Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary
















August 31, 2012


Go, Look: Oskars Pavlovskis

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Comics By Request -- People, Projects In Need Of Funding

image* it's the last day for The Projects. I think they're close enough someone can sweep in and at least release the money raised thus far. In fact, taking a second look just now, I bet they make it without a white knight/making up the extra themselves. Hey, good for them.

* someone sent me this modestly-conceived Kickstarter for a Ryan Browne comic that since then has met its goal. Looks like this one I get sent every so often should make its goal, too.

* the nice folks at Agreeable Comics are raising money to meet their hosting bill.

* there's still a few hours to get in on the Ottaviani/Nourigat project.

* Bryan Munn adds his voice to the chorus suggesting it might be nice if you're a Cerebus fan to toss some money to Sandeep Atwal.
 
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If I Were In Atlanta, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: Super Odd-Looking Mainstream Comics Art

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* Johanna Draper Carlson notes that Viz has gone to same day digital releases, or whatever string of words is being used to describe digital comics coming out the same day as print comics.

image* missed it: Dave Lasky has a little Frank King gallery up here.

* Rob Clough on various mini-comics. Ryan Holmberg on Abstract Comics. Christopher Allen on Troop 142. Grant Goggans on Nikolai Dante.

* I scanned this article on that terrible-looking Stan Lee documentary, saw that the writer claims Lee helped create Captain America, and didn't feel the need to read the piece. Well, actually, I know I should have read the piece but I don't need the blood-pressure issues. That's just terrible; there are literally dozens of pretty good to excellent writers about comics right now and I'm sure the Chicago Sun-Times would have access to several if they wanted them.

* Derik A. Badman discusses comics and poetry.

* I'm not sure I agree with the definition of graphic novel vs. comic book expounded upon here or the need to expound upon it, but I'm always happy when people take such issues seriously.

* Brandon Graham draws the Koyama Press logo. Jim Blanchard makes a great-looking trashcan. Faith Erin Hicks draws Dazzler.

image* Dean Mullaney profiles Dick Moores. It's like Gasoline Alley Day. I'd complain, but every day should be Gasoline Alley Day. Roger Ash talks to Eric Reynolds and Philip Nel. Michel Fiffe throws some love in the direction of Kerry Gammill. Kieron Gillen talks to Adam Cadwell. Paul Gravett talks to Glyn Dillon.

* this extended set of musings from Frank Santoro is a lot of fun.

* Josh Kopin has written a longish essay about Ed Brubaker's time at Marvel and his approach to superhero comics. Brubaker will likely do work at Marvel in the future, of course, but this phase of his career has definitely ended.

* not comics: a John Porcellino mug and plate.

* Sonia Harris on male superheroes as rock stars/drag queens.

* here's a sneak-peek photo of the new MoCCA space. If all the MoCCA stuff this summer made you wonder what Kristen Siebecker is up to these days, Gary Tyrrell will inform you.

* finally, Kevin Wilson loves Dick Dillin's art.
 
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August 30, 2012


Go, Look: Tim Sievert's The Clandestinauts

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Rodrigo Baeza Suggests A Reason For The "Not A Reboot" Rhetoric

This morning I wrote about Marvel's rhetoric surrounding its "Marvel Now" initiative and said of their continued hammering-home that they're not rebooting the line, "The 'not a reboot' cry borders on the pathological, but I sort of get it." Rodrigo Baeza wrote in with a potential alternate reason why they may be doing this, which he explains as follows:
I understand why Marvel is doing this. There actually are retailers who are spreading the rumor that this is a reboot, and maybe even implying that people should buy back issues of the current "Avengers vs. X-Men" as a possible investment (because it's now an "important" series).

An specific example is Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics, who has been sending his customers mails with subject lines such as "Marvel Comics Starts to Relaunch Entire Universe" and "Marvel Comics Starting Over?" Here are a couple of quotes from Mile High's newsletter:

"Speaking of AVENGERS VS. X-MEN, did you read the announcement that Marvel Comics is going to start to relaunch all of their titles, beginning in October. It now turns out that AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #1 was a vastly more important book than any of us realized, as we believe it will mark the beginning of the complete renumbering of the Marvel Universe. The 6 new Marvel #1 issues will begin shipping weekly in October with many if not all to follow, starting with Uncanny Avengers #1. We then believe that Marvel Comics will then be stopping all of their existing titles, and replacing them with new #1 issues, sometime between October and early Spring." (August 6)

And:

"What makes this move by Marvel particularly interesting is that it ties in directly with the ongoing AVENGERS VS. X-MEN title. As those of you who have been reading this newsletter for a while are already aware, I have been strongly urging everyone to pick up this crossover. Little did I know, however, that it might end up being the starting point for what is potentially a restart of the entire Marvel Universe. Nothing is yet written in stone, and for that matter, I do not think that even those who make the editorial decisions at Marvel know for certain where this new trend will ultimately lead them. I do believe, however, that DC tapped into a wellspring of new comics readers with their relaunch. If Marvel can establish resonance with that same audience, life for the entire comics world could be very, very interesting during 2013..." (August 24)

Probably more information than you needed, but it explains why Marvel has had to emphasize that this is not a reboot.
Now at first this didn't make any sense to me, and I asked Baeza why Marvel -- a company that's doing 12,975 variant covers for "Marvel Now," wouldn't want readers to speculate by buying extra copies of the Avengers Vs X-Men series. Baeza pointed out that the flip side of Marvel having people see one series, even an "event" series, as crucially important is that suddenly their other series could be characterized as "less important."

That makes some sense. DC's clean break strategy mitigates a bit against this kind of thing by making all the series equally important before and after, and even then there's been some anecdotal evidence of rapidly declining sales for various serious that now "don't count" or count for less in terms of shaping the current DC Comics "reality." Baeza's observation also makes sense of the context of something that you hear in comics circles, that DC has greater latitude to lose money for a time than Marvel has, despite Marvel's massive movie success. If that's true, that would make Marvel much less likely to want to suffer a bad quarter for better quarters ahead.

Mostly, though, Baeza's theory is a reminder that we don't always know how these companies operate, that it can be more simple and more complicated than the overlay of reality we to place on what they're doing. Hopefully, in the future I'll make fewer under-informed, sweeping statements.
 
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Go, Look: Brian Michael Bendis' BENDIS! Tumblr

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I don't know how long he's been doing this, but the writer has been on a big run of interesting mainstream single-images lately
 
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Look At That Captain America Jack Kirby Drew There

Scroll down a bit -- go to the site first if you're not there -- and look at that Captain America his creator, Jack Kirby, drew for the cover of his publication. Can you imagine such a weak-looking Captain America making the cover of anything now? Can you imagine a little dose of blindness keeping Our Man down, even for a second, let alone forcing him to make that face?

imageI usually track the idea of a specific kind of fan service that's worked its way into superhero comics the last quarter-century through Wolverine. The idea is -- and you can skip this post if you've read me blather on about this before -- that a big chunk of fans won't let a favorite character show weakness because it somehow reflects on them in a way they don't like. Captain America might be an even better example. A lot of Captain America's classic depictions since his return to comics in the early 1960s engages this idea that he's not in the same power class as some of the other superheroes. The Avengers he led -- a team for which he served as de facto muscle until the oddly overpowered-for-his-concept Goliath showed back up -- was a "weaker" Avengers. I also seem to remember a plotline in the 1970s Avengers comic about Captain America maybe not being up to snuff in terms of his function within that by-then-much-stronger team. A lot of Captain America's big victories over the years have been done with a kind of nudge-nudge wink-wink in the direction of him being one of the weaker characters: his fighting spirit was enough to let this relatively weak guy chase down a multi-segmented, killer Nazi robot on a motorcycle or go toe-to-toe with Korvac for a few seconds or whatever.

I don't think that's true of his depiction these days, at least not in the comics with which I'm familiar, except maybe how I hear he was treated in the Avengers movie. Mostly, though, he has that post-Grant Morrison JLA Batman thing going on, where they play against the character's relative lack of god-destroying juice by making him a hyper-competent badass. That makes a lot of sense given the character's general concept, and I know that there are fans that love it. Yet I also think there's something to characters showing weakness that gets readers past a really fragile set of demands about proper behavior. Once you lose a few fights, you don't have to carry around an entire record of not-losing every time out. It makes the current fight that much more important.
 
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Go, Look: The 30-Cent Jack Kirby Gallery

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Go, Read: Sam Henderson On Performing Comics

The cartoonist Sam Henderson has a thoughtful post up at TCJ about the phenomenon of performing one's comics, particularly humor comics. I don't think there's a big secret here more than 1) there still exist massive shortcomings when it comes to delivering certain works to their potential audience, and 2) it's fun to take in art communally, particularly humor. If you've ever watched something like Blazing Saddles in a crowded theater after years of watching it on the television screen, you know that second point to be true.

Anyway, I'm all for funny people being funny and for cartoonists to get the feedback and recognition their work deserves, so I'm not going to complain about anything that allows them to do so.
 
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Go, Look: Animazing Gallery

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Bundled, Tossed, Untied And Stacked

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By Tom Spurgeon

* I'm starting to hear about SPX debuts from people that aren't major boutique/arts publishers. Above is the cover for Wings For Wheels: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen, which is edited by Nomi Kane. It includes work by by Pat Barrett, Josh PM Frees, Jen Vaughn, Dan McCool, Jen May, Todd McArther, and Nomi Kane and will be sold for $6. I'm not sure I'll be buying any comics as I'll probably be broke after buying t-shirts like this Laika one from Nick Abadzis.

image* Box Brown gets the Latvian fancy mini-comics treatment.

* here's a pretty good round-up of mainstream comics news emanating from last weekend's convention in Toronto.

* three key departures for DC Comics: Ben Abernathy, Judd Winick, Rob Liefeld. Abernathy was running their digital publishing arm, while Winick and Liefeld were solid participants in the New 52 initiative. Liefeld left in what became a pretty famous twitter-driven explosion of nasty commentary due to problems he was having with the gig; Winick left more quietly to pursue other projects. Abernathy left for an opportunity with Madefire, or got that opportunity soon after -- I'm not 100 percent sure. I don't think they'll feel any of those departures as much as they might some others, but I could be wrong.

* so they're doing a lot of variant covers with the Marvel Now initiative; here's one of Milo Manara drawing the Scarlet Witch. That's sort of terrifying, really, and I enjoy Manara's work. At any rate, I think it's a positive that they're doing variant covers with merit -- covers people might want to have a preferred experience with the comic as opposed to it just being a collectible -- but I still think that's a lot of pressure to put on the retailers so early in an ordering relationship.

* speaking of Marvel Now, here's how it was presented to the retailers. The "not a reboot" cry borders on the pathological, but I sort of get it. I'm not sure anyone cares about this as much as Marvel does, not in a market sense, but since Marvel does care this means they'll likely "win" that argument, and that could have benefits in terms of the way they position themselves in that market or with comics professionals.

* this is the longest piece I've seen to date on the forthcoming Image Comics collaboration between Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin.

* that Steve Rude 2012 sketchbook that received some attention via a pre-orders focused crowdfunding campaign is now available in Rude's store. I've liked the previous copies of the sketchbook I've seen, and I'll eventually get my hands on the one of these ordered. I'd use an image, but Rude prefers people not to drive attention to his work that way, it seems.

* finally, here's access to the latest volume of a work by Lars Martinson with which I'm totally unfamiliar: The Kameoka Diaries.

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Go, Look: One Of The SP7 Garo Tribute Comics

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The Never-Ending, Four-Color Festival: Cons, Shows, Events

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By Tom Spurgeon

* not sure what's out there right now. Let's see.

* most of my personal orientation is aimed at SPX, two weeks from now. Their tumblr is excellent reading for comics in general right now. They've been rolling out the Jaime Hernandez ticket images. It's my understanding that there are no reservations at the host hotel for Friday, and that area gets kind of weird for hotel rooms past that place. It's kind of a weird place, generally, and I'm looking forward to seeing it. One of the things that's interesting about SPX is that its Camp Comics atmosphere sort of rewards there being not a lot to do in the neighborhood.

* oh, it's Dragon*Con this weekend, in its traditional Labor Day slot. That is a strange show in terms of its orientation towards comics. For one thing, I didn't have it listed at all until this morning and not a single person wrote in to complain. That never happens with any show just about any person out there is attending, let alone ones where a reader is exhibiting. Dragon*Con seems to me like a mainstream comic-con with all the stuff that would interest most readers of CR boiled away -- it's more a general genre show where some comics people set up than a comics show in a significant way, although I'm sure some would disagree. My understanding is that it's very old-school in its party-in-the-hotel-rooms orientation, and very new school in terms of the way sex is put and front center, but I don't know that from personal experience. I would imagine it's a very important part of a lot of folks' lives, having been around in reliable fashion for as long as it has. I've enjoyed the heck out of Atlanta the few times I've been there, and there is a pretty solid group of cartoonists that live there or near there.

* maybe my favorite comics-culture blogger ever, Kathleen David, is a long-time attendee of Dragon*Con and talks about the show here.

* David Petersen has art up that's being used for the Baltimore Con's convention program.

* next weekend's Baltimore show is where all that comics stuff ends up, by the way; that's a mainstream-oriented comics show that's nothing but comics.

* the MorrisonCon programming is up. That looks like a solid list of things to do. I think the programming has to carry a lot of weight at an event like that. I know people that giggle about that show, but it makes perfect sense to me.

* speaking of MorrisonCon made me think I should check to see if I knew when PAX was, and holy crud it starts tomorrow! This is the gaming convention that's spiraled from the very smart efforts of the Penny Arcade guys, so it's not like I forgot to put a TCAF-style event on my calendar, but it's still a stupid omission on my part. While there is occasionally some comics content, and you have the tie-in of the founders, what you should really note with PAX is that it fathered things like the Stan Lee, Mark Millar and Grant Morrison efforts to extend their personal brands into a convention model that seems to work generally now.

* finally, that The Projects show is in the final-hours stage of its kickstarter; it's not so far away it might not make it, but it likely needs a push. I wouldn't be surprised if someone stepped in to put them over the top just so they can secure the funding already secured, but I wouldn't count on it.
 
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Go, Look: Paul Grist Work For Nikki

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Go, Look: Creig Flessel's David Crane

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* Bert Random on Hugo Tate. Timothy Callahan on a bunch of different comics. R. Fiore on the recent Batman movie. Johanna Draper Carlson on Lovers' Lane. Shannon Smith on Oyster War. Sterg Botzakis on Graphic Canon Book 1.

* Andrew Mansell on Peanuts makes the case that 1963-1966 is the prime period in the prime period. I've seen people argue this more generally, but this is the first time I've seen a writer about comics use the Fantagraphics collections to make their point a bit more explicit and exact. Mansell also recommends that 1981-1982 volume that a lot of folks, me included, found fascinating.

* that's a Kirby original page I hadn't seen before.

* Steve Manale draws Michael Cho. Ben Templesmith draws The Joker.

* Zack Davisson talks to Brian Wood and then talks to Brian Wood some more.

* finally, Johanna Draper Carlson makes a point that crops up every now and then: if people are going to continue moving around the country, and that may be the case, digital is going to look really appealing when compared to keeping all of that pulp.
 
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August 29, 2012


Go, Look: Cole Closser

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Bleeding Cool Has An Update On Lost Cerebus Negatives

Rich Johnston's Bleeding Cool site has a lengthy update on the fire that destroyed some of the negatives and equipment being used to assemble a digital edition of Dave Sim's High Society graphic novel, a project that had been successful kickstarted earlier this year. You should go read that article rather than read me sum it up, but it looks like, basically, the project may still come off if a bunch more time, energy and digital elbow grease is applied. The losses were partial but significant. I would imagine that another fundraiser with very specific parameters and a very specific, donated reward might end up being useful at some point, but that's really just me using my "I'm talking on the Internet so now I'm suddenly an expert at stuff" card. Actually, I have no idea if that would be useful or not, but it popped into my head.

That article links to this site, which I knew nothing about and which is sort of fascinating if you like to muse on how timing and reader participation can work in comics. And who doesn't? The article also links to this campaign to help out the person related to the project made homeless and stuff-less by that fire.
 
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Go, Read: Dan Nadel's TCJ Review Of David Mazzucchelli's Daredevil: Born Again Artist's Edition

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This Isn't A Library: Notable Releases To The Comics Direct Market

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Here are the books that make an impression on me staring at this week's no-doubt largely accurate list of books shipping from Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. to comic book and hobby shops across North America.

I might not buy all of the works listed here. I might not buy any. You never know. I'd sure look at the following, though.

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JUN121314 VOYEURS GN $24.95
You could have a perfectly pleasant comics-buying experience this week just walking into your full-service shop buying this comic and leaving. In fact, I'm not sure that wouldn't be the optimal choice this week. It's a strange comics-buying Wednesday, but there's nothing weird about how good Gabrielle Bell for the last couple of years and this is a handsome presentation of a bunch of material worth owning. I guess I would only qualify by saying that I could also see how she might just not for certain aesthetic sensibilities, that there are smart people that might reject her on those grounds. But I'm a fiend for her stuff right now.

imageJUL120749 MOUSE GUARD LEGENDS O/T GUARD HC VOL 01 LEATHER BOUND ED (MR) $39.95
I'm not sure why you'd need a leather-bound comic, but this seems like a pretty good choice to receive that treatment as its fans love it a lot.

JUN120142 JUSTICE LEAGUE #12 $3.99
I'm told Wonder Woman and Superman do it, which I guess would have been very exciting for me that 31 hours in 1978 when I was no longer too young for this kind of thing and when I was not yet too old for this kind of thing.

JUN120288 SPACEMAN #9 (MR) $2.99
You could argue that the relative low-profile this book's maintained is one of the more important sales outcomes of the last five years. You'd probably get people really pissed at you if you argued the particulars of that line of thinking, though. I look forward to catching up to it.

JUN120027 AXE COP PRESIDENT O/T WORLD #2 $3.50
JUN120017 BPRD HELL ON EARTH RETURN O/T MASTER #1 SOOK CVR $3.50
JUN120395 POPEYE #4 [DIG/D+] $3.99
JUN128118 INVINCIBLE #92 2ND PTG $2.99
APR120548 MORNING GLORIES #21 (MR) [DIG] $2.99
FEB120510 MUDMAN #5 [DIG] $3.50
JUN120567 PROPHET #28 [DIG] $3.99
JUN120590 AVX VS #5 $3.99
JUN120658 FF #21 $2.99
JUN120640 WINTER SOLDIER #9 $2.99
JUN128134 ADVENTURE TIME MARCELINE SCREAM QUEENS #1 2ND PTG $3.99
JUN121218 SIXTH GUN #24 $3.99
Nothing really jumps out at me on that long list of comic books that my flash-memory tells me I've seen at least one person out there love. The belle of the ball is probably the Prophet, which seems to me is settling into much more traditional action-adventure pacing after a relatively ragged first trade volume's worth of fits and starts and careening off sideways. I don't really read the FF and the Winter Soldier series, but those are by quality mainstream comic book writers that are soon moving on, which means you could check in to see if you're missing something to keep an eye out for bargain-bin copies in the months ahead. I don't know, that's how I buy some comics anyway. A lot of people really like that Morning Glories but I have an almost superpower-like ability to not tell the characters apart in that one despite having read every issue and there being clear visual signifiers that tell you which character is which. I don't have anything blithely stupid and semi-insulting to say about the other comics, so I'll stop now. But I think it's fun to go to the shop and pick up random issues of comics that other people tell you they like every now and then. I'll miss that experience if it goes away -- I miss it now, being no longer near a shop -- and I'm not sure it transfers to digital the way I'd like it to.

JUN121162 AMULET SC VOL 05 PRINCE OF THE ELVES $12.99
JUN121170 BABY SITTERS CLUB SC VOL 04 CLAUDIA & MEAN JANINE NEW PTG $9.99
MAY121195 GON GN KODANSHA ED VOL 07 $10.99
Here's a trio of books for which you can argue "true mainstream" status in different ways. My suspicion is you could also make that argument from a sales-standpoint for Amulet; I think that one does well. I believe that's the last volume of Gon, which was quite the hot book in the industry 15 years ago or so and I imagine still has its fans.

JUL120742 DEVILS ADVOCATE ART OF COOP HC (MR) $39.95
I would take a look at this for sure, although whether or not you buy an art book usually depends on what you see in your hands as opposed to what you do when you're looking at a list of new comics out.

MAR121338 HISTORY OF UNDERGROUND COMICS 20TH ANNIV ED SC $29.95
I've been a fiend for underground comics recently, which means I need to double-check if I still have my copy of this book or if it's something I need to track down again.

JUN120650 INFERNAL MAN-THING #3 $3.99
This is the last issue of the Steve Gerber/Kevin Nowlan collaboration that was done from a found script by the late author. They are both very, very much mainstream (mostly) comics talents worth following, so I'm going to follow them. Gerber's worth following even though he's been dead a while. Marvel runs its trades department with a touch of dice-rolling madness, so while I assume this stuff will be collected at some point I suppose it isn't guaranteed.

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The full list of this week's releases, including some titles with multiple cover variations and a long, impressive list of toys and other stuff that isn't comics, can be found here. Despite this official list there's no guarantee a comic will show up in the stores as promised, or in all of the stores as opposed to just a few. Also, stores choose what they carry and don't carry so your shop may not carry a specific publication. There are a lot of comics out there.

To find your local comic book store, check this list; and for one I can personally recommend because I've shopped there, albeit a while back, try this.

The above titles are listed with their Diamond order code in the first field, which may assist you in finding comics at your shop or having them order something for you they don't have in-stock. Ordering through a direct market shop can be a frustrating experience, so if you have a direct line to something -- you know another shop has it, you know a bookstore has it -- I'd urge you to consider all of your options.

If I failed to list your comic, that's on me. I apologize.

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Go, Look: John Stanley's Comics Within Comics

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Whit Stillman: "I Was An Agent For Illustrators And Cartoonists"

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The director Whit Stillman say in this piece that he worked as an agent for illustrators and cartoonists as a day job in what looks like the late '80s and early '90s. Does anyone know anything about this, or is this another one of those "Anna Chlumsky: Comics Editor" moments?

haven't seen The Last Days Of Disco since the weekend it opened, but I seem to remember Robert Sean Leonard's creepy character being into Carl Barks
 
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Go, Look: John Romita Sr. Fantastic Four Splash Pages

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Teacher Fired In Louisiana For Posting Of Editorial Cartoons

Alan Gardner at Daily Cartoonist has a succinct write-up on a Louisiana schoolteacher getting fired because of editorial cartoons that depict violence against President Obama that were hung in the hallways of the school. It's one of those stories that comes across as kind of wholly dysfunctional and super-depressing, from the notion of hanging terrible cartoons in a school hallway to the admission that the firing was driven by PR concerns to the distressing nature of the cartoons to the idea floated that some kid created a bullet hole on one of the images by dropping their marker. Holy crap, what a stew.

I guess my overall reaction is that you could have a pretty good class if there was a teacher challenging kids on their lazy political thinking and execution of same, but what's reported and what happened seems 10,000 miles away from any kind of learning experience other than maybe some kids learning the adult world is a horrible and depressing place. Also, if I had known that I could have maybe gotten teachers fired by making offensive cartoons, I would have done nothing but make offensive cartoons.
 
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Go, Read: James Romberger Profiles Marie Severin

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Go, Look: Visions Of Carl Kolchak

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* thank to all of you that looked at yesterday's Jack Kirby Birthday Gallery. I was sent a bunch of fun Jack Kirby-related links yesterday, which should roll out in various ways on this site over the next week. Send-ins included this 30-Cent Jack Kirby Gallery, an article by Dean Haspiel, a Jack Kirby sale at TwoMorrows and this tribute to Jack Kirby video. I have yet to look at all the art out there done in tribute, but here's a piece by Evan Dorkin.

image* missed it: Chris Mautner chooses his favorite Cul De Sac characters, including the Mighty, Mighty Dill.

* Aaron Long talks to Cullen Bunn. Chris Arrant talks to Leinil Yu. Tim O'Shea talks to Van Jensen.

* best of luck to Jessica Abel and Matt Madden on their family's journey.

* so yesterday was Read Comics In Public Day, which I guess was headquartered here. I'm not sure there's any stigma still attached to comics that could be countered by reading them in public that doesn't mostly exist in the heads of people that were reading comics back when there was a stigma, but god bless whatever anyone wants to do that they thinks helps something or other. By having it on Jack Kirby's birthday they probably missed some mentions and probably gained a few they would have/might not have garnered otherwise; I can't tell. I had planned on making fun of it a bit by running a counter-proposal of "Send John Porcellino Five Bucks Day," the point being that making public gestures is fine but we could probably just support great cartoonists more directly, but I ended up not doing so because I didn't want to take attention away from Kirby. I may still send John five bucks, though. John's great.

* you can see some of the results of a slight, annual redirection of that day here.

* I get links to these images from superhero comic books every so often. It's not a kind of comic book I follow, even though I know, for instance, that the middle part of this image is from a "original x-men brought forward in time" plotlines that's part of Marvel's new line refurbishment. Mostly, though, I think they'd be pretty effective if I were 12 years old and wanted to know about forthcoming superhero comics adventures. I can't even comprehend what the Internet consumption habits of 12-year-old me would be like, but I have to think it'd include scoping out some funnybooks.

* Eric Nguyen draws the Hulk. Francesco Francavilla draws Captain America.

* Andy Liegl on Scalped #60. Kay Mcgriff on Ghostopolis. Some nameless folks at the LA Times on Fall 2012 graphic novels for middle-school aged kids. Henry Chamberlain on The Carter Family.

* the Sequential Artists Workshop has announced an educational program that combines remote teaching with an in-house week of instruction, designed to an individual person's needs. That sounds like fun.

* finally, Tom Neely looks at his career-to-date.
 
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August 28, 2012


Jack Kirby, The King Of Comics, Would Have Been 95 Today

Jack Kirby, the mighty heart of the American comic book industry, would have been 95 years old today. Below is a tiny, even insignificant sample of his awesome image-making power, many of which were culled from around the Internet, for your ruminative and reflective pleasure. Long live the King.

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*****

God bless you and thank you, Mr. Kirby. If I got any of the above wrong, and chances are I probably did,

*****
*****
 
posted 9:20 am PST | Permalink
 

 
If I Were In Denver, I'd Go To This

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posted 9:15 am PST | Permalink
 

 
The CR Video Parade Jack Kirby 95th Birthday Special






A Jack Kirby Documentary In Five Parts


Jack Kirby Draws


Jack Kirby Discusses Captain America


Jack Kirby -- The Tape


Jack Kirby's Appearance On The Incredible Hulk



Another Short Documentary On Jack Kirby, This One In Two Parts




Jack Kirby Prisoners Of Gravity Episode
 
posted 9:10 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Random Jack Kirby Links And News Round Up

image* today would have been Jack Kirby's 95th birthday. I was wondering whether or not I should put as much Kirby-related stuff up as possible or do a regular news round-up, but the regular news is all slap-fights and idiocy right now, so Kirby it is!

* the big news today is that Jack Kirby's 16-year-old granddaughter Jillian has organized a project in conjunction with the Hero Initiative called Kirby4Heroes. This was announced through Geoff Boucher's column at the Los Angeles Times. So get thee to a participating comics shop or please consider joining me in making a direct donation to the Hero Initiative. I think it's super-classy of the Kirby Family to use today to throw the spotlight on the work that organization does and to help out in some concrete way.

* there's also a get up and draw campaign; Charles Hatfield explains both really well here.

* here's the twitter hashtag for the wake up and draw portion of that celebration.

* speaking of Charles Hatfield, you should poke around that Hand Of Fire site more generally. This summer that book won the first Eisner Award directed at more academic prose about comics. Charles and I talked about Kirby here. That was a lot of fun.

* this is where I link to however people are tweeting about Jack Kirby today. Also: here.

* I go to a few Jack Kirby sites semi-regularly: the Jack Kirby Museum, Kirby Dynamics (which is run through the museum) and What If Kirby.

* Glenn Danzig once interviewed Kirby.

* here's that very good article by Steven Brower on Jack Kirby's work with collage.

* here's a piece splicing together testimony from Kirby and others about the creation of Marvel's 1960s superhero line.

* here's a Kirby interview from the mid-1970s.

* here's the Leonard Pitts interview from the mid-1980s.

* even old sites with a Jack Kirby focus are fun. You know, I imagine there are a billion tumblr-type sites with Kirby stuff on them, but I'm really bad with those kinds of sites. Here's one.

* finally, there is an excellent interview by Gary Groth with Jack Kirby over at the TCJ site.
 
posted 9:05 am PST | Permalink
 

 
August 27, 2012


Happy 100th Birthday, Tarzan!

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posted 11:00 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
Congratulations To Alex Segura On His Return To DC Comics

It's always nicer when you know and like the person turning down your interview requests. Also, I think according to recent industry tradition this means we get a tweet war between Segura and Dan Parent.

(His title is apparently "Executive Director Of Publicity" and they're lucky to have him on board.)
 
posted 9:00 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
Go, Look: A Massive Frank Robbins Gallery

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posted 10:00 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Aurora Rise Benefit Event Successful; To Continue

imageComics professionals Matt Fraction, Steve Niles, Gus Norman and Mike Mignola anchored a weekend charity event at All C's Collectibles in Aurora, Colorado. The event was designed to drive money to the victims and families of the victims of the shooting at a movie theater during the premiere night for the Batman movie Dark Knight Rises. In addition to the professionals listed above, a number of donated items were auctioned.

It looks like the money raised is going to The Aurora Victim Relief Fund -- I would imagine a donation straight to there would be a good thing if you wanted to honor the pros who made that time, or just otherwise help out. Wait, stop: you can actually go more directly to Aurora Rise here. As I recall, a lot of the people affected by the shooting are customers at that store, and of course that store like all the good comics stores considers itself more generally a part of the community in which it's situated.

The Facebook paged linked to above says that the specific fundraising effort will continue at the traditional labor day convention Dragon*Con.

In addition to the individual twitter feeds linked-to above, you can also access some of the on-the-ground reportage from the event through the appropriate hashtag and through the event's twitter account. There's a photo set from the weekend event here.
 
posted 9:55 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Go, Look: Jessica Jones Is Amazing

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posted 9:50 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Pat Bagley On Mitt Romney, Taxes, Olympics And F-Bombs

imageHere's a Pat Bagley piece on the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. I'm not much up on politics -- there's a reference to two Jon Huntsmans in there that being familiar with only one I had to google to sort out -- but you may get something out of the content of Bagley's piece. What interests me about it is that Bagley is set up as kind of a humorous expert on Romney by virtue of being the cartoonist that covered him back in the day. I see that kind of thing more and more as news coverage kind of seeks out ways to distinguish certain personalities within its wider umbrella, this particular branding of cartoonists as wise/wisecracking men sitting on the sidelines ready to tell you the truth. That's not too far away from how the best ones were treated decades ago, and of course that's the way a bunch of them used to operate through their work. I also think that this is something Australia does: you frequently see their cartoonists on national television as a kind of acerbic voice talking someone through the events of the week. I couldn't tell you what any of our cartoonists even looks like, except the few that I've met. (I think I may know what Tom Toles looks like, but I may have him confused with Jim Henson.)

The irony here, I guess, is that while cartoonists seem perfectly suited to this role, and this is a role that seems like it will be in demand for news sources in the years ahead, you sort of have to have a baseline respect for the work involved to make it possible over time. I'm not sure that's there anymore.
 
posted 9:45 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Go, Look: Bill Reinhold

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posted 9:40 am PST | Permalink
 

 
A Pair Of Dispatches From The Department Of Yuck

I want to mention here two kinds of ugly market outcomes that look like they're settling into place in the near future. One is that Marvel is apparently front-loading the launch of their Marvel Now initiative with a truckload of variant covers and related ploys aimed at maximizing sales on those issues. Two is that the "Wonder Woman and Superman are dating now" issue of Justice League that DC hyped last week -- curiously right when the 50th anniversary Spider-Man comic book came out -- may get a speculator's bump in some stores or through some on-line vehicles for purchasing comics.

I don't think either of these practices is awful by definition. I think offering one or two variant covers to match a big anniversary celebration, or even a line launch, is fine. It seems like it should be fine, anyway. Some of the covers involved here are pretty cute, too. I can see just wanting some of those covers rather than the cover provided. But let's not kid ourselves about these books being anything but a way to allow for a mini-surge in sales. Putting that much extra pressure on retailers and their customers to figure out how to order this stuff at the same time you're trying to work in partnership with those retailers to move a better class of product based in large part on content, that just seems loopy to me, a real self-hamstringing situation. It's like watching Marvel trash the hotel room because they know the room is on the retailers' credit card.

The speculation stuff, on the other hand, seems like it's always going to be somewhat inevitable with a book like, say, that issue of Captain America from a few years back where he gets "killed." Thinking that event comics are going to be worth something is a deeply-ingrained part of comics' public identity. It's going to be decades before that goes away. In general, though, the idea behind speculation seems like something more folks should stamp out whenever they see it. There should be culture-wide resistance to ripping people off that way, and I say ripping off because it almost always proves not to be the case that people get rich off of buying extra or expensive copies of these things. Constantly frustrating people that are interested in comics seems like a terrible idea at this point in the medium's history; it seems like a bad thing to do just for the doing of it.

In the end, watching these massively successful content-providers either hustling for an extra buck themselves or facilitating others to do so just doesn't seem like a good thing. I distrust it.
 
posted 9:35 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Go, Look: If Poo

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posted 9:30 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Comics By Request -- People, Projects In Need Of Funding

image* you can donate money to Sandeep Atwal, the young person made homeless by a recent fire that also destroyed a large quantity of work being used to create the digital edition of Dave Sim's High Society book, here.

* you can donate directly to the Aurora Rise charity effort here; they had their big weekend Saturday/Sunday; that's it's own post later on this morning. That's the comics store/fan community that is raising money for victims of that Batman movie-related shooting a few weeks back.

* by the time you read this, the Jim Ottaviani/Natalie Nourigat project will have met its publishing goal. Ottaviani wrote in to confirm that he did do his due diligence in terms of making sure the contracts were fair and straightforward despite the fact that this project is having money raised for it.

* here are a few others on which we've put the spotlight recenty: WatchGuard + Teen Force 5, The Little Women, Detective Honeybear, the Sketchbook Travel Project and The Projects. I also can't imagine Tom Racine will be turning down any monetary assistance any time soon, if you're grateful for the work he's been doing and want to toss him a few bucks and can afford to do so. I'm particularly happy to see The Projects build some momentum, although they could certainly use some attention sooner rather than too much later. Cartoonist and publisher Austin English sent out a letter in support that's posted here. I want that one to succeed because I think we could use alternative models for conventions/festivals. I'm not even sure I'd be all that into the specific alternative being done there, but anything that breaks with the flea-market tradition is welcome.

* finally, here's a not-exactly-comics kickstarter that's successful and is now winding down from cartoonist Isaac Cates that I bet someone out there will want to get in on.
 
posted 9:25 am PST | Permalink
 

 
If I Were In London, I'd Go To This

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posted 9:20 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* I totally missed that last week was the final issue of the Scalped series from Vertigo. Congratulations to Jason Aaron, RM Guera and the other creators. That's not a series that I've followed, but I think it's great when people complete long runs like that -- I wish we valued that more as a sub-culture and as a reading community. I'm not sure it isn't a fading phenomenon given the direction of comics publishing. I'd love to have a few series I followed that way, either at the comics shop or digitally. I really don't right now.

image* Ada Calhoon on Drama. I'm telling you, that book is going to sell a billion copies. Dangerous Dan on Marvels. Philip Shropshire on Archer & Armstrong #1. Rob Clough on various mini-comics. Bob Temuka on Bible John. Don MacPherson on Ultimate Kate Or Die #1.

* not comics: I wish the writer-about-film Patrick Goldstein the best of luck with whatever his does next. I found his last column fairly baffling in a way that reminded me of comics in that he sort of embraces this way of thinking about film as the popular films, like it's somehow important that the popular films be films by David Cronenberg as opposed to Grown-Ups. It's kind of a weird standard to me, and an equivalent gets applied in comics even today. More generally, expecting the indie directors of the late 1980s and early 1990s to have transformed the business of film in any way seems to me as crazy as the 1970s comics people that felt the way to bring about art comics was through more serious treatment of superhero characters. It's not really a road to anywhere except in that you may hold the interest of an audience long enough for an arts-type audience to grow out of that genre audience, but even then the bulk of cultural evidence says it's always going to be a struggle. I'm not saying this very well, so I'm going to give up.

* Kiel Phegley talks to Axel Alonso.

* I can't even fathom having continuity questions at this point, I really can't. It's sort of like wondering if the stories take place in real life.

image* Sean Kleefeld suggests that there are webcomics that could learn lessons in terms of audience accessibility from the great strip serials of the 1930s and 1940s. I think that's likely true. It's all there to be learned from; the one advantage comics right now should have over comics 40 year is that the past exists in more than like a half-dozen books and a bunch of whispers.

* David Brothers on Luke Cage and Spider-Man. Christopher Allen on Spider-Man.

* not comics: Brian Hibbs writes about gentrification. I never thought about gentrification in terms of dead spots, and I'll be reconsider some of my own thinking about that particular phenomenon in that light at some point. I'm in too small a town for the concept of gentrification to exist; we're always a little run down, always a little stuffed with shops, always a little in-between two states.

* not comics: I have no idea why this is in my bookmarks folder. For one thing, I think I saw it months ago. I guess it's nice that the artist will get to sell the font after a year or so.

* I'd say that I sort of miss pages like this one, but that's way before my time, too. Viva la Ditko, though. Those comics are consistently fun.

* I can't even imagine the range of people Stan Lee has met just in the last dozen or so years.

* finally, George Gene Gustines writes a bit about the color version of that first Scott Pilgrim volume making the NYT charts.
 
posted 9:05 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Happy Fifth Anniversary, Arctic Circle!

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posted 8:55 am PST | Permalink
 

 
August 26, 2012


Thirteen Comics Purchases You Can Make For The Same Price As Buying Before Watchmen As Serial Comics

This year's publication of Before Watchmen has facilitated a significant amount of discussion, both public and private, about the state of creator's rights and the general direction of the industry. One under-discussed aspect of the project is its price. My own thinking on the topic was triggered this morning by the addition of two comics featuring the character Moloch to the initiative, and the resulting quick math that buying the entire series from a comics retailer might cost the average comics consumer a shade under $145.

I wondered what that meant in comics terms.

What follows is a list of 13 things comics and comics-related you can buy for roughly that same amount of money. I realize this isn't an exact science. You could do another thirteen books, and maybe a more representative sample. This was me basically going, "I wonder how many Popeye collections I could buy on Amazon.com for that amount?" repeated 13 times. I can also always have blown some of the math here. Prices change from on-line retailers almost daily. Some people have discounts at comics shops. Some might object to the notion that Before Watchmen is meant to be purchased in total. Others might feel it's deeply unfair to compare purchases across multiple platforms. As to that last pair of potential objections, I don't think either unfair -- I think this is the way that fans are being asked to purchase this material, the way DC would prefer you to be on board, and that this means it can be compared to any other way that fans can reasonably expect to get to any other comics. But yeah, this isn't a perfect thing.

I know in comics people want to prove things and justify them and find a-ha moments, but that's not what I'm doing here. If you want to win an argument that you've just made up and decided is important, our national virtual pastime, I'm certain you can find both cheap, great comics that make Before Watchmen look super-extravagant and comics for which so much is being asked they make Before Watchmen at your comics shop look like the bargain to end all bargains. I'm not interested in winning the Internet, not today. I'm hoping to engage a broader point about what comics cost and what is presented to us as something to buy. $145 at the comics shop is what one of the major players in the market is telling me is a worthwhile way to spend my money. Here are 13 other pretty casually gathered-together options for that same outlay.

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1. For $125, you can buy at least 50 digital comics released from Monkeybrain and the planned dozen issues of Double Barrel by Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon.

That's probably about 75-80 comics all told, although you don't get the experience of owning them on paper. It's hard to tell the exact number of comics because the Monkeybrain stuff fluctuates between 99 cents and $1.99. At any rate, that seems like a lot of comics to me, exactly the kind of buying experience that could serve as the foundation for digital comics buying for the rest of your life. It feels like the future as opposed to something from before 1986.

******

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2. For $139.24, you can buy over 1120 pages of The Walking Dead + the first entire season of the television show on DVD, all from Amazon.com.

I was interested in how another popular comics series priced out and this is what I found for the fan-favorite Walking Dead material -- the comics in question are big deluxe version with about 550 or so pages. I would imagine you could dig around a bit and come to different totals in different ways.

******

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3. For a little less than $140, you can buy these Alan Moore works available through Top Shelf Comix: the three LOEG: Century books, From Hell, Lost Girls and all eight issues of the magazine Dodgem Logic.

Alan Moore's writing distinguished the Watchmen series on which Before Watchmen was based. He prefers to work with Top Shelf now, and they have a bunch of quality material available from the writer, frequently grouped together and/or discounted.

******

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4. For $143.09, you can buy all six volumes of The Complete EC Segar Popeye through Amazon.com.

This is a top-five, all-time comic and the best-case scenario I can imagine for Before Watchmen does not place them in the top five of anything. These are very handsome books, too, and look great on a shelf. I like that Rorschach character, but he's no J. Wellington Wimpy.

******

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5. For less than $110, you can buy the entirety of Love and Rockets Vol. 1 and the first four issues of the latest series from Fantagraphics Books.

The first volume of Love and Rockets was one of the great comic book series of the 1980s -- like the Moore/Gibbons Watchmen effort was, come to think of it. These paperback books they've been doing strike me as super-accessible, lovely little volumes. You can get them for cheap enough that I'm also tossing in the first four issues of the New Stories iteration of the title, which has included some of the best work anywhere over the last half-decade. Los Bros forever.

******

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6. For about $130, you can buy the following books of cartoonist Darwyn Cooke: Richard Stark's Parker Vols. 1-3 (hardcovers), Catwoman Vol. 1, and Selina's Big Score, plus a copy of his issue of Solo -- if you can find it.

I don't agree with consumer reprisals against the involved creators, although I suppose your mileage may vary. I suspect, however, that many of the creators involved will have done better work elsewhere. I like Darwyn Cooke's Parker books quite a bit, I think they're snap-to handsome and a lot of fun. You can toss in a pair of his Catwoman books and even his Solo comic book issue and not quite reach the $135 sales point.

******

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7. For what looks like to be about $130, you can buy the following books from the cartoonist Roger Langridge: The Show Must Go On, Snarked: Forks And Hope, Fred The Clown, Thor, The Mighty Avenger Vols. 1-2, and two of his Muppet Show volumes.

Roger Langridge was one of the comics pros that decided due to various creator's rights issues he could no longer stomach working for the mainstream publishers, including Before Watchmen home DC Comics, and was going to focus on the work he does for other publishers. You can get a ton of Roger Langridge comics for less than the price of the Before Watchmen books, covering a range of approaches and material -- you can even throw in some of the kind of books he doesn't really do anymore.

******

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8. For approximately $130, you can buy the following trade paperback collections created by the team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips: Criminal Vols. 1-6, Incognito and Fatale Vol. 1.

Ed Brubaker recently made news for bringing a long phase of his career working for Marvel Comics to a close. He's also been an outspoken critic of DC's decision to publish Before Watchmen. You can buy eight books of his collaborations with the artist Sean Phillips without even trying hard to find a bargain, all for about what you'd pay your comics retailer for all those Before Watchmen comics.

******

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9. For $103.91, you can buy the eight-volume run of Naoki Urasawa's Pluto.

Some manga reaches into the significant double-digits in terms of getting the entire series, but other series are modest in terms of the amount of work available, and there's interesting stand-alone work out there, too, such as Vertical's treatment of some of the more mature works from Osamu Tezuka. Anyway, I think there's a cohesiveness to a big manga series that just doesn't exist in one that's editorially controlled, and I think the reading experience reflects that.

******

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10. For about $135, you can track down one of the Watchmen: The Absolute Edition volumes, all 12 issues of the original comic book and the director's cut of the movie version.

I don't know how good Before Watchmen will end up being -- I have my suspicions, based on those I've read thus far, but I can't 100 percent say for certain where it'll stand -- but I do know that the original Watchmen comic was pretty great. I didn't like the movie version, but other folks did.

******

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11. For about $134, you can buy Joe Sacco's two 2012 books, all of the Richard Thompson Cul De Sac collections in print, and the first four volumes of Lewis Trondheim Little Nothings series that NBM publishes, all from Amazon.com.

I wanted to do an entry that was just books that bring me a great deal of pleasure, that are also from people that provide solid, substantial work to dig into just about every time out. This would be an enormously pleasurable group of books to own. I own them!

******

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12. For what looks like less than $135, you put aside all the money required to buy the Barnaby series that's coming out from Fantagraphics plus the Philip Nel biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss.

I probably don't need this one with Popeye up there to point out how much strip material is available at a reasonable price now, but I thought I'd include at least one project that hasn't come out in case the anticipation of a project is something that you enjoy.

*****

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13. Just about any way you want to do it, you could buy about 1600 pages of Usagi Yojimbo for less than $140.

That's paying top dollar for the softcover trades. In many ways, Usagi Yojimbo provides a strong contrast to a project like Before Watchmen, in that it's impossible to conceive of anyone at all wanting Usagi work to which creator Stan Sakai openly objected. Of course, I used to think that about Watchmen.

*****

I realize there's a stunt aspect to this. I also know that there are likely some comics fans out there for whom Before Watchmen bought over eight or nine months or however, all from their wonderful local retailer, really does the trick in terms of how they like to engage with comics and represents real value above and beyond many if not all of these choices. From my perspective, I continue to find it striking just how much we ask of people in terms of what they're being asked to fork over and how, not just in terms of other entertainment options but in relation to existing comics work. I think it's all on the table.

*****
*****
 
posted 3:00 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
Help James Sturm And CCS Identify This Artist

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posted 2:00 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
Go, Look: The Secret Voice, Part Three

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posted 1:30 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
Go, Look: Gary Panter's Year 2000 List Of Top Ten Comics

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posted 1:30 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
Go, Look: Am I Really A Grown Up?

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posted 1:30 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
Not Comics: Jennifer Hom

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posted 1:30 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
Not Comics: A Bob Jones Mini-Gallery

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posted 1:30 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
Go, Look: 1985, A Fairy Tale

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posted 1:30 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
If I Were In Melbourne, I'd Go To This

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posted 12:30 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
If I Were Anywhere Near This, I'd Go To It

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posted 12:30 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
If I Were In Toronto, I'd Go To This

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posted 12:30 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
If I Were In Vancouver, I'd Go To This

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posted 12:30 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
FFF Results Post #306 -- A Full Accounting

On Friday, CR readers were asked to "Name Five Comics Works That Have Been Reprinted In Part Or Otherwise Intermittently That You'd Like To See Get A Full, Archival Reprinting." This is how they responded.

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Steven Stwalley

1. Steven by Doug Allen
2. Peter Wheat by Walt Kelly
3. Barney Google by Billy DeBeck
4. The Gumps by Sidney Smith
5. Odd Bodkins by Dan O'Neill

*****

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Sterg Botzakis

1. Miracleman by Alan Moore et al
2. American Splender by Harvey Pekar et al
3. Little Archie by Bob Bolling
4. Hard Time by Steve Gerber, Mary Skrenes, and Brian Hurtt
5. The Wizard of Oz books adapted and drawn by Eric Shanower

*****

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Andrew Mansell

1. Plastic Man by Jack Cole
2. Prince Valiant by John Cullen Murphy
3. Gordo by Gus Arriola
4. Captain Easy by Leslie Turner
5. Hour-Man by Bernard Bailey

*****

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Rodrigo Baeza

1. Trump by Harvey Kurtzman et al.
2. Feiffer by Jules Feiffer
3. Thirteen Going on Eighteen by John Stanley
4. Swords of Heaven Flowers of Hell by Howard Chaykin and Michael Moorcock
5. Miracleman by Alan Moore, Garry Leach, Alan Davis, et al.

*****

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Tom Bondurant

1. Doonesbury, by Garry Trudeau
2. The early '90s Batman newspaper strip, by Max Allan Collins, Marshall Rogers, and Carmine Infantino
3. The Untold Legend Of The Batman miniseries, by Len Wein, John Byrne, and Jim Aparo
4. The Boondocks, by Aaron McGruder
5. Orion, by Walt Simonson et al.

*****

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Greg McElhatton

1. Suicide Squad by John Ostrander, Kim Yale, Luke McDonnell, John K. Snyder III, and Geof Isherwood
2. The Desert Peach by Donna Barr
3. Miracleman by Alan Moore, Garry Leach, Alan Davis, Chuck Austen, Rick Veitch, John Totleben, Neil Gaiman, and Mark Buckingham
4. The Complete Milestone Media Publishing Line (but if I had to narrow it down to just one instead of a huge archive of everything, I guess I'd go for Xombi by John Rozum and J.J. Birch)
5. The Spectre by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake

*****

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Joe Schwind

1. Mark Trail Sundays by Ed Dodd
2. They’ll Do It Every Time by Jimmy Hatlo
3. Ernie (Piranha Club) by Bud Grace
4. Small Fry (and other cartoons about kids) by Wm Steig
5. Konga by Steve Ditko

*****

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Mark Mayerson

1. Conchy by James Childress
2. Tiger by Bud Blake
3. Out Our Way by J.R. Williams
4. Cap Stubbs and Tippie by Edwina
5. Frankenstein (the funny version) by Dick Briefer

*****

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Paul Stock

1) Harold Hedd - Rand Holmes
2) Bringing up Father - George McManus
3) The gospels - Chester Brown backup from Yummy Fur
4) Polly & Her Pals - Cliff Sterret
5) Smilin' Jack - Zack Mosely

*****

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John Vest

1. Steve Gerber's Howard The Duck newspaper strips
2. Omaha The Cat Dancer, including the Sizzle material
3. Trots And Bonnie
4. V. T. Hamlin's Alley Oop
5. Dick Moores' Gasoline Alley

*****

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Jones Jones

1. Krazy Kat dailies -- I mean, come on!
2. Cerebus miscellanea -- i..e everything that didn't make it into the phonebooks, viz. covers, short stories, jams, etc. From the ongoing interview at A Moment of Cerebus, it seems like this is not going to appear any time soon.
3. Alley Oop -- this seems like one of the big omissions from the current re-reprint boom; surely "time-travelling caveman" would go down well with a certain segment of the current marketplace
4. Plastic Man -- you could easily make this list with just Marvel/DC "intellectual properties" that they're bad custodians for; DC's Jack Cole reprints appear to have petered out entirely
5. Jack Kirby/Steve Ditko pre-superhero work for Marvel/Atlas -- see #4. I can buy Eisner's instructional strips, and a separate series for Manara's comics that aren't "erotica"(!), but I can't buy a book full of Kirby monster stories?

*****

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Dave Knott

* Mad Magazine #24 and up
* Rudy - William Overgard
* Help! - Harvey Kurtzman, ed.
* Alack Sinner (in English) - José Munoz and Carlos Sampayo
* Trots and Bonnie - Shary Flenniken

*****

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Adrian Kinnaird

1. Justice League International by Giffen, Dematteis and co.
2. Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight by various (1st series).
3. Shade The Changing Man by Milligan, Bachalo and co.
4. Deathstroke (1st series) by Wolfman, Erwin and co.
5. Green Arrow by Mike Grell

*****

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Mark Coale

1. Monster Society of Evil (fawcett)
2. Danger Trail (DC 50's)
3. phantom Stranger (DC 50's)
4. All-Star Western (DC) (Trigger Twins, Johnny Thunder,...)
5. All-American Men of War (DC) (Balloon Buster)

*****

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JE Cole

1: Mort Cinder by Héctor German Oesterheld and Alberto Breccia
2: Den by Richard Corben
3: PITT by Dale Keown
4: Stray Bullets and Murder Me Dead by David Lapham
5: Sandman Mystery Theater by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle and Guy Davis

*****

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Chad Hanna

1. Toonerville Folks by Fontaine Fox
2. Salesman Sam by C.D. Small and George Swanson
3. Monty by Jim Meddick
4. Spirou and Fantasio/Gaston LaGaffe by André Franquin
5. Jerry on the Job by Walter Hoban

*****

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Jamie Coville

1. Savage Dragon
2. D.P.7.
3. Miracle/Marvel Man (Alan Moore/Neil Gaiman run)
4. Hot Stuff
5. Little Lotta

*****

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Buzz Dixon

1. Kona, Monarch Of Monster Isle by Sam Glanzman
2. 'Mazing Man by Rozakis & DeStefano
3. Wordsmith by R.G. Taylor
4. Space Family Robinson by Dan Spiegle
5. Tumbleweeds by T.K Ryan

*****

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Matt Emery

1. It Happened In New Zealand by Ross Gore
2. 25 years of morning daily strips for the Dominion by A. S Paterson
3. War cartoons and Old Soldier Sam by Gordon Minhinnick
4. Dan Dare from Eagle's original run by Keith Watson
5. Axa by Enrique Badia Romero and Donne Avenell

*****

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Rob Salkowitz

1. The Complete Help! – Harvey Kurtzman et. al.
2. Science fiction stories of Moebius
3. Sandman Mystery Theatre – Matt Wagner, Guy Davis, Steven Seagle
4. Underground Comix stories of William Stout, 1968-1977
5. Baker Street – Guy Davis

*****

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John Platt

1. Frankenstein by Dick Briefer - The complete humor stories
2. Frankenstein by Dick Briefer - The complete horror stories
3. The Secret Files of Dr. Drew by Jerry Grandenetti
4. Rick Geary's short stories
5. Sugar and Spike by Sheldon Mayer

*****

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Michael Grabowski

1. Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson
2. Life In Hell by Matt Groening
3. Collected works of Mario Hernandez
4. McConey by Lewis Trondheim
5. Monsieur Jean by Philippe Dupuy & Charles Berberian

*****

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Alan Doane

1-2. Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales (I'd give just about anything for the recent Gemstone hardcover archive editions of these two series to be completed)
3. Conan by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith (sans the artistic "enhancements" that mar the Dark Horse reprints)
4. E-Man by Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton
5. American Splendor by Harvey Pekar and various artists

*****

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William Burns

* Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel
* Catwoman by Ed Brubaker and various artists
* Swamp Thing by Rick Veitch
* Icon by Dwayne McDuffie
* Meat Cake by Dame Darcy

*****

topic suggested and initial answers provided by Steven Stwalley

*****
*****
 
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The Comics Reporter Video Parade


Trailer For Tomi Ungerer Documentary


Jim Toomey Draws


Sergio Aragones Draws


Some Sort Of Weird Winsor McCay Trailer Set To PBS-Style Music


Joel Pett Doing Stand-Up


Hilary Price And Sage Stossel
 
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August 25, 2012


CR Week In Review

imageThe top comics-related news stories from August 18 to August 24, 2012:

1. The Milanese artist Sergio Toppi passed away, further adding to a devastating year in terms of losing great comics illustrators.

2. A news-filled week for veteran self-publisher Dave Sim that sees him release what could end up being the last single-issue comic book he does and then sees him lose the negatives and the scanning equipment for a planned digital version of High Society in a fire.

3. Cartoonist Larry Pickering finds himself at the center of an Australian political news story as well as a media story largely about his role in covering it.

Winner Of The Week
Stacy Curtis, for his classy goodbye to a gig he treasured but didn't really want -- inking Cul De Sac.

Loser Of The Week
Marvel, for apparently having 18,756,423 variant covers coming out this Fall in conjunction with its Marvel Now initiative.

Quote Of The Week
"Also, I think Marvel Comics is trying to kill me." -- Mike Sterling

*****

today's cover is from the small-press and independent comics scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s

*****
*****
 
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If I Were In Toronto, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In Viborg, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In Portland, I'd Go To This

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If I Were Anywhere Near This, I'd Go To It

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August 24, 2012


Your Friday Afternoon Late-Breaking News Round-Up

Well, later than 5 AM this morning, anyway, which is when I shut it down for the day.

* there was a shooting incident near the Jim Hanley's Universe location across from the Empire State Building today. No one employed by the store was hurt.

* the NCS Foundation has donated $20K to the nice folks at the Billy Ireland library.

image* Dave Sim sent out an update to the people that contributed to digital High Society crowd-funder that indicates all of the negatives may have been lost. The content of that message:
"Dave Sim, here: Just thought everyone should know: Fisher came over today and asked if I had heard from Sandeep. No, I hadn't. Hands me today's Record. Front page: Sandeep's place -- and the buildings on either side of him -- were gutted by fire yesterday afternoon. He got out in one piece but with nothing but the clothes on his back and his wallet (he had been in the shower and a cop showed up at the door: "You have the leave. Now") The whole place went up in about five minutes.

All of the negatives for High Society were destroyed as well as the 11x17 scanner and the new negative scanner. No insurance. So, I thought I'd better let everyone know that we're definitely not on track for the September 12 launch at this point.

I don't expect that I'll hear from Sandeep for at least a few days -- he's staying with friends and obviously has a lot more important things to think about than High Society Digital.

Okay -- gotta run to make my 3:00 prayer. Please feel free to relay this to anyone you think should know. Particularly people who are waiting on High Society Digital.
That's horrible news. I'm glad to hear the scanning person is all right, though. I assume there will be updates about this next week. If someone would forward those to me, I'd appreciate it -- my brother and I did buy that project but I also pretty much ended the updates with a butter knife and I'm not sure I can get them back.

* Marvel announced today at a Toronto convention that Ed Brubaker will be leaving his Winter Soldier gig. It looks he was going to leave and the book would end, but now it's going to continue because sales stabilized and the character will be featured in the next Captain America movie. That ends the writer's current work with Marvel. He's already that a second comics project to join his current Image series Fatale will be announced near the end of the year/beginning of next one. I thought Brubaker did a really nice job at Marvel with those books. I'm not exactly the audience for $2.99 day-of-release serial superhero comic books, but I've enjoyed all those Captain America and Winter Soldier comics I've purchased in big chunks in the back-issue bins and picked up through trading with friends.

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Go, Look: You Mustn't Be Afraid

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Portland People Maybe Head To The Bad Apple This Weekend

imageI saw a note in passing on Facebook that The Bad Apple in Portland is closing down on August 26. I think the mention said -- and now I can't even find it -- that many folks already knew about it. I guess they meant locally, because I didn't know and I really couldn't find anything on-line that said this was the case. At any rate, this was a book/media/comics/art store that hosted the Sparkplug mini-warehouse. I liked it quite a bit when I was there, I bought a John P. Marquand book from them, and I imagine that most people reading this blog that wanted to stop by would find something to purchase. I'd call ahead, though, to double-check. You never know.
 
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Look At All These Super-Cute Dylan Horrocks Illustrations

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Go, Look: Picadilly Circus: The Convention Of Comic Book Characters

Robert Boyd directed my attention via e-mail to this Peter Blake artwork featuring a bunch of superhero characters in London's Picadilly Circus. I don't have anything to say other than there it is, and it seems jive to republish the whole thing just to say it, so please look at it here. Blake is best known for the Sgt. Pepper's cover, and has to be getting up there in years, for whatever that's worth.
 
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This Eleanor Davis Comic Made Me Laugh

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Collective Memory: Sergio Toppi, 1932-2012

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this article has been archived
 
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Go, Look: The Marvel Comics: The Untold Story Tumblr

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Comics By Request -- People, Projects In Need Of Funding

image* this Kickstarter sponsored by a public radio show would probably freak me out a little bit if Jim Ottaviani weren't involved. A problem with organizations including but not limited to publishers funding work this way is that comics has a long history of publishers exploiting talent by taking more in the way of reward than their contribution maybe deserves. A traditional duty of publishers is to bring the needed capital to the project; if they don't, that should at the very least be an occasion to question what it is the creators are getting by working with a publisher or organization in the first place. That can make investigating the details of a contract to reflect the relative contributions; it can also mean questioning the entire relationship as establishing bad precedent for your fellow artists, even if it "works" for you. In this case, this is a pretty small organization of the kind that tends to work close to the bone or even at a loss -- we don't know this, maybe they're loaded, but it's a pretty safe assumption. They're also fairly used to fundraising, which makes it doubtful this is a stab at getting work they'd do otherwise in a way that's simply easier for them. Most importantly, the involvement of someone with Jim Ottaviani's years packaging books means we're almost certain not to see an accidentally exploitative contract involved. Anyway, it looks like a cool book; I think they'll make it, and you might want to take part. Artist Natalie Nourigat has a lot of potential, I think; I'm sure she's already right there for a lot of people.

* here are a few other Kickstarter campaigns that were recommended to me by folks this week. One is Watchguard + Teen Force 5; another is a Little Women graphic novel project; yet another is an all-ages book with a clever-sounding name. The first two are a good distance from their goal, but neither hopelessly so. The third is well on its way.

* the Cartoon Art Museum is looking to raise money for a Sketchtravel exhibit.

* I assume that this rush of comics-related sales from (I believe, I didn't write it on the bookmark) Elin Winkler is because of something going on where she could use the money. Or not. Either way, lots of comics.

* there's been some welcome movement for The Projects. I hope there's more.

* finally, Tom Racine of Tall Tale Radio is pursuing some specific equipment needs.
 
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If I Were In Toronto, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In Vermont, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In Portland, I'd Go To This

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Not Comics: Vanessa Davis' Ribbon Collection

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hypnotic
 
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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* I don't follow mainstream comics closely enough to know the players or any specific, contextual issues involved, but Rich Johnston's site told me that Lauren Sankovitch was promoted to full editor, and that seems like a nice thing worth noting. I would also hope that potential-but-sound-legit move-ons for Ben Abernathy and Geoff Boucher involve bigger and better things. Boucher would be a measurable loss to comics' overall coverage in that a specific kind of coverage he provides -- the close, invited coverage of broader mainstream comics moves in light of their movie orientations -- isn't really being done by too many people on a regular basis, except maybe George Gene Gustines at NYT.

image* Rob Clough on The Amateurs.

* I can't remember if I linked to this, but here's the writer Kurt Busiek typing about the unrealistic depiction of women in comics.

* not comics. this St. Trinian's-related sculpture sure is cute.

* I don't think I've ever seen this picture of Jack Kirby before. One thing about the tumblr-driven era of the Internet, we're certainly getting to see all of the photos that are out there.

* so I guess wanting to be a superhero apparently has body-image benefits. I can see that.

* how writer Cullen Bunn broke in.

* if there's anything to which this blog routinely links I love the best, it's the Local Cartoonist Profile. Here's one about the farmer/cartoonist Kenneth McClain. It's hard to deny looking at all of those cartoons that having a local cartoonist really used to add something to the papers that were lucky to have them -- I have fond memories of the one that worked my hometown.

* Rebecca Silverman talks to Toshio Maeda and Naoki Urasawa.

* here's a discussion of John Updike at Mardou Comics.

* finally, Matt Brady visited an Anders Nilsen exhibit and would like you to know about what he saw.
 
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August 23, 2012


Missed It: Wes Herschensohn Paintings

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Pierre-Alain Bertola, 1956-2012

imagePierre-Alain Bertola, a Swiss artist who split time between comics work, writing, scene design and illustration, died on August 17 in Nyon, Switzerland, after suffering a heart attack.

Bertola was born in Tannay -- a municipality in Nyon -- in 1956. He was trained as an architect. Bertola worked for editor Stephen Robial at Futuropolis in the late 1980s on two albums, Colonel Bauer (1988) and Les Sept Coluleurs du noir (1990). The year the second book was published he began a three-year stint as an illustrator for Geneva's La Tribune. In the mid-1990s he returned to publishing with a series of illustrated works for kids, all for La Joie de Lire: Le Gros Poisson Du Lac (1996), Hector (1997) and La Mort a Vivre (1998). A second lengthy illustration gig, this time taking him into this year, began in 1998 for Le Temps.

In 2009, Bertola returned to the comics form proper with an adaptation of John Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men, published by Delcourt as Des Souris Et Des Hommes. Bertola considered that a dream project, and talking about doing it in comics rather than as an illustrated prose adaptation cited both the general difficulty of doing comics but primarily the work's appropriateness for adaptation into that form.

Bertola's work was frequently shown. As a designer, he worked for several museums in Switzerland including the Musee d'ethnographie de Geneve and the Musee national suisse. He contributed scene design work to operas, most notably a 2005 production of Rossini's Voyage A Reims and a 2008 production of Mozart's La Flute Enchantée -- the Mozart was performed in St. Petersburg.

Pierre-Alain Bertola died on his 56th birthday.
 
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Go, Look: Hottest Chick In The Game

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Which Comes First, The Cartoon Or The Caption?

Robert Mankoff explores the central mystery of New Yorker cartoon creation. Me, I always thought the signature came first.
 
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Go, Look: Crack-Ups By Virgil Partch

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Go, Bookmark: Sean Witzke And Matt Seneca On DC's Solo Title

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The Never-Ending, Four-Color Festival: Cons, Shows, Events

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By Tom Spurgeon

* a longtime exhibitor reviews this year's Wizard event in Chicago. They review it right down to the ground.

* I'm way behind on con reports, it seems. Don MacPherson went to DCAF. Knut Larsson went to Erlangen. Roger Langridge went to San Diego.

* not comics: Gen Con did well this year. I like how the article is a bit suspicious of this being solely due to a surge in interest in gaming.

* Sarah McIntyre unfurls the boldest convention plan of them all.

* finally, Martin Rowson went to the Edinburgh Book Festival, and all we got was this measured, well-written and respectful report.
 
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If I Were In Toronto, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In Vermont, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In Vancouver, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In Charlotte, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In NYC, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: Toby Is Awesome

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* the Columbus Dispatch checks in with Jeff Smith post-RASL.

image* Philip Shropshire on Prophet #26. Johanna Draper Carlson on Hereville: How Mirka Met A Meteorite. Paul O'Brien on various X-Men comics. J. Caleb Mozzocco on various picture books. Sean Gaffney on A Certain Scientific Railgun Vol. 5. Dean Mullaney on American Newspaper Comics. Sonia Harris on Wizzywig. Gary Tyrrell on A Wrinkle In Time. Jeff Parker on Prepare To Die!.

* did you know that Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon moved their blogging headquarters? I don't think I knew that.

* Phil Seuling talks to Walter Gibson, Jack Kirby and Steranko. Teresa Messmore profiles Tom Brevoort.

* Mike Sterling wonders if they'll re-number Hellblazer once the title hits issue #300. Three hundred comics is a lot of stories. You know? Like I really enjoy Jeeves and Wooster, but the thought of getting 65 stories featuring them -- or whatever that works out to -- seems like a lot to me. Then again, I've probably read 300 comics starring the Human Torch, and I'm not even particularly fond of the Human Torch.

* the single images in Al Hartley's religious comic book were indeed wonderful, and they can be used over and over in those situations where you need to have a single image. I don't know... party invites? Oh, just go look at them.

* Rob McMonigal profiles Koyama Press.

* the writer and artist Rob Liefeld has quit his work at DC Comics due to what sounds like some really involved editing that made difficult the process of getting work done. Or something. I would imagine that most people that don't need the work and/or are at certain points in their careers would not want to work for a mainstream comics publishing house right now.

* RC Harvey writes at length on Richard Thompson and Cul De Sac, pulling a bunch of cartoonists and comics people into the essay with him.

* Bluewater has switched to an alternative distributor for its line of biographies and related works. Graeme McMillan has the best write-up I've seen. It's hard for me to imagine this having a big effect on things, although this also seems to follow the general trends for and treatment of print comics publication.

* finally, Marc Tyler Nobleman looks at documents related to Bill Finger's death.
 
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August 22, 2012


Go, Look: Pen & Ink

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Sergio Toppi, 1932-2012

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By Tom Spurgeon

imageThe Italian comics artist and illustrator Sergio Toppi has passed away. Lauded as both a creator and for his warm and modest personality, Toppi was 79 years old.

Sergio Toppi was born in Milan. His family was evacuated during fighting in World War II. Toppi would eventually attend college in the early 1950s, but emerged as a working artist a year later.

Toppi began his career as an advertising artist, as an animator and as an illustrator for several clients including the lauded, centuries-old publisher UTET in the 1950s and into the 1960s.

In 1966, he collaborated with the writer Carlo Triberti on the character Mago Zurli for the publication Il Corrier dei Piccoli. This is widely considered his first work, although Toppi may have done some newspaper comics as early as 1960. He continued to work for that publication, the majority of his work coming in the war genre that were published as a series called Grand Avventure di Pace e di Guerra. These were in collaboration with the writer Milo Milani. Toppi eventually graduated to serial, one-shot publication, working mostly in historical genres, bouncing back and forth between CEPIM and the French publisher Larrousse. He would later work for Il Corriere dei Ragazzi -- the same publication where he got his start, now with its named changed -- and a comic tied into a Rome newspaper, Messaggero dei Ragazzi, again with historical work. Titles for the fomer included Dal Nostro Inviato and I Grandi nel Giallo.

Other clients included Linus, Il Giornalino and Corto Maltese. He was frequently collected into book form. His work for Il Giornalino starting in the mid-1970s was fruitful, leading to any number of stories which bolstered his reputation. This included 1985's I Grandi del Cinema, 1994's Don Alberione and a 1997 adaptation of the Robinson Crusoe story, Le Avventure di Robinson Crosue. The Cepim-published Un Uomo, un'Avventura series of stories came during roughly that same 1970s starting point. His character Il Collezionista, starred in a number of stories starting in 1984 -- four major cycles in all. Russ Burlingame's brief obituary indicates that this was a rare Toppi effort with a bit of penetration into the English-language market. Toppi was also a prolific illustrator of short stories in the second half of his career.

Toppi began to serialize Sharaz'de in 1979. Toppi's version of the Arabian Nights was perhaps his best known work, eventually published in France and Spain -- the 2000 publication of the work in France was a career highlight. Publication of that work in North America and China is imminent. At least one obituary mentioned a recent retrospective of Toppi's work in Shanghai.

In later years, the French publisher Mosquito was a primary publishing partner, releasing several of his work, including the collected Arabian Nights material, into the French language market. Toppi also did original work for the Spanish publisher Planeta DeAgostini in 1992. The 1990s also saw Toppi doing work here and there for Bonelli, and providing illustrations to a variety of projects, including gallery work. He may have been as well known for his portfolios as his comics in recent year.

A frequent subject of gallery shows in France and Italy -- his last major shows were at different galleries in 2007 and 2008 in Paris -- Toppi was guest of honor of the Festival De Saint-Malo Quai Des Bulles in 2004 and had an exhibition devoted to his work at the Angouleme Festival in 2008.

Toppi had a number of fans among his fellow artists, many of whom lauded and admired stand-alone pieces of comics art from the author even when they could not read it. If an American comics-maker were unaware of Toppi's work, surely she knew a working European artist who was a fan. Toppi's work was classically grounded but also uniquely staged, focused on the human figure in several panels and pages that would make stand-alone illustrations by themselves. Many of his better single make dramatic use of white space as a balancing and directional element. His greatest contribution might have been in how the details of his work could slip into the fantastic in a way that emphasized or gave emotional context to the historically rigorous scene being depicted. The drawing came first. There was also something grandly human and warm about the variety of cultures that Toppi engaged in his long career, the types of people and places he chose to represent.

A book of historical portraits is still pending from Mosquito, while Archaia is the North American publisher working with that French-language company to bring the Arabian Nights material to English-language audiences.

Sergio Toppi died in the town where he was born. The cause of death was cancer. He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Aldina.

*****

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*****
*****
 
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Go, Look: Sunday Brunch

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Time For Another Descent Into Golden Age Comics Madness

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Cartoonist Larry Pickering At Center Of Australian Media Story

I sort of wondered when I did this year's birthday greeting for the Australian cartoonist Larry Pickering why there was a note about on his site cryptically referring to his site being attacked for political reasons; a flurry of articles like this one explained to me what's going on. I hadn't noticed, although the fact that Pickering had been doing a bunch of cartoons depicting Australia's prime minister naked had reached my attention and seemed to me more deeply unfortunate and sort of weird than it did a focused taking-the-piss or as pointed commentary. At any rate, I assume this stuff is interesting for itself if you follow that nation's politics, but I also imagine that how a cartoonist might operate as an independent journalistic voice is another takeaway just sitting there for people. I look forward to digging in a bit.
 
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King Faraday Would Like A Word With You

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This Isn't A Library: Notable Releases To The Comics Direct Market

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Here are the books that make an impression on me staring at this week's no-doubt largely accurate list of books shipping from Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. to comic book and hobby shops across North America.

I might not buy all of the works listed here. I might not buy any. You never know. I'd sure look at the following, though.

*****

JUN121266 ONLY SKIN GN (MR) $21.95
I've been toying around with the theory that maybe comics shops are best used as places you run into on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday and emerge with a single book. The strange thing about this notion is that this means you could end the year with 52 books and this would somehow seem like a paltry amount of comics. You see how I italicized that there for emphasis? It does seem weird, though, I don't think I'll own 52 of anything else by the end of 2012 and yet to do so in comics really seems like you're cutting back. At any rate, if I were to run in and buy just the one thing, there's a good chance it would be this Sean Ford book finally making its DM debut (I think) after being out on the festival/mail order circuit for a while. Young cartoonist, new voices, all that. It's what I want in comics, most weeks.

imageJUN121297 MAYA MAKES A MESS HC $12.95
One of the great advantages of the comics shop is you can look at stuff you might otherwise avoid, or about which you might have some basic questions. This is a Rutu Modan book, and highly thought-of within the line to the point they did a special promotion for it. I was stunned by how entertaining Shark King was, so I'm never going to skip a Toon effort by any major talent.

APR120288 INVISIBLES OMNIBUS HC (MR) $150.00
MAY120295 JACK KIRBYS FOURTH WORLD OMNIBUS TP VOL 03 $29.99
JUN120418 RIP KIRBY HC VOL 05 $49.99
JUN121233 ASTERIX OMNIBUS HC VOL 05 $27.95
APR121092 CAPTAIN EASY HC VOL 03 SOLDIER OF FORTUNE $39.99
JUN121135 COMPLETE PEANUTS BOX SET 1983-1986 $49.99
JUN121134 COMPLETE PEANUTS HC VOL 18 1985-1986 $28.99
Hey, this is pile of older material with which I'd leave the shop were I independently wealthy. This is $300 in comics, which according to my 1984 budget for buying these kinds of things would have about 35 weeks worth of books, and I had comics coming out of my ears back then. I'm not sure that'd I go for the Invisibles material in this format; I don't remember anything about the art that would make me want to have it in a different presentation than the actual comics. I may not even have the actual comics at this point. But Grant Morrison is their anchor talent, and I can respect their wanting to have as much material out there in the areas of comics in which DC has a definite sales oomph. The Captain Easy material I love, sort of unreservedly, and think it really work at that size. The Peanuts books are really fascinating currently, and we're starting into that era after the perceived glory years and before the final, strong run where there's a great deal of curiosity as to how the work holds up.

MAY121343 DOROHEDORO GN VOL 07 (MR) $12.99
This is I believe the best regarded of the mainstream-ish manga releases out this week. I haven't followed this series in a while, but maybe you are, and maybe things like the matter-of-fact madness of basic plot descriptions will be enough to pull you in.

JUN120753 ECONOMIX HOW & WHY OUR ECONOMY WORKS & DOESNT WORK GN $19.95
This is an Abrams book, and no doubt features the medium's ability to make a lot of information very clear in a short time. I have no idea how rigorous it is, and I'm not sure I trust mainstream reviews of this kind of material, but I'd definitely take not of the book's arrival on my store's shelves. Good to see Dan E. Burr with a book out.

JUN120622 AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #692 $5.99
I'm guessing by the price tag here that this is some sort of 50th anniversary issue for the Spider-Man character. That's a lengthy run. I think that's a really good character, although it's astonishing for me to think that when I was reading him in the 1970s he'd only been around for about a decade or so. That doesn't seem very long at all, even by the way I measured time as a child.

JUN120028 FATIMA THE BLOOD SPINNERS #3 $3.99
JUN120016 LOBSTER JOHNSON PRAYER OF NEFERU ONE SHOT $3.50
JUN120029 MIND MGMT #4 $3.99
JUN120315 ROCKETEER CARGO OF DOOM #1 [DIG] $3.99
MAR120471 AMERICAS GOT POWERS #3 $2.99
JUN120949 ADVENTURE TIME #7 [DIG] $3.99
MAY120788 GLAMOURPUSS #26 $3.00
Finally, here are the comic-book comics of note, with a strong week by Dark Horse of Mignola-verse, Matt Kindt and Gilbert Hernandez. The America's Got Powers I include here -- I'm guessing similar lists like Jog's won't -- as I feel that's a deeply weird comic, almost fundamentally oddly paced. There will be a high amount of interest in the Waid/Samnee Rocketeer comics from the olds out there, of which I'm one. I'm sure that's a classy-looking effort. Adventure Time is the mainstream-crossover comics effort of the moment. Mostly, though, I'm interested in this list for what I take to be the final issue of Glamourpuss. That's based on some statements from Dave Sim, his move into digital comics, and the fact this one was late and not a lot of Dave Sim comics are late, even if it's just a few weeks. I thought that was a fun title although I'm sure the aggressive whimsy of the covers turned a lot of people off and there really isn't enough work to kickstart a way of selling alt-indy stuff in stores right now except in very rare cases. Here's hoping.

*****

The full list of this week's releases, including some titles with multiple cover variations and a long, impressive list of toys and other stuff that isn't comics, can be found here. Despite this official list there's no guarantee a comic will show up in the stores as promised, or in all of the stores as opposed to just a few. Also, stores choose what they carry and don't carry so your shop may not carry a specific publication. There are a lot of comics out there.

To find your local comic book store, check this list; and for one I can personally recommend because I've shopped there, albeit a while back, try this.

The above titles are listed with their Diamond order code in the first field, which may assist you in finding comics at your shop or having them order something for you they don't have in-stock. Ordering through a direct market shop can be a frustrating experience, so if you have a direct line to something -- you know another shop has it, you know a bookstore has it -- I'd urge you to consider all of your options.

If I failed to list your comic, that's on me. I apologize.

*****

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*****
*****
 
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If I Were In Vermont, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: George Perez Marvel Two-In-One Covers

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* Sean Gaffney on Sakuran. Michael Buntag on Batman: Earth One. Andrew Hickey on Doctor Who. Philip Shropshire on "Fracking." Alan David Doane on A Treasury Of XXth Century Murder: Lovers Lane. Sean Gaffney on I Don't Like You At All, Big Brother!! Vols. 1-2. J. Caleb Mozzocco on a bunch of comic-shop comics. Rob Clough on Fox Bunny Funny.

* I'm not sure this isn't a personal attack.

* Steve Morris talks to Val Staples. Rob McMonigal profiles Box Brown and Noah Van Sciver.

* wow, look at this Soft City stuff.

* I followed this guy and I have no interest in the resulting comic.

* a bunch of not comics today: 1) This is pretty cute. I like off-model portraits of stuff generally and would probably buy an entire book of Godzilla portraits done in different styles. Okay, no, I wouldn't, but I would think about asking for a review copy. 2) These should sell pretty darn well. 3) Mark Evanier tells a story about William Windom that makes him a model for an artist negotiating criticism. 4) Hey, new Lightning Bolt.

* you know, I sort of like these ads, too; I don't think I always like the photos used, but I tend to like the campaign entire.

* finally, this doesn't strike me as a controversial cartoon as much as a not-good one that wants to be controversial.
 
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August 21, 2012


Sergio Toppi, RIP

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lambiek entry here
 
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Go, Look: Extra Extra

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AAEC To Feature Ali Ferzat At September Convention In DC

Prominent Association of American Editorial Cartoonists member Matt Bors wrote last night to say that Syrian cartoonist and gallery owner Ali Ferzat will be appearing at that group's convention in September and delivering their keynote address. Ferzat has been major news for over a year now, after he was picked up and assaulted by pro-government thugs for making cartoons critical of the regime's treatment of dissenters. To the best of my knowledge, this will be the first time Ferzat has spoken in the US, and I think the first time he's talked to a group of his peers about his experiences. Ferzat has made the news since last August for winning free speech and political honors in the wake of what happened to him, for his statements on the continuing crisis in that country including his declaration he desires to return when things change in a way that allows him to do so, and as a symbol for the Syrian government's brutal crackdown on dissenting artists of all types. The convention is September 13-15.
 
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Go, Read: Luke Cage And Race In Steve Gerber's Defenders

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"You Can't Tie Down A Banjo Man" -- Stacy Curtis On Richard Thompson Ending Cul De Sac In September

A bunch of you have called this blog post to my attention, from Stacy Curtis on Richard Thompson ending Cul De Sac in September. Curtis was the artist that Thompson used earlier this year to ink some of his work in order to maybe find a way to do the strip given while dealing with his Parkinson's. It's an extremely classy and thoughtful little tribute, and it's difficult to imagine anyone having handled that entire situation better than Curtis has in terms of portraying his contributions to the strip and keeping the spotlight on Thompson's accomplishments. I hope that syndicates are paying attention and that anything Curtis would like to do next in that world is given extra consideration.
 
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Go, Look: A Bill Mauldin Photo Gallery

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What Might Worry About Line-Wide Or Significant-Title Mainstream Comics Creative Changes Post-Fall

imageI don't know that Graeme McMillan's short piece here fairly casts potential DC creative-team changes early in 2013 as some sort of stunt that could cut into Marvel's projected momentum. We won't know until we see how DC presents any such changes to their reading public and we can determine both the substance of those changes and the way they're portrayed if they're a big deal or not, or even a deal at all.

Something that occurs to me, though, is that at some point if this kind of back-and-forth continues we might begin to question how much market health is to be found in these companies simply doing the best series they can for as long as they can. That may sound over-dramatic, but I think it's worth thinking on. That's a difference between this period and the last fallow time for mainstream North American comic books: a slow, grinding, content-driven surge out of the bottoming-out versus an editorially-driven shove away from same. While what it comes down to for a lot of people is that some folks want to sell comics and other folks want to read them and how they get there doesn't matter as much as the end result, that end result likely shapes the market going forward and there's no guarantee that all of this activity drives people to regular, reliable series-buying. If the key, connecting factor is these companies indicating to a certain kind of fan that certain kinds of comics are the important ones and the ones that should be bought, and fans for the most part are less likely to be convinced that a lot of regular series deserve that designation, it's a really different sales landscape moving forward for the long-term than what such companies are used to. Similar structural concerns snuck up on television a bit, or at least it seems so to me. I don't know how comics would be different except there's a lot less money involved.
 
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Ten Moments Not In The Wizard Of Oz Movie That Are In The Recent Marvel Comic Book Adaptation

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Bundled, Tossed, Untied And Stacked

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By Tom Spurgeon

* hey, good news from Seattle as Fantagraphics plans to do the above Ken Parille-edited book on Dan Clowes in early 2013. Ken Parille's stuff is routinely pretty great. If I didn't like that guy, I wouldn't like that guy at all. Here's the description:
A wide-ranging introduction to the work of one of the most important living cartoonists, The Daniel Clowes Reader features Ghost World, Clowes' celebrated graphic novel about the complex friendship of two teenage girls. It includes stories -- some reprinted for the first time -- about boys coming of age, troubled superheroes, and the roles that artists and critics play in popular culture. The volume also features Clowes' influential manifesto, Modern Cartoonist. The Reader's dozen critical essays illuminate Clowes' comics by analyzing them within biographical, artistic, and social-historical contexts, including the indie/DIY movement, Gen-X philosophy, and the history of American cartooning. Each comic is accompanied by an introduction and extensive annotations that shed light on Clowes' sources and cultural references. A biography of the cartoonist, a detailed chronology of his work, and selections by artists and musicians who influenced his art round out the collection.
Count me in.

image* hey, they're bringing Scene Of The Crime back into print. This brings us one step closer to the day when one can do all of one's holiday shopping in Ed Brubaker comics. I like the original comics, but I know most people prefer books, so a new one will likely reach a lot more people.

* I'm going to end up being that weird guy who had all Betamax movies in 1996, only with the comic book format, aren't I?

* so Spider-Man is getting a sidekick...? I totally missed that one. Is this like that episode of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer where Danny Strong's character is suddenly dominating the credits?

* Colleen Doran and Neil Gaiman are collaborating on a book for Dark Horse.

* Brian Wood promises to write more viking comics. Well, all right.

* Joe Keatinge talks straight about price increases on the Glory comic he's doing. I like the way that comic looks; it's really weird design-wise and pacing wise. I'm not sure quite where it's going, but the narrative is really stately right now so I'm not sure I can asses the title more generally.

* this link will take you to a way to download a PDF from a book examining Doctor Who in comics form.

* so I guess Journey Into Mystery will continue with the character Sif, featuring the writing of Kathryn Immonen and the artwork of Valerio Schiti. I liked Immonen's take on that company's Hellcat character. Marvel's used their titles like Journey Into Mystery to pretty good effect both in terms of developing/using talent and developing/using characters. I don't think there's really anything wrong with their general editorial instincts other than that they're not so awesome as to vault them past the majority of their structural issues right now.

* Brigid Alverson rounds up reactions to the announcement that The Dandy is ending its print iteration.

* I'm unfamiliar with this comic here, but it just ended. Congratulations to the the creator. This site really needs to get its act together vis-a-vis comics on-line.

* Butcher Baker Righteous Maker is apparently done.

* the good folks over at The Beat ran a big, long list of forthcoming books from DC Comics. This makes that list of liquidated books from about a week ago make a lot more sense than any conclusion jumped to by my paranoid ass. They need the shelf space.

* something is going on in those comics I can't think about without laughing because one of them is actually called Ultimate Comics Ultimates.

* finally, you can track progress on a new Monster anthology issue here.

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If I Were In Vermont, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In Seattle, I'd Go To This

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Missed It: Matt Fraction's Fantastic Four Process Tumblr

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* Joe Izenman takes a look at issues surrounding that depiction of South African President Jacob Zuma where they show him with exposed genitals. You heard me.

image* Sean Kleefeld writes about Sky Masters and color.

* Paul Di Filippo on Birdseye Bristoe. Johanna Draper Carlson on Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales and Guinea Pig Pet Shop Private Eye Vols. 4-5. Paul O'Brien on various mainstream comics. Sterg Botzakis on Five Fists Of Science. Jennifer Cheng on The Shade #11. John Parker on Prophet. Rob Clough on Annie Sullivan And The Trials Of Helen Keller. Jeet Heer on Journalism. Michel Fiffe on Bruce Timm's He-Man mini-comics.

* I enjoy these old-school link-a-thon posts that Shannon Smith has been doing. I enjoy them because I steal from them, but I also enjoy them.

* it would be easy to make up some sort of facile analysis, but I'm not sure exactly what to do with this ugly-seeming profile of Ike Perlmutter. One way to look at things like that is to suggest they're pretty simple and straight-forward, while another way to interpret an article like that is as a salvo in a game far, far removed from my areas of interest. It's worth noting, though.

* Alex Dueben talks to Rick Remender. Jeffrey Brown talks to Marjane Satrapi. She's on the Mt. Rushmore of comics interview subjects; hard to have a bad time talking to Marjane Satrapi. Some nice person whose name I can't find talks to Dave Roman. Ken Eppstein on RM Rhodes. Rob McMonigal on Rich Barrett. Jonah Weiland talks to Joe Hill. Ed Piskor talks to Joshua Glenn. Bill Radford on the hyper-competent Amanda Emmert. Rob Tornoe profiles Matt Groening.

* this article on the Aomushi Showa Manga Library is the kind of thing for which I depend on TCJ.

* here's a profile of a West Virginia comics store people keep sending me.

* finally, I don't care which character dies as long as some character dies. The important thing is death. Death, death, death.
 
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August 20, 2012


I Greatly Enjoy Looking At Fred Guardineer's Comics

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ugh, on second look this one does suffer from "horrible racist depiction syndrome" -- maybe focus on the other work, or skip this one altogether
 
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Robby McMurtry, 1950-2012

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The artist, teacher and graphic novelist Robby McMurtry died on August 1 after being shot by a deputy sheriff in the small town of Morris, Oklahoma. He was 61 years old.

Okmulgee Sherriff's department officers were dispatched to the home the artist shared with his wife when an unidentified family member called in to say McMurtry was suicidal. The officers found McMurtry in the yard of the home with a machete. When being talked to by the officers, he apparently ran at the officers with the weapon. One officer attempted to tase McMurtry but failed. The other shot and killed him.

imageMcMurtry was of Comanche, Irish and Cajun descent. The story about his death notes that he painted the mural that is in the city's library in addition to his comics and gallery paintings.

According to a Facebook page in honor of McMurtry, a ceremony was held within a week of his passing. A testimonial page here is filled with the thoughts of friends and family members.

According to an author's profile, McMurtry grew up with awareness of the underground comix movement, which would have corresponded with his late teens and early twenties. He attended the Oklahoma College Of Liberal Arts and use that school's printing department to make his own comics. He graduated in 1973.

McMurtry began as an instructor for the Tulsa Indian Youth Council and worked his way through a series of Tulsa area arts and education jobs before moving to Morris as the Artist-In-Residence at the Morris Public Schools. He became that system's cultural coordinator for the Indian education program in 1988, and an art teacher in 1999.

His comics work was a series he called "The Underground History Of Indian Territory. Earlier titles were Native Heart: The Life And Times Of Ned Christie, Cherokee Patriot And Renegade, published through CreateSpace; and Gunplay: The True Story Of Pistol Pete On The Hootowl Trail, with New Forums Press. McMurtry last published work was The Road To Medicine Lodge: Jesse Chisholm In The Indian Nation, which looks like it came out in 2011.

thanks to John R. Platt for bringing this to my attention; I certainly missed it the first time around

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Go, Look: Tales Of The Cat-Killin' Coat

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A Trio Of News Updates: Roger Slifer, Ali Ferzat, Before Watchmen

* mid-week last week Hero Initiative updated the condition of injured writer/editor Roger Slifer. He's apparently on the positive end of projected treatment schedules. No one's been found responsible, although police are still looking and have a very rough idea of the kind of car involved.

* unless I'm reading this incorrectly, Ali Ferzat's web site was updated for the first time in quite some time on Thursay. It was news of an honor the Syrian cartoonist and gallery owner won in March, but it's still good to see new content over there. As far as I know, Ferzat is no longer in the country, although he has expressed a desire to return once the political turmoil ends.

* this list tells me that DC's "Before Watchmen" project will have its 12th issue published this week, with many, many more to come. There were 12 issues in the original series. That might make this week a time to reflect on some of the non-creator's rights issues brought up by this particular creative effort, perhaps what an editorially-driven 2012 project looks like as compared to a mid-1980s creator-driven project. I'm glad that people have talked about the issues raised, even if it seems like the topic has exhausted itself a bit for now.
 
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Go, Look: Massive Jim Hanley's Universe Signings Photo Gallery

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I think they'd like your help tagging
 
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Missed It: Clay Jones Loses Editorial Cartooning Staff Position

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Daryl Cagle had word late last week of Clay Jones from the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Virginia, losing his staff position. I guess a dispute over his last cartoon -- which Cagle publishes through that link -- has Jones deciding not to freelance for that publication. It's hard to know what to say about a cartoonist losing their staff position at this point. You might be able to say something about some of the smaller and medium-sized papers getting rid of their cartoonists, but pretty much everyone is shedding staff including cartoonists at a frightening rate. There's no way to significantly better organize such papers beyond "all of them." In fact, we're at a point that a staffed cartoonist seems more rare than one working solely through the freelance circuit, although I have no numbers to back that up. Jones is a pretty widely syndicated cartoonist, as I recall, so I hope that allows him to continue. He's certainly right at that age where he'd also still be a strong hire for any newspaper wanting to move in that direction.
 
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Go, Look: 1973 Reuben Award Winner Self-Portraits

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How To Read More About And From The Late Joe Kubert

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The comic book illustrator and educator Joe Kubert passed away eight days ago. For those involved in publishing Kubert's work, the question of when to resume to sell that work to an appreciative public must have been nettlesome. It likely continues to be. Lacking a profit motivation, we are under far less rigorous strictures here at CR.

imageThe attention paid the late Kubert and his work over the last eight days may have fostered a desire in some to read more of his comics, that body of work being a significant legacy for the artist. Joe Kubert was a first-rate comics illustrator and an intriguing figure in the medium's history. Individual phases of Kubert's career in comics art can be argued to match the entire professional output of some very considerable artists. I would imagine that no comprehensive comics library -- or, if you're not a keeper, a first-rate comics education -- would be complete without owning or reading some of the following.

Some Joe Kubert comics won't even ask you to leave your computer screen. Yesterday at CR we linked to a sampling of Kubert's early work and various galleries featuring stand-alone illustration and isolated pages. There was a text-based link post here that arranged what that person could find according to date of publication. A search for Joe Kubert on the popular digital comics site comiXology yields a smattering of newer titles, perhaps most significantly Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy, a later-period work featuring a character associated with the late illustrator.

Kubert was an active artist, with projects just completed and still in the works. Work created by and selected by Kubert is set to appear in Joe Kubert Presents, starting this October. I don't think there's been any word about a change in publication plans or how many issues have been completed, but with an October launch date I have to imagine that a bunch of that work is already in.

DC has at time used a "Joe Kubert Library" designation, and it looks like there's at least a few Tor volumes available that way, and an edition of Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965. More recent PR on planned future releases using that term seem to have gone missing from the DC web site. There are also individual issues of a Tor series from 2008 listed on their site. I'm guessing this may be a collection of that one.

DC's aggressive collection of past works into fancy hardcovers aimed at the collector's market, cheap paperbacks aimed at a reader's market and the occasional book somewhere in between has put a bunch of Joe Kubert's work back into circulation. Here's one of Viking Prince material. You can find work featuring characters/concepts like Enemy Ace, The Unknown Soldier, Haunted Tank, Sgt. Rock and Hawkman with very little effort. The Sgt Rock comes in a couple of those formats. Lots of Kubert work in each book, although I guess it's worth double-checking.

The comics and fandom historian Bill Schelly has through Fantagraphics carved out a small but significant place for Joe Kubert in that publisher's library of offerings. A more straight-forward prose biography, Man Of Rock, was followed by The Art Of Joe Kubert, different ways of approach the artist's life and career. This November should see publication of Weird Horrors & Daring Adventures, the first volume of a planned "Joe Kubert Archives" series, which I'm almost certain presents material from the artist to which he or no one holds current copyright. I've read the first two; I liked them both. You can also still get a copy of Kubert's 1994 issue of The Comics Journal. Work Kubert did for EC Comics will apparently be included in the first author-driven EC book from Fantagraphics, also due this Fall.

You can still find Yossel through Internet booksellers; I think I heard a rumor that one may be reprinted soon, but I'm not able to find confirmation of that this morning.

IDW has a Joe Kubert's Tarzan Of The Apes: Artist's Edition coming out in September; that I haven't heard a peep about that book in what must have been a final order cut-off period speaks well to their circumspection. That should be very attractive-looking. Let's hope if that series continues there's more Kubert work published that way.

Dark Horse published three hardcovers of Joe Kubert-related Tarzan material.

Dark Horse has also kept Kubert's key, later-period Fax From Sarajevo in print, and features a 1998 edition on their web site. Another key book from roughly this same period, Tex, can be had through the Kubert School's bookstore.

This Vanguard book is the only one I know that taps into Kubert's educator role. I could be wrong about that.

Finally, don't forget about the possibility of buying work in comic book form. For instance, it's still possible to get a full run of the elegantly drawn and conceptually odd Ragman for less than $10, or low-grade editions of Kubert's Tarzan work for less than one of this week's superhero comics per issue.

your local comics shop can order just about all of this stuff for you, if you feel like them giving them a crack at it; anything without a direct order-from link in the above might be solely available through comics shops

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Go, Read: Noah Van Sciver's TCJ Diary

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Comics' Giving Heart -- People, Projects In Need Of Funding

image* I'd really love it if more people considered the Projects Kickstarter, but folks are probably tired of hearing from me on that end and I'm not sure it's doing much good. I actually sent them some money as if I were attending because I think if it comes off I'll see the fruits of its non-commercial show model getting a test run. I hope that others will consider that, or consider what they have to offer more generally.

* Joel Meadows' Tripwire fundraiser looks like it could use some attention.

* someone wrote in to ask me to run a link to this Deadlands: Raven Kickstarter.

* I don't think I've linked to Jamal Igle's Molly Danger Kickstarter effort yet; if I have, it's been a while.

* this fundraiser for a Mike Deodato Jr. art book has met its goal but is still there for a few more hours if you want in on some of those sweet, sweet incentives.

* don't forget you can donate to the charity of Joe Kubert's choice in memory of that great comics illustrator and foundational comics educator.

* a bunch of CBLDF-related auctions end later this morning.

* finally, Rob Kirby sent along this link to an article about Kickstarter's massive growth, which includes the Order Of The Stick fundraiser as one of the primary object-lessons.
 
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If I Were In Vermont, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: Lonnie Allen

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* I totally missed this one: Craig Thompson donated a very pretty piece of Blankets-related art to raise money for victims of the Manila Floods.

image* the Syd Hoff memorial site has been updated with a lot of new material. You could lose the better part of a whole working day over there.

* Sean T. Collins talks to Uno Moralez. That's a great get. Zack Cruse and Ben Tiede talk to Blake Bell. Casey Burchby talks to John Benson. Alex Dueben talks to the Pander Brothers. Arin Greenwood talks to Matt Dembicki.

* Alan David Doane rides his recent crest of newfound popularity right into a Kickstarter essay. Sean Kleefeld has Kickstarter-related suggestions, if you're listening.

* Sarah Morean on Me Likes You Very Much. Grant Goggans on Manly Tales Of Cowardice. Sterg Botzakis on Atomic Robo Vol. 1. Todd Klein on BPRD: Hell On Earth Vol. 2, Wonder Woman #10, Secret Service #1, A Game Of Thrones Vol. 1 and Memorial #6. The well-named "Guest Reviewer" on Undertow. Team Tucker on a bunch of comics and comics news stories, old and new.

* Domino Books has that sweet, sweet Croatian stuff.

* AdHouse and Chris Wright are, in their, unique ways, getting ready for the Small Press Expo.

* Image publisher Eric Stephenson will apparently no longer be blogging. That's too bad; his blog has been fun.

* the best comics ad of its era?

* Johanna Draper Carlson reminds that Amazon.com prices can sometimes be inflated prices, and that you should always check with a publisher directly.

* finally, J. Caleb Mozzocco takes a look at various Marvel fall solicitations in light of that publisher's transition into the Marvel Now period.
 
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August 19, 2012


CR Sunday Interview: Richard Thompson (2010)

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*****

This is an interview I did with Richard Thompson in 2010, explained in the original introduction, which follows. Thompson announced the end of his Cul De Sac on Friday, and I wanted to celebrate Thompson's achievement and Thompson more generally. -- Tom Spurgeon

imageThe following is taken from a transcript from the Richard Thompson spotlight panel at Heroes Con 2010 in early June. As we discuss briefly in the interview, Thompson and I had spoken at the convention two years previous in a room the size of Madison Square Garden that maybe had a dozen people in it. This conversation had a slightly bigger audience and a much more appropriate setting.

One thing I noticed about the audience is that -- as is the case with a lot of Heroes Con panels -- they looked like they really wanted to be there and were taking great pleasure in hearing what Thompson had to say. No one was grinding through the day or sitting down for a spell or facilitating an assignment for a new site. It also seemed to me that Thompson's popular with his fellow cartoonists. More than a few came up from exhibiting on the floor of the show to see his panel, which I find to be a rare thing. There was even a cartoonist participating in the panel next door that kept sneaking over to sit in.

Thompson's daily Cul De Sac continues to be a joy. I was as happy as anyone to be in that room to talk to him about it.

Note: There were a pair of recordings made of this session; this one was made available to me by Mike Rhode, whom you should bookmark right now and visit a bunch. It was edited sharply for clarity and flow.

*****

TOM SPURGEON: Thank you all for coming out. This is the Richard Thompson spotlight panel. My name is Tom. The gentleman to my right is Richard Thompson, I think the great American strip cartoonist working right now.

RICHARD THOMPSON: Bless your heart.

SPURGEON: It was my pleasure to talk to Richard two years ago at this same show when we were in a gigantic room with about a third as many people. [laughter] I think we're both happy to see so many people out on such a busy day with so many great panels competing for your attention. I think we'll enjoy the room size a bit more than 2008's echo chamber.

THOMPSON: The echo is much closer.

SPURGEON: In fact, I don't know if you remember, but there was a gentleman who came in who basically decided that he needed to announce to us that he was just there and he had no idea who you were.

THOMPSON: That was Chris. [indicates gentleman working recording equipment near the table]

SPURGEON: That was you? Wow. Things have changed. [laughter]

THOMPSON: He came back!

imageSPURGEON: Richard, you just came back from the NCS weekend. You were up for the Reuben Award this year, for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year: the big prize. Were you surprised when that announcement was made, that you were one of the three finalists?

THOMPSON: I was entirely shocked, yeah. I'm not a member of the NCS and I feel I'm not in the mix somehow. The guy who won, Dan Piraro, has been nominated eight or nine times. And so it was not a shock to him, I'm sure. Stephan Pastis, who was the other one, had been nominated once at least.

Not being a member they had trouble tracking me down. It was February. Our power had been off for two days because of a snowstorm, and they couldn't reach us by phone. They finally tracked down my wife's cell phone. The power came back on, the cell phone rang, and it was Little Jeffy, Jeff Keane from The Family Circus, whom I'd met before but sort of just called me out of the blue to say, "Congratulations, you've been nominated." And I had no idea what he was talking about. [laughter]

It took me about two minutes to go, "Oh. OH! Oh." It was one of those conversations where you finally hang up and go, "Oh, that's what that was about. Oh. Gee."

SPURGEON: You know it's entirely possible that he wanted to hand-deliver the news but got lost on the way over to your house.

THOMPSON: I told my friend Mike [Rhode] about it and he leaked it out. The way it works for the NCS with the Reuben is that the nominations are all open. It's just by vote. Everyone votes on who they think. They put in three names; the top three of all those votes become the nominees.

SPURGEON: Were you surprised in that you're still very early on in the lifetime of your strip?

THOMPSON: The syndicated strip is not even three years old. So for that and being not a member and I just don't follow the group as closely as I should. You think of someone like... Watterson won it twice. Walt Kelly won it. Schulz won it. Everybody. The list of people going back, it's got a pedigree, you know.

SPURGEON: This wasn't the first time you've gone to the national meeting where they hold the awards ceremony.

THOMPSON: It was the third time I'd been to the Reubens.

SPURGEON: Is it different when you go as one of the three potential Kings of Comics?

THOMPSON: They have divisions, too. I've been a division nominee a couple of times before, but as one of the three guys it was slightly... more, I think.

SPURGEON: Dan wasn't there.

THOMPSON: He wasn't. Dan Piraro. Stephan was. It's very much an old boys' club in some ways. They have a black tie dinner for the awards. Black tie strongly suggested for the awards. It's in a fancy hotel. The history of this is they don't tell people where it's going to be because back in the '40s and '50s they were afraid fans would find this out and they would mob the place. [laughter] Like, "Oh my God, all the cartoonists are in this one spot." Like they were going to stand in front of the hotel with signs and pound on the doors like the Oscars. That doesn't happen. They keep waiting for it.

SPURGEON: I would think the danger would be that wannabe cartoonists might plot something nefarious --

THOMPSON: [laughs] Burn the place down!

SPURGEON: -- for the open slots.

Is there a general answer if I ask you how the strip is doing?

THOMPSON: Pretty good. I launched before things really headed south. 2007 was the launch date. 2008 was a horrifying year for newspapers. 2009 was slightly less horrifying. [begins hand motions] I think things were sort of like that and than they sort of went like this. Now there's some turbulence but it's not quite as high. It's in 200 and some papers, which is not bad. There just being 200 papers...

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SPURGEON: Is it a steady gainer? I think maybe two years ago we were talking 125 or so.

THOMPSON: It's gained some overseas. It's probably lost some. I get a statement every month I stopped looking at. It lists all the newspapers. Good health is all a strip can hope for these days.

SPURGEON: One of the astonishing things about the current newspaper crisis is that comics were suddenly on the table.

THOMPSON: Yeah.

SPURGEON: It was kind of a sacred cow that was not touched, even in previous dark times for papers. This time it's seemed like everything's up for grabs.

THOMPSON: Everything's falling to the axe, yeah. Some papers dropped whole pages. Some -- was it the Denver Post? -- dropped 20 strips or something. I think among them mine. They kept all the old ones. They kept Peanuts and all the older ones and dropped most of the new ones. Several papers have dropped like a page's worth of comics. Or condensed them. I think the Washington Post dropped a few and condensed from three pages down to two. Newspaper editors hate to touch the comics. They know they'll get blowback. None of them want to pay too much attention to it. There are a few papers where the editors care about it.

SPURGEON: One thing more and more common now is where the editor kind of pushes these decisions off on the readership. There's a poll, or various try-out strips. How do you tend to do in a try-out situation?

THOMPSON: As a new strip usually awfully, because anything new, it stinks to high heaven. Every reader that sees it for the first time is like, "I don't like this." It's not Beetle Bailey, it's not Peanuts. It's not Cathy. It's not Stephan Pastis, who's doing as well as anybody can do. Any strip takes an amount of time to build familiarity, for people to identify with it and to like it. The early blowback from ones that ran polls was "We hate this. The drawings are shaky. The lettering looks weird and the words are too long. They talk too much." They hated it. Every once in a while someone would say, "I kind of like it." If editors really paid attention to these polls, they would kill everything. [laughter] We're lucky we survived.

SPURGEON: You're three years in now.

THOMPSON: Yeah, which is somewhat safer.

SPURGEON: Has that changed the way you do the strip at all? I know that with strips that are very young, that are in that first couple of years, syndicates can be insistent on making sure every strip explains itself and that every strip works if it's the first strip that people see because the first couple of years almost every strip is the first strip that someone out there sees. Over time you're allowed to get away from that, and make jokes based on an understanding of the characters.

THOMPSON: You can assume some familiarity.

SPURGEON: Are you at that stage now?

THOMPSON: Sort of. You have to have so much exposition for a joke sometimes. You always want to have the characters identified. "Hello, Alice." "Hello, Petey." Something like that. But at a certain point you can assume some familiarity that this character is this way. She's a little fireball; he's a reticent kind of hesitant wallflower. People sort of know who you're talking about. They know that this kid with the spiky hair is kind of a mooncalf. At the same time you have to put a little exposition in, which is okay with a kid strip, because kids are always saying, "So what are we doing?" "Where are we going?" "Mom, what's going on?" You can kind of depend on that a little bit. At the same time you can relax and hope that people know who you're talking about.

SPURGEON: I hate to paint the picture of you spending your free moments looking at old work, but there's a space now between when the strip started and where the strip is today. Can you tell the difference? Are there differences in the characterizations?

THOMPSON: Yeah. The shape of Petey's head is a little bit different. [laughter] A little bit more bulbous. I can look back and see, I mean, the drawings are a little bit less scratchy, not as feeble-looking, I hope.

Someone pointed out that I've sort of narrowed it down in some ways to certain locations that repeat over and over again just because they work well. It sort of sets it up quite easily without the exposition. I look back and think if I had to re-do this I would probably change things. You can play around with certain things, like I don't want to identify certain relationships too early -- let them kind of grow naturally and mix it up a little bit differently. It has changed. I can see where I would change things even more now. Think five years down the line, maybe.

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SPURGEON: Are you more conscious of expanding the cast? Bringing in more voices?

THOMPSON: Yeah.

SPURGEON: That's another thing they let you do, encourage you to do, at a certain point.

THOMPSON: And they do. They like it. One editor I had for years loved Ernesto whenever he would show up. Little strange boy with a vocabulary. He might be imaginary. He's kind of frightening. He's sort of a James Bond villain in embryo. [laughter] "Any time you want to bring him back, just bring him back. He's fun." They like to expand it, within reason.

SPURGEON: How much communication is there with the syndicate as opposed to maybe at the beginning? Do you still seek out advice?

THOMPSON: My one editor for years left recently. They said, "If you don't want to use an editor, if you want to just send stuff in, that's fine." But I told them I liked it. I send in a really crude rough, pretty much a stick-figure rough. I pay more attention to the language and the pacing, stuff like that, with just enough identifiable going on. I kind of like having that first audience, that first set of ears and eyeballs looking at it just to make sure. I can usually tell if I'm being not funny. But I can't always tell when I'm being incoherent. "Does this make sense?" is what I'm trying to say. I like that. And they said, "Fine." They've been very easy. Pretty much every time it's like, "Yes, go with this. Yes." Maybe "Change this slightly," or "It's obvious he's speaking to her," or something like that. "Maybe make this less cruel." It's been very easy.

imageSPURGEON: Are you more comfortable with the routine? I remember when we talked two years ago you were one year in, which is where a lot of burnout sets in when they're first doing a strip. Now that you're even further along, has it become easier for you? Are you happy with the routine of it?

THOMPSON: Yeah. I'm only two weeks ahead on deadlines. I haven't gotten any better at that. [laughter]

SPURGEON: They let you go until two weeks before publication?

THOMPSON: Oh, yeah. It's terrible. It's been closer than that sometimes. It's a month on Sundays.

SPURGEON: That reminds me of the losing pitcher they talk about in baseball, that if you're a pitcher with a record of 4-20, you must be awfully good if they're still willing to put you out there. So in a way, they must be really confident in you to let you run at two weeks ahead of publication.

THOMPSON: Well, the bad ones are me and Bill Amend who does Fox Trot.

SPURGEON: Wait. He's only doing the Sundays now.

THOMPSON: He's only doing the Sundays but he's still behind. He's gotten even worse. [laughter] I saw him last weekend and he said he just barely got it in. I thought, "You're only doing one drawing a week. It's not that hard." And then Doonesbury, whose whole career is built on being right on top of the news somehow. Two weeks is luxurious for him. He's like a week and a half, maybe.

SPURGEON: We need to come up with some sort of Doonesbury-style dispensation for you.

THOMPSON: My editor at one point said, "You kind of need this pressure, don't you? This kind of terror just to produce?" And I said, "Yeah." Boondocks was another one, I think. He dealt with Boondocks, too. I guess they give him the hard cases.

I can look back at old ones and think, "I can do this with it now. I can rethink this idea. I can play with this more. I can bring this guy in here." It seems to have spread out in front of me. I don't feel that kind of burnout so much.

SPURGEON: So the writing of it goes a little more smoothly.

THOMPSON: Yeah. I can sit down in two hours and do two weeks' worth of writing, pretty much. Sometimes. Not always, but when I start rolling, it happens. It still takes me like three or four hours a strip to draw. Maybe two hours, sometimes, if I just have talking heads going.

SPURGEON: I was thinking about the differences in your presence here at the show this year. An obvious one is when you came two years ago you had the dailies and the Sundays. [to audience] If you get the chance to visit Richard and see his originals, they're lovely. Especially in a day when a lot of people scan stuff in and you end up buying strips that have weird panel fixes sticking out and word balloons in the margin.

THOMPSON: I've done a few of those.

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SPURGEON: So your originals are beautiful. But this year you also have some merchandise. [Thompson laughs] Is that fun for you to re-present the strip and your art that way?

THOMPSON: My wife went on Cafe Press and said, "We gotta get on top of this." [laughter] "People need t-shirts and they need tote bags. They need notecards with the Uh-Oh Baby on it. These will fly off the shelves." They've fallen off the table a couple of times but they haven't flown off the shelves. [laughter]

You have to do that. You have to think about that. I asked the syndicate and they said, "Whatever you think of, go for it. Do your best." And my wife is good at that. More than I am. Go for it. The syndicate has and agreement with Zazzle, which is like Cafe Press -- maybe slightly more than Cafe Press in that they do more stuff. Each strip on Gocomics you can click on the Zazzle link and get that strip on a mug. Or a t-shirt. Or a mousepad or whatever . I don't know how much they really do, but they're aware of that market, too. Which helps.

SPURGEON: So you don't mind seeing that stuff?

THOMPSON: Not too much. I'm not as pure-minded as Bill Watterson was.

SPURGEON: Let me ask you about your books, the Cul-De-Sac collections. Another way you're precocious -- in addition to Reuben Award nominations -- is that you not only have one book series but you already have two different formats when it comes to book publication. How has that gone for you? Are you reaching a different readership with the different books?

THOMPSON: The second has just come out now. Andrews McMeel is the publishing arm of my syndicate. Andrews McMeel pretty much has all the comics reprints for all the syndicates. They do Doonesbury, they do the big Calvin and Hobbes. They also do Pearls Before Swine and some of the other ones: Sherman's Lagoon, I think. They do the reprints of a year's strips. Every Fall for my strip. Now that I've had two of those over the last two year, they also have a treasury, which is the last two books in one. Which is kind of a rip-off. At the same time they said, "Why don't you do some more commentary in this to make it less of a rip-off?"

SPURGEON: Did they put it to you like that?

THOMPSON: You understand what they mean. Watterson, when they were doing his, each one he would give it this kind of sarcastic title like The Very Necessary Calvin and Hobbes, just to make it obvious. He eventually told them to stop doing that, I think, at some point, to only re-sell the strip in so many ways. Then they came out with the 20-pound, 50-pound everything Calvin and Hobbes and that did just fine. And he had already retired.

So the treasury is coming out next month, which is the last two books in one, with author commentary like a DVD director's cut kind of thing.

SPURGEON: How do you like to read strips? Are you a book guy? Do you prefer to read them in the newspaper?

THOMPSON: I like everything. I like the newspaper. I'll do on-line -- but only for a few of them.

Dave Coverly, who draws Speed Bump, told me he doesn't read strips anymore. If it's bad then he feels bad for the guy who drew it, and if it's good he feels bad for himself. [laughter] I know the feeling. You can get so distracted by other people's strips. You're kind of sick of reading your own. So I usually have to go back in clumps and read these things. I don't read as many in a daily format as I would have. Twenty years ago I read every strip in the paper, every strip over three pages in the Washington Post in a very definite order, ending with Calvin and Hobbes. I saved it. I started with ones I didn't like, which I won't mention. Not so much anymore, I guess.

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SPURGEON: Do you get more feedback, do you think, from audience members now? You're available. You have a blog. You have e-mail. People can talk to you. Do you find people get a hold of you now?

THOMPSON: Yes.

SPURGEON: What is the nature of their conversations with you? Do they tell you they like the strip? Do they suggest improvements? [Thompson laughs] Do they ask you how they can become syndicated? How would you describe your relationship to readers and fans?

THOMPSON: It usually comes from out of the blue. On my blog, I've got my e-mail available through my "complete profile." So it's a little bit hidden, but it's available. It's nice to get e-mail because you can delete it or you can respond or whatever. Usually they are very, very nice. Some of them are like, "I like this one because..." or "I identify with this." Or "This is like my daughter." Comics has always gotten this, "You must be watching my house because these are my kids" kind of thing. Or from a teacher saying, "This is my daily life: these kids with their ADD and conversations that fly every which way and their randomness." Sometimes it's other cartoonists. Usually they're very nice and pleasant. I've only gotten a couple of complaints. People have misread a strip entirely.

SPURGEON: Like what?

THOMPSON: One of them read a strip early on, she thought I had Alice urinate on the sofa by accident. [laughter] I said, "That is not what happened. If you read the third panel carefully, she falls off the sofa." And the person was like, "Oh, I'm sorry. I guess I should have read that more carefully." You can't really do that on a Sunday strip. That didn't happen. But mostly very nice. And sometimes someone -- Cul-De-Sac runs in an Italian magazine called Linus, which has been around for years and years.

SPURGEON: Linus is an important historical repository for American strips in Italy.

THOMPSON: They pay very careful attention to how they translate it. I talk to my translator fairly often. He's Italian. He's also a letterer and a cartoonist himself, so he pays close attention to presentation. Linus has a pedigree like you were saying. They run Doonesbury. I think the one translating Doonesbury was a cartoonist, he was covering the Afghan war and he was killed over there.

SPURGEON: That is true; I remember that story.

THOMPSON: I forget his name now. In Italy they don't run strips in the newspapers like they do over here. They're presented in magazine form, so the audience for strips has to get it through this magazine. I think there are a couple of other countries, too, with a similar set-up. The book just came out in France. So I'm hearing from over there. There was a Finnish cartoonist at the Reubens last weekend who walked up and said he had a copy of the book in Finnish. "Have you seen one of these?" in a very Finnish accent. He had very good English. Turned out he went to Kent State in Ohio.

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SPURGEON: Is there anything specifically American about the strip that doesn't translate? Maybe even the idea of a cul-de-sac? Is there anything people are confused by?

THOMPSON: Not too much. I thought some things would more than others. My translator in Italian has asked me some specific things like, "What does this mean?" I had some baby talk: umagawa or something like that. "Is this a word?" [Spurgeon laughs] "It is not." Most of it seems to translate okay. Nothing has been too off the wall. I think they're more aware of Americanisms than we would be Italianisms, I suppose. I guess it's universal enough. So far so good.

SPURGEON: I don't want to spend the whole time talking, and we have such an intimate group I'd love to hear any questions anyone has. Yes, sir.

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AUDIENCE MEMBER: I absolutely love Alice. I would like to know if she has any basis in a real person you might have known at some point.

THOMPSON: Quite a few people, really. I try not to take any one character specifically from real life so that a person can point to a character and say, "That was me." I have two daughters who are now almost 12 and almost 15. They both have some of that. I figured out early on when I was trying to think -- the strip started in the Washington Post magazine. The editor there said, "Would you like to do a strip about Washington, D.C., but just about the people who live there, not about Washington as the capital of the free world?" Early on I couldn't get away from the idea of a family. All I could think was, "A family living in the suburbs. Another strip about that. What a unique idea for a comic strip." [laughter] Early on I figured out what the kids were like. The little girl, she was a fireball, she was the irresistible force. Petey was kind of like this little inbred, this ingrown personality, the immovable object. The friction would be these two [slams hands together] colliding all the time. Alice was, I kept thinking, was parts of one of my daughters and a lot from my father-in-law, which I don't want to tell him. It would probably crack him up at the same time, but I don't want to tell him about it. Kind of overbearing, kind of self-absorbed as a four-year-old can be.

Petey is the worst of me in so many ways. [laughter] The kid who wants to sit on his bed. He wants cartoons, but his interest is more in Chris Ware than it would be in Rob Liefeld. If that makes sense. His tastes are more grim somehow. Each one is a group of people. Ernesto is sort of a kid I knew in the third, fourth and firth grade who was kind of a scary little kid. He was kind of your friend but also kind of not your friend. Depending on the day. There was a friend of my brother's who was this little kid who was kind of an empire-builder within his own mind. It's like everybody is like five or six people combined into one, which is somewhat more interesting than just being one person. That answers more than your question asked.

SPURGEON: The design for Alice is wonderful. Was there any pressure to make her more traditionally pretty?

THOMPSON: No. It took me a while. I was looking at some old sketches of her and she was kind of... she's not cute, but she's not... she's... she's approachable enough. [Spurgeon laughs] Stephan Pastis said what he liked about her is she hasn't realized she's not cute yet. It's not clear that she's not adorable. At a certain age she might look at herself and say, "Oh my God, my nose... my hair is ratty-looking!" It might hit her in her pre-teens at some point. Petey probably just doesn't care. He's probably not looked in a mirror in five years. No, they haven't, which I'm thankful for.

SPURGEON: Does anyone else have a question? Yes.

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AUDIENCE MEMBER: Why did you decide to have the characters be pre-schoolers? Is there something about pre-schoolers you liked?

THOMPSON: My daughters were in pre-school. I remember one day in particular. My daughter was four maybe, and my younger daughter was one. My wife was taking me to the train station, I was going up to New York for a weekend. This is back ten years ago or something like that. The kids were running around loose, it was kind of a frantic day for everyone. I was there for like 15 minutes and there was one mom dropping off her daughter. She was like a single mom with her daughter and she could not handle her daughter too well. They had this hamster ball thing, where the hamster could roll in this ball. The kid was chasing it around. The mother picked it up and said, "Oh my God, it's alive!" and dropped it. [laughter] It was like, "I gotta go to work, get me out of here!" I looked around and there was all this action and nothing was meshing at all.

Have you ever seen that movie Gregory's Girl? It's a Scottish movie set in a high school back in the early '80s, I suppose. The one who made it also made a wonderful movie called Local Hero. This random series of events makes up this whole movie. He said he went to a high school at some point and just stood around watching and realized the surrealism of this, these little snippets of life would go past that you couldn't quite follow. In the movie there's this person in a penguin costume. He keeps showing up and they keep saying, "No, you're in room 5A." The kid keeps wandering through the movie and people keep misdirecting him. I thought, "That would make a good strip because all these people, their lives barely connect. Their lives are this circle and this circle and this circle and they kind of bump together." Like a Venn diagram I guess, but they meet like [motions] this much. You can have all this fun walking from one reality to the next.

imageThere's one Sunday with Alice, where Alice and her dad, who don't quite mesh together too well, her dad seems logical and somewhat reserved like Petey and Alice is just like this random ball of energy. In each panel Alice has a different costume, she has a potato chip bag on her head in one, a flour pot and a wagon, she's got a bunch of dolls and a tutu, each one is different. Her dad sees her in each, every two minutes maybe, and he says to his wife, something like, "My life and Alice's don't meet at all." That's the whole strip in a nutshell.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: He says, "My life intersects with Alice's just enough to be bizarre." [laughter]

THOMPSON: Exactly. And Alice says to Petey, "Daddy's always staring at me and giving me the creeps." And Petey says, "If he made more money and we had a bigger house, this wouldn't happen." [laughter] They'd be completely away from each other. That's my family in a nutshell, too.

SPURGEON: I like that secondary theme where there's this giant disconnect, particularly between the children and their parents.

THOMPSON: Yeah.

SPURGEON: Typically, they'd want you to go in the other direction.

THOMPSON: They want the warm and the fuzzy. They want the hugs. You realize in your family there's this level of, it's like you and your wife maybe, and then your children. I've told you this before, but I walked around the neighborhood with my daughter when she was like four or five. I was watching her and what she was interested in. She was interested in like this pile of dirt, in this stick. I kept thinking when I was that age I knew all the faucets you could drink out of at someone's house or the bush you could play under. I have no clue now as to where these spots in my neighborhood are. [laughter] You realize that the levels of experience are so different. You can write a strip quite easily around that. This person comes in and this person comes in and each one has different level of experience and you hope by the end something funny happens. That's a strip right there.

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SPURGEON: Any other questions? We have plenty of time.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: One thing that really surprised me that felt like a turning point in the strip -- it may not have felt as such to you -- is the one where Alice keeps calling Dil the new kid. Two or three strips in a row. It did something that you don't really see much in strips which is unintentional meanness.

THOMPSON: Yeah, she's kind of a bully.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I think most kids are at some point or another, whether they're trying to be or not, when they're that young. I thought that was really interesting, your playing up that aspect of things as well.

THOMPSON: Uh-huh. Especially with a kid like Alice, who is kind of self-absorbed, she's not aware of other people except as extensions of her own reality. She tends to be a force of her own, and is going to yank people around some. Dil is such a patsy. She's just having a bad day. She's pretending not to recognize him and is really picking on him. It's kind of fun to write. Stephan Pastis says the character he likes to write is his rat, which is such a mean little character, nothing good about him. You can do more with a villain that you can with a hero. Alice is nobody's hero, really. [laughter] She's a bully sometimes.

SPURGEON: I think it's true with Schulz that when Lucy kind of locked in as a character the strip crackled.

THOMPSON: Yeah.

SPURGEON: There's an obvious subject that people have been asking me about. You made an announcement about your health last year. I wondered first, "How is your health?" and second what it was like bringing that health concern public. I'll let you characterize the whole thing, because I'm afraid I'll use a wrong term.

THOMPSON: I made this announcement like a week before San Diego Convention, which oddly they had invited me to two years ago, to come to the one that took place last year. They said, "Come on out." I always swore I would never go to San Diego unless they dragged me there or carried me there and took care of me. They said, "We'll do that." So I said, "Amy, this is our vacation next year. Guess what?" She said, "Ooo-kay." [laughter]

I'd had for the last couple of years this weird sort of series of shakiness and clumsiness. I eventually, finally, two weeks maybe before San Diego, found out I have Parkinson's. My right hand's good. That's the money hand, I guess. They say it takes a year for the drugs to really kick in, to get to the level of treatment, and I'm there now. There was a year of kind of ignoring symptoms before that.

imageIt turns out this is the sort of thing that goes back years and years. One of the symptoms is what they call active dreaming, which is whatever you're dreaming you start acting it out. My wife said, "Oh, God, he's been doing that forever." He howls at the moon and kicks all the covers off.

The embarrassing story I'll tell you is from about ten years ago with the shoebomber: 2002, I guess. I had this dream sometime after where I was in this Safeway or grocery store. I had a basket of food. It was one of those specific dreams where every detail is just right. You wake up and you remember every bit of it. I was carrying a basket of groceries into the 15 items or less aisle, and I realized the guy ahead of me was the shoebomber! "There he is. Let's get him!" [laughter] I start whaling on this guy. I was pounding on him.

My wife grabbed my hand. My daughter, Charlotte, who was like two or three at the time, had climbed in between us. I had punched her right in the nose. In the middle of the night. Not too hard, I'm sure. I felt like the most god-awful dad in the world for years. She's said she's forgiven me since. Now I can blame that on Parkinson's. "Sorry, honey." [laughter] It's also given me carte blanche for missing deadlines. [more laughter]

SPURGEON: Have people been generally supportive?

THOMPSON: Very, very supportive. Very much so. I told my family. I told my editors at Universal Press. "I've got some news for you. I'll e-mail you in ten minutes." They said, "Uh-oh. What's going on?" I said this is what it is. It won't affect my drawing. They said, "Whatever we can do, just let us know. Take a few weeks off, take off what time you need to." They took over the culling of the strip. They've been supportive, which I've been grateful for. So that's the story. It's been my excuse for a lot of other things, too.

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SPURGEON: I wanted to revisit something. We mentioned straight away that you've just came back from the Reubens. How was the general mood given the state of the newspaper industry? Are people positive? Is the mood as negative as it was a couple of years ago?

THOMPSON: It was a lot of people saying, "What's next? What do you think?" Nobody knows quite what's going on. The NCS, one of their rules for membership -- as I said, I'm not a member -- is that a certain percentage of your income has to come from cartooning. Which shuts out a lot of indy cartoonists and web cartoonists. The debate is whether to let them in. I think what they need is new blood, new thinking and stuff like that. A lot of it is like an old boys' club. A lot of them are very established with a thousand papers or more. Like Mort Walker and Mel Lazarus. I like them. They're wonderful people. Funny people. Jeff Keane is one of the funniest people I've ever met.

SPURGEON: His father is one of the all-time funniest guys to talk to. All those guys are funny and interesting guys.

THOMPSON: They've been doing this all their lives. My God, they were there at the beginning. They have the stories. Arnold Roth was there; he's a walking party. He kind of shows up everywhere, I think, everywhere there's something going on. The mood among the younger ones was more cringey than the older ones, I'm sure. A lot of the syndicates were there, the heads of those. None of them quite know what's going to happen next. Shaenon Garrity was there, and she wrote that lovely piece last year, a very elegiac piece about last call maybe coming for the old boys' drinking club. The whole milieu: black tie is not going to happen among indy cartoonists and web cartoonists, I'm sure.

A lot of it was a party atmosphere because this is the time they all relax, but the undercurrent was one of worry, I'm sure.

SPURGEON: Another thing I wanted to revisit and ask you about: we've mentioned you have an on-line presence and that you've been doing that. The actual blogging you do, is that satisfying for you?

THOMPSON: Yeah.

SPURGEON: It can't just be publicity-related or about getting your name out there, not at this point.

THOMPSON: It was sort of by accident. I was leaving comments on some friends' blogs and they said, "Start your own. It's fun, it's easy. You push like three buttons and there you are with a blog." I learned to use a scanner.

My wife said, "Don't do anything that Bill Watterson wouldn't do." [Spurgeon laughs] I can't imagine Bill Watterson starting a blog. [laughter] Maybe he has one and nobody ever reads it. Maybe that's the way he wants it. Because it's not actually on the web.

It's fun because it's a way to connect with people. I put some really nerdy stuff up about pen nibs, stuff I can go on forever about. I received a lot of nice comments when I posted about having Parkinson's, people saying "Good for you" and "Power to you" and "You should do this." You hear from a lot of people just incidentally because of it. It's just another connection. People say, "I read your blog." Neighbors and friends that I would not normally expect to.

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SPURGEON: One nice thing about your on-line presence is that you put up a lot of older work up for discussion or to recontextualize it. When Cul-De-Sac came out, a lot of comics people were shocked to learn you weren't some 25 year old but a longtime working cartoonist and caricaturist -- one with whom a lot of us weren't deeply familiar. So we get all this value-added comics work by following you on-line. Do people react well to see this range of work?

THOMPSON: Yeah. I've been freelancing for 25, 30 years. It's a way to put up old stuff that otherwise has no reason for existing. Sometimes it's a spot drawing from The New Yorker 15 years ago or something like that. I have, like I said, piles of this stuff, and some of it is stuff I'm really happy with. I'm giving it like a second life. It's pretty late in the career to be starting a syndicated strip. It started the week before I turned 50. The syndication started. After years of swearing I would never do a syndicated strip, suddenly I find myself with this thing and it's more fun than I thought it might be.

SPURGEON: Has anyone ever commented on that, or met you expecting a younger cartoonist?

THOMPSON: [pause] Yeah. [Spurgeon laughs] Which is kind of nice. "You're older than I thought." [laughter] They never say it, but you can see it.

SPURGEON: Reading a bunch of recent strips, I was wondering if the parents have come more in focus for you as characters?

THOMPSON: Yeah.

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SPURGEON: What's been the key to grasping onto those characters -- especially the mom? It seems like you have a hold on them that you didn't maybe before when the strip started.

THOMPSON: The kids are easier to draw and to fit into the panels, so you see them more often. [Spurgeon laughs] It's true, it's like they're made for a comic strip.

They're good enough parents, but not great parents. They're one step ahead of the kids, which is the way it goes. The dad is clumsy and reserved. The kids are way past him in some ways I'm sure. The mom is a little embarrassing and loud -- one of those moms who's a little too much fun. Too much fun for Petey for sure. [laughter] She's got a loud laugh, and gets very emotional about things. There's that one with some Halloween thing and she's dressed up like a witch. She's like, "Where's the next kid I can fatten up with some candy?" And both Petey and Alice are like "Oh my God, it's Mom again." I had a mom who loved kids and was very outgoing and happy and everything. My dad was more reserved, and still is. I kind of exaggerate those things in some ways. The mom wears loud clothing and if they're doing something cute she's like, "Oh my God! They're doing something cute!" The kid immediately freezes up -- which a kid would do. If you find yourself doing something cute, you don't want to do it again.

They're still on the sidelines, but when they interact, I know what they're going to do.

SPURGEON: One thing we talked about two years as you were locked into your strip is you wondered if you wouldn't miss the more varied aspects of your career up to that time. Is there anything you feel you're missing out on, or that you'd love to fold back into what you do?

THOMPSON: There's some things I wish I could do. I quit doing [Richard's Poor] Almanac about six months ago. I just put it on hiatus. I got so far behind on the daily strip. I was turning the Almanac on Friday for Saturday. That was something they let me do whenever I wanted to do it, with no editing. It was like a dream job. I didn't want to completely drop it, so I told the editor it was just too much right now. She said take a hiatus and come back when you can and keep in touch. So they're great with that. I miss doing that.

imageI do some freelancing. I did a piece for The New Yorker that's in this week's issue, I guess. It was due the week before I went off to the Reubens. It was a double caricature. It was one of those that started off very easy. The art director who is a sweetheart said, "This is great. Let's just go with the sketch." So I did the drawing, I did the watercolor off the sketch and she said, "Uh... I spoke too soon." The editor had come in. One of them was a caricature of... Tom Campbell and Carly... Feffiola?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Carly Fiorina.

THOMPSON: Fiorina. Thank you. You know your government stuff. They're both running for the Republican nomination of Senate in California. Carly Fiorina has been fighting cancer. So they're saying, "This caricature is a little harsh. Can you make it a little more gentle?" So I did another face and Photoshopped it. They said, "Not quite." So I did another one, which by that time was pretty much a portrait and Photoshopped it on and told them it was going to look like one of those cardboard cut-outs where you put your face through. [laughter] I haven't looked at the magazine, but it looks okay, I think. So that was my recent freelancing.

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SPURGEON: Do you foresee a return to the Almanac?

THOMPSON: I want to. When I get things under control, which is any day now. [laughter] It'll happen. I keep in touch with the editor and she says, "When you can." So they're open for it.

I do miss some of the caricature work. Although it can be a nightmare, too. I used to do a lot of spot drawing, like in the back of The Smithsonian. That got dropped to the wayside. They switched art directors. These kinds of things come and go. The thing about the strip is I can think about it much more easily. When I switch gears now it's a little harder each time. I miss it but at the same time I don't miss it too much. The income was nice.

*****

* Cul-De-Sac
* Richard Thompson's Blog
* Cul de Sac Golden Treasury: A Keepsake Garland of Classics, Richard Thompson, Andrews McMeel, softcover, 9780740791529, July 2010, $16.99.
* This Exit: A Cul De Sac Collection, Richard Thompson, Andrews McMeel, softcover, 9780740776519, September 2008, $12.99.
* Children At Play: A Cul De Sac Collection, Richard Thompson, Andrews McMeel, 9780740789878, October 2009, $12.99.
* Shapes & Colors: A Cul De Sac Collection, Richard Thompson, Andrews McMeel, 9780740797323, December 2010, $12.99

*****

* cover to the treasury edition, combining the first two books
* photo by Whit Spurgeon, 2008
* irresistible force meets immovable object
* Alice and Dil, friends forever
* Ernesto
* a favorite Petey panel of mine
* the Uh Oh baby, an object of Thompson family merchandising
* great strips featuring the kids in Alice's class
* Petey speaks truth
* glorious Alice Otterloop
* two moments featuring Alice and her dad and their disconnect
* Alice is kind of a bully
* Petey howls at the moon
* an RPA
* a cartoon illustration
* Mom is embarrassing
* I think that's the New Yorker caricature in question
* another RPA
* Petey and Alice (below)

*****

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posted 2:15 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
CR Sunday Interview: Richard Thompson (2008)

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I interviewed Richard Thompson for the first time on January 20, 2008. What follows is the result starting with the introduction. This interview was re-designed to reflect the changed dimension of this site, but was otherwise left alone. Richard Thompson announced the end of his Cul De Sac strip on Friday, turning this weekend into an impromptu celebration of his unique and considerable achievement. -- Tom Spurgeon, 2012

According to the original plan, an interview with the cartoonist Richard Thompson was going to be one of the jewels of the 2007-2008 CR Holiday Interview Series, and I'm relieved that the piece wasn't lost to the confusion that followed this site's temporary outage. Thompson is one of the great, under-appreciated gems of modern American cartooning. His Cul De Sac, which went into national syndication earlier this year, immediately became one of the five best features in any newspaper, period.

imageFeaturing a wryly observed type of humor that comes from exploring kids' view of suburban life against a backdrop of slightly fragile family dynamics, Cul De Sac has the advantages that strips frequently boast when they come from a previous dry run (a Sundays-only edition for the Washington Post's magazine) and established talent: the designs are funny and idiosyncratic, the artist is comfortable presenting strips from multiple viewpoints, strips are driven by or at least reflected in the gestures and expressions of the drawn figures. In other words, the work comes out of the starting gate firing on all cylinders, as fully realized as some features a decade into their run. Thompson is also one of North America's accomplished caricaturists, and his piercing and funny Richard's Poor Almanac in the Washington Post is one of the few great remaining regional cartoon offerings, maybe the only one. I hope you'll explore his work.

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TOM SPURGEON: Richard, can I get a sense of what you have on your plate in terms of all your projects? With the daily being added to the weekly Cul De Sac, I'm guessing that maybe you're not doing as much magazine work, but I could be totally mistaken about that. How have you geared up to take on the burden of a daily, and how has that worked so far?

RICHARD THOMPSON: I try to do as much magazine illustration work as I've always done, but fewer jobs that call for a quick turn around, like say the deadline is tomorrow and the sketch is due right now. I've done a lot of that over the years, sometimes to my regret, but sometimes the sudden death deadline stuff has turned out to be my best work. One thing that Lee Salem at Universal Press told me several times as I was gearing up to do a daily strip was "Keep your day job." My schedule is, every week I do a cartoon called Richard's Poor Almanac (or Almanack) for the Post Saturday Style section, every other week I do a spot illustration for the Post Health section, every month I do an illustration for Smithsonian Magazine, and every day I have a Cul de Sac which I usually send off in a week's worth of strips. And the freelance stuff fills any available space in between, as that and the Almanac are my "day job."

I was leery for years of the inevitable grind of a daily strip. Back in the early 1980s I heard Doug Marlette speak at the Smithsonian, and someone asked him about that, the grind of a daily strip. He answered that he looked at it like brushing his teeth, he had to do that every day too, drawing his strip was just another part of his daily routine. I went home and looked at my toothbrush with sudden loathing. But now that I'm in the throes of a daily strip it's not quite as horrifying as I might've feared. Physically it can be hard, the drawing board forever looming overhead and the miles of white Bristol board to be covered, but mentally it's just about tolerable. It's early yet, so I haven't hit a fallow spot where the ideas are puny and scarce. Still though, I'm not very far ahead on the daily strip.

SPURGEON: In a related question, can you provide a general sketch of your work day and work week, how you compartmentalize?

THOMPSON: I'm terrible at compartmentalizing, which may be a good thing as ideas leak from one project to the next until they find their right home. Or at best, they recombine into something more interesting. Since I work at home there are also endless opportunities for distraction; oh, my daughters just got back from school, let's see how their day went. Here comes the mailman! Hey, it's snack time. Look, the cats are doing something funny! What's it like if I step outside?

Without an impending deadline I'm hopeless, nothing ever gets finished. Even with a deadline I'll fret over a drawing, or tear it up and start all over again so that work expands to fill the time available. This seems common among my friends in the business; either it's universal or us procrastinating drawing -- fretters all stick together. But briefly, my week is: the Almanac is due on Friday so I try to do Cul stuff early in the week and other freelance chores as I need to. I try to have a vague notion of the Almanac by Wednesday, although that sometimes stays vague right up till early Friday morning. And then things spill over into the weekend because that's two whole extra days, like bonus work days where no one'll call asking if I've finished that sketch yet. I've always liked working late at night, I think my family is genetically nocturnal, and that can too easily turn into an all-nighter. But I'm trying to get away from that.

imageSPURGEON: You provided Alan Gardner with a pretty exquisite list of favorite cartoonists, but I was wondering if you could speak to where other cartoonists have been a direct influence on aspects of your work. I can see the Pat Oliphant influence on aspects of your work, and MAD Magazine in the way you construct your set pieces, for example. Where do you feel your work is most strongly influenced by a past cartoonist?

THOMPSON: That list might've been a little pretentious for a guy who draws a strip featuring a talking guinea pig. The list had the complete staff of Mad Magazine and Honore Daumier cheek by jowl, but I could add another dozen names to it with ease (I'm kicking myself for leaving off Quentin Blake).

I don't think I can point to one area where I'm most influenced by any one cartoonist, there are so many whose work has turned my head over the years, sometimes a new one every day. I taught illustration a little bit at the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore, just as an adjunct professor. It was fun but I ran out of things to say pretty fast. The students would always ask about influences and style, how do you develop a style, and all I could think was, you steal parts from everyone whose work you love and stitch them into this Frankenstein monster and over the years the scars heal and, voila, a "style." But drawing style's pretty much a surface thing and may be a function of physiological things, like how your hand & arm move and the speed with which you draw. I think my best work is done when my hand is moving just a second or two ahead of my brain.

Since I'm doing the strip now, I keep thinking in terms of six days, the dailies, and how they link up, and I keep thinking about Pogo, since that's been my favorite since fifth grade. What I always loved about it was the continual flow of incident, one character would start off on an errand, then another would intervene and another and it'd fly off on a tangent, then they'd get hung up in Miz Beaver's wash on the line, then they'd take a nap and suddenly those little idiot bats with the derbies would blow across the panel and it was like an endless pageant of comic surprises. That's what I'd love to do with Cul de Sac, though it takes time to develop that skill and to command the readers' attention to make it work. New strips have to assume that each day the reader has to be reintroduced to it, to its characters and situations. Until we've beaten some sense into the readership.

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SPURGEON: You worked for years in caricature. Are your influences the same in that field, or is there a different set of artists that helped inform you work there, say Hermann Mejia or David Levine?

THOMPSON: Some are the same, like Ed Sorel, who I think of as a cartoonist as much as caricaturist & illustrator. There are many caricaturists whose work I love but I wouldn't call influences. David Levine scared me off crosshatching, because no one paints with lines like he does. Al Hirschfeld is another; I love his work but I couldn't learn anything from it, he's perfected that approach. Daumier is still the greatest caricaturist, I think because he worked from memory of life; he'd go watch these French politicians then go home and mold them in clay, like he held their forms in his mind until he could get them down in some medium. The few caricatures I've done that I really love have all been from memory, memory of photographs in my case, but where I feel like I understand how their faces work. Nothing comes out more poorly than a caricature drawn from a single photograph, especially if it's a well-lit, airbrushed official portrait photo that blands out the features.

But Sorel's probably my favorite. I love how he boils the subject down to lines that fly across the paper, how he carves it right into the page. and how he constructs whole environments for the subject, you know, figures in a landscape or interior. Especially the historic subjects where he can go nuts with costumes and such. And the obvious joy he gets from doing a subject he loves, like the movies or literature. I did a political caricature every week for nine years for US News & World Report on a real short deadline and Sorel was who I'd turn to when things looked grim and I'd forgotten how to draw. Plus he draws the greatest hands.

SPURGEON: Some artists feel that caricature is a completely different form than cartooning in terms where the reductions and exaggerations are, how do you feel about those distinctions, and if it does, how does your skill with caricature continue to inform your cartooning work?

THOMPSON: It probably is different, I hadn't thought about it much, but some talent for caricature opens up whole new worlds of possible subject matter. Like you can do politics without luggage tags that say "Cheney" or "Hillary." Though, as they say, a political caricature doesn't necessarily make it a political cartoon.

For the Almanac it opens up all kinds of possibilities, drawing politicians, actors, writers or whoever. Like it's fun to draw an Oscar Award cartoon and show hard-working Hollywood homunculus Tom Cruise getting trapped in the folding seat or falling into the fancy gift bag they give to all the VIPs, only to be discovered hours later. Whenever you get a chance to draw a teeny-weeny Tom Cruise stuck in a folding chair, grab it.

For Cul de Sac, at least in its earlier form in the Post Magazine, it was fun to cast passing characters from faces I'd seen here and there. A delivery man for FedUps and a deli counterman were both taken from people in my neighborhood, more or less.

SPURGEON: I'm unfamiliar with how Richard's Poor Almanac began in the Post. Given that it's such a unique feature, can you describe how it kind of won its place on the Post's pages, and the parameters of your working relationship with the paper over the time it's run?

THOMPSON: It was one thing leading to another despite me dragging my heels. For about five years in the early 90s I illustrated a column in the Post's Style section by Joel Achenbach called Why Things Are. He'd answer any odd or interesting question thrown at him by readers from the ridiculous to the sublime and the editor gave me free reign to do whatever I wanted as long as it was at least tangentially about the given subject. So I ended up doing the illustrations as free-standing cartoons, with dialog in balloons and as many gags as I could cram in. It was a small but very satisfying weekly job and it paid a little better than some newspaper illustration work because the Post Writer's Group syndicated it.

imageThe editor who hired me for Why Things Are was Gene Weingarten, who's now the Post Magazine's humor columnist and who came to the Post from the Miami Herald where, among many other things, he'd given Dave Barry his start. Why Things Are came to and end around '95, and Gene called me sometime after and said, why don't you try doing a weekly cartoon? He's a dream editor to work with, you just want to make him laugh good and hard. especially at something inappropriate. We had lunch and then, a year later, I gave him a couple dozen roughs and he said, ok, it took you long enough, let's go. It started in June of '97 without an actual title or any apparent purpose other than to try and be funny. The early ones were all over the map and kinda hit or miss. At that point I'd only done a few stand alone pieces with only my name on them and I was a little nervous about it, but the Post seemed game for the whatever I was coming up with. One early one was called The Madness of Mayor McCheese, and it just showed, in maybe six panels, Mayor McCheese staggering blindly across an empty landscape counting "39,547,634,943,;39,547,634,944" etc, etc while rubbing his hands together like Lady Macbeth. Another was the quote "In the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king" illustrated by a drawing of a one-eyed king in a sedan chair borne by four blind footmen through a crowd of blind people and he's yelling, "Watch out! Go left! No, your other left! Ok, now right! NO! Dog! don't step on the dog!"

Who knows what this stuff was doing in a respected newspaper, but it cracked me up and Gene liked it, and nobody actively complained. I was always expecting it to be plowed under and replaced by tire ads or garden center coupons. I'd calm my nerves with the likelihood that no one was actually reading it, so why worry if the jokes made sense to anyone else? Tom Shroder, my third editor who as the Post Magazine editor pushed me into starting Cul de Sac, finally gave it a title around 1999; I'd included a reference to "Richard's Poor Almanac" in one cartoon and he said, "Call it that."

I've been through six editors now over the last 10+ years and they've all been good people to deal with. Nowadays my editor, Ann Gerhart, doesn't ask for a rough, or even any idea of what I'm doing, so I guess we've reached a level of trust, or maybe nobody's reading it still. The only complaint I ever remember getting from Gene, whose motto is that he edits for humor but not for taste, was when I used the phrase "fart-catcher" to describe a presidential aide twice in as many weeks and he found that excessive. But like I said, nowadays we pretty much leave each other alone, except when I've spelled something wrong or when the grammar's iffy, and then I hear from Suzanne Tobin who copy edits all the comics.

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SPURGEON: Many of us first became aware of you because of Make the Pie Higher; what was it like having a cartoon kind of blow up at least within American political culture, and have so much attention paid to it?

THOMPSON: I did Make the Pie Higher the week of Bush's first inaugural in response to his lack of a major poet reading an inspiring poem, like Carl Sandburg did for Kennedy or Maya Angelou did for Clinton. It seemed a big deal at the time, this lack of major poetry. So I took a bunch of Bushisms, you know, his malaprop comments, and formed them into a free-verse poem. When I sent the rough to Tom Shroder, who was then editing Sunday Style, he said are these real quotes? And I said yes, they all have sources, and he said OK great. When I put it together it seemed kind of a clever idea, though I wondered who would get it. But it ran, and I liked the drawing I did of Bush addressing the crowd. About six months later Tom called and said, "That Pie thing's all over the internet and it's even got your name on it (as a Post writer)." But so much stuff gets all over the Internet it didn't register with me much until I started getting requests to set it to music, and a friend who plays in a folk group told me they'd been singing it for a year or two without knowing who wrote it. Well, assembled it. Now by my count it's been set to music eight or nine times, including Irish ballad style and for women's chorus. If I had any business acumen I'd've made some money off it. My favorite bit is that it's got a page on Snopes.com that verifies all the Bush quotes, with only one that may be iffy, the one about being a "pitbull on the pants leg of opportunity."

SPURGEON: What to your mind makes a good subject or potentially good end result on an Almanac strip? Sometimes you pick obscure subjects, but you also trade in broader, more traditional folk humor subjects where the strength isn't so much the concept but your detail work, your take on the subject. Is that a fair observation, or do you see your approach as fairly singular? How much time do you spend developing ideas and do you have a process for doing so?

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THOMPSON: I quickly found that Washington DC was the best subject, not as Capitol of the Free World, but as a place where people live and work and eat and drive and get fed up with tourists. And the Post itself is fun to pick on, especially the odd little niches within it. I've done a string of cartoons about the weekly roundup of restaurants closed by the health department; restaurants are inherently funny places and buildings are fun to draw. Being an Almanac, natural phenomena like weather and night sky guides are good, and I've done traffic forecasts and Your Week in Dreams Previewed several times, and if nothing else comes to mind I do a caricature of somebody in the news with instructions on how to cut it out and make a finger puppet.

The most obscure one I ever did was probably a guide to pronouncing the name of the painter Ingres, which I always have trouble with (it's "Annggh" I think). I drew it when the National Gallery had a big show of his work and it had six panels showing various tourists, each in front of various portraits by Ingres, mispronouncing his name, Injures, Angers, Egress, etc, and each portrait reacting with disgust. In the final panel the tourist says "Anal!" and the portrait bellows "Imbecile!" I turned it in and my editor said, "Is this guy real? Okay, good." And I figured the other three people in DC who knew who Ingres was but couldn't pronounce it would laugh at this cartoon 'cause, boy, they've been waiting for somebody to address this issue. Then about a month later I got a call from a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the Ingres show was to travel next, saying how they'd been passing the cartoon around and it was a hoot, and could they put it on a t-shirt to sell in the Ingres-theme shop? I said sure, of course, though it was not much money but you know, the glamor was overwhelming. And they did, they sold t-shirts in the shop with a cartoon on it calling Ingres Egress and Anal and stuff, and there was a column in the Wall Street Journal about it, how the Met was lowering itself by vending such trash, which was satisfying to me professionally of course. And the Met never sent back the original cartoon and I didn't complain because now I can say I'm in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, if only inadvertently.

That wandered some distance from your question. Yeah, I do folk humor where the fun is in the nuts and bolts, and some political humor, usually more tangentially because I don't think clearly about politics, other than I know what I like. The hard thing about ideas is not getting them, but knowing what to do with them. The context & presentation of a joke are the important parts, I think; is it told or shown? Do you step back from it and frame it within something larger, take it apart and spoil it with a counter-joke or string it out into a theme with variations? Last month, in a holiday frame of mind, the word "tinselectomy" popped into my head and I thought, who gets a tinselectomy? Santa of course, he's old and fat and prone to such things, but then what? So it turned into an Almanac with a list of shopping mall Santas to avoid, the second one being the Santa at Paymore Plaza in Rockville, Maryland who won't shut up about his personal problems. He's pictured with a small, bored-looking child on his knee and he's whining about his allergies to elf dander and his recent emergency tinselectomy. So from meager beginnings a tiny shrub blossomed, nothing fancy but it fit into my Almanac space just dandy. And Santa's fun to draw.

imageSPURGEON: Am I right in that Cul De Sac grew out of an element of Richard's Poor Almanac, a kind of strip you were doing there?

THOMPSON: Sort of, though not by plan. Tom Shroder, who was my third editor on the Almanac, took over as editor of the Post Magazine about eight years ago, and I did weekly illustration work for him, drawing for Gene Weingarten's humor column. Tom asked me in about 2002 if I'd be interested in doing a weekly strip with continuing characters about Washington DC. I said let's talk about it and then, in Tom's words, "it took a year to schedule lunch. After that, we lost momentum."

But what we finally agreed on was, it should be about DC, but not about The Capitol of the Free World, just about some people who live around here. I picked the suburbs, as I know them well, but with some trepidation because who needs another comic set in the suburbs? And I put all these little kids in it. I'd done about six Almanac cartoons called "Baby Roundtable" or "Toddler Roundtable" where I had small children arguing issues of the day, like the effectiveness of the Mozart Effect or the use of drugs to control learning disorders or the superiority of children's literature to adult literature, and they were all real fun to do. All the little tangents the kids could fly off on, and how they ended up either crying or pushing each other's heads into the Play Doh. Actually the first Roundtable cartoon was back in the early '90s, as an illustration for the question "Why are babies cute?" for Why Things Are.

So the more sketches I did for Tom the more the little kids took it over. Alice pretty quickly became an Irresistible Force and Petey became an Immovable Object and their suburb became in my mind a kinda surreal place that looked like a movie still I found of the city in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, all piled up on its hill. So after about a year of dawdling I showed Tom the sketches and the title Cul de Sac, which I worried was too bland until an editor told me it means "bottom of the bag" in French. And what's funnier than the bottom of the bag in French?

imageSPURGEON: What was involved in the final decision that made you want to go with dailies and take the whole thing national?

THOMPSON: Another string of fortunate events. In December of '05 I got an email out of the blue from Lee Salem, then editor in chief now president of Universal Press. He's seen that Make the Pie Higher poem on the internet with my name on it as a Post writer and wanted to know where it had appeared. He didn't know it was connected to a cartoon but was tickled to hear it, and he ordered the Almanac book and saw the Oliphant forward, which gave it some gravitas. We kept in touch for a few months and he came to DC for a convention and we met for a drink.

I'd been thinking about the characters in Cul de Sac and wondering what they did on weekdays, away from the Sunday strip. Each time I'd draw a Sunday there was all this unused material, some good some not, but I realized that it had the makings of a daily strip. And as you know, when you work on a comic strip you start hearing the little voices in you head and they must be obeyed. So I took a batch of the Sunday Culs when I met with Lee. We had a nice chat, I gave him the copies, and he said let's keep in touch. We did, and in a long, gradual process I got a development deal, which involved turning in a month of daily roughs every month for about a year plus a visit to Universal Press in Kansas City and a some long dinners in nice restaurants. Which as a scrawny little guy I appreciated.

I might've eventually submitted Cul to syndicates without the email out of the blue from Lee Salem, as I was becoming convinced I was capable of producing a daily. But the Higher Pie thing sure kickstarted things, so you could say that I found my job thanks to George W Bush's lack of inaugural poetry.

imageSPURGEON: You launched with a strong 70 papers; how has it gone since then to now? Is there any way you'd be willing to characterize the nature of your current presence, what kind of papers, what you're hearing back?

THOMPSON: It's doing pretty well in a tough and shrinking market. I hear it's in about 100 papers, and just knowing there are 100 papers is comforting these days. I've heard mostly nice things about the strip. though some uncomplimentary things. Some papers that do comic strip try-outs will have a web page that solicits reader comments. Reading those can take you down enough notches that your chin hits the floor. Comments like "for this you dropped Beetle Bailey" and "why are these kids so ugly?" so I kinda quit reading them, like I kinda quit watching the Amazon numbers for the Almanac book. But there've been some good comments and some great online reviews: yours, Alan Gardner's at The Daily Cartoonist and one at the Onion's AV Club. And I started a blog and I sometimes get some really nice emails from that. But this is the first time I've had to compete in a market for newspapers and I can see why comic strip cartoonists are collegial yet competitive.

SPURGEON: How has it been adjusting to the daily form? You offer up really dense Sundays, kind of eschewing that race to the punch line style for a lot of business in every panel -- do you feel working in dailies can also offer up that basic philosophy, or that the style needs to be different? Also, you seem to be working in a really loose style on the dailies. Have you found your level there?

THOMPSON: I got so used to doing a Sunday-only, where I felt the need to cram in enough antics to make it seem like more than one day a week's worth of comic strip. I'm still getting used to dailies, how much and how little they'll hold. One trick I learned with the Sundays was using exposition gracefully, especially on those that had a plot that stretched from week to week over a month or so. As it's a kid strip that problem solved itself because parents kind of naturally narrate what's going on for their small children. Oh, we're in the car! going to the store! look at the bus! who's on the bus? etc.etc. So I could open a Sunday with Alice saying "Where are we going again?" and it'd pick up from the previous week.

But I like doing strips that are conversational, where the conclusion isn't so much the point as the journey there and each panel's a surprise. I sometimes have no clue what point I'm trying to make in a cartoon, if any, till I've almost finished it. A conversational approach lets me worry less about making an actual gag or joke, and thus more reliant on character. With dailies I can't let the characters ramble on, they say their piece and bow out. And if it isn't an earth-shatteringly funny cartoon, there's always tomorrow, but tomorrow's had better be at least a little earth-shatteringly funny.

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SPURGEON: I love the characterization of the kid characters. I know that you're a fan of Lynda Barry, who presents similarly damaged and off-beat but still very alive and funny children in her work. Can you describe your basic approach to writing kids? Is there any sense you have of not wanting to approach these characters in typical kids-strip fashion?

THOMPSON: Lynda Barry, jeez, I've got about ten wonderful years of Ernie Pook stuck in my head. I don't know, most of the way I write is instinctual, I just keep trying for the character to sound like him or herself and still say something unexpected. When I started CdS I figured out the kids almost immediately, at least their basic characteristics. For example, Alice is the little kid who stares at you, like over the back of a booth in a restaurant, until you are kind of unnerved. She's indomitable and self-absorbed, as many a four-year-old can be, and Petey's a fish who's always out of the water. Once you know the character you hear his or her voice pretty clearly, and you're not so much writing as being dictated to. Most of the strip cartoonists I've talked to will nod their heads in recognition if you mention "hearing voices."

But yeah, I didn't want the strip to be about the zany antics of those little dickens, Alice and Petey. I wanted it to be about the kinda gently surreal parts of childhood, where the kids don't know what's going on or how things work, and maybe the adults don't either. The mom and dad are good parents but not great parents; the mom is loud and probably embarrasses her kids and the dad is awkward and embarrasses his kids for sure.

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SPURGEON: One of the things I like most about Cul De Sac is each character inhabits their own world and is an active participant in all of the other people's worlds; in fact, some of the humor seems to me to come from less of a culture clash than this kind of all-encompassing world view clash. Do you feel that everyone, and kids in particular, operate within their own landscapes and points of view to the degree it seems is represented by your work?

THOMPSON: Yeah, I do think that pretty much. And it's just comedy gold, you know, the confusion that results from all these little colliding worlds. Especially with kids. Listen to kids talking sometime; the responses to "I have a dog" isn't "what kind?", it's usually "I have a dog!", "I have a cat!", "I have two hamsters!", "My grandma's dog has three legs!", each getting further away from the original comment, and it spirals off into unknown territory. Also, approaching characters like each is an actor on a separate stage maybe gives them a greater chance to show some depth. That was something I noticed in Pogo; you remember the hound dog, Beauregard Bugleboy? He was always narrating himself, "Thus the noble dog saves the day yet again, though his brow be not bedecked by a hero's wreath," that kind of thing, and it was always completely at odds with whatever was really going on. I think it'd be fun to do a strip where each character is an unreliable narrator.

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SPURGEON: You once said in an interview that the difference between your neighborhood right now with its kids and the same neighborhood when someone else lived thee with kids 30 years ago is a difference in housing prices. When you're writing the strip, how much of it do you think comes down to traditional, universal ways kids and parents have been and will continue to be over the years? Are there any things in Cul De Sac that you may feel specific to now, that might not have popped up if the strip were done 20 yeas ago?

THOMPSON: Not too much, other than minor technology things like cell phones and such. Alice & Petey are four and eight, and those ages aren't as intensively technologically obsessed as, say, an adolescent who's nuts for wii. I can keep them at least a little innocent of the cutting edge stuff. And as to cultural and societal stuff, I'm writing this from the point of view of a somewhat alert if self-absorbed four-year-old, so I can deal with things or ignore them, and a four-year-old is likely as not going to ignore them. Bill Watterson said something to the effect that writing Calvin was writing for a lazy six-year-old and how hard is that?

I'm not sure what point I was trying to make with the neighborhood comparison, but here's one definite thing I noticed when I was trying to put CdS together. I was walking down the street with one of my daughters when she was maybe five, and just kinda watching her admire certain things; a nice rock, a telephone pole with a lost cat notice on it, some interesting dirt that had washed up in front of a storm drain. And it struck me how differently a kid sees the neighborhood than an adult. There's a manhole cover that's set in the sidewalk, in an elevated slab, a few blocks from my house, and when the girls were smaller they'd have to stop and dance around on it, put on a little 20 second show, every time we walked by. Then they'd take a bow and we'd keep on going. A couple of years ago I saw a parent with a small child walk by it and stop while the kid performed the same little ritual, the manhole cover dance routine. To an adult the thing was barely even there, just a lump of cement, but to a kid it was a stage for performing. That's the kind of stuff I want put in CdS, some little kid dancing around on a manhole cover for no good reason with the parent standing there teetering between patience and aggravation.

*****

* impressive Cul De Sac promotional illustration
* self-portrait
* drawing of pig swiped from Thompson's blog
* a Thompson caricature
* Gene Weingarten, as drawn by Thompson
* "Make The Pie Higher"
* a portion of one of the restaurant closing strips mentioned
* illustration work
* Mr. Dander, from Cul De Sac
* various art or full strips from Cul De Sac
* Alice and Petey (below)

*****

Cul De Sac

*****

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*****
*****
 
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Go, Look: 40 Years Of A Copenhagen Comics Shop

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Go, Look: Ares

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Go, Look: Supersnipe Comics #7

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Missed It: Gus Dirks Profiled

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Go, Look: Draw Brandon Draw

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If I Were In DC, I'd Go To This

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FFF Results Post #305 -- Hooray For Cul De Sac

On Friday, CR readers were asked to pick four Cul De Sac strips and then describe why they like the first of the four they chose. This is how they responded.

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Tom Spurgeon
"One of the hardest things to do with a strip when it's starting out is write gags that define character-to-character relationships in addition to being funny. I find this one humorous all the way through and well-observed, but also poignant in that it's something I hear my friends express about their parent-to-kid relationships from time to time."

*****

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Matt Emery
"I admire the choice to depict action and characters speaking off panel and how it impacts on the the delivery of gags and punchlines."

*****

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Mark Coale
"Who doesn't love the Uh Oh Baby?"

*****

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Benjamin L. Russell
"This is a Monday strip. This is the start of a storyline. Five panels repeating the name of a relatively obscure American president, and little else. That's fantastic storytelling, bravery in the face of an audience, and terrific surrealism. What an extraordinary thing to have had in one's daily comics page."

*****

thanks to Mark Coale for the idea

*****
*****

 
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The Comics Reporter Video Parade


Report On Early MAD Magazines


Burne Hogarth Teaches


Kim Jung Gi Gives A Demonstration


PigGoatBananaMantis (Dave Cooper, Johnny Ryan)


A Joe Kubert Interview


Another Joe Kubert Interview


Yet Another Joe Kubert Interview


Richard Thompson Speaks In 2011
 
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August 18, 2012


CR Week In Review

imageThe top comics-related news stories from August 11 to August 17, 2012:

1. The comic book illustrator and educator Joe Kubert passes away on Sunday in New Jersey. In addition to the range and scope and achievement represented by his career, Kubert was one of the last remaining major ties to the early days of the North American comic book industry. He was buried on Tuesday.

2. Rumors are confirmed that The Dandy will be canceled in December after a 75-year run.

3. The cartoonist Richard Thompson announces that he'll be ending his Cul De Sac newspaper strip on September 23 to better focus energy on treatment for his Parkinson's. The award-winning, much-loved strip will have run just short of five years, garnering for Thompson the Reuben awarded in May 2011.

Winner Of The Week
Richard Thompson, for announcing his strip's end with the maximum amount of class and humor.

Losers Of The Week
Everyone in comics that will miss Joe Kubert, a titanic figure in the lives of many creators.

Quote Of The Week
"We all had big egos in comics. We got into a lot of fights, one of the reasons we broke up. We'd work for two or three days straight, almost around the clock, always late trying to meet a deadline. About nine or ten at night we'd have to take a few bennies to stay awake. We did this about once a week, and would get pretty tired. Wally would fall asleep at the drawing board, pencil poised over a panel, then wake up a few minutes later and start drawing where held left off. Sometimes we'd get so tired and behind schedule weld just ink in whole panels from scratch, not even using a pencil. I knew very few guys who worked together more than a couple of years. There was always some friction going on." -- the late comics illustrator turned science fiction author Harry Harrison, in a 1970s interview, about his partnership with Wally Wood.

*****

today's cover is from the small-press and independent comics scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s

*****
*****
 
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If I Were In Berkeley, I'd Go To This

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August 17, 2012


Five For Friday #305 -- Hooray For Cul De Sac

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Five For Friday #305 -- Richard Thompson announced earlier today the end of his great Cul De Sac strip for this September 23, 2012. Go to the Cul De Sac archives. Pick four strips and send me the URL for those strips. Explain why you like the first strip you chose. Although the final answer will be formatted with the strips and without any number next to your explanation, I'd appreciate the following format on submissions.

1. http://www.gocomics.com/culdesac/2008/01/06
2. http://www.gocomics.com/culdesac/2011/01/09
3. http://www.gocomics.com/culdesac/2008/10/12
4. http://www.gocomics.com/culdesac/2007/10/22
5. One of the hardest things to do with a strip when it's starting out is write gags that define character-to-character relationships in addition to being funny. I find this one humorous all the way through and well-observed, but also poignant in that it's something I hear my friends express about their parent-to-kid relationships from time to time.

*****



*****

thanks to Mark Coale for the idea

*****
*****
 
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Richard Thompson To End Cul De Sac On September 23

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The news released thus far cites Thompson's continuing struggles with Parkinson's as the cause. I am very appreciative that I got to read this strip, and I'm even more appreciative I got to interact with Richard Thompson a little bit. My life is richer for both experiences. I wish him and his family all the best.
 
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Go, Read: This Man's Army

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Brian Hibbs First Out Of Gate With DC New 52 + 365 Analysis

imageIt's mostly positive. It's worth reading even if you're not keeping score -- seriously, why are you keeping score? -- because of the "retailer's point of view" the longtime shop owner and industry advocate unfurls in his analysis. Hibbs' strongest two arguments on behalf of last year's publishing initiative are a) a lot of the titles have kept sales gains made, b) the event returned a lot of customers to his store that have purchased a variety of material. There's a little bit of rhetorical inflation there because the numbers to which Hibbs' compares current and initial initiative figures are the really depraved numbers that DC had before the launch, but I think the general points hold true and from Hibbs' perspective the actual numbers in the store are what count no matter how they got to where they were. If there's an underlying theme to the analysis, it's that fans and readers want to buy the work that's important and that counts, which indicates in a way that's been borne out a bit so far they're not unwilling to go to an IDW or an Image if there are books that present themselves in a compelling way there, even if they walked into the door with money for t-shirt Superman or whatever.

Hibbs' general criticisms are intriguing, too, particularly his notion that keeping so many titles that don't sell well in order, say, to make an artificial figure of 52 comics being sold are a drag on comics shop sales. I'm not sure I follow his logic all the way out there: it seems if you have these kind of performers you're not going to take similar risks with them the way you would in ordering titles that sell better. So while it's more difficult to make a profit with titles that have a much tighter margin, knowing that's the case means it doesn't have to serve as a drag -- some stores drop such titles altogether, which is weird to think of given the original, implied promise of the DM to "carry all the comics" but there you go -- the way it would if you were somehow forced to apply the same principles to every title. I also think that Hibbs has to know that DC is subject to motivations that likely include but are not in any way solely defined by maximizing shop profit, including the much-denied element of having a certain market share, developing properties or looking like they're developing properties for exploitation in other media and perhaps even hitting an overall bottom-line sales figure of a certain size according to whatever standard gets set in those Keepers-style meetings that take place in whatever corporate building basement they're held. I do think there's value in wondering after how a mainstream publisher's not-top-sellers should work right now: anyone who argues that there should be a more sustained effort to find a different kind of comic book to sell could find some encouragement there, I bet.

There will be a number of New 52 analysis articles over the next six weeks, which will oddly also provide a way different context for analyzing Marvel's moves with the "Marvel Now" initiative in real time. Good on Hibbs for being first.
 
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Go, Look: A Few Pieces Of Cartoon Art In Car And Driver

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Comics' Giving Heart -- People, Projects In Need Of Funding

image* looks like The Projects could use some attention. I hope that one gets over; Portland could use a smaller-press show and I think the entire comics community could use some festival models that aren't based primarily on commerce.

* hey, Steve Conley is doing a kickstarter. I would think he would be perfectly suited to that kind of mechanism.

* Rob Kirby wrote in to suggest this kickstarter, from Sean McGrath.

* this Scott Christian Sava kickstarter might be funded by the time this post rolls out.

* finally, Cliff Meth has an address for where to donate something in Joe Kubert's name.
 
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Go, Read: Mark Siegel On Mermaids At Tor.com

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Collective Memory: Joe Kubert, 1926-2012

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this article has been archived
 
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If I Were In San Francisco, I'd Go To This

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If I Were Near Elmhurst, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: A Smattering Of Sparkle Plenty

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* here's a lengthy article that everyone loves on autobiographical cartoons. Here's a lengthy piece on social-justice themes in the Superman radio show that I don't know that anyone except one CR reader knows about. Here's a bunch of those shows.

image* it's Friday, and if you're looking for Friday things to do, why not use some precious work time to do something as completely indulgent as looking at some Rich Tommaso pages?

* Dominic Umile on Fishtown. Some nice person named Darren on Untold Tales Of Spider-Man. David Cronenberg on Dark Knight Rises. Glen Weldon on The Underwater Welder. Danny Djeljosevic on Monsters.

* this person was nice enough to send me a link to their OTBP comic, but for the life of me I can't remember the hook for my keeping the link beyond maybe reviewing it. But take a look, it might be something you want, I don't know.

* not comics: this seems like it would be a good thing for major comics interviews.

* this Ross Campbell drawing of the Ninja Turtles is pretty cool. I must have nicked that from Sean T. Collins.

* Sean Edgar talks to Jeff Smith. Zack Smith talks to Thomas Herpich.

* I was going to include this trailer for a comic related to food in the video parade this week, but couldn't find a way to embed it, so here you go. We're flat out not allowed to embed the Stan Lee suing Marvel interview from 60 Minutes from a decade or so ago.

* not comics: well, sure.

* not comics: this article on a science-fiction store in Brooklyn seems to hold a potential key for retail in the future more generally. This would include comics retail, except that comics retail is way ahead of all the all other retail curve not coffeeshops, really, and god bless them.

* finally, I spent a big chunk of last night reading a ton of Octopus Pie instead of doing what I was supposed to be doing. Not that I have anything to do that's all that important, but still: I was quite absorbed in my reading. I would flunk right the hell out of college if I were at college now.
 
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August 16, 2012


Go, Look: Dave Lasky's Comics On Nora Barnacle

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Looks Like The Dandy Will Shut It Down In December

imageThis is one of those stories that was iconic enough -- people know the name The Dandy even if they don't buy the comics -- that it had a lot of juice as a potential news story as opposed to just being a news story. It's being confirmed this morning via people tweeting news from I believe the UK mainstream press that the long-running kids' publication will shut it down by the end of the year.

I think there are two facets to this story. One is that I always wonder about becoming attached to specific titles and publications in such an unreasonable way that what seems like an astounding lifespan seems like a reversal of fortune rather than the natural way of things. I developed this point of view back when Fantagraphics was teetering and I read this dumbass on a message board somewhere talking about how they were looking forward to the company being deemed a failure. It struck me how stupid it was to think that a quarter century of doing mostly what you want, something that a lot of people found valuable, can ever be seen as a failure. I felt the same way about Kitchen Sink Press. How was that endeavor not a smashing success? I wondered at the time -- still do -- if the conditioning we receive as comics fans of a certain age that comics are something that are awesome because they've always been around like Superman is something that we apply to publishing endeavors that have a much more natural lifespan, including an eventual moving-on.

So in that light, I can't imagine how The Dandy is anything other than a massive, all-time publishing success and wonder that we shouldn't feel great about it fading from view because most things do and more things should.

On the other hand, this is more immediately people out of work, and this is kids -- several thousand, anyway -- losing something they like to read. That's bad. The bigger issues involved come into play at a certain point, too, the formulation that something like The Dandy represents a specific kind of cultural experience that runs the risk of being more significantly absent from the market altogether now. I do wonder at times after specific cultural experiences and our rush to abandon them as the way we're set up to only favor the most profitable manner of doing things becomes a more ingrained part of how we function. My own childhood had big, dopey, mainstream things in it that I shared with millions of kids, but also strange, oddball, slightly-out-of-favor things I shared with a few thousand. I think I'm a better person with a richer inner life for having had both. I hope that the experience The Dandy came to represent isn't lost because of spreadsheet issues even if this specific iteration of it might be over. I think life is made better for as many artistic experiences being available as possible.
 
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Go, Look: Rich Tommaso's Throwaways And Sketches

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Missed It: Shuster Family Superman Decision Imminent

imageKevin Melrose caught a mention in Variety that a hearing was canceled in the Shuster Family's ongoing bid for rights-reversion of elements of Superman, which indicates a judge's decision should be forthcoming -- it might have already happened today, that's the timetable we're talking about here, I think. Melrose a superior link-blogger and writes a clear summary report, so I'll direct you to his write-up rather than just restating it here with a couple of pull quotes: at issue is one of the previous deals apparently secured by family members with the publisher and its media company ownership. The one thing I'd have folks remember is that as we head to a legal outcome in some of these foundational creator's rights stories is that we are heading to legal outcomes rather than a final decision on what's morally just and what isn't. I'm always a little bit freaked out when people blend those two ideas from the vantage point of either potential result. I do hope for the most just outcome, of course; I just think that's at best approximated or approached or even secured by a legal outcome, not created or established or fashioned by one.
 
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Go, Read: Joe Kubert Interviewed By Steven Brower

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The Never-Ending, Four-Color Festival: Cons, Shows, Events

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By Tom Spurgeon

* SPX has just released its programming as this post goes up. Looks strong.

* Johanna Draper Carlson visited Wizard's Chicago convention effort. She was also in Charlotte, and forgot to write about HeroesCon, so she rectifies that situation this week as well.

* Ed Sizemore went to Otakon.

* Jerzy Drozd will be hosting this year's Ignatz ceremony.

* Rob Cave reports from Sunday at the Wizard/Chicago show. That sounds deeply depressing, that place. My memory is that they actually came out of the last two years with some "hey, we still sell stuff at this show" momentum, and I haven't seen any of that this year. If Chicago goes, it's hard for me to imagine anything with the Wizard brand lasting too many years afterward. In fact, I'm not sure that brand isn't already just about dead in some ways -- I'm sure others would disagree.

* a Facebook post I can't find now from the artist George Perez indicates that the first round of 2013 Comic-Con International special guest invites has gone out and that Mr. Perez is one of those invited in the first go-around.

* you saw the Ignatz nominees, right?

* finally, I'm not sure there's any major show of size this weekend. That seems weird to me, but I guess these are sort of the dog days of summer.
 
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Go, Look: Jill Thompson Sandman Movie Production Art

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If I Were In New York City, I'd Go To This

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no link was provided; this is some sort of something or other in New York
 
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If I Were In Charlotte, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: A Bunch Of Same-Era World's Finest Covers

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* really good blogging from Gary Tyrrell here about how webcomics-related Kickstarter campaigns act atypically in terms of trends regarding Kickstarter campaigns more generally.

image* I totally missed a transcribed conversation between Sean Witzke and Matt Seneca about the issue of Solo that featured Paul Pope.

* Jim Rugg and Jasen Lex talk to Benjamin Marra.

* not comics: Robert Boyd goes to Marfa. This why I like blogging.

* two good ones from Mark Evanier: one on Harry Harrison; one that lets us know that Roz Kirby didn't ink the "inked by Roz Kirby" stuff; not really.

* hey, it's a Nick Mullins post on text-image pairings.

* these Mike Wieringo Spider-Man drawings are pretty great.

* I missed the 15th birthday of Transmetropolitan. Yeah, we'll all be dead soon.

* I'm not sure why any of us bother when the greatest comics-related story of them all was written years ago.

* Abhay Khosla pulls out an interesting Kyle Baker quote on inking. This works for a lot of different kinds of writing, too. Speaking of Baker, here's a review of a Damage Control comic he did with the late Dwayne McDuffie.

* Martin Wisse makes a good point about having to cross a certain threshold in order to start buying comics on-line through certain avenues, and that this keeps people from doing it. I know it's kept me in the past from buying stuff.

* Sonia Harris looks at why we read, basically looking at the question based around the idea of following artists and writers as opposed to the idea of following characters.

* finally, is that really the cover to the Popeye comic book that came out this week? That's really attractive. Hooray for that.
 
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August 15, 2012


Go, Look: Spacecraft Succotash Episode Wum

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Harry Harrison, 1925-2012

imageThe comics artist and comic strip writer turned successful and influential fiction author Harry Harrison died earlier today according to news released via his official web site. He was 87 years old.

Harry Harrison was born Henry Maxwell Dempsey in in the mid-1920s in Stamford, Connecticut. He eventually moved to New York as a young man.

Harrison served in the US Army Air Forces during World War II, as a mechanic and gunnery instructor. He joined in 1943. His experience in the military fueled a general pacifism that emerges in a lot of the author's later writing.

In 1946, Harrison used the educational opportunities available to returning veterans to finish his arts education. Harrison was part of the group of young artists taking instruction from the voluble strip artist Burne Hogarth, classes that eventually evolved into the Cartoonists and Illustrators School. Among those he would later identify as classmates were Ross Andru, Tex Blaisdell, Mike Esposito, Roy Krenkel, John Severin, Al Williamson and Wally Wood. Harrison began a partnership with Wood, and the pair -- Harrison remembers initially inking Wood's pencils, and generally passing pages back and forth -- started by selling work to Victor Fox, some through a studio set-up that involved kickbacks being paid for the flow of work to continue. Other Harrison/Wood clients were Quality and Fawcett, and Biro would later mention a gig lettering comics for Charles Biro.

Harry Harrison and Wally Wood started working for EC Comics in 1948, a story he told with great aplomb in an early-'70s interview with the crucial Graphic Story Monthly conducted by Bill Spicer and Pete Serniuk. Harrison describes EC as "a solid outfit" that nonetheless struggled to break even given the sell-through on titles other than MAD. He took credit (shared with Wood) for talking the publisher move into science fiction, where some of the line's best work was realized, but described a lot of what he and Wood were doing as western romances. When the Wood partnership dissolved, Harrison for a time said he inherited the EC part of their one-time shared gig: one of the artists he worked with during that phase was Jules Feiffer; another was Warren Broderick. He also did work for Fawcett.

Harrison shared a studio in that period with artists including Ernie Bache and Frank Frazetta. He was also a member of the briefly-lived Society Of Comic Book Illustrators organized by Bernard Krigstein. The 1950s comics scare and the industry contraction that occurred in the same, rough period, drove Harrison from comic books.

Harrison's career in New York was actually multi-faceted, and involved a great deal of concurrent writing and magazine editing even then. At one time or another Harrison served as editor on magazines ranging from Picture Week to Rocket Stories. One magazine that Harrison edited during this period, SF Impulse, was published in Great Britain. A friendship with artist Dan Barry led to a ten-year gig starting in 1959 writing the Flash Gordon daily and Sunday. He tried to sell a strip with Ric Estrada in the early '60s, and did a few black and white comics for the English market including Rick Random, Space Detective.

In the 1960s, Harrison began the novel series through which he is probably best remembered. The Stainless Steel Rat books focused on the thief/smuggler Slippery Jim DiGriz, the Deathworld books on culture and environmental clashes on the backdrop of a difficult-to-colonize planet, the Bill The Galactic Hero book offered up direct parodies of bad science fiction. Like many of the most popular and well-liked genre authors of the 20th Century, Harrison's work was generally smart but offered multiple entrance points for readers of various ages. They are frequently cited by current writers and fans of science fiction and fantasy as influential books from early on in their discovery of that kind of writing.

His 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room! was the basis for the 1973 science fiction movie Soylent Green, and contains potent elements of social criticism only a few of which made it into the film version. It was dedicated to Harrison's then-young children, which gives poignancy to the novel's strong foreboding nature. In the 1970s, Harrison and the author Brian Aldiss worked as anthology series co-editors and were among the leaders in that corner of publishing in terms of collecting valuable material from decades past.

Like several authors of his generation, Harrison used the relative freedom of being a writer (no doubt in close conjunction that living costs be kept relatively low in an uncertain profession) to live in various places around the world. He would reside at various times in Denmark, England, ireland, Italy and Mexico. For a time he taught a science fiction course at San Diego State University and organized similar courses in university summer programs. He continued his involvement in various fan- and professional-driven science fiction organization and was a presence at a lot of the early conventions.

Three 12-episode adaptation os Stainless Steel Rat stories appeared in 2000 AD in the late '70s to early '80s. "The Stainless Steel Rat" ran in #s 140-151 (1979/80), "The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World" ran in #s 166-177 (1980) and "The Stainless Steel Rat For President" appeared in #s 393-404 (1984/85). Some of this material appeared in 1985 from Eagle Comics under its own cover.

In 2009, Harrison won the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He was involved in advocacy for Esperanto; the language appears in some of his novels. He won a Nebula Award for Best Script and was nominated for multiple Locus Awards.

A last major piece of writing was released two years ago -- another Stainless Steel Rat book -- and Harrison claimed to be working on a secret project.

Harrison was preceded in death by his wife Joan Merkler Harrison, who passed away in 2002 from complications related to cancer. They had married in 1954. Their children were Moira Harrison (born 1959) and Todd Harrison (born 1955), both of whom it is believed survive their father.

Details of the author's passing, any funeral arrangements and directions for memoriala are likely forthcoming and will be added here when made available. A response page for fans has been established here.

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Hey, Check Out Roz Kirby's Inks

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"Internet, Make Me A Roger Langridge Process Post, Please"

"Okay."
 
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Go, Look: EC Segar Spoofs Cartoonists

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This Isn't A Library: Notable Releases To The Comics Direct Market

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Here are the books that make an impression on me staring at this week's no-doubt largely accurate list of books shipping from Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. to comic book and hobby shops across North America.

I might not buy all of the works listed here. I might not buy any. You never know. I'd sure look at the following, though.

*****

MAY121104 MAKING OF HC (MR) $29.95
This is an odd week for comics, and no one would blame you if you charged right in, picked up the new Brecht Evens, and charged right out. It would not be your least-favorite New Comics Day of the year, that's for sure, even if it gave you just one book. His work is super, super interesting to me right now. He's an underrated young writer of comics, too.

imageAUG110513 BUTCHER BAKER RIGHTEOUS MAKER #8 (MR) [DIG] $2.99
JUN120397 CLASSIC POPEYE ONGOING #1 $3.99
JUN120656 DAREDEVIL #17 $2.99
JUN128079 SAGA #5 2ND PTG (MR) $2.99
JUN120569 SAGA #6 (MR) [DIG] $2.99
JUN120578 WALKING DEAD #101 (MR) [DIG] $2.99
JUN128078 WALKING DEAD #101 SHARED EXC (MR) $2.99
JUN120952 ROGER LANGRIDGES SNARKED #11 [DIG] $3.99
Here's how weird this week's group of regular-sized comics is. A new issue of Butcher Baker Righteous Maker is out, Joe Casey's diseased comic book series that I thought had finished in odd fashion even though every indication within the story said there was more to come. I have no idea what "Classic Popeye Ongoing" means, but it's freakin' Popeye; I'll looked. The Daredevil is pretty normal, but the Saga and Walking Dead I'm not even sure are new what with all the extra letters next to their title names. I would have guessed only five or six of Roger Langridge's Snarked have seen print, so that's an astonishing issue number for me. Still, I have to imagine there'll be something in this group that would appeal to most people.

APR120025 BPRD HELL ON EARTH TP VOL 03 RUSSIA $19.99
APR120048 MANARA LIBRARY HC VOL 03 (MR) $59.99
APR121161 TREASURY 20TH CENTURY MURDER HC VOL 05 LOVERS LANE $15.99
MAY120790 WHATEVER HAPPENED TO WORLD OF TOMORROW SC $14.95
JUN121099 ALINE & THE OTHERS GN (MR) $9.95
JUN121165 AMULET SC VOL 03 CLOUD SEARCHERS NEW PTG $12.99
MAR121129 ISAAC THE PIRATE SET VOL 1-2 $29.99
JUN120739 ELEKTRA ASSASSIN TP $19.99
Unlike some other weeks, this is an equally loopy week for trade paperback/collection/graphic novel purchases. There's a Mignola-verse effort, a new edition of those Manara hardcovers that Dark Horse has been doing, a new Rick Geary, the Brian Fies follow-up to Mom's Cancer in a softcover edition, and a bunch of stuff you probably already own but if you don't you probably want to pick up and look at.

MAY120464 CREATIVITY OF STEVE DITKO HC $39.99
I don't all that much about this particular Steve Ditko book, but Craig Yoe is usually pretty good about finding stuff I haven't seen before and if I were in a comics shop I'd look at just about anything new that's Steve Ditko-related.

*****

The full list of this week's releases, including some titles with multiple cover variations and a long, impressive list of toys and other stuff that isn't comics, can be found here. Despite this official list there's no guarantee a comic will show up in the stores as promised, or in all of the stores as opposed to just a few. Also, stores choose what they carry and don't carry so your shop may not carry a specific publication. There are a lot of comics out there.

To find your local comic book store, check this list; and for one I can personally recommend because I've shopped there, albeit a while back, try this.

The above titles are listed with their Diamond order code in the first field, which may assist you in finding comics at your shop or having them order something for you they don't have in-stock. Ordering through a direct market shop can be a frustrating experience, so if you have a direct line to something -- you know another shop has it, you know a bookstore has it -- I'd urge you to consider all of your options.

If I failed to list your comic, that's on me. I apologize.

*****

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Go, Look: Fliers From Dupuis

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If I Were In Brooklyn, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: Early Bob Montana

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* I've linked to it from the Collective Memory, but I liked this personal/professional remembrance of Joe Kubert by Karen Berger and wanted to point it out if by now you're starting to glaze over looking at the CM.

image* Sean Kleefeld takes a quick look at some of the comics that perhaps can't be collected because of rights issue, which is a subject that fascinates me. Well, maybe "fascinates" is a strong word, but it's an interesting subject. Rob Clough on An Anthology Of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons And True Stories. Sean Gaffney on GTO: The Early Years Vol. 13. J. Caleb Mozzocco on a bunch of comic-shop comics. Johanna Draper Carlson on Geronimo Stilton Saves The Olympics.

* Sean Kleefeld is also confused by the Monkey King.

* Greg Burgas looks at the splash page from Uncanny X-Men #135 as a way to throw the spotlight on the team of Chris Claremont and John Byrne. That's a pretty nice splash page, really. One thing that you could do at that time that I'm not sure you could do now is present really freaky, sort-of violent imagery and have it feel like some sort of jaunt into forbidden territory. Like with this one it feels like the reader might think the characters were in danger just because it was a pretty extreme image, whereas now so many plotlines have been done it'd be hard to look at it with a more jaded eye. I always think that flat-out narrative exhaustion is a bigger deal with these kinds of comics than people think.

* Michael DeForge destroys his sketchbooks.

* Heidi MacDonald talks to Brian K. Vaughan. James Romberger talks to Gabrielle Bell.

* Gina Gagliano points out that a potential drawback with only-via-kickstarter offerings is that the natural promotion of running the kickstarter means you probably just had your best PR moment long before the work is done. I'd not heard that one before. I would guess that if you're doing only-via-kickstarter, that wouldn't matter all that much, but maybe I'm missing a step.

* Moomin!

* finally, Joe Rice loves the current Marvel Universe.
 
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August 14, 2012


Go, Look: A Small Joe Kubert Gallery

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A Few More Words About The Late, Great Joe Kubert

image* Clifford Meth was first with information about the late Joe Kubert's funeral plans -- it's later today -- and information on how to donate to charity in the artist and educator's name as well as how to write a letter of sympathy to the family. I did that late in the day yesterday, and it felt a lot better than roaming around on-line arguing over coverage issues. I hope you'll consider doing the same.

* This site's obituary was here. The "collective memory" entry here will run at 7 AM through Friday. Please continue to send me your links, if you want. I'll put them to use.

* I made an unfortunately angry tweet yesterday about an aspect of coverage. I can't back away from the criticism that it embodies, nor would I want to, but I deeply regret the way that statement was made and the way that it potentially drove attention to a place other than Mr. Kubert's passing and the grand accomplishments of his career. I hope for the sake of furthering dialogue rather than shifting it that any blogs that ran the first tweet might at least call attention to the second one or to the vast majority of this site's coverage.

* My hope when someone of Joe Kubert's stature passes away is that we take at least some time to ponder their career and art, their personal example and even their shortcomings in a serious, sober but not melancholy fashion. This can involve venturing an opinion, but mostly I think it involves learning more about the person. That usually means reading. I quite liked posts from Steve Bissette, Steve Lieber, Jeff Parker and Bill Schelly among many others. I enjoyed looking at the art posted here, which I think is the most beautiful work Kubert did. I'm uncomfortable with wholesale appropriation of copyrighted material, but it's something to see. I liked looking at some of Kubert's early work, posted here. I also liked looking at these Rima covers!

* As a side note, I'm gratified that so many people are speaking well of the Tarzan period, which I think offers up Kubert's loosest, most fun material on a consistent basis over a period of time. I've always recommended those comics to people looking for a big group of comics to explore that they probably haven't seen before and want to read for cheap; I just hope that option is still there for future friends of mine.

* One thing that's striking when you look at Kubert's career is how much formidable work he did after he turned 60. That's not always the case for cartoonists, for a variety of reasons, but it's wonderful that comics frequently has a place for talented older artists to continue to express themselves if they so desire. It's a great strength of the comics culture, that we continue to pay attention to these voices.

* Continued condolences to his family, his friends, his professional peers, his students and his fans.
 
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Go, Look: I'm Not Coming Home

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Bundled, Tossed, Untied And Stacked

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By Tom Spurgeon

* Yam Books has the Tim Hensley book Ticket Stub available for advance order. That looks adorable.

image* Charlie Kochman talks about the winter books at Abrams, including new Dave McKean, with ICv2.com.

* bunch of mainstream stuff this week. People who watch this stuff closely seem to think DC is doing a bunch of crossovers in November. It really does seem to me that they're having to pump their existing readership almost constantly to keep sales from declining almost across the board. It's really worrisome.

* Mark Waid continues into the next phase with his digital comics plans. Everyone should be paying attention to that one.

* a fourth of Dustin Harbin's Diary Comics books will be out this Fall.

* for the life of me I can't find a simple summary explanation of what the Marvel Now endeavor encompasses. That seems hilarious to me. I know that I've seen specific articles, and there's been a roll-out of announcements, but I can't find one article just listing the books or something similar. I was also baffled by Marvel's devoted site. I guess I could reverse engineer a lot of it from articles like this interview with Axel Alonso. I think they have good writers there for the most part, so I'm sure I'd enjoy some of those books, too. I mean, I guess this is a cover for a new Marvel title featuring the original X-men characters. I suppose there are worse strategies for reviving a bunch of exhausted properties than placing them in their original packaging for a while.

* wait! One of the Twitter followers was making himself a list. Thank you. That... that group seems pretty okay. Nothing leaps out at me as weird, although I have my doubts that the market can sustain two Fantastic Four-related titles for very long without a radical re-constitution of who's buying comics and why. Jonathan Hickman will be doing a lot of work. And there's still stuff to be announced, I guess, which makes me think I'm not wrong to be a little bit confused. If a lot those comics don't hit individually, I suppose that opens them to a big-time "you just did what you'd been doing with a new name on it" charge. I'm not sure that Marvel can exploit its strengths in the current market even given the best outcomes creatively, but that's a separate post.

* Josh Kopin writes about the cancellation of the Matt Fraction-written Defenders effort, which comes as they're kind of doing this cleaning up and re-presenting on their entire superhero line. I'm always a bit sad to see Marvel series get canceled despite all their sometimes-dubious corporate history and my general disinterest in their books. I'm not sure why. Maybe nostalgia? I'm fond of Fraction's work generally, so that could be it, too. It actually benefits me when the mainstream companies have titles that crash and burn because they tend to be a lot easier to pick up for a buck each down the road if I'm so inclined. But for now, it's just people not working anymore, at least on that thing, and was probably some kid's favorite book. That's a funny first line from Mr. Kopin, by the way.

* finally, it looks like The Dandy is wrapping things up. I know we're supposed to be sad about stories like this, and I am concerned for there suddenly being fewer jobs, but I don't think we should expect publications to live on in perpetuity because only a few do.

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Catch Up With Army Of God

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Go, Look: Vincent Naba

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Go, Look: Ron Wilson Hulk Splash Pages

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* I never quite know what it means when a publisher starts liquidating large swathes of its backstock -- well, when that publisher is going to be around for more than the next few weeks I don't know what it means. I do always find it kind of frightening, though.

image* Rob Clough on Congress Of The Animals and Unterzakhn. Sean Michael Robinson on NonNonBa. Sean T. Collins on In Situ.

* not comics: what they're not telling you is that Gary Groth didn't start with the bow and arrow until after he saw Hunger Games. He has a Hunger Games name for everyone in the office and last week he snuck in the office and made everyone new business cards.

* Ken Eppstein profiles RM Rhodes. Don Alimagno talks to Erick Arciniega.

* not comics: I don't cover the comics-into-movies beat, but wasn't this some dude's comic? Did someone else get Fabled? Update: Apparently that is someone's comic, and is being developed as such. Good.

* Jonathan W. Gray finds common ground with his 'tween-age daughter. I liked that article enough to type "'tween-age."

* not comics: I'm too frightened to even watch this.

* finally, a message from Jillian Kirby.
 
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August 13, 2012


Joe Kubert, 1926-2012

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Joe Kubert, one of the foundational artistic talents of American comic books and a key figure in comics education whose career spanned parts of nine decades, passed away this weekend it is believed after a hospital stay. He was 85 years old.

Joe Kubert was born Yosaif Kubert on September 18, 1926, in the small town of Yzeran in what was then southeast Poland, and now is part of Ukraine. His family moved to Brooklyn when Kubert was less than a year old -- in fact, a previous attempt had been scotched because Kubert's mother had been pregnant with the future Hall Of Fame artist. Kubert's father was a kosher butcher who worked about six blocks from home, while his mother ran a restaurant to which the rooms where Kubert lived with his parents and four sisters were attached.

imageLike many cartoonists born in the 1920s, Kubert was a precocious drawer. He first drew around the home and in the neighborhood, encouraged by his family and neighbors. "I was really blessed and fortunate that I could pursue that which I loved to do," Kubert told interviewer Gary Groth in 1994. "I recall that when I was a kid of three or four, I used to be given boxes of chalk by the neighborhood people -- penny boxes of chalk, so I could draw in the gutters. They enjoyed seeing me draw." Despite his parents sharing in a popular conception of the time not to let children pursue an activity for which there might not be future gainful employment, Kubert describes himself as lucky that his parents never deterred him in his artistic pursuits.

Kubert was also a fan of the movies like many boys his age, and accessed more visual culture by reading comic strips in newspapers like the New York Journal American and the New York Daily Mirror. He would later cite adventure strip stalwarts Hal Foster, Alex Raymond and Milton Caniff as particular favorites.

The comics legend portion of Kubert's life began when he broke into the nascent comic book industry at approximately 12 or 13 years of age -- the accounts differ, and Kubert himself copped to some uncertainty as to exactly how his career began and when. The story also wavered between whether this apprentice-level work came at the Harry "A" Chesler comics shop or through an acquaintance named Melvin Budoff with a relation at MLJ. Through that contact, or perhaps solely due to his own initiative, Kubert was drawn into the professional circle of artists that did work for MLJ such as Mort Meskin, Harry Shorten and Charles Biro. Kubert's talent and drive made him a studio favorite and got him what love-level work was available; he would continue to work while a student at High School Of Music And Art. It was the industriousness applied in that phase of his life that would become a hallmark and helped make Kubert one of the most successful and prolific mainstream comic book artists of all-time.

In his obituary for Kubert in The Comics Journal, historian Bill Schelly identifies Irv Novick as another professional from whom the young Kubert received instruction. He also cites a period where Kubert eventually assisted on The Spirit in Stamford at Will Eisner's Studio -- where by one account he was focusing on coloring for comic book reprints, by another moving to inking Lou Fine after more humble work erasing pages and cleaning up -- and stints in comics shops run by Jerry Iger and Emanuel Denby.

Kubert received his first professional credit in Catman Comics #8, which was published in early 1942, for a back-up featuring "Volton the Human Generator." He would continue drawing that feature for a few issues, and was soon providing work to the Blue Beetle feature at Fox Comics. Kubert also worked as an inker when he was a teen, for Mort Meskin and Bob Montana among others.

The artist's first work for DC Comics came both penciling and inking a massive superhero team story featuring the Seven Soldiers Of Victory for the publication Leading Comics, published by All-American before they were folded into DC proper. Kubert began to do his lion's share of work for DC as the decade progressed; his first big assignment and career-establishing gig was on the Hawkman feature that ran in Flash and All-American. That was for the famed editor Sheldon Mayer, whom Kubert would credit for helping make him a fully-functioning, professional comic book artist. Other clients during the 1940s included Fiction House, Avon and Harvey.

When asked by Groth in 1994 if he was ever asked to change his work by the notoriously tough DC editorial staff, Kubert said this didn't happen to him the way it did some other comic book artists. "It's a funny thing," he said to Groth, "I've seen Shelly Mayer verbally rip a guy apart. I've seen him take original pages and fling them right across the room because he felt the guy didn't do a good, quality job. It happened to Irwin Hasen. Irwin and Shelly were good, personal friends, but when it came to the work there was no fooling around. If Shelly wanted to make a point, that's what he did. For some reason, he never did that with me. It may have been because... well, maybe he figured that I wouldn't accept it. I was younger -- and bigger -- and maybe he thought I'd pick him up and throw him out the window. Maybe he was right." Kubert's general health and vigor, and a quality he was said to have projected as an artist not to be trifled with seemed to have stood him in very good stead during his years negotiating and working with a variety of publishers, particularly the nettlesome gauntlet at DC. Kubert would go on to do some of his best work with writers and editors that other talents found difficult, such as as the writer/editor Robert Kanigher.

Kubert served in the military from 1950 to 1952, first at Fort Dix in Jersey, then in Germany. He married Muriel Fogelson shortly after induction. The Kuberts had settled in Princeton, and Kubert initially commuted to their apartment; he later set up a studio in the southern German town of Sonthoffen while overseas. Both arrangements allowed him to keep working in comics, primarily for DC where he began a partnership with the editor Julie Schwartz. Because of Kubert's military obligations, he said that Schwartz allowed him to generate two-page and three-page stories entirely on his own, as time became available for him to work. Kubert also claimed that Schwartz was not wholly enamored of his work during that period.

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Joe Kubert took on the managing editor position at St. John in the 1950s. He, his High School Of Music And Art classmate Norman Maurer and Leonard Maurer (Norman's brother) assembled the first 3-D comic books, starting with 1953's Three Dimension Comics #1. They were a sales sensation even at an significantly increased price over typical comic books, something that business people operating comics people swore up and down could not happen. That trend quickly burnt itself out, Kubert claimed later because of poor content driving copycat efforts. Kubert enjoyed a share in royalties while at St. John's, which was a rare business relationship to have at that time.

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Kubert's first major creation also came at St. John, the prehistoric character Tor -- with Norman Maurer. That character debuted in late 1953. Tor is one of the few known characters with a publishing history tied to its creator rather than any single publishing house, and has been in comics offered from Eclipse, Epic and DC in addition to its original home. He was even packaged at one point as a newspaper comic that failed to come off. Kubert said that receiving the copyright on Tor was as simple as requesting from the heir to the St. John publishing enterprise that the copyright be returned to him after the publisher had moved away from comics. The legally appropriate person provided a letter doing just that. In terms of his creative development, Tor was the first major effort where Kubert provided art and writing.

For that decade's premier publisher EC Comics Kubert provided two art jobs, working with writer/editor Harvey Kurtzman.

imageKubert began to freelance in a major way for DC Comics again in 1955, taking them on as a client at the same time he also provided work to publishers such as Lev Gleason and the company owned by Martin Goodman during its "Atlas" era. He soon dropped the other work for full-time gigs from major publisher DC, splitting time between high-concept adventure characters such as The Viking Prince and a new iteration of Hawkman, but also starting into a legendary run on that publisher's war titles -- particularly the Sgt. Rock and Haunted Tank features. His primary contact at the company went from a half-dozen various editors depending on the project and soon settled on Bob Kanigher. Kubert cited Kanigher's ability to think as a writer in visual terms, and the corresponding talent to favor drawing that had the emotional impact that comes from effective writing. Kanigher's scripts were sparse enough to give Kubert incredible leeway with how to interpret a story, and he was open to hearing from the artist on how to reproduce and present the final product. "He's the only guy I know in this business who never missed a deadline," Kubert would later claim.

The late 1950s saw the Kanigher/Kubert team do a run of respected Viking Prince stories, which ended in '59. Although as mentioned he returned to the Hawkman feature in the early part of the 1960s to much acclaim, his work with the Sgt. Rock character -- shaped by Kanigher and Kubert starting in 1959 from previous work done by Bob Haney, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito -- became one of the touchstones of his long career and one of the anchor properties at the company. Frank Rock and Easy Co. became the stars of Our Army At War and Showcase, with the former title eventually becoming Sgt. Rock and running until 1988, with a re-run title lasting until 1992 -- far past the date where DC had reliable, serious commitments to anything ongoing other than series featuring superheroes. Rock was also a famous crossover character -- particularly with Batman -- and was an early candidate for a move into film. An older version of the character was even folded into the wider DC universe and the character's World War 2 exploits became the source of stand-alone efforts over the last dozen or so years.

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From 1965 to 1967, Kubert provided art to the legendary failed syndicated daily Tales Of The Green Beret for The News Syndicate, working with writer Jerry Capp. Despite its tie-in to the popular pop-culture phenomenon of the same name and the initial success the syndicate had in placing the feature, Tales hit the market just as adventure strips were fading, public exposure to the realities of what war looked like overseas was rising, and opposition to US involvement in the Vietnam War was beginning to boil under the surface. None of the blame for the strip's eventual end fell to Kubert's art, which was as lush and vibrant as anything that appeared in the newspapers that decade and was widely recognized as a strong effort in a difficult assignment. It was only after subsequent artists failed to find a working level with the strip that the feature was canceled. Kubert said he left because he was unhappy.

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Kubert took on a staff position at DC Comics from 1967 to 1976, serving as the company's director of publications. He told Groth in '94 that between the staff position and the work he was continuing to do for DC's comics, he frequently worked 12- to 14-hour days, with many more in short bursts when deadlines loomed. Kubert even took work on vacations. Kubert's best-known comics during that period may have been a run of Enemy Ace comics with Kanigher and a major effort on the Edgar Rice Burroughs property Tarzan, which after editing in partnership with Joe Orlando eventually all came to Kubert in an editorial sense as well as his providing a number of pages of artwork.

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Kubert created the character Ragman in 1976 with writer Robert Kanigher, as part of a general DC effort to find permutations of the superhero formula as the industry struggled a bit before a fuller move to direct market retail by decade's end and in the 1980s. While perhaps best known as one of DC's creative misfires, or perhaps proof of Kubert's general lack of suitability to the direct of superhero comics in that decade, there was certainly nothing wrong with the look of those comics or the assured narrative hand that Kubert brought to the project. An under-appreciated run of covers on Rima, The Jungle Girl two years earlier had underlined a similar point. While the character and the comic might have been mostly forgettable, the Rima covers by Kubert were mostly stunning examples of their craft, full of bold sweeping shapes that guided and caressed the eye while introducing a story hook designed to entice the potential reader. Kubert had a rare skill for design in that he could do covers that suggested movement but also more static pieces defined by their balance between competing elements.

imageThe Kubert family had moved to Dover, New Jersey in the early 1960s, where all five of the Kubert children -- four sons and a daughter -- would be raised. The Kubert School was founded Joe and Muriel in 1976. Based in part on the hands-on education that Kubert received from fellow comics pros back in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the Kubert School became quickly known throughout the comics world for its singular focus and for the ads that ran in comics where aspiring artists might see them. The timing came as Muriel was able to take on the school's business aspects as the kids became old enough to function more or less on their own -- she had a degree in business. When an appropriate building for the school came up for sale, the Kubert moved forward with their plans. The first class at the two-year school was 22 people and included future pros as Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch, Rick Taylor and Tom Yeates. Early instructors included Hy Eisman, Lee Elias, Dick Giordano and Ric Estrada. Irwin Hasen and Tex Blaisdell joined the faculty a few years later.

Kubert's son's Adam and Andy were students at the school, and later became popular professional of their own accord. Kubert told Groth he taught them the same as any other students except that he was harder on the pair.

Joe Kubert continued to work at both the school and in comics during the 1980s. One ambitious project, The Redeemer, became one of that decades most notoriously never-released comics; Kubert cited a lack of time to complete the work. A key Kubert comic that was published from 1984 and 1993 for the Jewish Magazine The Moshiach Times featured religious-themed work. It was eventually collected as The Adventures of Yaakov and Isaac in 2004.

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In the 1990s, when many of his peers were settling into retirement or semi-retirement status frequently not of their own choosing, Kubert began a remarkable run of stand-alone graphic novel work and short runs of comic books that were a career unto themselves. He created the Abraham Stone series for Malibu (and later Marvel) in the first half of that decade, and did a beautifully drawn Tor series for Epic in 1993. In 1996, Fax From Sarajevo was released in hardcover form. Over 200 pages in its initial release, Fax From Sarajevo was later expanded by about 20 pages when moved into trade paperback format. The book was instigated by a series of faxes the artist received from his European agent and friend Ervin Rustemagic when Sarajevo was under siege and the lives of he and his family were in danger for nearly three years. It featured an incredibly appealing "look" from the artist, more European and thin-lined as opposed to the heavier inks and feathering of past work. The Tex work was also done in the 1990s, and was originally created for publication in the Italian market although an English-language version was eventually published.

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In the 2000s, Kubert drew two graphic novels that were published from his pencils: one from iBooks: Yossel: April 19, 1943 (2003) and one from DC: Dong Xoai (2009). Jew Gangster from 2005 was a black and white work with gray tones added in at a later date. Kubert drew the original graphic novel Sgt. Rock: Between Hell And A Hard Place for writer Brian Azzarello in 2003 and created the six-issue Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy in 2006. Kubert also assumed the artist's duties for PS Magazine during this same period. 2008 saw the publication of another six-issue series, Tor: A Preshistoric Odyssey. Kubert drew the Sgt. Rock story that appeared in 2009's tabloid comic Wednesday Comics. He had recently worked with his son Andy on one of the Before Watchmen books. New work from Kubert is scheduled to appear this October, Fantagraphics in November is moving into a third book (Weird Horrors and Daring Adventures) featuring the artist after a biography (Man Of Rock, 2008) and an art book (The Art Of Joe Kubert, 2011) were published.

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Joe Kubert was a recipient of a number of comics-related awards. He won Alley Awards in 1962 (Best Single Comic Book Cover) and 1969 (a special award for his contributions to comic art). He won National Cartoonists Society Awards in 1974 and 1980, and was nominated in 1997. Fax From Sarajevo won the 1997 Eisner for "Best Graphic Album: New" and that year's Harvey Award for "Best Graphic Album Of Original Work." Kubert was inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall Of Fame by the Harvey Awards program in 1997, and entered the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall Of Fame in 1998. Memorial Day weekend 2010 saw the National Cartoonists Society give Kubert their Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award.

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Joe Kubert treated his art form, his talent, his collaborators and his students with the respect and attention he expected in return. He avoided any whisper of victim status in a long and impressive career in all facets of mainstream comics, gave practical skills and guidance to two generations of working professionals through his school, and engaged in a later period of more personal comics creation in a variety of styles of which any cartoonist could be envious. He was and will remain one of the great craftsmen of American comic books, and classed the whole place up with his energy, personal example and talent. One of the last living ties to the fecund period of the industry's creation, it is hard to imagine anyone in comics that will be more missed by more people.

Joe Kubert was preceded in death by his beloved wife Muriel in 2008. The Kubert children are Andy, Adam, David, Lisa, and Dan, all of whom survive their father.

Funeral arrangements were announced for Tuesday, August 14 at Tuttle Funeral Home in Randolph, New Jersey. Details through the link. The family asks that donations be made to the Multiple Myeloma Foundation in Joe's name. Sympathy cards can be mailed to the Kubert Family at The Kubert School, 37 Myrtle Avenue, Dover, NJ 07801.

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Your 2012 Ignatz Award Nominees

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The Small Press Expo announced this year's nominees for the Ignatz Awards earlier this morning. It is that awards program's 16th year. Among the nominees were Jaime Hernandez, whose work in Love & Rockets: New Stories Vol. 4 was shut out of nominations for the Harvey and Eisner Awards despite its overwhelming saturation on Best Of 2011 lists.

The Ignatz Awards are run in conjunction with September's Expo, scheduled for September 15-16. The ceremony will be held at 9:30 PM on the 15th.

The nominees process is juried. This year's panel was Edie Flake, Minty Lewis, Julia Wertz, Dylan Meconis and Lark Pien. SPX attendees vote on the finalists.

Outstanding Artist
* Marc Bell – Pure Pajamas (Drawn & Quarterly)
* Inés Estrada - Ojitos Borrosos (Self-published)
* Jaime Hernandez - Love and Rockets New Stories (Fantagraphics)
* Craig Thompson - Habibi (Pantheon)
* Matthew Thurber – 1 800 Mice (Picturebox)

Outstanding Anthology or Collection
* Big Questions - Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly)
* Hark! A Vagrant - Kate Beaton (Drawn & Quarterly)
* The Man Who Grew His Beard - Olivier Schrauwen (Fantagraphics)
* Nobrow #6 - Various artists (Nobrow)
* Ojitos Borrosos - Inés Estrada (Self-published)

Outstanding Graphic Novel
* Big Questions by Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly)
* Harvey Pekar's Cleveland by Harvey Pekar and Joseph Remnant (Top Shelf)
* My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf (Abrams ComicArts)
* Troop 142 by Mike Dawson (Secret Acres)
* A Zoo In Winter by Jiro Taniguchi (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)

Outstanding Story
* 1 800 Mice by Matthew Thurber (Picturebox)
* Keith or Steve, Mome #22, by Nick Drnaso (Fantagraphics)
* Lucille by Ludovic Debeurme (Top Shelf)
* Return to Me, Love & Rockets New Stories #4, by Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
* The Weeper, Papercutter #17, by Jason Martin and Jesse Reklaw (Tugboat Press)

Promising New Talent
* Lauren Barnett - Me Likes You Very Much (Hic & Hoc Publications)
* Clara Besijelle - The Lobster King (Self-published)
* Tessa Brunton - Passage (Sparkplug Books)
* Lila Quintero Weaver - Dark Room: A Memoir in Black and White (University of Alabama Press)
* Lale Westvind - Hot Dog Beach (Self-published)

Outstanding Series
* Black Mass by Patrick Kyle (Mother Books)
* EOTMC by Leslie Stein (Self-published)
* Ganges by Kevin Huizenga (Fantagraphics)
* Love and Rockets New Stories by The Hernandez Brothers (Fantagraphics)
* Pope Hats by Ethan Rilly (AdHouse Books)

Outstanding Comic
* Hot Dog Beach #2 by Lale Westvind (Self-published)
* Passage by Tessa Brunton (Sparkplug Books)
* Pterodactyl Hunters by Brendan Leach (Top Shelf)
* The Sixth Gun #17 by Brian Hurtt and Cullen Bunn (Oni Press)
* Pope Hats #2 by Ethan Rilly (AdHouse Books)

Outstanding Mini-Comic
* The Death of Elijah Lovejoy by Noah Van Sciver (2D Cloud)
* Hypnotic Induction Technique by Grant Reynolds (Self-published)
* The Monkey in the Basement and Other Delusions by Corinne Mucha (Retrofit Comics)
* Ramble On #2 by Calvin Wong (Self-published)
* RAV #6 by Mickey Zacchilli (Self-published)

Outstanding Online Comic
* Amazing Facts... and Beyond! with Leon Beyond by Dan Zettwoch and Kevin Huizenga
* Black Is the Color by Julia Gfrorer
* Lucky by Gabrielle Bell
* Starslip by Kris Straub
* SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki
 
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Go, Look: Newly-Posted Odd Bodkins

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thanks, Steven Stwalley
 
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Why Not Go Ahead And Take Care Of This Today?

Voting for the Harvey Awards concludes on Friday.
 
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Go, Look: Imaginary Dates With My Pretend Boyfriend

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Cartoonist Candidate Running For Office With Comics Wins Primary

The webcartoonist Nicholas Ivan Ladendorf sent out a press release claiming an electoral victory last Tuesday for a seat in the Missouri house. You can see the comics he uses in campaigns here. The candidate namedrops Scott McCloud, which gives me hope that Scott might get some election consulting work.
 
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Go, Look: Another Round Of Cartoonist Photos

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Marc Tyler Nobleman Makes The Case For Bill Finger

Marc Tyler Nobleman makes a strong case for the contributions of writer Bill Finger to the Batman mythos in this NPR profile of his new book, Bill The Boy Wonder. Does anyone know if DC has an official stance on this? I'll shoot them an e-mail, but I doubt it gets answered. What do they say if someone inquires about the contributions of Finger? Do they even care at this point?
 
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Go, Bookmark: Masterplasty

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via
 
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Comics' Giving Heart -- People, Projects In Need Of Funding

image* Steve Rude's indiegogo campaign is rounding into its last hours. That's for the latest offering in a sketchbook series the artist/illustrator has been doing for several years now, with a bunch of various extras tossed in. I like the $30 level there. My brother is a big fan and I'm thinking that's probably how we'll participate.

* I asked on twitter for various folks to suggest either their crowdfunders or ones in which they're interested. James Emmett chimed in with his Kali Yuga, which is described as both interactive and digital so I'm a little bit intimidated. Like I would pop up and get a drink if it sat next to me at a party. Joel Meadows reminded me that the Tripwire project could use some attention. I like Joel quite a bit; always been very nice to me, that guy. Here's one I'd never heard of called Destiny's Fate. Sean Kleefeld suggested two. One is called Mars: Daedalus Two. The other is called The Adventures Of A Comic Con Girl. Robert Kirby suggested Just The Facts: The Ladydrawers Big Book Of Stats.

* Alison Sampson responded to that call -- which I'm sure was poorly-phrased -- with a link to this one called The Firelight Isle, which is more than over and therefore makes me think that it's probably a pretty good one for your research purposes.

* the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is in the midst of its August art auctions.

* finally, here's a page that allows you to donate to the Hero Initiative in the name of Mark Gruenwald and Mike Wieringo, two extremely well-liked comics pros, much missed.
 
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If I Were In NYC, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: Not Familiar With Hy Mankin At All

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* I just ran across this link in my bookmarks folder, so I'm not sure where it came from, but how long has Microcosm been a distributor? Is that new? Sort of new? Ten years in? I couldn't possibly tell you, but there it is.

image* Abhay Khosla on Prophet. Don MacPherson on Archie & Friends All-Stars Vol. 17. Brian Hibbs on a bunch of different comics. J. Caleb Mozzocco on Justice Society Of America: Supertown. Sterg Botzakis on The Salon. Craig Fischer on National Lampoon.

* speaking of Abhay Khosla -- we were, in the first item in the bulleted point preceding this one -- here's a short piece on negative reactions to criticism.

* not comics: this was indeed very neat-looking.

* this latest Team Tucker effort at TCJ is kind of odd, mostly in that a lot of the waved-hand proclamations about Garfield don't ring true. A lot of people do think the first three years of the strip were a golden age that was very different than what has come since, and I've heard people argue about the different Paws, Inc. artists. Also, I think Winnie The Pooh crushes Garfield in the kids market. That kind of thing. I don't know, maybe it's not worth hashing out. That one just struck me as weird.

* one of CR fine readers wrote in to express some astonishment that Lynda Barry sells stuff on Etsy. That makes me think that maybe some people don't know about that.

* Paul Gravett writes about AGC's comics. That's a nice picture of Patricia Highsmith.

* on the Daredevil-related origins of the band name The Teardrop Explodes.

* so here's a fan letter from a 15-year-old Warren Ellis. You know, if you had talked to me about the Internet of 2012 back in 1995 or so -- and why wouldn't you have, this is a fascinating subject, and I was an interesting young man that liked to have civil conversations -- I would have guessed that the one thing we'd have access to is some kind of site or resource or listing of all the comics professionals letters in various comics publication. Ed Brubaker in Firestorm. That kind of thing. We might have this, I'm not sure, but it's not authoritative, as I'm still at least able to note when I see a new one like this Ellis piece.

* Tom Heintjes talks to Qiana Whitted and Brannon Costello. Michael Cavna talks to Matthew Olin.

* finally, they've disabled easy use of imagery, so I can't separate these into their own posts anymore, but here's a Susie Cagle piece at Cartoon Movement.
 
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August 12, 2012


Joe Kubert, RIP

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His was a remarkable career of perpetual accomplishment, with enough work done in three or four entirely distinct phases to generate a sizable obituary all on their own. Joe Kubert's artwork was idiosyncratic and authoritative; it is amazing we have so much of work that looks that good. Kubert had one of the looser styles -- yet always anchored by fundamentals of craft -- to ever find an audience with North American comics fans. You can spot a Joe Kubert from half a room away. Kubert was a devoted family man, and our condolences to all the Kubert, all of his students, his friends and peers, and his many, many fans.
 
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Please Remember To Tell Me About Your Crowd-Funders

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One thing about which this weekend's comics-chat concentration on crowdfunding (yes, still) reminds me is that I probably don't hear from enough of you for the column CR runs on Mondays and Fridays (it may soon only be Mondays) that is specifically designed to call attention to various crowdfunding projects. I can almost never resist listing something in that column that someone asks me to list.
 
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So Tell Me About Old Comic Book Shops

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A couple of things happened this week that led me to wonder after older comic book shops. One is that a friend of mine moved into the same neighborhood as the now-closed Larry's on Devon, in Chicago, which is a place I shopped both in its late, double-location heyday and also right near the end (I bought a copy of the TCJ special featuring Jack Kirby and three old issues of Wings; comic stores are fantastic like that). It was known as one of the early comics shops. Another is that someone asked me the question about the oldest comic shops in the US and abroad and while an answer was pretty easily google-able, I was curious that I didn't know the answer right away, and I'm not 100 percent sure that the answer I have is the right one.

So what google indicated is that Golden Age Collectables is the oldest comic shop in North America still running, and that Lambiek has that honor in Europe.

Here are my questions.

* Is that true? Are those the oldest comic shops still running?

* What do any of you know about shops that were older that are no longer running?

* When Lambiek makes the distinction that they're the oldest antiquarian comics shop, does that mean there are others that aren't antiquarian, maybe in London or Paris?

* Are there are any comic shops you're aware of that are still operating from before 1975 or so? I'm particularly in any of those that might not be the oldest but are still old enough that when they did it it was like they did it on their own without a definite model in mind.

* Are there locations that aren't comic shops the way we think about them still running from before either one of these shops? Like is there a newsstand that against all odds is still running in some weird place that's always carried comics, or a west coast bookstore with a little platform room full of old comics that is still operating that little room? Can anyone vouch for a specific spinner rack that's been around since LBJ or something like that?

If it's curious to me, it's usually of interest to someone else. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

By the way, I didn't know that Larry's had a second life as an eBay hub specializing in older, genre-focused magazines. Man, do I love such magazines.

Updates

* John MacPherson notes in an e-mail that The Comic Shop in Vancouver was opened in 1974.

* Gary Sassaman wrote in with the following description of Pittsburgh's Eide's Entertainment.
My first comics shop experience was when I moved to Pittsburgh in March 1973 to attend the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. I joined the Pittsburgh Comix Club (the x had nothing to do with undergrounds, just a different spelling) and they met every month in a hole-in-the-wall store in Etna, PA run by Greg Eide. Eide's is still in Pittsburgh (downtown, near the convention center) and has been in existence since March 18, 1972 (according to their website), still owned and operated by Greg. It is definitely one of those old-school shops, with tons of back issues and books, Golden Age and Silver Age included, and some long-time employees that contribute to that surly comic book store vibe (but they're all a group of nice guys really). Greg branched out into music early on and then video and magazines. I haven't been there since 2007, I believe, but for the almost-20 years I lived in Pittsburgh, it was a weekly (if not more than weekly) stop, and I also actually worked at the store in 1980-81, when it was on Pittsburgh's North Side, right where PNC Park (the Pirates baseball stadium) is now, at the foot of the Sixth St. Bridge.
* Steve Leiber seconded Eide's.

* Now it gets interesting: RM Rhodes sent a note saying this article indicates that Barbarian Comics in Maryland has been open since the late 1960s. That would make it older than Golden Age Collectables.

* And here's another potential oldest store. Clint's Comics in Kansas City has this up on their site, according to Joe Schwind: "Clint's Books and Comics has been serving the collecting community since October 1967. Jim, [Smokey] , Cavanaugh has been the owner since 1975."

* Dave Sikula on early places to buy comics in Los Angeles:
I started buying comics at liquor stores in Southern California. "Liquor stores" are regionalisms for what are now called convenience stores. In the early '70s, I started branching out to newsstands in Hollywood, most notably the ones on the corners of Hollywood and Caheunga and Pico and Robertson -- both of which are still in business and, so far as I know, still selling comics.

As for actual, honest-to-god "Comic Stores," my first one was Comics and Things in Hawaiian Gardens. I started going there in late 1972, soon after I got my drivers' license. (I have no idea how I heard about a store that sold only comics.) The store was in a little sort-of mother-in-law unit in back of a vacuum cleaner repair store, and run by a guy named Jim Smith, who was also president of the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

After a couple of years, the store moved up the block to a larger space. I believe Jim sold it at that point, though it kept the same name until a few years later, when it was sold again, and became "Comic Books, Vol. III" (same location). At some point in the 80s, the store moved locations altogether, to Westminster, where it became Comics Unlimited, where it still stands today -- or did the last time I was in Los Angeles.

Of course, there were stores in Hollywood that sold old comics -- the Cherokee Bookstore, Collector's Books, and Bond Street Books come immediately to mind -- but they didn't sell current issues; only "outrageously" priced Golden and Silver Age issues (that probably sold for the hundreds of dollars!).

There were plenty of places that sold comics, but Comics and Things was the first LCS that I ever went to.
* Jeff LeVine shot over an e-mail to remind me that Hi De Ho has been in existence since 1975. That's probably the most high-profile shop on this list.

* Dave Knott noted in an e-mail that there's also a Golden Age Collectables in Vancouver, which makes that city the only one of which he's aware that has two stores operating since before 1976. That's super-interesting to me, although I bet that's just the way things turned out.

* Kurt Busiek wrote in to say that he walked into Million Year Picnic for the first time in 1974. This article says that the store opened in March of that year. That is an equally high-profile shop and I would say has a higher-profile than Hi De Ho in terms of its alt- and indy- qualities for sure. Great shop.

* the shop mentioned in the Million Year Picnic article is this one, in Eugene, which opened in 1972. (thanks to Kurt Busiek again, this time via tweet)

* Stig Olsen says there are two pre-1975 comics shop still operating in Copenhagen: Fantask, Pegaus. He'd guess 1971 on the first, 1973 on the second. Thomas Thorhauge says October 1971 for Fantask and links to this gallery.

* Jean-Paul Jennequin suggests a store in Paris might have been operating a full five years before Lambiek.
Hi Tom,

I don't know much about specialty comic shops in the US and the UK, but I must tell you about one in Paris that has been in existence since the 1960s. It was originally called "Librairie des Jeunes" ("Young People's Bookshop") and was run by Editions Dupuis (hence it was often called "Librairie Dupuis"), publisher of the weekly Spirou (still running, by the way) at 84 boulevard Saint-Germain, in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. This was, for lack of a better term, a comics specialty shop. It carried not only books published by éditions Dupuis, but also by their main competitors at the time, éditions Dargaud, éditions du Lombard and Casterman. Dupuis and Dargaud dabbled with children's books in the '60s, so there were those too, but the shop was overwhelmingly comics.

It had already been running for a few years when I became aware of its existence in the late sixties. To say that it blew my young mind would be an understatement. Here was a bookshop that sold nothing but comics -- so it seemed. I say "so it seemed" because the first few times I went past it, the shop was closed because it was Sunday, and I was left with this tantalizing sight of shop windows full of comic albums. I finally managed to call on shopping days in late 1970, early 1971. The shop not only had new comics, it carried fanzines (I bought my first issues of Phénix there) and foreign imports - I remember buying Steranko's History of Comics, Batman from the '30s to the '70s and Superman from the '30s to the '70s (hardcover editions, huge investments for my 11-year-old budget) and Zio Boris, a hardcover collection of an Italian comic strip that was a spoof on horror movies.

The shop has been in poperation continuously since then. It did change hands at least a couple of times and is now part of the "Album" franchise of comic shops. What more, it seems to have spawned other comic shops, as there are a half dozen in the surrounding streets now, especially rue Dante.

Now Lambiek claims to be the oldest antiquarian comic book shop in Europe and this is true, inasmuch as Librairie Dupuis/Album never sold used comics. But it seems to me most of Lambiek's business is now, and has been for quite a while, new comics. As far as sales of new comics go, Librairie Dupuis/Album was there first.

While searching the internet, I found this page with advertising flyers for Spirou-related events.

If you scroll down, you'll see a flyer advertising a signing of Morris, Goscinny, Roba and Remacle in 1963. That's five years before Lambiek's opening in 1968.
* Mike Dixon checked in with word from the city that gave us Larry's, with word of Chicago's Variety Comics
This shop is about a mile south of Larry's location, and still only sells comic books -- current titles and back issues -- no toys, t-shirts, games or anything else. According to this article, "Variety opened at 4602 N. Western Ave. in 1974 or 1975, under its two original owners."Rick Vitone died a few years ago and left the shop to a customer. Here's a recent blog post about the shop. I like this detail : "When customers suggest that he update the posters to reflect newer titles, he simply states that he likes things they way they are, they way they were when he came in as a kid. Vinny has in fact never been to another comic book store in his entire life."
* Brian Hibbs wrote in to say that he though Gary Arlington's outfit was the first west coast comics shop, but of course that one's not still running, have shut down when Arlington began to suffer from health problems.

* Kenny Penman wrote in with comics shops in the UK:
Far as the Uk goes, I think these are the oldest. Nostalgia and Comics in Birmingham as a retail shop opened in 1976 -- the store owner had operated a mail order and market stall business since, I believe, late 1974. Science Fiction Bookshop which was my first shop and seamlessly changed into Forbidden Planet Edinburgh at a later date was opened in late 1975 -- which i believe makes it the country's oldest store. I think Forbidden Planet London opened in 1976 after the UK's first store, Dark They were And Golden Eyed (which I think opened in 1972/3) began to fade. Might not be 100 percent -- long time ago -- but pretty sure those timings are pretty close.
* Dave Hartley took exception with some of Penman's dates:
Just a minor correction. The first London comic shop Dark They Were And Golden Eyed opened in Covent Garden in 1969 not 1974 and it closed, two changes of location later, in 1981. London Forbidden Planet opened in 1978 so is now the oldest London shop, followed by Mega City Comics in Camden (1981 -- the oldest in the same premises) and Gosh (1987 or thereabouts).
* I went and checked the comic book shop of my youth, Comic Carnival, and they say they've been around since 1975.

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Please Don't Forget Friday's Spider-Man Day

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* Article on Amazing Spider-Man #1-150
* Interview With Writer-About-Comics David Brothers On His Relationship To The Character And Those Comics
* Essay From Writer Kiel Phegley About Spider-Man Outside Of Comics
* 2002 Interview With The Great Spider-Man Artist John Romita Sr.
 
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Go, Look: Famous Cartoonists Of 1900

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Go, Look: Early Al Williamson

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Go, Look: A Nice Run Of 1957 Esquire Cartoons

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Not Comics: A Bunch Of Leigh Brackett Covers

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Not Comics: Zina Saunders Interviewed

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If I Were In Seattle, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In Chicago, I'd Go To This

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FFF Results Post #304 -- Underappreciated

On Friday, CR readers were asked to: 1. Pick A North American Cartoonist -- One With Whom You Have No Personal Or Professional Relationship -- That You Feel Is Under-Appreciated; 2-4. Pick Three Works That -- In Order -- You Would Have People Better Appreciate; 5. Briefly Describe Your Preferred Career Profile For This Person." This is how they responded.

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Tom Spurgeon

1. Ben Katchor
2. The Cardboard Valise
3. The strip for Metropolis
4. Julius Knipl
5. More frequently mentioned in North America's first class; new book releases become a much bigger event.

*****

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Charles Brownstein

1. Tom Hart
2. Hutch Owen: Unmarketable
3. New Hat
4. The Sands
5. Coherent backlist program initiated to resemble Black Sparrow Press treatment of similar poetic voices that is rewarded by a strong enough readership to ensure it stays in print; new work received as a notable art comics event.

*****

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Dave Knott

1. Tom Neely
2. The Blot
3. The Wolf
4. Doppelgänger
5. Better distribution of his works into both comics shops and traditional bookstores. More attention paid to him outside of the indie comics world.

*****

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Marc Arsenault

1. James Sherman
2. The Transmutation of Ike Garuda
3. Legion of Superheroes
4. Misc. 80s and 90s comics including American Splendor and Steelgrip Starkey.
5. One on those handful of creators that dropped in to work on mainstream comics briefly in their art career and turned in work that was of a notably high quality and of a style that was very different from his peers. Mentioned in that context alongside Sid Check, Bernard Krigstein and Jim Steranko.

*****

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Benjamin Humeniuk

1.) Doug TenNapel
2.) TommySaurus Rex
3.) Black Cherry
4.) Gear
5.) I'd like to see him realized as the C.S. Lewis of North American comics: someone who contributes meaningful work to efforts outside of their popularly recognized material (for Lewis, it'd be his work as a professor, medieval scholar, and critic; for TenNapel, it'd be his animation, video game, and illustration portfolios) and who tells reasonably entertaining stories in an all-ages milieu with an explicitly (but not cloyingly) Christian worldview. Scholastic clearly views him as a stablemate with Jeff Smith and Kazu Kibishi, but he's also got some edgier fare in his Image catalog.

*****

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Joe Keatinge

1. Al Columbia
2. "The Trumpets They Play!" from Blab #10
3. The Biologic Show #0 & 1
4. Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days
5. I guess this is sort of dependent on there being more public output, but I wish we lived in a world where we had a 12-volume Complete Al Columbia hardcover series. That being said, I rarely hear about him or even his biggest release, Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days, being discussed by anyone but other cartoonists, writers, artists, etc. I want him to be someone who's praised just as highly, regularly and publicly as R. Crumb, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine, etc. Where's my Paris Review interview with Al Columbia?

*****

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Shannon Smith

1) Gabby Schulz and/or Ken Dahl
2) Sick (webcomic)
3) Welcome to The Dahlhouse
4) Sexism (webcomic)
5) I'd like to see magazines and websites paying Schulz to travel around the country and make comics about his experiences. Which, is to say I'd like to see him getting paid to do what he's been doing already so that I can see it more frequently.

*****

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Josh Leto

1. Roger Langridge
2. Fred the Clown Collection
3. Zoot
4. Snarked
5. New book/books treated like a great new comic, not a great new "kids" or "humor" comic.

*****

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Sean Kleefeld

1. Sean Wang
2. Runners
3. The Tick and Arthur
4. Meltdown
5. His self-published comics sell well enough by themselves to earn him a good living, possibly with some licensing deals; sufficient enough that he could retitle his personal website "Sean Wang Comics" instead of "Sean Wang Illustration & Comics"

****

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Jeet Heer

1. David Collier
2. Chimo
3. Portraits from Life
4. Just the Facts.
5. To be seen as the peer of Pekar and Sacco in doing non-fiction comics.

*****

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M. Emery

1. David Lapham
2. Stray Bullets
3. Young Liars
4. Murder Me Dead
5. Publisher support for an ongoing gig writing and drawing his own stories, El Capitan books back in print, Another fifty issues of Young Liars.

*****

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Oliver Ristau

1.) Paul Hornschemeier
2.) Mother, Come Home
3.) The Three Paradoxes
4.) Huge Suit
5.) Changing the fact that Hornschemeier has a longer Wikipedia entry in German than in English. Changing the fact that Wikipedia has no entries in any other language on Hornschemeier with the exception of those mentioned in the sentence before.

*****

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Danny Ceballos

1. Kelly Froh
2. The Five Year Itch of Dorothy Barry
3. two days away from staring at birds from a park bench
4. SLITHER (Issue 5 - with the bonus insert "My voice is sexy when you close your eyes")
5. To see her acknowledged as one of the best autobiographical cartoonists working today; would like to see a steady stream of longer works put out by her through some smart and fancy publisher

*****

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William Burns

1. Dame Darcy
2. Meatcake
3. Gasoline
4. Frightful Fairy Tales
5. Work more widely reviewed in the comics press and comics internet, part of the conversation on gender and comics.

*****

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John Platt

1. Matt Howarth
2. Keif Llama, Xeno-Tech
3. Savage Henry
4. Crazy for the Girl
5. Omnibus reprint editions; Hugo Award; Musical retrospective; Recognition as digital comix pioneer

*****

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Jake Kujava

1. Ted Stern
2. Fuzz and Pluck's Adventures Begin
3. Fuzz and Pluck's Splitsville
4. Fuzz & Pluck’s in serially quarterly anthology MOME.
5. New collection of stories and Fuzz and Pluck cartoon show

*****

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Alan David Doane

1. James Kochalka
2. Fantastic Butterflies
3. Magic Boy and Girlfriend
4. Quit Your Job
5. Creative focus more on longform graphic novels of the type exemplified by Fantastic Butterflies, which I think is Kochalka's most undervalued work, and full of the magical realism that makes the daily American Elf strip so appealing. I miss Kochalka finding ways to intersect all his interests and relationships in longer stories.

*****
*****
 
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The Comics Reporter Video Parade


A Vincent Stall Interview


A Trailer For An Oliver East Book


The Great Frank Santoro Teaches


Dave Lasky And Frank Young See Their Carter Family Book For The First
via 18 billion people e-mailing me this


Dave Lasky Profiled


A Bunch Of Commercials Featuring Jack Davis Art


Video Preview Of Forthcoming Naked Cartoonists Book


Martin Rowson Interviewed


Ant Sang Profiled


Theo Ellsworth Reading From Forthcoming Work
 
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August 11, 2012


CR Week In Review

imageThe top comics-related news stories from August 4 to August 10, 2012:

1. The passings of Argentine writer Carlos Albiac and Indonesia comics pioneer RA Kosasih remind that key generations of comics creators not from North America are starting to fade.

2. New book announcements for Ethan Rilly and Theo Ellsworth throw early attention on this year's Small Press Expo.

3. There's a new filing in Tony Moore's efforts to secure co-authorship credit for The Walking Dead.

Winner Of The Week
Spider-Man, now eligible for membership in the AARP.

Losers Of The Week
All those cartoonists that might have been edited by Lee Salem that won't be now.

Quote Of The Week
"I think I already see Kickstarter Fatigue kicking in." -- Roger Langridge

*****

today's cover is from the small-press and independent comics scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s

*****
*****
 
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Go, Read: Don't Look Down

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If I Were In Seattle, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In London, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In Seattle, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In Chicago, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In NYC, I'd Go To This

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August 10, 2012


Spider-Man At 50 Part One: A Few Thoughts On Amazing Spider-Man #1-150

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By Tom Spurgeon

1. That initial run of Amazing Spider-Man is one of the few series in the pantheon of great comics, and the one that functions the most like we expect a comic book series to function. Unlike MAD, or glory-years Fantastic Four, or the first volume Love and Rockets, that run of Amazing Spider-Man gains strength from things that usually make series worse: creative-team changes, collaboration, commercial restrictions, the occasional very special episode. It's a miracle that they're as fun as they are.

2. I even like the fact that the run begins in another series entirely -- Amazing Fantasy -- and doesn't really end properly. There's something beautifully appropriate to that. You can pick a few endings from various moments after about issue #142, but I can't imagine there were too many fans that put the title down at that time and declared, "Well, that's over." It's only in retrospect that we can fashion an ending out of there, and then only of the "turns a modest but key corner" variety. It kept going. You can sort of see that there's no proper ending in how the movies have played out. You can end a Batman movie series because Dark Knight made enough of an impression to make that seem possible. None of the proposed endings for Spider-Man have really taken hold in a way that even suggests what to do in a movie; if they ever go that direction, it will seem really weird.

3. The odd thing about the lack of an ending is that the Spider-Man story explores an idea (the nature of responsibility) and boasts a narrative framework (a young guy growing up) that would absolutely suggest an ending of some sort. I think it's the superhero stuff that gets in the way of that ever happening. One, it's hard for me to imagine someone taking full responsibility by being 48 years old and swinging around making wisecracks and punching Electro. Two, if you go the other direction, you have to sell fans that love the character as an underdog superhero, fans that love underdogs and really love superheroes, that becoming the fourth scientist on a team at Stark Labs or wherever (in fact, I seem to recall they did something like this once) and raising a couple of kids and being in love with his wife and coaching little league is a great thing rather than a terrible, depressing one.

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4. I'm not all the way sure why the initial series holds together for as long as it did. I suspect it's a combination of a great character, a great hook, a bunch of talented pros and the intent that it remain all of a piece. Admittedly, you can separate the Ditko issues, I think, into its own thing. The best argument for doing that is that the Ditko stuff is the most consistently inventive of all the Spider-Man material. It's the first reworking of the superhero formula where it seems like a smart person pulled things apart a bit and put them back together; it took the genre seriously. Ditko is a fascinating artist who pulled a lot of compelling ideas into those initial comics and presented them in a way that felt like he was totally committed to the characters and their narrative. It was a comic that respected its readers, which must of made it pop against the underlying disdain that seems just below the surface in the bigger DC efforts. I've always liked that when Peter Parker is mad at Flash Thompson in those early issues, he seems super-freaking-mad, like it just boils off of him. The urban milieu that crystallized at Marvel in the 1970s and remains a part of their books found first expression with Ditko. His body types are more interesting than everyone else's. He could be in the hall of fame simply for how he drew rooftops.

5. I personally find it hard to imagine Ditko's Spider-Man being sustainable as a narrative for more than a couple of more years after it concluded. The intensity of the character and the broader themes involved suggests a narrative that ends in death, which wouldn't have been possible.

6. I always think it's fun to read Amazing Spider-Man as young Peter Parker's first forays into the adult world. The villains make up this seemingly unending wave of super-crappy adult role-models, some of which mirror Peter's life more directly than others. All three of Spider-Man's primary bad guys (Green Goblin, J. Jonah Jameson, Flash Thompson) are classic role-model types (father, boss, BMOC). The big shift to the Romita era, then, isn't just the romance-comic stylings and milieu shift but that Peter Parker actually has halfway decent role-models in two of those areas: Captain Stacy and Robbie Robertson.

image7. It's pretty funny that classic-conception Spider-Man has three arch-villains, one for each part of his life. Pretty genius, too.

8. Before I noodle too much further, I always like to remind that most really good comics of the mainstream comics variety are that way because they have practical, executable elements that are well-done, pleasurable. In other words, they're written well (according to some reasonable standard, even if it's one that feels outdated now) and they're drawn in interesting fashion. I think for the most part that all of these Spider-Man comics qualify, the same way the Kirby Fantastic Four material does. Spider-Man has more artists, but Ditko is a first-rate talent, John Romita is a top-notch illustrator and designer, and the Romita/Kane/Andru group is extremely talented and fully able to make super-handsome, well-staged comic books. I suspect we reduce comics in ruthless fashion to theme and concept because Stan Lee did this in order to present himself as an idea man within publishing and then later to Hollywood. Spider-Man has fine theme work, or at least the outlines of same, but if an appropriate concept were all that's necessary, one of the giant-man characters would be among the best comics of its era, and that's never been the case.

9. That said, I do think there's an element of these comics working better in memory and in context than on the page in terms of providing a satisfying soap-opera narrative issue-in, issue-out. There were moments when everything's cooking -- that recent IDW Romita book reprinted as good a short run as this series had -- but there were also a lot of issues that when you read them feel like running in place, particularly the creators' ability to fold in some sort of physical, costumed conflict into the work. It can't be undersold how much reading mainstream comics in a certain era was projecting what you wanted them to be more than dealing with what they are.

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10. Romita's run of covers is super-underrated as far as those things go. Strangely, outside of the iconic few that mark major story points, so is Ditko's.

11. Romita's staging is really great, too, both in his own work and in some of the changes he suggested for Gil Kane. You can quietly and almost immediately figure out where everyone is in relation to everyone else, and that positioning pushes the story along in a bunch of different ways. You really can't do effective soap opera over an extended period of time without good staging, because that's how you have your characters relate to one another on a visual level.

image12. Aunt May is pretty much a hilarious turd of a character in these comics. This happens in modern mainstream comics a lot now, where the contempt for or disinterest in that creators and/or editors have concerning a character kind of settles onto the character -- you can see it a bunch of times over the last dozen years at Marvel. Aunt May might be the first character to suffer from this creative disdain -- in comic books, anyway. A lot of characters suffer this in comic strips, but they're generally written out of their features. I'm hard pressed to remember anyone from that era mentioning Aunt May without making a joke about Aunt May. This actually damages the character for later on, at least to my mind, in that admirable portrayals don't seem connected to the original -- they seem like admirable re-workings.

13. It's a good set of bad guys, famously so. I even like the low-level, goofy ones. I may especially like those, particularly Hammerhead and Man Mountain Marko. I never liked Lizard all that much, although the look is charming. In fact, the look suggests "alcoholic neighbor," which may be the way to understand him. The way I access that character right now is as a repeat of the scientist mirror character, a type better unpacked by Dr. Octopus. Most people have an alcoholic neighbor, and if you don't, you're probably that neighbor.

image14. I'm not sure that Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn work all that well as characters. They're both great, great visuals, though. Both Romita and Ditko were strong designers in terms of non-superhero characters, too.

15. I always thought it was interesting that Gerry Conway was as far as I could tell the only major writer for Spider-Man to write him when he was roughly the same age as Spider-Man. Conway's work strikes me as solid, and the clone storylines seem to me a super-creepy, clever way to talk about the loss part of taking responsibility. It's also, intentional or not, a great way to talk about the comics themselves and how fans process them. A little of that kind of thing goes a long, long way, but Spider-Man had been publishing for enough time at that point the book was able to handle what earlier on or more regularly employed might have become super self-indulgent.

16. So if the industry had gone under in the late 1970s, I wonder if Spider-Man would be remembered as the last important superhero. I wonder if you couldn't argue that anyway. There are only a few. Great character. These are really fun comics.

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Go, Look: Fan Survey Results For 50 Best Spider-Man Covers

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Spider-Man At 50 Part Two: David Brothers On How Spider-Man Is The Ultimate And Best Superhero

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imageA lot of my younger peers in the writing-about-comics trade write very well about superhero comics, so I thought it might be fun to corral one into talking about Peter Parker/Spider-Man. It seems to me that the character looms large in a lot of comics fans' relationship with the medium. I also have to admit that the age difference made this appealing. As someone who came in on the last few years of what I consider the original, canonical run on the character -- with a lot of reprints to be had via Marvel Tales and digging around back-issue bins in proto comics shops and flea markets -- I have little in the way of knowing how kids that grew up with the character since that time might view the guy.

Everyone told me that David Brothers was the guy to whom I should speak. There were a couple of other suggestions, but only from people that also recommended Brothers. I enjoy Brothers' writing generally, and I knew that he had a certain amount of respect for the first 140 or so issues of Amazing Spider-Man the way I do. He was nice enough to take my questions; I got them back in frighteningly short order, a sign of his enthusiasm for all things web-slung. -- Tom Spurgeon

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TOM SPURGEON: David, when I asked around for someone that was a fan of Spider-Man, for one of the writers about comics, I got a flood of people writing me saying you were that guy. I think that's kind of curious, to be known as a Spider-Man guy in a group where there are probably lots of Spider-Man guys. Why would your peers think of you in that light, do you think?

DAVD BROTHERS: [laughs] Yeah, that is curious. I didn't even know I had that reputation, but it's probably accurate. I can talk about Spider-Man all day, and probably have. If you and I somehow managed to put a panel on at a major convention, and you told me to freestyle 60 minutes of material about Spider-Man, I could do it and have enough left over to make it a traveling show. I'll tell anyone who'll listen about how Spider-Man is the ultimate and best superhero, basically.

imageIn thinking about how I got that rep... I (privately, and later publicly) quit Marvel comics earlier this year. As sort of a farewell to the company, I wrote about one of my favorite Spider-Man stories, Kaare Andrews's Spider-Man: Reign. It's one of my favorite tales because I think it gets right at the heart of what makes Spider-Man such a perfect character. The criticism at the time of its release boiled down to "Ha ha, Peter Parker has radioactive spider-sperm?", but it goes way deeper than that. I think that might have gotten a lot of eyeballs and solidified my rep.

SPURGEON: Tell me about you background with the character, when you discovered it and how. Am I right in thinking that one of the television iterations played a big role in how you were introduced to the character?

BROTHERS: Nope, you're wrong! [Spurgeon laughs] The cartoon with Firestar was canceled a month or so before I was born and the '90s toon debuted well after I was into the character and a few years before I was old enough to consciously quit comics when things went south.

No, for me, it was because my uncle discovered girls or graduated high school or something, so I got all his comics. This would've been around late 1989, if I had to guess, maybe even as late as mid-1990. My first comics, as in the first comics I distinctly remember owning and being able to call my own, were copies of David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane's Amazing Spider-Man #316 and #317, the first big return of Venom story. I also had ASM #321 and #322, parts two and three of "The Assassin Nature Plot," which featured Silver Sable, Paladin, Sabertooth, and more.

But yeah, I was given these comics and they made a huge impression on me. I had a few cover-less Sgt Rocks and early-'80s Superman/Justice League comics that were too weird to be good, but Spider-Man hooked me. I don't know if it was McFarlane's creepy cartooning or just how Michelinie scripted the character, but I basically took one look and knew that Spider-Man was the guy for me.

I discovered Jim Lee's X-Men a little later, maybe just before the big launch of X-Men #1, and fell in love there, too. So I was always an X-Men and Spider-Man kid, and I preferred adjectiveless to Uncanny and Amazing over Spectacular over Web of. When I quit comics in the '90s, it was because of Spidey and X-Men comics. The X-Men were knee-deep in Onslaught, which I thought was awful even to my unrefined palate, and Spider-Man had the Clone Saga, which eventually tied into Onslaught, and I just called it quits, barring flipping through books at the grocery store.

I rarely got to read entire stories back in the day, as a result of not having an allowance or easy access to a comics shop, so I got most of my comics via trading. Even as spotty as that was, I knew that Spider-Man was the business and the X-Men were a close #2.

I did like the '94 cartoon, but I could never figure out why it was 200 percent brighter than the concurrent X-Men cartoon, which I loved. I also remember really digging the '70s live-action series, which I think aired on the Sci-Fi Channel or Nick at Nite at some point during the '90s.

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SPURGEON: Does Peter Parker/Spider-Man as a character appeal to you in part because he speaks directly to you as a younger man? Was that ever part of how you accessed the character? Because I suppose thematically that's his special contribution to superheroes, this idea of growing up, of taking responsibility. Or is that overthinking things?

BROTHERS: Yeah, that's definitely part of it. As a kid, just getting into Spider-Man's world, I greatly enjoyed the fact that there was this married hero who was just a regular guy. Batman has a mansion, Superman has outer space, and Peter Parker has... a crappy apartment with a skylight in the bathroom or his aunt's guest room. I thought the wife thing was very cool.

As a kid, Spider-Man was aspirational. He had a life that was like what I imagined being an adult was like and he had superheroic adventures. Best of both worlds. Amazing Spider-Man felt like a comic for grown-ups and had grown-ups doing grown-up things.

As I grew, my appreciation changed and deepened. I liked seeing Ben Reilly's attempts at being a hip early twenty-something when he wore the mask, and the emphasis on action the franchise had for a long while. Eventually, once I hit my own adulthood, I saw that he wasn't actually a blueprint for adulthood, but a dramatization.

When I eventually sat down and read most of Amazing Spider-Man front to back, I felt like I really got the character. He's very much about growing up and taking responsibility, but the series as a whole also deals with trust, love, familial obligations, obsession... there's a lot going on here that would normally be heightened to superheroic levels in other comics that was just regular business in ASM. I think Spider-Man is the most regular-guy hero out there, and infinitely relatable. He started out as a hero for me, but quickly turned into something else, something you can point to and say "I'm going through this and he is, too, so things'll be okay."

I think I'm far past the point of being able to not-overthink Spider-Man. Before I started my blog, I sat down with a bunch of milestone comics (the death of Gwen, the marriage, the college issues, and so on) and figured out that Peter Parker had to be about 27 or 28 in the Marvel Universe at the time. I had a bunch of persuasive arguments, issue references... I would've been around 20 or 21 at the time. Maybe that was my attempt to make sure Peter Parker stayed older than I was, like Frank Miller did with Batman in Dark Knight Returns.

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SPURGEON: Reading what you've written about Spider-Man, I was surprised -- pleasantly -- that you hold the original series run in high regard. Can you talk about what drove you to go back and read that material, and what you thought of it, what you think of it as a critic and a reader. For one thing, what do you consider to make up that first one?

BROTHERS: I got lucky, is the short version. Someone, I feel like probably my grandparents, got me a copy of the first Marvel Masterworks: Amazing Spider-Man volume, which seemed horrendously expensive to a ten year old. But they'd always encouraged my reading, and it was a Real Book, so hey. It worked. I would've read anything in those days, and often did, but I tore through that book. I think I eventually lost it in a flood.

For me, the original run is from Amazing Fantasy #15 up through around Amazing Spidey #140 or so. It's my Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four, basically, the chronicle of a boy becoming a man and a hero.

The Ditko/Lee material is precious to me, because it's barely a traditional superhero story. Peter Parker thinks a lot about getting back at the normal people who hassle him. "That Flash Thompson! He's gonna keep messing with me and one of these days...!" He's constantly behaving as if he's going to regress or turn bad, but he never does. Half Spider-Man's enemies are his own mirror image, regular people and geniuses who were infected by radiation and ruined forever. Dr. Octopus especially -- it's easy to see why he was Spidey's original arch-villain.

And yet, here's this scrawny little teenager, and he's got more heart than all the incredibly ancient men and animal enthusiasts Ditko and Lee threw at him. Where Batman and Superman are about exceptionalism ("I've got so much money to spend!" and "I've got so many powers I'm basically a god!"), Spider-Man is about weathering the slings and arrows and growing into yourself, no matter what.

Like, case in point, as a critic, if I had to write a thinkpiece on something, it would be about how Spider-Man is a hero who was created after superheroes were a mainstream affair, and it shows in his actions. When he's just Peter Parker, professional wallflower, he's just a normal guy with no friends. He's not funny or interesting, or at least no one thinks so. But when he pulls on his mask, when he becomes Spider-Man, he begins playing the role of the hero. He laughs, he jokes, and he flirts with girls constantly. I mean, I forget which number it is right now, but I love that issue where he decides to go off and steal the Torch's girlfriend.

Peter Parker is playing at being Spider-Man, but he's also playing at being a man, too. He was 15 or 16 when he got bit, and at least for me, nothing makes sense at that age. You're not a man, but people will treat you like a man up to and until the point that you ask to be treated like a man, at which point you're relegated to being a child again. How does that situation affect a teenager who's found himself forced into semi-adulthood, both in terms of taking care of his aunt and dealing with adult villains?

And that's just going off Ditko & Lee's issues. I love the Romita era, the Pretty People Having Pretty Problems era. (There was an HBO show recently, How to Make It In America, about twentysomethings in hip New York. It was the most Jazzy John-on-Amazing-Spider-Man thing ever at times.) I love that they let him grow up and attend college, get his own place, introduce Glory Grant and the rest of his glorious supporting cast...

I can't get enough of those old comics. I try to reread them in chunks a few times a year, just because they're such a pleasure and so re-energizing. Peter Parker and Harry Osborn as best friends is one of the most inspired things in comics ever, and I love-love-love those early Lizard and Sandman tales.

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SPURGEON: One of the distinguishing characteristics of the character is that he transitioned so well into work by other artists -- Steve Ditko and John Romita and Gil Kane and Ross Andru are very different artists; they're even more different than JR JR and Mark Bagley and some of artists known for the character over the last 15 years or so. What is it about that character that he stands up to different interpretations in others might not?

BROTHERS: I think it's that he's a character who, if you are the slightest bit talented at showing action, is easy to make look good. I like Ditko's skinny Spidey, and then way his fights were all about position and effort. Kane and Romita's was a more classic hero, but still lithe. JRjr's best take on Spidey is when he's super skinny, like Ditko's, but throw into the middle of Kirby-style bombastic action poses. I feel like the sign of a great Spider-Man artist is that they draw him as a shorter guy, sub six feet. It's a throwback to his teenaged years, maybe, but it always looks great to see Spider-Man backing down someone six inches taller than him.

The height thing also adds to the general concept of Spider-Man as an underdog and weird, creepy hero instead of an upright and honest Captain America or brawny Hulk. Spider-Man's supposed to be unsettling, and he's undertrained, so he does whatever he has to do to get by. So he should fight differently from most heroes and maybe get by on a lot of lucky punches or strange attacks. Building actual spider-webs, maybe, or swinging kicks.

I think that emphasis on (weird) acrobatics and action is what makes Spidey so great to draw, or to see drawn. There's definitely an iconic Spider-Man (Mark Bagley's, I think, followed by John Romita Sr, followed by John Jr), but the character as conceived allows for a wide variety of interpretations. I don't think Chris Bachalo's hyper-kinetic style would be good for Batman, for example, but if you give him Spider-Man, his amped up cartooning looks natural.

There's a freedom of depiction to Spider-Man that's hard to beat. Paolo Rivera did a comic a few years ago where Spidey spends the entire fight scene walking around on the walls and ceiling, and it's quintessential Spidey. When Paul Jenkins and Humberto Ramos did a lot of stories of Spidey in dark and rainy alleys, that was quintessential Spidey, too. Tim Sale did a hard Romita homage in Spider-Man: Blue, a period piece, and that looked perfect, too. Spider-Man's just... it sounds unfair and like a bad critical opinion, but he feels more free than most characters do. If you can draw a backflip and good webs, you're in. You can tell a lot of stories with this guy, and I think the diversity of artists who've nailed his look speaks to that.

imageSPURGEON: The comics artist turned architectural and drawing teacher Pierce Rice used to laud comics artists for their practical knowledge of anatomy. In a way Spider-Man is all about that human figure, I think particularly later on. He may be the most about that, really, of all the characters. How much does Spider-Man work when a skilled artists gets a hold of him; what works about him visually right now, with the best of the artists that do him now?

BROTHERS: When a really skilled artist picks up the pencil, someone who really gets Spider-Man and Peter Parker, magic happens. Chris Bachalo's work during the Brand New Day era was amazing, from his cartoonishly irate J Jonah Jameson to Spider-Man vomiting inside his own mask. I'm really impressed with Paolo Rivera, both on covers and interiors. I like my Spidey cartoony. Alex Ross or John Cassaday would draw him too real, too grounded for my tastes. Joe Madureira still draws an amazing Spider-Man, even after his years away from comics.

Todd McFarlane, I think, said something that totally changed how I look at how the character is drawn. He said that Spider-Man should be just a little bit inhuman, and if he's in the air, you should be able to see the bottom of just one of his feet. Not both -- just one. That forces you to make him pose in a way that other superheroes can't. He's more acrobatic than everyone else.

My preferred depiction of Spider-Man has a few specific features that need to be met, and then anything goes after that. He's thin, he's short, he's not brawny, and his eyepieces are expressive. (The eyepieces are a cartooning gift, I never get tired of seeing his facial expressions when masked. I'll never get along with fans who disagree.) I like his costume when they color the blue bits black, but the costume is classic regardless.

And the best Spider-Man cartoonists -- off the top of my head: Ditko, Romita, Kane, McFarlane, Bagley, JRjr, Chris Bachalo, Paolo Rivera, Humberto Ramos -- all have different and often contradictory specialties. Romita's classic musculature runs counter to Ramos's deformed style, and Ditko's thin, stringy webs are the exact opposite of McFarlane's goopy mess. But they all look "right" to me.

There's a lot of moving parts when it comes to depicting Spider-Man, and if you can do one really well, then the other things will seem okay. I always wish that 300/Sin City: Family Values-era Frank Miller got a chance to go wild on a Spider-Man graphic novel. No one in comics draws jumps and leaps over a city like Miller (for example) and I think he would've done great things, because so much of what makes Spidey great are avenues that Miller has explored with other heroes/characters.

SPURGEON: What is the state of that franchise creatively right now, or at least your sense of it? Are you still keeping tabs on what's going on?

BROTHERS: The current state is pretty definitively not for me. I loved the Brand New Day era, but wasn't too impressed by Dan Slott's first solo at-bat with Big Time. I quit the series around then for the third time ever (the first being during the '90s, the second when Mike Deodato drew Joseph Michael Straczynski's "Norman Osborn and Gwen Stacy Doin' It In The Dark" arc), but I've greatly enjoyed the semi-breathless "You're not gonna believe this!" recaps friends have delivered since I bailed out. So I guess I keep tabs in the loosest possible way, and those tabs aren't the tabs that get my Spider-Buggy revved up.

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SPURGEON: Do you think it's possible to still make good Spider-Man comics that speak directly to fans in the way that the character used to? Do you think he's still a priority for Marvel?

BROTHERS: I think he's definitely still a priority. The past few years have seen a remarkable amount of great work with the character. Both volumes of Spider-Man: Noir by David Hine, Fabrice Sapolsky, and Carmine Di Giadomenico are among the truest interpretations of the character ever, remaining remarkably true to the Ditko/Lee/Romita era while simultaneously exploring the Great Depression, racism, horror, and honor. The Amazing Spider-Man: Shed was a marvelous reinvention of the Lizard that sounds like every terrible darkening but reads like one of the best comics that year. Anything written by Fred Van Lente (especially Keemia's Castle) or Zeb Wells is a Spider-Man I want to read. They really get the sort of Woody Allen-with-muscles take that I enjoy a whole lot.

Like with the art, Spider-Man is a fertile character in terms of narrative, too. His high concept is "poor boy from Queens gets powers, screws up, and still has to take care of his family." That's pretty universal, yeah? You can apply that to India, Japan, the '30s, the '90s, and the '10s. If you can nail the foundation of the character, then anything goes. I hope Marvel keeps pushing the character into newer and stranger contexts rather than rehashing superhero tropes again and again (the end of the world? sidekicks? ehhhh).

SPURGEON: Why do you think Marvel partly shies away from openly celebrating anniversaries like this year's 50th? Is it just they don't want to look old?

BROTHERS: My only guess is that it has something to do with Sony having the Amazing Spider-Man license, cutting into Marvel's profits.

But Marvel is terrible with anniversaries anyway. I found out that the Hulk turned 50 this year from my buddy Chris Eckert's fantastic 5-10-15-20 feature for March, not from any comic or press release. I think they just don't particularly care to celebrate it how they used to. I remember those little UPC box images from the '90s that celebrated anniversaries. I loved those. Sure, the character's old, but these are new stories. C'mon, Marvel. Push that history. Tell us about how Ditko and Lee created the best superhero in the entire world.

SPURGEON: How much does the fact that they've done so many stories with the character have an effect on how the character is perceived?

BROTHERS: I think that, depending on your introduction to Spider-Man, it can really dick things up for you. [Spurgeon laughs] I know people who see Spidey as just an annoying jokester Avenger, while others want him to be the ultimate giant killer ("He beat Firelord once! And he could take the Hulk!"). That's sort of annoying, just from an "arguing from a firm and equal foundation" point of view.

But I think the thousands of Spider-Man stories are a strength, rather than a hindrance. Marvel Team-Up did a lot to widen the types of stories Spidey could appear in without seeming silly, and it pretty well convinced me that everyone in the Marvel Universe has Spider-Man's phone number, even if they don't particularly care to use it.

I would like it if everyone loved my personal Spider-Man, but that's lunacy. I like that he's a character that speaks to other people in different ways. I wouldn't trade his deep catalog for the world, no matter how bad Amazing Spidey got between #415 in 1996 (my original "last issue") and everything up until JMS and John Romita Jr took the reins. (It got really, really bad.)

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SPURGEON: Finally, just to end on a more interactive-with-the-material note: Do you have one or two favorite stories that might surprise in the character's long run? Do you have a favorite supporting character? A favorite villain? Defend your answers!

BROTHERS: First story: Spider-Man: Return of the Goblin by Paul Jenkins and Humberto Ramos is tremendous. It ran from Peter Parker, Spider-Man #44-47, and it's the big comeback story for the Green Goblin. It's really about Norman vs Peter, though, and that's what makes it so special. It's about their codependent relationship, shared loss, and hate for each other. It's about Gwen Stacy. It's intensely personal, which makes the end of it, where Norman and Peter stop fighting, sit down on a curb, and they have a conversation. Norman talks about how his original villain name was almost "Mister Coffee" and they both bust a gut laughing about it. They have a real conversation, first names instead of code names, and they spill their hearts to each other. Tears and everything. It's spectacular.

Second story: James Stokoe's Spider-Nam. It's unofficial, but Marvel should've backed a truck full of money up to Stokoe's cave in Canada and got him to finish it. Stokoe posted samples here and I think there's a colored version out there. You know how people say things like "Jeff Parker is writing a comic just for me these days!" or "Oh man, Mark Waid knows exactly what I want out of a Daredevil comic!"? That's what this is for me. I love reading about Vietnam (my grandfather served) and the culture around it. And then along comes James "Orc Stain" Stokoe and he knocks my socks off. His story is faithful to the Romita era, is appropriate for the setting, and just... works. It's such a great twist on an old character, and it's the type of twist that you could see simultaneously changing and honoring everything you know about the character. I love how quiet and reserved his Spidey is, and how real the story feels. I'd love to buy a page out of it one day, or somehow hit the lottery and force James to finish it with oodles of cash.

Favorite supporting character: Mary Jane Watson, pre- and post-marriage. I loved that instead of just being a weeping willow, she was basically his partner in crime. She'd cover for him, she would fight if put into that situation, she was smart enough to know when to pour on the love and when to leave him alone... and she never felt like she was just a supporting character. She had a life and career of her own, and both of them were rich. I love MJ, especially around the Kraven's Last Hunt and McFarlane era.

Favorite villain: Harry Osborn. Not the Green Goblin, either. I mean Harold Theopolis Osborn, Peter's best friend and Norman's son. I think having a best friend was the best thing they could've possibly done for Spider-Man, and then turning that friend into a villain with a good reason to be a villain was icing on the cake. Harry's death in Spectacular Spidey #200 ("Why, Harry? Why'd you come back for me?" "Hey... what else could I do? You're my best friend." !!!) made me sob my eyes out as a kid, and just thinking about it is getting me misty. I love that balance, and it's essentially the perfect Spider-Man story. His relationship with his villains is personal. He grew up with them and they've watched him blossom into full manhood. For his bitterest enemy to also be his best friend is almost poetry.

A lot of people hated One More Day, and were primed to pre-hate Brand New Day because the marriage between Peter Parker and Mary Jane dissolved. I was, too, until I saw that they brought Harry Osborn back to life and gave Peter a best friend again. That's my favorite relationship in comics, or maybe top five, and I can't get enough of it.

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Go, Look: Massive Run Of Spider-Man Images On Comic Vine

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Spider-Man At 50 Part Three: Kiel Phegley On Spider-Man's Existence Outside Of The Comic Books

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By Kiel Phegley

In the summer of 2007, my girlfriend Jami and I were living in New York. One night, we're riding the subway back uptown when she starts nudging me with her elbow. I look across the empty car and see two little boys -- maybe six and eight -- passed out across their parents laps on the way back from Coney Island. Both of them had their faces painted bright red, black rings around their eyes and thin lines radiating from their noses in an approximation of Spider-Man's mask.

I turn and give Jami the "Aw, isn't that cute?" smile, and she jabs me again, nudging back to the family. That's when I realized their dad was Michael Imperioli. I'm kind of an idiot like that.

Still, that summer it was kind of hard to look anywhere and not see Spider-Man first. We were weeks out from the release of Spider-Man 3, and before anyone knew about the dance scene, the excitement for the film and Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's character in general was at an all-time high. The corners of the dollar store down the street from me in Washington Heights hung with beachball-ish Spidey blow up dolls. The junk stores that lined the streets of Chinatown had knock-off Spidey action figures wrapped up with crudely painted Power Rangers. Every t-shirt stand around Times Square had 17 varieties of Spider-Man shirts in their windows, and every kid on the street had a Spider-Man backpack or lunchbox or sneakers or squirt gun.

Of course, maybe lowest down the list of Spidey-themed tchotchkes on sale around the city -- somewhere in between Spider-Man Pez Dispensers and Pop-Tarts -- were comic books. I think there may have been a few non-comic shop magazines weaseling their way into the nearby drug stores, but they were outnumbered by waves of candy, hand soap, sunglasses and motorized toothbrushes.

Some comics readers, then and now, will look at that unimaginable wave of popularity -- that wholesale embracing by the city of a superhero tailor-made to represent its most admirable features -- and respond with rage that there wasn't a better place for Spider-Man comics. What a travesty, they say, that the medium and the stories that birthed this character get so little respect! What a demonstrable fuck up by Marvel that they can't place their comics in the hands of every child riding the subway with their face painted like Christopher Moltisanti's two boys! They charge it on any message board or comment thread you can name.

Not me. I don't think there's a crime or a sadness that Spider-Man comics don't make it as big a splash as Spider-Man merchandise. I don't even think it's possible.

My first memory of Spider-Man was as product. As a little kid, I had a preternatural attraction to all things comics, including superheroes. But while I always identified Calvin & Hobbes or Batman with stories told in pictures, Spider-Man seemed like another action figure. He was a rubber man affixed to a plastic motorcycle, not a human character I could identify with. He was no different than He-Man or Hulk Hogan.

Even when it came to stories about Spider-Man, all that fabled pretense of Marvel's masked men being more relatable flew right past me. I got that Spidey was "more important" than some of the other characters, but that was mostly because he had a cartoon show. But there were little clues in his mainstream media figure that synched up to the highest qualities brought to the character by [Stan] Lee or [Steve] Ditko or John Romita or Gil Kane.

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Spider-Man was an action hero. A brightly colored flash on Saturday morning who frequently punched out old men in unitards. I filled in his features in coloring books where he presented mazes and puzzles. I had a coverless picture book where he went to a circus and wrestled a lion. Some of these stories mentioned a radioactive spider bite. None of them mentioned Uncle Ben or power and responsibility.

Even when I made it to my teenage years and had read enough articles extolling the virtues of Marvel's best Spider-Man comics, the only issues I ever bought came because an artist caught my eye. I picked up an Amazing Spider-Man arc because Moon Knight and Night Thrasher guest-starred and kept buying for Mark Bagley's sinewy take on the star and his smooth linework. I followed Peter Parker, Spider-Man during some grim years around the Clone Saga because I loved the way John Romita, Jr. and Scott Hanna made Spidey's webbing look brittle and angular. It's an all-time great costume that's been drawn by some all-time great talent. That was always the attraction. I could care less if Peter Parker was broke or married or tortured.

And that's the prism that most Americans have viewed Spider-Man through for the better part of five decades -- a grade-A, muscle-bound spokesmodel. As a visual, as a concept, as a brand, Spider-Man works better than any character in Marvel's stable, and the company knows it. He appears on the checks it pays out to freelancers. He gets a balloon in the Macy's parade. A decade ago when they were on the brink of death, merchandising of Ultimate Spider-Man art led the charge of Marvel's reinvention into a licensing powerhouse. One time when I worked at Wizard, a colleague asked Bagley what the oddest product carrying his art was, and he replied without a moment's hesitation, "Little girl's panties." I wouldn't call that a product targeted towards people who knew that Peter let the thief go after the wrestling match.

And this isn't to say that the great Spider-Man comics don't wear those heartfelt, admirable qualities right out on their sleeve or communicate them to the readers in the Wednesday crowd. They certainly do. And it isn't even to say that the Spider-Man comics marketed to kids don't get the job done in message or availability. Because I think the publisher has put the work in over the past five decades to spread that material as far as it can go. Hell, when my friend Sean T. Collins improbably wrote an issue of the kids Spidey comic last year, I picked it up at Toys R Us.

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But even with all that charm and pathos and theme running through the comics -- even with four massively popular movies full of quivering lips and graveyard skulking -- the draw Spider-Man has as a cultural totem comes first and foremost from his status as power fantasy.

About 25 years ago, Superman turned 50, and DC celebrated the milestone with a particularly synergistic cover on Time Magazine. I remember reading somewhere that John Byrne was peeved that the cover copy referred to his powers as "supernatural" -- as if there was a massive slight against the character and the medium in that minute inaccuracy. But at that point, an accurate view of Superman didn't come with a set of stories or a set of principals or even a set of artists anymore. A generation of Americans had grown up watching George Reeves tumble through plaster walls, and as a result, they tied towels around their necks and jumped off their garages. Even in the wake of Christopher Reeve, Superman was a potent image of power first and a (not-so) subtle set of characteristics second.

Today, Spider-Man has surpassed the Man of Steel as America's most reproduced image of what a superhero is supposed to be. Today's kids leave the towels in the laundry and instead run around pressing middle and ring fingers to their palms. Meanwhile Superman grows more nostalgic, relying on a memory of his baby boomer potency to sell his latest movie (I mean, who is little Clark Kent pretending to be in that Zack Snyder trailer anyway?)

And ultimately, I don't think Spider-Man's 50-year climb to the top of America's mass produced art heap detracts from the qualities comic readers love in him. He hasn't been watered down by popular culture. He's ascended beyond it. When people see Spider-Man today, they see him with joy and admiration. His status gives him a power with the public, with children, that I think is felt in a real way. Whether any responsibility comes along with it is something we can only hope for, or maybe fight for.

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posted 3:00 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
Go, Look: John Romita Sr. Art For Sale

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Spider-Man At 50 Part Four: A John Romita Sr. Interview From 2002

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My favorite Spider-Man artist is John Romita, Sr.

John Romita Sr. may not have been the rock upon which Marvel Comics was built, but the city on that rock has Romita as its basic infrastructure. A stellar costume designer and an incredibly prolific penciler, inker, and cover artist, Romita infused romance comics élan into the sturdy moral soap opera of the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Spider-Man. The result was one of the great runs in mainstream comics history. When people one day look back and remember Marvel Comics as a publishing phenomenon, they are likely to think of Romita's handsome men and incredibly great-looking women, clad in the latest fashions, taking the time between super-fights to congregate at the coffeehouse.

It's been my great pleasure to talk at length with Mr. Romita not once but twice. This is our conversation from 2002. -- Tom Spurgeon

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imageDoing His Share

TOM SPURGEON: How often do you get to the drawing table these days?

JOHN ROMITA: As little as possible. [laughter] That's why I didn't get the cover done in time for solicitation. I feel terrible about it. I should've gotten it done quicker, but between Thanksgiving and Christmas confusion, I thought I was going to have two weeks or a week to get things done, and it ended up a couple of days between one thing was finished and the next thing started. I've had relatives here after Thanksgiving, and then I'm getting relatives here early for Christmas. So things have been up in smoke.

SPURGEON: It's a short holiday season this year, so I think a lot of people are getting squeezed. Do you draw for pleasure still at all?

ROMITA: The only thing I'm about to embark on is to try some computer-generated art. But that's only because it's been in my head for five or six years, that I wanted to try it. I don't know if it's wise, and of course the equipment costs a lot of money, and I don't know if I'm going to have the patience to sit at the computer for long hours. Right now I just use it for e-mail and the occasional reference call. That's the only thing I'm planning.

I did a Supergirl cover for DC, only because a former Marvel editor was up there, and she asked me to do it, and I did it as a favor. But I'm trying to avoid work. [laughter] After 55 years... I started working when I was 14, and when I hit 66, I left the office but I kept working the last five or six years. And I said, "You know, this is ridiculous. Almost 55 years I've been working. The hell with that. I did my share.

SPURGEON: What was it you did at 14?

ROMITA: I was a messenger in Times Square... documented in one of Roy Thomas' nostalgic visits. He did retrospective things while he was editing at Marvel. He did a Captain America/Sub Mariner World War II story, and he showed a scene of me delivering packages in Times Square, believe it or not. [laughs] I wish I remember what book that was.

SPURGEON: How did a Brooklyn boy end up working down in Times Square?

ROMITA: I went to school in the city. When I was 14, I embarked on a long subway ride to get to the School of Industrial Arts in the city. I wanted to go to that art school so badly, so my mother gave me the permission. Somebody asked if there's anybody interested in 60 cents an hour as a messenger, and I jumped up like an idiot. [laughter] For the next few years I worked there, I was a little mad at myself, but I needed the money.

SPURGEON: You were a kid that always drew?

ROMITA: Oh, yeah. I was drawing since I was about five.

SPURGEON: And it was very much supported in your family? Were there artists in your family?

ROMITA: They were supportive. We were musically oriented. Everybody loved singing, and I'm the only one in the family who couldn't sing. They always supported me. But they never believed I would make a living as a comic artist. My father used to say, "Sure, you want to draw, you can draw all you want, but you're not going to make a living." He expected me to become a baker and drive a delivery truck.

SPURGEON: How long did that last?

ROMITA: He talked about it all during my adolescence. My mother used to shake her head while he wasn't looking. [laughs]

SPURGEON: Were you known in the neighborhood as the kid who draws?

ROMITA: I used to draw on the sidewalks of Brooklyn. Believe it or not, I used to get chalk donated from all of my friends. I would do drawings all day long, when there was nothing else to do. There was not much else to do -- no television, and spring and summer and fall I'd be drawing on the streets. The blacktop was a great blackboard for me. I once did a 100-foot long drawing of the Statue of Liberty. It was a good exercise, come to think of it. Hunched over and drawing... I did everything. The whole thing. The pedestal, the full statue, the torch, and I went from one manhole to the next. Which was about a hundred feet.

SPURGEON: I imagine the impermanence of that might have prepared you for comic books.

ROMITA: When it rained, everybody used to say, "Oh, there it goes." I would just do another drawing the next day. It didn't matter.

SPURGEON: You drew in school?

ROMITA: In school I did the usual things. Every holiday, starting with Lincoln's birthday and Washington's birthday, I would do silhouettes of the presidents and other kids would cut them out. I would do backdrops for school plays, and scenery -- that kind of stuff.

SPURGEON: What was your curriculum like at Industrial Arts?

ROMITA: It was an innovative idea -- and by the way, a lot of my colleagues, the comic book artists from the '40s and '50s, graduated from that school. Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella, Sy Barry, almost all of my colleagues went to that school. Just a couple -- John Buscema and Mike Esposito, maybe another couple -- went to Music and Art. Music and Art was an interesting school, but it taught more of the fine arts and printmaking than commercial. I went to the one that was commercial, because I knew I had to make a living.

SPURGEON: You were taught by professional artists there.

ROMITA: That was the theory. And it was wonderful. They were all excellent, excellent teachers and wonderful role models because they were all practicing, earning artists.

SPURGEON: Was it at this point that it locked in for you that you could make a living doing art?

ROMITA: Teenagers are very strange. You don't have to really convince yourself, you just have this vague impression you're going to make a living someday. Even if I thought on lucid moments that I probably wouldn't make a living as an artist, I always thought that this was something I like to do, and I'll always be able to do it, and if I don't get work at it, I'll do production or something like that. One of the things that was good about that school is that it taught you lettering, it taught you mechanical drawing, and sculpture, and photography... the foundation course the first year was very, very complete. It taught me all sorts of things. Like the rest of the classmates, we would grumble and say, "What the hell are we doing photography for?" Or show-card lettering. But the truth of the matter is that everything I studied in that foundation year has come to my aid in comics. Almost immediately when I got into comics, I was using lettering, I was using perspective, I was using mechanical drawing techniques. Everything I was learning in that class -- and I only went there for three years, because I wasted my first year of high school in a local junior high. So I went to Industrial Art at the 10th grade level, and I only did the 10th, 11th, and 12th grade years. To my eternal regret. I should have had the guts to take a final year. Another year -- I don't know if they would have let me. [laughs]

Analyzing Comics

SPURGEON: You were born in 1930, as I recall.

ROMITA: Yeah.

SPURGEON: So you would not have been in the first generation of professional cartoonists.

ROMITA: No. Another one of my regrets. It really is. I always felt that I became a follower of necessity. Because they had already done the ground rules. And I became a guy who was just following everybody else's lead. I think I would have been more of a pioneer and more of a person in my own right rather than a follower. I think it stamped me forever. No matter what success I've had, I've always considered myself a guy who can improve on somebody else's concepts. A writer and another artist can create something, and I can make it better. I don't know the name of that company that advertises all the time, "We don't make the material, we just make it better." You remember that commercial?

SPURGEON: Sure.

ROMITA: That's the way I've always thought of myself. I don't consider myself a creator. I've created a lot of stuff. But I don't consider myself a real creator in a Jack Kirby sense. But I've always had the ability to improve on other people's stories, other people's characters. And I think that's what's made me a living for 50 years.

SPURGEON: You would have been right at the first age to experience that first wave.

ROMITA: It was wonderful, that first wave I was an avid reader. I remember everything that was done. I remember George Tuska... when I was nine and ten years old, George Tuska was doing stuff for Lev Gleason. I remember Jack Kirby's work, I remember Captain America #1. And I had two copies of Superman #1 -- Action Comics. But I was about eight years old when Superman #1 came out. I bought two copies of it. I don't know what reason I gave my parents, maybe it was an accident. I had two copies, and I kept one in a wax paper bag. As a protector. So I was way ahead of everybody else on that. [laughter] The other one I traced to death. The cover was absolutely unviewable, because I'd just traced it forever.

SPURGEON: You were making distinctions between the artists?

ROMITA: I was aware. That was one of the things that I accepted without thinking. In retrospect, it was a blessing. My friends, if you're ten years old and you're talking with your friends about comics. I used to hear my friends say, "You don't think somebody drew every panel in this book. This is drawn mechanically." And I'd say, "No, they're doing the drawing." So I was aware that people were doing 150 drawings a month on these stories, and they were not aware. They always thought it was some kind of trick of photography.

I was also aware of every trick that everybody used. When Jack Kirby's Captain America started bursting out of panels, I was aware that that was smarter than the normal, run of the mill dull stuff where every figure was trapped in a panel. I had a power of understanding. For instance, when I was 13 and devouring Milton Caniff and Terry and the Pirates, I was aware of every little trick he did and realized they were tricks. Where he put his background elements, where he put his foreground elements, where he put accent and shadows. I was aware of every single thing. Where the clouds break on the mountains. Everything. I'm talking about 13 years old, and I'm transmitting everything that Caniff was doing. All the cleverness was going right into my brain. [laughter]

SPURGEON: Was it his facility that he appealed to you, the fact that he was a master cartoonist?

ROMITA: He had a really simple style. It was immediate to me. I loved the fact it was so lush. In other words, it was so powerful with blacks -- nice big juicy blacks. Other people were doing linear work, the normal cartoonists were doing linear work that without color looked really flat. His dailies were excellent, and his Sundays were even better. The thing that gets me about Caniff, and which stamped me also as a storyteller rather than an artist, is that I would always start out looking at Caniff for the artwork. I would devour the artwork for an hour. And then I would get lost in the story. Down through the years, whenever I look back through my Caniff collection, I start looking at the drawings, admiring them and enjoying them, and by the third or fourth panel I'm hooked on the story. And even though I've read it ten times, I will read it again. Because he was more of a storyteller than he was an artist. He was a wonderful artist, but he was a great storyteller. He was a filmmaker on paper. And that stamped me as a storyteller. From that moment on, I instinctively realized that storytelling was more important than drawing.

Santa Claus and Stan Lee

SPURGEON: Now was the comics field encouraged at Industrial Arts?

ROMITA: Interestingly, there was a cartoon class before I got there. There were only three people enrolled in the cartoon class when I got there in '44. Actually, it was '45, because the foundation year I didn't have a specialty. When you chose your major, in '45, there was not enough of a cartoon class. So they stuck us in the corner of the illustration class. It happened to be a book illustration class, which I thought was rather old-fashioned, but I learned to respect it. A wonderful book illustrator named Howard Simon was the instructor. He had me absolutely enraptured with his instruction for that first year. But I got hooked a little bit on magazine illustration, because it was in color. And the second year I switched to magazine illustration. It had an excellent instructor named Clemons, Ben Clemons. So I forgot my cartoon plans, they were completely lost after the first year of book illustration. Then magazine illustration strayed me even further from it. And I didn't think of getting back into cartoons. I decide to become an illustrator.

When I got out of school in '47, I went to work at a litho house. I did coke bottle and coke glasses. And Santa Clauses. I was just an office boy, but I was doing touch-ups on some major artwork.

SPURGEON: This would be in the style of Sundbloom?

ROMITA: Yeah. Sundbloom and Anderson. Beautiful, lush, sunlit figures... remember?

SPURGEON: Sure. That was really the end of the golden age of magazine and advertising illustration.

ROMITA: It was the golden age. Robert Fawcett, Al Parker, all the wonderful, wonderful illustrators of the '40s in the Saturday Evening Post. I lived in the Saturday Evening Post for five years. I thought I was going to be another Robert Fawcett. As an illustrator, I started drawing in that style. I didn't have the knack for painting that I had developed in my first three years in litho, I had gotten pretty good with some painting. But then I started to slip into more of an illustration style in line and color.

SPURGEON: Did you have the same kind of analytical approach to that kind of art as you did to the comics art?

ROMITA: Yeah. I also judged artists by their design sense and their characterization. So the narrative was still there lurking, because a good illustrator has to tell a story, but some illustrators disregarded that and just did show stuff. They were showing off their technique and their color. The ones that appealed to me were the great illustrators.

SPURGEON: How did you end up getting back into cartoons?

ROMITA: When I was still at the litho house, some of my fellow SIA graduates, I met him on the train. We talked, and before I got off the train he said, "You know, I'm working for Stan Lee." He was an inker. He was making a living as an inker, making a nice buck. I was making $25 a week, and I think he was doing $150 a week. He was bragging to me, and he was just an inker! He said Stan Lee was looking for guys to pencil, and he could get more work if I turn in pencils. So what he did was he asked me to ghost for him. I would pencil for him, and he would represent it to Stan Lee as his own. So I ghosted for him for about a year and a half. I was working for Stan Lee for that year and a half, and Stan Lee didn't know me. Until I got drafted. After I got drafted, and I spent time in Fort Dix, and I got assigned to New York on Governor's Island in the recruiting poster department, which was a lucky break completely out of the blue. I got back into illustration that way. I was doing comics in my spare time. And while I was in the Army I went up to Stan and got work on my own.

SPURGEON: He was in the Empire State Building office at that time?

ROMITA: He was in the Empire State Building when I first started working for him, and I can't remember where he was after that. But the first time I was working for him as a ghost he was in the Empire State Building. I remember many times waiting outside the Empire State Building for my partner to tell me how the work was accepted.

SPURGEON: Was this a common practice?

ROMITA: There were a lot of guys ghosting. It was a common practice in syndication, anyway. A lot of inkers who were very quick as inkers but not good storytellers, or they couldn't do it fast enough even if they were good artists. They weren't fast enough. The ones that were fast made a living as pencillers. They needed something to break the ince, to get the work on paper, and then they could ink it. So yeah, it was prominent. So I ghosted for some of my colleagues in the romance departments. I ghosted for other people, too. Don Heck once ghosted for me, once, when I hit an artist's block. I couldn't produce anything for about a week. I begged him to help me out, and he did a beautiful pencil job.

SPURGEON: Were you becoming aware of the community of cartoonists working in comic books at this time?

ROMITA: Oh, yeah. I was not as gregarious as I should have been. I was a little bit sheepish, a little bit shy. I was 20 years old, in fact I was 19 when I started. I used to go up and wait in the waiting rooms, and listen to the other people talk who had more experience. I remember Davey Berg, and Jack Abel, and Gene Colan and guys like that, we were always there for somebody to throw us a three or four-page bone. It was shaping up on the docks like a longshoreman, you went there hoping to get work, and if you didn't get work, you just went without income for a couple of weeks.

SPURGEON: Now you decided to no longer ghost when you were in the Army?

ROMITA: I thought about getting work by myself almost immediately after I got to Governor's Island. As soon as I got settled in, I went uptown in uniform, because I had a Class A pass. I presented myself to Stan Lee's secretary, and said, "I've been working for Stan for a year and a half and he doesn't know me." And she came out with a script! Not only that, but she came out with a script and she expected me to ink it, too. That was the first story I ever inked for Stan Lee after penciling for a year and a half.

SPURGEON: I assume this one of the knock-out secretaries that Stan was famous for.

ROMITA: Oh, yeah... [laughter] A blonde. Oh, was she gorgeous. It used to stop my heart just to talk to her. The next time I went up I remember he had a beautiful brunette. He always had good-looking women there.

While I was in the Army, that was even when I did a short run on Captain America, in the mid-50s, '53. I was just getting out of the Army just as the Korean war came to an end. I got out of the army in July of '53. I started doing westerns at that time.

imageDream Come True

SPURGEON: Now was doing Captain America a thrill for you having admired Kirby?

ROMITA: It was a dream come true. All I did was frustrate myself because it was never good enough for me. It was hard for me to do it. I wanted it to look just like Kirby. And I ended up sort of having a mish-mosh between Kirby and Milton Caniff. I couldn't help myself, because I thought like Milton Caniff even though I admire Kirby's Captain America. So I always felt responsible for the failure of that book. Stan told me it was not, it was a political decision. Captain America had hit some very rough periods there. Patriotic was a bad word, and the flag was a bad word in the middle 1950s. So there was a backlash against Captain America. The other two titles, the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner which Everett came back to do continued for a year or two after Captain America was dropped. I always felt like a terrible failure. Stan always told me it had nothing to do with the artwork, he loved the artwork, he said it was politically unpopular.

SPURGEON: Did you have a different perspective on what was good in the art form at this time? There were different artists working in different modes than when you were analyzing the field as a reader.

ROMITA: When you're doing the work, you don't have the time for reflection and theory. You're just glad to get the pages out. And the quicker you get the pages out, the quicker you get the check, and the quicker you get the next story. So what happens is you go into this cycle like a guinea pig on a wheel. You just keep running until they don't have any more wheel for you. This is an interesting thing I've discovered. Whenever I interview, people ask why I struggled so much, why I didn't knock it out like everyone else. Part of it was because I felt like a salmon swimming upstream. I always felt like I was behind everyone else because I started late. Everybody seemed to have a head start on me. I was admiring people who were only a year older than me. Like the Joe Kuberts and the Alex Toths of the world. They were blazing this beautiful trail, and I always felt like I was lagging way behind in the race. And I never felt adequate. It was a terrible afflection. I also felt like I was a style-less artist. A guy with no style. I felt like, what do you call it, a generic illustrator. The guys who did the toothpaste ads, they were good artists, but I ended up having that generic toothpaste smile on all of my characters. I always felt inadequate because of that. I felt like I didn't have enough personality. I felt like it was a failure of mine for not being an adult storyteller. So I suffered from feelings of inadequacy all during the 1950s. It was terrible.

SPURGEON: Did you have trouble meeting deadlines because of this?

ROMITA: Deadlines were always a problem for me. My natural bent was not to accept my first thought. My natural bent was to try and turn out a masterpiece every time. Actually, after my first story, I did a story with the guy I was ghosting for, for Famous Funnies. I think the first story I ever did was before Stan Lee gave us any work. I did a 12-page romance story for Famous Funnies. After I did the first page, I thought, "That's it. I don't think I can get another panel out." I did 15 pages of a terrible romance story, and it was so bad that the editor up there -- I always forget his name, damn it. He was a wonderful guy. He used to buy artwork from young artists even if he knew he wasn't going to use it.

SPURGEON: This would be Steve Douglas?

ROMITA: Steve Douglas! I think he has a cherished place in heaven. He must have helped hundreds of us young artists out. He paid me like $200 for that story, and I think he knew he was never going to use it. He had a pile of artwork, maybe 10 or 12 inches high, on his desk of artwork from young artists he was never going to use. And I still bless his memory. And I should remember his name. Steven Douglas, for god's sake, Abraham Lincoln.

So I did that story, but I thought I would never live through it. I fell asleep at the drawing table like three or four times that week. It was terrible. The girls in that story looked like bony men. It was just awful. That was probably when I decided to learn how to draw women, because I was so inadequate. I had drawn westerns, and solider stories, war stories, and science fiction stories in my mind. I had done scribbles of my own characters, Terry and the Pirates type stuff. But I never did the women well. I forced myself to become a better artist of women.

I felt very inadequate. I felt like I was never learning. Something drove me. Even though I needed to make the money, I could not force myself to just knock the thing out. I tried to make each panel something new. Which is crazy! You're supposed to set up a formula, if you don't set up a formula as a comic artist, you can't make a living. You need to have a standard approach, where you fall back on your normal stuff, the stuff you're good at. But to try and make an illustration in every panel that's brilliant and new, that's the way to kill yourself.

SPURGEON: It sounds like you had a certain amount of integrity as an artist.

ROMITA: Occasionally there were guys, there were illustrators who said, "Pay me $10 a page, I'll give you a $10-dollar page. Give me a $100 a page, and I'll give you a $100-dollar page." And I always envied that. I couldn't do that. If a guy gave me $5 a page, I would still do it as well as I could do it, at the detriment of my income. And my sleep. It was something that drove me. I didn't want to put my name on anything I wasn't proud of. I was terrified of turning out something that was bad. I always had the feeling, even though I know that not many people read comics, although they were selling pretty well then, I had the feeling... I toyed with the name of using a phony name for year. I don't know what drove me to spend all those hours I should not have spent. At 23 I got married, and I'm raising a family, and I would still burn the midnight oil and work Saturdays and Sundays because I wanted the stuff better than I had originally envisioned it. So yeah, there was something that drove me against all economic forces. Very strange.

SPURGEON: Were there artists you learned tricks from to help you speed up?

ROMITA: It was even more direct. When I did love stories, I had a lot of Alex Toth love stories around me. When I did adventure stuff, I would have Caniff and Joe Kubert and Carmine Infantino. These were guys I thought were much older than me, and I find out later that they were only a year or two older than me. [laughter] They were so advanced in my mind, I was using them as a model. So yeah, definitely. I would be influenced and assisted by everybody who went before me.

SPURGEON: People sometimes forget how influential Toth was in determining a certain look for comics.

ROMITA: Actually, Toth led an entire new movement. When I got into comics in the late '40s, and then in the early '50s I went over to DC to do love stories, Toth had changed the whole approach to DC Comics. Up until then, it was a Dan Barry, polished tight look. Toth sort of loosened everybody up, and got everybody wide awake. They all discovered Scorchy Smith.

SPURGEON: Noel Sickles.

ROMITA: They discovered Sickles because Toth maybe had 300 dailies of Noel Sickles in a stack of Photostats. People were copying from that stack of Photostats, and handing them out to each other. The whole industry was using those Alex Toth Scorchy Smith dailies from Noel Sickles. And that's when I found out that Caniff and Sickles had developed that style together. And we all sprang from that. I think it lit a fire under the whole industry.

Joe Maneely

SPURGEON: Didn't you famously spend a day learning tips from the prolific and much admired comic book artist Joe Maneely?

ROMITA: Yeah. Stan sent me up. The first time Stan discussed what my artwork would need -- I brought in a second or third story, and Stan look a little time with it. And said, "You know what I'd like you to do," because I was feeling my way as an inker, "I'm going to call up Joe Maneely." He had a studio in Flushing, which was about 15-20 minutes away from where I lived in Queens. I'm going to tell him to put a day aside and have you go over to his studio. So I went up there and spent about four or five hours, from noon to about four. He kept working and talking and just gabbing -- he wasn't doing any actual instruction, he was just showing me and talking generally. He was a genius. Absolute genius. I learned more in those four hours than I did in ten years of doing comics. I may have learned more in that day than any other. He was absolutely the most unselfconscious, productive person. He was penciling a double-page spread or a full-page drawing -- somebody said they weren't doing double-page spreads, but it looked like a double-page spread to me -- of a western scene, with a stockade being protected by frontiersman and a circle of Indians around the stockade firing at them. He did that whole thing while I was talking to him. He penciled it in the first hour or so. And then he started inking it, and it was almost half-finished by the time I left. It was like a revelation. Talk about formulas -- he had his figures in these beautiful shapes, he had general shapes for arms and torsos and things like that. Then he would add features to the block of the head. Then he would fingers to the end of the arms. And when he went to ink them, he turned them into the most lively, fresh drawings you ever saw in your life out of nowhere! Just with a basic foundation, a formula underneath. It was like a diagram he drew, and then he put flesh on it with the penline. He started to do some brushwork to show me. The process was pencil it quickly, do the outline in pen, where you do the actual finished drawing, where you do the features and the eyes and the nose and everything, and the buckskin and the wood texture on the stockade. And then he would go over with a brush, a big number five brush, and do nice, big crisp accents. I realized that this was the process that Jack Kirby and Joe Simon had used, and other people had used down through the years. It was the formula that I had referred to but I had never learned. I had struggled, and penciled my drawings, labored over the pencils, and labored over the inks. I sometimes had to correct them. But he was doing them so crisply, so swiftly, it dazzled me. I went home and couldn't wait to get to the drawing table. That one day was probably one of the most important days of my life.

SPURGEON: And this was early on in your comic book career?

ROMITA: It was probably 1953. No, no. I think I was still in the Army! It might have been '51 or '52.

SPURGEON: It's been edifying for a lot of people to see Maneely's reputation restored a bit the last few years.

ROMITA: I used to get mad when people forgot him. Whenever I taught classes. I used to substitute for people like John Buscema at Visual Arts. I would get his class, and the first thing I would ask is did they ever hear of Noel Sickles, or did they ever hear of Joe Maneely. I'd get blank stares, and it would drive me crazy. I'd say, "You know, if I taught this course on a regular basis, you'd have one day a week of just history." Just to learn where all this stuff came from. From Howard Pyle, the great illustrator at the turn of the century. Then N.C. Wyeth, then Hal Foster, then Noel Sickles and Caniff, and Alex Raymond... Hal Foster was like the torchbearer. And I would have to tell all of these people that if you don't learn that, you're not going to learn the process. You're going to be learning from the newest artist, who probably has everything all botched up by now, instead of the original source. So I definitely think that Maneely has been long overlooked. Have you ever heard the story that I've told at a lot of conventions, that if Maneely had lived, if he hadn't died before he was 40, if he had lived, it might have been hard for the rest of us to get work? [laughter] Between Jack Kirby and Joe Maneely, Stan could have gotten his whole production done. [laughs]

SPURGEON: He got along very well with Stan.

ROMITA: He and Stan got along very well. He was like a self-starting engine, you didn't have to give him anything! [laughs]

Simplicity

SPURGEON: When I look at your work from the '50s, there's a period where you used a lot of shading, a lot of shadow effects.

ROMITA: I don't know what prompted that. The first time I did that, Stan went crazy, he loved it. I wish I'd never done it. It cost me a lot of money and sleep. He asked me to do something in a documentary style, about some poor preacher on the waterfront who was living on the edges of society. I did with a lot of shading, a lot of line technique. There were a lot of illustrators and a lot of comics artists using that technique. You needed to be very delicate, and comic books was not the place to be delicate, because the reproduction always made things blotchy. So I did the story this way, and Stan went crazy. I almost got myself lynched by my fellow artists because Stan asked them all to do it for a while. They wanted to kill me, because they said it's costing us hours and hours to do that extra technique. [laughter] It was only a temporary thing. Thank God. I'm glad I got out of it. Elaboration I think is the worst enemy of comics. I think simplicity is the direction. Unfortunately, years ago elaboration became the key word instead of simplicity. I think Toth was more right than people like Neal Adams and McFarlane. I think they put too much technique in their stuff, and the industry deserves simplicity and clean artwork.

SPURGEON: Is this because it reads better?

ROMITA: It reads better, and it's more alive and spontaneous. When you labor over the technique, when you put the technique before the characterization and the story... as you know, one of the things hurting the industry now is that there's too much technique and too much attention to the color and reproduction, and not enough attention to the freedom of the storytelling and the artwork. I bemoan that fact. I think that's one of the things that's hurt comics. I know the fans love it. It's like the tastes of fans, in movies and comics, has cause more mayhem in the production of movies and comics, because fans don't have good taste. Although I shouldn't say that.

SPURGEON: [laughs]

ROMITA: Actually, I don't mind. Quote me, because I don't need the fans to buy my artwork anymore anyway. [laughter] I bemoan the fact that taste has gone out the window. Young fans love that technique stuff. And to me, that 's the worst thing that has happened to comics.

That'll get my lynched, huh?

Two-Company Man

SPURGEON: The vast majority of your work was for two companies, Marvel and DC.

ROMITA: It's interesting. I was not one of the guys who jumped back and forth, like Gil Kane, or Jack Abel. They used to tell me, "Why don't you do this? The companies respect you more when they know you got somebody else who wants you?" I was the kind of guy if I didn't have to leave, and I got comfortable, I didn't want to make any moves. Even if it cost me money. I felt that comfort was more important than money. I needed to be comfortable, I did not want irritation, I did not want to deal with new people all the time. I got comfortable dealing with Stan. The only reason I left Stan in '58 is because he shut the line down. I was forced to go, so I went to DC and only did love stories for about eight years, which almost put me in the booby hatch. I almost got out of comics because I thought I was burnt out. It was so boring. It wore me out.

SPURGEON: Did you have any perspective on the anti-comics crusades?

ROMITA: I was in about ten years when that came to a head. I watched it, just because I thought my industry was going under. I used to tell my wife Virginia next year they won't be any comics. In '54, '55, I thought it was all over. I was not too unhappy. I always thought that comics was a stepping stone to get me a little bit of money in the bank, and to get me a little bit of proficiency in drawing, and then I would become an illustrator. And I almost had this subversive feeling that I wished comics would stop so I could get out there and do illustration.

SPURGEON: When I hear artists talk about comics as career in the 1950s, there seems a certain level of contempt for comics. Whereas it seems you had a healthy respect for the medium.

ROMITA: I never had contempt for comics, but I wasn't always proud of being in comics. I used to tell people I was a commercial illustrator. Instead of a comics artists. And you know the story about people who used to put comic book inside the regular bound edition of the book so that people wouldn't see them reading comics? I was the same way. I felt it was the stepchild of the commercial art field, and it was not something to be proud of. But sometime, in the mid-'50s, just about the time when it looked like there wouldn't be any comics, I started to think look at all the comic artists that I knew that were doing work I admired. And I suddenly realized if I never got out of comics, if I never became a Saturday Evening Post illustrator, it wouldn't be the end of the world, as long as I do the best comics I can do. I decided to be at peace with comics, and try and be the best comic artist I can be. And that absolutely relaxed me. Because up until then I felt like I was in it on a temporary basis. I never expected to be in comics. I never dreamed there would be a comic industry past 1958. I though comics were finished.

SPURGEON: How did you learn about Stan Lee shutting down the Goodman line? There are stories that Stan let people know personally.

ROMITA: I had just ruled up a full western book, I think it was Western Kid, I'm not sure. And I was starting to draw. I had drawn maybe five or six pages. And I got a call from Stan's secretary -- a beautiful brunette. [laughter] She told me that Stan was canceling the western book, and stop work on it, and send in the pages. And the fact that she asked me to send in the pages, I was assuming that Stan was going to pay me for the work I had done. But when I sent in the pages, and nothing came, I was very hurt, and very disappointed. In fact, I told Virginia, "If Stan Lee calls, tell him to go to hell." [laughter]

SPURGEON: I assume he didn't call.

ROMITA: He didn't call me personally. With 20-30 artists working for him, it would have probably been a chore. The girl did say that Stan was closing all the books down. I was hurt for that reason, and also for another reason -- when I found out that Dick Ayers and Don Heck were still getting work from him. I thought, gee, I thought I was one of his top guys. After seven years, he always said he could trust me with anything. And I thought that I'd be one of the last guys to go. The fact I was third or fourth on his list hurt me. That was my own insecurity. The truth of the matter is I was making $24 a page when Stan pulled the plug on me in '58.

SPURGEON: That has to be less than what you were getting in the early '50s.

ROMITA: I started out at $25 a page. And every time I went in with a story he gave me a raise. He'd tell the girl, "Give John Romita $2 more a page." I was up to $44 a page. I was one of his prime guys. Starting in the beginning of '57, every time I brought in a job I got a cut of $2 a page. Before you knew it, I was down to $24 a page. Virginia kept saying, "How far down are you going to go before you quit?" And I used to say, "Well you know, he may reverse it, and we may build up the page rate again." I was always an optimist, and a little bit of a sucker. I should not have stood for all those cut. When he pulled the plug on me, and I was so upset, a week later I was riding on Cloud 9 because I went over to DC and got $38 a page to do love stories. So I said, "Here's Stan Lee, who cut my throat, turned out to be giving me a $14 raise." I was so happy to be working at all, even the love stories didn't dampen my ardor. I jumped in with both feet, and before long I was making $45 a page from DC doing love stories.

Survey of the Field

SPURGEON: Do you have an opinion concerning the substance of the criticisms that were being made against comics in the 1950s -- that they were overly lurid, for example?

ROMITA: Well, I have to admit, a lot of comics companies were terrible. Even Stan. The first horror story I did -- we used to call them mystery stories -- the first horror story I did for Stan, I think it was a five page story, the last panel was some villain holding up a decapitated head with blood dripping from its neck. I was very upset to do it. I did it as tastefully as I could. For a 20-year-old. No, I was a 22-year-old then. I tried to do it tastefully. But I will admit that a lot of guys did not do tasteful stuff. And the EC books, as clever as they were, and as talented as the artists were, they were very, very gory. And very strange. And disturbing. I never read those books. I used to look through them, because I admired Wally Wood, Al Williamson, Joe Orlando, all of those guys were doing wonderful stuff. So I admired them as artists. But I hated the stories. I did not like EC books. I never thought humor and blood went together. To me, satirizing horror stories was not fun. And they thought it was so clever. I always hated that.

I even will tell you that I did some semi-bondage covers for a small company. I did western covers where a girl was tied to a chair, and some villain was nearby, and her clothes half torn away. And I knew they were bondage covers. I was just trying to make a living. But I did not like that kind of stuff. And a lot of that stuff was done terrible, ugly bondage stuff. I was not fooled. The comic industry I new was a cheap, easy way to make a buck. I stayed at Stan Lee's because I think Stan always had a feeling of entertainment before sleaze. Strange as some of the stuff in the '50s was, he always had a certain amount of story in there, a certain amount of characterization, even when he was knocking them out, those five-page stories. There was a certain kind of personality in everything. So I always felt that DC and Marvel or Timely was doing stuff a little bit better. I also loved the Gleason stuff, the Lev Gleason stuff from the '40s when I was a kid.

SPURGEON: I wanted to ask you about the crime books, of which Gleason's were the first.

ROMITA: The crime comics were never as bloody as the horror, and the crime comics had such personality. That was because of [Charles] Biro, and some of his artists were wonderful. George Tuska... And as a kid I loved them. I was sorry to see Biro go. Unfortunately, I don't remember much of Biro's stuff during the late '40s when I was at school and doing Coca-Cola ads. I wish I had. I met Biro's daughters last summer at San Diego. It was wonderful to meet them. I went over to them purposefully to tell them I thought Biro was a pioneer, and I couldn't believe he hadn't been more remembered before this. I wanted to tell them he wasn't forgotten by people like me, who learned a lot from Biro just as readers.

SPURGEON: I think you've said that one thing you enjoyed about Biro's stuff was that he put a bit of his personality into his work.

ROMITA: He did. In fact, he was doing what Stan Lee has done for years. He was just doing it before. What Stan is doing now, Biro did when I was kid. He put personality into his Daredevil book, and into his little line of tough kids. Remember? I thought those were wonderful books. So I didn't think the comic industry as a whole should have been indicted, but there were some comic companies -- you know the trashy ones -- that were doing some terrible stuff. I was ashamed of that, and I was not proud to be in the industry then. But I always thought there was a redeeming quality in some of the comics, and that should have been salvaged. But I never expected it. I thought we were all going to go down the drain.

SPURGEON: What was Stan Lee like in the '50s?

ROMITA: Stan was amazing. I will tell you, I've maybe worked for a half-dozen other editors. And that's not much of an experience. Ninety percent of my work has been done for Stan. Other editors have sometimes a taste problem, or a judgment problem. They don't really know what's good or what's bad. Or if they know what they like, it's not as good as it could be, because their taste is bad. I have had a lot of editors with bad taste, and very bad manner. I never worked for Bob Kanigher, but if had worked for Kanigher I would have thrown pages in his face and walked out. He was absolutely the most crude, meanest guy. He was out to make people feel bad. He tore into people in the bullpen as an editor. I never worked with him as an editor, although I collaborated with him on love stories. He was my writer on two of my series at DC. And we worked only as a team, but we never worked together. Thank God he was never my editor. I always worked for an editor like Phyllis Reed, who was a wonderful editor.

But Stan Lee, compared to the other editors I worked for, was like an angel. A special being. First of all, he looked at your stuff, and he absorbed it. He was thoughtful, and he gave you a response. He told you, "This is very good. This is not so good -- work on this." I learned more every time I went in with Stan with a story, and he would take the time to critique it. That's how I learned so much. I was feeling my way, and he was the best editor. On top of that, when he wrote my stuff, he almost invariably made the stuff more believable. In other words, I would have misgiving when I would turn in a story from a plot. There would be a twenty-page story with no dialogue, no captions. I would half believe it. In other words, I worked on it as well as I could, I would make it as airtight as I could, but I didn't have a lot of faith in it. By the time he scripted it, and I read the script and his placement of the balloons, it looked as though every single panel was thought out carefully between two people. He was a magician. He took time to place balloons you would not believe. He would sometimes rearrange balloon placements three or four times. In other words, here was a guy who was working the clock three or four times. He was constantly turning out work. He would sometimes do a full story in on afternoon. Ten or twelve pages in the morning, ten or twelve pages in the afternoon. And he would take the time to rearrange the balloons because they weren't aesthetic or they didn't flow in readership. He was in a class by himself. No editor ever gave me the response and information that an artist needs that Stan did. He was in a class by himself.

No matter what people say about Stan, and I used to grumble about him, too. He takes a lot of credit and all of that stuff, but the truth of the matter is there is no better editor than Stan in comics history, and he was one of the best writers I ever worked with. I can't believe writers could do much better. I'm sure Peter David and guys like that are on a par with him, and the newer writers are very good, but for me Stan Lee was in a class by himself.

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Romance is Hard Work

SPURGEON: Let me ask you about your stay on the romance books with DC comics, from 1957-58 to 1965. You've said in previous interviews that this kind of work wore on you after a while.

ROMITA: It wore me out because it was very hard. The truth of the matter is that nothing was happening in those stories. You would get 15 pages where a girl loved a guy, but he was aloof, and she would be heartbroken. He would smile her, and she would be happy. And then he would go with another girl, and she would be crying. The same story for eight years. It drove me nuts. But what it did was it made me a better artist. I will tell you that if I were to take a comic company, if I had taken one in the '60s, I would have had everyone trained in animation and in romance stories as well as adventure stuff. Because it forced you to make something out of nothing. There are certain gaps in stories where nothing is happening. And the artist has the responsibility of making it visually entertaining. To make it move. The dynamics is the biggest challenge. Everybody is standing around, leaning on their elbows, you know, their chin on their fists and smiling. And the only thing I could do was to jazz it up with hair flowing, and scarves flowing, and wind blowing and leaves... all sorts of... curtains blowing... whenever I had a chance to use water I would use some nice wave techniques. Trees blowing in the wind... romance books gave me, forced me to make entertainment where nothing is happening. And I learned that partly from Alex Toth, because when he did his love stories, he had the most interesting twists and turns of bodies and heads. Tilting the head this way, that way, backwards, three-quarter back views... all of the tricks that a novice can muster you learn in romance or else. Otherwise it's deadly dull.

What happened was that after eight years it wore me out. I had the worst artist's block. I told you Don Heck came to my rescue, about the end of that eight year run, '63 or '64. If he hadn't come to my rescue, I wouldn't have been able to earn a penny that week. I absolutely sat there and could not produce a page of artwork for weeks and weeks. And I assumed that I was burned out. I had been working 15 years in the business. Seven for Stan, and eight for DC, and I assumed, "That's it. I obviously can't think of another panel." So I'm going to get out of the business. I even went down to BVD and signed up to do storyboard. I backed out of that because Stan talked me out of it. He promised to match whatever money BVD was going to pay me.

SPURGEON: Is the romance period the first time in your career you did a lot of covers?

ROMITA: I was doing almost all the covers for the DC romance line for six, seven years. Phyllis Reed and I worked constantly on that stuff. What happened was, she had fallen into a great trick. She didn't like some of the plots that writers were coming up with. So she started to send them plots. And one of the ways she elicited plots was when we were doing cover drawings. Instead of doing a cover that represented a story that's already been done, we did the cover first and then the story after. We would build a situation; she would choose a situation that we would draw. And she would build a storyline from the covers. Consequently, we would discuss it by phone. I had a couple of steady characters, an airline stewardess and a nurse. She would say, "I'd like to do a story about the nurse where's she losing her confidence," or something. We would incorporate it into the cover, and make it as dramatic as we can. And that would trigger her to send a plot to the writer. Because in those days... Kanigher would take the plotline from her, she probably gave him a two-paragraph synopsis and Kanigher took the ball from there.

I think there were six or seven titles, and I think I did most of the covers for about five or six years. With the added burden that these covers were going to lead to plots. She had come to trust me so much because my suggestions on plotlines were part of her arsenal. She counted on it. She recommended me to be the editor of the romance department when she decided to have a child and leave.

SPURGEON: Becoming an editor didn't appeal to you?

ROMITA: You know what? I was tempted. Not because I wanted the work, because frankly I've dreaded the idea of going to work every day. I was tempted for two reasons. First I thought if she wasn't going to be the editor god knows who's going to be in there and would I get any work. So I said, let me think about it. And then the next time we talked she said, "The only thing I got to tell you, John, is in case you haven't realized it, if you take this job as the editor, you're going to be losing your best artist." That's the problem. And then I knew I wasn't cut out to be an office editor. I didn't have any real training in writing and literature. I had artist's education, I didn't have a lot of English Composition. So I had no background in writing. I would not have been qualified to correct other people's writing. [laughs]

SPURGEON: Was DC itself kind of a turnoff? DC had a very corporate reputation at that time. It wasn't for everybody.

ROMITA: My memory of DC was, I used to go in and I would say hello to the bullpen when I was bringing in art work or bringing in pencils to be lettered. I'd met Sol Harrison and Eddie Eisenberg, and all the guys in the bullpen. But I always felt like an outsider there. For eight years I would go in there and I always felt like an outsider. I was never embraced and brought into the clique. It was almost like they were very cliquish. They were very cold to their artists and writers. The editors had a very terrible reputation where they would play the artists against each other. Each editor wanted to see which guy's work you do first. That kind of stuff. They were very brutal. Julie Schwartz, I never dealt with him. I would assume he wasn't. But I wouldn't be surprised if he was. The editors I dealt with were very cold-blooded and very, very harsh. Very quick to criticize and very slow to complement. They would say, "This is crap." That kind of stuff. Certainly Kanigher used to scream out, "You call this a pretty girl? That's a dumb, fat-looking girl here!" You know? I never got that with Stan. I used to say that DC is like an obstacle course for an artist. You go in there, and all you get is obstacles. You don't get any kind of help. I did feel that for years. I was very happy to get back to Marvel.

SPURGEON: Is that the reason you didn't do any adventure work at DC?

ROMITA: No, the reason for that is they never asked me. And that broke my heart, too. I told Virginia, "Now that the romance department closed perhaps they'll offer me something in the adventure department." But I never got a call. I went in there, and it happened to be summertime. It was July, and a lot of them were on vacation. I was not very pushy, and not very confident, either. Even though I had had a brief chance to work on Flash Gordon with Dan Barry -- I was going to do some fill-in work for him, and I thought, "Gee, if Dan Barry likes my stuff this is good news." But there was a newspaper strike right before I was going to start, and he couldn't afford to pay for help, so I never did it. My confidence was not very good. I thought I was limited to romance and very anti-septic stuff, and that I couldn't compete with the big boys. And I assumed that's why they didn't call me. What happened is after I went to Stan in '65 and first I inked a story, and during that time was when I expected to hear from DC's editors. It took me a couple of weeks to ink a Don Heck Avengers, and a Jack Kirby cover I inked. In fact, I told Stan I just wanted to ink, because I thought I was burned out as a penciller. During that time, when I didn't hear from DC I felt terrible. I really felt bad. It was probably 50 percent my fault, because if I had gone up there and said, "Let me talk to everybody..." but I never did. I was too shy. I was too uncertain to do it. So they must have figured, "If he doesn't want to work, we won't offer him any work." And I kept thinking, "Gee, why didn't they call me." As soon as I took on an assigment to do my first Daredevil story in '65, they called me up, George Kasten I think. They called me and offered me Metamorpho, because Ramona Fradon was leaving. And I said, "Gee, you know, I wish you had called me last week, because I just agreed to do this for Stan, and I don't want to go back on my word." I think I probably could have made more money at DC, but I don't know what kept me from doing it. I could have just told Stan, "Stan, you know, I got too good an offer from DC, I'm going to go over there." But for some reason, I decided to stay with Stan.

SPURGEON: Metamorpho wasn't exactly a prestige assignment, either.

ROMITA: If it was Batman or Superman, I would have jumped. [laughter] I hope I would have had the sense.

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Analyzing Marvel

SPURGEON: Were you aware of what Marvel was doing at the time?

ROMITA: That's the funny thing. I was aware that Stan was making noise. They talked about Stan at DC quite a bit. They used to discuss why Stan was starting to sell books, and why his reputation was growing. But I didn't have the sense to go and buy some books to see what was happening. I never saw a Spider-Man book until I went back to Marvel. I never saw a Fantastic Four. It was my own stupidity. Truthfully, the only books I was looking at were books I could pick up at DC and read for free, because I wouldn't spend money for the books. I was so cheap. I was not keeping up with the comics industry. The only thing I used to pick up were guys like Alex Toth and Joe Kubert. And then of course the romance books which I was in touch with. I heard things were happening there, but I wasn't aware of exactly what. And I never saw one to judge it. When DC's romance department was shut down, they had such an inventory to use, so DC front office said, "The hell with this, you're not paying for new artwork until you use up all of those." So they shut down the romance department. I had no work. So I went back to Stan. That's why I went back. I wouldn't have gone back if they had offered me anything decent. Even a second-line adventure thing, I probably would have stayed there. I was very proud to be there. I always thought that DC was the Cadillac of the industry.

SPURGEON: I think most people thought that.

ROMITA: They did. It was. It was very much prestigious. In a way, I was sort of snobbish about it. One of the things that kept me there, even though I was bored to tears. Stan used to call me, in '62 and '63, he was calling me all the time, and saying, "Come back." I always had the excuse that he was only paying $25 a page and I was making $5. So I'd tell him, "Stan, I can't take a cut." I was proud to stay there, but I think because Stan guaranteed me to match my salary at [the advertising agency] BBD&O, and I wouldn't have gotten any guarantee at DC, I think that was the reason I stayed with Stan.

SPURGEON: Did he promise to give you a certain amount of work, or did he promise that regardless of the work you did he was going to pay you a set amount?

ROMITA: I don't know if he could have backed it up, I told him, "I can't work at home anymore." He said, "We've got a drawing table here at Marvel, you can come in any time you want, you can work all hours. You can stay home at work." It was such a good deal. I said, "My problem is I can't discipline myself." Because I had that blockage, I told him I couldn't guarantee I would work every week, and that's why I didn't want to pencil anymore. And he said, "Tell you what. If you can't do any work for a week you'll still get paid." Now frankly, I don't think he could have backed that up. [laughter] I was gullible enough to believe him. I think Martin Goodman would have told both of us to get out if he had tried to pull that one. That's one of the things he conned me with. He told me if I couldn't turn out a page, I'd still get paid.

SPURGEON: You must have found your penciling ability, though, because pretty soon you were on Daredevil.

ROMITA: That's interesting. When I did the first Daredevil story, the first three pages were very dull. As much as I had tried to do dynamics, I froze up a little bit. Jack Kirby broke down my first two stories on Daredevil. It was a very rough pacing and size guide, scribbles and outlines, to show what to put in a panel and how to pace it. So those first forty pages of Daredevil, #12 and #13, were guidelined by Jack Kirby. They weren't pencil drawings, they were sort of silhouettes and initials -- DD for Daredevil, Matt Murdock was MM, that kind of thing. That's what triggered me into getting Stan's way of penciling. And then for a while, while I was learning, I forgot my drawing block. It was never easy, though. I will tell you, I worked 50 years in comics, and I don't think I ever had an easy week. I don't know why anybody would stay in a business that twists your guts every single day. But I did. For some reason. And I kept telling Virginia, "Soon as I get an ulcer, I'm quitting this business." I never got an ulcer, and that's the reason why I stayed in the business. [laughter] It was never fun for me. It was never easy. Guys like Jack Kirby and John Buscema could knock out a story and never bat an eyelash. With me, it was a chore from the minute I started.

SPURGEON: You were at this point immersed in the new Marvel. With your analytical mind for art, did you figure out what they were doing that was making them successful?

ROMITA: Not only that, but that's the reason I started to be called art director. I not only learned the theory of everything, but I also learned how to indoctrinate people in Stan Lee's way. When Stan was too busy, and there was an artist that needed some kind of instruction, because I was in the office, Stan would say, "Listen, go in and talk to John Romita. He knows exactly what I like." And sure enough, I ended up being his substitute voice. When a young artist came in, I would give him all of Stan's catchphrases and whole spiel.

SPURGEON: What would you tell the young artists who came to talk to you?

ROMITA: Stan's approach was basically this. Think silent movies. In other words, all your characters have to act overtly and very clearly. You don't do anything mildly. You don't have somebody with his arm bent, pointing a finger. You have him thrust his arm out in space. The Jack Kirby way. Every sinew of a body is involved even if you're saying "Go down this street two blocks and make a right on the next corner," you look like you're pointing at Armageddon coming. If a man slams on a desk, you don't make it just where a guy's fist is on the desk resting. You have him pound the desk and everything on the desk pops up like an earthquake. You never have anybody who's saying something, especially shouting, with his mouth closed. There was a whole generation of comics artists where everybody mouths' were closed, and everybody's eyes were half-lidded. And one of the things I learned immediately from Stan was if somebody was talking, have his mouth open. If he's shouting, have his mouth wide open. Show his teeth. And that was Jack Kirby, too. Some of it was Jack Kirby's natural approach. Some of it was Stan Lee's acting school. The way he used to act out all the plots. The stories he's famous for. He used to jump up on the couch, he used to jump on the desk, he would run around the office, he would strangle himself, he would use voices... what it was was Stan Lee's acting school. He was saying your characters had to act, clearly, loudly and dynamically. So what I just told you, I used to embellish. Tell people, don't do anything mild, don't settle for the first thing you think of. If you can make it better, make it better. Everything has to be exciting.

SPURGEON: Was there a transitional period for you to get used to the Marvel Method, working from rough plots rather than scripts?

ROMITA: It was very hard. First of all, I said I couldn't do it. I told them they were out of their mind. I had it hard enough trying to make it work, where my natural ability, if the writer would ask for a certain thing and it didn't fit my natural ability, I used to go crazy. I had to figure out a way out of it. If I had nothing to start with -- I had artist's block! Imagine what kind of artist's block I would have when I had nothing except the bare bones outline of a story. And the first story was very hard for me. Very, very hard for me. I had to have Jack Kirby's help.

What happened was that after a while I started to realize this was a visual medium that had been done words first and pictures second for 35 years. And I said, "You know something? This now can become the visual medium it really is supposed to be." The people in silent movies were ingenious, because they didn't have dialogue. They had written words, but it used to be a set of interruptions. Movie geniuses erupted in Hollywood because they were working in silent film. Movies went downhill when sound came in because they no longer had to rely on their genius of the visual medium. It became a verbal medium, and it hurt Hollywood. Comics was a visual medium that was never used visually, except by geniuses like Jack Kirby and Alex Toth. They did comics visually from instinct. But people like me, when a writer asks me something, I was bound and shackled by the writer's concept. What happens is, if you're not shackled by that, if the range and width of your thinking is limited, you can only do certain things. But suddenly, when you have the whole thing to choose from, when you have to set up a sequence because you have to know what's happening in panels one and two before you decide on the big spread in panel three, you have to think visually. When I found out not only wasn't it hard, it was liberating. I think the comics boom is a direct result of the accidental thing that Stan Lee did just to save time, plotting stories quickly because he couldn't get the scripts done. That led to the biggest comic boom in history. And I think it was strictly Stan Lee's accidental, little change.

Yes, it was very hard at first, but I think it kept me interested longer than I would have been.

Steve Ditko

SPURGEON: You stayed on Daredevil a year?

ROMITA: No, only about six or seven issues. It broke my heart, because I really loved Daredevil. I was really sorry to have to leave it. I did it because I was a good soldier. He needed help on Spider-Man, and I said, "Okay, I'll do it." For a long time I thought he might come back and I could go back to Daredevil.

SPURGEON: Was there some sense in the office that Steve Ditko might quit before he did. From what I read, I get the feeling that everyone thought Spider-Man was a gig that could potentially open up.

ROMITA: I had heard that they were having trouble. What happened was they were disagreeing on the plots violently. Stan told him, "All right, you can plot the stories." Then there was a problem because Stan would change the thrusts of the stories because his sensibilities made him change them. Ditko was a very conservative thinker. If he had a story about rioting students, he would make them horrible rioting students. They were breaking the law and they should be dealt with. Stan would give them motivation, and instead of the black and white of it he would give you both sides of the story. And Ditko, he would do a whole story of a riot on campus, Stan would change the thrust of the story, and that would lead to changes in expressions and everything. Stan always did that. He did that with Jack, he did that with me. Many times, I would have one thought in my drawings, and he would turn it into something else. And that was the proof of the pudding of what a great writer and editor he was. He was impressed with artwork, but he wouldn't hesitate to change the artwork if he thought the story could be better. Which is a great editor.

SPURGEON: Did you know Ditko personally?

ROMITA: I only met him a few times. I have about ten horrible regrets, and one of them was that I didn't make the time. When you're in the office for years and years, you always feel that the next time we can get together. I was busy most of the time. Ditko would be walking down alone, or somebody else would be talking to him, Marie Severin or somebody, and I'd think, "I gotta go out and talk to him." And I never did make the time. We used to say hello, and we shook hands a few times, but I never made the time to talk to him, and I regret that terribly.

SPURGEON: He had a really unique artistic sensibility, particularly given the time.

ROMITA: I consider him one of the true creators in the business.

SPURGEON: Is it true that it took you a little while to warm up to his work?

ROMITA: That's one of those things that got printed that I regretted. Because it came off sounding terrible. One of the first things in an interview way back in the '70s was I said that when I first looked at the books, the first three or four issues, I thought they were too crude. I thought they were overly simple and too crude. But that's the part that came through on the interview. They didn't give the full context, where I said that by the time I got into the twenties in the run of Spider-Man, learning the ropes on Spider-Man -- I got the whole run of Spider-Man from Stan to look through. The first few issues I felt he was really knocking them out. They were not the same Ditko I had seen doing those jungle stories and those horror stories where he was a polished brushman doing gutsy, juicy stuff with a lot of shadows. And in Spider-Man he was doing very quick line jobs with a lot of small panels. What I said was I didn't understand why the book was such a success, because I thought the book was rather crude and the characters were rather simplistic. But what I added was that it was amazing how he developed by the time he was in the twenties and the thirties, the books were coming alive and they were powerful and I admired them. Right from his middle thirties, #33, #34, #35, were some of the best comics ever done. That's where I launched myself from. In fact, I tried to ghost it. But I hated the fact, I don't know if I read it or didn't read it, he never complained, I always cringed when I thought "Oh my God, he must have felt so hurt when he read that I would say his stuff was too crude." I didn't mean it that way.

SPURGEON: I always thought it was pretty remarkable that Ditko was able to be that idiosyncratic that late in the medium's development. His style is still really striking.

ROMITA: That's one of the reasons I earmark him as a creators, because he's one of the few guys -- there are like a dozen guys like that. The George Tuskas, the Jack Kirbys, even Don Heck. Don Heck got put down a lot. Don Heck was a guy like Colan, like Ditko, there were a few guys who did what I would call a complete world on paper. If you looked at one panel of Jack Kirby, you knew where you were. You were in Jack Kirby land. And when you were in Ditko land, you knew where you were. The reason I called myself a generic illustrator because my stuff, I could make you believe you were in anybody's land. [laughs] I could do Ditko, I could do Jack Kirby, I could do Don Heck, I could do Caniff. I could even do Colan. I used to fake Colan's stuff. So the thing is those guys, whatever they do has an integrity, a completeness about it, that they created an entire world. My world reflects the real world. I do real buildings, and I don't do them like Jack Kirby, I do them like the buildings look to me. That's why I consider myself an illustrator. I'm doing real people. I try to make them distinctive, and give them personality. When I first started, I was doing such generic people. Everybody had the same nose, everybody had the same smile, everybody had the same dimple in their chin. I realized I was doing horrible stereotypes. I started using moving actors. Whenever I'd do a war story, I'd say, "All right. This sergeant is going to look like Burt Lancaster. The private is going to look like Kirk Douglas." When I did westerns, the secondary characters with the big beard and the crooked teeth, the Gabby Hayes thing? I got all my characters from movie stars. That's how I got some personality in my stuff. I couldn't create a Romita World, although later on people tell me they recognize my stuff right away. That was a shock to me when I heard that.

imageSPURGEON: Although you don't seem to have a high opinion of the distinct nature of your own work, I think people believe you put a really strong graphic thumbprint on Spider-Man, even the definitive one.

ROMITA: It's interesting, because I started out trying to ghost Ditko. It didn't work. I realize now in retrospect I didn't do it, but I thought I was doing a complete ghosting of Ditko, line for line.

SPURGEON: Did you feel the book was Ditko's?

ROMITA: I thought the responsibility of a second artist on a book was to make the reader think it was seamless transition. I felt obliged to make the book -- if the book is a three-year success story, and building, I felt that we didn't need change on this, it was a success! I'll do the same thing. If I were to take over Dick Tracy, would I give Dick Tracy a straight nose or would I keep the nose he had? If I were doing Little Orphan Annie, I wouldn't start doing pupils in her eyes. Seventy years later, and Orphan Annie's still got no pupils in the daily comics. I was raised in that generation where an artist was obliged to ghost the work that he picked up from the previous artist. I tried like crazy. I worked with a thin pen, I even did a story with a rapidograph. The Rhino story I did with a rapidograph just to do it like Ditko. To get that thin pen line and big brush line. And the only reason I didn't get closer to Ditko was because I was physically unable. Just like I had failed in the '50s to do a convincing Kirby take-off. Then I realized in retrospect I guess I had enough of a personality that I couldn't do other people that well. I could simulate Kirby. I did three or four issues of Fantastic Four in exactly the Kirby style. I did romance book in other people's style. I always felt like I was a pinch hitter, I was a bullpen guy. You know? The other guys, the Ditkos of the world, they were the starting pitchers. The guys to emulate. That was my take.

The Look

SPURGEON: There had to be some point on Spider-Man that you realized you were the second-day's starting pitcher rather than the relief guy.

ROMITA: It started to dawn on me. After about a year, I realized he wasn't coming back. It started to become mine, because I started to use more brush. By the time I was doing the Vietnam story sequence, I was doing it more like Caniff. It had become my stuff. Even though I still tried... Stan kept complaining that I was making Peter Parker too good-looking, and too well-groomed. Even though I tried, I could not make Ditko's Peter Parker, that sort of stammering nerd. I couldn't do it. For some reason, my heroes had to be good-looking, had to be square-shouldered. Stan finally gave it up, and said the hell with it. Do it your own way. He liked the rest of my approach. He accepted some of my limitations.

SPURGEON: I think it's a big part of your run's appeal. It's a very glamorous book in a sense.

ROMITA: Historians now look back on it and say, "It was a maturing period, and Peter Parker matured." From this stammering young teenager to an 18, 19-year-old, finally maturing, getting better looking and more confident. They took it as contrived and schemed by Stan Lee and myself. And the truth of the matter is that it just happened. Like I told you, when Stan wrote the stuff it was different than what I envisioned. Most of this stuff took on a different personality than I had envisioned by the time it happened. We would go through sequences where we would plan nothing, absolutely nothing, even how the story was going to end. Sometimes we would do a five or six-issue epic, and it would growing and building and we had no idea where we were going. Looking back at it now, it looks like every single step was planned. Like the quest for the rosetta stone, the tablet, that became an epic that traveled thorugh about like four different villains. It looked like we planned it from the beginning. We had no idea there was going to be a Silvermane at the end of that storyline. It was accidental.

SPURGEON: One notable difference in your version of Spider-Man as compared to Ditko's is the prevalence of the female character. By this time you had become very comfortable drawing women.

ROMITA: Oh, yeah. Actually, I think that's what saved my skin on the book.

SPURGEON: I can't think of any comic to that time which had mixed these romance elements into the superhero material so explicitly, although in general mixing genres was a real strength of the Marvel line.

ROMITA: It was a very interesting thing. That was a lucky break for me. Instead of rejecting the fact that the pretty girls were starting to dominate the story for a while, instead of saying "what the hell is going on?" -- like when I was a kid watching westerns, if the cowboy kissed the girl at the end, I did not want to see those pictures. I'd rather see him kiss his horse or something. It was a lucky break, because we were able to bring the readers along for a ride. As we were changing our approach, and as things were changing, the readers were changing, too.

A lot of readers have told me at conventions that they grew up with Peter Parker. My own son says that. He just did an interview for the DVD of Spider-Man where he says he felt like he grew up with Peter Parker. He felt like he was a brother. He was a brother he didn't have to worry getting hit by. [laughs] And if my own son fell for that, can you imagine what the readers did? They tell me now, at conventions, that they learned how to react to things, how to think, how to behave from some of the comics the same way I learned how to react and behave from movies. We were sort of like the old movies from the '40s that I weaned myself in. The comics took place in the '50s and the '60s.

Cinema

SPURGEON: A lot has been written how the original comic book artists were taken with movies, but it occurs to me that your generation may have been more immersed in films than they were. Were you a fan of the movies as a kid?

ROMITA: My mother used to have to come to the theater and search for me. I could sit through three or four showings of films. I'm talking when I was nine or ten years old. She'd drop me off at the movies and then she'd come pick me up and if I wasn't there she'd have to come in and find me.

SPURGEON: Were you as analytical with films as you were with comics?

ROMITA: Sure. The same perceptive reaction I had to comic books, I had to movies. For a ten or eleven year old, I was very aware. I would know if there was a very dark secret, a social secret... there was a rape in an early movie I saw. The girl is married to an older man, and I remember feeling and understanding everything that was going on. And I was about twelve years old! I was very aware of every emotion. The storytelling in movies absolutely gripped me. I could not leave the movie theater. I had to be dragged out.

SPURGEON: Did you make distinctions between filmmakers, did you have favorites?

ROMITA: Oh, yeah. Capra... Ford... there were about four and five... there was Hitchock. I was aware of them all. I'm talking about watching Hitchcock when I was ten or twelve years old and understanding it. I had an affinity for film and for Milton Caniff. Caniff freely admits that movies affecting everything did. I could see Katherine Hepburn and all the other movie actors in his characters as well.

SPURGEON: How do you think film informed your artwork and that of your immediate peers?

ROMITA: The dynamics. For instance, they started using red filters to get dark skies in the westerns. Believe it or not, in later years Gene Colan and I used to sometimes talk an hour how the red filter affected the artwork. Gene Colan told me he sometimes used a black sky because he had seen a film where the dark sky was in it, this great, sensational effect where the clouds where shiny white against a black sky because of a red filter. We would talk of all those tricks and all those shots of horses and stagecoaches.

You ought to talk to Gene Colan. Ask him about Bullitt, and he'll talk to you for four hours. He knows every single line and every shot. He actually audiotaped Bullitt. Before videotape was invented, he went into a theater and audiotaped Bullitt so he could listen to the dialogue. He was crazy as I was. We're both children of the cinema.

Family Plot

SPURGEON: How did you feel about the material you were being given to draw at Marvel? Did you recognize that what Marvel was doing was hitting people differently?

ROMITA: My whole family used to help me plot. If we were taking trips to Cape Cod, for instance, that would be six hours in the car. We'd be plotting stories all the way. I would tell them, "Stan wants me to do a certain thing, and I'm having trouble with this and that." John Jr. at the age of the 10 and 12 was helping me plot. My wife was helping me plot. My oldest son Victor, who probably could be a writer if he wanted to, he works for IBM, has a wonderful story sense. My whole family was plotting those stories.

SPURGEON: How did you feel about the expanded creative involvement with the books. Was it simply fun for you? Did you feel a sense of social responsibility in how the books you were working on were affecting Marvel's readership?

ROMITA: I did feel that. I felt like we were really onto something. When I started to realize I was storyteller first and an artist second, it changed my whole approach to comics. Art is only a tool. Just like the lettering on the paper. If you don't tell a story, the best art in the world is a waste. I used to tell people, if you can't make a story interesting, readable and entertaining, then you can do Michelangelo's drawings, or Leonardo's drawings, and it would be absolutely ignored and nobody would buy it. On the other hand, if you're a moderately successful artist with limitations, but you tell a dynamite story, you can sell books all day long. That's my theory.

When I'm teaching young artists, I tell them, "If you're going to learn from me, check you ego at the door." One of the first things I learned was don't fall in love with you own artwork. When I first started inking comics, I would do a line on a figure, and I would love that line. I would say, "Wow, I really got a nice brushline there." Then I would decide I needed a black background. Sometimes I wouldn't put the black in there because I didn't want to ruin that line. I said to myself, "What are you, stupid? You're going to leave this open for some colorist to put a bad color in there when you should put black in there. The hell with it! The hell with the line! Put the black in there." And that's where the ego comes in. Artists fall in love with their own artwork. They lose the importance of the character and the story in the satisfaction of their technique. And that's the worst thing a comic artist can do. You're a storyteller first, and an artist second.

SPURGEON: Is there specific work from your Spider-Man run that met your ambitions for storytelling?

ROMITA: Storywise, there are a lot of stories. There are a half a dozen stories I'm very proud of. A lot of them that got knocked out because of lack of time I'm not too proud of. The storylines I'm more proud of than actual artwork, but there are two issues that I've told people are my favorite two Spider-Man issues: #108 and #109. It was a plot I had a lot to do with. And the reason I plotted it, and insinuated the ideas with Stan, was because it was a chance to do Orientals in the Caniff style. That was the Vietnam sequence where Flash Thompson comes back from Vietnam, and somebody from Southeast Asia wants to kill him because he destroyed a temple. Spider-Man saves his life, and Doc Strange was a guest-star. Those two stories I'm proudest of as artwork. It's more like me than anything else. The storytelling, the drawings, the powers, and the fact that I used a lot of blacks. It was juicy, what I call a juicy piece of artwork.

I've also done covers I'm very proud of. A lot of covers I was very satisified with. But the truth of the matter is I never did a piece of artwork that came up to what I intended it to look like. I always envisioned it better. And when people accuse of false modesty, I tell the, "You gotta understand. I'm the only one that knew exactly what I wanted on that. You didn't know how good I wanted that to be. All you saw was the finished product. And you like it, and I'm grateful -- thank God, that's what paid my bills. But I know what I wanted there. I wanted an epic on paper." [laughs]

imageSPURGEON: You mentioned that you and even your family did some of the plotting on the Spider-Man issues. Did you ever pursue plotting credit?

ROMITA: I didn't ask for it. Jack Kirby did. Kirby demanded it, and Ditko demanded it. I didn't demand it because I didn't feel the need for that kind of stuff. I felt like a contributor, but I didn't plot the story from scratch. Stan would always come up with a thought. There were times when I got very little, and then built on it. There were times when we would have a fifteen minute conference, and we would be interrupted, and I would never get back to Stan and I would be stuck with a very skimpy concept that I would have to flesh out. Those are the ones the family did when we were in the car traveling, because I would have a beginning and an end but nothing in the middle. When Stan started to give Jack Kirby plotting credit -- the ultimate was when it became a Stan Lee and Jack Kirby production. When you were saying it was produced, that was the ultimate comment. "Produced by Stan Lee and John Romita," that said I was the co-producer of this story and these characters and this product. It was a very, very good feeling.

But I never demanded it. I never demanded anything. I was sort of a sap. [Spurgeon laughs] Frankly. I was always a good solider. I never made waves, even though a lot of times I would grumble. I used to have a line I would grumble when I was inking, that I'm doing this work at three in the morning and somebody else cashed the check already. Whether it was Stan Lee or Gil Kane or whoever I was inking, or whoever I was correcting, I used to grumble like everybody else. But I would never go in and say to Stan, "I'm tired of this," or "If I don't get this, I'm not going to stay." I was never that kind of guy. I needed comfort and peaceful surroundings. I traded a lot of income and a lot of... I didn't promote myself. In exchange I got peace and quiet and easy-going surroundings I was comfortable in. If I had been a squeaky wheel, I could've gotten more oil.

SPURGEON: Was credit a sore point amongst the Marvel artists in general? Or did most of them share your outlook?

ROMITA: A lot of people claim that Stan took too much credit. The truth of the matter is, my attitude is that if I had done the same work for another editor it wouldn't have been as good. Jack Kirby was a genius. But the truth of the matter is that Jack Kirby didn't have any long runs on any books -- mostly because of economics, because he wanted to go onto new things -- but he didn't have real long runs, just think of the magnificent accomplishment of 102 issues of Fantastic Four. If I had done 102 issues of any book, I would be puffed up like a rooster. That is a tremendous legacy to leave to people. He did the equivalent of the full life's work of A. Conan Doyle, or Robert Louis Stevenson, all the magnificent things that were done in Fantastic Four in that run, that ten-year run. Plus annuals. He didn't do that with Joe Simon. He wouldn't have done that with Carmine Infantino and the team. And don't you think Stan Lee deserves some credit for that? That's what I always thought. As much credit as Stan has and gets, I think he deserves most of it. I think he was the best editor that ever lived, and one of the best writers. I always felt why should I ask for equal credit with the guy who did most of the creation here?

SPURGEON: Do you think one contributing factor that left Stan open to those accusations is the way Marvel was set up as a company?

ROMITA: You know, the corporate people could have squashed it a long time ago. It didn't have to be "Stan Lee presents" all those years. What they were doing was doing what they thought was the best commercial trick. If "Stan Lee Presents" is the way to sell books, let's do it. Stan didn't have it in his contract that it was going to say "Stan Lee Presents" forever, that was a commercial decision by several different entities, different conglomerates down through the years. Martin Goodman allowed it to be Stan Lee Presents because it was good business. Martin Goodman wouldn't give you the skin off a grape [laughter] if it weren't business wise. Same thing with the all the conglomerates and guys that came after. Right down to Perelman, who knew where his bread was buttered. Stan Lee Presents, that's the way to make it work. That's not a mean accomplishment. I don't remember that Jack Kirby Presents never got a huge sale out of anything. Certainly John Romita didn't get a huge sale out of anything before he went to Stan Lee. I have to face that. I'm not kidding anybody.

SPURGEON: You're saying there's a bottom-line commercial component that can't be denied.

ROMITA: I don't believe it I would have had the run for 25 years on some form or another on Spider-Man -- whether I was plotting stories for somebody else, like Gil Kane, or just inking somebody else, or doing roughs for somebody else to finish, doing thousands of covers, toy designs, Macy's Spider-Man balloon -- I would not have had that run with anyone but Stan Lee. I didn't make that run as a John Romita enterprise. I was a part of a group. I was not my own unit. So to me, Jack Kirby's success on Fantastic Four, Thor, Captain American and all of those things -- Captain America he succeeded on with Joe Simon, but everything else, I think if it wasn't for Stan Lee, it would not have been successful. When he worked for himself, he had what I would call critical successes and commercial failures. That's fact, I think.

Remember, I admire Jack as the genius of comics. I admire him as an idol. But I have to admit, he never sold anything on his own.

Jack, John, Jerry and Bill

SPURGEON: The Marvel bullpen and freelancing community of the late 1960s and early 1970s was an interesting place. The biggest change was an absence. Was it shocking when Jack Kirby left Marvel?

ROMITA: It was a terrible shock to me. I knew that there was a friction. And Roz was very upset with Stan because of a lot of misconceptions. She accused Stan of all sorts of things that Stan was somewhat innocent on. But he did take credit. And maybe he didn't give enough credit. If he had said, "Co-Created by Jack Kirby," it might have made him stay. But I think they were down on Stan, mostly because a stupid article in the Herald-Tribune. That was just an unfortunate thing. Stan never got a chance to see that thing. And if he did, he probably glossed over the paragraph that insulted Jack, saying that instead of looking like the dynamic creator of thousands of characters, he looked like a bra salesman. That would have killed me. And he blamed Stan.

SPURGEON: Did you know Jack Kirby personally?

ROMITA: Jack? Oh, yeah. We always had a wonderful relationship. He was a very interesting guy, but he was like a time bomb. He was a powderkeg. He was always like ready to explode. But he was very cordial face to face. He would be cordial to people he didn't like, but the next day he would bad-mouth them. That's what's called being business-like, and you can't go around grumbling at everybody, you know. He was a special kind of guy, don't get me wrong. He had a great sense of humor, and he had a wonderful talent. He would share it with you, and give you all sorts of tips. He used to tell me all the time, "You spend too much time worrying about the stuff. So it doesn't hold water, so it's not exactly accurate, so what?" He and John Buscema used to tell me to throw away my eraser. Stop erasing stuff you've drawn, because even your worst drawing is as good as anybody's best drawing. That was the advice they both gave me, John Buscema and Jack Kirby.

SPURGEON: John Buscema was, like yourself, a mid-'60s hire that became an important anchor for the Marvel line. What was working with Buscema like?

ROMITA: John Buscema was also a classic character. He was always grumbling about the crap being put out at comics. He came in one day when I was tearing up a splash page that I had half done. He said, "What the hell are you, crazy? Why are you doing that? That was a good drawing. I said, "No, I didn't like it. There was something wrong with that. The figures were too small." He said, "You're nuts!" He used to tell me all the time, "It's only comics, what the hell are you getting so upset about?" I used to tell him, "I can't explain it to you. But if I don't like panel one, I can't do panel two." With him, he didn't give a damn. [Spurgeon laughs] I said, "Well, it's easy for you. Your worst drawings are better than most people's best." That's the same line he used on me. I didn't believe it, and he did. And he really was. He was one of the best artists. I really idolized his artwork.

SPURGEON: Buscema was an incredibly facile artist.

ROMITA: But always acting like the gruff. [laughs]

SPURGEON: The artist Bill Everett returned to Marvel for a few years before his passing. His take on superhero comics in the Sub-Mariner comics in the '40s and '50s was a crucial antecedent to what you guys were doing in the 1960s. What was it like to work with him?

ROMITA: It was like sitting next to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. To work with Bill Everett every day for about two or three years... I also had the experience of working with Jerry Siegel. He was proofreading for us. I used to say to myself, "I'm sitting next to Jerry Siegel. I'm sitting next to the guy who created this whole industry." [laughs] I can't tell you. One time I met Frank Frazetta. Frank Frazetta and I were on a bus going from Orlando to Tampa with a bunch of young artists. And all they're saying, I can hear them whispering, "There's John Romita. That's John Romita. Do you realize that's John Romita." I sidle over to them, and say, "Do you want to hear something funny? You want to know what I'm saying to myself? That's Frank Frazetta over there!" [laughs] That encapsulates what comic artists mean to each other.

SPURGEON: Was Everett in good health when you worked with him?

ROMITA: He had gotten himself straightened out. He wasn't drinking. He was still smoking a little bit, but I think he had even straightened that out. It looked like he had solved his health problems. And then he got a heart attack and lost him while he was still working there. But those years were really great. He was inking guys, he was teaching us so much. I've got birthday cards, we used to birthday cards. Marie Severin would draw me up in a work situation, sort of a put on of me, joking. And everybody would sign it, say "Happy Birthday, John." I've got a couple signed by Bill Everett that are treasures to me. Here I've got Marie Severin, I've got Gene Colan, the whole Marvel crew, Stan Lee, everybody signing my birthday card. I've got about three or four of those. They're just absolutely my treasures.

SPURGEON: When Everett was "on" as an artist, he was capable of really lovely-looking art, although he wasn't a fan favorite near the end of his career.

ROMITA: He was the best example of what I would call a creative artist. When you were in Bill Everett's world, you knew where you are. That was Bill Everett's world. He did it when there was crudity in comics, when the printing and the work was so low-priced you had to knock it out. He was doing piecework for pennies and turning out original masterpieces. That first generation had the glory of breaking new ground. He broke new ground every time he did a drawing. And to me, when you're doing something in 1935 and 1936 in comics, before anybody else had even made any rule, you're making your own rules, that's a giant. That's what I meant by George Washington.

imageOther People's Art

SPURGEON: Was there a point at which you began to phase out of penciling? I was trying to track your credits, and it seems like you gradually moved away from the penciling workload you took on when you first started working at Marvel. I know on Spider-Man it seems that you started to ink Gil's stuff as much you penciled it yourself.

ROMITA: I didn't give up penciling. What happened is Stan would come to me and say that Captain America was having troubling, could I do a few issues of Captain America. So Stan and I would plot the story, and then I would give the plot to Gil Kane. Then I would do Captain America. When Gil Kane sent in the pencils I'd have to corrections because Stan wanted to change things. I would corrections on the pencils from Gil. And then sometimes there would be ink by Jim Mooney or Frank Giacoia or somebody, and I might have to do corrections on those. Sometimes the Mary Jane faces didn't come out right or something. When I inked Gil Kane, I used to have to make a lot of changes, not because I'm an egomaniac, but because only because Stan used to ask me to. Stan didn't want Gil Kane on Spider-Man, he wanted John Romita. So he said, "I want you to ink Gil Kane, but I want you to make it look like you." That was insulting to Gil, but Gil of course didn't care as long as he got the money. The truth of the matter is that a lot of guys were hurt by that. Don Heck was very incensed when Stan would say "I want you to work more like John Buscema or John Romita." Don Heck one day blew up and told me, "Listen, you tell Stan if he wants John Romita or John Buscema to use them and not me." And I understood. But I also used to tell him, "Listen Don, you don't have to draw exactly like us. He doesn't mean that. What he wants you to do is approach them like we do. Glamorize it, more dynamic, more movement, that kind of stuff."

But guys like Don and the other artists that felt they were not getting work from Stan because he preferred Jack Kirby and me and John Buscema, it's just that Stan, Stan wasn't down on anyone's artwork. He never changed anybody's artwork because he disagreed with the artwork. It was the storyline that he changed. The artwork had to be changed because he was changing the storyline. I changed a lot of Jack Kirby, but not because the artwork was wrong. Stan wanted a new expression, or he wanted to change the position of a character, because he was always changing a storyline. What Jack would send in was always invariably different than what Stan had asked for. Stan would write another story, and I would have to do changes to make it work. People think that because I was art director, I made that judgment, but I never did. I wouldn't have changed Jack Kirby's artwork if my life depended on it! But when Stan wanted a change in story, I had to change the artwork. I changed Colan, I changed Barry Smith -- did you ever see those embarrassing Barry Smith covers with my faces on them?

SPURGEON: [laughs] Yeah, sure.

ROMITA: Do you know what a reputation I have, and how many people criticized that? [laughs] I got criticized by quite a few people as being an egomaniac.

SPURGEON: Now was every change you made directly from Stan, or had you internalized what Stan wanted and made changes yourself on that basis?

ROMITA: Every single one from Stan. I never changed -- I'll rescind that. I changed a Spider-Man figure on an artist I won't mention. [laughs] Because he had the arms and legs so long it was ludicrous. I had to cut a half inch out of each arm and each leg.

SPURGEON: Was that Gil Kane?

ROMITA: No. But I will tell you that yes, Gil Kane used to make Spider-Man six foot five. My answer to that was that I would make his head bigger, so he would look five foot ten instead of six foot five. That I did. But that was not a knock at his artwork. That was a knock at his characterization.

SPURGEON: Of all the important artists I can think of who did a great deal of work for Marvel, I think of Gil Kane as someone with whom you worked particularly closely. What did you think of Kane's work, his approach to comics?

ROMITA: The quote that I give to most people is that every time I inked Gil I learned something. Every single panel. I always learned something. He didn't do things perfectly, but he did dynamics. A lot of guys in my situation, my rough drawings are very exciting, very dynamic. But by the time I finish them, it gets moderated and sort of stifled a little bit. I'm putting accurate details into it. Gil never lost the thrust of his figures. He would go from his rough drawing and have these figures extended, fully extended and moving in space, and he never compromised with it. The finished drawings never lost any of that. I always respected that. Jack Kirby had that, too. His figures had thrust and mass in space, and they never lost it. People like myself, when you get the accurate details and start to modify it, you modify it to death. That's a danger. My rough drawings are always better than my finished drawings.

SPURGEON: Another thing that's unclear to me when I'm tracking your career: at what point did you officially become an art director?

ROMITA: [laughs] It was never official. It was a handshake. It was so unofficial that Stan used to be paid as art director. I never got a penny for being art director.

SPURGEON: That's not a very good arrangement at all.

ROMITA: I used to say that Stan would give titles instead of salary increases. He would call a person an assistant editor, but not give them a raise. He used to give us nicknames instead of raises. [laughter] That's why I got so many nicknames.

The Transitional Period

SPURGEON: By the early 1970s weren't you passing on covers and other things that one would think of as an art director's work?

ROMITA: I only did it in conjunction with people like Roy Thomas. In my last few years, people like Bobbie Chase and Ralph Macchio relied on me heavily for covers. I would do a lot of sketches for them. They would send them to the artist, and the artist would follow my sketches. A lot of editors never asked me for help. I did work out a lot of Gil's covers. Roy and I would get together with Gil once a week, or once every two weeks, and work out cover concepts on half a dozen or a dozen books. There was time there where he was doing like five or six covers a week for us.

SPURGEON: Working with Roy Thomas on covers -- I take it this was when Roy had taken over from Stan after Stan moved upstairs in 1972?

ROMITA: Roy was editor-in-chief.

SPURGEON: What was the office like after Stan made his move?

ROMITA: It was strange, after many years of Stan being there constantly. He had started coming into the office three days a week so that he could stay home and write on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sometimes he would come in on Tuesday and Thursday and stay at home the other three days. So we had sort of gotten used to operating without him being there. Sol Brodsky would do the administrative work. When Roy took over, and Stan decided to write full-time, and when he went to California, Roy had to become Editor-in-Chief to make the daily decisions. It was strange, but we had sort of drifted into it. Roy and I had sort of taken over, thinking of the covers, because Stan wasn't coming in every day. We had gotten a taste of it before we left. It wasn't so bad. Some people had trouble with it. When you're used to working with Stan, a lot of them had trouble taking orders from Roy, Roy being a fairly newcomer compared to some of the older artists. They felt like he was a kid who shouldn't be in charge. When other editors came in from the outside, there were grumbles in the bullpen. "Here's a DC guy; he shouldn't be our Editor-in-Chief." No names. [laughter] But there were many calls for a strike or something. "He doesn't know how to do Marvel stuff. He's a DC guy."

SPURGEON: Didn't the whole culture of Marvel change as young creators, many younger than Roy, started to come in? In fact, many of the editors and editors-in-chief from that decade were culled from the younger generation.

ROMITA: Guys like Len Wein becoming editor... Archie Goodwin. It was quite a change. When Jim Shooter came in it was even more. Young people who had started in the business 20 years after we got into the business -- it's always a shock. It's true in business. You can't always choose who your leaders are going to be.

SPURGEON: I think I've read that you felt you were able to offer help to the newer guys, but you never imposed yourself.

ROMITA: No, I never did. Shooter made me full time art director. It was official then, come to think of it. That's when I didn't have to do any work -- I didn't have a quota of artwork to do to earn my money. I guess this is like 1985. When Shooter gave me that, I had been working in special projects for Sol Brodsky. We were doing children's books, and coloring books. I was doing the newspaper strip in the late '70s and early '80s. Shooter asked me, "How would you like to be here full-time?" We instituted an apprentice program. We ran about 35 guys through that department in seven years, whatever it was. We got maybe 25 of those guys working in the business. That was a great project, and it was Shooter's idea. I implemented it, and it worked very well.

That was the first time we had whole batch of young editors. Shooter told me "I told them to use you as a tool, an asset. And anybody who doesn't use you is going to be fighting me. I've told them to use you, if they don't, then that's their problem. That's between them and me." I told him, "Listen Jim, I'm not going to be the kind of guy who says I demand an artist on a book, or I don't like a certain artist so take him off that book. I don't want to have that power. I don't want to have the tension that arises from it. I will be available to anyone who wants to get my advice, and if they get my advice and don't use it, I don't care." I said that's the only way I'm going to do it, and he said he agreed with me.

Confrontation is no way to get things done. I used to tell people, "I think this is a mistake." For instance, when McFarlane did the Hulk, I told Bob Harras I didn't like McFarlane's Hulk. So he took him off the Hulk and put him on Spider-Man. So if it weren't for my stupidity, he wouldn't have been on Spider-Man all those year, and I would have been happier.

SPURGEON: So if anyone doesn't like the arc of Todd McFarlane's career, we have you to blame.

ROMITA: He might have made Hulk the biggest character of all time. You never know. I shouldn't have tampered with it!

My style is I can to tell you what I think. "I don't like this stuff. I don't like the way this character is drawn." But I'm not going to demand that if you don't do it my way I'm going to go to Shooter and tell Shooter it's him or me. I can't work that way, if I have to have a confrontation every day. Other people that have tried my job since I've left, have tried butting heads. It got them nowhere. All it did was get them animosity and tension and nothing produced.

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Strips

SPURGEON: I want to ask you about a couple of your projects in the 1970s. The Spider-Man newspaper strip: you were in as artist on both an abortive attempt in the early '70s and the successful launch later that decade.

ROMITA: The one in the early '70s never got off the ground. Somebody never even submitted it to the syndicate.

SPURGEON: Was it an agent you had that was supposed to submit it?

ROMITA: It was somebody in the office. It was jealousy of Stan Lee -- somebody didn't want to see him get a strip. It just lay there, and it was never submitted to a syndicate. In '77, they came to Stan, the Tribune syndicate. Tribune was a syndicate in the Midwest. I was rooting for King Features, but Stan accepted this one. They were sort of a small outfit that didn't have a lot of push. But we managed to get it up to 500 papers at one time.

SPURGEON: Spider-Man has an interesting place in comic strip history because at the time of its launch there were almost no adventure strips in the paper.

ROMITA: There still aren't. But absolutely. Every one of us agreed. Joe Giella had done Batman for about three years and it died. He was in the office, and I told him I was going to start Spider-Man. He said, "It will probably last about a year and a half or two, but enjoy it while you got it. Because you're going to be killing yourself, because it's a daily and Sunday." I told him, "Well no, because I got a deal that as soon as it affects my health I'm going to quit." I didn't want to quit my job at Marvel and do the strip, which would have been easier on my health and mind. I aged in those four years about ten years, I think. The strip was a killer. I was trying to make it so damn good. I wanted to knock people's socks off. The only reward I got was that I got a call from Milton Caniff saying that he loved the way I was doing Spider-Man. That was worth all the work right there.

The other thing was that I didn't quit the job. I worked three days a week at Marvel and the other four days a week, believe it or not, to do the strip. I did it at a sacrifice of income, because I was giving up part of my weekly salary. I barely broke even those four years, with salary. I worked seven days a week.

SPURGEON: Was it at least artistically fulfilling?

ROMITA: It was hard work. But it was very satisfying. It was wonderful to think, I was getting letters from South America, from Europe, from Asia, I had a fan in Norway that followed everything I did in the strip. I had fans in England, I had fans in France and Italy. The fact that I was reaching around the world with that strip was so satisfying. I would have quit a year earlier if it wasn't for that great satisfaction.

SPURGEON: The other project of yours from the 1970s is radically different. In Stan Lee's archived papers in Laramie, Wyoming I came across a proposal for a Playboy strip based on the Tom Swift character you and he did together.

ROMITA: Did you see any of the drawings? I hope they're not going around.

SPURGEON: I did. And actually the drawings are quite lovely. The work really looked nice.

ROMITA: That was sort of mixed emotions there. Playboy wanted us to do that more raunchy. Believe it or not, it was too tame for them. You know what that was all about? When Penthouse was doing that very crude Wicked Wanda, Annie Fanny started to look a little bit tame. So they wanted to do something to compete with Wicked Wanda in Penthouse. They were going to drop Annie Fanny. Stan was very flattered, and he loved the idea of making the extra money. Of course, to me all it looked like was a lot of extra work. [laughter] I didn't have a lot of time on my hands. But I was torn between having this international exposure in full color -- I was thinking, "Wow! What a rush that would be, to have my stuff printed in this quality stock, with beautiful color. A first class production."

But it was against my grain. It was really hard. I'm really a prude, a square, you know? I got as raunchy as I could. Did you see anything about the villains, the men?

SPURGEON: I did.

ROMITA: Did you see their heads?

SPURGEON: I did. [laughs] Yes.

ROMITA: You know what they were supposed to be?

SPURGEON: Yeah.

ROMITA: I thought, well, doing a dickhead is probably as crude as you can get, right? They didn't think it was crude enough. They wanted more chains, and spikes, and straps. They wanted S&M. I tried it twice to make it raunchier. And I thought an orgasm machine was pretty raunchy, the girls were all completely nude, you know. I certainly didn't want to show any male frontal nudity, but I was doing with as much as I thought I could get away with.

When she asked for more, I tried for a couple of days, and then I went in one day and told Stan, I said, "Stan, I got to tell you something. I hate to do this to you, but I think you ought to get another artist. I don't think I'm the guy for this. I think I'm much too mild-tempered. You need a Wally Wood on this kind of stuff." He said, "I don't want to do this with anybody else." I said, "Stan, I don't want to cost you this assignment. This is something you're going to love to do." He said, "No. If you can't do it, I won't do it." I said, "Don't do that to me. I'll feel terrible!" He said, "The truth of the matter is, I want to work with you on this stuff. And if we can't make it work..." I told him, "I'll tell you the truth. If we could make it work, I'd almost be ashamed." For instance, I couldn't show it to my grandchildren. Even my kids. I said, "If I use a phony name, everybody is going to know anyway who's doing it." So I said I'd rather not do this at all. As much money as may be in this -- I told you, I'm a sap, I give up all sorts of lucrative ideas, because it's too much a change to ask of me. I could not think like that. You know the old joke about getting down on old fours and looking at it like a dog would? [laughter] I can't do that! So I gave it up. We gave it up voluntarily.

That's the only time I can point to Stan passing up a chance to make money. [Spurgeon laughs] I swear. I will document that. In my experience, that's the only time he ever turned down anything that could be big money.

Design

SPURGEON: Another thing I recall of when I think of your work in the '70s is I know you worked on the original design for the Wolverine character.

ROMITA: Mm-hm.

SPURGEON: Can you talk about your approach to character design in general? I can't imagine a more crucial skill for a mainstream comic book artist to have, as so much depends on the visual appeal of the character. Your Spider-Man designs were also very attractive. Except for Kirby and maybe Ditko, you provided Marvel with some of their most memorable characters.

ROMITA: The first one I think was the Rhino. He would just write the words, "Next month: The Rhino." And I would have to come up with a character that looked like a rhino, or based on a rhino. Then there was the Shocker, and other characters. Every time we'd come up with a new villain, he didn't want to use a lot of Ditko's villains. He felt they had overused them already. So we always tried to come up with new ones. So I started sharpening my creative skills that way. Some of them worked. I didn't think the Shocker worked, I thought it was embarrassing. But some people have said they loved the Shocker. I'm not the one to judge. I didn't think the Rhino was going to work until Marie Severin did a drawing of the Rhino in action. I did a drawing of the Rhino, and I was about to reject it, and Marie Severin said, "I like that." I said, "It looks silly, the face sticking out below the horn." And she showed him charging like a bull, and I said, "You know, you're right." Some thought it was a one-trick pony, all you can do is having him charging into things. But she made me believe it.

When I did the Kingpin I was very proud. I also was very proud of the Robbie Robertson character. I still don't know if Stan asked me for a black guy, or if I recommended a black guy. Stan asked me to do a night editor. He may have said he wanted him to be black. He can't remember and I can't remember. I think it was my idea, but I can't be sure. I also used to write backgrounds on the characters. I remember writing out an extensive background, like four paragraphs on Robbie Robertson, like four pargraphcs. Robbie Robertson was a poor kid growing up in a ghetto, and fought his way in the Golden Gloves, which is a New York thing, a boxing tournament every year. He worked his way through college at night, and became the night editor. I had him originally with cauliflower ears, but Stan thought that people would think we just didn't know how to draw ears. [laughs] He rejected the cauliflower ear. But the white hair on the black guy, it just clicked. I was very proud of that character. We built a family around him, a wife and a kid who was a close friend of Peter Parker's. I was sorry that they didn't use a black character -- I think they had a black character in the Spider-Man movie, but didn't do much with him.

When we went to the Kingpin, I really was rolling then. All he said was, "I want the Kingpin of Crime the next month." And so the first thing that pops into every artist's mind is the gangster type with the black shirt and the white tie and the scar and graying temples, or something like that. But I said no, I don't want to do that. I wanted to make him as distinctively different as possible. I fashioned him like the political cartoon version of a business tycoon. At the turn of the century. Overweight, bald, with a morning coat and a cravat and a stickpin. I something do it almost like serendipity -- the word kingpin suggested stickpin to me. So I put a diamond stickpin in his cravat. But basically he was to look like a Wall Street tycoon, instead of a racketeer. But hugely powerful, because he was 400 pounds of muscle. I pointed out in the original sketch to Stan, he's not fat and flabby, he's just powerful. He can terrorize anybody in his gang. That kind of stuff. I was very proud of the Kingpin. The silhouette was what I was after. You can see a silhouette of the Kingpin and you don't mistake him for any other character. All the other gang leaders in comics, if you put a silhouette up, they'd all look alike. That's what I was after, a distinctive quality.

So when it comes to the Wolverine, that was different. After I had created a few villains for Stan, other editors started to come to me. Guys like Marv Wolfman and Len Wein and Gerry Conway when he was writing Spider-Man. When we did the Punisher, I tried a trick. I assumed they were going to ask for a guy with a mask. I did him in a costume, and I tried a different way of doing a skull on the costume. I made the skull the entire torso instead of a small skull and crossbones. But then I did him without a mask on purpose, fully expecting they were going to come back in a half hour saying, "We like the costume, but put a mask on him." When they didn't come in, I had this confusion. "Are they saying, if John Romita doesn't put a mask on him, that's good." Or are they saying, "It looks good this way. We like it that way." I never asked them, and I always forget to ask them. So here's a guy who going to be a vigilante. Of all the people who need a mask, he does. How does he get away without a mask? I wanted to see expressions on his face. I did not want to have a mask where you don't see expressions.

So that was that. Characters like the Tarantula, the Rattler, and all of those. I was proud of a praying mantis costume I did. I had insect shapes coming out of her hair and things like that. When Wolverine was asked for... the typical arrangement was that somebody would come and say, "We want a character called The Wolverine." Now I don't believe anybody told me anything about the size. What happened is I went to the Encyclopedia we had in the office, and I get a picture of a Wolverine. I have to tell you, I wasn't very bright at the time. I thought a Wolverine was female wolf. So help me. [laughter] I never knew that a Wolverine was a completely different character than a wolf. I see a picture, and it describes it as a small, ferocious characters with tremendous claws, and it's cat-like. Which was a surprise to me. So I envisioned a guy who was very short and powerful. I described him as 5 foot 4, 5 foot 5. I also said he was very ferocious, always angry. The only thing different than what he's evolved into is I had a very small set of ears on him that was cat-like. Later on we had a female character called The Cat which had the same years I did on the original design. The only change they made was to give the huge points on the mask instead of the small, cat-like ears. But the rest of it, they've kept almost intact all these years. I'm very proud of it. All I did was put a lot of claw shapes on it. The biggest thing I did, and I know I decided to make it, I knew if you had claws that long, they were going to get in the way. He wouldn't be able to light a cigarette, he won't be able to scratch his nose without tearing his flesh. So I decided to make it retractable from the back of his hand. Retractable claws. With the Cat we had claws from the fingertips, I just made it from the back of the hand so it wouldn't get in the way of his normal, everyday existence. I was very proud of that, to the point when I saw the X-Men movie. You remember that moment, the first time he shows his claws and made it so dramatic. I leaned over and told Virginia, "I just got the biggest rush of my life." Because that was my idea. Retractable claws. I just had a feeling like Thomas Edison must have felt [laughs] when that light stayed on.

SPURGEON: For one thing, I think there's a generation of young men who will never think of a wolverine as a female wolf. [Romita laughs] So it sounds like what you're doing is basically working through the characters from a story standpoint and letting that dictate the design.

ROMITA: I also used to try and combine images. On the Punisher, the teeth of the skull are the belt buckle. I like that kind of thing. Instead of just doing teeth, I did a functional thing on it. When I did the Shocker, I did a Spider-Man-like v-shape in the front of his costume. The quilted part came to a point just about at the belt. What I did to try and make it clever is I put a v-shape belt on it to go around the shape of that v-shape cloth. From that moment on, everybody has accused me I originally intended it to be called The Vibrator instead of the Shocker. [laughter] I said, "No, what do you mean?" "There's a v on his belt." No, that was completely done for another reason. [laughs] But they didn't buy it, they thought he was supposed to be The Vibrator.

So that's the experience I had designing characters.

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Variety

SPURGEON: As Marvel expanded its creative purview in the 1980s, you were involved with many of those efforts. Did you enjoy your experience working in Special Projects?

ROMITA: I enjoyed the idea of it. Some things I liked. But we were always on such a low budget that it started to wear on me. It was very hard. We did the A-Team series on that. A three-book series on the A-Team which had such a low budget I was ashamed of it. I didn't even want my name on it. It was so bad. And yet I've signed dozens of copies of those books. [laughs] Fans come to me and tell me how much they loved it. And I tell them, "If I tell you what I think of that book, you're going to be hurt."

SPURGEON: When did you start working for them?

ROMITA: I think it was about '81. Just about the time I left the strip. I left the strip in '81, and I went to special projects thinking I was going to be doing a lot of different things, and I'd have something new to work on. Coloring books were a little bit of a drag, but I was also open to trying new stuff. I did a lot of Disney stuff, I did Barbie, and stuff like that in subsequent years anyway. So I liked the variety. Variety was very important, because when you're 30 years in an office, boredom is a very big problem. The more variety I got, the better. That's why I loved creating female characters, and I loved doing the Nestle Bunny. You remember the ads? I did those. A lot of them. I really enjoyed those. I did some Disney covers. I enjoyed Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, I did a lot of Disney covers. I did the first two Barbie covers. And of course you know about the Spidey Super-Stories.

SPURGEON: I do know about the Spidey Super-Stories.

ROMITA: That was one of my proudest moments. I was the liaison between Marvel and the Children's Television workshop. I helped created that project, and I was supervising it. I also did like the first ten out of 12 covers. I had a lot to do with trying to keep it good inside, but it had to be for a very, very young audience. The whole thing was very restrictive. But it was such a satisfying thing, because it was scientifically designed to create reading desires in young people. And it worked. We used to get a lot of compliments from teachers saying that a whole generation of young people learned how to read because of that comic book. We did that for about five years. We did no ads -- there was no commercial advertising in it. It was strictly a public service kind of thing and I was very proud of it. Having educators call me up and telling me they thought the book was a great benefit, I can't tell you how proud I was of that.

SPURGEON: As I understand it, the genesis of a lot of Marvel's move into educational, overtly socially responsible comics had its roots in the famous Harry Osborn addiction story in Amazing Spider-Man. Jumping back a bit, were you involved with those issues?

ROMITA: Gil used to get all the plum issues. I plotted that sequence with Stan, as I did with all of them. I was just being used on something, probably The Fantastic Four. I'm not sure. When Kirby left, it was about that time -- '72, '71. So what happened is I would plot the issue with Stan, then he would say, "Okay, I need you on something else." And I would have to give the plot to Gil. So I gave the plot to Gil by phone, and he got all the plum issues that way! He got the death of Captain Stacy. The death of Gwen Stacy. And the drug issues. Those were all major sequences. It was just luck of the draw. It had nothing to do with anything except I was doing something else at the time.

SPURGEON: You also helped plot the death of Gwen Stacy story, one of the real watershed events in Marvel's publication history.

ROMITA: And I was inking at that time. I think I inked the first one of the drug issues.

SPURGEON: Did you ever think about going to plotting more formally or writing, because it seems like you had developed a pretty good story sense?

ROMITA: I didn't do it more than once. Actually, I did a plot on a story of Spider-Man in Mexico, where Spider-Man is the only guy who could go down this bottomless pit. In my sketchbook -- it's called the Mexican Princess story. I plotted that myself completely. I had a group of creatures based on the Morlocks from The Time Machine. They were down there unable to see but they were very dangerous creatures. I was plotting that story, but I never finished it. We started a couple of projects. I started another one called the Black Swan, and I spent months on it. But what I usually do is tie myself up in knots. I try to make it so spectacular and have so much dimension, so much epic quality, that I usually destroy myself. I wear myself out. I have to give it up, because it will just tie me in knots. If I had to write for a living, I don't think I'd ever produce anything. I'd be changing it until the last minute, and never get it done.

SPURGEON: It sounds like you have almost an editor's mentality than a writer's.

ROMITA: No, I'm just a perfectionist idiot. [Spurgeon laughs] I'm never satisfied. I turn in the drawings because I can get a modicum of something done in time. If I had to write it... you should see, if somebody asks me to do an introduction for a book, you should see how I agonize over it. I can do it, but it takes forever.

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\The Tall Guy

SPURGEON: Marvel in the 1980s means Jim Shooter as editor-in-chief. Am I right in assuming from the viewpoint of someone working there that there was a honeymoon period when Shooter took over at Marvel, particularly given the revolving door that preceded him?

ROMITA: For two or three years, it was wonderful. We had a great deal of respect for each other. And there was a self-respect engendered during those years. He used to demand that Marvel would send us places first class. First class hotels... it was wonderful. We would go to conventions and we were treated better. He treated us well. It was a wonderful time. You're right. It's interesting that you would describe it that way. It was like a honeymoon period, like a golden age. When things were going well for Shooter -- he sold millions of copies of Secret Wars, he was riding the crest of the wave. But when the second Secret Wars flopped, and he tried a new line of books...

SPURGEON: The New Universe line.

ROMITA: ... and they fell on their kiester. He started to get very testy, and very short-tempered. First, he was butting heads with corporate upstairs. He also was there when New Line cinema took over. They had done a couple of successful television shows, and they felt like they were conquering the world, and they ended up not knowing what they were doing. They were terrible. Anyway, Shooter butted heads with them. Before they took over, he got us all together and he said he wanted to tell the new owner that they should do something for the good of the company. We had about 50 or 60 titles, and we were killing ourselves. The second line wasn't doing too well. We were all saying we wished we could do 25 titles or 20 titles of top quality books and not kill ourselves on 60 titles. Now that was an artists and writers dream. Some would have lost work, but we thought for quality's sake the best stuff we ever did was when we had 17 titles. When Stan was doing it, writing everything. Shooter agreed with that. We never dreamed we would have the chance to do it. What Shooter said was, "When we talk to the new owners, I want us all to get together, stand solidly together and say we demand to cut the line down to 25 books." I said, "You know something, Jim, you can't get a businessman to sacrifice income on the hope that you're going to get a better product and make more income five years down the line." No businessman is going to vote for that. He said, "We'll convince them." I said, "Jim, you know, I don't think I can back you on that. I think he's going to tell us get the hell out and he'll get somebody else to do it." From that moment, between his tension with the front office and because things were going bad editorially, he started to get a shorter and shorter temper, he became less and less tolerant and more demanding and it got to be a very bad time. And it's too bad. Because we went from a wonderful time to a bad time overnight, and it was very disheartening.

SPURGEON: How much of a strain on the company and those working at the company was the Jack Kirby art returns controversy?

ROMITA: That was something that interrupted our normal functions. It was one of those terrible things. All the companies had done terrible things. They had all destroyed artwork. DC used to cut them up and throw them away. Some people burned them. Our warehouse used to be a terrible, gaping maw where stuff would get lost or stole or burned or wet from rain. It was a bad time. When Kirby wanted his artwork back, nobody knew where it was. We find in retrospect that a lot of the artwork was stolen. A lot of my artwork was stolen. There were stories I never saw again. I got back artwork only by the luck of somebody else caring about it and getting it to me before it got stolen. But most of the stuff was gone.

So Kirby, he didn't accept that. He felt Marvel was keeping it, and was going to get rich on it someday. Kirby always used to say, he was the first guy I ever heard say that our artwork would be on museum walls one day. And I used to laugh. I'm talking about the '60s. Then when it was coming to pass, I think he thought Marvel was going to make a fat payday of it, auctioning it off. The truth is Marvel didn't have most of it. What they had, some stupid lawyer had convinced Marvel that Jack Kirby was going to envision publishing it someday. The way Joe Simon has now gotten the rights to Captain America. I think they had this unreasonable fear that Jack was somehow going to outwit them and use those pages for his own gain. But the truth of the matter is Jack wanted it for its re-sale value and his legacy, his grandchildren. The whole thing was a tempest in a teapot. Jack Kirby's stuff goes for money now, but at the time I don't think it was going to be bringing that much money in. Certainly some of the good stuff, depending on the inkers, but all of it wasn't going to sell. But it was unfortunate. We got terrible, terrible press on that. We got some awful treatment at conventions. It was a bad time. I'd rather not to think about it. I was every upset. I certainly didn't like being told I was somebody who mistreated artists and artwork. It was a terrible time.

Don't Do This!

SPURGEON: You were still at Marvel in the early '90s.

ROMITA: I started as a staff person in January of '66. And I worked until '96, almost exactly 30 years.

SPURGEON: So you were a witness to the explosion of comics that were being done.

ROMITA: I was there.

SPURGEON: What did you think of Marvel's conduct during this period?

ROMITA: It wasn't Marvel. It was Perelman. Perelman and his henchman.

SPURGEON: What did the empire-building phase look like from the perspective of those working there?

ROMITA: All I got out of it was suspicion. Because they were not building it for us, they were building it for themselves. They set out to create a paper value for company to enhance their borrowing power, using us as collateral. That's all Perelman ever did. He bought Revlon, and ran up debt on Revlon. And then when he was going to lose Revlon, he ran up debt on Marvel to pay off Revlon. You want to know something? All the TV successes, all of the syndicated strips, the reprints, whatever, none of that money ever found that way back to the artists or the creators.

SPURGEON: Marvel was publishing a staggering number of books.

ROMITA: That was all hype. Promotion and a lot of hype. The thing that they did and promised to stop was multiple covers. And if it wasn't multiple covers it was spectacular covers which were embossed, or in silver, or plastic, or three-dimensional, cut-outs -- all sorts of tricks. Instead of making the books better inside, they were selling them with trick covers. And every time we got a promise from them to stop doing it, they would do it again and the reason they would tell us is that we can't stop doing this if they're still buying it. If they keep buying it, why should we have to stop it? And I used to them, "Because it's not fair." The multiple covers, they did four different covers on X-Men #1. It was completely dishonest. For years, we had had the argument of doing a John Romita cover on a book done by some rank amateur. It was a cheat. I never liked it. When I was a kid, and I got a beautiful cover done by George Tuska and then inside is something by some amateur, I was always frustrated. As a reader, I remember that feeling. That's a terrible thing to do. Promising one thing on the cover that wasn't inside it. And we were doing it. We kept demanding that they stop, saying that this was embarrassing, we were embarrassed. As a creative team, we're embarrassed by this whole thing. And they kept saying, "But we're making money." But it wasn't good for us. We didn't get any of that money. It was Perelman's conglomerate. He had friends feeding at the trough. It was terrible. There were people up there doing non-existent jobs -- I'm not mentioning names.

SPURGEON: I remember attending one of the Marvel retailer meetings, and there was this strange subtext coming from the comic book people presenting that they kind of knew what they were doing wasn't healthy but they had to do it anyway. It was like Marvel was happy to let us know they weren't following the advice of their comics people.

ROMITA: No. They were not. And we used to get promises all the time that they would stop. We were playing the collector's market, and it was a dead end. You want to know something? There were times at the height of that boom when at convention all of the Marvel people used to say, "Don't buy ten issues! That's crazy!" Parents would come so proud and say, "I'm doing this as an investment for my kid's future." And then they'd say, "I can't take this out of the plastic bag for you to sign it." And I would tell them it's going to rot in that plastic bag. I'd say, "Why are you going to get five issues, and not open them." They would say as an investment, that they were going to put it in the safe. I would tell them if they wanted an investment, buy a book that prints 100 thousand. In twenty years, you'll make nice money. You won't be rich. If you have Superman #1 and you get $30,000 for it, that's not going to make you rich. That's not going to send your kids to college. You're lucky if you get half a semester out of that. I would tell them you're not going to rich with X-Men #1, or Spider-Man with McFarlane. They printed nine million copies of X-Men #1. That is never going to be a collector's item. Who are you kidding?

So here we were, the Marvel people, telling fans "Don't do this!" We knew it was going to end. As soon as people woke up and realized they were never going to be worth anything, they would stop buying. And what happened was during that period we abandoned our readers. We were doing fancy covers, and nobody was writing that stuff right. It was crap. All of our longtime readers were being frustrated and starting to jump off the bandwagon. So when the collector's thing burst, and the boom started to dry up, most of our readers were gone. And it's never recovered. Now I don't know if we would have lost most of them anyway. I think what we did is cut our own throats.

This isn't just Marvel. Marvel was the most visible part of it. But DC did the same. And the other companies out there -- remember Malibu? -- they did the same thing. They did these fancy covers with beautiful printing. Image did the same thing in a way. Image was riding the crest of Robin Hood against the Duke of Nottingham. Image fans knew it was crap but they wanted to buy it anyway! "We love these guys! They're heroes to us. We don't care if it's crap, we're going to buy it!"

SPURGEON: [laughs] You didn't think much of the Image comics, I take it.

ROMITA: You couldn't read them! You couldn't follow them, you couldn't tell what was happening, everybody looked alike. There were some guys in that stable of guys that couldn't do a convincing foot or a hand if their life depended on it. You could not follow those stories. I used to ask kids, "You look at this Captain America by one of your favorite artists, and you tell me what's going on in this double-spread." And they'd look at it and not know what's going on. And I said, "And you like it?" He says, "Yeah, I love it." You can't tell what's happening! "But it's beautiful!" That's what killed that whole comic flow.

It was suicide in a way. We certainly cut our own brake fluid line. We were going downhill and we took out our own brakes.

SPURGEON: Do you think things have improved since?

ROMITA: We're getting some readers back. I don't think it will ever be the same, mostly because the books cost too much money. That was always going to be a specter, by the way. Prices go up, the sales are going to go down. Kids can't buy five or six book in a month, they can only buy one. I'm hoping... my son has 25 years of comic book work in him, and I hope the industry survives. You can see we've made inroads with Spider-Man. Spider-Man has made a comeback. The Ultimate stuff has created a new market. So I think we've got some hopeful signs, but it's never going to be back to what it was in the '90s. That was false to begin with.

Roller Coaster

SPURGEON: You just mentioned your son, John Jr. Having a son work in the same industry, do you get a different perspective through his experiences?

ROMITA: He's been in there when it's been a roller coaster ride. Tremendous good times and the money was flowing and everybody looked smart, and it crashed, and everybody was against it. He's had the best and the worst of everything in a short time. Comparatively. Compared to 50 years of my experience. He's been in the business since he was 20 years old, 27 years now. The thing is that he's had some bad breaks. He wasn't in on any of the big, lucky breaks. The Image guys were really in the right place at the right time. And he missed that boat, because he was doing the regular books and they were doing the special books.

SPURGEON: And you can actually read his comic books. That might have been a strike against him.

ROMITA: That's true. When you're doing storytelling, and you're not trying to dazzle people with your technical ability, yeah, it did go against the flow. The truth is John never short-sheeted anybody. There was always a story. Always characters. I'm very proud of him. I think he's one of the few guys who's a storyteller and also a special artist.

His issue #36 of Spider-Man is a masterpiece. It takes your breath away. I was at the exhibit at San Francisco in April. That's the first time I've seen people's jaws drop open for black and white art. I assumed they were going to be disappointed. If you expect to see it in color, and you see it black and white, and you go, "Oh, it looks so flat." They went around, and I could see eyes widen and mouths drop open. The work was staggering. That was the first time I saw work stagger people. No Jack Kirby, no John Buscema, no John Romita could have done that story better. I thought he had done the best story when he had done the Man Without Fear series with Frank Miller. I considered that the best comic book series in the last 25 years. If you look at that Man Without Fear series, you would see great artwork and great writing from Frank. But this one, #36, is a masterpiece of art and a masterpiece of writing. The work is so powerful. His blood is on those pages. Not only his tears, but his blood is on those page. He was thinking of coming to New York to help them dig, he was sitting in California so frustrated, doing a story that reminded him every minute of the worst catastrophe in history.

Perspectives

SPURGEON: Do you have any regrets about the way your career unfolded?

ROMITA: That I didn't create anything major. I didn't create Spider-Man, although I may have made it better. I wish I had had the chance to develop my own projects and make it a worldwide success. But how many of us have done that?

SPURGEON: You've talked about this a lot. What is it about the act of creation that inspires you?

ROMITA: Let me tell you, the people I admire most in the world are people like Irving Berlin, that everyday somebody will use something of theirs. Every single day someone is singing one of his songs. It's like the Englishman who's written all the musicals.

SPURGEON: Andrew Lloyd Webber.

ROMITA: To me, to have something of yours on the stage, at every minute of every day somewhere in the world... Somebody's doing an Andrew Lloyd Webber. Irving Berlin's music is being played. Every minute of every day. Edison's work is every day in existence. You're reminded of him every day when you turn on a light. To me, that's the greatest thing that can happen to a person. I would have traded all of these fifty years if I could have been a composer like Irving Berlin. I would trade all of the success I've had. Even with no change in income, I would rather have been a composer.

SPURGEON: And it's just because of the universality?

ROMITA: To think that somebody I thought up would be on somebody's lip, every minute of every day, somewhere in the world. To me, that's the way to be immortal. You're immortal.

But it's not a terrible loss to me. I've had a wonderful time. Even though I've worked seven days a week a lot of my life, and I've missed a lot of sleep, and I've missed a lot of family functions, I can't complain. I never got an ulcer, I never got sick. I worked 50 years in a business and obviously I must have liked it, otherwise I wouldn't have worked 50 years, right? [laughter] I must have loved it.

SPURGEON: Here's something I was wondering from earlier in the interview. You mentioned George Tuska several times, and of all the artists you mentioned, he's the one with whom I'm least familiar. Can you describe what you liked about George Tuska's work that it's so memorable to you?

ROMITA: It has that immediate distinctive quality, that you know the moment you see it that it's George Tuska. When I was a kid, when I was 20 years old, I went into Stan's office. I saw a Photostat, full-sized, inked by George Tuska. And I asked "Can I have it?" And they said, "Yeah." They were going to throw it away. I had it on my drawing table for five or six years. He had done this with a number five brush, a big, bold watercolor brush. He had inked this thing and it was alive. And I inked that way for ten years of my life because of that one page. Also, you have to remember, when I was ten years old, I remember reading Sharp Brodie in a Lev Gleason book by George Tuska. It's still here. I can still see the panels from that book in my mind. That's 62 years ago! [laughs] That's a long time to have memories. It's the same way I remember every panel I've seen of Caniff. I can still get a charge out of reading a Sunday page from 1943. I have an envelope here with yellow pages, that are crumbling, right from the Daily News that I read when I was 13. It's like watching a Capra movie to read one of those Sundays. Have you ever seen the Sunday page with the Dragon Lady and Hotshot Charlie. Have you read Caniff?

SPURGEON: Sure.

ROMITA: The Dragon Lady and Hotshot Charlie in the middle of the war get together someplace in China. The Dragon Lady in this Sunday page is looking over at Hotshot Charlie and Terry Lee talking while she's talking to Pat Ryan or something. And Hotshot Charlie is saying, "You know something?" [laughs] "That beautiful woman is looking over here and she's given Hotshot Charlie the eye! She's hot for me!" You know, that kind of stuff. And finally she comes over, and she says, in her Chinese vernacular, she says she's been trying to remember who this little guy reminds her of. She says it just occurred to her. It's from a story about a princess. And it is of the witless little man that this man reminds me of. Meaning Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. And Hotshot Charlie breaks out in bright red from embarrassment, and all of those guys are trying to stifle their laughter because she put him down so severely. [laughs]

You want to know something? I used to know that word for word. That's what I'm talking about -- immortality. I can enjoy that as if I were reading it for the first time.

SPURGEON: You don't think people react to your own work that way?

ROMITA: Whenever somebody tells me that, I tell them, "You have no idea how happy you just made me." But yes, they have told me that.

SPURGEON: I would think the work that you did was emblematic of that whole decade of Marvel Comics after the initial Kirby-saturated rush, that when people think of Marvel in its heyday they're likely to think of your artwork.

ROMITA: To this day people ask me for drawings of Gwen Stacy, and tell me how it hurt them when she died. And I tell them the story when Pat Ryan's girlfriend Raven Sherman died in the strip. In Terry and the Pirates. I was ten years old, and for the first time I remember grown-ups talk about a comic strip character as if they were alive. I remember somebody said, "Did you hear that Raven Sherman died?" And I thought to myself, "Wow! This grown-up thinks of her like I think of her. That that's a real woman." And he says, "Isn't that amazing, that Raven Sherman is dead?" That's the closest I've come to that kind of immortality, when people tell me that they still think about the day Gwen Stacy died. You know how great that makes me feel? [laughs] I want to buy them a drink.

*****

* classic Romita Spider-Man splash page
* Romita cover during his '50s run on Captain America
* romance cover, one of dozens Romita did in his career
* an Amazing Spider-Man cover, from that great run of issues where Romita was primary pencil artist
* Romita's visual imprint involved very pretty girls and a very pretty Peter Parker
* a great J. Jonah Jameson
* panel from the Lee/Romita Femizons effort
* panel from a Spider-Man Sunday strip
* one of many covers Romita would do for the company after the bulk of his work was in special projects
* portrait of '80s-era Marvel heroes
* a typical soap-opera moment from the 1960s Amazing Spider-Man (below)

*****

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*****
*****
 
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Go, Look: Steve Ditko Spider-Man Faces Gallery

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Comics' Giving Heart -- People, Projects In Need Of Funding

image* the artist Steve Rude is rounding into the final days on an IndieGoGo campaign for this year's sketchbook publication. I've really enjoyed the sketchbooks of Rude's I've purchased in the past.

* Jeremy Baum has a very modest kickstarter going that still has a tiny bit to go as I'm typing this.

* Dan Nadel will be relieved to see that this project that no one would want to buy ever was safely kickstarted.
 
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If I Were In Portland, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In New York City, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In Chicago, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: Basil Wolverton's Common Types Of Barflyze

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got this somewhere I can't remember
 
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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* former TCJ Editor Mike Dean writes on the transfer of MoCCA assets to the Society Of Illustrators. It sort of looks like that's a full dissolve, and whatever the Society wants to do with the assets, okay. I have to imagine that any rational accounting of the MoCCA Festival says that's way too big a pain in the ass and has been devalued to the point it's not worth doing; then again, there's no guarantee the accounting will be rational. I hope the folks that told me they weren't going to exhibit shoot a letter to the Society people saying as much. My hunch before reading Mike's article was that at most we'll see them take a shot at the festival, do some of the classes that MoCCA had been doing because there are people involved that will agitate for those to continue, and maybe do an extra show or two; the article kind of bears that out. Our best wishes to all that worked hard on MoCCA, and to the Society in terms of deciding what to do with those newly-purchased resources.

image* Shelley Rice talks to Emmanuel Guibert. Vaneta Rogers talks to Justin Jordan.

* Tony Moore's lawyer unpacks why a new filing was made in that artist's Walking Dead lawsuit.

* not comics: nothing says True Love like a sudden appearance by Larry Reid.

* Nick Smith on Trinity. Rob Clough on Unterzakhn. Craig Fischer on Jonah Hex and All Star Western.

* Jerry Siegel goes to war.

* this article surveying artistic efforts in various Arab Spring countries has some comics content, but it's better for placing cartoon expression over there in a wider context. For instance, another artist in Syria was harmed in a way that suggests the symbolism in thugs trying to break the hands of Ali Ferzat was wholly intentional and probably coordinated on some level.

* wow, that sounds weird and awful.

* Graeme McMillan wonders after homage covers referring to Fantastic Four #1 and if that's the one that receives tributes most frequently.

* not comics: hey, I want this poster.

* not comics: another argument for something other than being exhausted and working all the time. I mention it here because working all the time and constantly talking about how you're walking all the time is a significant part of comics culture.

* finally, Noah Van Sciver does commentary.
 
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August 9, 2012


Go, Look: New Painting Series From Kevin Scalzo

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Kevin's originals look beautiful on the wall
 
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Like That Scene In The Movie Where The Ground Gives Away

This isn't really comics, but I was struck by Editor & Publisher quoting an article in Willamette Week that the Oregonian may not be a daily much longer. The matter-of-factness and non-alarm evinced here may be spookier than the actual news itself. The concrete developments are awfully creepy, though. I don't even know to what extent I can trust the piece and it's still unsettling.

It's difficult to imagine a newspaper and region more intertwined than the Oregonian and the Portland area. Seattle has had print media disruptions a-plenty the last two decades, but those felt more self-inflicted -- the Times deciding it needed the extra profit of the mornings, a bunch of competitors across media platforms rising up due to Seattle's tendency to encourage such vehicles -- than this does. This feels like a reality impressed upon the situation. Anyway, there are real and obvious consequences for comics if one of these major newspaper changes gains momentum in terms of seeing a lot of high-end publications check out.
 
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Go, Look: The Chase

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Go, Read: An Alan Moore Interview In Leftlion

I don't suppose there's anything new in this Alan Moore interview with Leftlion, but it strikes me as a pretty tidy summary piece on everything that's bouncing around out there on Moore and it's been a while since I've read an interview with the writer -- I found it difficult to read him in the first half of this year. I don't suppose I knew that Watchmen was initially imagined as an Archie Comics riff, but I have to think fervent fans of Moore did. He ballparks the figure he might have been paid for Before Watchmen had he fully participated as a couple of million.
via
 
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Go, Look: Collection Of Dr. Seuss-Drawn Advertisements

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links to this collection are starting to bubble up in various big-time look-at-this sources on-line
 
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Go, Read: Profile Of A Cartoonist And A Single Issue

I almost didn't read this profile of Telegraph cartoonist Matt Pritchett that focuses on the issues of property ownership, but I'm glad I did; I thought it was a nice reminder of the intersection of the personal and professional that hits even the most genial editorialists. It's also a set of fears and concerns that doesn't get a whole lot of play, I think because the idea of owning property is seen as both a privilege of having attained a certain amount of success and something that everyone expects you to do.

There's an accompanying gallery of cartoons. Pritchett is his paper's pocket cartoonist, which tends means really straight-forward, quick hits on issues -- there's rarely anything obtuse or non-clear about such cartoons the way you might see in a standard US newspaper cartoonist's work.
 
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Go, Look: The Flower Of Death

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Please Consider Adding To Yesterday's Group Think

I was very happy with yesterday's Group Think on crowdfunding mechanisms, particularly the emphasis on articulating individual points of view as opposed to attacking or discrediting existing arguments. I hope that you'll maybe try reading that post if you have a spare few minutes. It was helpful in terms of kicking loose some thoughts on my own, as was an e-mailed discussion of this project. I'll return to the subject, I'm sure, at some later date. It's part of the landscape now.

I'd be happy to hoping that they'll at least come close to matching what's already been posted in terms of serious intent.
 
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Go, Look: Burns And Allen Fumetti Ad

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The Never-Ending, Four-Color Festival: Cons, Shows, Events

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By Tom Spurgeon

* TCAF is now accepting exhibitor applications. That is a very important show.

* speaking of TCAF, this is cool: they're exhibiting in Tokyo in November in partnership with D+Q and Koyama Press and offering their space to any cartoonist that's exhibited at a past TCAF that can get themselves to the show.

* Alan Moore, who famously doesn't go to conventions, is going to a convention.

* this SPX response to a question about artists re-using work crushes the anonymous questioner pretty badly. Also, Jaime Hernandez is apparently doing the badges this year. Hooray! I picked a good year to go.

* and speaking of SPX now, they announced Michael DeForge, Dean Haspiel and Sammy Harkham as guests earlier today.

* GeekGirlCon is this weekend.

* here's a profile of a new Bill Mauldin WWII-era exhibit.

* is this the best site ever related to any comics show? I think it may be.

* it's probably time if you're a fan of Baltimore Comic-Con to be checking that site's news page on a regular basis.

* a really late Comic-Con report from a 20-year veteran who won't be going anymore but isn't bitter about it. I like its focused attention on Comic-Con as a place to buy stuff.

* I like the idea of a show focused primarily on something other than commerce to mention the Kickstarter for Portland's The Projects here.

* finally, Chicago Comic Con Wizard World is this weekend as well. In fact, that one starts/started today. That is still Wizard's big show, and does very well, although the time when that one is perceived as the nation's #2 show is gone, I think. Way gone. In fact, I've heard no buzz about that show. Literally none. I guess maybe I received a press release or two -- I think the various Star Trek TV people are doing more shows like this one. One of those reality-show clowns apparently won't be there and somehow that was news on some sites. I hear more about several of the regional shows, which is astonishing to me. I still feel CCCWW is ensconced in that world of "something we do in Chicago during the summer" that I imagine it will be a long time before that one bleeds away, and in fact, there's enough people there and enough of an energy it could thrive. Not to get all Don King about it, but if people sell, a show will do well.
 
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If I Were In Chicago, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In Portland, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In Charlotte, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In Chicago, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: Early, Weird John Giunta

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* CBR has Tony Moore's latest Walking Dead-related filing up in full on its site. I've punted pretty badly on that story, although I'm not sure how much more there is there except to say "hey, look" -- at least until there's a decision.

image* BK Munn talks to John Martz. Colin Smith talks to Roger Gibson. Alex Dueben talks to John Shirley. Jamie Coville talks to Richard Kyle. Noah J. Nelson talks to Mark Waid.

* this Bill Sienkiewicz Kingpin image sure is pretty. You know, it's weird that we have a continuity of appreciation to work that appeared two decades ago. It's neat, but it's weird. And it's a recent thing. Like if you put up a Don Heck image in 1987, no one was oohing and aahing. I like that there's an audience for work that looks like it could have been made 25 years ago. That's a strength of comics, not a weakness.

* I like the idea of a column about stuff going on in the backgrounds of comics panels, although I don't really understand the selection of this one to kick off the column.

* the Ignatz nominees are due to be announced on Monday.

* I'm seeing this Luke Pearson cartoon everywhere.

* Rob Clough on Teen Boat. Todd Klein on Green Lantern: New Guardians #9, Snarked! and Love And Capes Vol. 3. Carlo Santos on Bakuman Vol. 11. Sean Gaffney on GTO: 14 Days In Shonan Vol. 4. Kate Dacey on Dawn Of The Arcana Vols. 3-5. Greg McElhatton on It Girl And The Atomics #1-2. Michael May on Cardboard. Paul Gravett in the 1990s, talking about anthologies. Michael Buntag on Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Vol. 3. Jen Vaughn on Teen Boat!

* it's impossible to link to without, well, you know.

* wow, that is pretty cool.

* finally, people sure love this Matt Madden cartoon. And why wouldn't they? It's very clever.
 
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Go, Look: Zunar Debuts Malaysia's First Animated Editorial Cartoon


 
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August 8, 2012


Secret Acres Announces New Theo Ellsworth For SPX

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It's called The Understanding Monster, it's the 72-page, full-color (!) follow-up to the very compelling debut book Capacity and they'll be having a signing on the Thursday before SPX at Bergen Street Comics in Brooklyn. The book itself will be in stores in October. I'll link this up a bit better when I get off of the road. But yeah, this is good news, and a fine-sounding book. Ellsworth should be a CR Sunday Interview subject soon.

Oh, the book will be $21.95.
 
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Does Anyone Know What Became Of Cartoonist Jerry Lane?

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a CR reader asked
 
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Go, Read: Drew Friedman Visits MAD... In 1974

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Go, Look: Ten Years Plus One Day

I totally missed the 10th anniversary (!) of this webcomic yesterday. That's like 1400 years in Internet time. Congratulations to that work, its creator Gar Malloy, and its fans.
 
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Go, Look: Zissy And Rita

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via Dan Nadel
 
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Group Think: What Makes A Good Crowdfunding Proposal?

imageTwo days ago, this site praised as necessary and vital a smattering of lengthy, written posts about crowdfunding that have appeared on-line in the wake of Dan Nadel's criticism of a few specific projects that utilized the mechanism. To contribute to that mini-wave of discussion, I'd love to hear from any of you that have thoughts on what makes a good crowdfunding proposal.

I'm primarily interested in the notion that there may be something to the best proposals beyond how effective they are in moving cash in the direction of the project proposed: both the thought that a good proposal contributes to a body of such projects and repeated, long-term investment from interested buyers, and the idea that there should be some sort of ethical framework for publishing generally, for which crowdfunding is one option. But mostly I'm interested in any thoughts you have.

So first, have any of you contributed to a comics project via kickstarter, indiegogo or similar mechanism? What led you to make that contribution? How much of your decision was about the reward received and how much of it was advocacy or outright disinterested patronage on your part?

Second, how would you like to see such crowdfunding projects function going forward? What is the ideal amount of information that these projects should offer? How do you feel about projects that fold in reward for the artist into the payment for which they're asking?

Third, what worries do you see, if any, in the long-term effects of this type of publishing mechanism?

Here is my perspective.

I have barely given to any crowdfunding projects to date. I've given to a few more charitable projects (some mechanisms don't formally allow for charity, so this a loosely-defined thing), projects started by a couple of friends, and one for the great Jim Woodring. The Woodring campaign I contributed to because Jim Woodring was always very nice to me when I was in Seattle and I think he's a pantheon-level cartoonist whom I would give $5 were I walking by and were he to casually ask. The main reason I have not given to more crowdfunding projects is because of my surpassing disinterest in the vast, vast majority of projects I see being funded this way. I have other reasons, but I think that's the main one.

I'd like to see higher standards generally. I'm frequently astonished that people give to such projects when there is no detail work on how the money will be used, or when pressed on the point the organizers babble back partial or false information as to what money might be required and where. In other words, I'm personally confused by the massive lack of sophistication people apply to this element of giving someone money -- both sides of it. Knowing how the money is to be spent also provides a better guarantee that any rewards dependent on the publishing project itself are realized. If I were to do this on a regular basis it would be mostly with some sort of reward in mind -- mostly the item itself, as I'm far from a store -- but I'd also like to be more confident that I'm not contributing to bad, sloppy publishing because I don't see how that would benefit anyone other than the people that got to spend the money. I would also like to see a greater variety of projects. I think I'd probably be amenable to seeing some sort of crucial need involved in terms of why a project is being funded that way. That's personal preference; I can't really articulate why I think that raising a few hundred bucks for your next mini-comic is less appealing than raising $12K for a fancy book that's a culmination of a dream. Call it a gut feeling. It seems likely to me there may at some point be a hybrid mechanism that better facilitates ongoing crowdfunding, but who knows?

I have a lot of worries moving forward. One is that I suspect that I won't like the vast majority of art that is best facilitated by crowdfunding, probably because I don't see any specific virtue in an artist that's able to raise money over one that can't. I also worry that these campaigns potentially contribute to the same kind of closed-circle practices on which small-press comics have more recently relied -- that as inefficient as the existing system can be, that as much as the current systems for distribution may thwart this, that the possibility that newer work might be discovered by people is a crucial part of growing an audience for the kinds of comics I value. The self-selecting mechanism that Mike Dawson describes here is something of a concern, although I'm not sure how much of that is inherent to the way people make decisions and how much that is facilitated by the crowdfunding option. I also worry that as the mechanism is in the process of being assumed by people that see themselves as publishers first that this will continue to absolve such people of the traditional responsibilities that I believe such folks should bring to the table. I believe that publishers that feel absolved of traditional publishing responsibilities may -- not "will"; "may" -- result in the exploitation of artists over the long term. I don't think that all funding mechanisms are equal when it comes to the investment of the publisher. I already worry about this kind of thing when publishers assume a kind of publishing control over projects for which they haven't paid that are paid out of pocket by the cartoonists; I think that the possibility for crowdfunding may increase this phenomenon.

I'm interested in your perspective, not a criticism of my own or anyone else's except if it helps you articulate your point of view. Any response I think primarily takes me to task rather than puts forward a specific point of view will go in the letters section. I feel we can argue this stuff at a later date; for now, I'd like to see as many ideas and perspectives on the table. Where does your future with comics intersect with this mechanism for funding comics? What are your thoughts?

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William Cardini

I've contributed to and been published because of several Kickstarter projects. It’s been the funding source for several anthologies that my comics are in (such as RUB THE BLOOD and Digestate) and for comics that my friends have put out (such as The City Troll and The Melinderly). I've contributed to both the projects that publish my work and my friend's projects. I've also contributed to a few other small press, "art comix" projects, like Suspect Device #2, and projects outside of comics, such as records and video games.

I contribute to projects that I want to see happen, that I don't think will be funded without my involvement, and that I won't be able to subsequently purchase at my local comics shop. I have two great local comic shops, Domy Books and Austin Books, so I try to purchase comics from them rather than online whenever possible.

I've thought about what makes an ideal crowd-funding project a lot, both from the perspective of a contributor and in planning my own potential future project. I think that every reward should include a digital or physical copy of the book. I'm totally fine when someone includes higher level rewards, as long as those include the lower levels and they're also physical products, such as a print or painting. I'm less interesting in thank yous on a website or having my name printed in the final product.

The most important thing, however, is that the project is completed and ready to be printed before the crowd-funding begins. From my perspective as a contributor, this protects me against vaporware and reduces the time between when I fund the project and when I get it in the mail. As a project creator, this means I can concentrate fully on the crowd-funding campaign and fulfilling orders in a timely fashion rather than finishing the book. I like your idea of disclosing how the money is going to be spent. Personally, I would do as much research as possible to come up with the amount I want, such as getting printing quotes and figuring out the cost of shipping. I might as well disclose that!

*****

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Robert Boyd

So first, have any of you contributed to a comics project via kickstarter, indiegogo or similar mechanism?

Yes. You can see what I've done through Kickstarter here and my IndieGoGo contributions here. And I supported the same USA Projects project you did.

What led you to make that contribution? How much of your decision was about the reward received and how much of it was advocacy or outright disinterested patronage on your part?

With comics, a lot of what I've given has been about getting a copy of a comic that looks interesting that I feel certain I won't be able to get through any other source. These comics will never be in my local comic store. So in those cases, it is just a preordering mechanism.

In some cases, I am supporting a project that may not get finished without such support because I admire the cartoonists or the project. For instance, the Carter Family book. I gave them $100 -- way more than I would spend just buying the book. But I will get a copy of the book out of it, which is nice, too. I also gave money to C.A.K.E. not because I was planning to attend, but because I think in general art comics festivals need to be nurtured and encouraged. (And I got a bright pink Tshirt out of it.)

But I support a lot more than just comics. I give to arts projects by artists I like and to local (Houston) arts things even if I don't have a strong personal connection to them. I just want to see local art projects succeed. And I want to support artists whose work I admire, especially if they are working in especially if their work is especially uncommercial (it may be ephemeral or difficult or whatever). Looking back, one category of giving has been to help fund artists whose work I like to travel--plane tickets, hotels, etc. Artists (and I include cartoonists in that group) are generally poor people. If my $10 helps them attend a convention or an exhibit or a performance event, that's great.

Second, how would you like to see such crowdfunding projects function going forward? What is the ideal amount of information that these projects should offer? How do you feel about projects that fold in reward for the artist into the payment for which they're asking?

First of all, I agree that often a solicitation will be super-vague and therefore inspire very little confidence. Here's an extreme (and funny and slightly sad) example of that: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/artafterwar/making-art-after-war-this-project-is-classified . But I generally look for three things before I fund:

1) Some clarity about what the money is for. I don't need to see their spreadsheets, but if someone says that printing is going to cost X and we're asking for X, that's a positive. I don't mind if some of it is pay for the artist(s) -- certainly if the person requesting the money is publishing an anthology and says that part of the expense he is crowdfunding for is to pay his contributors, I don't have a problem with that. But with comics, they will in the end have something to sell, so the artist can get paid on the back-end that way. (With other kinds of projects, there is no hope of getting paid ever unless someone just gives them money--hence crowdfunding.)

2) Experience. I feel a lot better giving someone some money to publish a comic if they have done it before or at least been involved in the process before.

3) A feeling that the person asking is competent. 1) and 2) feed into this, but it also is indicated by the quality of their request -- the video they make, the description, etc. If they do that part well, it helps me feel that they will publish their book well.

And here's a 4). I don't absolutely require this, but it helps me to know that the requester has already done work on the project. He or she has already thrown in their own labor and/or money into the project. If someone asks for something without having yet done anything, it feels like they lack commitment.

Third, what worries do you see, if any, in the long-term effects of this type of publishing mechanism?

I could see it becoming faddish or overly commercial. I could see it being used by scammers of various sorts. I could see it becoming so widespread and ubiquitous that it stops working because every potential giver is spread too thin. These are not things I worry about. If Kickstarter went away tomorrow, I'd continue my life as before, except that it might be a bit harder for me to find certain small-press art comics.

But I do like it. Look, I donate money to nonprofit art institutions frequently. But that's a little different from helping an artist buy a plane ticket to attend (and perform in) an a performance art festival. One is, well, institutional. The other is personal. I think that is one of the big virtues of these crowdfunding mechanisms. The directness. You could give money to a foundation that might give a grant to Jim Woodring to make a giant pen, or you could give money directly to Jim Woodring to make a giant pen. That's a big advantage in my mind.

*****

Patrick Ford

A very complex question.

My first thought is wondering what role the demise of the "alternative" serial format plays. I know Jim Woodring has mentioned the need to pay bills during the long period of time it takes to complete a graphic novel. My assumption is when his graphic novel is finished Jim won't be looking to self-publish it.

What amazes me most about crowdfunding is there are apparently a very large number of comics fans who have considerable discretionary income. I my case I can't imagine any project I'd be inclined to donate to. There are a far larger number of comics being published I'd like to have than I can afford to buy. In the case of small press publishers like Nobrow, AdHouse, Koyama, and PictureBox just about everything they put out is something I'd like to have, but as with reprints of old comic strips by IDW, and Sunday Press, I have to make decisions about what to buy with the budget I have, the space I have for shelving, and the amount of time I have for reading. Funding things which don't even exist if just out of the question for me.

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Chris Cummins

Personally, I have Kickstarter fatigue. There isn't a day that goes by where my Twitter feed isn't overrun with people promoting and supporting crowdfunded projects. It's information overload and instead of taking the time to look at these -- many of which are probably worthwhile -- I summarily dismiss them all. Then I wind out feeling guilty because these are people who are desperately trying to ignite their create spark, and I could possibly help them do it. At this point, I'd rather just go into my local comic store or art shop and buy a locally created indie work than take the time to research a project that may or may not ever come to fruition. Again, I feel rather bad about this but there are only so many hours a day...and that doesn't ever get into the financial realities of myself and other potential contributor's lives. I fear that we are reaching critical mass with crowd-funding campaigns. They are everywhere. But how many of them are worthwhile? Hmm...

Another issue I see with these campaigns is just a lot of misguided/ill-defined ideas. You want to make a documentary on so-and-so? Okay great, tell me why you want to do this, clearly illustrate what you hope to achieve/produce, interview subjects you have lined up, etc, first before asking for my money. The old adage of keep it simple applies more than ever. I want people who are asking for my money to simply define their intent, how they plan on achieving their goals and offer plenty of incentives/rewards for the contributors.(Ultimately though, I'm more interested in having a great piece of art produced that getting a souvenir). The majority of campaigns that I have seen don't give me enough information about how the creator's goals will be accomplished. You can have a dazzling trailer or plenty of hyperbole, but that will only wow me so much. Just tell me what you want to do and how you plan on doing it. It really is that simple.

So yeah, as you can tell I have ambivalence about the whole crowdfunding shindig, in theory I'm all for it. But I fear that soon enough that it will just be more ubiquitous background noise that I wind up skipping over while online.

*****

Derik A. Badman

I've given to a few crowdfunding projects (SAW, Retrofit, Secret Prison, a photographer's art project, Karl Stevens' next book, the Projects festival, maybe others I'm now forgetting). I think I've given to each for slightly different reasons, though in the end, the reward ends up being less about if I'll donate, then occasionally helping me decide how much I'll donate. In all but the photographer's project (which was recommended by someone I trust), the projects have been for people I have met once or twice if not a few times, enough so that I felt they were trustworthy. Rewards can be a nice bonus (especially that Hutch Owen strip I just took to the framer's), but for some of these I've donated in higher brackets than necessary for the reward I chose just because I'm more interested in helping out than in accumulating more stuff. Some of my donations have been of the "I really want to see this happen", others are more of a "I have some money I can spare, so I want to help support parts of the comics community", or maybe some combination of both.

It would be nice to see more accounting of how money is planned to be spent and particularly how funding over the goal will be spent. Though I don't feel the need for a detailed breakdown. For instance, I know with Secret Prison that money goes to printing/shipping and that since it's a free publication, the guys involved are clearly not involved in some kind of cash grab (Disclaimer: I've been in some of the issues). I don't recall how detailed the SAW crowdfunding project was, but Tom feels like reliable enough guy that I wasn't concerned about specifics, and starting a school is a much broader goal than a single book publication so the need/use for funds is way more diverse and flexible.

I'm certainly not opposed to parts of funding going to "reward for the artist." Art is work--a very undervalued work for most people doing it. I don't see giving money for a book or a piece of original art as all that different a process. Any art selling price is partially about paying the artist for their work as much as paying for the artifact itself (though I'm not sure how many people think of it that way, especially in a realm where "collectibles" are still so prominent), and if the work is something you like and the artist someone you respect or want to see succeed, then paying a little more doesn't seem unreasonable. This can certainly be less clear cut when dealing with editors and publishers who are acting as a filter between the money and the artist, which is where clearer accounting of the funds is more desirable.

I'm not sure I have worries at this time as regards the crowdfunding publishing model (it still seems early on), though I wonder at how much an improvement it is on artists just selling the pre-orders and rewards as their own thing (Jenn Manley Lee did that for Dicebox Book 1).

*****

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RM Rhodes

1. I have contributed finacially to exactly one Kickstarter campaign: Christian Sager's Think of the Children project. The reason I backed the project was that they were going to produce a sculpted cover for the book, which I found to be an interesting concept. Small press publishing sails very close to boutique publishing anyway and the fact that they were producing a limited edition comic with a sculpted cover that would not ever be produced again or sold in a store appealed to me. Mr. Sager is also a friend of mine and I wanted to support his attempt to do something new and different.

I have also provided rewards (t-shirts) for the DC Conspiracy's two Kickstarter campaigns to fund the printing of the Magic Bullet comics newspaper.

2. I like the idea of a standardized crowd-funding platform (or two). It's a logical concept and it's been around long enough to iron out most of the bugs inherent in the execution. In the end, though, it's a tool that has some very loose rules and a very open format that allows people to do whatever they want to do -- an environment that where Sturgeon's Law will always rule.

What's most interesting to me about the various Kickstarter discussions is that they mostly boil down to opinions about how the tool should be used vis-a-vis how it is being used. Research indicates that best practices are starting to emerge, which are important, but they mostly point to good marketing and clear communication - both of which have been traditional drivers of sales and business success.

More than anything, what Kickstarter does is force creators to pay attention to those aspects of comic creation where most creators traditionally underperform or flat-out ignore: the business and marketing side of things. If some creators choose to include financial reward for themselves in the amount they are trying to raise and have met those goals, more power to them. If backers have an issue with this, they don't have to contribute.

3. Long term I see Kickstarter turning into another marketing platform, which is a shame. Paying attention to the trends, I've noticed that the more successful Kickstarter campaigns have been run by people who already have an established audience and are harnassing that innate support. One of the reasons that I have not started a Kickstarter campaign is that I do not yet have an audience large enough to support any kind of serious crowd-funding effort -- mostly because I have not been making commercial comics that I felt were worth bothering people about. I'd prefer to save that kind of attention-getting effort for something worthwhile -- sort of like an IPO. Not every Kickstarter follows that philosophy, which is fine; not everyone should necessarily use the same tools in the same way.

I can see there being an issue with the mid-level publishers garnering money through this mechanism, however. For example, Brian Hibbs has expressed reservations about carrying books produced through Kickstarter on the theory that everyone who was interested in buying the book did so during the campaign. This is clearly bullshit -- RPG publishers are running Kickstarter campaigns that include incentives for retailers as part of the backing and clearly expect to sell the books they produce in gaming stores that have expressed enthusiasm (which probably speaks more to the difference in attitude between the gaming and comics markets) -- but if that opinion picked up and became more widespread, it could limit the retailing exposure that comics printed through Kickstarter campaigns would have in local comic shops.

*****

Mark Coale

So far, I've only contributed to projects where I know the person behind it, be it on a personal or professional level. I probably contributed more than I initially would have wanted to get a better incentive, be it a hard copy of the book in question, a book and a t-shirt and the like.

I have no problem if the person wants to take some of the funding as "profit" or to pay living expenses while they are doing it or they put 100% of the money into it. I am giving them them money and once it's gone from my hands, it's up to them how they spend it.

*****

Danny Ceballos

I've only contributed to one crowdfunded project: Lasky and Young's Kickstarter campaign for their forthcoming Carter family book DON'T FORGET THIS SONG.

Having followed this work from its initial appearance as a small chunk in the art cluttered pages of KRAMERS ERGOT 4 to an artist-run blog announcing this work's future publication via Abrams, my interest in contributing funds can be seen as somewhat selfish: wanting to hold a physical copy of a work I was interested in seeing completed. This is the sole reward I was most interested in (although the beautiful Carter Family print offered as a reward didn't hurt either). How many more years would I have to wait to read this book if I didn't help when help was asked for? I didn't want to find out.

What led me to make a contribution is simply that the artists themselves were asking for help. Artists I admire needed some monetary assistance to finish a work I was deeply interested in seeing finished. I would like to imagine if crowdfunding existed back when Sergei Eisenstein was trying to raise funds to complete QUE VIVA MEXICO I would have gladly forked over any excess cash I had lying around so that i could see this movie completed (I also like to imagine that as a reward he would send you one of his erotic pen and ink bullfighter / crucifixion drawings).

Do I need rewards to make me want to contribute to a project I'm interested in: no. I would have sent along my money to Messrs Lasky and Young even if the only reward was knowing that the work would (eventually) be completed. Having almost no knowledge of how a book is published, I don't feel I need to know the nuts-and-bolts accounting of where my cash is going. Does the artist I send funds to really need to explain to me that my money is going towards pen nibs and not a bag of weed? It's none of my business. I'm merely fronting some cash (an amount I might have spent on seeing five shitty movies or two grand meals) so that the work is finished to the artist satisfaction. That is where my contribution to and participation in crowdfunding ends as far as I'm concerned.

I have no idea what the future for crowdfunding is. Looking in my crystal ball I don't imagine I'll ever participate in a Kickstarter campaign again (the Amazon connection certainly doesn't help). I followed the progress of Jim Woodring's fund raising efforts and if he fell short of his goal I was prepared to go to his website and buy some books or prints from him directly. I've bought directly from artists in the past (via eBay, their websites, etc). My take away is to be interested in helping the artists you'd like to see succeed, whether it's sending an encouraging email or buying they're work directly from them. Any time an artist I admire asks for financial help and it's within my capacity to give, I will gladly open my wallet. Vote with your wallets, as Uncle Sam likes to groan, right?

*****

imageNat Gertler

So first, have any of you contributed to a comics project via kickstarter, indiegogo or similar mechanism? What led you to make that contribution? How much of your decision was about the reward received and how much of it was advocacy or outright disinterested patronage on your part?

Second, how would you like to see such crowdfunding projects function going forward? What is the ideal amount of information that these projects should offer? How do you feel about projects that fold in reward for the artist into the payment for which they're asking?

Third, what worries do you see, if any, in the long-term effects of this type of publishing mechanism?


I've contributed to several comics-related kickstarters (as well as non-comics ones). In some cases, it was a minimal amount, either simply as a way of voicing support or as a way of being linked into the updates, so that I can follow how that campaign goes for my own educational purposes. I do not give noticable money out of patronage, simply because I'm a comics publisher myself (About Comics), and its through publishing comics that I plow money into helping insure the existence of the comics that I think should exist.
What I'm more likely to put money into is projects where I want the reward, generally the finished product in some form, and think that the price for it is good. I'd be curious to see what portion of the funders (and what portion of the funds) come from that, because when viewed through that lens, Kickstarter is not that different from the direct market. The direct market for indie books runs on preorders. Diamond chooses whether to offer a product based on what they guess the preorders will be, retailers preorder new indie books based largely on the preorders of their customers, and the publisher is counting on those preorders to guarantee the print costs, and if the preorders are insufficient, there's a real chance that the printing won't take place. So the publisher and creators put effort into publicizing the work to try to get this preorders, much as they promote their Kickstarter campaign. I think that a lot of the criticism of Kickstarter comes from the insistence on seeing it as a charity system rather than an ordering system, when it can be used in either way.

When viewed as an ordering platform, a lot of the other questions drop away. It's not inherently my business how the money is being used. I certainly don't look at a $14.99 TPB in the comic shop and think "gee, I hope the creators and publisher aren't making any money off of this!" As long as I'm getting a good price for the content, I hope they all make a nice profit off of it. The question I am faced with, however, is trustworthiness - if I'm paying in advance, I want the odds that I won't get the item I paid for to be low. Now, if Jeff Smith were to run a Kickstarter camaign for some interesting book, I can feel very comfortable ordering it. I know Jeff can get work done, and I know Jeff (or certainly Vijaya) knows how much production costs. If, on the other hand, Jeth Smiff were to run a campaign, I've never heard of him, and he doesn't have that trust. He'll need to be more convincing, and that's when things like showing that the art is completed, that getting Kickstarter orders for 1000 copies will give him enough to print and ship those copies and still have 1000 copies left to make a profit from. Convince me that there's a 90% chance that I'll get what I pay for, and I'll be glad to pay for it.

My only concerns over Kickstarter is the way that it's turning too much of social media into a hard-sell platform, (that's the main reason why I've not used the system for any of my own projects yet, though I'm considering it; I don't feel like turning my social media into an NPR pledge drive week for a whole month). That, and a slight concern that it may bleed enough orders from the direct market to make the DM that much less willing to support non-superhero material... but that's balanced out by the chance that it will encourage quality non-superhero material that the DM will profit from.

*****

Michael Grabowski

My first and so far only kickstarter-backing in comics was for the High Society project. This is specifically because I'd like to see these comics preserved and marketed digitally and I know that the nature of the original raw materials makes that more expensive to do than for currently produced comics art. I guess this falls into the advocacy bracket, because I wouldn't necessarily buy the eventual 99 cent individual digital comics and I don't anticipate re-reading the book on my iPad (or good lord, choke, having Dave Sim read it to me). My initial donation was based in part on the reward offered but mostly because I really wanted to see it done.

As the month went on and the nature of Dave Sim's personal involvement became more clear, (because other than the autograph & artwork rewards and his audio recording, it wasn't clear at first) I upped my donation knowing that Sim would directly get some money from me. I have no problem being a part of the patron tradition in art, and I see this as that sort of thing. It's not dissimilar to subscribing to King-Cat Comics, right? If the artist makes good on the project in question and the price seems reasonable to me for what I get, then I'd likely back further projects by the artist aka renew the subscription.

I also participate in crowd-funding/patronizing a musician (Kristin Hersh) through a direct subscription of sorts through her own website. It's similar in that the rewards include regular free exclusive music, occasional free physical CDs, advance previews/demos of upcoming work. Again, though, for me the rewards are secondary to my desire to support her in the creation and recording of new music.

Mainly what I want to see from crowd-funding is regular communication from the artist about progress towards completion. Back in the '90s a self-publisher I enjoyed ceased production on his regular comic with the promise of completing the work as a graphic novel, and when he asked for pre-orders in order to finance the book's completion, I happily sent a check. Without a regular book to put out and talk to his readers, he could only send out very occasional emails (months apart) about creeping progress on the work, and any emails I sent him in the meantime were replied to as if I was being a pest. To the best of my knowledge the book was never completed--I certainly never saw a copy, nor a refund. These days, there are much better ways for the artist to remain accountable to his/her supporters, and I think the free market in this arena will reward those who can be relied on to show progress and make good on their promises.

My biggest concern with kickstarter specifically is that I had no idea how much of my High Society donation would go into non-HS costs. I was ignorant at first that Amazon gets a cut, and dismayed to find out that the state and federal gov't get a huge tax slice off the top. On top of that, in this instance at least there's a fair amount of money being consumed by the cost of shipping the physical reward items around the continent. Ultimately it looks like far less than half of my contribution is going to go directly to production of the digital comics. This is dismaying, to say the least. So I am worried about a system that as a consequence actually costs me 2-3 times as much as necessary as before to see a work of comics art made. I feel like a $5 donation to someone's work will trickle down to a dollar or two before it gets in their hands, and I'm unwilling to make a bigger donation if so much of it is going to go elsewhere.

*****

imageShannon Smith

I talked a bit about Kickstarter here.

In response to your questions; I've only contributed to a couple of projects and by contributed I mean just a couple of dollars. I've contributed simply because they were projects I wanted to see happen. Not because of any reward or end product I would end up owning. For example, I wanted there to be a Harvey Pekar statue. I don't personally see kickstarter as an attractive way for me to buy or pre-order products. For one thing, I use paypal for most all of my online purchases and Kickstarter is limited to Amazon which means you are paying with your credit card and Amazon is getting a chunk. I'd rather they not. Another thing I should mention, and this is really petty of me, but people promoting their Kickstarters on and on every day for weeks can be really annoying. So, part of me want's to buy non-Kickstarter books instead out of spite. But that's just me and my tiny black heart. That said, I'm sure I'll eventually participate in more Kickstarters because I want to own the finished products. When I do, it will most likely be for projects where the work is complete and the money is just for publication and distribution. I basically want to see it in pictures or video before I buy.

Which leads to your second question. I guess I just want to see some evidence of the work that has been done and a realistic explanation of the work that is left to be done. Honest information about printing estimates, shipping estimates etc. And that is partially out of curiosity because I self publish but also because I want some reassurance that they know what they are doing. And I don't mind the creators having their profits calculated in there at all. By all means, get yourself paid! Just be honest about it and don't sell it as some woe is me charity case. I'll be a lot more lenient on all of that if I have already held these creator's previous works in my hands. If someone is on a follow up to something I've liked in the past, I may not even read any of the info before throwing in whatever I can spare at that moment. Which, is another thing I'd like to mention. Almost all internet spending of money on my part is impulse spending even if it is just one dollar to a Kickstarter.

And thirdly, it already is a new publishing model. It is crowd funding with a social media feel so it is the money and the marketing at the same time. And that's okay but I wish there was more honesty in it. I see publishers using it not because they need to but because of all the free publicity the get out of it. People have been suckered in and did not even notice that it has been gobbled up as a marketing tool. And the whole comics-blog-internet community plays right along. We get excited about the little guys making a long awaited project come true and then we turn around and let Cyberforce tell us they are using it to launch a free comic. A free Cyberforce comic that is really just a markting tool that is going to cost it's fans $75,000. It is marketing asking to raise $75,000 for marketing. I can't think of an expletive that properly conveys how wrong that is. And it is a fine line. As a crowd funding tool it seems to be a pretty good one. As a free marketing tool, it kind of creeps me out. And maybe my perception has been wrong from the start, but I always felt the point of crowd funding was to make things happen that did not fit in the existing systems. When the existing systems co-opt the crowd funding it gets gross. So, maybe the Kickstarter guys could take a closer look and ask, is this project about raising funds or is it about marketing and maybe turning some of the later down.

*****

Roger Langridge

So first, have any of you contributed to a comics project via kickstarter, indiegogo or similar mechanism?

Yes, I've contributed to a few. For a couple of reasons: (a) because I know the cartoonist and I want to be a good friend and support them, (b) because I really would like a copy the thing that is being funded regardless of any personal connection I have with the cartoonist -- that's more rare, though. The high-end premiums hold zero interest for me; I'm not really interested in paying way over the odds for something just so I can have a print or a T-shirt or my face drawn in the background of page 73. I'll generally only contribute what I think the book is worth, although I tend to err on the side of generosity there.

Second, how would you like to see such crowdfunding projects function going forward? What is the ideal amount of information that these projects should offer? How do you feel about projects that fold in reward for the artist into the payment for which they're asking?

Really, I think the ideal situation is for people to use these mechanisms as a way of pre-ordering the book, purely and simply -- preferably after a fair chunk of the work is already completed, so people can get a reasonable idea of what it is they're buying. If the fundraiser makes more than its target, I'm perfectly fine with the artist keeping the extra money as compensation for their work -- that seems reasonable enough. Desirable, even. I'm not entirely comfortable with contributing to an artist's living costs while they actually produce as-yet-unseen work, unless it's someone with a proven track record and I know in advance that the resulting work will be exceptional (e.g. Jim Woodring). Then I feel like there's no risk; the work will justify it. As far as information goes, it would be nice to know roughly how much will go towards printing costs, how much for promotion etc. -- particularly if the fundraiser is not somebody I know already. In most actual cases, that isn't an issue, because it's somebody I already know.

Third, what worries do you see, if any, in the long-term effects of this type of publishing mechanism?

I think I already see Kickstarter Fatigue kicking in. As much as people argue that it's not "begging" (and I think those arguments are pretty solid when you're talking about using it as a mechanism for pre-ordering a book), when you're constantly inundated by requests to check out this or that Kickstarter project, you feel like you're walking down a street being accosted by bums all asking for a dollar. There's no way you can possibly even look at them all, much less fund them all, so you end up not looking at any of them.

I'm particularly interested in this whole issue right now because I was recently talking to a mid-range, traditional comic-book publisher about doing something with them, and they seemed keen to go - and then they mentioned funding the book through Kickstarter, and I had to wonder what the point of going through them at all was. Because the project I approached them with was conceived with at least one eye towards commercial viability in the direct market. I was expecting one of two reactions - either (a) yes, we'll do it using our traditional model or (b) we won't do it because we don't think it'll find an audience. This third crowdfunding option kind of threw me for a loop, because it seemed to be an admission that they thought my book couldn't make money in the traditional manner. Fair enough; despite my best efforts, I've never done anything even remotely commercially successful, so that's probably a fair perception. But I had to wonder why they expressed any interest in it at all under those conditions.

It seemed to me then that if I were going to use Kickstarter (which I can't, because I don't have a US bank account, but that's another conversation) it ought to be for the kind of project that I couldn't go through a traditional publisher for, one with no compromises for commerce's sake. Or one that I wanted to retain 100% control over, for whatever reason. With the project I was trying to get made in this case, neither of those things would have been true.

So -- all this stuff has been on my mind lately as a consequence.

I should also probably mention that the few people I've discussed this situation with (my wife and a couple of cartoonists I trust) all had the same, negative reaction that I did -- so there's definitely a question of how alliances between crowdfunding and traditional publishing are perceived that needs to be addressed as well, regardless of whether it works on a project-to-project basis or not. I could definitely see a reliance on crowdfunding by a traditional publisher negatively affecting that publisher's reputation in the long term. Maybe for non-traditional publishers as well; the very name "Kickstarter" implies that, after the initial crowd-sourced capital comes in, the thing should have some sort of commercial momentum of its own. If the same people go back to the same backers time after time, I can well imagine those backers just getting fed up and refusing to play any longer.

*****

MK Reed

My views on Kickstarter have changed a little in the past year, but not that much. So it's a tool that under fairly specific circumstances, can be used to pay printing costs, mainly if:

-the book is finished/ very near finished
-it's by an artist with existing & sizable fan base
-it's about a popular premise/subject matter with an existing fanbase
-it's an anthology with several contributors that can each contribute time to promote it

Even amongst most people who support Kickstarters, there's a reluctance to support books and artists in the art production phase, and the supporters seem to be split between a few philanthropists who want to see something happen and a bunch of people who just want to pre-order a book. Part of my reluctance with Kickstarter lies in it being essentially useless towards the creation phase, and I can think of so many creators that I would love to see producing more full-length adult works who are struggling financially and wasting their talents delivering cupcakes or in some corporate gig that is creatively beneath them. I want to see a comic industry strong enough to support the slew of talent it currently contains, and while it helps individuals, I feel that Kickstarter pisses away a lot of energy and efforts that might otherwise support them. Maybe this isn't necessarily a problem with Kickstarter itself, but its existence & failure here makes me pissed off about what could be. Here is a certain hole into which money is being thrust, and it turns out it's the ass instead of the mouth.

There's also the redundancy of making many individuals take on several jobs for each individual's project. The campaigning alone is a huge effort and investment of time, never mind the book production & file prep, shipping of books/rewards, contacting backers, etc. that could be done by basically anyone in a warehouse/ order-fullfilment business. (Like say Amazon, if they wanted to REALLY earn their 5%.) Being a self-publisher is time consuming, and fairly inefficient in terms of labor, because on your own, you either have to learn how to do ten jobs well, or you do them all a bit poorly or incredibly slowly, and then the book looks off because it didn't scan right, or sells badly because you're not a PR wiz, or both. While Kickstarter empowers a project, it does not magically endow a creator with good business sense and practices, or marketing and design skills. This is all labor that can be outsourced to someone who isn't the creative genius - things done perhaps by a publisher, but that also could be built into the budget of any Kickstarter. The thing is, marketers & designers & the other "middle men" know their shit, and can help you sell more books when you're all working in sync. Your book in a handful of stores can maybe sell 1,000 copies, but if you're getting more exposure from, say, a publicist who understands how to write a press release & how to target recipients, you're probably going to sell more books. Not knowing what you're doing on Kickstarter (or without it) might hold you back from where your work can potentially go.

Blah blah blah, get off my lawn.

*****

S-Girl

So first, have any of you contributed to a comics project via kickstarter, indiegogo or similar mechanism? What led you to make that contribution? How much of your decision was about the reward received and how much of it was advocacy or outright disinterested patronage on your part?

Second, how would you like to see such crowdfunding projects function going forward? What is the ideal amount of information that these projects should offer? How do you feel about projects that fold in reward for the artist into the payment for which they're asking?

Third, what worries do you see, if any, in the long-term effects of this type of publishing mechanism?


I'll bite.

In interest of full disclosure, these are the projects I have backed via kickstarter and indiegogo.

For the most part I back creators I already know who are offering a print version of a work I've already seen before. This might be a serial fiction or a serial comic/webcomic already available in part or whole online. The Kickstarters/Indiegogo campaigns tend to be about supporting a print run of those previously available work. Most of the time I will pledge the minimum to obtain a print copy of the work to have on hand. As much as I can tolerate reading things digitally, I am a book geek. I like things in paper. I love smelling the ink. I love having a copy of a work that I can still read if the power goes out or if I'm ever stranded on a deserted island.

For works where I am more than a casual fan, I have gone far beyond the minimum amount to procure a hard copy of a work and supported creators (or small publishers) beyond a minimum level to receive a copy of their work. Sometimes it's because the incentives are compelling. Sometimes it's because I really want to support the creator. They have become more than a "vendor of the stuff I want," but a cause.

At times I will support art books or compilations of a yet to be sampled work from a creator who I have interest in. At times, this may be someone who I generally like as a person or think is interesting as a creator. My interest in these projects is decreasing because honestly my enjoyment of art books tends to be limited as time goes on and, in particular, in "collections" with artists who I feel are often brought together simply because "someone knows someone."

And then there have been a few projects that have been outright donations. I admit to donating to a few folks who I never heard of before the pitch, or who I might have heard of in passing from a friend or relative. The pitch or circumstances being described were compelling enough to motivate me to donate what I could. (These largely have been less about comics or books, but towards installations or other efforts that I felt were more cause oriented. These are the cases where I kind of don't care about what I get back. Rare, but they do exist.)

With respect to your second question, I do admit that my satisfaction with Kickstarters has become rather mixed. I probably won't be funding perceived vanity projects in the future or any creators who appear to be using crowdsourcing as a regular and repeated means of financing their work. I feel that many creators who have multiple successes with Kickstarter or Indiegogo and branch out to presales or another model that falls in line with other small business models. (In other words, take profits from one project and invest in the next.) As a regular Kickstarter/Indiegogo sponsor, my preference is to spread what little capital I have to help other artists, encourage them, and hope they too give back to the community moving forward.

For projects where I have no track record with the creator and have to "gamble" on the output being completed or produced, I will listen to the pitch, look at the costs and business plan, and then decide if and how much to donate. The creator's track record or "celebrity" does influence whether I participate in the campaign and the amount I contribute. Generally I will only give what I feel I can lose.

As for projects that fold in a reward to the artist, I have to tell you that these types of projects make me pause. So far, I don't think I've donated to any projects like that because waiting many months for the reward is frustrating and risky. I realize that statement might anger artists who feel like they deserve to be paid for the work they put in. But I have to say that when I have the choice to support artists who already have completed or are nearly complete with something and can reward within a few months, I strongly prefer to risk my money in projects that are close to delivering their product. This is because I have no means of recouping anything I invested in these campaigns if the artist fails to deliver. Kickstarter absolves itself of all responsibility in these circumstances and Paypal certainly isn't going to return my money if we move beyond the 3 month period of time in which you have to make claims.

Would I support projects that fold in reward? Possibly. Again, this comes down to the transparency of the business plan (i.e., costs, amount back to self). I want the creator to be clear on what they're doing. If I suspect that many of their rewards are being padded and don't know the creator as an honest and credible person, I'll probably choose to invest in other projects.

Your last question about long-term concerns is interesting. As a consumer, I suppose fatigue might already be seeping in, but like any other "platform" in which there is an oversaturation of requests/marketing, I'll simply adjust. I suspect I'll eventually tune out the myriad of Kickstarter pleas/links and focus more selectively on creators I already have an established history with. And as creators keep returning to Kickstarter over and over, I will probably give less and less to repeat campaigners.

In terms of industry -- well I tend to side with consumers as well as independent content creators. My feeling is that it's done a lot of good for the independent creators who have been already sacrificing years of time putting out content for free. I think the amazing success stories should be noted by the established publishing world who has effectively controlled what the consumer gets in recent years. I'm pleased to see many independent (web)comics and works of fiction success in crowdfunding. I hope that the content consumers also continue to support the projects they like, if anything, to make sure that our votes with dollars are clearly seen and observed by those who have otherwise been in control of the market up to now. For this reason alone, I hope platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo don't become burdened down by projects that fail to deliver.

*****

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*****
*****
 
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Go, Look: Rob Kirby Diary Comics

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Go, Read: The Late Judith Crist Profiles Fredric Wertham

Pioneering film critic Judith Crist passed away yesterday in Manhattan. I remembered that there was some sort of comics-related post about her in the last couple of years, and I think this is is the one: a sympathetic, late-1940s profile of Dr. Fredric Wertham.
 
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Go, Look: Argh! Comics Site

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This Isn't A Library: Notable Releases To The Comics Direct Market

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Here are the books that make an impression on me staring at this week's no-doubt largely accurate list of books shipping from Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. to comic book and hobby shops across North America.

I might not buy all of the works listed here. I might not buy any. You never know. I'd sure look at the following, though.

*****

APR120279 RIGHT STATE HC (MR) $24.99
FEB120397 NEVSKY HERO OF THE PEOPLE HC [DIG] $24.99
MAY121172 CARDBOARD GN $12.99
MAY121173 CARDBOARD HC $24.99
JUN121188 GAME FOR SWALLOWS TO DIE TO LEAVE TO RETURN GN $9.95
JUN121155 DISTRICT COMICS UNCONVENTIONAL HIST WASHINGTON DC GN $24.95
It's a strong week for graphic novel-sized material where I have no idea what the hell the material is about beyond reading some descriptions on-line. The one in the accompanying image above is from a Lebanese cartoonist and is another book in the basic vein of Marjane Satrapi's mightily influential Persepolis. Is it any good? Couldn't tell you. I'd want to look at that sucker, though. The District Comics book I learned about from a Facebook posting by the editor and writer Jim Ottaviani, and he's supposedly in there -- that's enough to make me pick it up and give it a look-over.

imageJUN121334 WILL EISNERS CONTRACT WITH GOD TRILOGY HC NEW PTG (NOTE PRICE) $35.00
MAY121013 RASL TP VOL 04 LOST JOURNALS OF NIKOLA TESLA $19.95
MAY121234 SCOTT PILGRIM COLOR HC VOL 01 $24.99
APR121240 JOHNNY HIRO GN VOL 01 HALF ASIAN ALL HERO (MR) $16.99
FEB120053 GRENDEL OMNIBUS TP VOL 01 HUNTER ROSE $24.99
This also seems like a pretty strong week for material where we have a strong idea what it is -- collections and reprintings. The Scott Pilgrim material seems like it would hold color very well and the Grendel book seems like it could stand to be collected right now. I thought the Johnny Hiro material was charming when I read it. I love the over-sized format on the RASL, and I think the supporting material in that one flatters the book without being overwhelming. The Contract With God book is one you want for your library, even if you're on the negative side when it comes to the ongoing appraisal of Will Eisner's work. I find the Norton handling of Eisner's backlist sort of fascinating, really.

MAY120370 BERNIE WRIGHTSON MUCK MONSTER ARTIST ED PORTFOLIO $29.99
Bernie Wright anything, I'd look at that. I like this recent explosion of work and re-packagings of material from 1970s guys like Wrightson and Richard Corben; I hope it does at least reasonably well for them.

MAY120466 STEVE CANYON HC VOL 02 1949-1950 $49.99
I've been told this is the primetime material, although Caniff is a difficult cartoonist for me to enjoy.

JUN121416 WE GO POGO WALT KELLY POLITICS & AMERICAN SATIRE HC $65.00
JUN121417 WE GO POGO WALT KELLY POLITICS & AMERICAN SATIRE SC $25.00
Walt Kelly is also a difficult cartoonist for me to process, but I'd welcome a solid book about the man; perhaps this is that book.

JUN120326 GODZILLA HALF CENTURY WAR #1 [DIG] $3.99
MAR120753 MOUSE GUARD BLACK AXE #5 $3.50
JUN120946 ADVENTURE TIME MARCELINE SCREAM QUEENS #2 MAIN CVRS [DIG] $3.99
JUN120428 IT GIRL & THE ATOMICS #1 [DIG] $2.99
Finally, it's not the best week for traditional, comic-book sized offerings, but there's not a lot in terms of the first-tier Image Comics and not a lot that I saw in the DC and Marvel books, so this makes it an indy-comic Wednesday. The James Stokoe-drawn Godzilla material is probably the belle of the ball here, although that's one ruthlessly depressing issue of the David Petersen fantasy series, and I think better for it. I don't know a thing about the It Girl book beyond being sort of interested that someone is doing a comic with a supporting character from a Mike Allred book, and the Adventure Time stuff I list mostly because I'm starting to be confused by them. I don't know if that's a bad sign for the comic or a bad sign for me.

*****

The full list of this week's releases, including some titles with multiple cover variations and a long, impressive list of toys and other stuff that isn't comics, can be found here. Despite this official list there's no guarantee a comic will show up in the stores as promised, or in all of the stores as opposed to just a few. Also, stores choose what they carry and don't carry so your shop may not carry a specific publication. There are a lot of comics out there.

To find your local comic book store, check this list; and for one I can personally recommend because I've shopped there, albeit a while back, try this.

The above titles are listed with their Diamond order code in the first field, which may assist you in finding comics at your shop or having them order something for you they don't have in-stock. Ordering through a direct market shop can be a frustrating experience, so if you have a direct line to something -- you know another shop has it, you know a bookstore has it -- I'd urge you to consider all of your options.

If I failed to list your comic, that's on me. I apologize.

*****

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*****
*****
 
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If I Were In Vermont, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In Portland, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: Screamin' Bones

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* Michael Dooley talks to Camilla d'Errico.

* from the department of largely unfair comparisons one: word count of wikipedia entry for minor X-Men character Doug Ramsey = 4063; word count of wikipedia entry for surpassing underground and alt-comics talent Kim Deitch = 1082.

* from the department of largely unfair comparisons two: number of comics news sources in my core list reporting on yesterday afternoon's news of Joss Whedon directing another Avengers movie = 6; number of sources reporting on surprise news that broke at almost the same time of a new issue of Ethan Rilly's Pope Hats = 0.

* from the department of comparisons someone asked me to make about a month ago but I forgot: weight of a 2010 Eisner Award = 45 ounces; weight of a 2012 Eisner Award = 40.5 ounces.

* Chris Mautner profiles the great Phoebe Gloeckner. Tim O'Shea talks to Jamie S. Rich.

* I'm not sure if everyone can see this, but holy crap look at this early Robert Crumb drawing.

* not comics: Stan Lee makes Aerosmith look young, although god bless the whole bunch of them.

* in addition to the wait-and-see attitude the Society Of Illustrators is apparently taking toward a continuation of the MoCCA Festival, at least until they crunch some numbers, is the fact that a lot of people have been so discouraged by the show in recent years that they've quit, including several this year that told me they had just attended their last. In other words, I hope those smart, rational-sounding people put a necessary effort to resuscitate that show onto those balance sheets.

image* Louie Falcetti did a much better job of finding off-beat and out-of-the-way comics at San Diego than I did, that's for sure.

* Stefan Zajic uses a Doonesbury comic strip to move into a discussion of his impressions of the stock market, how they were formed and how they changed. There are so many concepts and ideas that comics readers first encounter in comics form that influences how they see that issue later on. Hell, there's a whole generation of Peanuts readers that watched Citizen Kane differently for the first time for Schulz's work.

* the writer Kelly Sue DeConnick is collaborating with a young person and, if I understand this post correctly, any other young person that would like to participate

* Paul Lopes would like you to take comics seriously. All of them. There's probably a pretty good discussion to be had if the best way for comics to find their ideal audiences is through advocacy on behalf of the entire medium, like in this article, or by advocating to people that there are comics that share similar qualities to works in other art forms they already like. I imagine it's all useful.

* in case I forget to mention this in next week's "Bundled" column, Julia Wertz is serializing a story from her forthcoming book at her web site right now, it looks like one page a day.

* finally, here's another lengthy, considered think-piece on Kickstarter and the cultural ideas surrounding it, this one from Matt Kuhns at Modern Alchemy.
 
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August 7, 2012


A Surprise New Issue Of Ethan Rilly's Pope Hats Is Worth Five Avengers Movie-Related PR News Stories

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comics 4-ever; comics movies 4-never
 
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This Has To Be By Far The Best Thing Ever Found Wadded Up In Somebody's Comics Collection

Bill Blackbeard's Cartoon Textile. They could use your help identifying the characters.
 
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Go, Look: Funnybone Alley Illustrations

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Carlos Albiac, 1928-2012

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Carlos Albiac, the prolific Argentine writer of comics series that were widely published in Europe, died on August 1.

Albiac was born in Buenos Aires.

imageAlbiac began his comics writing career in 1958 for the magazine Impacto. His first notable co-creation came in 1960s with the western series Pithy Raine, which he worked on with the artist Carlos Alberto Casalla. Casalla and Albiac followed up the success of Pithy Raine with Alamo Jim at Editions Columba. This was more of an action-comedy, and was also the writer's first major entry into the French-language, where it was published as Apaches et La Route de L'Ouest. This led to opportunities in television and film, where he won a few honors in the mid-1960s. He eventually became a well-regarded teacher of writing for the screen.

In 1969, Albiac returned to the Alamo Jim. By the mid-1970s, the creator hit his stride with a series of period efforts. In 1975 came Meteoro for Editions April. In 1976 he partnered with the artist Angel Fernandez for A Través De Oceania, published in Frances as Calico Jack En France -- a work compared to Hugo Pratt's genre-defining The Ballad Of The Salt Sea. This was followed in 1977 by Perdida Joe (with Casalla) about a jazz pianist in the 1920s, Sargente York (again with Casalla) in 1978 two different books in the La-Bas Dans L'Ouest series (with Arturo del Castillo), Wakantanka (with Juan Zanotto), Les Aventuriers (with Ernesto Garcia Seijas) in 1979, Lord Jim (with Horacio Lalia) during that same period.

Albiac continued to work through the 1980s -- this was the decade he taught as well. In 1992 he wrote the one-shot color album El Dorado -- El delirio de Lope de Aguirre for Planeta Deagostini, which featured art by Alberto Breccia.

Many of the 1970s series were published to success in Italy, primarily through the anthology Lanciostory, which debuted in 1975. He was also published through Fierro in Italy, in the newspaper La Nacion, in France with Brik and with at least one Spanish anthology.

Albiac's comics influences included Chester Gould, Jacques Tardi, George Herriman and Hugo Pratt. The writer cited Alfred Hitchcock and Francis Ford Coppola as filmmakers he admired. He said he favored as spare an approach to text on the comics page as possible, and also tried to give his artists a great deal of latitude with how they might interpret his words for the page -- serving as a resource for them but allowing them to find their own narrative solutions.

thanks to Domingos Isabelinho for the heads-up

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Go, Look: His First Undergrounds

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Go, Look: No Escape

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an internet classic
 
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On The Arts Critic Robert Hughes, RIP

It'd be laughable for me to attempt an obituary for the art critic and historian Robert Hughes. I've barely read him, and it's even been years upon years since I've seen the BBC/PBS series by which he garnered the bulk of his public reputation: The Shock Of The New. Hughes is also the kind of figure upon his passing that gets written about in great detail by our traditional guardians of culture. I don't know enough about the writer to know if these summary statements about his life and career will be woefully inadequate or just about right, but for now I'll trust what these sources have to tell me.

It's probably worth noting the two major intersections Hughes had with comics, if only because in some ways it's kind of remarkable he had any intersections with comics at all. The first was that one of his initial gigs as a kind of towering young figure of promise in Australia's Sydney Push movement was as a cartoonist for the Sydney publication The Observer, a launching point for the young artist-poet into an arts criticism gig -- I think his first. I don't know that I've seen his cartoons, but being a working artist would likely have had significant influence on how he looked at the making of art. Hughes was also well known as a person praising the work of Robert Crumb, crafting a famous -- perhaps infamous -- comparison to Bruegel but also naming Hogarth and Goya as influences. The fact that Hughes engaged with Crumb at all would have been a big deal for a lot of people, and that he'd make that particular comparison was a wonderful piece of provocative, pithy, and accessible-to-a-wide-audience writing, writing that's not even writing as much as cultural provocation, the kind of summary comparison that could be debated and pulled apart and for some folks even mocked for years and years to come. My memory is that his reaction to finding out Crumb claimed to have masturbated to his own works of art one of the better moments in the Zwigoff documentary, but again, it's been a while.
 
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OTBP: Loose #1

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Bundled, Tossed, Untied And Stacked

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By Tom Spurgeon

* David Lloyd and Bambos Georgiou are launching a weekly digital comics anthology.

image* AdHouse announces a Thomas Herpich book to debut at SPX: White Clay.

* Allan Holtz is looking to re-build his Stripper's Guide site. That is a foundational corner of the comics Internet, so if anyone can give him a hand -- if he still needs one -- that would be to the overall benefit of this tiny pocket of culture we call comics.

* Domino Books is carrying three very fine books from Warren Craghead. I recommend them all.

* remember when comics was like if one Lorenzo Mattotti book came out and that was just about the only good comic that came out for an entire year and it would still be a pretty good year?

* IDW will be doing a collection of Star Trek comic strips. I'm not familiar in any way with a Star Trek comic strip. They also announced a partnership with a property called Jinnrise, which sounds potentially more interesting in terms of market implications than creative, although I could be totally wrong about that.

* there's a Felt Mistress book coming from Blank Slate this winter.

* more from Monster.

* hey, it's a new issue of Rob Hanes Adventures.

* Dan Nadel provides proof that the new Sammy Harkham collection, Everything Together, is imminent.

* finally, Gabrielle Bell finished her July diary for this year. It wasn't the consistent "whoa, whoa, whoa" that last year's was -- and I bet she might be sick of hearing that, so I apologize -- but it was very good and she's been one of the most reliable, prolific creators we have for a few years now.

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If I Were In Vermont, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: Simone Bianchi Process Post

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* this old-school Frank Santoro blog post is a blast.

image* this cartooned Mickey Mouse advertisement sure is something.

* correspondence with Basil Wolverton from more than a half-century ago. I don't even save e-mails.

* not comics: aw, that's really cute. How has Metamorpho avoided a memorable re-do/re-launch/re-imagination the last quarter century? Even Element Girl got a serious-comics makeover, and she was like a nice lady doing a Metamorpho impersonation.

* some nice person at TFAW.com interviews Colleen Coover. Joe Gordon talks to Daniel Humphry and Will Elliott.

* not comics: the Turtle Creek Olympics results are in, although I'm waiting for the drug testing results before celebrating a damn thing.

* sometimes you think you're a hardcore comics fan and then you find out you're not.

* Sean Kleefeld reprints a letter from Bob Ingersoll about the Fantastic Four incorporating. There was a time in my life when I had an inexhaustible appetite for stuff like this. Sort of miss it, sort of don't.

* J. Caleb Mozzocco talks about the relaunched Kid Eternity in his link round-up. He doesn't make it sound like a lot of fun. I always thought that was kind of a slam dunk property, but that's probably because I think it would be super-funny to read a comic book about a 15-year-old girl staying home from prom so that she can get drunk with Li Po, Duffy and Sweeney and Dorothy Parker. My own family wouldn't buy that comic.

* Rob Clough on Disrepute and DNR. Philip Shropshire on Creator Owned Heroes #2. Sean Gaffney on Book Girl And The Wayfarer's Lamentation.

* Sean Kleefeld attempts a restoration of a Mark Waid Captain America from about a dozen years ago.

* on the importance of Superman's shorts.

* we all have a crafty friend like James Jean, just probably not that talented.

* finally, please don't be a dick to your comics store. Cancel that subscription folder/box/drawer/shelf; don't let it just fade away.
 
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August 6, 2012


Go, Bookmark: Domitille Collardey's Wreckhall Abbey

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posted 1:10 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
Raden Ahmad Kosasih, 1919-2012

imageThe Indonesian comics writer Raden Ahmad Kosasih, who worked as R.A. Kosasih during a long career that saw him take an honored place as the perceived father of that region's comics culture, died on July 24. He was 93 years old. The cause of death was a sudden heart attack. The creator died at home.

The writer was born in the city of Bogor, West Java, in 1919.

Kosasih worked in several genres over the long span of his career. This included kids books, romances, books featuring stories made popular by Indonesian wooden puppets called wayang golek and comics whose stories were derived from the Mahabharata and Ramayana sanskrit epics. He was a fan of English-language comic books, and transfered much of what he saw there into his work for Indonesian audiences. This included the creation of Sri Asih and Siti Gahara, foundational Indonesian superheroes. His first work with those characters was published in 1953. Sri Asih, the better-known of the pair, was based in part on Wonder Woman and in part on Superman, following a trend of capitalizing on the popularity of American comics in newspapers and what few comic books might make it to that part of the word. Along with the comics of John Lo also published by Melodie, Kosasih's superheroes were among the first Indonesia comics in comic book form. That Sri Asih was Indonesian made her a focal point for growing regional pride.

Although the respect Kosasih was afforded was in large part due to his creations at a key point in the development of that region's comics, as a working creator he was arguably better regarded for his black and white work than for the color comics to which he contributed. Those comics explored local and regional writing in a way that put aspects of Indonesian culture first, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, a path blazed first by the wayang golek practitioners.

Kosasih retired in 1993 with at least enough money earned to have purchased a home. That same decade saw a revival of interest in his early works, with two publishers coming out with new volumes.

Kosasih is survived by a daughter, a son-in-law and one grandchild. He was buried on July 25 in South Jakarta.
 
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Go, Look: The Seed Stirs, Take Two

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Go, Read: CBLDF Original Post Content Explosion

It may just be that I haven't been paying attention, but it seems like there's a ton of material available on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund site right now, meaty posts full of original content, all well-linked to outside material. A brief stop over there reveals the following:

* an article by Maren Williams about Ali Ferzat is first up. Ferzat is exhibiting in Amsterdam one year after his horrific kidnapping and beating in Syria made me a worldwide symbol of that nation's egregious abuse of its people. There's an interesting dissection in there about statements Ferzat has made about that incident and his role as an artist in its wake.

* Joe Izenman writes that Arizona has taken another pass at cyberstalking and cyberharassment laws to make them more amenable in terms of their potential to handicap free speech. That's interesting because it's a sterling example of the Fund's coalition-building and "soft" legal work -- advocating for and against laws rather than simply rushing to defeat bad law in specific legal cases.

* AdaPia d'Errico reports from the Censorship and the Female Artist panel at July's Comic-Con International. The Fund had a lot of programming at the show, which speaks well of the CBLDF and of the folks in San Diego to facilitate that many panels.

* Joe Sergi tells the story of Australia's Len Lawson and his once-popular Lone Avenger comic. It's not one with which I'm familiar except in the broadest possible way. Seems that unlike many of the quiet, family men who made comics material that authority figures ended up attacking in the U.S., Lawson was a major-league creep whose sordid exploits made him his own exhibit A when it came to the morally corrupting nature of his comic books.
 
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Go, Look: A Treasure Trove Of Edward Gorey

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Totally Missed It: Gary Friedrich Appealed Ghost Rider Ruling

Kevin Melrose has one of his typically superior link round-ups here, springboarding from Daniel Best's posting of the opening brief in Gary Friedrich's mid-July appeal of decisions against him concerning the character Ghost Rider. The original suit was filed in 2007 and the decision to which this serves as an appeal was passed down in December last year. Both Melrose and Best note that a Jack Kirby/Stan Lee copyright notice on a 1970s Simon & Schuster publication of a Silver Surfer story has been provided as evidence that copyright notice was granted during this period to someone other than Marvel, although the strength of that assignation is certainly debatable. Other arguments seem like repeats: the legal authority of check endorsement rights transferral (which have been savaged in the past) and Friedrich's claims to have been made to sign these things under duress.

The lawsuit may also take place in a slightly different context as a lot of comics fans process these legal efforts in odd fashion: I would expect some confusion from fans that may have donated to Friedrich's bottom line that may wonder out loud why resources are going to another legal battle; I would also expect some fans to declare themselves weary of the entire enterprise and feel Friedrich is somehow at fault for continuing down this path. Alternate explanations for Friedrich's career path will also likely bubble to the surface. Also, my impression is that while there's more legally-applicable evidence than usual out there that Friedrich created Ghost Rider, certainly more than some other characters that might be pursued by their creators legally, in fan terms there are strong questions about claims of sole provenance. I realize it's probably a huge mistake to process these issues through that filter, which likely won't have an iota of bearing on the legal outcome, but it seems to me this one maybe more than most unfolds in both worlds.
 
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Go, Look: Some Beautiful Lester Raye Art

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Your 2012 Best American Comics Cartoonist Link Sheet

imageMatt Madden has posted the Table Of Contents for the forthcoming Best American Comics edition featuring guest editor Francoise Mouly. You should go stare at the information provided through the link and see what made it in -- "Love Bunglers" will be excerpted, as will Joyce Farmer's brutal Special Exits, and there will be a section on Kids Comics appropriate to Mouly's participation. For now, though, I thought I'd provide a list of links to participating cartoonists, just in case you use that volume to find out about new (to you) cartoonists.

Jessica Abel, Sergio Aragonés, Jonathan Bennett, Chester Brown, Michael J. Buckley, Charles Burns, Frank Cammuso, Scott Chantler, David Collier, Jordan Crane, Joyce Farmer, Renée French, Sarah Glidden, Sammy Harkham, Ben Hatke, Geoffrey Hayes, Jaime Hernandez, Jesse Jacobs, Nora Krug, Michael Kupperman, Matt Madden, Dakota McFadzean, Francoise Mouly, Christoph Niemann, Anders Nilsen, Gary Panter, David Sandlin, Leanne Shapton, Adrian Tomine, Sara Varon, Chris Ware, Jim Woodring.
 
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Go, Bookmark: Two From B. Kliban At GoComics.com

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I did not know they were doing this.
 
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A Few Very, Very Late Words On Dan Nadel And Kickstarter

Ten days ago, the writer, editor, publisher, teacher, critic, curator and historian Dan Nadel wrote a provocative blog post for his own TCJ about Kickstarter and the Kickstarter-driven project SP7. It went over less like a lead balloon and more like that kid entering a late-August water balloon fight having filled his with urine. Since Nadel's post rolled out, a lot of comics people have jumped into that particular fray both in that specific comments thread, around the Internet, via Twitter and Facebook and in e-mailed conversation. Some have stayed on topic; others have focused their energies on pointing out various ways they think Nadel is a giant tool -- both for saying what he said or more generally, or even in the context of how he's otherwise awesome. In terms of substantive action, it seems like a classic tempest in a teapot event. The heat of it has already dissipated. Nadel's harsh words certainly haven't dimmed enthusiasm for the Garo tribute project -- if SP7 hasn't reached its goal by now, it's going to any hour. I have yet to detect a mass exodus from any comics festival involved. I feel like more good than harm was done, but I can appreciate those that are happy to see this one in the rearview mirror.

Two things came up I thought needed mentioning.

imageThe first is an accusation floated against Nadel both to and near me. I received a few e-mails about the propriety of Nadel writing what he did given that he's also one of the organizers of the Brooklyn Comics And Graphics Festival, a curated show that had just decided not to invite back SP7 and Retrofit guiding force Box Brown. I asked after this with Brown, Nadel, BCGF organizer Bill Kartalopoulos and, off the record, some of the folks that I read in public complaining about this. Brown expressed some reluctance to talk about it, but said that after initially tweeting his disappointment following Nadel's post and drawing a connection between the two he deleted that message and was generally moving forward. Nadel and Kartalopoulos confirmed that an invitation was not extended to Brown but emphasized that it is the pair of them along with Gabe Fowler who make decisions on all invites, that any personal acrimony would be mitigated through the other people making that decision. (Brown mentioned receiving a personal note from Fowler that he had fought for Brown and Retrofit's inclusion.) Nadel denied any personal motivation as a festival organizer or in writing his post. Nadel and Kartalopoulos emphasized the high number of quality applications for this year's Festival, but declined to provide information about other previous exhibitors not invited back other than to say that there are several first-time exhibitors this year.

Personally, I think it would be weirder if Brown had been invited and then when the Internet dust-up hit had that invitation rescinded. It makes consistent sense to me that someone might not like a project both as an editor writing a post and as a festival organizer deciding on applications. I'll accept Nadel at his word that no personal animus was involved in writing about Brown at the time he chose to write about Brown. Whether or not it is the optimally desirable situation in comics to have people playing multiple roles, well, I don't see any way around that. To its detriment and to its glory, comics is a low-threshold participation racket. Talented people with the desire to do so are going to wear multiple hats, whether that's editing a magazine, publishing books and helping run a festival in Nadel's case or making comics and editing/spearheading comics projects in Brown's. I don't think asking questions is wrong, either, and in this case I think there's actually something comforting that a clear response is available if people want to take it, as opposed to comics issues where the end game is pointing out something is really, really wrong and then hoping the overlords involved might be convinced to do something about it against their own short-term financial interests.

The second thing I think worth mentioning here is that I truly feel that in the long run Nadel did everyone a favor by speaking directly, forcefully and humorously about these issues. I don't agree with Dan Nadel that a tribute to Garo needs to be historically accurate in order to be legitimate (and in fact, some of the best comics are illegitimate). I do, however, think that this would make a fascinating spearhead with which to assault the resulting art, and I respect the passions behind wanting to see people give elements of the past their full and respectful due. I don't agree with Nadel that there's anything wrong with crowd-funding in terms of how such projects should be perceived, or which kind of projects should pursue that kind of funding. I am, however, deeply suspicious of claims made on that tool's behalf, of specific elements to many projects that aren't questioned at all even as they make my eyes pop, and the long-term effect on traditional publishing the tool may have. I think crabbing after this stuff the way Nadel did may be the only way to inject a critical element into asking for money to do stuff where the ultimate defense is, "Well, we're not forcing anyone to give us anything." I wish I'd done it first. I also think it's perfectly fine for Nadel to bring this up even if he fails the Internet Hypocrite Test, because that test is stupid.

I was therefore encouraged by some of the thorough posts on these issues that appeared last week, more thoughtful commentary in the space of several days than has appeared on Kickstarter and similar crowd-funding tools since their arrival in comics' consciousness months and months ago. Let me recommend three: Secret Acres, Sean T. Collins, Mike Dawson. That's a publisher, a creator/critic and a creator, all talking about different aspects of the issues raised by Nadel's hue and cry. I'm sure there are others.

It's difficult to talk about things in comics in a critical fashion, despite comics' huge windbag tendencies (of which I am Windbag Commander #1). Comics is a capital-light world and a small room besides. "Do you like me (and my comic), yes or no, please check one" is the primary relationship most of us have with one another. So to get thoughtful people digging into something, getting them to think about an issue with a critical mind rather than throwing up their hands and declaring all options equally awesome, this is a rare and beautiful thing. We need to continue talking through issues and developing better ways of doing what we do, including Kickstarter. If that takes a Dan Nadel shouting "Sell your boots!" Archie Bunker-style, that's fine with me. The shame would be if we stop.
 
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Go, Look: Mike Hoffman's Weird Worlds

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Comics' Giving Heart -- People, Projects In Need Of Funding

* so The Projects is hanging in there, building slowly. Of all the kickstarters I've ever seen, this is one or two or three ones that I'd really like to see go through. We need as many models for small press shows as we can find, and this sounds like a promising one, more Fumetto than Wizard World.

* speaking of models and kickstarter, Milton Griepp has word on movement in that group's policy towards bulk commercial rewards. Read the article, you'll pick up on what that means soon enough and it's easy to see why that'd be important for comics people.

* veteran mainstream comics writer David Michelinie is involved in this project from Mansion Comics.

* the nice people at Tripwire are raising money for a 20th Anniversary hardcover.

* the cartoonist John Roberson would very, very much like to go to the Bay Area and take a job that's been offered to him there; he explains why he needs your help in order to finance his journey.

* keep your boots: looks like the Garo tribute anthology will hit its goal soon if it hasn't already by the time you read this.

* finally, Sean Kleefeld has some thoughts on Karl Kesel selling his art for medical bills for his son.
 
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If I Were In Vermont, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: Finn And Charlie Are Hitched

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* Todd Allen has a post up at The Beat that springs from Brian Hibbs' recent essay about Marvel's weak, recent, non-event numbers. I couldn't figure out how to read the numbers provided and I find some of the throwaway lines confusing -- somehow Before Watchmen isn't enough of an event to make the launch month an event-driven month? -- but the question asked is a good one. My suspicion is that both companies have a hard time selling comics that aren't event comics because there aren't enough readers to maintain high numbers on standard comic books. When readers are told what to buy, you have a hit. When they are joined by people that haven't been buying many comics at all, or at least that kind of comic, you have a potential mega-hit. But for the most part the system suffers from exhaustion and burnout. The real question may be whether or not there's a system there to be salvaged long-term, and if so, if the major players are able to make the necessary investments to make that system as vital as it can be. As long as people are rewarded for short-term bursts of sales and managing against expectations, the answer to the latter question is probably "no."

image* Chad Nevett talks to Joe Casey. WJT Mitchell talks to Art Spiegelman. Chris Arrant talks to Ian Brill.

* Fantagraphics' retail location was named Seattle's best comics shop and David Horsey the city's best cartoonist in the yearly Seattle Weekly Best Of awards. That "Starbucks" won for best music store may be the most depressing or most hilarious thing I've read recently, but also made me realize that all that time I spent staring at music in 1990s Seattle retail establishments is part of a bygone era for everyone now. Don't say the comics shops can't go away; don't belittle their accomplishment in not going away.

* Mike Mignola and DC Comics will be contributing to the benefit held by the comics shop in Aurora, Colorado. I think that's nice.

* not comics: I can't remember if I keep forgetting to link to this or if I've linked to it five times, and I'm too shy to look: Lisa Hanawalt clothes.

* I liked this comment from R. Fiore about Doonesbury's relative virtue. I don't really know how to process dismissing a work like that as was done in other comments and in the piece on which Fiore comments. I can certainly imagine a measured takedown of Doonesbury, and have my own list of things that the feature doesn't do well. But to deny it its place in comic strip history seems like it should be more difficult than to make up a few nasty, funny lines or to dismiss the entire enterprise as a fixation of the olds.

* Naomi Szeben on Unterzakhn. Rob Clough on Funny Aminals Vol. 3. John Kane on a bunch of different comics. Grant Goggans on Esperanza. Andy Oliver on Days Of The Bagnold Summer.

* not comics: Nutmeg is a great name for a cat.

* the fact that all these weird but accomplished comics from the 1980s are never fully available as sets but available for pennies when they are should have more of an impact on the back-issues market than it does.

* in other Todd Allen news, digs into a projected model for comics profitability over at PW to see if this extends to the newer Image comics, using as a springboard the Robert Kirkman/Brian Bendis disagreement over comics career paths from a few years back -- that's probably a horrible way to describe it given Bendis' indy-comics roots, but there you go. At any rate, there's nothing more problematic than a construction that has that many parts and some of which are projections, but the general prognosis seems to be things are looking up for a lot more of those books.

* finally, I hope that the health of Kazu Kibuishi continues to improve. I hope it has improved in the time period between when I wrote this and when it finally rolled out.
 
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August 5, 2012


I'm Probably Going To Regret Asking This Question, But...

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... Is there a non-stupid list of underground cartoonists out there?

If not, is it possible to make one without being bogged down into definitional battles and other things that make rational people want to stab their eyes out? It seems like if we admit that some people can belong to multiple groupings that this is slightly easier than trying to define the entirety of someone's creative output by one label. It also seems that we should have enough of a sense of alternative comics now as its own distinct body that we wouldn't get bogged down there. Maybe I'm dreaming.

So, to start, swiping from here and there:

Gary Arlington, Robert Armstrong, Edward Barker, Joel Beck, Vaughn Bode, Tim Boxell, Michele Brand, Roger Brand, Mary K. Brown, John Burnham, Leslie Cabarga, Lyn Chevely, Daniel Clyne, Ron Cobb, Guy Colwell, Richard Corben, Sally Cruikshank, Robert Crumb, Howard Cruse, Charles Dallas, Mal Dean, George DiCaprio, Kim Deitch, Simon Dietch, Don Dohler, Harry Driggs (aka R. Diggs), Hunt Emerson, Joyce Farmer, Shary Flenniken, Jim Franklin, Larry Fuller, Melinda Gebbie, David Geiser, Mervin Gilbert (aka Mervinius), Phoebe Gloeckner, Larry Gonick, Grass Green, Justin Green, Rick Griffin, Bill Griffith, Gary Hallgren, George Hansen, Cligg Harper, Rory Hayes, Rand Holmes, Greg Irons, Jaxon, Shawn Kerri, Hank Kingfish, Jay Kinney, Denis Kitchen, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Krystine Kryttre, George Kuchar, Jerry Lane, Gary Leib, Bobby London, Pete Loveday, Jay Lynch, Mad Peck, Pete Poplaski, Lee Marrs, Andy Martin, Paul Mavrides, Willy Mendes, Chris Mettz, George Metzger, Michael McMillan, Jim Mitchell, Victor Moscoso, Willy Murphy, Diane Noomin, Dan O'Neill, Jim Osborne, Pete Poplaski, John Pound, Revilo, Ted Richards, Leonard Rifas, Larry Rippee, Trina Robbins, Spain Rodriguez, Sharon Rudhal, Joe Schenkman, Fred Schrier, Dori Seda, Martin Sharp, Gilbert Shelton, Dave Sheridan, Barry Siegel, Bruce Simon, Ned Sonntag, Art Spiegelman, Frank Stack, Barney Steel, Bhob Stewart, Steve Stiles, William Stout, Joyce Sutton, Bryan Talbot, John Thompson, Larry Todd, Robert Triptow, Tom Veitch, Bruce Walthers, M. Wartella, Larry Welz, Mack White, Gary Whitney, Robert Williams, Skip Williamson, Becky Wilson, S. Clay Wilson, Mary Wings, Yossarian.



I'm grateful to everyone that suggested updates; thanks, folks
 
posted 5:15 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
Is Frank Stack's Facebook Photos Resource The Best Out There?

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I'm thinking maybe so. This is a movie version-era picture of Harvey Pekar Stack uploaded in 2010.
 
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Go, Read: Cartoonists Pay Tribute To Lee Salem

imageIf last year's big comics story that somehow didn't get reported as a big story was United Media shutting its doors, this year's might be Lee Salem moving away from editorial at Universal and into a role that is more concerned with the business side of things. Salem has been more influential in comic strips than any pair of editors at any comic book endeavor over the last quarter-century. I imagine this move isn't as set in stone as people yelling about things on the Internet like to have things set in stone, even though I bet it's close. When Garry Trudeau says he's not accepting Salem's move, it seems logical to suggest that he'll still be called upon by the cartoonists with whom he's worked when they need to call on someone. Still, it could well be the clean break that very few people get, and any less Lee Salem in editorial is a big deal to a business where he's been a major difference-maker for decades now.

I suppose if you favor a celebrity-type focus on this kind of thing there's something to be said about Bill Watterson simply taking part in Michael Cavna's gathering of cartooning talent that's paying tribute to Salem here. It's the content of what Watterson writes that intrigues, though, particularly when he notes that a lot of Salem's strips depended on strong, idiosyncratic writing and that this made them stand out a bit from the gag/greeting card generation of strips that came before it. I think that's as succinct as summation of Lee Salem's career as might be possible. It's a fine legacy to move one of comics' great expressions in a different direction for an era, even if you're not the one that's making the work. Maybe that's even more impressive, really. Salem's had one heck of an editorial career.
 
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Go, Look: Bittercomix Profiled

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Go, Read: Lengthy, Well-Illustrated Review Of ASM Omnibus

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Not Comics: Colleen Doran On Beautiful Things To Grow

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Go, Look: The Cartoons From The June 1962 McCall's

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Go, Look: The Quick Colt Killer

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If I Were Near Stockton, I'd Go To This

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If I Were In Allentown, I'd Go To This

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FFF Results Post #303 -- Under-Appreciated Mangaka

On Friday, CR readers were asked to "Name Five Mangaka You Believe Have A Bigger Potential Audience In The U.S. Than They Currently Enjoy." This is how they responded.

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Tom Spurgeon

1. Eiji Nonaka
2. Susumu Katsumata
3. Keiko Suenobu
4. Kiriko Nananan
5. Shigeru Tamura

*****

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Nick Mullins

* Ebine Yamaji (Love My Life, Free Soul, Indigo Blue)
* Haruno Nanae (Pieta, Double House)
* Kiriko Nananan (Pumpkin and Mayonnaise)
* Minami Q Ta (Please, God)
* Shinkichi Kato (Baka & Gogh, National Quiz)

*****

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Paul Pope

* Minetaro Mochizuki -- one of my favorites. Wai Wai is one of the best manga from the past few years. He is a great talent.
* King Gonta -- he is not so well known and his longest works, "House Of Hell" (about a family of Kabuki actors) and "The Way Between The Prow And The Deep Blue Sea" (a history of Medieval China) might be too Asia-centric for Western tastes, yet he is an absolute master of the medium. And he named himself "King" Gonta, which is badass, but not as badass as his work.
* Egawa Tetsuya -- one of Japan's biggest manga artists, virtually unknown in the States. Tokyo University Story.
* Masayuki Soma -- He only did a couple of books, most notably Pao Pao-Akko, about a mother/daughter relationship, often with corny, sexually-laden undertones... as in, the mom is a cougar. Great work. He sadly hung up his brush too soon. A huge influence on my own personal style.
* Suehiro Maruo -- inventor of "sick" manga. His work has been occasionally translated abroad, but he has a wider audience out there just waiting to discover his wild, inventive ouvre.

*****

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Jones Jones

1. Eiji Nonaka (Cromartie!)
2. Toru Yamazaki (Octopus Girl!)
3. Toyokazu Matsunaga (Bakune Young!!!)
4. Shintaro Kago (does he have anything in English other than scanlations?)
5. I really want to say Junji Ito, on account of Dark Horse couldn't get his Museum of Terror over with anglophone readers, but I don't want you to roll your eyes, so: Kiminori Wakasugi (Detroit Metal City!)

*****

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Dave Knott

* The team of Koji Aihara and Kentaro Takekuma
* Kan Takahama
* Makoto Yukimura
* Kiriko Nananan
* Q Hayashida

*****

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Chris Arrant

* Naoki Urasawa
* Iou Kuroda
* Harold Sakuishi
* Makota Yukimura
* Kaiji Kawaguchi

*****

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David Oppenheim

1. Kazuichi Hanawa
2. Mitsuru Adachi
3. Tori Miki
4. Riyoko Ikeda
5. Iou Kuroda

*****

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Rick Vance

1. Hirohiko Araki -- Jojo's Bizarre Adventure has been coming out for over 25 years and only like 18 volumes of it are available legally in english. Add to that all the other work that Araki does and the change in genre, tone and setting that he can pull he needs to be available to people.
2. Leiji Matsumoto -- Ryan Cecil Smith's SF comics have opened the door now someone needs to really get on making all the original stuff available in english, that sleek operatic style is so perfect for Space Opera.
3. Yudetamago (Yoshinori Nakai & Takashi Shimada) -- These guys had a bit of success when Ultimate Muscle was a Saturday Morning Cartoon, however the comic Kinnikuman and all that has come after it have not been as lucky. The pure fun wrestling action of their stories I think would delight swaths of Superhero fans to no end.
4. Mitsuteru Yokoyama -- We have Tezuka, Otomo and Urasawa in plentiful english I think there is no reason we should not also have this man who is one of the pioneers and the blocks on which the industry was built.
5. Kentarō Miura -- Berserk is stated as one of the major influences on Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit, Dark Horse has been doing a good job at printing it but I do think if marketed at all it could reach a huge audience currently not reading it. Especially with the seeming boom of the violence and the dark fantasy that has been sweeping pop culture.

*****

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Abby L.

1. Riyoko Ikeda (Literally the most classic shoujo manga that has references in so many other mangas and yet it's never been translated!?!?!? Why!?!?)
2. Shigeru Mizuki (Why haven't we gotten to read Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro!?)
3. Saki Hiwatari (OK this is just because I love her)
4. Akiko Higashimura (Want to see more from her)
5. Masahito Soda (Also just love him...)

*****

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David Brothers

1. Inio Asano
2. Q Hayashida
3. Hirohiko Araki
4. Eiji Nonaka
5. Keitaro Takahashi

*****

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Jog

1. Kazuichi Hanawa: His autobiographical Doing Time picked up that little bit of acclaim you can always expect from really terrific manga from a teeny-small publisher, but it's the guro horror stuff in Hanawa's back catalog that's got the potential to blow the roof off the joint... or at least garner a less small, more devout Junji Ito-like following abroad. Seriously, look at his eye-popping contribution to Top Shelf's Ax anthology from the other year and tell me a whole book like that wouldn't be burning down Tumblr tomorrow.
2. Toyokazu Matsunaga: Again and again, I keep hearing the out-there comics folk cite Bakune Young as a huge thing, and I can see why; vol. 2 of that three-part series is probably my single favorite action comic ever, and startlingly contemporary in its blend of berserk drawing and high-energy genre stuff. An enterprising publisher would do well to pick up his more recent Ryuguden and bedeck that sucker with Matsunaga's excess of cred.
3. Taiyō Matsumoto: Gogo Monster was the best comic released in North America in 2009, and it was met primarily with disinterest occasionally segueing into mockery. I think No. 5 still holds the record for all-time worst-selling Viz publication, though at least you can read it in English from a different publisher on an iPad; most of Matsumoto's works aren't so lucky. Still, it took years and years (and ultimately, anime) for Tekkonkinkreet to finally hit, so hope springs eternal for this most fascinating of arty populists.
4. Sanpei Shirato: Like, when I hear "Marxist ninja comics," I think it's gonna be like those movies Godard did with the Dziga Vertov Group in the backwash of '68, where it's ostensibly a narrative, but really a confrontational formalist exercise poised to communicate mad political truths. However, tracking down old editions of Viz's (and Eclipse's) release of The Legend of Kamui straight-up got my ass kicked with the big, broad, bloody stylings of Garo rockstar Shirato and his backing studio. That was later stuff, and while I guess the diminished audience for slash-'em-up swordsman funnies today speaks more to the scene than the artist, I can't imagine some of Shirato's vintage '60s work wouldn't move nicely via a sympathetic Vertical or D&Q with the wind of renown at its back. (Its front?)
5. Ryoichi Ikegami: Yeah, he was present and accounted for with Mai the Psychic Girl and Crying Freeman and all those, back in the day, and Sanctuary was a pretty solid hit a few years later. But what has Ikegami done lately? How about a 17-volume crime comic (Heat) and a 22-volume historical thing (Lord), both with the writer of Sanctuary? Actually, I don't think a single thing Ikegami's done in the 21st century has been translated to English, which is a real shame -- his Neal Adams-like ultra-gekiga approach is ripe for rediscovery, especially after inspiring the immortal megahit Cromartie High School -- the pump is primed!

*****

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Michael Buntag

1. Kan Takahama
2. Suehiro Maruo
3. Erica Sakurazawa
4. Miho Obana
5. Taiyō Matsumoto

*****

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Benjamin Urkowitz

1. Shintaro Kago
2. Teruhiko Yumura
3. Ebisu Yoshikazu
4. Atsushi Kaneko
5. Sugiura Shigeru

*****
*****
 
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The Comics Reporter Video Parade


Highlights From University Of Chicago Conference On Comics


News Report On Partial Zunar Legal Victory This Week


Austin Briggs Profiled


Becky Cloonan Interviewed At SDCC


Brecht Evens Interviewed At SDCC



First And Third Episodes Of A Webseries Starring Nicole Hollander




This Year's Quick Draw Panel At SDCC


 
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August 4, 2012


CR Week In Review

imageThe top comics-related news stories from July 28 to August 3, 2012:

1. Zunar wins partial victory in Malaysian civil court case whose long-awaited and thrice-delayed decision was made early this week. The judge declares the seizure of his property illegal, but says that the government officials named were within their rights to arrest and detain him during the September 2012 incident in question. Zunar blasted the detention/arrest part of the decision.

2. MoCCA transfers its assets to the Society Of Illustrators.

3. Confirmation comes that RJ Matson was one of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch employees let go last week.

Winner Of The Week
Jeff Smith. That's two dream projects completed; I'm not sure I've started on my first.

Loser Of The Week
MoCCA, as an entity. The Society Of Illustrators seems like it would have been a good partner in many ways if the the museum had entered into that partnership from a position of strength, but it didn't; it came in wounded. I don't see how this group has the same institutional power now that it had as a unique entity.

Quote Of The Week
"Even though in the other part of the judgment the court had instructed the police to return all my books and drawing and pay the damages, this 'play-safe ruling' does not impress me. This ruling will not stop me, but will give me more strength to 'Fight Through Cartoon.' I will appeal to the higher court soon. And I will keep drawing until the last drop of my ink." -- Zunar

*****

today's cover is from the small-press and independent comics scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s

*****
*****
 
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If I Were In Allentown, I'd Go To This

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August 3, 2012


Missed It: Dark Clouds Of Spring

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Missed It: A Bunch Of Really Old News Briefs

imageHere's a small group of most self-evident stories that for some reason or another did not find their way into Random News. I apologize for their lateness. What tends to happen is that I think, "Oh, yeah, that'll be its own post" and then I go back to my usual workday routine of smoking pot, eating Boo Berries and watching random episodes of F Troop on Hulu.com (aka "Living The Dream"). I do think they're all worth noting, though, so I'm going to eschew my usual make-up strategy of ignoring the stories for a really long time and sheepishly deleting the original e-mails on Labor Day.

* the School Of Visual Arts announced they'll be adding an MFA in Visual Narrative program to be chaired by Nathan Fox. I guess this was initially proclaimed at HeroesCon, which is a totally awesome place to tell people about your new career move. I recognize Matt Madden, Dan Nadel and Matt Rota on the faculty list that's at the end of that release.

* the Small Press Expo made another donation to the SPX Collection at the Library Of Congress, including samples of Keith Knight's daily The Knight Life. As I recall, Keith Knight was attending those Expos a grown-up person's worth of lifetime ago.

* Forbidden Planet on Broadway in New York, one of those stores that has something of an identity outside of the comics world for what it does inside the comics world, moved up/down the street to a new location late last month. At least I figured that came off; I haven't heard otherwise. I was a little confused by this announcement since I'd heard it on the premises last December. I know it takes a while to close on an NYC real estate deal, but I wondered if that was an even newer announcement so I didn't run the PR. Something like that, anyway. I'm sure the New York bloggers covered the crap out of it. That store certainly could have used a new space, and I hope it works for them.

* Mario Candelaria turned 28 back on July 12, and even though he sent me a nice e-mail wondering if he could be added to the birthday roll I pushed past him and stepped on his birthday cake on my way to yet another dreary post about Before Watchmen. Sorry, Mario. Hope it was a good one. You're in the system now.

* the cartoonist Mysh ran into some problems last May with his Facebook presence. It's nearly impossible to unspool what the heck is going on with something like that, but I'm happy to note that it happened, particularly to have something up in case it continues to happen.

* finally, I'm almost certain I covered the launch of digital comics publisher/facilitator Madefire by now, but I noticed I did get the "Maybe you didn't notice, but..." e-mail they sent out pretty soon after their launch. So in case I didn't and you count on this site for that kind of information I humbly apologize and here you go.
 
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Go, Look: New Barbier & Mathon Site

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Go, Read: Grant Morrison On Action Comics, Siegel And Shuster

The writer about comics Kiel Phegley did an interview with the writer Grant Morrison this week about winding down his run on DC's re-launched Action Comics. I don't have an easy way to measure if Morrison's answer to a question about Siegel and Shuster and creator's rights sparked a controversy of any kind -- or at least people talking about it -- but I did read this comment from Sean T. Collins about the disappointment some feel with Morrison's general take on the creative duo behind Superman and this piece castigating the idea of "what did you think about this controversy"-style questions in a section by Abhay Khosla.

I think Collins and Khosla both have smart things to say there. I'm with Collins that I have to imagine that it's disheartening for a lot of fans that have taken to Morrison's expressed beliefs in the specialness of superhero comics and their transformative impact to see the writer turn around and lay out a bunch of standard qualifiers of the "I'm no idol," "I've got mine," "You may not understand everything involved here" and "I'm just a working joe and they've been good to me" variety -- all in the same graph, no less! Morrison is a smart guy and usually very convincing in terms of how he portrays himself, and he doesn't sound very convincing there. He sounds like he's scrambling for safe purchase, right through the moment he declares he's provided a last word. I'm probably a little more kind to Phegley's line of questioning in that piece than Khosla was, but I strongly agree with Abhay on the general point that leaping immediately to a "well, let's not talk about anything controversial because it's been done to death" position is an abdication of, well, a lot of things. Khosla's analysis of the overriding value that self-promotion has in comics circles and the seething contempt certain aspects of the industry seem to feel for any counter-narrative to that self-promotional ethos seems solid to me, and well-articulated.

To my mind, that interview and the follow-up posts fall under the "look at this" standard this site talked about early on during last Spring and early Summer's focus on creators rights issues. These are the answers you're going to get to the issues as presented; what you do with that information is up to you. Please don't pretend there isn't something going on there worthy of notice, of thought and consideration. Whether or not Grant Morrison decides to join in, I imagine we're a considerable distance from a last word on this subject; in fact, I suspect we've barely begun to talk things out.
 
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Go, Look: Two From The Billy Ireland Cartoon Archives

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Comics' Giving Heart Update: Karl Kesel And His Son

The writer and artist Karl Kesel is apparently selling of a sizable collection of Silver Age-era comics art to pay for hospital bills incurred by his new, adoptive son. I don't really have anything to add to that, but it sounds like an admirable thing and I hope you'll look into it and consider supporting it if that's the kind of thing you're into. If it's not the kind of thing you're into, I suppose you could also just donate a few bucks through his site. That's what I'm going to consider doing.
 
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Go, Look: Black Friday Death Sale

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I have no idea where this came from; all apologies
 
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PR: MoCCA Transfers Assets To Society Of Illustrators

imageThe Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art sent out a press release this morning -- dated yesterday, so maybe this site didn't get it on the first shot -- that they will transfer its assets to the Society Of Illustrators. This gives them access to a street-level location for a museum space, but I would imagine also calls into question both the museum's specific mission and its ability to serve different aspects of the very diverse comics community. While there are cartoonists that are certainly going to be for the move -- the PR quotes dual-member Bill Plympton -- there are others that seemed minimally invested in MoCCA's take on the comics community and may not feel any more like the Museum is a home for them within the umbrella or in partnership with another organization.

The popular (and once more popular) MoCCA Festival name will transfer to the society along with the permanent art collection. The PR says that the Society plans to stage the the festival "in its current location." I've already heard from at least one major figure in the small-press corner of comics served by that festival that they were done with that show as of 2011, joining a growing list of such entities in the shadow of some believe dubious claims by the organization that this year's show was more significantly attended than ever.

As far as exhibits the release promises a planned Monte Beauchamp-curate Harvey Kurtzman exhibit and both an exhibit and a space in the Society's permanent gallery building from the museum's permanent art collection.

The museum celebrated its tenth anniversary this year.
 
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Go, Read: Sarnath Banerjee On His Olympic Losers Project

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thx, Ty Buttars
 
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Comics' Giving Heart -- People, Projects In Need Of Funding

image* the Portland comics show The Projects has a kickstarter going here. That's a pretty significant price tag for a first-time show without a history to go on -- not significant in that it's expensive for what such a show requires, I honestly have no idea, it just seems it's more difficult for first-time projects to raise more than $5K. I wish them luck, though. I'm interested to see how that one goes.

* Jesse Fuchs is selling a super-lovely Ivan Brunetti one-pager to raise money for rent. You need to give yourself this present.

* here's a Kickstarter tied into a radio program that has Jim Ottaviani and Natalie Nourigat involved.

* these two alt-comics looking suckers seem well on their way to funding; no boot-selling required.

* not comics: here's