He glued the center of the frame to the inside back cover and then cut out the original drawing on the first page. He placed the first page portrait inside what he cut out, flipped it around and put the cut-out together, to hand me a small portrait in a paper standing frame as his “dedication.” Damn. In the States you get a drawing of the main character’s head with a word balloon saying, “Hi (your name here.)”




While I’ve acquired a lot of pulpy 60s and 70s Franco-Belgian comics, I know very little about them. 90% have cool covers and then you open it to see Caniff hackwork. But there’s some gold in that other 10%. I got some good Luc Orients last year, but the best thing I found at this Angoulême was this Michel Vaillant BD and some kind of Little Nemo homage book.





I wanted to get this Lucie Durbriano book last year and I didn’t. It annoyed me for a whole year until I went back and got it.




This woman in Germany, Ulli Lust, did a really dense, long comic about two girls on a road trip, drawn in pencil with a green spot color. It came out in German recently. Wish I could read it.



10 Euros for the complete Airtight Garage! I nabbed it before Frank!

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Notes on the Midwestern School of Comics


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Tuesday, December 29, 2009


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The Comics Journal 300 carries a conversation between Kevin Huizenga and Art Spiegelman. During the course of the interview, Kevin brings up the idea of a Midwester school of cartooning, something that I’ve discussed in various essays on Little Orphan Annie and Gasoline Alley. The conversation goes like this:

Huizenga:In one of the recent Annie reprints, Jeet Heer talks in the introduction about this idea of a Midwestern, or Chicago school of cartooning that was more preoccupied with everyday life and the quiet rhythms of everyday life. The style was quieter and more repetitive. I think you can definitely see how Ware fits in that tradition, and also he’s called more attention to that kind of cartooning. Visually, it might look boring, at first, to some people, but it’s a form that’s fitted to content. What they’re doing is comics about mundane things like talking to your wife, or whatever — the “little things.”
Spiegelman:I guess. But I think rather than just Midwest, I would make it Protestant, you know. Like they don’t have those ornate crucifixions.
Huizenga:I have those two strikes against me, I guess, here. [Laughter.]
Spiegelman:It’s definitely suspicious of ornament and exuberance…

A few points can be added to this discussion. I elaborate one what I mean by the Midwestern comics tradition in an interview with Tom Spurgeon in the Comics Reporter, where I talk about this school of art and how it links together Harold Gray and Chester Brown. Here’s a relevant part of that interview:

The geography of rural Illinois left a strong mark on Gray’s imagination, as can be seen if he’s compared to his Wisconsin-born colleague Frank King. In King’s work, the country-side is always rolling and sloping, with cars constantly sputtering up hills or flowing down valleys. In the early Little Orphan Annie strips, by contrast, once our heroine leaves the city, the countryside is as flat as a quilt spread out on a bed, each acre of farmland its own perfect square, with stacks of hay and isolated silos the only protrusions on the land. The flatness of the prairies, the prostrate manner in which the horizon spreads out as far as the eye can see, spoke to something deep in Gray’s imagination: it perhaps explains his sense of the isolation of human existence, the persistent feeling of loneliness his characters complain of, and their commensurate need to reach out to Annie and create strong (although temporary) families, with the orphan as their child.

Brown of course didn’t grow up in the prairies, which are the setting for Louis Riel. His childhood was spent in the very different landscape of Quebec. But I do think that appropriating Gray’s style helped Chester capture the landscape of western Canada, especially the flatness and isolation of the region. I do think there is a tradition of mid-western cartooning, a family tree that is rooted in John T. McCutcheon and extends to Clare Briggs, Harold Gray, Frank King (with a crazy branch that includes the grotesque approach of Chester Gould and Boody Rodgers). The latest branch of this tree is the alternative comics of Chris Ware, Ivan Brunetti, and Kevin Huizenga. Brown is interesting because he’s not from the mid-west at all, in fact is not even an American, but has absorbed the aesthetics of this
approach.

A few other points:

1. Spiegelman is on to something when he says that this is a Protestant tradition. What I’d say is that the tradition of Midwestern comics brings together various strands: partially regional tradition of vernacular, low-key literature (the line of George Ade, Sherwood Anderson, Ring Lardner) with its focus on small town life, partially from the low church Protestant tradition of plainness, partially out of the Chicago Tribune’s populist stance. So I prefer the more expansive term Midwestern cartooning, which seems to bring most of these things together. But perhaps we could also say that this is Midwestern Wasp cartooning?

2. If we were doing a genealogy of ideas, credit for the concept of Midwestern catooning should go to Gilbert Seldes, who talked about the “Chicago school” in his 1924 book The 7 Lively Arts. In the 1980s, Richard Marschall revived the idea of Midwestern cartooning in a few scattered essays in Nemo magazine. I’ve tried to give a third life to the idea by linking up the great Chicago Tribune cartoonists of the 1920s with their modern counterparts like Ware and Huizenga.

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Anthology Making as Autobiography


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Saturday, December 19, 2009


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Dan’s comments on the Toon Treasury got me thinking about anthology-making, an underappreciated craft. In the entire history of comics, there have only been a handful of great anthologies. Off the top of my head the following come to mind:

1. The Smithsonian Book of Newspaper Comics, edited by Bill Blackbeard and Martin Williams. A really great anthology, collecting the best strip comics from the early 20th century: Opper, McCay, Herriman, Sterrett, Gray, Segar, Crane, Gottfredson. This book is the foundation stone of the reprint renaissance we’re living through right now. There is no way, for example, that the Walt and Skeezix books would exist if the Smithsonian volume hadn’t published choice examples of King’s Sunday pages, which led Joe Matt and Chris Ware to collect Gasoline Alley strips. The book is particularly strong on the great long and rousing continuities of the 1930s that Blackbeard grew up reading: giving readers an extended sample of Wash Tubbs, Mickey Mouse, and Popeye at their violently exuberant best. It took me many years to figure out that the book has some limitations. The editors had no taste for adult observational humour panels, so there is no Clare Briggs or Gluyas Williams in the book. And because Blackbeard’s taste was so nostalgically oriented, the book peters out after 1945 or so. Still, this is an essential volume that anyone interested in comics should own.

2. The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly. Dan has already said what needs to be said about the book. The one point I’d add is that it does a useful job in sorting out a canon of the really great kids cartoonists (Barks, Stanley, Kelly, Mayer) while providing enough material from other artists who did solid work so that readers get a sense of the scope of the genre.

3. Art Out of Time edited by Dan Nadel. This is probably too incestuous but I have to say this book looks better every time I return to it. This is especially true now that we have more books reprinting some of the artists from this anthology: what distinguishes the book is the fact that the stories Dan selected were both striking and emblematic of the cartoonists being displayed. About the only critique I’d make is that the comic book pages looked better than the newspaper Sunday pages reprinted. It might have been better to have two volumes, one devoted to the comic book stories and a larger book to the Sunday pages.

4. An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories, two volumes, edited by Ivan Brunetti. There is so much that could be said about these books. I love the connections they draw between classic cartoonists (notably Bushmiller, Kurtzman and Schulz) and alternative comics. Like Spiegelman and Mouly, and Dan as well, Brunetti is very smart about how he’s organized the book: the unexpected juxtaposition of certain artists (Forbell and Regé, Teal and Burns) ignites a new understanding of familiar material. And I like that the Crumb material is from his underrated middle period, and not the overly reprinted 1960s stuff. More subtly, Brunetti has a knack for picking out stories that stick in your mind. Much of this book was déjà vu for me, but that’s because so much of it is from the very stories that I’ve constantly been re-reading for the last twenty years.

5. McSweeney’s 13 edited by Chris Ware. All the praise of Brunetti’s book applies to this volume.

Aside from these books, there are a few near great anthologies: books that are very strong but more flawed, including A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics (edited by Michael Barrier and Martin Williams) and The Apex Treasury of Underground Comics (edited by Don Donahue and Susan Goodrick). The Smithsonian book suffers mainly from its half-hearted selection of superhero and action material (which either should have been more comprehensive or entirely left out), and the dull coloring of the reproduction. The Apex book gives a good selection of the main underground artists but many of them would go on to do stronger work (notably Spiegelman, Spain, and Deitch; actually also Crumb, now that I think of it). So it’s crying out to be republished in an expanded edition. Or perhaps someone can start from scratch and do an anthology of “The Essential Underground Comics”.

One interesting thing about good anthologies is how autobiographical they are. It’s no accident, I think, that the Smithsonian Book of Newspaper Comics is strongest on those comics Blackbeard and Williams read when they were boys in the late 1920s and 1930s. The Toon Treasury is an outgrowth of the experience Spiegelman and Mouly had as parents, sharing Barks and Stanley with their kids. And some of the selections in the Toon Treasury are either personal interests of Spiegelman (Jack Cole), influences on his work (Gross, Kurtzman) or in one case his mentor (Woody Gelman). The Yale anthologies are really a record of the comics that shaped Brunetti’s own development as a cartoonist.

Anthology-making can thus be seen as a form of autobiography. A good anthologist is moved not just by objective considerations (who are the masters of the genre?) but also personal concerns (what are the works that speak to me?). This personal dimension of anthology-making extends outside of comics: consider Dwight Macdonald’s Parodies, or John Metcalf’s many collections of Canadian short fiction, or Hugh Kenner’s volume of Seventeenth Century Poetry or the Subtreasury of American Humor edited by E.B. and Katharine White. All of these are anthologies that bear the impress of particular personalities, with items selected and organized to sharpen taste and perception.

PS: I should add that there are some very attractive-looking recent anthologies which I haven’t read yet: notably Abstract Comics by Andrei Molotiu. So if there are books that I missed, feel free to list them below in the comments section.

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Ware is Everywhere


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Saturday, November 7, 2009


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In a recent Inkstuds interview, Seth said that that three most influential contemporary cartoonists are Crumb, Spiegelman, and Chris Ware. For Seth, what sets these three apart is not so much the quality of their work, as the fact that they’ve changed the syntax of comics, greatly expanding the range and depth of stories that can be told in the medium. I agree with Seth, with the proviso that Gary Panter and Lynda Barry also belong on this list.


Will Staehle cover of Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs

The type of influence Seth was talking about is fairly subtle: in the case of Ware it means making other cartoonists aware that comics can have minutely delicate shades of emotional meaning hitherto unexplored in the medium. But Ware’s influence on some artists is also more blatant in the sense that he’s clearly informed their style and design sense. Recent examples of Ware-inflected design include the cover for the new Michael Chabon essay collection, an art catalogue designed by Ellen Gould, and a illustration by Mark Matcho from the August 24, 2009 issue of Time Magazine.


Ellen Gould’s design for Imaginative Feats art catalogue

Certainly Ware has raised the bar in terms of design, just as he has done for comics, but it is odd to see Ware pastiches popping up all over the place. I’m divided on how I feel about this phenomenon. On the one hand, most of the Ware-influenced art is quite good: if you’re going to steal a style you might as well do it from the best. On the other hand, in Ware’s work his style isn’t just for show but is integral to the total artistic package. To take use his style for other purposes almost seems like your missing the point of what it is that he’s doing.


Mark Matcho illustration for Time

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Live Free or Blog La-Z


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Tuesday, November 3, 2009


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I had planned a better post, but scanning problems are delaying things a bit, so here’s a few links to tide things over.

You know, there’s a prominent comics link-blogger who likes to go on and on about how hard it is to put these things together, but based on my limited experience, it actually seems like a great and incredibly easy way to post stuff online, even when you’re busy with a day job, a baby, election day, scanner foul-ups, early morning meetings, etc. If I was actually paid to do this every day, I bet I could get a routine going with my RSS feeds where it took me less than an hour to round up links to all of the “important” comics blogosphere blogonet sites every morning. Kind of fun!

1. Austin English is a great guy and all, but he has weird ideas about what’s ugly and what isn’t. (And seems to compare Denny O’Neil favorably to R. Crumb, an aesthetic crime that should not go unpunished. (Jk Austin! Sorta.))

2. I knew about Talking Lines, but didn’t realize there was another interesting looking new R.O. Blechman book out.

3. Birthday tributes to Steve Ditko weren’t even a dime a dozen yesterday, unless you pay way too much for your internet service, but this one, despite its brief length, was particularly provocative and original.

4. Naoki Urasawa talks process. [via]

5. A too-rare interview with Peter Blegvad appears in the new Believer. [via]

[UPDATE: And I didn’t realize it when I originally posted, but the issue includes a TON of good comics material that I should have mentioned.]

6. Almost every post Jog writes these days is worth linking to, but since everyone already reads him anyway, what’s the point? That said, this review of J.H. Williams III and Detective Comics is unusually thorough and well-wrought, even for him.

7. And here is an insightful appreciation of last week’s Chris Ware New Yorker work. Click on it; it’s not boring.

8. Finally (but not leastily), for those of you who didn’t notice, this weekend brought the grand debut of our newest online team member, the great Jason T. Miles. Please make him welcome and stay tuned for more. I don’t want to ruin his next post by giving anything away, but it sounds pretty awesome.

That’s it. I hope you found at least most of those worth reading. Nothing is more annoying than linkblogs full of garbage. On second thought, I have to admit that maybe this isn’t that easy to do exhaustively if you hope to maintain any kind of quality control. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m finding less and less of interest in the actual comics blogosphere blogonet these days. Writers outside it seem more thoughtful lately. Still, ninety minutes tops.

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