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December 31, 2013


CR Holiday Interview #13 -- Ed Piskor

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imageIt's my great pleasure to end posting at CR for the year by running an interview the cartoonist Ed Piskor. Piskor is one of a thriving group of Pittsburgh-area cartoonists that have become a frequent presence at comics shows east of the Mississippi. He's a comics lifer: first a fan, then a maker of comics like those he was reading with ambitions of comics stardom, then briefly a student at the Kubert School, then a mini-comics maker, then an artist that caught the eye of Harvey Pekar, then a working cartoonist writing his own material again and slowly building an audience through works like the phone-phreak driven Wizzywig. Piskor's latest project is Hip Hop Family Tree, a history of the sub-culture that focuses on the small sprawl of neighborhoods and interlocking relationships which changed American pop expression. His publisher is Fantagraphics. I always enjoy talking to Ed and was happy to get a chance to ask him about this latest work, one of the defining releases of 2013. -- Tom Spurgeon

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TOM SPURGEON: A real basic kind of opening question: where are you with the cycle of Hip Hop Family Tree Vol. 1, Ed? I'm guessing you're still doing publicity right now. You've traveled a little bit for it, I think; where are you right now in what you have to do to get word of your book out there?

ED PISKOR: We sold out of the first printing. It sold out before... I guess the way Diamond works is that it takes two weeks for a book to hit every store that Diamond distributes to. Two days after the first batch of stores got their comics, the Friday of that first week, they called Fantagraphics and said we needed to print more. So it's doing good, man. For a couple of months, starting in September with SPX, I did a lot of traveling, every weekend going to different book festivals, arts festivals... I spoke at this symposium in Chicago that had Buzz Aldrin giving speeches.

SPURGEON: That's right. I saw that.

PISKOR: The comic has opened up a lot of cool opportunities outside of the comics microcosm, which has been pretty cool.

Right now -- at this very moment -- I'm inking the last two pages of book two.

SPURGEON: So you're that far ahead. Now, you're devoted to a yearly cycle with this series, am I right?

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PISKOR: Pretty much. The second book should come out for San Diego Comic-Con. I had the first book almost complete by the time I decided on Fantagraphics as the publisher. So I was already pretty done with that. It's going to stabilize into being an annual thing for a while.

SPURGEON: I heard that you're contracted for multiple books, but I also heard that maybe you don't know how many books the series will be. Someone told me that you're sort of feeling your way through the books, and don't know how many books the whole thing may encompass. The idea is that you don't know yet what you'll end up spending a lot of time on, that once you get into something, that pay mean an extra four pages here, and extra six pages there, and that this could add up. Is that a fair assessment? Or do you have a firmer idea now of exactly where you're going.

PISKOR: With each book I don't have a map of where it's going to end, but I know all the key points that need to be covered. Each book is going to be roughly the same page count: about 112 pages apiece. When the first book was winding down, the last 20 pages or so, I started seeing a very clear place of where it should end. That's also been the case with book two. So I think that's how it will end up being.

I'm signed up for six books with Fantagraphics. And if I'm still into it... this project is a part of my five-year plan. After that point we can assess. Hopefully sales will still be strong enough to warrant continuing to do it, but it's really cool -- I'm in a sweet spot right now. I'm doing the exact comic I want to, and it's working out.

SPURGEON: Have they been a good publishing partner for you? Your public reputation is of someone who knows what they want and how you want it done. I assume they've been a good partner in terms of staying hands-off and facilitating your doing what you want to do with the project.

PISKOR: They're hands-on when they need to be. They're super-receptive to other parts of the process more related to business things. Like very early on -- I put the strip up once a week on Boing Boing. That's millions of readers a month. That's not to say millions of people read my comic, but I bet tens of thousands do. The site is not really built for comics to be read in a serial way. That space is almost like a billboard for the actual book. I told the guys at Fanta, "Listen, we have to make this book available for pre-order as soon as possible. Every week I put this strip up without the book being available for pre-order, I feel like we're leaving money on the table. This is a valuable opportunity." People pay money for that kind of advertising space. They listened. Mike Baehr at one point said it was the most pre-ordered book they had on-line ever, by like a multitude. It's cool that they listened to that stuff. They have good suggestions here and there, too. So it's been real great.

SPURGEON: I'm not going to stick to business for the entire interview, I promise. But you're just past the age of 30... I think that's an age when artists in all media start to really pay close attention to what they're going to do in the medium they chose. At 30, you're usually no longer just taking whatever comes to you when it comes to you. There's an active thought process of your own, an idea of what you want to see happen. I wonder if that is true of you, and I wonder if that is true of you and this book. This seems like a very ambitious project, Ed, something in which you're very invested. You see yourself settling into projects like this from now on, or is there still going to be an element of winging it?

PISKOR: This project in particular... this is a comic I want to do. I want to see it through. It's a chunk of good fortune that people are responding well to it. I think I would still do it anyhow.

I have to make this stuff work for me. So I'm very conscious of the business part of it. I can't just do exactly what I want to. By the way, to go with Fanta was a little bit of a gamble. I had some other publishers that were interested, and I could have made more up front money doing that. I had a very specific idea of how I wanted it to look to create the experience I wanted. It had to be this big, over-sized treasury format. That was a no-go for a lot of publishers. I have these yellowed pages to go with the artwork; a lot of the publishers wanted to drop that background layer and leave the pages white. That would destroy -- the color is based on that yellow. There were all these problems that were mitigated just by going with Fanta. I am invested in this project in particular. Whatever I involve myself in I'm going to be invested in it.

SPURGEON: We both know there's a fine line in comics. We both know people that don't have a ton to offer in terms of the comic, but they're extremely business-like. We also know folks with a lot to offer in terms of the comics they make, but are constantly getting in their own way. It seems like it's tough to find that balance in comics: letting your artistic impulses drive the car, but be open to hearing from the business-minded guy in the passenger seat. You've been around long enough to see people fail for all sorts of reasons.

PISKOR: For sure. If there's one thing that I've discovered meeting cartoonists, and even cartoonists I would call my heroes, I learned and realized that a lot of people are their own worst enemy and they create their own glass ceilings and stuff like that. It's all this logic and they have these personal, limited beliefs that create barriers to what they do. So realizing those sticking points, seeing them in other people, I'm just trying to take care of that so as to not inhibit what's possible.

SPURGEON: You're actually younger than hip-hop. So by the time you were aware of it, it must have been ubiquitous. You can't remember a time hip-hop wasn't around.

PISKOR: That's correct.

SPURGEON: I imagine that's true of comics, too, of course. They were around as well. But hip-hop... the book has this unique take on the role of scene. It's very generous and solicitous towards the regional aspects of hip-hop's creation. But since your memory of hip-hop was shaped by it having gone national, I wonder how you started thinking about hip-hop so that it became this expression of something that happened in those specific East Coast communities. Do you remember when you started to have that kind of interest, this specific conception of cultural history? Do you remember your initial curiosity?

PISKOR: Yeah, I do. It started with getting what was popular at the time. You would hear older rap records being sampled -- a line or a beat or something like that. It sort of hit the same compulsive tendencies that I had as a kid reading comic books, before I really cared about creators and stuff. It was about the stories and whatever else in mainstream comics. I would dig around looking for old comic books, like the first appearance of Cable from X-Force. Whatever. To find Dr. Dre's first record digging in record crates and talking to people, asking around in record stores, it hit that same compulsion. Then when you dig very deep and learn about the earliest people, I feel like I'm on some of the same footing as some of those guys. I come from poor circumstances and stuff like that... it's an inspiring story to see someone come from under the radar, to see these people do cool, creative stuff.

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SPURGEON: What's fascinating about the history as you choose to portray it is that it's almost week to week and apartment to apartment and party to party and neighborhood to neighborhood in its specificity. It's very graspable, too. That was something I loved when I learned about comics, that comics history wasn't that old -- you could go to conventions and see the guys that were there at the beginning. So was having that grasp of it, wast that exciting to you, being able to grasp the entirety of it?

PISKOR: Yeah. It is cool. It is cool. If you think about what we know of rap and of hip-hop, it started in a very confined space. Everybody knew everybody. It's the same for comics as well. Distribution. The distributors are the gatekeepers, so you have to know somebody that knows somebody to get something to happen. You read about the history of comics or the history of rap and you see that there are all these relationships that were required to get it to the point where it is right now. There were almost no rap records being put out outside of New York and New Jersey -- the part of the New Jersey that Sugarhill was from was right over a bridge. Everybody in those early days, for the first 15 years, had a relationship to each other. It's fun to explore how these weird circumstances built upon themselves to create this kind of phenomenon.

Reading about that history there are other kinds of music that come into vogue and quickly disappear that people don't talk about anymore. These are things that could have been the next hip-hop if certain situations took place. I'm talking about house music, or Washington D.C.'s Go-go music. Those things are still around but they're not at the scale rap music grew to, and they came around the same time.

SPURGEON: You have talked about trying to double-source the incidents you depict, and you've actually complimented what you feel are pretty solid sources upon which you can draw. Is there any sorting process... did you have to make any decisions as to what you believed was real at any point, or is there pretty much an orthodoxy when it comes to this specific cultural history?

PISKOR: There are situations that come up where there might be an exciting, visually interesting narrative conjured up out of the mouth of one or two of the people that were part of the situation.

SPURGEON: What would be an example of that? Is there something in the book kind of like that?

PISKOR: This is from book two: KRS-One's origin. He talked about being kicked out of the house. His family was poor and he at the last bit of food that was supposed to be for their dinner. He got kicked out and never went back. You can't reference... there's nothing else to reference but his words. There are tools in comics were you can take his words and you can make sure they're not your words. You can take those words and put them in his mouth, make it a story from his point of view and use captions that say things like "As the legend goes..." or something like that. You make sure that if it is some mythological thing you separate yourself from that. I'm very conscious of that kind of thing. As more rappers get in touch and tell me some crazy stuff and I can't find source material, that's how I'm going to approach it. I'm going to put it "In the words of..." There's a running dialogue in captions throughout the book, so when you switch that up you hope the reader picks up on that.

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SPURGEON: People become accustomed to your rigor.

PISKOR: When you use a different storytelling device, I hope that it creates a feeling that it's not me saying this per se. Doing this stuff on Boing Boing -- and I'm sure you know this from your site -- people are happy to let you know when you've done something wrong. [Spurgeon laughs] I've created all of these contingency plans. Ways to prevent damage, if there's something I'm not fully convinced might be 100 percent accurate because I can't find more source material.

SPURGEON: Were there any roads not taken? Did you consider doing one individual's story as a different way of structuring the book? One of the things that's really intriguing about this book is how fiercely scene-oriented and community-focused it is. There's this run of personality after personality after personality. Did you ever think of focusing your history, perhaps doing one person? What was the appeal of making it this broad and comprehensive of a history?

PISKOR: The appeal of doing the broad scope thing was really because of the regional nature of hip-hop's origins; I'm really fascinated by how everyone had a relationship with each other. I considered doing just a biographical comic. Even with Wizzywig, it started out as a biography. But my popularity, and with comics in general... I think people don't respect comics or me as a creator.

To do a biography in comics you have to have access to the person -- at least as far I'm concerned. You have to be able to work with them. There were no takers. In the hacker world I approached people. I had only done a little bit of stuff for Harvey Pekar at this time, so I don't fault them -- in fact, I'm friends with a lot of these people -- but they wouldn't even respond. I had no idea how to even approach a rapper to try and tell us a specific story. In the end, I think this was the way to go. It's like the character in my comic is hip-hop. It's a biography of hip-hop and everybody is a cog in the wheel that helped created this thing.

SPURGEON: Did you think of another fictionalized account?

PISKOR: For a long time, even since high school, I've been wanting to do a comic with this kind of imagery. I love hip-hop fashion, I love graffiti, I love '70s New York films -- Scorsese films, French Connection, [Taking Of] Pelham 1-2-3 -- it just has that grit. I always wanted to do something in that landscape. A fictionalized account. I was thinking I could do a crime story set in this world. Ultimately, I felt like this was the way to go.

By the way, I had no idea, and I still have no idea, if what I'm doing is like, illegal. You know? [Spurgeon laughs] I have no clue. It's literally something I wanted to do. I was surprised that Boing Boing said it was okay to publish. I'm surprised Fantagraphics said it was cool. Does that mean somebody could do a comic about me? That feels invasive.

SPURGEON: Maybe someone will get their revenge by doing a comic about you doing this comic... Ed, I'm also interested in the visual sourcing aspects of your research. Did you spend time in these neighborhoods? Would that even work at this point? Did someone take photos of that time period?

PISKOR: There were a few great photographers that really captured that scene. I'm not even sure they consider themselves... at the time I don't even know if they considered themselves photographers or if they knew what the heck they were doing or how important they were in capturing the birth of this culture. There was a photographer named Joe Conzo -- still, he's not a professional photographer. He's a New York City fireman. He had a camera in those early days, and shot film at these live performances and block parties. I have access to some great photographs from that period. Another photographer named Martha Cooper... when graffiti started to catch on, she saw value in that and started capturing photos of that stuff. She really captured that New York landscape in a beautiful way. There's hyperbole in the work, too, and that comes from my love of the films I mentioned earlier. That's sort of the soup my work was created out of. There a few good hip-hop flicks. There's Style Wars and Wild Style that helped give me visual cues.

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SPURGEON: This is a hunch on my part, but I liked the way you didn't aggressively pursue a comics solution for the music. When people do comics about music, there tends to be a dramatic choice on how to portray the work being done in that medium -- you portray the performances and the art itself in a very matter of fact style. There's not a big shift -- you can't flip through the book and easily pick out the performance pages. There's no trickery in portraying the art involved. Is that on purpose? Did you want to portray the music in this matter-of-fact way rather than making a case for it.

PISKOR: The way that I see this comic is that it's not a music comic. It's about community. It's about these people that had some ingenuity meeting each other, putting together these ideas, building off the existing ideas, and creating this big thing. It has almost nothing to do with rap. Rap is a byproduct. It's all of these people coming together to make this big thing. The music part of it is simply a byproduct of the story, the narrative taking place.

Right now, a strip I just submitted is that Run-DMC went to the West Coast for the first time. They're basically nobodies, so they're playing this club. Two guys who work at the club are DJ Yella and a very young Dr. Dre -- Dre and Yella go on to form NWA and then Dr. Dre goes on to do his own thing. He discovers Eminem. This performance set Dre towards more of a street-level style as opposed to trying to be like Prince or Michael Jackson -- which is what he was doing at the time. He had on scrubs and a surgical mask. So that's what this comic is: how these guys inspired each other and weird business things that happened, just that kind of stuff. Music is almost negligible.

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SPURGEON: Are there scenes in there you were really looking forward to doing? I think in this book one of the scenes you take some time with is a famous one with Kool Moe Dee and -- I always forget the other guy's name because I think of Kool Moe Dee feuding with LL Cool J but that's later than this. It's Kool Moe Dee's beatdown of...

PISKOR: Busy Bee.

SPURGEON: Right. That's a famous enough incident that when it was happening in your book I sort of remembered it as part of the lore of that world, as a famous incident. Were there scenes like that that you looked forward to doing because they were pivotal scenes.

PISKOR: Yeah, for sure. There are still a lot of scenes I'm looking forward to portraying in a big way. I consider that a paradigm shifting moment.

In book two, there's like ten pages or 12 pages devoted to the movie Wild Style. That was a very important movie in terms of propagating a style. Just as a fan, I remember hearing about Wild Style and how important it was for the culture. Then I saw it, and I didn't recognize anybody in the movie except for Fab 5 Freddy and Grandmaster Flash. So I had a million questions in my head. "If this is so important, then who the hell are these people?" [Spurgeon laughs] "What is this. What gives them the right to even be in this important movie?" I want to answer the questions you might have once you see Wild Style. A couple of times this year -- it was Wild Style's 30th anniversary. I opened it up in a local theater and had a 30 minute talk. I introduced the film and who the people are and who helped them make the flick. When situations happen that are paradigm shifting or are on a bigger level for publicizing the culture outside of New York, it really deserves extra attention in the comic. Maybe just a couple of pages, but however long it takes to present the relevance of a situation and its importance.

imageSPURGEON: You mentioned Fab 5 Freddy. Keith Haring is in there. Jean-Michel Basquiat. So you have the wider New York art scenes... the New York arts world more generally, with Debbie Harry in there -- she would of course contributed to the popularity of hip-hop culture. Was it important to you to include these other arts figure because of their importance in how that culture was transferred? You could argue that people like that weren't involved in the core scene.

PISKOR: It makes more sense in Book Two. I'm talking about hip-hop culture as four elements that include graffiti art. Graffiti is the first element of hip-hop that was able to be monetized. So in the earliest '80s, graffiti started to invade downtown art galleries in Manhattan. Keith Haring was a graffiti artist. Basquiat: graffiti artist. It was when they were brought downtown and selling these paintings -- making excellent money by the way -- as a companion piece to these art shows, they would bring the guys from the Bronx, they would bring Afrika Bambaataa to play in these galleries. They would bring the break dancers. The whole thing.

The byproduct is that these scared white people didn't have to go to the Bronx to see this happen. These scared white people are people who might be producers of 20/20, the magazine show. They might write for Rolling Stone. They might write for the New York Times. They didn't have to to into treacherous territory to see this stuff happen. It was right there in their face. More opportunities about once they were on the radar of the bourgeois -- the art crowd, whatever you want to call it. Their inclusion is very important. Basquiat produced a rap record that's the most valuable rap record in history because of its artwork. It's like the cheapest Basquiat print you can get and the most expensive rap record. He deserves to be mentioned in the book.

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SPURGEON: You mention Afrika Bambaataa. Your design on him is very striking. Russell Simmons is portrayed in much the same way -- there are outsized, cartoony elements to them. Was it fun to do that with some of the characters. We talked about photo reference a little bit, and this seems like something totally different. Was that fun to work out the look of each one -- the visual signifiers? Were there things you wanted to do with the look of certain people.

PISKOR: Yeah it's really fun. There's a lot to consider an a lot to juggle. With the iconography of comics, you can really screw things up and confuse people. You have to figure those things out. The different resources I used in comics to make sense of this huge ensemble cast, it would be things like Chris Claremont's X-Men or Larry Hama's GI Joe comics, how you can have a cast of hundreds of people. You have to have some shorthand visuals so that people are like "Oh, who is this person again?" Part of it is you want to capture personality, but I like to lock myself into costumes with these people. Per era.

imageAs another instance, this page I'm looking at right now, Dr. Dre with his surgical mask on. I draw him with the respirator and the doctor's outfit and the fake gloves so you can immediately see it is Dr. Dre. He would wear that costume for real, so it's like let's keep him in it at all times. It's also comedic, because he's out on the street. There's no scene like that in here with him like that -- you can imagine him against the background of other buildings in his doctor's scrubs. It's kind of funny.

SPURGEON: I want to ask you some comics questions to wrap things up. When I think about guys that worked with Harvey Pekar, and when I think of your comics, I think of a baseline clarity; they seem to be very direct. Hip Hop Family Tree seems like it would be a tremendous challenge to that, that it would be difficult to convey all the information you want to convey while keeping things moving. It's a staggering amount of information this narrative. Was that a special concern, just to make sure what needed to be gotten across got across page to page to page? Was there any working over of certain scenes, perhaps reducing what information would be shared for the sake of clarity? What were the challenges there?

PISKOR: There aren't a lot of challenges to it, because I'm giving myself a lot of personal rules and deadlines -- that helps me keep on track. Part of the aesthetic of those old comics was deadline-oriented, so I want to keep that spirit. So you have to make choices; the choices I've been making are more like life choices. I'm definitely hanging out with friends a lot less to make sure I have time to work on the strip. For each two-page strip, I spend an entire day reading material, thinking about it, playing around with ideas, etc., etc. For every two pages I try to pick things out, focus on the most visually appealing stuff -- or at least the most visually appealing way to get the information across -- and then spend the rest of the week executing the stuff.

Working with Harvey, there were certain... I didn't learn so much from him... what I learned from Harvey was basically the disciplinary stuff. "If you're going to work in comics, it takes a lot of work." We did this book about the Beat Generation. One of the things that I took from that experience for this one is that Harvey chose a lot of good moments panel-to-panel wise. It's sort of the same format in the way of the storytelling, where there's not much panel to panel cause and effect, moment to moment interaction.

SPURGEON: They are definitely striking when it happens. You're right, it's not that way.

PISKOR: That's something I took from him. I've really developed a strong habit of comic-book making over the past nine years of doing stuff. I got into the game at 21. When I put pencil on paper with Harvey for the first time, that's when I hooked up with Jim Rugg and Tom Scioli. Jim was doing his first Street Angel comics and Tom was doing stuff for Image. Those guys are older than me; if I was 21, they were 26 or 27. That's a big gap.

SPURGEON: It is.

PISKOR: I was a real jerk-off. Having access to Jim and Tom has pushed my work five years ahead of where it might be not having them as friends. I see what it takes to be a cartoonist. Part of it is me just trying to stack up to them, live up to what they do. Did you ever read the Malcolm Gladwell book bout outliers?

SPURGEON: Sure.

PISKOR: He talks about that there's a shocking percentage of NHL all-stars that were all born in January because of some weird Canadian weird cut-off date to play hockey. They snuck in under the wire. They were younger than everyone else and they were smaller than everyone else. So they had to work ten times harder. I'm not saying I'm an all-star, I'm just saying I'm a young dude that have privileged access to these guys who turn out to be some of my favorite cartoonists working today. I see what it takes. It's been beaten into my head for a long time. The comic-book making part of it, there's a lot to consider, but it's never daunting. It's already a strong habit.

imageSPURGEON: What is the key element you find satisfying about doing comics? You talked in your interview with Marc Sobel about comics at one point having a therapeutic effect for you. When you were a young guy they were a way to get over some feelings of isolation that came after getting over some health issues. Comics was a way you processed your life. I always wonder after pleasure with cartoonists, though. You have talked about the fun of doing work set in this time period, so obviously you've thought about doing comics in terms of fun and enjoyment. But what is it for you: is it the process? Is it getting work done? Is it having work done? Is it getting to see it reflected back towards you when people read it? Do you like the time you spend cartooning? You seem so devoted.

PISKOR: I personally feel like I get a lot of rewards from doing comics. The actual process of making comics is so fun to me. It's probably the most fun I can have. I'm sure that people will look at this and go, "Oh, that's pathetic." [Spurgeon laughs] You can think that. But I do not bind myself to any societal standards at all. You can think I'm a loser; I'm having a freaking ball. I think about the times when I was a little kid really, really frustrated with myself that I couldn't draw something the way I wanted it to look. I still can't! But it's getting better. As a kid I kept drawing because I noticed the next time I drew something it would get a little bit closer... so I have this privileged opportunity of meeting goals. I set goals for myself and I accomplish them. There's a feeling to that I can't even explain to you. That's how it goes with the production stuff.

I'd be lying -- and by the way, I think all cartoonists who have publishers and who put stuff out into wide release, I think they'd all be lying if they said they didn't want people to see the stuff and provide a reaction. That's cool, too. Positive and negative. The negative doesn't cramp my style. It either helps me to work harder, if it's negative feedback from somebody I respect, or if I think they're a douchebag I'm going to ramp things up ten times more to just kind of fuck with them. That's fun. Going to conventions and stuff... I've made some really, really great friends. You know from going to conventions, too, you'll see two people talking who are obviously and clearly strong friends in a really deep conversation and they could look like they're members of different tribes. I've been making friends I know I would otherwise never make because they would think that I'm an asshole or maybe I think they're a douchebag, just from the first visual reaction that you feel inside. Whatever that initial instinct is. So that's been really awesome, making cool friends over the years. I'm a lifer, Tom, and it's no joke. And there's all aspects of it I find enjoyable.

SPURGEON: I heard different cartoonists talk this Fall that basically said they developed style after failing to match the standard provided by a stylistic role model. Their own style was not being able to draw like their hero. Do you have ideals, are there signposts, are there people you wish you could draw like? Are you jealous of anyone's specific skill? Or are you really comfortable with what you do at this point.

PISKOR: I look at people's work a lot and try to see what I can steal from it. For myself. I definitely have cartoonists who are my favorites. I consider myself a good student but sometimes I am a slow learner with certain things. To the point that it embarrasses me. One of the latest things, one of the eureka type moments I've had, is a few years ago I was revisiting a few comics that really inspired me to move forward as a cartoonist. I'm thinking of stuff as varying as Dark Knight Returns and Love & Rockets the magazine issues. These are comics I read very early on. At the time when I read them as a kid, I wanted to grow up to make comics like those guys. I wanted to make my Love & Rockets-type comic. I wanted to do something with the same spirit as The Dark Knight Returns. Revisiting that work after so many years -- I would read them on and off again, but I had this eureka moment this time where I was thinking, "I will never in a million years be able to do this kind of comic." I guess as I've become friends with and talked with other cartoonists, I could see how parts of their psychology crept into their work. I realized that you have to put a certain amount of yourself into the work, right? That's when I had this realization, I think. Not just, "Oh, man, I'm never going to be able to make comics like this."

I have to look within myself and figure out who I am and see what I can bring to the table that no other cartoonist have an interest in or whatever. That's how Wizzywig came about and that's how this hip-hop thing comes about. I don't think there's another cartoonist who can tell this story the way that I'm doing that. I believe that with some confidence. Don't get me wrong: there are other cartoonists who have hip hop flavor and are inspired, but the way that I'm doing this, I'm really trying -- as cliche as it sounds -- to make a comic I want to read. So I'm putting what I want in there. It's cool there are other people down with this and see where it's going. They're along for the ride it seems.

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SPURGEON: Let me wrap this up with a fan that's partly a question for you as a fan. Is there a character in your book that surprised you -- maybe one you liked that you didn't think you'd like, or someone whose scenes you grew to particularly enjoy doing. Is there anyone in there like that?

PISKOR: There's no one in particular, but there has been some interesting stuff that's come up through my own research an interests. I have tremendous respect for Kool Moe Dee. I've had it for years, but it developed over a lot of time. I remember for first grade, for music class, we had to dance -- we did some sort of dance thing to that song he did, "Wild, Wild West." You remember that?

SPURGEON: Sure.

PISKOR: I recognized that as a piece of garbage in the first grade, so I always thought he was cheesy. But then when you discover his root and where he came from and how he listened to record executives to create that kind of style, where kids could listen to his lyrics and learn them -- he slowed his style down a lot. Then you realize he just kind of sold out, but he had a very, very strong foundation. But there's not like one character where I'm like, "Oh, this guy's the man."

imageSPURGEON: I wondered, because the work is so egalitarian. You have such an even-handed approach to your entire cast: no one's a bad guy, no one's a hero. I think that's an interesting way to portray a scene like that.

PISKOR: Some people have criticized the way I do Russell Simmons. Early on, there are even flicks you can watch where he's got this funny eye, and he lisps a lot, and he was this flamboyant, wild character back in the day. They look at Russell Simmons as the way he portrays himself now: this meditative, Zen Buddhist yogi-type guy. A vegan. He absolutely did not start out that way. If I have my druthers with this story, you'll be able to see him develop over time as he becomes this sophisticated guy, a more worldly person and more considerate. But that's going to play out over time. That's not something you're going to fit into a first book. The Beastie Boys are the same way, man. They're pretty wild and crazy; their first album, they were going to call it, "Don't Be A Faggot." These are the same guys that spearheaded the Tibetan Freedom Concert, and became altruistic and philanthropic. These people start off very young, and we're all jerk-offs when we're young. Their stuff is just on record.

*****

* Ed Piskor
* Hip Hop Family Tree Vol. 1
* Hip Hop Family Tree Vol. 2
* Hip Hop Family Tree at Boing Boing

*****

* all images from Hip Hop Family Tree except the photo which is about two years old and was taken by me

*****

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*****
*****
 
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Missed It: Jeff Smith Original Art In Close-Up

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Maybe One Last Thing To Do In 2013 Would Be To Consider A Small Gift To The Sakai Family

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Efforts to raise money for the cartoonist Stan Sakai, caught by a shortcoming in financing necessary home healthcare services for his beloved wife Sharon, remain ongoing. The family announced an additional tragedy this week through a posting by Sakai on his Facebook account. You can go to a campaign page here.

It's really easy to give, and every tiny, modest amount can help in a situation like that one. I'm hoping to give another few dollars at some point today. I wish it could be more, and automatic.

Sakai is in the midst of a wholly admirable career, and to my knowledge has always conducted himself with class and significant kindness. In an arts community that can sometimes define need in terms of the desire to profit at maximum return from a vanity project or the preference to shoulder an everyday burden with the help of those that have less than the person asking for aid, I would hope there's room for an outpouring of direct support for one of comics' best at a time of real difficulty. He just strikes me as a good guy, is all, caught in an unfortunate situation; further, his career output is one of those that could hold a child's attention for hours at a time on the worst weekend of their life. Anyway, I hope you'll consider it.
 
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Go, Look: My First Mate

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Go, Read: Becky Cloonan On Self-Publishing Comics

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I quite liked this Becky Cloonan post on self-publishing comics, as it gets into details with which a lot of similar posts don't bother, like how digital sales might become a component of those sales and the basic "why" of doing it at all. I have to imagine there's something in there if you're thinking about doing this or have done it, as I enjoyed it without having anything close to a shareable, like experience or overlapping curiosity.
 
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Missed It: That Batman 1972 Image Series In One Place

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By Request Special: Year-End Giving And Timely Campaigns

imageBy Tom Spurgeon

There are a few comics-related organizations out there that could stand to benefit from any year-end giving you might be planning today. In fact, I'm sure all the organizations could benefit. Heck, your local comics shop could use a visit and your favorite comics pro wouldn't cry if you bought a page of original art from them. It's not the worst thing in the world on the last day of any calendar year to spend some of your hard-won money in a way you know will do some good.

A few organizations come to mind when I think about my own year-end giving, though. This year, they are:

* the CBLDF. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund counts on its end-of-year contribution campaign and membership campaign as key components in its overall funding activities that make possible the admirable work they do on behalf of free speech. They are a long-standing comics operation, and have always put their money to effective use. They're also really good at offering a bunch of stuff in return, if that's the way you want to go.

* the Cartoon Art Museum. I rarely think of the Cartoon Art Museum early on when I'm making a donations list, even though I've enjoyed their exhibits the last few times I was in the Bay Area. Andrew Farago sent me a note that said in part, "the Cartoon Art Museum's in the midst of its annual fund drive right now, and Jeannie Schulz is matching donations received during our Sparky Challenge" which makes it sound like your money would double its effectiveness if sent over by midnight.

* we are going to be reminded in the next several months what a fine cartoonist Tom Hart can be; his SAW is seeking some operating funds right now and will certainly put any money raised to use on behalf of the students it teaches.

* it's not a charitable organization, but PictureBox was an admirable company and they are ending their run as a frontlist publisher by selling a bunch of their books off at half off for just a little more time. Next year will be poorer for that company's absence.
 
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More People Should Love Mort Meskin's Johnny Quick Stories

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for an expression of a genre built on the physically impossible, there are very few comics that capture the exuberance that must come with having the power to do amazing things; Mort Meskin's Johnny Quick always seemed to have scenes that were just Johnny Quick doing some weird task super-fast, and I loved them very much when I was a kid and saw the occasional reprint
 
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PW: Marvel Has Killed Its Newsstand Periodical Comics Programs

According to this smart piece by the award-winning dean of comics-industry journalists, Calvin Reid, Marvel Comics recently ended its program of trying to sell periodical comics in chain bookstores and ended its convenience store market sale of same months and months ago to the howling wails of absolutely no one.

imageThis makes sense to me. Those are terrible items to sell in bookstores and convenience stores. They cost a lot for the perceived value, particularly for a casual reader. They're confusingly titled and numbered -- the joke of "When I was a kid there was a comic book named 'Thor' and you knew that it starred a guy named 'Thor'" has as its basis a very confusing public face for comic books. Hell, I'm all but baffled when I go to a comics shop, and my job is reading comics. There's no reason to think there's a natural audience for these items in convenience and grocery stores from people buying toothpaste and diet strawberry jelly, and the Marvel folks at least have never invested in classic impulse-buying space near the front of such stores nor, at least never for very long, in any format suited for those spaces. Bookstore readers might seem a natural audience for serial comic books but in a bookstore you have other problems: anyone inclined to notice a rack of awesome-looking funnybooks is probably aware of a nearby business that carries more books more effectively for the hardcore consumer, and they are probably physically near a ton of publications with a better perceived value including a fairly active trade paperbacks section right in that store. It's hard to compete with cheaper, better everything.

Also, digital is clearly at this point a better place for a less risky return in trying to capitalize on any sort of easy-availability impulse that might still exist for these books. If someone sees a movie starring that nice man Captain America and has never considered buying a comic book before and is struck by intense feelings that they must buy modern comics adventures of this patriotic fellow, it's more likely their first impulse will be to hit their computer rather than the 7-11. A similar desire for beer, you hit the convenience store.

I've never thought that superhero comics had a mass appeal that was necessarily best served by this kind of a widespread availability, or at least not in my lifetime, and I've long thought that a mindset that millions of copies of these comics could be sold has frequently helped keep companies from selling 10,000 more of a bunch of different series. I will not miss the occasional throwback calls for old-timey mass distribution, nor the years of beating up on the people that suggest this as if they were ever a sizable, serious group. The astonishing thing five years from now is that it will have only been five to seven years since Marvel's program was dismantled.
 
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Go, Look: Jesse Marsh Could Draw Some Tarzan

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Bundled, Tossed, Untied And Stacked: Publishing News

imageBy Tom Spurgeon

* Brandon Graham discusses his forthcoming Empowered one-shot with creator Adam Warren.

* in that bizarre run of comics-industry news that came December 17-24 was word that we could see up to two entire volumes of Umbrella Academy in the months ahead.

* a George Danby collection!

* the artist and educator Steve Bissette seems to be teasing some sort of publication of Tyrant material, which would be nice.

* finally, wow, read the description to this, miss Kim Thompson for being the kind of guy that routinely brought stuff this odd and cool to North American audiences, and hope that we'll see it in 2014.
 
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If I Were In Tokyo, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: Joe Quesada Mini-Gallery

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* my brother that reads comics with some devotion is four years older than me, so he got first choice as to "his" comics. This meant that I accrued some significant affection for comics that outpace my appraisal of how good they were. I enjoyed a lot of what Elfquest did. I liked that her characters were good, broad actors; I liked the very tiny world that it offered up just in terms of numbers of civilizations on hand; I enjoyed how much of its initial fantasy story had nothing to do with spiritual evil or war. I started to lose interest right around the issue depicted here, but that's a good pretty run considering it only came out a few times a year. The wait between issues seemed like forever.

* Michael Buntag on Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Vol. 5. Paul O'Brien on Longshot Saves The Marvel Universe. Richard Bruton on Pimo And Rex, Time To Shine, Boo and Megazine #343.

* Happy Jessmas.

* Kelly Thompson picks 25 Favorite Female Characters. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around favorite characters as its own distinct thing, so this was a fun list for me to read. Here's a similar piece focusing on new characters.

* not comics: this Copra t-shirt looks nice.

* not comics: R. Kikuo Johnson draws Stephen Hawking.

* finally, I'm not sure that Johanna Draper Carlson's reason why Mark Waid isn't working for DC is the real reason Mark Waid isn't working for DC, but it's an interesting post as a critic making a strong distinction between the DC and Marvel lines as currently constituted.
 
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Happy 46th Birthday, Joe Gordon!

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Happy 48th Birthday, Julie Doucet!

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Happy 51st Birthday, Fabian Nicieza!

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Happy 57th Birthday, Lela Dowling!

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Happy 57th Birthday, Steve Rude!

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December 30, 2013


CR Holiday Interview #12 -- Nate Powell

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*****

imageAs Comic Arts Brooklyn this year, two different people cornered me to talk about Nate Powell. Powell is the Little Rock-born musician/artist whose art on the John Lewis history of the Civil Rights movement through his personal story March Book One has driven more attention his way than at any point during his career. Both of the people at CAB who wanted to talk all things Powell wanted to make sure I was paying proper attention to what they thought was a potential major indy/alt career in the making. Powell is prolific, and because of his background in DIY music-making seems to take care of the small-b business end of comics-making in a way that may frustrate many similarly talented comics-makers; given the tight margins of being able to make comics of any kind, this is a supremely valuable skill set. I always enjoy running into the Bloomington, Indiana-based Powell at shows, and he was the first person I contacted this year about doing one of these year-ending talks. Our interview involved Powell moving around the house trying to find the best place for cell-phone reception, and I appreciate that extra effort. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

TOM SPURGEON: This is one of the books of this year. This is something that will be prominent in your career, no matter what direction it takes from here, for however long you continue to make comics.

NATE POWELL: Yep.

SPURGEON: Has it performed ahead of how you thought it might? Was there a moment when you kind of figured out that it might hit with people as hard as it has hit with some people?

POWELL: Oh, yes. For the most part, when I signed on to the project, I was aware of who John Lewis was. But it wasn't until I read his memoir and was moving through the script doing my own reference that I realized exactly what I was dealing with here in terms of the initial level the scope and scale of the project. Really that was just in terms of the book that would wind up being made. It wasn't until I'd been done drawing it... I live in the middle of Indiana, I spend 23 hours a day in my house doing stuff [laughter]... really, I was in a serious vacuum while drawing March. I finished maybe last February for Book One. It wasn't until June rolled around when we started doing some engagements and touring and stuff, doing some events for March about a month before it came out, that I realized that I had not really given any serious thought to the actual scope and scale of the finished product.

Ever since the book was released, there's been several months where maybe twice a week I would have a reality check that was surprising and encouraging?

SPURGEON: What kind of thing are you talking about? Are you talking about a personal encounter?

POWELL: On the immediate and personal levels, number one the enthusiastic presence and support from teachers and librarians that show up. Also from parents that brings their kids -- sometimes prepubescent kids -- to meet Congressman Lewis and to get the book. The gravity that a lot of folks -- the parents, professionals and baby boomers -- would lend to us in terms of the project. That's one thing. Another thing was the part in which March was going places my own comics work could never anticipate going. So whether it was Rachel Maddow having us on TV, or kicking it with Al Gore [Spurgeon laughs], a variety of these things would never have happened.

The major part here is being a person that doesn't really look very much at the marketing side of comics or exactly where book are being sold, I've worked with First Second before and Mark Siegel was always very serious about this trifecta of marketing comics where you're hitting bookstores, the Direct Market and libraries and schools' institutional sales. I'd heard that before, and it was very interesting, but it was something I never really worked through. With March, I saw it fully applied and taking off, so that the bulk of the sales in years to come, a decade down the line, are consistently going to be from this institutional sector, as the book shows more and more potential to integrated into schools and libraries. That's something I had never considered, even for a second.

SPURGEON: What was brought to you? I know Andrew Aydin and the Congressman are considered co-authors are the script, or at least that's my understanding, but I'm interested in what was brought to you.

POWELL: What was actually given to me was a completely finished script, done in a very standard Marvel/DC comics-script type way. It was divided up into pages and panels; everything was clearly delineated. When I cracked it open, though, originally this was a single-volume book somewhere between 150 and 200 pages. I've worked with writers in varying capacities and there are different levels of leeway that the artist is given creatively. For this I was sort of taking a bit of narrative liberty, and taking control of the layout of the pages. Once I started chopping up the script and re-pacing it, that's when I realized in a couple of days that we were dealing with a 500-page book instead of a 180-page book. So then kind of everything was thrown out of the window there. The script kind of remained intact; we did a little reworking. I'd say that on terms of a narrative level, I definitely stepped in and looked for elements that were between the lines of the script that needed to be explored or fleshed out more. A lot of that had to do with intense objective or emotional experiences that John Lewis' character was going through as a young person, or whether it was looking for the emotional weight that might be happening.

For example in book two, one of the things it covers is the Freedom Rides. There might be a five- or ten-second section where the Freedom Riders are entering the Montgomery Greyhound station. It's very quiet and dead there and they know this is a very bad sign, that there's no one there at all. They know they're about to get attacked or brutalized in some way. They don't know when, or where or what direction, or who these people might be. What the extent of the damage will be. They might have occupied a line in the script, a line that was intended to be one panel. I realized that really the dread, the anticipation, the fear, that's something that is more at the core of the storytelling than a lot of the acts of violence. So that one panel might be turned into three pages.

Since we are working this out as three books, by the end of working together on the first book the three of us had worked out a more even creative, collaborative style. Even going into Book Two, they did a lot of rewrites on it. But a lot of that had to do with bearing in mind what I was going to be focused on as a visual storyteller. Even though the script for the story was done before I started work, it continues to sort of evolve and grow as we become sort of one narrative entity for the course of the book.

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SPURGEON: I don't know that you hear from the Congressman in a way that you know what you're getting from the Congressman and what you're getting from Andrew, but I'm interested in the fact that 1) this is the Congressman's story, 2) he may not be as immersed in comics as you and Andrew seem to be. So I wondered after his priorities: what his notes were like, and what his concerns were.

POWELL: That's a very good question. One of the things that I really took for granted until I finished his memoir, Walking With The Wind is that John Lewis is primarily an oral storyteller, and a lot of these tales he's been telling for 45 or 50 years. So I read the script to the book and immediately after that I read the memoir before jumping in to really start work on breaking down the script. There's a little bit of a speed bump where I realized that so much of the script was verbatim from Walking With The Wind. Number one, it's coming from the same place in the same voice because it's the same writer, so I had to check myself on that. But then... I'd never had the experience of working visually with someone who is primarily an oral storyteller. There were a lot of script considerations where I would step in and do some minor edits, or all of us including Chris Staros and Leigh [Walton] would work on some things together. You want to keep a lot of his dialogue and voiceovers, a true to his voice as possible, but almost all of it is stuff that he's been speaking out loud primarily. So some of that simply doesn't translated. I'd never really had a scripting experience quite like it. I'd never thought about the applications of it. I'm not sure that covers exactly what you were asking.

SPURGEON: If if it didn't, I prefer your answer to my question. [Powell laughs] You talked about some of the research that you did. You live in southern Indiana, and there's a line that the South starts about 20 minutes south of Indianapolis. You're from Little Rock, which has a history in terms of the Civil Rights movement and the issues related to that struggle. You're maybe not from the deep south, although I'm not all the way sure about that, come to think of it: you might have spent several years there for all I know. Something about your book I think worth noting is its immediacy, and I think that's something you grapple with through the framing sequence. This is history about that person right over there, interacting with that person next to them. It's the Congressman's life. Dealing with that as history -- was there anything for you in revisiting this as history given you're someone who lives in the world these experiences helped create.

POWELL: That is a constant, daily presence of my mental life and process since most of my brain is March these days. I would say that... for one, until I was in my late 20s it took until then before I was able to really integrate my own thoughts and reflections and questions growing up as a moderate liberal turned radical left generation-X kid whose parents were MIssissippian, white, baby-boomers. Most of my life was spent with a working knowledge of all of this stuff. When I was in elementary school I lived in Montgomery.

SPURGEON: Now that I didn't know. Okay.

POWELL: My parents are from northern Mississippi. I would learn all of this stuff, but it was always peppered with the statement of "That was a different time." This never gave me a lot of answers or clarity. A lot of southern kids go through that same thing. There's a lot of push-back in your twenties against that statement, against baby-boomers and political moderates -- white political moderates that are boomers -- and finally, thank God, you're able to get past that and have a real conversation about the place and time your parents came from. You can appreciate that they arrived at a better place.

With March and with The Silence Of Our Friends, really the work on Silence Of Our Friends worked as a proving ground for the storytelling methods I would employ on March. A lot of that is because it allowed me to acknowledge that there's an historical component to remain as faithful to as possible, and to maintain a certain level of responsibility. It illuminated how much had changed in the 20 or 30 years between my lifetime and John Lewis' lifetime, or in Mark Long's lifetime as a kid in Texas in Silence Of Our Friends. Not only how much had changed, but the instances in which absolutely nothing had changed in 30 years.

It also allowed me to finally get over a degree of southern guilt I guess in terms of being able to acknowledge the wonderful things about the American South. I've lived in Indiana for ten years now. I love the town where I live but I've never felt like Indiana is my home. I don't ever think it will be. It's made me more appreciate of the culture the South has fostered in its wake. I feel like there have been a number of profound eternal changes as a result of building this relationship with John Lewis while working on this book. A lot of that I guess alongside a lot of people in my generation and my parents' generation doing a massive wave of processing of what this means 30, 40, 50 years later.

SPURGEON: I wanted to ask a few formal questions about the book. Your page layouts are fairly fascinating to me because you don't settle into any specific framework, which is a pretty standard way of dealing with material that is intended for a wider, not-necessarily-comics-reading audience. In actuality, though, your solutions on the page are all over the place. Does that indicate perhaps you were going moment to moment, story to story in terms of figuring out how you wanted the structure of the story to work on their page. Or are there general principles there I'm just not seeing, connections I'm not making. It seems like such a wide variance in how you approach structure.

POWELL: I would say that a lot of this... especially because the script was given to me in a highly structured way, that one of my necessities in working on it is to find the cracks in the structure where my weirdo self-published comics storytelling style can creep its way into it. Really stylistically for me, a lot of the moment to moment, aspect to aspect transitions that occur, and a lot of the weird flow changes are still being heavily influenced by '70s and '80s superhero comics and '80s to '90s Japanese comics that I was into when I was a teenager. I feel like... I do try to take each scene on its own. Once I threw out the page count that was given to me on the book, I realized that the door was wide open. I try to keep each scene self-contained unless there's a device or a cross-cut that means it has to end at a certain point. Once I get in there, it's liberating knowing that adding a whole extra page, or two pages, for whatever purpose, is totally okay.

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SPURGEON: There's a significant use of blacks -- something you don't see a ton of in comics for a more general audience I think because of the effect on eye flow. It encourages an abandonment of the story by novices in favor of becoming absorbed in a specific image. There had to be moments where you wanted to nail the power of a certain visual, or the effectiveness and importance of a specific moment. Was it hard to find that specific balance between flow and hitting these specific points you wanted to hit? Was pushing certain moments into black a solution for that, a way to slow the eye down without capsizing the progression of the story?

There's a page with a phone ringing that'd done with a dark background that seems particularly power for that visual choice. A lot of pages like that, really. There's a jail scene that ends with an open cell done in a kind of silhouette.

POWELL: Right. I think that a lot of that comes from Chester Brown. When I read I Never Liked You around 1997 or so, that changed the way I saw the page forever. It wasn't even until a couple of years later that I discovered he drew panels individually and then taped them onto a master page, and that controlled the jogging of his panels. There are some "splash pages" in I Never Liked You that are surrounded by black in early printings of the book. All black. The use of really heavy blacks has become more pronounced in my books really with Silence Of Our Friends and March because I'm also incorporating grays... so instead of having -- Swallow Me Whole is an extremely literally dark book. The art work is so stark because there's no tone in the book. I feel that we as comics readers read that a certain way. It takes on a certain quality once the grays are brought in and the highlights are brought out, where they never existed in the first place.

It does slow down the reader. It's true. There are a lot of moments in the book like that. The original script was brought to me with six panels per page throughout the entire trilogy. Once I was looking for the correct punctuation, if it was left to me I'm more apt to include a sparse splash page as punctuation as opposed to ending on a larger but traditional panel at the end of one page or in the first panel of the next page. I appreciate the breathing room very much. When I read comics... it's a little different now that I have a kid. I like to sit down and read the entire book in one sitting. It helps a lot to have breathing space in the form of hyper-minimal splash pages. I don't have the luxury to read comics in one sitting anymore, but it actually makes me more thankful to have these moments of punctuation.

imageSPURGEON: Another thing that's striking about this work is the cumulative effect of the lettering. You use everything from hidden word balloons to changing size to illegibility. I wonder how instinctive that's become for you. A couple of things you do: one is the way you portray secondary dialogue almost as ambient noise, dialogue that takes place when other dialogue is foregrounded. That's a really interesting effect: you see that up top in the framing sequence in the Congressman's office but maybe more dramatically in some of the counter scenes about 100 pages in. You see the insults, for instance, via a kind of lettering that's smaller, and not as distinct. I wonder if you could talk about that as a strategy.

POWELL: In March, almost all of those secondary lettering additions are my interjections. Where this really started is when I was a kid reading X-Men and I'd maybe just started drawing comics. There'd always be these moments where Jean Grey or Psylocke or whoever is a telepath where they have this cliched moment where the thoughts of the people around them threaten to overtake them. "I can't handled it anymore!" [laughter] I remember in the [writer Chris] Claremont X-men run that I was really into those sequences but that the lettering, the random thoughts, were perfectly legible. They were overlapping, a lot of the time. But everything was at the same visual volume. The lettering was the same size and was readable as everything else.

When I was working on Swallow Me Whole, that was the first time I experimented with this. So much of that book has to do with sensory information and patterns. In the comic book visual language we are very much used to and take for granted information being out of focus. Things drawn further away are drawn more sketchily, or hastily. We have no problems with this. There are very few ways to explore this as written information. Near the beginning of Swallow Me Whole there's a scene right when the two kids get to school, in the cafeteria -- that's when I first stepped into the foray of trying find a visual representation of this kind of auditory information. The crowded cafeteria and hallways are full of chatter. Not only can you not hear most of it clearly, in real life, but most of it doesn't matter at all in real life. A lot of it was understanding that scribbling instead of writing words was perfectly fine. Making it half-audible is fine.

All my books since then I've gotten complaints I'll occasionally see on Amazon comment that are like, "Well, I think they printed the book too small because it gave me a headache trying to read all the tiny, tiny word balloon. They didn't even make sense. One star!" [laughter] I enjoy catching those reviews. Especially with March and Silence Of Our Friends when you're talking about massive public retaliation and riots and anger, I think the auditory confusion makes it... when you just have the necessary dialogue inserted in there, it's like who cares. You become aware you're reading a scene of a mass protest somewhere, or a riot, if you just have one or two word balloons somewhere from the pertinent characters saying what they need to say. To me it seems like a no-brainer that if you have 150 people in a scene, 60-70 of those people are going to be yelling some bullshit and that this should be considered.

SPURGEON: I thought it actually made the cafeteria scene more frightening, in that you couldn't quite understand what these folks were saying.

Let me ask you question just as a representative of Team March. It's a broad question, so my apologies. Do you guys conceive of the book in terms of contributing something to our knowledge of that story. Not just the notion that more people -- or different people -- might read this, but in terms of the content itself, are there specific stories, a point of view, an outlook that the collective you behind this book thinks is a unique contribution to our understanding of this history? How do you look on it as an historical text? Does comics play into that at all? Is the fact that this is comics make it unique in terms of the content and impact of what you're getting across?

POWELL: There are a couple of things. One of them is relevant to this as a story. Strangely, I'd have to evoke the framing device, in that the trilogy is framed with President Obama's first inauguration day in 2009. On a narrative level, one of the things that surprised me is that it's a true story -- so certainly everything you've said applies here -- and it's the author's life. But in a literary/structural way it comments on a fairly recent part of our lives. The framing device of Obama's first inaugural day, there was a part of me that headed into that with a little bit of hesitation. Some of that is still anxiety that hasn't been worked through yet, which is sort of that the right wing controls political discussion of the Obama administration in a way that makes it so that the Left isn't even allowed... they don't even accept that many elements of the Left are disappointed with President Obama and this administration. I'm one of these people. It took me a while to remember and embrace the fact that I cried on election night in 2008 when he won; I cried watching his inauguration on TV that day. There was something that slipped away back into the mediocrity of politics as usual soon thereafter. The narrative requires you respect that there was this window, this thing in the air for a couple of months, in our society. The framing sequence and structure of the 2009 scenes demands you respect that you were a part of that, too. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, this whole symbolism of Congressman Lewis's struggle and where we wound up on January 20, 2009. It's so easy to discard that in 2013. It sort of makes you shut up and listen and respect where you were late in 2008 or early in 2009.

imageIn terms of the book in general... like I said before I was too close to the drawing board and working too furiously to really appreciate a lot of the implications. One of the things that really struck me was being a southerner born in the '70s, there is so much about the historical movement that I took for granted in terms of names, faces and places. When I was doing my own micro-editing breaking down this story from the script, I had to check myself a lot of the time. Even massive figures like Dr. King or Rosa Parks, Emmett Till, at first I thought there was too much entry-level information on these people. I soon realized there's too little. Even when the book was done.

I'm 35 now. The thing that has struck me the hardest not just in the reality of these activists but in the way it's brought forward in this book is the fact that John Lewis was half my age when he jumped into this. It made me think of what I was doing when I was 20. He was getting his skull split open. He was speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when he was 23. I think that that's one of the most shocking things now that book one is done, and I think that's something that may resonate with a lot of readers and people as time goes on. I think that's one of the most essential parts of the narrative: how damn young so many of these people were at the time. Asking the question of I guess the privilege of whether or not to involved yourself with social change or to work hard at anything. For some people it's not a matter of deciding to do these things. That's at the core of the privilege of "Oh, what should I do with my life?" A lot of times that's not a question that needs to be answered.

SPURGEON: We had a conversation back in the Spring about the non-traditional, non-mainstream expressions of comics. "There used to be I think more of a secondary industry that served those kinds of comics. People either caught on or they didn't, and if they didn't for most of those people they would tend to not do comics after a while. Now I think you and I would both agree that we're seeing more people charting careers despite the fact that there might not be an industry of any kind to support them, and that many of them are counting on DIY tools to support them in sustaining their artistic output. I know you come from a music background and a scene that's struggled with a lot of these issues in a different way. I wonder if you could speak from that perspective as comics' ability to sustain the number of voice we see getting into the medium. What might you suggest to people who want to maximize their chances and their return due to actions they might take on their own behalf?

POWELL: I think the most important thing related to that is that I feel in general my peers in the comics world have embraced that all of comics from Marvel and DC down to Sparkplug... that's one industry. That's not completely true, but when you find yourself in your little pocket at San Diego Comic-Con, and it's about a fifth of the whole showroom floor, and you realize that DC and Marvel are about 100 feet from Fantagraphics and Top Shelf. Getting over a lot of the context that brought you to the point where you're a very serious, independent creator -- for a lot of of people in the 30s and their 40 a lot of that has to do with reckoning with or parting ways with mainstream comics, or with corporate comics -- whatever. A lot of those stories are very different. But I've found... and Chris Staros has been adamant, that the success of a Jeff Lemire or Matt Kindt and everybody that's been able to make a living from more than on one end of the spectrum, that success anywhere in the comics spectrum is all good for all points along the spectrum.

imageIn terms of my reality, the only way I'm able to make a living doing comics is by doing work for hire that someone else wrote. I've always been able to work with material I like. I love all of my collaborators. If I'm lucky, I'm able to do something with some awesome DC Comics money attached to it. That grants me enough time to spend two and a half years writing and drawing my own book that maybe sells 5000 copies. Or 10,000 copies.

I feel like once you really dive in there, I don't necessarily say you have to see it from a career standpoint, but in terms of passion and focus, you're already in with both feet -- there's no getting out of it. If I'm not able to make a living drawing comics, I have so much work lined up over the next three years that I literally cannot get a job. [laughter] So many of these books have deadlines. There is no escape. Not that there needs to be an escape. [laughter] There's a certain level of conviction here that has to be addressed. It is a very good period right now for indy publishers that are underwritten by big corporate booksellers that do well in the bookstore and library markets. Major comics companies and very successful indies... all of these things bring up the independent cartoonists that are in it for the long haul. A lot of this has to do with recognizing that you are truly on a speeding train, and that you're mostly just going to be treading water. You can get over it -- constant work, a breakneck pace and planning ahead a year, two years ahead of time. I think that's the new shape of things for cartoonists of my ilk or my way of thinking.

imageSPURGEON: Speaking of speeding trains, you have to be knee deep into March Book Two. I don't usually do this, but I think a snapshot of everything you have on your plate might be fairly fascinating. What's next, Nate?

POWELL: Right now I'm almost done penciling March Book Two. I'm a couple of months behind starting to ink it. Also, like two years ago I signed on to draw a graphic novel adaptation of a Percy Jackson And The Olympians spin-off called The Heroes Of Olympus: The Lost Hero. Hyperion is putting that out and Rob Venditti wrote the adaptation. It's really because of that book project that I'm not homeless. I"m almost done with that. I'll be done with that in two months and then I can focus on the rest of the March trilogy. I'm also finishing up a short-story collection for Top Shelf called You Don't Say. That's everything I've done from from 2004 to now. Hopefully that will be out in 2014. Hopefully in the next two weeks I will be finished and that will be off to them to integrate into their schedules. For years now I've had a solo graphic novel called Cover that I've had written and that I've the first half penciled -- three times now. I've had to put it on the back burner until March is almost done as a trilogy. With being a dad, and all of these other books, a little fire in me has gone out in terms of existence knowing that I'm not writing and drawing my own comics right now. But the longer I've waited the better the story has gotten. I feel like it's become something much more worthwhile reading -- and drawing -- when the time comes around. It's an exercise in patience. So I have four books lined up over the next couple of years.

SPURGEON: We'll talk again, then.

POWELL: Of course!

*****

* Nate Powell
* March Book One

*****

* cover to March's first volume
* photo of Powell by me
* a borderless panel from March that I liked, emphasizing the oral storytelling involved
* a page dominated by the use of black ink
* one of the 18 billion lettering effects employed by Powell
* they were very, very young
* a cover collaboration for DC
* from "Bets Are Off," one of the Powell efforts out there to be collected
* a two-panel progression I liked (below)

*****

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*****
*****
 
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Go, Look: All Of Kate Beaton's Holiday Comics In One Place

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Go, Read: Something Everyone In Comics Already Knew

The portentous nature of an article a) declaring something as obvious as the attention to physical, art-directed craft on certain books as its own thing in late 2013; b) slapping a year on when this became The Year It Happened, well that really is sort of hilarious, but it's always a point worth making, and the angle here is a pretty good one. While some books have been embracing their physicality as objects, the author notes that many e-book strategies have involved stripping things down to their bare minimum. You've seen something similar in comics with serial comics versus trades versus deluxe editions, and the e-book part of the equation adds to that overall landscape. The implications are obvious in terms of which forms might serve which kinds of consumption.

Put another way: I am in no way a natural consumer of electronic books and magazines and even I have started to prefer getting things like books-about comics, superhero comics and periodical-style industry news concerning comics in electronic form. It's the superhero part of that that may be most surprising but certainly shouldn't be in terms of how such books operate. So much of what superhero comics do these days are less about the experience of reading them and more about their insight into the incremental changes to the overall storyline -- finding the most convenient way to do that seems like it's going to be a thing. After all, some folks eschew the works entirely and "keep track" in reflected form on-line, so an approximation of the actual form is going to have some appeal if cheap enough and easy to access. I have friends that were totally out of buying superhero comics now back in via binge-buying through sales at comiXology and Marvel's "unlimited" approach of getting dozens to hundreds for a flat price. As far as I know, none of them are looking for an enhanced experience.
 
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Go, Look: Wally Wood Wizard King Original Art Flats

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Comics By Request: People, Projects In Need Of Funding

imageBy Tom Spurgeon

* this is one of the odder donation request pages I've ever seen as it's so specific with the options for donation but relatively vague as to exactly what ails the writer Sarah Byam. I have no doubt the need is real, though, and I remember her being very nice. There is a non-subscription option at the bottom of the page.

* I'm going to repeat a bunch of these in the hopes that it will wear down or two people that are tired of seeing whichever cause listed here. My apologies for those that come to CR for new reading.

* first up: please consider including the CBLDF in your year-end giving. They are good people, and freedom of speech is a fine cause.

* the Sparkplug Comic Books recent posting about pre-orders and support included an on-line, art-auction component: here are those art auctions. I don't know exactly what that Dan Clowes is, but color me interested.

* the cartoonist and writer Ted Rall would like your support through a service called Beacon.

* efforts to help Stan Sakai as he attempts to make up a home healthcare insurance gap remain ongoing. Please note the CAPS paypal button is working again. Sakai is one of the best people in comics and I hope you'll considering lending him a hand or seeing your way to one of the things being offered on his behalf from well-meaning peers. It would also be nice if someone at CAPS would cash checks that were sent to the PO Box before the year is out, if any of them are reading this.

* speaking of Mr. Sakai, all thought and prayers to him, and to his family, for this loss.

* the Sequential Artists Workshop is seeking a few thousand dollars in support of its 2014 programs. Tom Hart and his fellow SAW folks are good people and that money will be well-spent.

* finally, don't forget that Dan Nadel continues his 50 percent off sale at PictureBox as that company winds down the front-list part of its admirable life. Get the Frank Santoro stuff.
 
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If I Were In Tokyo, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: Space Hunting

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* who is Tomoyuki Takenaka?

image* I think I'm increasingly alone in this, but I still like reading the mainstream comic books Steve Gerber did in the 1970s, and chief among them is the first dozen or so issues of Howard The Duck. It's hard to imagine the confluences of forces that made Howard briefly popular coming together in the same way ever again, although you can still see echoes of it when something catches the public's attention in a way you know can't last. At this late date I think I appreciate most how the alienation of the comic series on the stands reinforced the alienation felt by Howard in the comics, but even that modest observation may be too much weight on Howard's very narrow shoulders. They were clever, amusing comics. As for the character, I suppose he'll show up in one of these Marvel event series with a gun at some point, if he hasn't already.

* today is apparently Stephen Wacker's last official day on the editorial side at Marvel; as mentioned in a stand-alone post a few days back, he'll be moving into Marvel's operations on the West Coast and away from comics-publishing proper. Wacker is very well-liked in that world and well-liked in comics generally; I have to imagine that's a huge blow for Marvel on that side of things if you want to measure things that way -- he was on the perpetual short list for future opportunities up the ladder, although there's no reason that has to have changed. I would say, though, in terms of the0 loss of it that Marvel seems to have a reasonable amount of institutional strength these days; I didn't get the sense that people were only there to work with Wacker or any construction like that. Wacker has always been very nice to me as much as our paths crossed and always struck me as aware of good comics generally. I wish him the best of luck in his new gig and in as much of a new life that comes with an opportunity like that one.

* not comics: a run-down of the final issues of Hermanaut.

image* Rob Clough on Hip-Hop Family Tree. John Kane on a bunch of different stuff. Matt Derman on various comics from 1987. Sean Gaffney on Dorohedoro Vol. 11. Grant Goggans on Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse: Race To Death Valley. J. Caleb Mozzocco on All New X-Men Vol. 1.

* Bob Temuka writes about comics as presents.

* not all comics: Abhay Khosla on a year of media consumption is exactly as fun as you'd imagine. I thought interesting the section on the critical reaction to Arrested Development being shaped by their decision to make it available all at once to replicate the experience of people gorging on entire seasons of television shows. I'm not sure I agree with it, but it's not an angle I'd considered before.

* not comics: Sean Kleefeld writes about his year. Good year.

* finally, I have one more little stack of ten sheets of Wildwood Xeroxes that I enveloped up for someone that did not mail back with their address. Update: It's been claimed! Thanks.
 
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Happy 32nd Birthday, TJ Kirsch!

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December 29, 2013


CR Holiday Interview #11 -- Colleen Doran

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*****

Like many in her generation of comics-makers, the artist and cartoonist Colleen Doran is probably best known for a single, signature work: A Distant Soil, which in 2013 celebrated its return 30 years after its major indy-comic debut with a continuation of the long-running series and new collections program made possible by a lengthy and expensive restoration process. Its re-entry into the marketplace was one of a number of high-profile projects for Doran over the last few years. This included art duties on the 2011 Barry Lyga-written work Mangaman, the much-praised 2012 DC/Vertigo project Gone To Amerikay (written by Derek McCulloch), an assignment working on on-line Vampire Diaries comics as a writer, and the announcement of art duties on a project at Dark Horse with the writer Neil Gaiman. I enjoy Doran's perspective on creators rights issued pitched more broadly and humanely than issues of editorial control over corporate comic book characters, into sometimes-uncomfortable topics regarding how cartoonists take care of business and, hopefully, themselves. I've long wanted to have a conversation with her and an on-line encounter on an unrelated matter afforded that opportunity. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****
imageTOM SPURGEON: How does your work break down these days, Colleen? I have only a cursory grasp of what you're up to and where comics fits in.

COLLEEN DORAN: Well... [laughs] I'm doing some writing, of course. I doing the The Vampire Diaries for DC Comics. But that doesn't take up the whole month. I'm only doing about one issue a month so far. I'm doing book covers -- I will actually be finished with some romance novel book covers in about two hours. And then I'll go back and work on this Neil Gamain graphic novel that I've been putting off forever. I'll be working on that full-time. When I say I'm working on something full time, I mean something probably four days a week. And I'll probably work on something else one or two days a week. Then I'll switch them off. A comic book script doesn't take a whole month to do. You percolate, you let it sit, and then you come back to it a few days later. The book covers are something that I've had sitting on the pot for a while. It's four of them. So I'll work on those for a couple of days, set them aside, and go work on something else. I pick things up and put them down. I like have it to sit there to look at for a while. So I can come back to it, see what's wrong with it, and fix it. I try to be as objective as possible. If it doesn't look right, I do it over again. Which is what I'm doing today. I wrote the client last night and said, "What you requested in this piece does not work." Since it's a digital painting, I sent them what they asked for. And I said, "This doesn't work." I sent them a completely different background and said, "This works." They said, "You're right. Do version two." So I'm finishing up version two sometime in the next two hours.

SPURGEON: I know when I talk to friends of mine that work in a variety of creative fields, and I think this maybe especially true for the artists I know, it does take a while to find that work schedule that best suits them. There's also the fact that your schedule is frequently dictated to you. You don't get to choose what you're work on and when. Do you you feel like you're in a good place with how you work? Does it reflect how you'd ideally like to work? Is it close?

DORAN: I'm in a good place now. But I know that next year is going to be really rough. A lot of stuff got put off this year. Pushed back. Next year is not going to be funny. I'm going to work as much as I can over Christmas and through January to build a little inventory [laughs] -- yeah, like that can happen. And then starting around February shit is going to hit the fan and I'm not going to have a very nice year. But I have to say, when it comes to the freelancer life, I get great support from my family. They practically shove food under the door. [laughs] When I'm in work mode, they know "take care of her." When I'm not in super work mode, I"m out at the house, I'm cleaning the kitchen, I'm gardening, I'm baking. I've been baking all week because my schedule is not that tight at the moment. When I'm in work mode, people just take care of me. They clean my room, for God's sake. They make my bed. [laughter] They make food for me. Then when I have time, I try to take care of them the best I can. It just depend.

imageSPURGEON: Is the baking therapeutic? I know a lot of my friends have turned to baking over the years, and they like that there are hands-on and hands-off elements to it. They get a lot of pleasure out of that act.

DORAN: I am disturbingly maternal. [laughs] I love to take care of people. My family is really touchy-feelie, and lovey-dovey. Nobody goes upstairs... "Can I have a kiss? Can I have a hug?" [laughs] You go upstairs to get a soda and come back, "Is there anything I can get you? Can I have a kiss?" [laughs] People would probably be horrified. [laughter] It's really cutesy-poo. [laughs] That's the way it is around here. I love to bake. I bake things for my clients, and I bake things for my friends. I pack 'em up and ship 'em. I love doing it.

SPURGEON: You mention that 2014 is going to be jammed up in a work way. It seems like, and I don't know if this is a fair statement, but it seems like the last few years you've been incredibly prolific. It seems like there's been a lot of work from you.

DORAN: There is now... I went through a really bad period where I wasn't able to work and I wasn't getting very much work. That was just not funny. I'm sitting there going, "Woe is me... my career is over, blah, blah." When I got up and I got back on my feet and said, "Okay, I'm available." Then I was really happy the doors were open. I was very relieved. That's been quite nice. Now I've got all the work I can possibly handle. I'm happy about it. I do not like not to be busy. It makes me very upset.

SPURGEON: Do you have any perspective on why the work dried up? Was it just that you weren't presenting yourself as being available to work?

DORAN: I wasn't... I wasn't well. I was very sickly there for several years. And I was quitting jobs. "I can't finish this. I'm not functioning. You need to find somebody else." [laughs] You don't want to walk around being the perpetual industry invalid, telling everybody your every problem. You just want to deal with it and get it over with. When you're able to work, you come back and go, "I'm available." This is a real out of sight, out of mind business, and if you're ever out of the loop for a while, people forget about you, or they assume that you're not interested. So I wasn't entirely certain when I said, "Okay, I'm looking for jobs" that they would say, "Yeah, we'll hire you." You never know. They could be moving on to other people. But there's plenty of work out there right now.

SPURGEON: Do you think your skill set is well-suited to the way publishing has shifted. Do you feel there's a bigger place for you now than maybe 15-20 years ago?

DORAN: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. The kind of work I do -- well, maybe I just sucked -- but the kind of work I do wasn't well-received 15 or 20 years ago. It still stings a little bit. [laughs] And for all I know they still feel the same way, but they hire me so I don't give a rat's ass.

SPURGEON: Do you think it's like an aesthetic catching-up? A reconsideration of certain artistic values that includes the kind of art that you do?

DORAN: I would like to think so. I would certainly like to think so. I don't like to think that my work was always that bad. [laughs] I look back on some of my earlier work and think, "Well, some of it really sucks, but some of it was really solid." I was in an odd position. Well, I wasn't in an odd position, that's not a good thing to say... When you start out in this business, they pretty much decided whether you're going to be a star or a journeyman. And if you get put on the journeyman track, ow. You're going to be the poor son of a bitch who gets a two-week deadline for the full issue. The fill-in artist. You're going to be one of those... you're going to spend a lot of your time getting the jobs that need to be done in a short period of time, and you get the crap anchor. You can either decide to suck it up and take those jobs in the hopes that something better will come along and realize that's how people are going to see you: you're the crap artist that got the job while they were waiting for the good person.

imageI started out getting star treatment right out of the gate. Then I got put on the journeyman track pretty quick. That wasn't pretty. I spent probably 10 years on the journeyman track. I was getting the worst jobs, the worst anchors. It's self-perpetuating because people go, "Oh, they weren't a good artist anyway." It's very hard to get out of that, to say, "I will not work with that anchor. I will not work on that deadline schedule. I would rather not work than work under those circumstances." I'd say it wasn't until... I'd say Warren Ellis probably changed the perception of my work when he started working with me around the year 2000. I would get time to do a good job, and better, more visible assignments. People started hiring me for other things. But until then it was really touch and go. I'd do a really good job on one thing, and people would go, "Yay! Let's hire her for another one." And then I'd get 14 days to do 26 pages. And then I'd get... various inkers.

SPURGEON: [laughs] Right. [laughter]

DORAN: It's not a nice place to be.

SPURGEON: I've always wondered something about you in terms of your artistic development.

DORAN: You have? [laughter] I haven't thought about it at all.

SPURGEON: You were capable of professional-level work really, really early on. You were very young. And I wonder if that's ever something that retards artistic development. I wonder if it reduces the desire to improve at a time in your life when that might come in significant stages. And it sounds like when you were working you had the further thing that maybe you were put in a position to improve. But when you've shown you can do it early on, does that make it more difficult to become the artist you see yourself becoming?

DORAN: It can give... there are two ways you can go. You can get unwarranted validation too soon. Which tells you that, "Hey, you're already there." But I don't think I did. I don't think there was ever a time in my career that people weren't saying, "Her work is girly, and she gets work because she's little and cute." I don't think I was ever there. If anything, getting hired early meant that before I was ready to face... adult pressure... I had to deal with the adult pressures of contracts and money and inappropriate attention from adults. Pressure from fans. All of these things. Starting when I was teen, when I don't think I was ready for any of that. I don't think anybody is. It's a very unnatural environment. I think if that were to happen now, with the Internet? I think I probably would have cracked. Fortunately, I didn't have to read the mail when it came in. Now it's probably... it's horrible what people say on-line. What gets bandied about. At least I could turn that off.

imageSPURGEON: Do you look back on a specific moment from back then that was particularly tough, where you came close to walking away?

DORAN: Oh, of course. I almost quit... about 1986. I remember sitting down and having a conversation with my family. I said, "I think this business is horrible. I don't want to do this." And in 1999... I went looking for a day job. I said, "This is vile. I don't want to do this anymore." I actually got a dayjob. I applied for a job at UPS. I said, "I'm tired of not having health insurance, I'm tired of not having benefits. I'm tired of all this stuff. I'm tired of this uncertainty. I can't take it anymore. I need stability." In 1999 I applied for a job and two days before I got the phone call saying, "You got the job" I got a job at Marvel. I told my agent I didn't want to work in comics anymore. He said, "Look. Let's give it one more shot." My agent was a gentleman named Spencer Beck. He took me on the rounds with my portfolio, and Marvel started hiring me again. I hadn't worked at Marvel in a while. I was ready to chuck it. He said, "I think people just don't know you're available." Because I don't go to New York that much... which is not the brightest thing in the world. I'm just not like that. So he said, "You need to be more visible. You need to get up here more often." We went in, and I got hired for several good jobs. One of them I almost got the regular gig but they decided to hire somebody more popular, so they gave me Power Pack instead. I didn't do a very good job on it, but then Warren started working with me and I started doing stuff I really liked. We did that webcomic together [Superidol], god I can't believe it's almost 14 years ago now. And Orbiter...

SPURGEON: My memory is that Oribiter got an additional boost when Diamond made its initial push into the book market and needed material to rep at BEA. So in a way I think that was the right book at the right time.

DORAN: It was a strange book at a strange time. I was literally finishing the last page when the space shuttle was destroyed on re-entry.

SPURGEON: Oh, my goodness. That's right.

DORAN: Oh. Oh, yeah. [laughs] It was horrible. We thought they were going to shelve it. It's a terrible thing to even think about a book in light of a tragedy but we were... we were very concerned. I was at a convention that weekend with an enormous poster of the shuttle burning up on re-entry. [Spurgeon groans] It was like, "Oh my God." That was uncomfortable.

image

SPURGEON: With your schedule working out the way it is right now, is A Distant Soil the one that gets put aside? Is that one more flexible because it's all you?

DORAN: Oh, yeah. And it's so expensive to do, especially now that we're having to pay for all of that restoration. Even though technically I raised all of the money to pay for the restoration, I've also had to have money to live on while working on new material. I have to have more money, which kind of sucks. I do it when there's cash in the bank. And I'll probably be working on it January and February and getting as much done as I possibly can and then push it aside for a while, and then work on it again and then push it aside for a while. My restoration guy needs to be paid, and now he's getting other work. People have seen what a good job he's doing and they're trying to hire him away from me, damn it. [laughs] I'm really happy for him; he's always wanted to work in comics.

SPURGEON: You posted about the restoration process, how involved it is... I remember someone telling me they were glad you talked about it in public because it wasn't usually talked about how difficult those things can be and as a result there's an assumption that bringing something back is super-easy. Did you hear back from people who were grateful for how transparent you were about the costs of doing this?

DORAN: Yeah. Absolutely. I wasn't expecting to get such positive response. I thought people would say, "Oh, what a whiner. Always complaining." [laughter] I hadn't heard that this was a) a problem, b) a really common problem, and c) really difficult. What a lot of people don't know and I did not know until last summer is that this printer nailed almost everybody. It's not just my book, it's not just a few books at Image, it's almost all of the publishers who worked with this printer have lost negatives. I had... I won't which say publisher -- but it's a big one! -- and they were telling me they had to get the negatives for the Spanish edition of one of their big, painted books because the American edition no longer exists and they have had to pay all of that money to go in and re-letter the thing and re-do the sound effects.

SPURGEON: That is... that is slightly terrifying.

DORAN: It is the comics industry art archives holocaust, I'm just the first pig to squeal. [laughs] A lot of people don't want to talk about in part because they are not going to the time and the expense that I'm going to -- because they can't afford it. There are a lot of fully-painted books out there that are no longer being reprinted from the original negatives; they're being reprinted from scans of the book. The original edition doesn't exist anymore, and there's nowhere to get them: they just don't exist. So all of these beautifully painted books, you're seeing muddy new editions? That's because the books are gone. You're never going to see them again.

A lot of black and white books out there are being scanned directly and not being restored. They're just scanned and no one is trying to fix the tone sheets or doing whatever. Most people don't want to talk about that, and I understand that. The fact of the matter is the kind of restoration we're doing on this book is prohibitively expensive unless you're some crazy little woman living on a mountain like me who's willing to put your life savings into redoing the book on the off chance it eventually earns its money back. That's what I'm looking at. Most comic books are not going to earn that money back. They're just not.

SPURGEON: When I encountered the whole idea of what you had to do, it's another reminder that as much as we think of comics' disposability and institutional cheapness as things of the past, that there is lack of infrastructure, a basic lack of continuity and thus a lot of reinventing the wheel that still goes on in comics. I think this still happens in part because of those kinds of choices -- bad choices... or bad actors -- along the way. Is there anything we can learn from this? Are things getting better in terms of people realizing there's a benefit to thinking 20 years down the line and not taking short cuts and ensuring that other people don't? Or is that always going to be part of DNA.

DORAN: Well, there's several things going on here. First, our printer was paid to archive these items for us.

SPURGEON: Oh... oh, no. Okay.

DORAN: They have an archival system. They were supposed to be keeping those things. Printers in a foreign country. These negatives are not little photo negative, they're four feet by four feet flats. That's another thing that people don't understand when we say, "They lost our negatives." They think they're losing little strips of film. They're not losing little strips of film, they're losing their enormous flats. They cannot be going back and forth across international lines every time you need to print something. And you sure as hell don't want customs running their grubby hands over your material. [Spurgeon laughs] So they've got to be archived in a place where they're supposed to be safe. We paid these people to do this. They declare bankruptcy, get rid of our material, and we're all standing there with our ass hanging in the wind. [laughs] So we're like, "What are we going to do?" People are like, "Why don't you sue them?" The company that no longer exists? What are we going to sue them for, and even if we do we're still not going to have our negatives. Why don't I take the money that would have gone into a lawsuit, suck it up and work the problem. That's what we chose to do.

Oddly enough, we did get some negatives back. All of my books were shot from clean negatives for each new edition of the book... we did the comic, but we find mistakes in the comics so we'd shoot new negatives. What we'd end up getting is maybe a half-dozen issues of comic-book negatives back. But we also found out [laughs] that they never shot negatives for some of our books in the first place, while charging us for them, which is more expensive -- I found that very amusing. This explains why some of our printing was dubious in the first place.

I'm still using the old Japanese tone-sheet material for all of my tones. Which by the way, nobody uses anymore, for a good reason and I'm not going to use them again when I'm done with this book. In order to keep the look of the series absolutely consistent we've been using Japanese tone sheets for decades now -- oh God, I can't believe I said that out loud. [laughter] Yeah, really. Oh, how sad. [laughs] These sheets were never meant to be used with a computer. Because what you're basically doing is creating gray artificially. By pre-screening the image. When you put that tone sheet onto a scanner, what the scanner does is screen it again. You get all these problems with moiré... it picks up artifacts... my cat has been dead since 2006. I could clone him; he's all over these tone sheets. [laughter] I've actually cried while working on these. "Oh my God, my cat..." We have to take it out because the printer shooting photographic negatives won't find these artifacts but the digital scanner will. So they have to be removed.

imageIt's a fucking nightmare. I've got a thousand pages of this. Fortunately I have someone doing it for me but that costs a small fortune. I don't have any money. Another charity comes to me I'm just going to laugh in their face. [laughs] Yeah... I laugh. Any kind of little dust spec or even the peeling where the adhesive on the back of the tone has rolled a little bit will show. Just to clean up even an original page can take up to four hours a page. Now the result is pristine. The printing we got on volume one was just kick ass/take names. It's some of the best black and white printing I've seen in years. It was so nice to have some picky dude like Bob Chapman come up and looking at it through a jeweler's loop going, "This is great." [laughter] We got just a little bit of moray, which is not even... I mean, who cares? Just a little bit on some of the pages shot from originals. Nothing we can do about it. Maybe ten places in a 240 page book. You cannot get better than what we got. So, so clean. So good. Crispest black and white. Better than we had before! If we had the negatives, the book would not look this good. It just wouldn't, because the original material is not this clean. So all of the clean up and everything has given us a better result that we could have gotten had we done with what we originally had.

Unfortunately, it's costing me more money per page than I got to do most of this material in the first place. We're talking as much as 50 dollars or more a page for restoration... some are $15 but some are over $50. You do that over enough pages it's like doing a new book. It's really, really, really, really expensive. And like I said, only a crazy woman living on a mountain would go to this trouble. The chances are I will earn this money back. But chances are very good I will not see a profit for a considerable amount of time. Thank God for digital, because that's free money.

It is just so, so, so expensive. You see these crappy editions like Checker Publishing puts out, the Winsor McCay stuff, you just shake your head and go, "Well, what are you going to do?" Because they're not going to put in that time and money and effort.

SPURGEON: How do you even work on a story that you've been working on as long as you've been working on A Distant Soil? [Doran laughs] I know writer friends of mine that have abandoned rewrites on plays because they can't access the writer they were even one or two years ago. Is it difficult in that way, to return to this material, to make the newer stuff work in the same voice as the older material?

DORAN: It does mess with your head a little bit. I don't feel like it's any different than going back and reading a book I used to enjoy. If the book really sucked... well, here I am complimenting myself. There are some things about my earlier volumes that make my hair go the wrong way. [laughs] But having read them and read them years later -- I can go years between having read them -- I still go, "You know, that was kind of fun." And if I can do that with stuff that makes my hair go the wrong way I guess I did all right. I don't know any other way to put it. [laughter]

SPURGEON: You have a reputation as an image-maker. That's probably due to the illustration work you do, but even when I think of your public reputation as a cartoonist I think of picture-making: attractive, stand-alone visuals. So I re-read a bunch of A Distant Soil and what struck me wasn't the visual aspect but how dense the storytelling was. I don't mean to reduce it to the cliche of "There's a lot going on," but there's certainly a commitment to a multi-faceted narrative there; it's not about setting up the next image. The pages themselves are tightly structured, and you have this large cast... The plot is much more focused than I remember from my first reading some years ago. Is it compulsive in that way for you, to make sure the intricacies of your plot gets onto the page?

DORAN: That is very nice of you to say and it's very satisfying to hear you say it, because I don't think I have a reputation as a writer. I remember having a conversation... I was often put down for my writing when I started. I would have editors go in and say, "You don't know how to write" or "How dare you call yourself a writer" or "Let me re-do this for you." I was talking to Steve Bissette the other day, and I said, "I swear to God, one editor said to me, 'My brother can help you write this.'"

SPURGEON: Ugh.

DORAN: [laughs] We were talking about the strange imposition of other people on our stuff. Years ago I remember having a conversation with Scott McCloud and he said, "I think you're a better writer than you are an artist" which I guess is a backhanded compliment. I said that to a writer and the writer blew up. "You are not a writer. You don't know what you are doing." [laughter] You know, I probably just take negative comments to heart too much and assume they're always right. I like to think my work is careful and considered, and just as careful and considered as the art. I put almost as much time into writing a single issue as I do drawing it.

SPURGEON: That's interesting.

DORAN: I don't know if everybody notices, but I do. Because it's such a long story and because it was so complex for the very beginning, and I suppose it could be fairly argued that I substituted substance for complexity, but what can I say. I'm getting to the end, and it better be solid. That's what I think every time I sit down to write it. I have to make sure that all of this is what was meant from the very beginning. It needs to get from point A to point Z and it needs to be tight. I do not want all of these people that have put all that faith into me all of these years get to the end and go, "What the fuck?" [laughs]

So yeah, I am very very very careful. I will rewrite while I'm drawing it.

SPURGEON: I was talking to a mutual acquaintance of ours, and we were looking at some of your work, and we both wondered if there were things that you like to draw more than other things.

DORAN: Oh, shit yeah.

SPURGEON: So what is a good page for you? What is it about a page that makes you go, "Yeah, that's the one I want to do"?

DORAN: That depends on the book. There are things in some books. For me, A Distant Soil is the book where I get to indulge everything I want to draw. But on other books, if I'm drawing car chases, I'll tell you straight up I hate drawing cars. I hate drawing cars with a passion. But if I have to draw a car, I'll draw a car. If you look at Orbiter, it doesn't look a damn thing like A Distant Soil.

SPURGEON: No, it does not. It struck us both that there were maybe pages in the book with Derek McCulloch, Gone To Amerikay, where you really went to town.

DORAN: That doesn't look like A Distant Soil, either.

imageSPURGEON: No, it does not. The scenes set squarely in the past, it looks like you may have particularly enjoyed those.

DORAN: Hell, yeah. Yeah. That's fun. I love that stuff. Just don't give me a car chase scene. I can draw those things. I like to draw non-panel progressions. I like to draw buildings -- I know that sounds nuts, but I like to draw buildings.

SPURGEON: Is there an architectural impulse there? What is it about buildings?

DORAN: There's something very zen about drawing buildings. I know that sounds nutty. There's something thrilling about making lines on paper and coming up with a structure that seems to have validity. Does that sound nutty?

SPURGEON: Nah, that sounds interesting. We've talked a few times about your ability to get things done, to get past the way you might want things to be and work with what you have: sucking it up. This has been a tough year for a lot of comics people, including people we both know. Things get unraveled and people get in trouble. Does that element to the industry bother you at all, particularly now that a lot of our friends are going to be into their late fifties and then into their sixties and then into their seventies. Is that a special concern for you at all?

DORAN: I don't think... I was concerned about this stuff when I was in my twenties. I was already thinking about what am I going to do at this age, this age and this age. Will I have enough money for retirement? Do I have a home? Is somebody going to take my house away from me?

I remember the first time I bought a home, having a cartoonist who I won't rat out saying, "Don't buy a home. That's a waste of money. You should live very frugally." I'm so glad I didn't take that advice. I sold it for twice what I bought it for and always had a roof over my head that nobody could thow me out of at a moment's notice.

I've always thought about the long-term. In fact, a lot of the assignments that I take are with the eye for the long-term. I look at the back end. Ninety percent of the stuff I take is because of the back end. I don't think a lot of people do that. I'm not sure if it's because they can't do it or don't understand how to do it or don't have the option.

SPURGEON: There's a fear as well, it seems, in just talking about it, giving voice to these worries. There's a puffery that comics people have that sometimes gets in the way, too.

DORAN: Yeah. They're all afraid of being seen as weak or failures or vulnerable -- which I just think is... mmm. The fact of the matter is everybody's walking around with a sense of shame about money and success. I have none. That's why I have my blog. So I can talk about it all the damn time. I have no fear of talking about it. I think it's the biggest load of bullshit not to talk about money -- not to be concerned about money. We are professional artists after all. And the shame about asking what you're worth and expecting to get paid and even talking about money? What are we, landed gentry? What the fuck is this? We are laborers? Get paid for your damn work. What's so genteel about being above money? I don't get it. I don't know who the hell these people are, but I'm not one of them.

SPURGEON: Do you think you've had some influence by talking about it? Have you heard back from younger people or anyone that wants to orient themselves that way. It does seem like more people want to stick around comics, or at least have a foot in and thus a longer career that maybe isn't always going to be enmeshed with the larger companies, which is an interesting way to project 10, 20 years in the future. Are people listening to you, Colleen?

DORAN: Sure. What we've got are people that want to be authors. They want to be lifelong creators and owners or the works they produce instead of workers for product. As somebody who thoroughly enjoys working on licensed product [laughs] and gets a kick out of a lot of it, I certainly understand the appeal, but the likelihood you're going to have a long term career working for some of these companies is very small. Even some of these people that have been working there for decades find it's harder and harder and harder to make that pay off.

There's a huge pool of talent out there. Your competition in 1980s was who could get to New York with a portfolio. Your competition now is worldwide. And that is a really big deal. So what you need now is to have no competition -- be the only voice out there that is your voice, instead of the peg that fits in Superman's hole. [laughter] That sounds dirty. You won't get any shit from me for working on Superman. You won't get any shit from me for working on Wonder Woman. I've thoroughly enjoyed all of that stuff. But I know I can be replaced. If any creator knows what's good for them, they need to be the commodity -- not the product. You need to be the one place to go to get what you do.

*****

* Colleen Doran
* A Distant Soil
* A Distant Soil At Image Comics

*****

* image from Reign Of The Zodiac
* Vampire Diaries panel; Doran is writing
* Doran bakes (photo supplied by Doran and not really intended for publication; I hope she'll forgive me)
* working with Warren Ellis on Orbiter and Superidol
* from A Distant Soil; one page of many broken down into specific beats
* a restored page from ADS as scanned into Doran's blog
* non-panel progression page from Gone To Amerikay
* you will not get any grief from Doran for drawing Wonder Woman (below)

*****

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*****
*****
 
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Don't Forget That PictureBox 50 Percent Off Sale

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Go, Look: Babe, Darling Of The Hills #8

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* I consider this white-cover series of mid-1970s Doonesbury paperback books one of the perfect presentations in comics history. There's something about it that's muted and modest and even classy -- later versions get ugly, weird, dark colors and swell a bit -- while the narrowness of the format means the strip itself is broken up into cascading panels rather than run as strips, which I think is a fine way of reading Trudeau's unique pause-beat endings. This book has maybe the cartoonist's best run: not so much the very funny and still awesome bedroom scene that is featured on the cover but the entire congressional campaign storyline that preceded it. I'm one of those that prefers Doonesbury when it uses its own characters to dig at truths about politics and life as opposed to employing real-world characters, and this run is one of the better arguments for that strategy. I think it's right up there with the Schulz "Mr. Sack" storyline as one of the great comics of the 1970s, any format.

* random Alex Toth animation sheets are still some of the best things in the world.

* Marc Arsenault at WowCool would like to see your Ink on Pixels.

* via David Roel, John David Ebert on The Killing Joke. David Brothers on Bleach.

* finally, this is the most Long Sam I've seen in any one place.
 
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If I Were In Tokyo, I'd Go To This

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Happy 53rd Birthday, Jay Geldhof!

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Happy 50th Birthday, Dave McKean!

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Happy 31st Birthday, Julia Wertz!

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December 28, 2013


CR Holiday Interview #10 -- Jeff Lemire

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******

Back when DC Comics announced its New 52 line overhaul, one of the things that was targeted as a key element for DC to have a chance to make it successful over the long-term was the development of unique writing talent maybe a step below that of the one or two superstar creators that a big publishing push was almost certainly going to yield. I think the writer and cartoonist Jeff Lemire has stepped into that role in admirable fashion.

Lemire is one of those rare beasts in all of comics: a creator that has found a voice useful in making comics in multiple expressions of the modern conception of what comic books are and who reads them. He has worked with DC superhero-line properties like Animal Man, the Grant Morrison conception of Frankenstein's monster and the various mystical characters constituting their "Justice League Dark." He ended one popular Vertigo title Sweet Tooth with a 40th issue and launched the science fiction oriented Trillium with a much-lauded initial burst of issues. He is perhaps just as well known in the wider comics community for the alt/arts work he's done, primarily The Essex County Trilogy but also 2012's The Underwater Welder. In 2014 Lemire should continue his recent work with the television series influenced conception of the Green Arrow character and write the adventures of a Justice League set in his native Canada.

I'm grateful for the time Jeff Lemire spent talking to me mid-month about juggling all of these things, and to Alex Segura and Pamela Horvath at DC for putting me in touch. Lemire is a busy man. -- Tom Spurgeon

******

imageTOM SPURGEON: When I mentioned I was interviewing you for the holiday series this year, Jeff, what came back to me was variations of "Oh, that guy has really figured out how to do alt-comics work and mainstream work." I wondered if you ever conceive of how things are going in your writing career in those terms? Do you see yourself as bridging that gap or in those terms at all? Has working in multiple comics arenas been purposeful at all?

JEFF LEMIRE: I don't know if it's purposeful. I'm pretty aware that I come from independent comics. I bring that sensibility with me. I've never really lost it. I'm still working for Top Shelf, and doing my own very personal stuff. I'm also doing stuff for Vertigo that's a little more genre-based. The superhero stuff... I seem to have always have foot in all of that stuff; it just sort of blends together. Certainly I love superhero comics and I grew up reading them and I have a real affection for them and those characters. But certainly I come at it trying to bring a little bit more of a personal voice to it. I guess my natural sensibilities tend to lean towards the independent and alternative stuff.

It's trying to bring that to those books, those elements of my personality.

SPURGEON: When you say it wasn't purposeful, do you mean that you didn't pursue it, or do you mean that it wasn't something you even wanted?

LEMIRE: [laughs] I really just kind of stumbled into it. I loved it growing up but I never, ever, ever anticipated or pursued working for DC or Marvel. That stuff... it was always, I look back -- it hasn't even been that long. In 2007 and 2008, I was still working a day job and doing Essex County. My real goal was to just make enough money doing stuff for Top Shelf or whatever to maybe have a part-time income in comics, and then maybe only have to work a part-time day job. [laughs] I never anticipated being able to do comics full time. I was never pursuing working for DC. I never thought my stuff -- well, certainly my drawing style but also my sensibility as a storyteller -- I never thought it was something that fit at DC. I didn't even bother trying. I did my own thing. Ironically, by doing my own thing and developing a voice as a cartoonist and a storyteller, I think that served me in a way that I can bring something new to superhero comics, or at least that must be what people like Dan DiDio and Geoff Johns saw in me and tapped me to start writing some of that stuff. Then it all kind of happened. Once I had the opportunity I figured why not go ahead and try it. I discovered it is fun to do both.

SPURGEON: You said that you read this material as a kid, or growing up. Were the comics of this type that interested you similarly idiosyncratic? Were you attracted to the off-beat approaches to doing superheroes that preceded you? What were some works that were meaningful to you in that genre?

LEMIRE: Even when I was reading that stuff I tended to seek out the comics that had a bit more edge to it. I was reading stuff by Howard Chaykin and Frank Miller -- people like that -- when I was too young to be reading it. Like when I was eight or nine. [laughter] Everyone else was reading Chris Claremont's X-Men and I was reading American Flagg! [laughs] so I was always a bit drawn to that -- and not just in comics. Movies and everything. I went to stuff that had a unique author's voice for sure. That's something that's always attracted me. David Lynch films. Stanley Kubrick films. Stuff like that at a young age. You could see the authorship behind them. You could hear someone's voice. That always attracted me. I was always seeking that stuff out.

I was the right age when the first wave of Vertigo hit. I was probably like 13, 14 when that first wave of Vertigo hit. It kept me interested in comics. In my late teens I dropped out of comics, stopped paying attention. I was from a small town so there weren't any comic shops. The only stuff I had access to was on the newsstand. I became disenchanted with superhero comics. Got more into movies and music. It wasn't until I moved into the city in my early 20s -- places like The Beguiling were here -- where I discovered all these other cartoonists, independent and alternative cartoonists. European stuff. That [laughs] that really got me interested in the medium and drawing again.

SPURGEON: Were there one or two cartoonists more significant for you than others? Were there any where you had that scales-fall-from-eyes moments, or were you more generally drinking it all in?

LEMIRE: Yeah, you know, there was. I remember distinctly I hadn't read comics in a few years. I was in film school here in Toronto. I walked into a comic store just passing by one to see what was going on. Paul Pope's Heavy Liquid was coming out from Vertigo. And I was like, "What is this?" That was unlike anything I had seen from Vertigo before, from DC. His drawing style is so energetic and bold that it's hard not to want to draw after looking at his stuff. I started finding all his THB stuff. That kinetic drawing style of his really made me want to draw, pick up a brush for the first time and draw.

Then I started to see what else was going on. Guys like Dan Clowes and Seth. Coming to Toronto there was this weird brotherhood of Canadian cartoonists that all hung around at the time. Seth, Chester Brown and Joe Matt... you would see them at The Beguiling and that was cool. I got into that stuff. I opened my eyes to all the stuff that was out there. You get into Paul Pope and you start to see all of his influences, the European stuff like Hugo Pratt -- all those guys he was into.

One door opened another. I started to see how big comics was. It wasn't just stuff I'd grown up with.

imageSPURGEON: You were a Xeric winner, am I right? For Lost Dogs.

LEMIRE: Yeah. Yeah, I was.

SPURGEON: You would have been one of the later ones, I'm guessing.

LEMIRE: 2005.

SPURGEON: What do you remember about that experience now? I'm always interested in the Xeric winners because part of the original mandate was very much about instructing you in the way the industry worked.

LEMIRE: Yeah, yeah, it really was.

SPURGEON: Was the Xeric helpful for you in terms of simply understanding this industry in which you wanted to find work?

LEMIRE: It was great. I had been drawing comics at that point... that was 2005, and I had been taking it seriously since 2001. Working every day on stuff and trying to get my stuff together. Even though there were a few guys here drawing comics I didn't really socialize with them. I was pretty much in a vacuum; I had no idea how the industry worked: just distributing your stuff in the Diamond catalog, I had no idea how that worked. No concept at that. Doing the Xeric Grant really made research that, and figure that side of things out.

I was working as a cook then. I would draw all day and then work all night as a cook. I had no money. I could barely pay rent. [laughs] So the thought of having money to print a comic or distribute it was impossible unless I had some help. When I found out Canadians could apply to the Xeric, it became the thing. I applied three or four times before I actually got it. I would never have been able to afford printing thing or getting something together without it. That was a really huge step for me.

SPURGEON: So are you one of those pros that keeps track on how the industry works, does that interest you? Or are you at a stage -- and this happens, too -- where you've kind of removed yourself from that kind of close attention?

LEMIRE: I don't know. When I first started doing stuff for DC, I was a lot more interested than I am now in trying to keep track of sales... just out of curiosity and if they were going to keep giving me work. [laughter] Now that I feel a little more secure in my position and in what I'm doing, I don't have time. I'm kind of detached from that side of things a bit. I don't go on-line as much, or engage with fans or keep track of the business side. I find it's more of a distraction than a help. It starts to influence the way you think about the jobs you take, and that's not a good thing. Those decisions should come from creative places not from thoughts of career and business.

image

SPURGEON: I have an Essex County question. It was named an "Essential Canadian Read" at one point. I guess while elements of the subject matter are clearly Canadian, I wondered if you thought about in terms of it being a work in the tradition of Canadian literature more generally.

LEMIRE: It is very much in the tradition of Canadian literature, I think, people like Margaret Laurence. It's firmly set in my Canadian experience. I take a lot of pride in being Canadian and being a Canadian storyteller. I try to explore that in as much of my work as I can. Certainly the indy stuff, but even now in some of the DC books they're letting me set some of that stuff here and explore the Canadian landscape. It's very important to me.

SPURGEON: Your pacing is very distinctive, Jeff, particularly in the comics that you draw as well as write. So when you say the work is in this Canadian tradition, do you meant that it also encompasses a kind of formal approach in addition to the subject matter with which it engages?

LEMIRE: I don't know if my style or my formal approach to comics would be Canadian in any way. I really think that if you look at Canadian cartoonists that preceded me, there's not a strong connection there. Guys like Seth and Chester Brown... there's not a lot of common ground in what they do and what I do. Even if you look at contemporaries of mine like Bryan Lee O'Malley or Darwyn Cooke, I guess -- he's been around a lot longer but he emerged right before me -- we're very different than on another. I don't think there's a "Canadian style." [laughter] I think it's more in the subject matter and how the stories have a connection to the landscape -- the land itself is almost a character in my work. It's more that than a formal approach.

imageSPURGEON: You mentioned you didn't really expect a progression into Vertigo work and now mainstream superhero work... but you also said that you're comfortable knowing you have a place. How long did it take for you to feel comfortable. Was there a point at which you remember feeling more comfortable with that kind of storytelling? How long did it take you to find your creative feet in the commercial comics you're doing?

LEMIRE: I think it took a few projects. It really hasn't been that long. It feels longer than it really has been. My first project for DC was 2010, so we're going on four years. I did The Atom and Superboy; those projects brought with them a lot of stress in terms of how much of my own style I could fit into them. Also, how I would do it, how I would work with another artist. There was a lot of learning going on there. It wasn't until the New 52 launch when I got Animal Man and Frankenstein that I really felt... I'd made a lot of mistakes on those first two projects and kind of figured it out. When I hit those two projects and started from the ground running, I felt like that's when I found my voice as a writer of mainstream stuff. I found the right balance of injecting my own personality into the comics but also working with artists and allowing them some freedom, not giving them too much direction in terms of layout and that kind of thing. Letting them be themselves. It was Animal Man, really, that I think I found myself as something distinct from when I write and draw my own stuff. But there was still enough in there that it felt like me.

SPURGEON: One thing I'm curious about in terms of your being one of the writers that launched with New 52... how much were you guys encouraged to contribute to the overall tapestry of what they were doing? How much were you encouraged to come up with bridging concepts, say, that other writers could make use of? How much were you accessing the work of your fellow launch writers to see if there was material you could use in your books?

LEMIRE: We were given quite a bit of freedom. I think part of that is they were launching so much stuff at once that they were... they were looking to us to really take the point on our own books. For instance, Scott Snyder had been good friends at that point for a couple of years. He was doing Swamp Thing and I was doing Animal Man. So with us pitching books at the same time there was a lot of back and forth and thus connections between the two books. We really built our own corner there. Something like Frankenstein wasn't even part of their plans for their relaunch, but I had a vision for that book and plans and they liked them. So that one came more directly from me, just as a fan of what Grant Morrison had done there. I felt like there was potential to just keep adding onto that mythology. I had a lot of chance to add to the mythology. The books were both successful so I got to keep adding onto them.

SPURGEON: I talked to Scott Snyder last year, and he was like this, too: that you're kind of mindful of other writers and their strengths and weaknesses and are pretty helpful and solicitous towards one another. That might be via a direct relationship but also might take place indirectly, just in terms of being aware what other folks are up to. Is that a fair assessment?

LEMIRE: Yeah, I think my circle of friends at least are all supportive of one another. A lot of my Top Shelf friends have ended up working at DC: Matt Kindt, Rob Venditti. So there's a friendship there that goes back, and we're all very supportive of one another, and bounce ideas off of one another. Share scripts. Give each other advice. It's very helpful.

One thing when you're doing your own stuff, like with my indy stuff, and I'm writing and drawing it myself -- that's a very isolated activity. Which I enjoy. But it's also nice to enter this shared universe where you can call up another writer and start bouncing ideas of of them. That sort of collaboration you miss when you're doing your own stuff. It's nice.

SPURGEON: Do you still have a solid relationship with Top Shelf? Are you at the point where you have an opportunity to pursue whatever it is you'd like to pursue with them given the success of Essex County and the arc of your mainstream comics writing career? Or is there some dark secret...

LEMIRE: [laughs] There are no dark secrets with Top Shelf. No, I'm very friendly with them. I mean, I owe those guys so much. They gave me my first shot with the Essex County stuff. I love working them. They feel more like a family than a publisher at this point. I'll continue to work with them for as long as I can. My next book I'm doing with Simon and Schuster just because that opportunity was there, but those guys were cool -- Chris [Staros] and Brett [Warnock] and I have this understanding that whenever I want to do something with them the door is open. It's important to me to keep that relationship that way. I'm hoping every three or four years I can do a project with them as well.

imageSPURGEON: I was looking at a bunch of your Animal Man comics, and the really basic thing that struck me about that character, and maybe even in the context of all of DC's characters at this point, is that he's a family man. So that would seem to me to play into some of your interests in family dynamics, and the way that conception of family plays against its day-to-day reality: the father-son issues, the responsibility of being a father. I'm guessing that was a big entry point for you and that character.

LEMIRE: Absolutely. It was the perfect character for me at the right time. There was so much inherent to that character I was already familiar with: if you take the family aspect away from that character, what is he, really? He's some guy that can run as fast as a cheetah; it's not really that interesting. [laughs]

SPURGEON: He'd be fun at parties.

LEMIRE: Yeah! But as a superhero comic, there'd be nothing to make him special or distinctive. Or really to give the book a chance to survive. The fact that he's a father and a husband makes him different, so that's something I latched onto right away. I expanded that as far as I could. It was a perfect book for me to infuse my indy-kind of themes into.

SPURGEON: You do a lot of work with those themes in your comics: parenting themes outright, like in Underwater Welder, or maybe something that could be more broadly defined as protective relationships like in Sweet Tooth. What is it about that subject that keeps you coming back? Is it the richness of that topic? Is it the concern you personally have for those matters? Is this an opportunity for you to work through some of your fears?

LEMIRE: Probably, yeah. The same time I started working at DC, literally the same time I started to do Sweet Tooth and Underwater Welder is when I became a father. It's hard for that not to become a big part of your work. My son is five now. I've been at DC for four years... it's a big part of my life. It's hard to take a step back and analyze where and why you explore certain things. [laughs] The work itself... I don't think too much about it outside of the work. The father/son thing is something I've always -- for whatever reason -- kept coming back to. [laughs] I'm sure it's something deep in my psyche I don't want to get to into on the phone. [laughter]

SPURGEON: Let me make that broader, then. One thing that interests me about writers that work in mainstream comics having done work before that in other modes of expression for comics is how they come to use the fantasy element of comics, the metaphorical richness that you get when you suddenly have fantasy elements that you're compelled to use in many cases. I wonder how hard it is for writers to find ways to make that serve story, to make it serve your particularly interest in specific themes or narrative outcomes. Has that come naturally to you?

LEMIRE: It comes naturally to me because I've always been draw to that stuff. Even though Essex County is quite grounded in a way, there are fantasy elements or at least dream-like elements in there. There's a magical realism to it; with Underwater Welder as well. I've always used genre -- horror, sci-fi or superhero stuff -- and it's something which I'm very comfortable. Almost all of my work has used it in some way, even my personal stuff. I think... it's not a struggle for me. I see the superhero elements or with Animal Man the horror... they are really just metaphors for what it is you're exploring. If you're looking at the forces that might pull a family apart, it's easy for you to create metaphors for that.

SPURGEON: Do you end up enjoying the operatic, larger-than-life opportunities with those genre tools, working on this grand stage in primary colors at least part of the time?

LEMIRE: Absolutely. The superhero stuff is fun when you can cut loose. The project I'm tinkering with for Simon and Schuster and which I'll start in earnest in the New Year, that is very grounded. That is probably my book without any kind of fantastic element at all. To be able to work on that intensely for two weeks and then spend a few days working a Justice League script, that's [laughs] that's almost a relief after working with that tight control of the indy world. I do enjoy it.

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SPURGEON: The Justice League Dark material seems to me to represent the cleanest break with your ongoing sets of concerns and your basic approaches to form, Jeff. For example, it struck me that just having that many characters to deal with, the fact that you have like five to seven lead characters, that would have to make it difficult for you to employ the kind of pacing you're able to use with a smaller cast. Comic books like that one are these rampaging plot-point vehicles -- story point, story point, story point. Was that a struggle for you, to juggle those concerns? There's a tentative quality to that book.

LEMIRE: That one was tough. Justice League: Dark was my first team book, and like you said there are so many different things to juggle. With Animal Man, it's still essentially the story of this one character. There may be a family, but it's his family. It's much easier for me to infuse my sensibility into that. Justice League: Dark was a real eye-opener in how hard certain books are to write, and how difficult it is to do certain things with such a big cast of characters and so much going on. I don't know that all of Justice League: Dark was entirely successful for my figuring that out.

I'm doing this new Justice League book next year, and I learned a lot from Justice League: Dark just as I had initially learned with Superboy and The Atom before doing Animal Man. So this one should be a lot more me, if that makes sense. At least I hope it will be.

SPURGEON: You spoke of that first transition partly in terms of learning to deal with your writers, giving them more leeway to be creative. Is there something similar you learned this time, with your transition between the two team books? Is there something you're glad not to experience again?

LEMIRE: I think in Justice League: Dark it wasn't so much of an artist thing as a writer thing; I was worried juggling all of the different characters and giving them "screen time" that I never had the opportunity to take a step back and approach the material the way I would otherwise approach it. I've been very conscious of taking each character in the new team book -- and this sounds very simple now, but when you're dealing with so many things it's hard to see the forest for the trees -- and giving them a personal arc and then working it so they each have an emotional hook and a journey. It's about making sure there's an emotional and a character point of view in addition to the plot point of view -- to boil it all down in a more articulate fashion.

SPURGEON: I think your art is interesting. I wondered if working with a variety of different artists as a writer is helpful in how you approach your own art when you get back to it? You're drawing the last Animal Man. Is there something you're looking forward to in terms of getting to collaborate with Jeff Lemire the artist? What do you think your strengths are?

LEMIRE: It's hard. Much more than with my writing I'm critical of my art. Nothing's ever good enough. As soon as I finish a page I hate it immediately. [laughter] I'm very hard on my art, so most days I see the misses.

SPURGEON: What is something you latch onto in terms of wanting to see it improve, then, Jeff?

LEMIRE: I know I'm a strong storyteller. I know I can create mood and motion. It's really about trying to refine the style while keeping the looseness and the expressiveness of it. Make it tighter in terms of anatomy: technical things, pushing myself to get a bit better. Then there a days when I just have fun drawing. Those are usually the best days. [laughter]

SPURGEON: Do you draw outside of your comics work?

LEMIRE: Yeah, I force myself to sketch at least a half-hour every day before I start my other work. Otherwise I'd never do it.

SPURGEON: Is drawing a part of your writing process at all?

LEMIRE: Yeah, that's funny. I'm working on Trillium right now, so when I sketch all I'll sketch is scenes or characters from the Simon and Schuster thing, laying the groundwork. Turning over ideas, some of which will never make the final book. I come up with stuff sketching I never would have if I sat down at a keyboard. I definitely approach stories like that visually first.

imageSPURGEON: The designs in Trillium are very striking. Does that come mostly out of your sketchwork in organic fashion, or is that something you have to explicitly work on.

LEMIRE: I spent a lot of time working on the design for that one, especially in terms of the world-building there. With Sweet Tooth, despite the science-fiction element it was still set in our world. With Trillium I design whole worlds and the look of the tech... with this new book now, I remember the last six months of Sweet Tooth my sketchbook was full of sci-fi stuff, prepping and trying things out for Trillium. So overall that was like six to eight months of designing before I ever started to work on the comics themselves. That was a lot of fun, actually. I also got to look at a bunch of sci-fi stuff I loved as a kid that I'd forgotten about. A lot of Moebius, a lot of stuff like that.

SPURGEON: That's kind of the zeitgeist, that kind of science fiction.

LEMIRE: Yeah, it's weird. The last convention I did was last June... I think it was June, I can't remember. Oslo. I was checking out these Norwegian cartoonists and even all of them were doing sci-fi, space stuff. [laughs] Or fantasy stuff. There's a real thing right now with genre stuff. I remember 10 or 12 years ago all of the indy stuff was autobio, slice of life stuff. It's a real shift. [laughs] Then there seems to be more sci-fi books coming out, stuff like Saga; there's a real boom right now.

SPURGEON: Now, you're in your late 30s.

LEMIRE: Yeah.

SPURGEON: It seems like comics-makers in their late 30s and early 40s, their orientation towards the vocational aspects of comics changes. They just kind of want to get to it; they want to make significant progress on the work they feel they're meant to do.

LEMIRE: Right.

SPURGEON: You seem comfortable where you are and you're certainly prolific. Is that just reflective of a general work ethic, or have you thought in terms of starting to build a professional legacy? Is this prolific period part of a specific orientation you have to this time in you professional life, or is it just about maximizing your opportunities as they come to you?

LEMIRE: I'm definitely right there.

About three or four years everything in my personal life felt figured out. [laughs] I had a kid. I had a happy marriage. We had a house. All of that stuff was taken care of, now it was time to get serious producing -- not as much work as I can, but trying to get all of these stories I want to tell told while I still can. There's definitely that sense of work now. I'm approaching mid-life; there's certain things I want to accomplish, certain things I want to do and I still feel like I haven't really told my best story yet. I want to keep going until I find it. Make sure I get to tell it before I get too old to hold a pencil anymore.

*****

* Jeff Lemire
* Jeff Lemire At DC
* Jeff Lemire At Top Shelf

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* from Trillium
* an iconic Lemire image, from Essex County
* from the Xeric-winning Lost Dogs
* page Essex County
* image from Frankenstein
* image from Animal Man
* Image from Justice League: Dark
* another Trillium image
* from Sweet Tooth #40 (below)

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Go, Look: Vanishing Twin

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CR Week In Review

imageThe top comics-related news stories from December 21 to December 27, 2013:

1. Weird flurry of convention-related news stories flash to surface the pair of days before Christmas, from PIX, TCAF and SPX. This ranged from PIX just basically saying, "Hi" to TCAF making some reasonably routine but still important to note "here they come" style announcements only a little curious for the date they were being made to SPX announcing its solution to last year's big-in-that-world story of applications for tables overwhelming their inclusive-ethos all-comers method of accepting such applications.

2. Image integrates its digital offerings with Dropbox. I'm not all the way sure how significant that is, but it definitely has the "Thing I've Heard Of" + "Concept I Feel I Should Know About" + "Other Thing I've Heard Of" construction I look for in a prominent news story.

3. The one element of the Scott Lobdell/MariNaomi panel harassment story that bled into this week was this Rachel Edidin essay on Lobdell's attempt at an apology. That actually appeared the day before the period described, but many folks didn't discover it or the conversation about it until the last seven days.

Winner Of The Week
Let's say Image. Every time they announce something ahead of their Expo next month it's like saying, "We have so much stuff to announce at our Expo that we need to announce stuff now."

Loser Of The Week
The idea that nothing gets announced in the week preceding and the week after Christmas. I prefer a bit of dead time -- both selfishly in that I've been pre-arranging feature content for years now with the holiday interviews but also in that I think an industry like comics can a) use some time off, particularly in that a lot of the participation in comics is supported by enthusiasm rather than money, b) a lot of eyeballs just aren't on-line in the same way right around Christmas. But you do get some of that real estate to yourself, so I guess that's part of the gamble.

Quote Of The Week
"This will sound harsh but you're probably not a writer." -- Brian Michael Bendis

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today's cover is from the all-time series Classics Illustrated

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Not Comics: John Held Jr.

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Go, Look: Chris Schweizer Draws The Lonesome Dove Characters

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* this book had a huge presence in our house when I was a kid. It was a favorite of my parents, both of whom were comics fans but also fans of the slightly hip corner of mainstream culture of the kind represented by Jules Feiffer, Jacques Brel and John Updike books. I still don't know that the alt-comics tradition has all the way processed Jules Feiffer yet, although he's much beloved by a lot of cultural gatekeepers interested in comics. But he was basically crushing it in a very specific way in such an odd context that you can almost understand why entire versions of comics history don't seem to acknowledge his existence.

* Hannah Means-Shannon walks us through Asheville, North Carolina -- a southern arts and culture hub for about two decades now, really, or at least that's when I saw the place starting to show up in magazine profiles. I think Jason Lutes lived there for a while. Nice 'zine rack.

* Dana Jennings on Society Is Nix.

* been there. Both sides.

* I enjoyed this Jim Zub piece on making lemonade out of early 2013 lemons.

* finally, Daniel Levin Becker chose Barrel Of Monkeys as his #1 book for 2013.
 
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Happy 46th Birthday, Chris Ware!

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Happy 91st Birthday, Stan Lee!

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Happy 32nd Birthday, Richard Short!

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The Comics Reporter Video Parade


Trailer for Edmond Baudoin Documentary


Osamu Tezuka Documentary
via


Charles Kuralt And Bill Geist On Charles Addams


Profile Of Dan Goldman


Hey, What's Going On With Aseem Trivedi?


Stan Lee With Conan O'Brien Nearly 20 Years Ago Now


RO Blechman Holiday Thingamabob
 
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December 27, 2013


CR Holiday Interview #09 -- Sam Alden

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*****

Sam Alden had a very good 2013. He won this year's Ignatz Award for Promising New Talent for his work on "Hawaii 1997" and "Haunter" -- both of which were nominated in that same program in separate categories. Those works were part of a mini-onslaught of significant on-line publication for Alden that included "The Man That Dances In The Meadow," "Household," "Backyard," "Patron Saint" and "The Worm Troll." This followed a 2012 that was similarly productive, marking the 24-year-old as a cartoonist on which one should keep a very close eye. An excerpt from "Haunter" was chosen for publication in the Jeff Smith-edited edition of Best American Comics.

In 2014 he will publish in a variety of locations perhaps most importantly a short collection of works with Tom Kaczynski at Uncivilized Books. Alden's work is already visually accomplished and you can feel him negotiating various narrative effects from project to project in a way that should serve him very well in the years ahead. I caught up to him on the phone; he was in Montreal. -- Tom Spurgeon

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imageTOM SPURGEON: Sam, what's going on in Montreal that you're in Montreal right now?

SAM ALDEN: One of the things that's going on in Montreal is crazy cheap rent. The other thing that's going on is that I'm in this thing, this comics residency: La Maison de la Bande Dessinée de Montreal. It's basically free studio space.

SPURGEON: I get the sense -- and I don't know how accurate this is -- that you've traveled a bit. You've spent the first part of your twenties in different locations.

ALDEN: Yeah, totally. What I'm making up for is that I stayed in the same city for a really long time leading up to my 20s. When I was 23, I lived in New Orleans a little bit. I did a residency in Alaska. I had a desk job that let me travel a little bit more for festivals -- I could stay the week in the city. I'm trying to move around as much as I can, while I still have that kind of mobility.

SPURGEON: What do you enjoy about that? Does it change the way you work?

ALDEN: Totally. Completely. In the same way I feel more productive if I just change desks [Spurgeon laughs] or where I work at my desk for three hours and then need to go to a coffee shop or something, I feel like you can do that on a massive scale by moving to a new city. The first month I'm in a new place is always the most productive month of my time there.

SPURGEON: You said you wanted to travel while you still had that kind of mobility, as if you're about to be beset by old age. Whenever I talk to people about you, your relative youth comes up. I know when I was in my mid-twenties, I did not feel particularly young. So I have to imagine it's weird to be constantly told you're young when you maybe don't feel that way. How do you process that view of you as this emerging cartoonist -- do you get sick of being kidded about your age?

ALDEN: I totally get that 99 percent of it is a compliment, and I try to take it as such. It is nice that I'm finally starting to get reviews where people say, "This is a good comic." Not "This is a good comic for someone his age." I think also that spending enough time on Twitter... I'm young to be at the stage of publication that I am, but there's a whole generation of 21-year-olds that I feel I'm the old guard to.

SPURGEON: Do you feel of a generation at all? Do you relate specifically to your same-age peers, perhaps in terms of shared influences or outlook? Or do you perhaps feel slightly out of touch with people in comics near your age? How much common cause do you have, Sam, with those making comics in their mid-twenties? Do you feel a connection to them?

ALDEN: Yeah, I totally do.

SPURGEON: Who would you consider a peer? Who's your crowd?

ALDEN: You know who I think is my age? Exactly my age, or at least I think she is? Maddy Flores. In Portland. She's one of my best friends back there. I guess... who else is 25? Sloane [Leong] is like 22; I think Michael DeForge is 26. These aren't all people I go drinking with all the time. But there is definitely a certain... a certain character to a generation that grew up imbibing the Internet so heavily. [laughs] I think a lot of that is healthy and maybe some of it in some ways -- say, attention span -- we're really suffering. Yeah, I don't know. I relate to a generation or whatever so much more than I did when I was a little younger. That felt like something I wanted to rebel against.

SPURGEON: I can't dig too deeply into your past this time out given our limited opportunity to speak, but I'm interested if there was a moment you felt you flipped a switch in terms of comics. It seems like you're all in now, Sam, that you're devoted -- at least in the right now -- to making comics a significant part of what you do. You've made a lot of pages this year, and made a similar number of them last year. You aren't dabbling. Was there a point at which you made a commitment, where you decided, "Okay... it looks like it's going to be comics" even if only for a while?

ALDEN: I flipped it a long time ago.

I've always been drawing comics. I think maybe until college, until I was 19 or so, I was like, "Well, maybe I'll write. Maybe I'll draw comics." I had these different things I've been juggling. But since I've been 20... I started this big, unfinishable graphic novel thing. Since then I've been all-in for comics.

SPURGEON: Wait, tell me about the abandoned graphic novel. This is something I've seen, right? At what point did you abandon it?

ALDEN: I still get people asking me what happened to it, so maybe I can say something for the record here.

imageSPURGEON: Are you talking about Eighth Grade?

ALDEN: Yeah. Eighth Grade. If you haven't read it, it's about middle-school kids and it's done in this kind of Nate Powell-y super brushy style. I worked on it for like four years or something. About seven months ago, I hadn't really updated it or anything, but I was still telling people, "Oh yeah, I'm working on it. Gotta finish that thing." [Spurgeon laughs] I got this text message from Dash Shaw. We're friendly, but we're not text-message buds or anything. We hadn't seen each other for months, since Stumptown. He said, "Hey, man. I don't think you should finish Eighth Grade. You've gotten a lot better since then." And as soon as I got that, I felt this huge weight lift off of my shoulders. [laughter] I'd been given permission by an artist I really admire to like fucking cut the albatross from around my neck. Devote myself to short stories. So yeah, that's the story to that.

SPURGEON: So was having the time to devote to shorter stories as you've done since, was that the idea of moving away from a longer form work, or is there something about that particular mode of presentation that you weren't into anymore?

ALDEN: I think that comic was drawn when I was still figuring out what I wanted to do. And one of the characteristics of being in that stage where you're figuring out your own style or something, you're really concerned with making a comic that looks like a real comic. So it looks like somebody else's comic. Mine looked like Nate Powell's.

What the shorter stuff allowed me to do in addition to learning a little more about storytelling is just to experiment and remind myself that it was fun to draw comics. Now I'm heading back to the curve. Now I feel like I want to settle down and do a more meat-and-potatoes, longer-form comic with some of the stuff I've learned.

SPURGEON: How self-conscious are you in terms of your artistic development, Sam? Do you spend time thinking about what you're good at doing, what you're not as good at doing, what you might need to work on? Is there a development track in your head, or are you just doing one work after another and letting that stuff take care of itself? It sounds like you're slightly more analytical than some when it comes to building your skill set. Is that fair?

ALDEN: Yeah. Yeah, it is. That makes it seem like I'm more in control than I am. But it is true that with each story... if there's not something that challenging about it, or new, I quickly get bored -- even if it's good. So yeah, it's honestly [laughs] about keeping a comic of interest to myself and motivating myself to finish it.

SPURGEON: You said you wanted to remind yourself that it was fun to make comics. Where do you take pleasure in the act of making comics, Sam? When a comic works for you that way, what's going on? Is it the problem-solving aspect? Is it the pleasure of drawing? How much is process, how much is result?

ALDEN: The drawing is fun, now that I'm working physically smaller. I've been doing a lot of these little graphite things. There's definitely pleasure in making a compelling image. But for me the main pleasure in it comes -- I used to do animation, and the cool thing about animation was slowing your mind down to see the motion that you're drawing at an incredibly slow frame rate and visualizing it in your head. I feel like I get some of the same sense of that from drawing a story and then from reading back over what I've read and getting the pacing of it and seeing how the elements work and then choosing what's going to happen in the next panel. Knowing, "Okay, that's where this motion has to go." There's something about that... the concentration that that takes, that's really pleasurable for me.

imageSPURGEON: Are you talking about physical motion in comics specifically at all when you say that? Because things like "Haunter," those are maybe best understood as comics depicting motion through a specific landscape. It comes up in your other comics, too: "Hawaii 1997" has a few isolated depictions of physical activity. Or do you mean more generally and broadly the pacing?

ALDEN: I was thinking even more broadly. Definitely there's an element of that. You can just get into this rhythm when things feel right. Making your choices more by instinct than by mathematics: The story elements you need to bring in. There should be this much dialogue in that much panel. We should see this character again.

SPURGEON: Is that instinctive type of creation something that's difficult for you? I've read you talking about applying theoretical constructs to comics. Is that a dichotomy for you: problem-solving versus working through a story more naturally?

ALDEN: Yeah... well... yeah. [laughter] I'm going to answer that question intuitively instead of according to a method.

I was thinking the other day about Frank Santoro's grid. I don't know that my pages look much better when I try to draw according to those. But I get them done so much faster because I don't have to make every decision by intuition. So maybe on that level... yeah. I like to use systems when I find myself over-thinking stuff.

I don't know if that's a straight answer.

SPURGEON: That's a fine answer.

You said something interesting recently, sort of randomly, via your tumblr. The work you've done in the last year seems pretty evenly split, to be as broad as possible about it. You have these comics that have these literary qualities, where there's a specific effect and a cohesion between theme and plot. You've also been doing these kind of landscape-y comics, comics where you see a character explore their surroundings, where you see someone kind of moving through a space. There are combinations of the two as well.

To talk about those where you're just exploring a space: it seems like that this is a kind of comics-making I think of when I think of young cartoonists, but you've said you don't maybe naturally live in the world of science fiction or fantasy comics -- two common genre vehicles for such comics. You said those genres are not as natural a source for making comics of your own as they may be for other cartoonists.

ALDEN: Yeah. Totally. I guess because... and this is going back to the idea that I'm trying to make comics that look like real comics in some sense. I do kind of feel more comfortable in that talking-head zone of literary comics. I don't know. Trying to do the fantasy stuff, the genre stuff, has been really liberating for me when I've made myself do it. It's really... fun. It's like admitting that video games are fun and they're not something where you have to feel guilty or adolescent about.

SPURGEON: So how does that manifest itself in your comics? [slight pause] Does "Haunter" count as that kind of comics for you?

ALDEN: Yeah.

SPURGEON: So how was doing "Haunter" good for you? How are you a different cartoonist coming out the other side of that one? Is it you have more skills in your toolkit? Is there just a comfort with a specific mode of expression? General confidence?

ALDEN: One thing I learned is that that "Haunter" feels like a comic book to me. It's not trying to be a short story or a movie. It feels like a comic book. I gained some amount of respect for the form that I didn't have before. A wordless sci-fi comic is unique to the medium. It's hard to do something of that scope in literature.

I learned a lot about the animation of bodies in space. I learned how to draw so much from doing that comic that I wouldn't have learned drawing people lying in bed and crying. [laughter]

imageSPURGEON: You do play around with the human form a bit. Your figures don't seem 100 percent the same project to project. Is that you trying different things out? Is that you establishing how you want to people to look during a story? I see similarities between figures of yours but I'm not sure it's coalesced into a recognizable kind of figure drawing apart from each story, if that makes sense. That's usually one of the first signifiers I get from a younger cartoonist and I don't have that from you yet. Is this something you're working through?

ALDEN: I guess I am working through that project to project. Maybe a part of that is that when I think of a panel I tend to draw the background at the same time as the characters. So I tend to approach each -- this isn't quite the question you're asking -- but I feel I'm better at composition and so address each pose. I'm like, "I want it to feel like he's going up the stairs" or "I want to convey the contours of the face there." I

I never did much in the way of anatomy training. I think there are a lot of kids that fill their notebooks with character drawings, over and over. My sketchbooks for whatever reason didn't have the same kind of... yeah, I never did that.

SPURGEON: What's in there, Sam? Is it all liquor bottles and motorcycles?

ALDEN: I sketch the ceiling. I convey the texture of the ceiling. I don't know; I don't keep a sketchbook anymore. But back in the day, I would just do field drawings, go out in the woods and do something.

I feel like my character all look so similar to one another. I think they all have big noses, and the same kind of hunchy body. They all have my posture. Heavy eyebrows. I've been training myself not to do the eyebrows that way.

SPURGEON: [laughs] How much does your own sense of physicality inform your comics? Do your limitations physically restrict how you choose to portray action on the page?

ALDEN: Yeah. I'm always having to act stuff out: either literally, where I'm in front of my camera and trying to nail a pose; or in my head, where I'm like, "How would I do that?" I just did a scene where a woman has to set a glass down on the ground and then sit down herself. I'm drawing her as much heavier than I am. It doesn't work to convey that motion with the sort of gangly, skinny-guy motion -- the weight shifts differently. So that's hard.

SPURGEON: I want to ask you about "Household."

ALDEN: Sure.

SPURGEON: The use of the page is interesting there. There are several different narrative arcs in "Household," and the pages themselves play off of those multiple through-lines in terms of how they're composed. When you're jumping from these narrative points, what is going on in the different workplaces: it seems like you were really bold about making those shifts within a page rather than settling for the more natural break that comes between pages. How much are you still working through how to use a page? Was that an important project for you in figuring out a structural component that has to be different for people that have done so much on-line?

ALDEN: Yeah, it was. Something like "Hawaii 1997," which looks somewhat similar in style, was drawn more for the Internet. It was drawn to be read in a long scroll. I never paid attention, for example, to how the spreads would work. The spreads in "Household" I drew in a sketchbook so I could see each spread as I was drawing. You're right in that in that one thing I was trying to do was set up mirroring page layouts so you'd see the same thing twice and get a sense of deja vu. In one panel the sister would be hammering in a nail and in the other she'd be sleeping with her brother. I had forgotten about that, but at the time I was trying to do that, work with the individual pages.

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SPURGEON: When you work with a story that offers up that kind of undeniably powerful, that loaded of a subject matter, how intimidating is that for you as an author? Do you worry about doing justice to a topic, and is that different from you in a telling way from working a story that's cognizant of motion or a story that turns on a theme of vocational difficulties or an encounter on a beach.

ALDEN: It was terrifying, actually. I think what I had going for me is that I based a lot of it on my own experiences of sexual victimization and incest. So in that sense I didn't feel like I was appropriating someone else's story. Even though the circumstances were different, and I don't have a sister -- this is fiction, it's a work of fiction. Every time I post something that deals with something sensitive like that... even the last comic: I just did this horror comic, "The Dancer In The Meadow." I have all of this implied sexual violence... these kinds of creepy sexual vibes throughout the whole thing. I was really concerned with trying to get that right, to portray that stuff respectfully. Respectfully is a weird way to say it because it is a horror comic. I guess I wanted to use something like that in a way that doesn't feel exploitative. I know some people have -- and I don't know how much they know about my own experiences or whatever -- but I know some people have responded poorly to "Household" and said that it's using this thing for shock value. Sean T. Collins said that he didn't like how the sister was vilified even though it was suggested she had her own kind of victimized past. I think those are both fair points. But yeah, I do try. [laughs] I try very hard. It's dumb to think you're always going to succeed with everybody.

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SPURGEON: Without getting too deeply into your own story, can you identify the kind of thing that is helpful to you in having this experience when it comes to making this kind of story? Is it that you are aware of details? Is it that you have greater access to a specific emotional truth you can use? What do you mean when you say there's an advantage that you can use an experience like your in a work of art like this one?

ALDEN: Like you said, in terms of making it a more effective work of art I'm more familiar with the dynamics of how abuse works, and how it made me feel. I could try to bring that out. I think also in having the work out for a wider audience, I felt more comfortable defending that work knowing that it wasn't about somebody else's problems. I was making it about my own. I think even on a personal level I don't usually make art to work out my own feelings, even on a conscious level, but I was doing it in that comic. It really helped in this really sort of cheesy "art heals way. [laughs] I learned a lot during that comic and helped myself a lot.

SPURGEON: You mentioned this a couple of times and I want to address it directly. I was talking to an older cartoonist about his 'zine days, and he spoke very positively of having the ability to do work that maybe wasn't ready for publication in the established parameters for that, but that still had value in terms of his necessary development as an artist. I would have to imagine that posting your stuff on the Internet is your way of doing that, Sam, but the difference... the difference is that the audience is very active. You're not making work for an empty room or a play workshop or whoever might pick it up at Quimby's. You're making a work that might be seen by thousands of people a day after you post it. They're looking at it, and they're responding to it. How do you negotiate that intense feedback? Does that add a layer of difficulty when it comes to developing as an artist?

ALDEN: Sure. Not to make into too much of a scavenger hunt, but I do comics privately, too. [laughter] They're on the Internet but they don't have my name on them. They don't look like my other comics. But that's... that's hard in that I feel like I have standards to live up to now. Standards I've hopefully created. I don't want to disappoint people.

The positive reactions... in addition to that little shot of self-esteem cocaine gives you, if enough people like your little doodle on twitter than you draw your next panel, that whole thing with "Household"... when I was drawing it it was pretty analytical for me. I wasn't that invested. It wasn't really until -- this sounds so dumb -- it wasn't until I put it on the Internet and got people's feedback that I was able to emotionally process a lot of that stuff. I was at my desk job in Wilsonville, Oregon [laughs] when I put that up and I started getting all these people saying, "Oh my God, this is really intense. This is dealing with some heavy stuff." This was the first time... I was like, "Oh my God, you're right. This is some really heavy shit." [Spurgeon laughs] I had to go up into the attic of this shitty corporate building [laughs] and weep and check twitter. It was intense, but very good. I don't know. Having a supportive community rallying around your art, that has been a big deal for me.

SPURGEON: One thing I think connects your stories for the last couple of years is that it seems like -- seems like -- you're paying close attention to the considered effect of your stories. It seems like there's a real desire by you to stick your landings with the short stories, to have everything summarized and hit the hardest with that final scene. Things come together in a way that feels controlled -- not quite mannered, but with a clear intention that they hit at once. A blending of effects, even. Is that something doing so many short stories has allowed you to do, nail down in a literary sense how you want your stories to hit with readers? Do you have an expectation for how short stories should hit?

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ALDEN: That's definitely something I'm consciously trying to do. Maybe sometimes I hit it over the hard. In that same review by Sean T. Collins -- and I'm on good terms with him, I'm not trying to call him out [laughs] -- he said that I end a lot of my comics with a big, unearned emotional panel. I think that's pretty fair. I tend to want people to know that "Here it is. This is the riding into the sunset shot." Thematically it's important to me to wrap stuff up. A lot of people have complained to me on the Internet that I have too many open-ended ending, so it's good that to you it seems like I'm wrapping stuff up.

SPURGEON: It feels like the effort is there -- Sean's comment would be the negative of that. A further criticism might be that you're sacrificing a greater effect by making sure everything hits hardest in these summary finales. The impulse is more interesting to me than the effect, really. Why do you want your stories to work that way? Is that just your background, what you value from literary fiction? Is there a compulsion on your part to make these grand statements.

ALDEN: I think there's a certain amount of insecurity there. I think it takes guts to let stories drift off. Some of my favorite cartoonists and authors are able to do it beautifully. I don't know. At the moment I'm into tying that knot at the end. I guess because it justifies the work the reader put into getting through the whole thing. That's how I'd put it.

SPURGEON: You have a bunch of opportunities ahead of you and you're publishing in a variety of places in 2014. Are you satisfied with your options, Sam. Do you think you're served by the industry in terms of its ability to get your work out where it can be seen? Or are there frustrations for you, things you wish that you got from the business side that you're not getting, or at least not getting yet?

ALDEN: What's important for me to say right off of the bat is that I feel really, really lucky that I get to work with as many publishers as I do. Anything I have to complain about needs to be tempered by that. It would be nice if there was more money in this industry. [laughs] Like, that's pretty obvious. I can't speak to that right now because I've signed up for more stuff than I'm engaged in right now. I'm barely making low rent with comics. I'm not... yeah. I feel lucky to be able to do that!

SPURGEON: One of the humbling things about working in the arts, Sam, is that no matter how frustrating you might your find your present gig there are a hundred people looking at you and thinking, "That should have been mine."

ALDEN: Totally. That was me. That was me until a month ago. [laughter] I swear. I hear that. Even artists.

I believe in the arts. People should be able to support themselves doing art. I think when people complain a lot of the time about making a living as a cartoonist they should maybe be remind that it's hard to do anything. [laughs] There are a lot worse professions to be making minimum wage on. Maybe I'm just focusing on money... you question was broader was that.

SPURGEON: It was a little broader than that. It struck me that 25 years ago where cartoonists would immediately settle into relationships with publishers. If not the first time out, then maybe the second. And that these relationships are the kind that are pretty secure and prolific... to the point that when a cartoonist works with someone else it's seen as weird or even as an implied criticism of the primary publishing relationship. Your work seems spread out with a variety of publishers, and I wonder if there's something about that you like: is there something to be said about relishing the opportunity to work with Tom Kaczynski on a specific project?

ALDEN: I think it's... one thing is that I'm really interested in doing a lot of different kinds of comics. I don't want to have too much of a... I don't want to be locked into one kind of style or story. It suits that need to work with a variety of publishers with their own aesthetics. Tom K. is an actual book designer, and he can tell me how to make a book look a jillion times better than I'm able to. It looks like a Tom K. book and that's about as comfortable as I could ever get in terms of collaboration. But it's really fun. [laughter] I'm doing one for Retrofit right now and I'm trying to make it fit into the kind of books they're interested in doing; I want it to feel like a Retrofit book more than a Sam Alden book.

Another reason I maybe haven't attached myself to a larger publisher is because I don't have a larger book. I've just got a bunch of little tiny guys floating around.

*****

* Sam Alden
* List Of Comics Available On-LIne

*****

* from "Household"
* magazine cover illustration as posted to Alden's blog
* from Eighth Grade
* from "Hawaii 1997"
* some of Alden's figure drawing
* jarring image from "The Dancer In The Meadow"
* a quiet moment from "Household"
* a big ending moment from "Backyard"
* from "Haunter" (below)

*****

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*****
*****
 
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Go, Bookmark: The Jack Davis Foundation

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Assembled, Zipped, Transferred and Downloaded: Digital News

By Tom Spurgeon

* I wasn't aware that GoComics. was running Mo Willems' sketches from Paris on its site as its own feature. That's fascinating in its implications, although something makes me think they've made it pretty clear already that they'll be doing a variety of material there.

* it's hard for me to judge which of these kinds of announcements are important and which ones aren't, but I figure if you're offering DRM-free content like Image Comics is doing it would help to have as many platforms and avenues going as is possible to have.

* finally, Gary Tyrrell makes some recommendations.
 
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Go, Look: Esad Ribic Draws Wolverine

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Not Comics: Moebius Concept Art For The Movie Willow

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* TCJ reviews 2013. They have some really great writers over there.

image* it's funny how fandom works, because on the one hand I was one of those snobby little kids that thought Jack Kirby's stuff was too unsophisticated and childish to make for the kind of comics I wanted to read and on the other hand I was totally reading everything that Jack Kirby did I could get my hands on. This run of primetime Kirby Fantastic Four reprints provided me with some of my favorite comics from the decade after the decade in which they initially appeared. There's a panel of an elephant made of sound smashing things with a tree trunk that is as bonkers a throwaway panel as any that ever existed. I also liked that Klaw villain, and the idea of sound as the extreme danger offered a bad guy -- that was something around which to wrap your little-kid head, and the robotic hand was super-creepy. Thanks, Mr. Kirby.

* Alan Moore is up to something here.

* just because I sort of understand how modern variants work doesn't mean I understand the variants.

* Matt Bors, he of the "I had a very good year" statement three or four years in a row now, remembers the year 2013 via editorial cartoons.

* wow. Also, that was more than 20 years ago.

* I don't know if Shawn Cheng does a lot of this kind of thing, but I figure it's worth following his twitter account to find out.

* finally, Roger Langridge draws with a pencil.
 
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Happy 47th Birthday, Joan Hilty!

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Happy 39th Birthday, Keith Pille!

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Happy 58th Birthday, MD Bright!

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Happy 39th Birthday, Nina Bunjevac!

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December 26, 2013


CR Holiday Interview #08 -- Gary Tyrrell

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*****

Gary Tyrrell is one of the foundational comics bloggers, by which I mean one of the seven or eight bloggers currently working that I believe has an authoritative perspective on a significant aspect of comics making. Tyrrell covers webcomics-making and its supporting sub-culture as that kind of comic became understood around the middle of the last decade: the comics world of folks like Kate Beaton, David Malki, Chris Onstad and Meredith Gran. Fleen is a daily stop for me.

I've been dying to meet and/or interview Tyrrell for years; I still have yet to meet him. I thought it was an interesting year for comics of the type he covers, and his conception of a milieu where creators are building on their relationships with their audience in these sorts of specifically targeted ways is an intriguing one to me. I am additionally grateful that Tyrrell gave me so much time for me to ask my old-man questions. I edited what follows a little bit more than usual because we quickly grew so comfortable talking to one another that the conversation became a bit ragged on my end. This is particularly true of the last couple of subjects introduced. That was all me; Tyrrell stayed mostly on point. In typical Fleen fashion, we end on a super-enthusiastic note, in this case for the forthcoming documentary Stripped.

I am super grateful for the time spent by Tyrrell in helping this interview see publication, for his trust in this edit, and for his daily attention to this crucial element of today's comics. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

TOM SPURGEON: So I thought I would go back and look at some of the earliest posts on Fleen, or at least what you still had up.

GARY TYRRELL: Eight years now.

SPURGEON: Going back was no help at all. It's the same blog, Gary. It's almost like you started mid-sentence your voice has changed so little in that time. You're completely baffling to me. [Tyrrell laughs] Where the hell did you come from?

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TYRRELL: Where did I come from? [pause] I came from meeting Jon Rosenberg and Phillip Karlsson of Goats one year at MoCCA. Thanks to our shared love of beer, they invited me to their regular Thursday night drink up at the Peculiar Pub in New York. Things just sort of cascaded from there. Once you meet one cartoonist, they have friends, and they have friends, and they have friends...

SPURGEON: So when did you make the choice to write about these people you were meeting? What was involved with making that decision?

TYRRELL: It was actually something Jon prompted me to do, something he wrote back on the Goats site back late 2004, early 2005. There were a number of sites that were purporting to do discussion about webcomics but were written by the people who were doing webcomics. He was railing that if you were doing this you shouldn't just be writing about what you were doing and what the people in your studio are doing. There should be somebody else who's not creating stuff who's doing this.

If you repeat something often enough, with enough beer, it becomes a good idea.

SPURGEON: [laughs] Are there people you consider predecessors? The only one close to you I can think of is Eric Burns-White.

TYRRELL: Eric Burns and Xaviar Xerexes were doing stuff around the same time -- everyone else has dropped out. Eric writes much more in-depth than I do. He does things from a half-fannish perspective, half lit-crit perspective. I don't have any of that training, or that background or that patience. I try to bang things out during the workday. It's more of a... it's a world that fascinates me because I know I could never do it. I enjoy the end product because the mechanics and the business workings and the rest fascinate me.

SPURGEON: Do you have some sort of writing background? You have a very distinctive voice.

TYRRELL: No, I'm an engineer by training.

SPURGEON: Okay. [laughs] Is this the first time you'd written in a sustained fashion?

TYRRELL: I'd contributed to various things, like writing humor through college and grad school. I've written a couple of technical books. But first of this nature.

SPURGEON: Was there a role-model, maybe outside of comics? Was there someone who covered a scene in a similar fashion with a similar voice?

TYRRELL: Not a person, but a lot of the approach where it's not overly fawning but occasionally a bit derisive, that comes out of the British tech newsletter scene. There are some tech newsletters where the tone is somewhat similar, but it's mostly my voice.

SPURGEON: You've been around eight years, which is a billion years of Internet time. But by 2005 it wasn't like it was a brand-new scene. Some people that are around now were already around in some fashion; you also had people who had been doing digital comics for multiple years. So had you been following this material from the 1990s? I'm assuming you hadn't stumbled into that MoCCA Festival out of love for old buildings, but I'm not sure where your comics interests lie.

TYRRELL: I stumbled into MoCCA because I was volunteering with the CBLDF. Which started from... oh... '98 or so. So I'd been to every MoCCA and a bunch of SPXes working their table. I started to find that the people doing things on-line were much more interesting... their work was much more interesting to me than the people coming out of the older print and minis scene.

I probably started... there used to be a British tech newsletter called NTK. Doesn't exist any longer. "Need To Know." A lot of the people from that went on to found one called The Register. They had a writer -- who still does things for them occasionally, but at the time he was doing things for them weekly -- called Simon Travaglia, who is a systems administrator from New Zealand and invented this character called The Bastard Operator From Hell, which is every stereotype of the evil, manipulative, murderous even tech guy at a company. Don't cross him. Don't ever cross him unless you want to get stuck in the elevators for a long weekend. When the first collections of his writings came out, I think it was from -- I don't think they're still around -- the old Plan Nine imprint out of North Carolina. They were at that time starting to print a lot of the first-generation webcomics. So Jeff Darlington's GPF and Pete Abrams' Sluggy and Kevin & Kell and things like that were in their stable. They got people from that end of the world to do illustration. That is where I took the leap over and found Keenspot, and found Brad Guigar and a bunch of things like that. I spread out pretty quickly. The original Big Panda Era stuff.

I didn't realize it, but the original Fleen the name was owned by Rosenberg, which was the fairly large electronic entertainment network where Goats and PvP and Wigu and Waiting For Bob and a bunch of other early webcomics -- Bobbins -- were all portaled. I leaped into reading from there.

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SPURGEON: Did you have any idea you'd stick with it this long? I know that's a standard question, but I'm fascinated by the continuity of what you've done.

TYRRELL: It's sort of half-habit and half-"I'll Show Them All" vengeance seeking at this point. [Spurgeon laughs] Back in my undergraduate days I was on the radio: one of those really tiny college stations with an effective radius of about eight miles. The big, big, cabinet party speakers that we would rent out actually had a higher power draw than our transmitter. One of my friends said the best thing about being on this radio station is you can inflict your musical tastes on people for an hour at a time. If they happen to be listening! That's kind of how I look at what I'm doing. One of the occasional references I make to myself is as a vicious opinion-monger. This is a place where whatever is on my mind, whatever I can construct, whatever I think might be clever -- a gag I want to pound into the pavement -- this is the place where I can do that.

I went to a technical school -- I've mentioned this a couple of times -- with a stringent set of humanities assignments. [Spurgeon laughs] It was very popular. I'm thinking back one day my senior year, a friend of mine and I took a history class. The regular history professor there, and there was just one, was on a Fulbright fellowship, so we had a substitute for that year. He was spending time on our campus but also at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He said about halfway through the term, "I just realized something, guys. I'm teaching you the same curriculum I'm teaching at Urbana, and you guys are on the quarter system so you have ten weeks to a term, they're on the semester system so they have 15 weeks, you're doing as much reading as they are in less time, you're cranking out papers as good as they are... they're history majors, you're engineers, what the hell?' [Spurgeon laughs]

We had to explain that this was the only class we were taking this term that doesn't have math. This is the break.

This was not "History: It's Good!" This was a specific 200-year look at war and revolution from the French Revolution forward. You're reading things like On Crimes And Punishments and The Social History Of The Machine Gun and Homage To Catalonia -- some fairly in-depth stuff. It was the break. It was where you didn't have to think; it was, quite frankly, a really relaxing time. In engineering the answer is either correct or it's wrong. The math adds up or it doesn't. But if I'm writing about Macchiavelli, there's room there for argument or even artful bullshit that you can get past someone even if it's a bit weak. So it's creative in a different way.

SPURGEON: So why aren't there more of you?

TYRRELL: I came in at a time when there wasn't anyone else. Then at some point, the comments became the place where the community sort of spoke to itself. If there was something about micropayments, or something about Keenspot, or somebody trying to set up a syndicate model, I could pull a hundred comments on a thread and let people argue back and forth. That's dropped off tremendously. You ask why nobody else is doing this. Since about 2008, as you got twitter showing up, that's where the community talks to itself now. Perhaps that why nobody else has bothered to come in. Not that there's nobody else writing about this, it's just usually in the context of something else. Lauren Davis writes good stuff, although it's frequently at ComicsAlliance or io9. Brigid Alverson writes really nice stuff on webcomics, and so does Johanna Draper Carlson, through their usual outlets. There's a woman named named Robynne [Blume] that launched a weekly thing -- a much more in-depth column that runs once a week called Webcomics Worth Wreading. With a "w" on "reading."

SPURGEON: Uh...?

TYRRELL: WWW.

SPURGEON: Okay. [laughs]

TYRRELL: So there are people doing this, in a more formalist context in a lot of cases. I'm either burying myself for a week looking at numbers in a kickstarter, or it's whatever I can bang out over 90 minutes at lunch time.

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SPURGEON: From what I understand talking to you informally, you think the core Fleen readership, your few thousand regular readers, you think this is a well-connected group... very much at the core of people making the webcomics and/or making a profit from them or sustaining a business in service to them. You also get a number of people who want to be those people.

TYRRELL: Or even if it's not the people who are making the profit from the webcomics, the webcomics are there along with where they're making their profit. A perfect example would be almost anybody out of Periscope Studio, or Karl Kerschl who has established a career at the big comic book companies but Charles Christopher is his.

SPURGEON: So you don't have to explain things. There's not a webcomics 101 voice that you feel need to use. Are you comfortable talking with your audience in a kind of assured, "we're all in the know here" way or do you wonder after every post being potentially someone's first post?

TYRRELL: It's interesting you ask that. As soon as you asked that, I went right to Stan Lee who always admonished that every issue was going to be somebody's first issue. I'm thinking I'm probably don't have continuity crud: "but in issue #27, Spider-Man's girlfriend clearly said..." [Spurgeon laughs] I think I write things at an apparent-enough level, it's possibly the engineer in me, that if somebody reading me can't get through what I've written and follow the links I've provided and figure out what's going on then I have failed at my job. But I don't sit back and define all my terms each time. There's been times where there's been complaining about something has been a little "inside baseball," where I was opaque enough that somebody said, "Huh?" And okay: I'll do better next time.

SPURGEON: You don't have continuity crud, but now that you've been doing it for several years do you ever think of your coverage in terms of recurring stories? Or repeating beats within your coverage -- like crowd-funding, or platform issues, do you think about it ever in terms of stories that repeat?

TYRRELL: It's honestly whatever comes to me on the day. I've usually got within Wordpress a post or two of one-line things and then rearrange them according to some kind of theme I can hang a title on. Yesterday for example, suggested naturally doing some vaguely-related follow-ups on various things I've talked about recently. Hasn't gone up yet, but today's will probably be on the theme of holiday gifts. "Here are holiday gifts that are interesting to us."

SPURGEON: Let's talk about this year. Or if a year isn't a proper way to look at these things, let's talk about the recent past as it relates to right now. I thought Joey Manley passing away might be a place for us to start because certainly someone's passing is a thing we all recognize in the classic sense as being a story. It's as old-fashioned a story as you can get.

TYRRELL: I didn't know Joey well. What struck me so much about Joey, was after he first hooked up with E-Line, I spoke to him at New York Comic-Con in I want to say '08. He was full of enthusiasm about what he'd be doing over the next six to 12 months... and it didn't show up. I'd ping him and say, "When is that coming?" He'd say, "I can't talk about that right now." And eventually those intervals between my pinging him became longer, and it became a ritualized once-a-year: "Still can't talk yet. Nope." I wonder what he didn't get to build because of his partners and where their focus was going to be or what they were willing to fund or their priorities and where they might have shifted.

SPURGEON: He was known for that kind of initial enthusiasm, though, enough so that it's a big part his legacy, I would imagine: this kind of overwhelming optimism about the possibility of of a structure or a plan or an element of organization brought to this world.

TYRRELL: A lot of his really most influential stuff was a bit before I came on the scene, which I experienced as a removed consumer. Looking back at the number of people that cite him as having been influential on their having careers and then how long ago that was, he was very prescient in that respect. I wonder if he could have had a different kind of partner or someone that was willing to treat his work as an angel investment -- "Look, we think you're onto something here and we're going to write you a check and stay back" -- as opposed to bringing him in to run a division.

SPURGEON: I asked a bit earlier why we didn't have a few more figures like you, but is there a reason we haven't seen more figures like Manley? There aren't a whole lot of non-creators of significant import in that world. Robert Khoo, maybe. Yourself.

TYRRELL: I think you'd have to put several levels of magnitude between me and Joey.

SPURGEON: I'm just saying there's a dearth of such figures on any level, which I don't even mean as a criticism but as something worth noting about the culture.

TYRRELL: From my reading of the history, Joey got to be Joey because he got a good cash-out from his tech endeavors and then decided, "What am I going to do with this money?" And that's a rare enough thing... I'm surprised that we got one Joey Manley.

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SPURGEON: I flashed on creator-producers -- you have creators that have been around a while now. They're lifers, or at least seem to be. And I think they're taking on those terms now more than ever. There's a shift away from looking at what people like that might do and as shift towards paying closer attention to what they're doing right now. People that you routinely cover -- like David Malki, for instance -- seem to be uniquely interesting creator-businessmen, and I have almost no grasp what the market they're working in is like. Is there a primer for those of us that behind the times there, an introduction you can give us as to what you're seeing right now?

TYRRELL: When you said you wanted to talk about stuff that was going on this year, I jotted down a couple of notes. A theme that keeps coming up is that I think that 2013 -- I might even go back as far as 2012 -- has seen the flowering of, the end result of, the long-game. Malki is able to pull down a half-million on a kickstarter. Or Ryan North is able to. Or Aaron Diaz is able to. They have spent the last who-knows-how-long priming that field and establishing that audience.

Take Malki as an example. He spent a couple of years putting together that first Machine Of Death anthology in addition to doing his own stuff. He spread things out. He started working on the second one, still spreading things out. Here's the card game that's coming along: $542,000 was I think the number on Kickstarter. In large part it's because he has this audience, but also in large part because he has this well-spring of "If only I had the right vehicle, I could do something this wacky." Did you see the video released this week of one of his kickstarter pledges, I think it was at the $299 level, in that they would take your particular order and show it to a goat before mailing it to you.

SPURGEON: No. No, I did not see that.

TYRRELL: Six people bought into that, so he had to go find some goats. He went out to a university-run research zoo, and they had a herd of goats. The goats were not all that interested, but he had to make sure they stared at the box and were told which one it was.

He had some dumb idea probably five years ago: "Some day I should offer someone the opportunity where I will sell them something at a huge mark-up by showing it to an animal first." He had the opportunity to do something like that. Everything Ryan North has been doing for the past year with the Choose Your Own Hamlet project: he says, "I will literally explode" and then he has to figure out how to do that. He says, "I will write a sequel" and he has to figure out a way to do that. He says he'll do this and that the other, and it's all a matter of these incredibly creative people that have this wellspring of incredibly creative ideas. "Well, I already had this project going; I can hang another incremental thing onto that."

The story I like to use to explain how this works as a case study: it's a year ago now, when Ryan North launched his kickstarter where for $25 you would get a print copy of To Be OR Not To Be with I think 25 black and white illustrations. By the time that Kickstarter wrapped, 30 days later, that same 25 bucks got you that book, the prequel book about Yorick, To Be Or Not To Be was going to have 110 full-color illustrations, a bookmark, stickers, an electronic copy of To Be Or Not To Be and Poor Yorick, electronic copies of all the Dinosaur books and something else I forget. The value of what you got went larger in there.

SPURGEON: It seems to me like you're talking about two different things, basically. One is encouraging the audience to participate in the building of a cultural event around the making of something related to a creative personality, and the other is the act of ensuring that the thing received increases in value.

TYRRELL: But the way I see it, all these things are possible because they spent so many years fertilizing that ground by saying, "Okay, I only have the mechanism, I only have the structure to do one thing at a time right now," and for Ryan that may be six panels of the same art with different language. Over five or six years people come to understand that nobody uses language like Ryan North. Now that we've seen him do these incredible things with those six panels, what might he do with this other thing that everybody knows?

With Malki... he always has something on the backburner. It's been a couple of years now that he's been going out to shows with a little Machine Of Death. You put your finger in, he hits it with a red marker, he gives you a band-aid, and out comes a card that tells you how you're going to die. He's been priming that audience with something they're becoming more familiar with. And of course I want to see more of that, because it was those stories, and the interaction and experience. Along the way he decides to make this stuff and take a class in machining and make little films about it. It's different bits of expression. It sets this expectation in the audience that these are people that are creative, and if you give them a project with lots of branching off points from it, they'll branch off in different directions.

SPURGEON: So what you're saying is that this all comes out of compact between artist and audience based on their art.

TYRRELL: It comes out of the art and the expectations they've set. Ryan might not have gotten the enormous take-up on his book if by that time he hadn't been producing Adventure Time books for about a year. He's just terrific on that, so people get to see what he would do with a longer format.

SPURGEON: That's not too far awat from the classic idea of using the way a cartoonist may corner a set of ideas or a certain area and then sell their expertise and access to that thing, like Penny Arcade and their access to and expertise with gaming culture. It's just creating one's own, very specific area of expertise.

TYRRELL: With Penny Arcade, they got there earlier than anyone else, and they're better than anyone else for that five to eight year head start.

SPURGEON: Right. So this is more like... [laughs] You know, Gary, I'm not even asking questions anymore; I'm just expressing befuddlement in your general proximity. This is stuff I should probably have figured out from your columns. [laughter] Here's an old-man question. Is this a model you think is available to the entire artistic community, or is this unique to a few people?

TYRRELL: It's absolutely available to everyone. This is a bunch of people that have in their own ways been establishing themselves and building their networks. The other huge thing that hit this year is these projects that spring up and it seems like half of webcomics is working on in one way or another. One of the Cartoon Network affiliated comics from BOOM!: between all the people that have done main stories, back-up stories covers for Adventure Time and the spin-off mini-series, and working with The Regular Show and its mini-series and Bravest Warriors... half of webcomics is working on those in one form or another. Or you get everything that's coming out from ShiftyLook -- half of webcomics is either working on their regular properties or the Namco High game coming out next week. The creators know each other now. "Andrew Hussie is going to be working with ShiftyLook. Because he knows Ananth Panagariya he's going to get made head writer, and because Ananth knows Magnolia Porter she's going to be writing with him and because they know all these different people they'll be the character designers."

SPURGEON: So it is different now that for someone that shows up, say, next week? Is that an easy community to enter, given those community ties may be so overwhelmingly important?

TYRRELL: If your work is good enough, absolutely. Some of the people that are showing up were known for other things and boom, they're in their right away. I'm thinking of Ryan Estrada -- he thankfully funded out his kickstarter for his next Whole Story yesterday. Have you seen Broken Telephone and its pitch? Eighteen interlocking stories, and the first name that jumped out at me on that list is Amy T. Falcone who started this year. I don't think would have been on that list but she made her name in the first season of Strip Search and she's done work since and it's good. Now is an eight- to 12-page story in an electronic anthology going to make a career? No. But it's a job. And it's a job she wouldn't have had if she hadn't made that impression in the last year. Ryan is living in South Korea; he's never met Amy. That has to be a matter of "I saw your work and it was good."

SPURGEON: And I imagine it's the comics themselves that keep people from bum rushing the scene. You can't really fake comics. So in that sense, there's a greater chance for it to be a scene based on merit.

TYRRELL: It's a scene based on merit, but I think it's more than merit there; I think there's also authenticity. I think it was Dave Kellett that pointed out four or five years ago when Kate Beaton just exploded onto the scene, she was drawing in ballpoint pen on copy paper these autobiographical stories talking to her younger self and putting it up on livejournal with not great scans. Everything that should have been wrong. But there was something authentic in the voice, a point of view that hadn't been done before, a thing that is fulfilling a need and she came out of nowhere. Absolutely out of nowhere.

I would argue that the most successful of the Strip Search contestants, Abby Howard, she was living in Montreal doing a fairly scribbly journal comic that almost nobody read called Junior Scientist Power Hour. I hadn't heard of her before she was on the show. I went and looked at the work, and by no means was it the most sophisticated work out there but there's a voice out there and it's hilarious. Seeing her on the show she has a big personality. Her kickstarter comes along to do her big project and I think she cleared $100K on it. Literally unknown; just a matter of getting the right work in front of the right eyes. If it didn't resonate the right way, that wouldn't have happened.

SPURGEON: Now a television show seems different to me. If this mechanism exists, why wasn't she discovered solely on the merits of her webcomics themselves? Why did it take the TV show for you to go find them?

TYRRELL: Well, web TV show. It's still a matter of the right person sharing with the right people sharing it with the right people. Kate Beaton through luck was roomies -- if I remember the story correctly -- with Emily [Horne} from A Softer World who showed it to Ryan North who shared it on Dinosaur Comics and boom that was it. The end of the week she's everywhere.

SPURGEON: So everyone's Nick Frost now.

TYRRELL: Kind of like, yeah. Or Simon Pegg.

SPURGEON: One more old-man question. You've mentioned the size of these projects, these crowd-funding projects. You've talked about the aggregate total. How much of that goes to sustaining the living of the cartoonist?

TYRRELL: Depends on the project. If it's an anthology from Ryan Estrada, everything that he makes aside from mailing out some of his rewards goes to the artist. If it's one of Spike's anthologies, the more she makes on it the more she pays the artists. She lays out the schedule: "They've already been this amount; we hit this figure they get another $50. They hit this dollar figures they get another $50 per page." With Smut Puddler #1, I think she hit somewhere in the range of the $400 to $450 per artist per page range above what she already paid them because the kickstarter took off. In other cases, I don't follow every kickstarter out there because there are so damn many of them, but in the ones I'm most familiar with it's supporting the work in question. "We've made x-amount of money, so we improve the project this way" rather than supporting the creator because that's where you end up with busted kickstarters and howling, angry mobs.

SPURGEON: Sure. [laughs]

TYRRELL: There's a famous case recently where someone raised $125,000 and blew it all moving to Portland and establishing a company and not actually producing the project and saying, "Sorry, money's all gone!"

SPURGEON: The community that you cover is not prone to do that, I'm guessing.

TYRRELL: The ones that are successful aren't prone to doing things like that. I'm still remembering at SDCC last year, 2012, there was a kickstarter panel and people like Vijaya Iyer and Batton Lash and Jimmy Palmiotti were up on the panel and it was clear that 97 percent of the people in that room were those that wanted to get in on the magic money machine and they haven't actually produced a comic before but they're certain if someone gave them $50,000 they'd make the best comic ever. There's a huge Dunning-Kruger effect there. It tends to self-select out moreso in comics than a lot of other environments on kickstarter.

Howard Tayler set me up with an interview with a guy that follows kickstarters primarily in the boardgame community. That community is so desperate for new stuff that might only exist in Europe that anybody that comes up with a pitch for a Euro-style boardgame, they'll throw in 20 or 30 bucks knowing that a third or more will never produce, because it's cheaper than trying to import new product and the ones they get that are gems will have been cheaper than getting them that way. But in the comics community, it's a case of this wealth of material that can be read for free. Unless it's someone showing you something that's already given you a wealth of material you've enjoyed and you want to support them, or you've established a track record where you can deliver, you're not getting my ten bucks.

I won't name it, but there's a kickstarter with the most incomprehensible pitch ever and it went 30 days and garnered exactly zero dollars. And a month later the exact same pitch launched again, not a word was changed, and it garnered zero dollars. And then a month later it was up again and it garnered to bucks from a creator of my acquaintance who was so enjoying the insanity he wanted to encourage it. [laughter] "I want to keep this guy going forever." There's a lot of self-delusion out there. Even for people that have good support structures behind them.

imageI shudder to think what David Malki's sanity or Aaron Diaz's sanity might be like if not for the launching of Make That Thing, which is the TopatoCo subsidiary to fulfill kickstarters. It's broader than that -- they'll help manage the campaign and they're involved in it from the get go. Things that would have these great big huge outcomes without that, or without a Breadpig behind it, or one of the other support structures that have really come into their own this year -- TopatoCo, Make That Thing, Breadpig -- I don't know what their magic ad manipulating, ad-wrangling formula but the Hiveworks collective identity has been picking up comics left and right and the creators I've been talking to say, "Yeah, I get nice big checks out of them." They've figured out how to run the ad brokering game that's tremendous for their people.

To that aspect as a support structure, you might argue that Strip Search was that. It shined a spotlight. I don't know what the audience demographics were, and I don't know if Robert Khoo could tell me -- I don't know if they have that ability. I would wage that a good 80 percent of the viewership of Strip Search came from PA's established audience. Which in a lot of cases their pop culture thing is entirely the videogames and not the comics aspect of it at all -- Penny Arcade is as far as they go into comics, and now they've been exposed a bunch of different types of comics. And the creators that went through that are establishing points of interaction and passing jobs back and forth and a bunch of them have been hired onto various things and have found ways to organize their careers since. So that's kind of like a support structure.

SPURGEON: Dave Kellett also mentioned this to me: these companies that spring up to serve cartoonists, to serve self-starting cartooning crowd-funded or not, is what may take the place of a more standard industry infrastructure. It's a structure based on service.

TYRRELL: They work for the creators rather than the other way around.

SPURGEON: Right.

TYRRELL: When Zuda launched, I went through their contract line by line. I said, "This is probably better than we've ever seen before coming out of the publishers, and kudos to them for making it public, but what we really need is an anti-Zuda." I called it "Aduz." And that's what these companies are.

SPURGEON: Do you have any advice for traditional publishers that want to move into this space, any general words of wisdom? Because while the orientation is very different, these companies have almost no choice but to try and move into this space. They have to deal with it, anyway. Is there anything you would have them learn from the world that you cover? For instance, it seems to me that the Fantagraphics kickstarter was the younger people at the company, and that they were able to mirror the excitement that people bring to these webcomics-culture crowd-funders.

TYRRELL: Right.

SPURGEON: Is there anything you would recommend, or maybe anyone you would recommend, companies pay attention to?

TYRRELL: It maybe less a person or a trend or a mechanism, or more that... I brought up TopatoCo.

The biggest analogy to webcomics I find among the print publishers is First Second. The reason for that is they have the sense of restraint and curation and they'd rather deal with a number of high-quality clients than grow unbounded. The smartest thing that Jeff [Rowland] and Holly [Rowland] at TopatoCo ever did was say, "We are not going to accept clients beyond our ability to make good things." They could be I'm guessing five to ten times their present size if they took on everybody that had an interest in working with them. But they can't do that well. So they don't. They say, "Look. You can send us your stuff and we'll look at it, we promise, but if we wanted to work with you chances are we've already talked to you. And we have to keep this controlled." They grew at a controlled pace for a bunch of years and then they tapered that off even though they've hired people in a way that you get a good, quality experience there. Same thing with Make That Thing. They could have sustained a lot more projects this year if they had been willing to half-ass a couple of them, if they had been willing to work outside of some of their comfort areas. They're not ever going to work on a technology project because they don't have expertise there. They can't say, "We can make this as bulletproof as possible."

Hiveworks has grown explosively this year. I hope that it doesn't get away from them. Because if they continue on that path there may be too many clients to serve all of their needs, which will not all perfectly align with each other simultaneously. I don't know if that will happen. I don't know that won't happen. I don't know the people that run it. I've been impressed with what they've built so far, as long as they keep in mind what they can accomplish.

I started thinking along these lines more than anything after talking to Howard Tayler about his kickstarter earlier this year for the Challenge Coins. Did you follow that one?

SPURGEON: I remember that one, sure.

TYRRELL: $1800 goal and he cleared over $100K. He stopped adding stretch goals with a couple of weeks to go, even though they were really driving up his totals. He said to himself, "It's not the manufacturing that's going to be the critical chokepoint here; it's me coming up with designs. If I keep committing to more, something will have to slip. I won't get a book out this year, or I'm going to have to do something with the strip I'm not happy with..." -- maybe some of these other writing things he was trying to do he wouldn't be to complete. Not might have done as many of the Excuses podcast and he's got that rocket ship statue at home on his mantlepiece so what a good job that was.

That was the most visible indication to me. I'll admit, it snapped me out of the kickstarter, "another stretch goal, it's bigger; another stretch goal, it's bigger! something more! something more!" fever. Where someone said, "Nah, I've got to rein this back in." And have some sense of limit.

It's the quality approach rather than a sheer quantity approach. Whether it's the number of clients you've got, whether it's what you're doing with your project, whether it's how many books you're putting out a year.

I think that last year I toted up that six separate First Second books were up for Eisner or equivalent level awards. They only put out 18 books that year, so that's fairly astonishing. If I got my count right this year it's 20, if you count Boxers & Saints as one project. Which is a sense of restraint you don't normally see. I think it's all done by four people there.

SPURGEON: Gina [Gagliano], Mark [Siegel], Calista [Brill] and Colleen [Venable]. They share and have resources, but that's essentially true, yeah.

TYRRELL: If nothing else, First Second showed me something I didn't know that I could have: it showed me that I could have a favorite book designer. I love the stuff that Colleen Venable does. It's gorgeous.

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SPURGEON: It seems strange that I just this interview's first aesthetic response from you, and it's directed at a print publisher. A designer at a print publisher! I'm not sure there's a good way to get into the art of webcomics, so let's just plunge in. One major talent that came back and started doing comics again in the webcomics world was Chris Onstad, although I don't detect as much excitement as I thought there might be for him doing regular comics. What do you like? How do your tastes run? What do you think was good, whether or not people noticed it?

TYRRELL: My tastes are fairly... fairly broad. A lot of stuff that I love unabashedly is not necessarily the biggest market stuff. People come to me over the last five years and ask, "What is the best stuff out there?" and I don't think I've ever produced the same list twice.

I was very excited about Onstad coming back. He's shown a nice consistency, and he may be getting into one of his really weird story arcs right now -- and a long callback, going back to the very beginnings of the strip, if he carries through on this penny bit. I would love to see that.

Just for people that are doing good, quirky, individual-voice, not-like-anything-else-out-there work, week after week, I love Magnolia Porter's Monster Pulse. If Pokémon were real, and there was a little pinch of body horror mixed in with teenaged adolescence... she's not writing 'tweens and teens as little, wisecracking adults. She's writing them as kids. They're fumbling and they're bumbling and they doing they're best and they're got on each others' nerves and they're best friends and, and, and... all the things that people are at that age when they are trying to figure out who they are. And then you have the additional, "You've got a monster replacing one of your body parts." Really bizarre premise, but she makes it work.

I am unapologetic that K. Brooke Spangler -- she's largely dropped her nom-de-Internet of "Otter" -- does a terrific strip called A Girl And Her Fed. It's about the surveillance state, and it's about technology and it's about how we interact with those things, and liberty and dick jokes. Absolutely wonderful, wonderful dick jokes, that are subtle and there's a long build-up to them. She's terrific and her art has come miles and miles and miles. This year she's started doing novelizations set in her world and they are legitimately really, really good.

I am really impressed by everything Jim Zub does. Talk about the long game: the time he's spent establishing himself, and putting together skills, and if he's not doing something that's specifically web-comicky, it's close enough. The stuff that he obviously loves is the stuff he owns. And he's finding a way to work all that out. Similarly, the aesthetic you get out of Ryan Estrada and wanting to work with as many creators as he can and come up with as much good comics as he can... almost everything that comes out of Erika Moen and Dylan Meconis makes me smile, because they each have these wonderful, wonderful voices of their own. They're just awesome, hilarious people.

SPURGEON: That is a very diverse group.

TYRRELL: I don't have a type.

SPURGEON: There's no implicit criticism in my pointing out that, I swear. Is there any way to figure out what is going on in a broader sense in terms of what we're seeing or what we're experiencing in terms of development? It seems at one point that webcomics was driven a lot more by formal issues, for instance, and that you had guys like Drew Weing and Cat Garza making things you couldn't necessarily do with print comics. More to the point, it's what we talked about when we talked about webcomics. And then, for while, it seemed like the rhetoric regarding the best of webcomics was dominated by the low entry point and the way this facilitated greater diversity in creative voices, and that you could experience these artists that for whatever reason were not going to come to you through the traditional gatekeepers. Do you see similar shifts?

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TYRRELL: I think we may be on to a third or a third and a half wave. Whereas your first wave was McCloud and the formalists, and your second wave was people who were doing things that couldn't get syndicated because of their content or their topic matter but were recognizably newspaper strip type things -- the children of reading the newspaper in the '80s. The ones that grew up on Calvin and Hobbes and Bloom County. Then you got to your third wave who were just starting out, 13 or 14 when that second wave started to get popular. So they decide, "Oh, I can do that." And a lot of them went off to art school and did that. You're onto kind of a third and a half wave where we're into a world where you didn't ever not see these possibilities. You end up with these -- I'll call them "kids" -- who are in their early- or mid-twenties and doing interesting stuff, but a lot of what's coming up newest right now are people who kept their artistic careers quieter and just exploded. In some cases... Emily Carroll exploring what you can do with the McCloudian infinite canvas.

SPURGEON: It's not like those kinds of comics ever go away, it's just that this isn't the dominant mode of discussion. Because you're right: Emily Carroll would have fit in perfectly with the people over whom Scott McCloud became enthusiastic. But we don't tend to think of Carroll in terms of those formal flourishes first.

TYRRELL: It's not about structure, it's about who these people are and where they've been and why we haven't noticed them before. You think about Boulet... okay, we didn't notice him before because it was all in French. But then... "Darkness" was the first thing that hit on this side of the Atlantic translated, and he's brilliant and he's got what, an 18-month delay on his daily comics except for his tour. Again, he's creating these things that couldn't be done anyplace other than digital. But it's still just a case of a creator having a vision and may as well go and do it himself. "No one is going to pay me to do an enlightenment tale of werewolves." "No one's going to pay me to do Girls before it was Girls set in Brooklyn, twenty-somethings figuring out their lives." "No one's going to pay me to do comics about literature and history."

SPURGEON: Is there anything you worry about?

TYRRELL: Five years ago I was worried about co-option. When DC and Marvel were talking about, "Oh, we're going to do webcomics." And it was like, "Okay, you're talking about traditional publishing that just happens to go on the web and because you have corporate backing with too much it happens to be a horrible interface. I don't worry about that so much anymore.

When "We scanned a bunch of stuff here but the eyes blink." I can see things like that coming from major corporate interests, Functionally, to me, it's not any different than when in, oh, '65 or '66, they just photographed a bunch of static panels from early Marvel comics and made occasionally whooshing sounds and turned them into cartoons. It's not much more interesting than that.

There's an understanding from people that came up with digital that doesn't come naturally to other people no matter how well intentioned they may be. I'm going to be very careful about how I word this and I'll ask you to pay extra attention that I don't sound like a jerk.

SPURGEON: [laughs]

TYRRELL: I adore Vijaya Iyer. I adore Jeff Smith. I will buy anything that Cartoon Books puts out. Absolutely anything. The approach they took to the reading experience of Tuki Save The Humans is kind of terrible. The RSS feed leads to a static image of one panel, and you have to click on that to make it bigger. To navigate the archive, you get placeholder image which you then have to click to make that one page come up, then you have to go back in your browser to navigate through. It's a clumsy reading experience, which I attribute to the fact that Jeff and Vijaya are a couple of years older than I am.

Yesterday Meredith Gran tweeted a photo. She was grading papers for her webcomics class. Something had caught her fancy, and she had written in traditional professor's red pencil "LOL" next to something. She's dealing with kids that are not yet 20, for whom an immersive or at least a non-interrupted navigational experience is baked right into their DNA. It would never have occurred to them to a reading experience like Tuki -- which I'm really enjoying the hell out of.

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SPURGEON: It's super good-looking, and I think it's a storyline that plays to all of Jeff's strengths. I read it in an earlier form off of Jeff's computer, so I haven't seen their interface yet.

TYRRELL: I was happy when Vijaya was asking after people that were really good at web design to put some names to her, because it needs to be re-done. They could not have conceived of that reading experience, where the structure and material are working at cross-purposes.

SPURGEON: So your worry is that there are some excellent cartoonists and virtuous businesspeople -- people like Jeff and Vijaya -- may have missteps along the way just because they come from a different perspective.

TYRRELL: It doesn't have to last very long. They'll recognize it's a problem and fix it. Which means there will be a better experience than with a big corporation where everything's looked at from a very different perspective. Not that it always works badly. Thinking back, I don't think Girl Genius had this experience when it launched as a web exclusive.

SPURGEON: So you sound pretty positive. You sound like you think things are in a good place, and it's something that I think comes out of your blog right now even more so than usual. You sound enthused for the successes people are having and the ability for people to build on these successes.

TYRRELL: Webcomics can't implode barring a major shift to the structure and nature of the Internet, which would cause uprisings beyond comics on the Internet. If people can't get their cat gifs, there will be rioting in the streets. [Spurgeon laughs]

What may happen is that there may be a new delivery protocol or new delivery method out there that comes along and people are too slow to adapt much like the syndicates were too slow to adapt to the Internet. Or the music labels were too slow to adapt to the Internet or the movie companies were too slow to adapt to the Internet. But in the past couple of years, let's say, there's been recognition by the first generation of come up on the Internet and professionalize it creators to say, "The only thing that scares me is missing the next thing." They're constantly on the lookout for that. There have been incremental structural changes in terms of how they relate to an audience. Twitter for example. Tumblr for example. But nothing revolutionary like the Internet as a new technology. That would be the only thing that would cause the disruption. And even then that would be, "Okay, I've already figured out how to make things work here and maybe the new medium doesn't have an ad network the same way and I have to start up..." there's an adaptability there.

I think that that's most demonstrated by the fact that Brad Guigar is going to be teaching a class on the entrepreneurial end of art careers at art school. It's determined by things like I mentioned earlier this week: If you've got someone with ideas and the "well, let's just try it and see if it works" attitude as opposed to the "we must study it" attitude, you end up sometimes with a runaway success. Rich Stevens has one of those every six months. I don't want to speculate what percentage of his income is built out of products with the word "fuck" on them. [laughter] That coffee mug is now a line of coffee mugs. The ice scraper he had to fight to get made is now so popular he's selling them in ten packs. He had an idea, said, "Let's try this. We'll do a run and see if it works." And boom. It worked.

SPURGEON: So to be clear, you don't see Tumblr as a game-changer.

TYRRELL: I don't see Tumblr as a distribution platform because Tumblr's entire mechanism is built around re-sharing but in a way that doesn't lead back to the original. I don't know if Kate Beaton is the reigning queen or Zack Weiner is the reigning king of having attribution stripped off of their stuff and tumbl'd around and getting far more re-shares. "Look at what I found and now give me the credit" as opposed to even the original person putting it on tumblr themselves.

SPURGEON: Okay, I'm a bit confused, because when you describe it like that, it sounds horrible.

TYRRELL: It sounds horrible if your model depended upon putting your stuff on tumblr exclusively and hoping that the eyes came to you.

There's no attribution culture on tumblr, although one could develop. The other thing about that is -- I have no presence on tumblr. I spend almost no time there, and go there if someone puts out a link and I end up there not realizing it's tumblr. My impression is that it's tough to brand yourself there. "Oh, look at this thing I found on Tumblr" as opposed to "Look at this thing I found on Kate Beaton's tumblr." The most important thing for these creators to have is they are identified as the creator and the attention goes to them than the particular creation. As long as that share model sits on tumblr I don't think it can be an effective means of keeping the brand on yourself.

SPURGEON: So it's not an impediment to building an audience? If things primarily take off on tumblr, that isn't a worry to someone who would prefer it take off from a devoted site?

TYRRELL: I really don't think so. Tumblr will die on the vine if there's not original content coming from someplace. The tagging aspects of tumblr make it easy to find a lot of stuff from a lot of people that you wouldn't have found otherwise. There may be a serendipity factor in there. It's almost an ideal infrastructure for things going widely viral from community to community. Apart from that, the creators I know that maintain tumblrs, they do so in terms of having art tumblrs, or stuff that is not tied to the key property.

SPURGEON: You said you made a list, Gary. Did I hit everything?

TYRRELL: You talked to Dave Kellett so I'm guessing you talked about Stripped.

SPURGEON: We did. That interview will have run by the time this interview appears on the blog, but of course the movie roll-out is ongoing, and starts in earnest in 2014.

TYRRELL: I'm so excited to see that. I cannot wait to see -- if people are going crazy over Dear Mr. Watterson -- I can't wait to see what happens when people hear, "Oh, we happen to have [Bill] Watterson's voice speaking in his own words about what all this means." I cannot wait to see this movie. I am so thrilled for what it is going to do for Fred [Schroeder] and Dave and their crew Jen [Troy] and Ben [Waters] -- I know I'm forgetting some people -- and the praise it should bring them as creators -- even if it's just in very specialized communities. That they're invited to animation studios up and down the coast is very encouraging to me. I am perhaps more thrilled that this is going to become part of the canon, if you will, for future people inte0rested in comics, comic strips, animation -- seeing how these people that came before them thought and how they approached things. What they looked like, what they sounded like, what their passions were, how they approached this key point of inflection.

I'm also salivating at the thought that they're still in the process of figuring out what they're going to do with the 300 hours of material that didn't make it into the film. That they have two hours of McCloud talking... I'm eating this stuff up. I hope Dave and Fred get really, really drunk after they press that master and get it out into the world and take a deep breath before deciding what to do next. I know Dave's just itching to draw more.

*****

* Fleen

*****

* logo image from the Fleen site
* from Goats
* from Waiting For Bob, which I went looking for because I had never heard of it
* from The Abominable Charles Christopher
* David Malki at ECCC 2013
* logo from Make That Thing
* images from Achewood
* image from Emily Carroll
* image from Tuki
* Stripped trailer (below)

*****



*****
*****
 
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Go, Look: Valentina Mini-Gallery

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

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.

*****

It looks like it's some sort of bizarre non-shipping week because of Christmas. Or maybe it's not bizarre, maybe that's how they do things Christmas week. Anyway, there's not a single comic book that interests me of the 11 new ones released, although the ones coming out seem to all have their fans. For instance, you get a double-shot of the "Forever Evil" DC storyline with the mini-series' fourth issue and the latest in the Justice League major tie-in. You also have the first issue to a sequel for Marvel's Origin series, the original of which I only know from making fun of it.

imageSo it might be a good week to dig around in the back issue bins or buy something that came out that no one paid much attention to the first time. My brother's in town and he super-enjoyed the Guy Delisle book at left; that's a funny book. He was pleased to see a new Cathy Malkasian book came out this year although he hadn't noticed when it had. My brother had me pull the various Marvel mini-series that Steve Rude did ten years ago, like this one with Captain America and this one with Thor. Have to imagine those are super-cheap in any back-issues store not super-delusional, as are these two JSA series involving the late, great Mike Parobeck. Comic book stores are great.

Speaking of Thor, I enjoyed a few Esad Ribic-drawn issues of the latest series that I read about ten days ago. I have to imagine most stores will have some of those.

Something comic-book sized from the alternative realm that came out this year is a second issue of Mardou's fine Sky In Stereo. You might ask the person behind the desk.

Or you can just watch Dave Chappelle riffing on superheroes. I don't know. It's a holiday week, you should do what you want.


*****

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 because I hate you.

*****
*****
 
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Go, Look: Jeff Zenick

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

By Tom Spurgeon

* Comiket, Comiket, Comiket.

* I thought I had run this Leeds Festival report in comics form, but a note from the cartoonist suggesting maybe I should run it makes me think maybe I haven't.

* in this interview Eric Stephenson gets into some of their thinking about the Image Expo. It's sound strategy: there is enough of a press infrastructure there and enough of a comics fanbase there and enough of an attentive on-line press corps that having an early January convention and time all to themselves makes a lot of sense. I don't think I'll ever be able to travel to an event that close to the holiday, but they don't need me there. I assume that within about three years we will see four or five similarly company-driven shows.

* Pittsburgh Indie Comix Expo will be held March 22 and the great Trina Robbins is their first announced special guest. You can follow them on twitter here. Jim Rugg and Theo Ellsworth will also be there.

* finally, let's all go here if there's another one.
 
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Go, Look: Curved Lines

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CR Holiday Interview Series Moves Into Week Two, But Let's Not All-The-Way Forget Week One

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I want to list the first week of CR Holiday Interviews because I'm not sure how well my archives work right now.

#7 -- Dean Mullaney
#6 -- Kate Deneveu And David Murray
#5 -- Dave Kellett
#4 -- Brian Cremins
#3 -- Genevieve Castrée
#2 -- Joe McCulloch And Sean T. Collins
#1 -- Paul Pope

Those should start back up in a few hours.

I also thought there was a lot of really good focused Christmas Day material this year, and I was very fond of the holiday card image CR commissioned.

another view of Charlottesville's Telegraph Gallery owned by Kate Deneveu and David Murray
 
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Go, Look: Four Questions

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Go, Look: A Winter Dream

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* there was very little of this this year, and almost none of this. We're only about five years removed from the entire Internet PR machine shutting down on the holidays. I prefer a slowdown around Christmas -- or at least a shift in modes -- because I think breaks are necessary and I believe that a lot of the eyeballs for which people clamor are elsewhere during the holidays. I suspect a general comics industry burnout will set in pretty early next year, and this will be one reason why.

image* Epic Illustrated was the comics magazine we bought during the summer: back issues at the local used bookstore and current issues at the drugstore next to Klink's grocery. I was a perfect audience for its mainstream-comics version of Heavy Metal, a publication that intrigued me but was also a bit scary. We underplay at times how much for a lot of readers, myself included, comics of the late 1970s and early 1980s were a sideways extension of our appetite for fantasy literature rather than its own thing. I don't think I've ever read this publication as an adult, although a few things have come into my home in collected form. I preferred the earlier issues to the later ones, and the appearance of Marvel-owned character Galactus significantly dampened my interest in the magazine and provided an opportunity to break with regular purchases. I can still remember the bedroom cabinet in which they were kept, a cabinet that didn't shut all the way without curling these publications the slightest amount.

* I couldn't figure out why anyone would send me a link to this cartoon of Keith Knight's and then I saw the first comment and realized that some people really do think this way. I can't even imagine conceiving of this kind of thing as some sort of sneak-attack in the culture wars, although I imagine there will also be folks that delight in this kind of thing that way in a positive fashion.

* that's really one of Spider-Woman's powers? Huh.

* Sean Gaffney on Pink. J. Caleb Mozzocco on Avengers Arena Vols. 1-2. Henry Chamberlain on Black Paths. Johanna Draper Carlson on Bad Houses. Kelly Thompson on A Boy And A Girl.

* it may be a couple of days before this site does a "By Request" update so I will let Rob Clough -- a recent recipient of comics' largesse -- remind you that Sparkplug and La Mano are both seeking some extra support this holiday season.

* finally: make a list, check it twice, lose it, despair.
 
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Happy 43rd Birthday, Ray Cornwall!

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Happy 57th Birthday, Steve Saffel!

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Happy 56th Birthday, Kenny Penman!

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December 25, 2013


May God Bless Us Every One

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Merry Christmas; 2013 CR holiday card by Katie Skelly; thanks, Katie
 
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Go, Look: A Michael DeForge Christmas

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CR Video Parade: Octopus Pie Christmas Special


 
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Go, Look: The Big Four From The Golden Age Site

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Happy 55th Birthday, Rick Stromoski!

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December 24, 2013


CR Holiday Interview #07 -- Dean Mullaney

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*****

Dean Mullaney is a key figure in comics publishing's greatest generation, a group of devoted fans born after World War 2 that helped reshape an industry devoted to profitable junk to favor the best art in its midst and to encourage the creation and inclusion of more. The Library Of American Comics, his venture with Bruce Canwell, Lorraine Turner and IDW Publishing, is one of the agreed-upon good things in modern comics, providing high-end reprints of the best of the classic comic strips while at the same time facilitating a greater critical and biographical understanding of strip creators. He is also known to comics people of my generation and older as co-founder and co-owner of Eclipse Enterprises (later Eclipse Comics), one of the key publishers of the independent comics movement of the 1970s and 1980s. A lot of what adult readers enjoy about comics now had an antecedent or early example at Eclipse. Mullaney has taken the "I can live anywhere" opportunities of self-directed employment more seriously than some, making a home in Key West. Like many discussion between two older men, we started out talking about the weather. I tweaked what follows for flow. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

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TOM SPURGEON: One way to enter into our conversation: you announced a Bobby London-era Popeye book the week we're talking. I wonder if that might provide us with a snapshot as to how you guys select and then orient yourself to a new project. How does that work? Did someone bring that work to you? Did the notion enter your head at some point? Is this something you always wanted to pursue? How do you progress from concept to announcement?

DEAN MULLANEY: There are more books that I want to do than I'll ever have time to do. My main interest is 1930s and 1940s strips, but I'm interested in good strips from every era. I've always liked Bobby's work. At the time, King Features' choice of using him on Popeye seemed odd to me. But it was fantastic. I didn't see it all the time. It wasn't in my local newspaper. It's one of those runs that everyone wants to see but nobody has seen except for that one small collection.

One nice thing about running the imprint is that I can basically do what I want.

SPURGEON: [laughs] So at what point does a project become a priority, does it start to progress towards publication? Are there ease-of-production issues? Do you move forward once you know you can get a hold of something?

MULLANEY: Obviously you can't publish a book if you can't find the material, but the biggest factor I have now is trying to find room in the schedule to add books. On average, we have two books a month on the schedule. I'm looking at next June -- we're going to hit release #100. That's a lot of titles. I have a piece of paper in front of me, since I still like to keep my schedule on a piece of paper rather than a computer... I'm filling in holes up to the end of 2016.

SPURGEON: My goodness.

MULLANEY: At the bottom of my sheet I have 12-16 one-shots that I'd love to do, and I'm trying like hell to find a hole for them.

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SPURGEON: So the LOAC Essentials series, like the book of strips from The Gumps you did this year, people have always talked about that line to me in terms of you guys hedging your bets over something that may or may not sell. But am I to take it it's also a factor that there's value for you in having a line where you don't have to make a full commitment to all of a strip because that means you can actually put out more works?

MULLANEY: It's not a matter of something not selling in another format. There's some strips that I think you don't need to see 40 years of it. To me, 40 years of The Gumps is like I'd be snoring after the top five years. The same with Bringing Up Father. I love [George] McManus' work. We've done two books so far, and we'll probably do a third one. But do I want to read 50 years of it? No. To me... some strips you just want to present the best years of the strip. With something like The Gumps, what I'm hoping is we'll be able to do two more volumes of The Gumps, and pick two years: maybe the one where Andy runs for President, or something like that.

The concept behind the Essentials for me is exactly what Bill Blackbeard was doing with the Hyperion Line. That was the late '70s, so I was in my 20s when those books were released. Bill's concept was that if you were going to have a comics library, and if you're not going to have an expensive comics library but you still want to have one, then these are the books that you need to have in your library to understand the full breadth of the history of comics.

SPURGEON: You talked in an interview with Tom Mason a few years back of wanting to do collections of Terry And The Pirates as long ago as the early 1980s. I wonder how much of what you get to do now is based on your experiences of seeing what other publishers have done with similar material, what the other attempts have been. I wonder if there's been some sorting out of what you've liked and what you haven't liked -- for instance, if you liked a quality of a book Bill did, or if you didn't like someone else's approach in a certain way. Do you have the benefit of picking and choosing what you thought worked and didn't over the preceding quarter-century?

MULLANEY: That's not really a consideration for me. The reason that Bill's efforts were influential on me is that he introduced me to all this material. So obviously, any of the other publishers that release work, like the early Frank King Gasoline Alleys, I never knew how great that stuff was. I think most of us didn't. So obviously certain series will introduce and allow us to re-evaluate certain creators. I hope to be doing that with Sidney Smith; I hope we're doing that with Cliff Sterrett. What I choose is what I've seen and what I like and what I think other people will like, too.

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SPURGEON: Correct my memory here. A moment I remember encountering you early on in the imprint's days was when you had a mock of the Noel Sickles book. It was a San Diego, and IDW had secured a little room for meetings and you and I went through the Sickles book. The Caniff work... did the Caniff work you've, the reprints, did they come before the stand-alone Sickles? Because the dates says it did, but I always remember the Sickles book as the early book for you. I wonder if I'm just fudging the dates because the Sickles book was so interesting to me.

MULLANEY: Terry was the first, and I decided that because it was my coming back into comics... over the years we've all seen people publish series that stop after the second one, or after the third one. So with Terry, it was important to me not to just do it and do it the way I wanted it to be done, but release it on a quarterly schedule so that people would think, "Yes. This is definitely coming out." You don't want to buy a series if you don't know it's going to be completed.

The second series we started was Little Orphan Annie and the Sickles book was released shortly thereafter. So it would have been the third different strip we added to the line.

SPURGEON: The Sickles book was a remarkable book, I think, in great part because of the sheer publishing chutzpah involved in putting a $50 Noel Sickles book out into that market.

MULLANEY: When Bruce Canwell and I went to Ohio State to look at the Sickles papers, it became immediately apparent to us that no one had really researched the Sickles papers since his widow had deposited all the materials. Everything was in the same boxes and in the same order as it had been deposited in. There might be something related to the Saturday Evening Post in this box or in that box; nothing was collated or organized. We had virgin territory; it was fantastic.

imageThe original idea was to reprint the complete Scorchy Smith for the first time, and maybe have a 40 page introduction about Sickles. We ended up finding so much unbelievable material it turned into 140 pages and the binding of the book was falling apart. [laughter] It's essentially two books in one.

Would I do it another way? No, because I think it belongs together. We could do it as two books and put it in a slipcase... we just found so much material to add in. That's what we do with the entire line. If we need to add 24 pages or 32 pages to a book, even 100 pages, because it needs it, we do it. You don't get a second chance at doing this.

SPURGEON: The Sickles story I wanted to know about... I heard that you tracked down original Scorchy Smith material right up to date of publication. That is like a little-kid version of how I think strip collections should work. Did you really find vital material at a small-town newspaper very close to press?

MULLANEY: Yeah. We were down to... I think two strips we were missing. We had really crappy microfilm for them. We were going to go with it. We were going to go with the microfilm rather than have a hole in the book. We had maybe two weeks to print. The same thing happened with the first Blondie book... we were missing a couple from the first few weeks of Blondie. Either it's my luck or my tenacity but so far we haven't published a book with any holes in it. We've come right down to the deadline on probably half a dozen books including the first Superman Silver Age dailies. Those we just found just a couple of weeks before publication. I'm always optimistic. I'm always optimistic we'll find the strips if we just contact enough people.

It's not like the old days. I remember years ago at Eclipse I reprinted the Johnny Comet strips. We would send letters -- this was obviously before the Internet -- so we would send letters to a collector in Austria... You'd have to wait a few weeks for the letter to get there. [laughs] Then the guy sends you a letter back. Maybe he has access to a stat camera, and maybe he doesn't. It's a lot easier to find material now.

Some strips are still almost impossible to find. We're going to add a volume in the Essentials of The Bungle Family. That's a really hard to get a complete set of. I have about ten or twelve years since I've been collecting it. Some strips are very hard to find.

SPURGEON: What makes that one to find? Was it the number of papers it was in? The kinds of papers it was in?

MULLANEY: I think because of the syndicate it wasn't in major papers, but that didn't stop people from clipping other strips. I just don't know. I don't know why certain strips are harder to find than others.

SPURGEON: Do you encounter the post-war difficulty of shaving strips? I edited the paperback series of Pogo strips that Fantagraphics did, and Bill Blackbeard's strips were unavailable. We had a good collection of clipped strips, but into the early '50s the newspapers themselves would crop the strips. Like cut off an 1/16 of an inch strip on the bottom to make it fit on the page. That seemed like a post-War thing... at least with that feature.

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MULLANEY: That actually started in 1941, I think, or 1942. I encountered it with Terry And The Pirates with our Complete Terry. I'm always going for the full version of it, but there's about I would say three months worth where the strips have the bottom -- I'd say the bottom quarter-inch or so -- cut off. That was for newsprint considerations because newsprint was hard to come by and rationed during the War. The syndicates and the newspaper used that as an excuse after the War to keep the comics small so they could fit more comics in there. That's a perennial problem in trying to assemble complete sets of strips.

In the Steve Canyon set we're doing now we're using full versions. But what Denis Kitchen had access to years ago was the cropped versions. Caniff particularly... it changes the entire composition and look of the strip when the bottom is cropped. Granted, all these artists knew their work was going out in two formats. They didn't want to put anything important down at the bottom. Somebody like Chester Gould would put a lot of black and dead space in there. But Caniff would add interesting information, interesting artwork. It also makes the balloons wordier -- it changes the look of each daily, it changes the look when the balloon takes up more room relative to the rest of the strip.

SPURGEON: I know with the Walt Kelly strip a lot of dead information was down there, but the cropped versions just looked awful.

MULLANEY: You can only print what you can find. Whenever we can find the full versions, we use them. If we can't, we have to use the cropped version. It's still a real version, a legitimate version; it's just a different version.

SPURGEON: How much institutional support do you get, Dean? Are the syndicates helpful? Are the collectors? What about the universities? I know that Billy Ireland makes their work as available as they can as an explicit part of their overall mission. But I also know that all academic institutions haven't always had that reputation. Have you had good support from schools, collectors or the syndicates themselves?

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MULLANEY: The syndicates don't keep much. We've gotten a few things from King Features. A few years ago King Features digitized what they had. The quality of the digitization -- I"ve seen some of it that's fantastic and some of it leaves a lot to be desired. I think it's more for reference for them than anything else. Do they really need every strip from a feature from the 1930s for licensing purposes? I doubt it. They donated the original syndicate proofs to both Ohio State and Michigan State. When I need Rip Kirby strips, I go to Michigan State and make copies of the strips at Michigan State.

The Tribune Syndicate had some proofs, but not many. They've moved so many times over the years. From New York to Orlando and now in Chicago... some things have disappeared over the years. We have access to most of the Little Orphan Annie proofs and some of the Dick Tracy proofs, but not much more.

SPURGEON: Another basic question I have is I wonder if the time passed is starting to become an issue now. With families, you're starting to get into subsequent generations for whom a strip the patriarch might have done wouldn't loom as large in their lives, so they might have a different attitude towards taking care of this material. Even collectors might not be as naturally inclined to collect a lot of the older stuff as they used to.

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MULLANEY: We're still close enough in terms of generations... like King Aroo, Jack Kent. Jack Kent Jr.... his father saved all the art -- for the most part, except for the later stuff -- and it was all in a pole barn in back of the house. It was sitting in this outside pole barn in San Antonio, Texas. Surprisingly, the art was still in fantastic shape. Luckily, he had it. He knew was it was. He didn't know necessarily what to do with it, even how to sell it. It's made available to us.

In terms of collectors, it's amazing how many people would clip a strip for an entire year back in the '30s and '40s. I remember a story that Steve Ditko's brother told us when we were researching a Steve Ditko bio many, many years ago. He said that his father worked -- I think it was in a mill -- in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. And he was so busy he didn't have time to read the Sunday comics. So the family would cut the Sunday comics out and for Christmas each year the mother would sew them up into a bound volume so that over Christmas vacation the father could read a year's worth of Sunday comics.

SPURGEON: Wow.

MULLANEY: That's fantastic. That's an amazing story. That's where my Bungle Familys come from. I've got a set of Bungles from the Kansas City Star. Somebody clipped them out. Somebody clipped them out, and either saved them for themselves or for somebody in their family. They keep popping up.

SPURGEON: Maybe The Bungle Family is a way to get into something that interests me... it seems that The Bungle Family might be more relevant now that it was even 20 or 30 years ago. There's something about the acerbic nature of the strip and the cantankerous relationships on display that might work better now than it might have a generation previous. There might be an audience for the type of material just for its tone and approach. And there are strips that seem harder to process at certain times... I think we may be going through that with Pogo right now, which is a strip that is very much a confluence of various aspects of 1950s American culture. It's not that it's so far behind in the rear view mirror as it is that a number of factors put us out of touch with the context in which that strip hit so hard with its audience.

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MULLANEY: I agree with you on both counts. The Bungle Family, because of the acerbic nature of it, it's more quote/unquote modern in 2013 than it would have been 25 years ago. Pogo was more hip 25 years ago than it is today. That in-between period of the past. It's not really in the past, which makes it fascinating, it's not yesterday but in-between time. That's always a consideration. We all... whether it's me, or Fantagraphics or Drawn and Quarterly or Charles Pelto with Classic Comics, we're all looking at the long picture. We're not looking at what might be popular in 2013. We're doing this not for the money but because we love strips and want to preserve them and we have this fantastic window right now. It's truly, truly a golden age for strip reprints. There's more stuff reprinted now than any of us ever hoped to imagine would be. So we take the long term.

I'm doing the same thing with the Essentials. Is The Gumps going to be the best-selling thing that we ever did? No. Will it lose money? It will probably break even over time. Will The Bungle Family be a best-seller? No. But they're important strips to do. We can afford to do them.

SPURGEON: Is it different at all doing later volumes of a work? Little Orphan Annie and I'd say even Dick Tracy, too, they seem far enough long in their respective series that the feature itself might have changed. Are there unique challenges to doing later volumes in a series that you don't have with a one- or two-shot or even the initial volumes of a longer series?

MULLANEY: Oh, sure. It depends on the strip, too. With Annie, I just read ahead until the end of the '40s. During World War 2, when she gets into the Junior Commandos, it's not necessarily as interesting to me as it was before the War. Then after the War, it's fantastic again. He does this really biting story about a cartoonist named Tik Tok. It's basically after Joseph Patterson at the New York Daily News died, and it's really ramming it at his bosses. Some strips have low periods. Can you imagine trying to create work over a 40-year period and have every month...? It's not going to happen. [Spurgeon laughs] It's not! I mean, I don't care... but Chester Gould and Harold Gray really have strong periods almost all the way through their strips. I know with Gould some people don't like -- well, hate -- the Moon Maid stuff, but that's what I read as a kid. I read that in the early '60s in the New York Daily News and it was fascinating. If I had started reading Dick Tracy in the early 30s I probably would have been horrified. [Spurgeon laughs] But to me, it's a fascinating period. That period also his art is so iconographic, it's fantastic.

SPURGEON: How much of working with these strips continues to be an education for you? Is there a strip you've come around on maybe in the last few years, that you didn't like as much before?

MULLANEY: Gasoline Alley I've always liked. I read Dick Moores' version when I was a kid. I appreciated Frank King's work, especially the Sundays, which was basically what was available for us to see. It wasn't until Drawn and Quarterly's editions that I got see what a masterful, incredible storyteller he was. I just think so much more of him now. Twenty years ago you would have asked people to name the 10 or 12 top cartoonist of all time, Frank King would not be on most people's lists, but I think he would be now.

SPURGEON: One way to look at the work you do that maybe doesn't always get taken into consideration is as biography, or as a benefit to biography. There's a real focus on curating the supporting materials, and presenting even within a strip reprint a portrait of the person and their times. I don't know if there's an angle there for a question even, Dean, but I wonder if that was a priority for you...

MULLANEY: It was absolutely a priority for me and for Bruce Canwell when were planning the line at the beginning. That was... we didn't want to just reprint the strips. We wanted to place them in context for a modern audience. Without placing the strips in context, it's... I'm not sure how to say this. It make the reading experience easier. It allows you to get right into the strip. If we can present an introduction that brings you up to speed. If it gives you background on the cartoonist, background on the era, and what the strip is about, then you can start and start enjoying it. The people that read it at the time understood the context. It was 1935 and they were living in 1935. They know what society is like. They know what's going on in the world around them. A person now doesn't necessarily know what it was like living in 1935. So it's our responsibility to provide that context.

SPURGEON: Is there a benefit to just feeling like we know the cartoonist, Dean? That's something we do now, and I think at the very least by virtue of the celebrity that many of them had was a part of the reading experience back then. You knew these cartoonists by default, almost, and knew that this work was the extension of that person. Seeing the man behind the strips... I know I feel I'm relating to Charles Schulz when I read his strips, that I'm relating not just to the strip but to this person.

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MULLANEY: Absolutely. You're dead on with that. Getting to know the cartoonist and their background, and if they have political beliefs or a social issue they want to get across. That doesn't influence everybody's work, but it influences most of their work. Some more overtly than others. If you look at Chester Gould, for instance, people always talk about Harold Gray being an arch-conservative, but Chester Gould outflanks him easily. Here's a guy that was so upset by what he felt was the liberalization of society, the Miranda decision and things like that in the '60s, that he has to take Dick Tracy off of the planet because he can't figure out how a guy do law and order in this country given that things have become so liberal. He has to take him off the freaking planet. [laughter] That's the background to the story. You can still enjoy the stories without the background, but it gives you more to grab onto. Another level on which to enjoy them.

SPURGEON: You finish up your Alex Toth trilogy next year, right?

MULLANEY: Bruce just turned in his manuscript for the third and final book. I have all the art assembled. Now comes what for me is the fun part of it, which is to lay the whole book out. It should be 300-350 pages of Toth art; we have so much fantastic stuff.

SPURGEON: Am I right in thinking that went from two to three books?

MULLANEY: [laughs] It went from one... it started off as one book, then it became two books, and we kept finding so much material. Fans have been so generous in loaning things. Like I said before, you don't get a second chance at these things. I'm going to be 60 years old next year. I don't know how many years have left, or how many any of us have left. I want to do as many books as I can, while I still can.

SPURGEON: With Toth, I wonder if there aren't some intriguing contexts specific to him. One is that within cartooning circles Toth is so universally admired that I wonder if that wasn't oppressive in some ways, if that kept you from developing a critical view of elements of his work. I also wonder if the fact that he is not known for specific works had an effect in terms of how you approach him. We point to Toth more generally as an artist than to a half dozen significant works in which he played a creative part... even those works we do point to we usually do so as representative works rather than as formidable, stand-alone, achievement in comics. We might even point to whole periods of his work, or changes in his general approach more than discrete assignments.

MULLANEY: I don't know who it was, but I read someone recently that said, "Alex Toth is the master without a masterpiece." It could be argued that Bravo For Adventure was his masterpiece, but while it's a good story, a fun story, I don't think the writing is up to the same level as the art in that book.

SPURGEON: So how cognizant are you when you present a book like these Toth books? Because it seems to me that a book series like this one was a good solution on how to present Toth -- maybe the only way to present him -- as respectfully as possible.

MULLANEY: The thing that's interesting, is the fact that he's a master without a masterpiece, that he couldn't write by his own admission, that he was constantly changing stories from writers -- that's the story. The story is the guy's artwork is absolutely incredible. His sense of design. He brought modernity to post-War comics in a way that no one else in comic books did, in a way that Alex Raymond did with Rip Kirby. Toth did this in comic books in a different way, totally above everyone else. Nobody was doing anything close. He influenced everybody working in the medium in the early 1950s.

The other question is why he didn't work on a series for a long time, why didn't he create something, a story, that he could keep doing over and over again. It's because he wasn't able to. That's part of the story. Part of the story is his personality: being friends with someone for 30 years and then deciding one day that because he pissed him off for whatever reason he's never talking to this person again. I remember years ago Julie Schwartz said to me, "You know, an artist can be three things. They can be a great artist, always on time, or a hell of a nice guy. All they need is two out of the three to get work." [laughter] I never forgot that. Alex always had trouble. He had trouble with the editors. He had trouble with the writers.

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SPURGEON: He had a strong sense of self. Do you have any idea what he might object to in your books?

MULLANEY: You never know depending on what day it would be. [Spurgeon laugh] I mean, seriously. I'm not putting him down. The main reason I wanted to do these books is I got to know Alex. I worked with him on the Zorro books and I admired the hell out of him. He's one of my great artistic heroes. As a person, I think his children say it best in the book. He was a difficult person. That doesn't take away from his art. Whatever was torturing him internally affected how much work he did and the kind of work he did, obviously. That again is part of the story.

SPURGEON: You mentioned turning 60. I think of you as part of the generation as people that rewrote the North American comic book industry. That came up with a bunch of new models for doing business, and expanding what could be published and how, and expanded the breadth of themes that could be engaged. Do you have a sense of your generation's accomplishments? This is a year we lost Kim Thompson, a friend of yours and a prominent member of that generation. Do you have a sense of the graying of your peer group?

MULLANEY: Oh, sure. Kim Thompson's death affected so many of us. Personally, it affected me greatly. Professionally it certainly had an influence. It's made me look at the line and ask, "Can we do more than two books a month? Can we do four books a month?" No one knows how much time we have. If you look at people doing strip reprint books, almost everyone is around the same age, or the same generation at least. Ted Adams at IDW is allowing all this stuff to happen, and he just turned 40. He's younger. But the rest of us. Gary Groth... Charles Pelto... I'm not seeing people 20 years old self-publishing strip reprints. [laughter] They may. But they may say eventually, "What's a newspaper?" I think our generation just like very generation in comics has a profound influence on the medium. Collectively. Some individuals have more of an influence, but I think collectively we all grew up... I think Eclipse started at the same time the Direct Market did. So there were no rules. We were making up the rules as we went along. It was a hell of a lot of fun.

SPURGEON: I mentioned to someone that I was interviewing you, and they mentioned that it struck them that there was a hobbit movie out, and Rocketeer comics out, and two-three things that reminded him of Eclipse. There is still currency for the kind of publishing you were doing. And of course you guys were a creator-friendly house in a lot of ways, and worked with book distribution, and struggled with earlier forms of many of the same issues that publishers like IDW might now. Are you pretty secure in the legacy from that part of your life? Is there anything that stands out to you now in terms of what you might have been trying to do then? It's 20 years now... and in some ways this whole period of publishing began just as you guys slipped from view.

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MULLANEY: I'm very proud of everything we accomplished at Eclipse. We published the first graphic novel specifically for the comic-shop market. Phil Seuling was the only distributor, and he looked at me, and he said, "Five dollars for a comic book!? Are you crazy?" So things change. In some respects I was ahead of my time; I did things too soon. We co-published the first line of manga. They sold okay. But manga was just starting to get attention in the US, and it was too soon. That Hobbit book on the other hand, that sold phenomenally. I don't know the sales figures on other books, but we sold a few hundred thousand copies of that one, between the Eclipse edition, the Ballantine Edition an the Harper Collins/Eclipse edition in the UK. The thing sold phenomenally well.

SPURGEON: Ted Adams was an intern of yours, am I right?

MULLANEY: No, he wasn't an intern. I needed an assistant for Beau Smith, our sales manager. I don't know if we advertised in the Comic Buyer's Guide or The Comics Reader, but it was somewhere Ted saw the ad. Ted reminded me of this story when he was moderating a tribute to me at San Diego when I got the inkpot. He said it was the most exciting day of his life. He saw the ad, and he called up and I said, "Hey, come on down." He was in Portland, Oregon. He came down for an interview. He drove seven hours -- I don't know how many hours -- down, did the interview, and he went back to the hotel and he was so excited. He said he knew he nailed it. I called him up and said, "The job is yours." I hired him straight out of college. He was never an intern. He was an assistant sales manager to Beau Smith.

SPURGEON: The way that companies are structured now, what they're doing, is there any wistfulness on your part of the opportunities they have now as opposed to what you had back then?

MULLANEY: I have no interest in being in the new comics market in 2013. [laughter] I like to do things my own way. Things are more tightly structured, and more... limited in some ways. More expansive in others. At the beginning of the Direct Market, and with Eclipse, we were writing the rules. Every month we would sit down and figure out what we were going to publish next month. And just do it. There was nobody to stop it. The comic shop market was expanding so retailers were looking for product. They were looking for material. I was in the right place and the right thing. With Ted and IDW now, I can say that Ted is so much more of a better businessman than I was. He's a guy with good taste that likes good comics and wants support them, but he also has good business sense. I would get some money and go, "What cool stuff can we lose $25,000 on?"

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* The Library Of American Comics
* Mullaney Bio On A Library Of American Comics Page

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* one of the Library Of American Comics books
* a Bobby London Popeye
* book from the LOAC Essentials series
* a Noel Sickles illustration
* a Scorchy Smith image
* look how busy Milton Caniff's dailies could be in the bottom 1/16th inch
* from King Aroo
* from Rip Kirby
* from The Bungle Family
* Gould's Moon Maid
* a bit of Alex Toth
* the Sabre graphic novel
* Toth (below)


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José Ortiz, RIP

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Go, Look: The Comic Strip Characters' Christmas Party

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Small Press Expo Moves To Lottery System For Registration

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Here. This is a copy of a massive mailing they've done. Basically what's going on is that they've grown in terms of demand for tables so much over the last couple of years that any attempt to do something other than a lottery with a lengthy registration period is almost certainly going to end in anger and disappointment. Curating the show stands counter to that show's longstanding ethos regarding such things: they basically can't go that direction now, having not done that 10 years ago when that kind of thing was still up in there. I think it works better for them not to, and this all sounds like a fair solution.

It looks like the show will stay at much the same size as last year: some criticized the number of exhibitors as being out of balance to the point that some did less effective business than they feel they might have with a smaller room. As it stands, they were still turning people away. Comics is like that now.

Why this went out the evening of December 23, I have no idea, but I guess that's comics now, too. No breaks!
 
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Go, Look: Sing With King At Christmas

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Your When Worlds Collide Top 25 Of 2013

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Timothy Callahan of the "When Worlds Collide" feature at Comic Book Resources has weighed in with a top 25 in two parts.

Honorable mentions went to Prison Pit Book 5, Hellboy: The Midnight Circus, Catalyst Comix, Boxers & Saints, New School, Strange Tale of Panorama Island, Godland Finale, FF and Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril.

His top 25 choices are:

25. The Mysterious Strangers, Chris Roberson, Scott Kowalchuk, and Dan Jackson (Oni)
24. Dream Thief, Jai Nitz and Greg Smallwood (Dark Horse)
23. Cartoonshow, Derek M. Ballard (Drippybone Books)
22. Habit, Josh Simmons, Wendy Chin, Karn Piana, and Various (Oily)
21. Young Avengers, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Mike Norton, and Matt Wilson (Marvel)
20. 3 New Stories, Dash Shaw (Fantagraphics)
19. Fury MAX: My War Gone By, Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov (Marvel)
18. World Map Room, Yuichi Yokoyama (PictureBox Inc.)
17. Batman, Incorporated, Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn (DC)
16. Hip Hop Family Tree, Ed Piskor (Fantagraphics)
15. Celebrated Summer, Charles Forsman (Fantagraphics)
14. Blades & Lazers, Ben Marra (Traditional Comics)
13. Prophet, Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Giannis Milonogiannis, and Others (Image)
12. Battling Boy, Paul Pope and Hilary Sycamore (First Second)
11. Gamma, Ulises Farinas and Erick Freitas (Dark Horse)
10. Wonder Woman, Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, Goran Sudzuka and Matt Wilson (DC)
9. Fatale, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser (Image)
8. Adventure Time, Ryan North, Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb (BOOM!)
7. Jupiter's Legacy, Mark Millar, Frank Quitely and Peter Doherty (Image)
6. TEOTFW, Charles Forsman (Fantagraphics)
5. Final Frontier, Tom Scioli (Self-Published)
4. Lose, Michael DeForge (Koyama)
3. Nemo: Heart of Ice, Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill and Ben Dimagmaliw (Top Shelf/Knockabout)
2. Very Casual, Michael DeForge (Koyama)
1. Copra, Michel Fiffe (Self-Published)

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Go, Look: A Michael DeForge Christmas Comic

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Bundled, Tossed, Untied And Stacked: Publishing News

imageBy Tom Spurgeon

* there are a few publishing news stories this week, despite the "Black Hole" reputation belonging to the time right before and after Christmas.

* Bobby London's Popeye run in what I"m guess is to be a pair of those giant IDW Library of American Comics volumes? That is good news. I think at one point London was actually using two-panel dailies.

* Bryan Lee O'Malley has released a cover and another image to his Seconds, due in July. That's a massive stand-alone project and will surely be an event given how well-received and much-beloved his Scott Pilgrim book series turned out to be.

* this cover for a fourth printing of the successful series Sex Criminals made me laugh.

* finally, it looks like a lot of the Free Comic Book Day stuff is up; weirdly, the DM may have more stuff I like to read for free on FCBD than they have for me to buy with money on other days of the year.
 
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Go, Look: Multiple Mike Mignola-Related Mini-Galleries

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1, 2, 3, 4, 5
 
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Festivals Extra: TCAF Releases Poster, Kids Programming

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TCAF has released its second cover image, this time from Isabelle Arsenault, along with the outline of their kids programming and who will be involved. This will be their 3rd year for the devoted track.

Creators named are: Arsenault, Fanny Britt, Kazu Kibuishi, Jimmy Gownley, Ben Hatke, Darren Rawlings, Jason Caffoe, Raina Telgemeier, Dave Roman.
 
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Go, Look: Arthur Rackham Does The Night Before Christmas

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Go, Look: December 1972 Marvel Comics Splash Pages

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* Betsy Gomez writes on a troubling plea from Japan.

image* my brother and I spent some time three days ago while driving back from the airport talking about serial comic books, and at one point he said, "Every day an American Flagg! showed up at the shop, that was a good day." And it was! I'm not sure how long those good feelings lasted, particularly if you weren't fond of the Howard Chaykin return to the original series at its conclusion of the subsequent follow-up series. But for a time there, it kind of hinted at a world of slightly trashy but assuredly crafted fun comic books for adults that didn't exist in too many other comics, even arguably. My brother also said it was the only comic book he would have bought just for the lettering.

* Kevin Cortez on Pecos #1-2 and Chicken Outfit #1. Michael Robbins on Christmas On Bear Mountain. A bunch of folks at the Portland Mercury on a bunch of different comics.

* Michael A. Johnson asks how we should read the Christmas-themed episodes of Krazy Kat.

* two people whose names I can't figure out although one is apparently called "Pam" talk to Ralph Bakshi. Albert Ching talks to a very ambitious Eric Stephenson. That's not a criticism: more people in comics should be ambitious.

* Sean Kleefeld on the networking aspects of fandom.

* finally, here's the original art to Robert Crumb's cover for Motor City Comics.
 
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Happy 65th Birthday, Joost Swarte!

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December 23, 2013


CR Holiday Interview #06 -- David Murray And Kate Deneveu

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imageOne of the big comics stories of the last couple of years which will remain key to understanding the next few years has been and will be the move of talented non-creatives into businesses that serve the comics community. At this year's Small Press Expo, I was struck anew by the posters displayed by Telegraph Gallery from Charlottesville, Virginia -- a retailer I'd seen at one or two other shows during the lengthy convention year. I made a mental note to track them down for an interview at the end of the year.

David Murray and Kate Deneveu took inspiration from the Telegraph Avenue-located businesses they enjoyed in the Bay Area to open their bookstore and gallery space in Charlottesville, home to two presidents and the best-looking classic American college campus. One intriguing element to arts businesses right now is that for the most part we recognize their temporary nature: we don't think of them as lifetime commitments that fail to live up to that near-impossible status but living activities that may find a way to last five years, a dozen years, a quarter-century. None of that is a concern right now from Team Telegraph, in the heady early days surrounded by the collective good will of multiple arts communities that would like to see them succeed. If the last couple of years have taught us through festivals and conventions the value of events in comics, businesses like Telegraph stand to reintroduce us to place. Plus if we talked I knew we'd get to run multiple images of from their art shows. I'm dying to visit. -- Tom Spurgeon

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TOM SPURGEON: David, Kate, I suppose this is impossibly broad, but I can't figure out a better way to get into the subject matter at hand: you're very early on in what you're doing. How has it gone so far? Is there anything that's surprised you in this first period of having the gallery open? Should we be worried about you at all?

KATE DENEVEU: Telegraph is kicking ass. We're not millionaires yet, but as far as first years go, David and I couldn't have asked for anything more -- we've taken some risks, made some big decisions, and so far -- fingers crossed -- it's working. That sounds so weirdly corporate and business-y, but true. We're still going to be figuring out some things in 2014, but that's half the fun.

Big surprises of the year: David and I were too ambitious with the first few shows. The goal was to work with 12 new artists every month. Twelve new prints every month. 144 prints a year. We must have been insane. The first three collections are phenomenal, but it almost killed us. At some point we realized, "This is madness. We can't do this every month." I'm happy working with smaller tighter collections like Botanivore, but I think David still likes the drama factor of big shows with a lot of artists. This month's Face Value show is his baby, and I think that's why we have over 30 different artists participating.

SPURGEON: It looks like the current show -- and tell me if "show" is even the right thing to call it -- is the portraits show that's on your web site. Can you walk through something like that from conception to execution? I assume there's an initial idea... do you then recruit artists? Are there contracts? At what point do you schedule the opening? Is there an opening night there at the gallery? How do you then try to sell the work?

DENEVEU: Our process is pretty simple; David and I curate shows based on what we as fans want to see. We bounce themes and shows back and forth for a month or so -- basically every time we're alone together we're talking about the next few shows. It's become a huge part of our daily married life, just feeling out ideas, texting each other links to artists web sites with messages in all caps ("CHECK OUT THIS AWESOME GUY"), talking about new comics we've found, or recent work by old favorites. When we select the roster of who to invite to each show, it's a balance between who artists who are comfortable with the material and artists for whom the theme will be a challenge for. For instance, asking Michael DeForge to be in a monster-themed show is not a huge stretch; we knew he would knock it out of the park. But we asked James Harvey to participate in a show about dinosaurs, just because we wanted to see how he would draw a dinosaur.

Truthfully we started pretty timidly with recruiting. Our concept was new and untested; we didn't want to pass too much risk onto our artists. So we started with friends and people that wouldn't hate us too much if we crashed and burned. And we pay our artists for the commissions up front just like any other graphic design job -- Illustrators work hard and deserve to be paid for their work. We prepare the art for the printers, and we pay for the printing costs. That also puts the burden on us to sell the pieces. If any gallerists are reading this interview, they're probably horrified. The risk is worth it so far. David and I made a choice a long time ago that ethics and our relationships with our artists is worth more than money.

imageBut we've become braver over the last eight months. The Arcana show came about because we'd created a list of artists who we wanted to present with a dramatic theme. As a result, Arcana was our most focused print collection of our first year. Ben [Marra] and Simon [Hanselmann] were definitely the cornerstones of the show. They aren't afraid of reinterpretation, confiscating the symbolism of the traditional card, subverting the message. Ben's design literally inverted the meaning of the Death card, and these "tarot cards" are now artifacts in their own richly developed worlds.

The openings schedule is determined by our local arts scene. We're located in a downtown area that has a First Fridays art opening tradition going back 20 years. All year long, the first Friday of the month is punctuated with gallery openings, performance art, and interactive events. Telegraph is fortunate to be a part of a community that has welcomed us. Our openings are fun and casual, there's always cold beer and good crowd that's enthusiastic. We're getting a reputation around town as the place to go to discover something new every month.

David and I have approached Telegraph from a different angle than your traditional gallery, so we have the added challenge of educating our customers about what it is that we do. Telegraph's focus is the quality of the prints and the work itself; most of the time I think of us as "producers" more than "gallerists." We bridge the gap between illustrator and physical art. If we do our job right, the prints sell themselves.

DAVID MURRAY: Our latest show, Face Value, is a nice break from our usual routine of print collections, and it's been a fun, new challenge to sell original pieces. I've always admired Giant Robot's annual Post-It shows, and organizing a 5x7 portrait show is my attempt at doing an affordable small format original show without just swiping the Post-It idea. This was also a great opportunity to work with a lot of artists we hadn't worked with yet but had admired for some time, and some old favorites from our first year.

SPURGEON: Are you trying to build a relationship with artists you will then use over and over, or is that something you see changing show to show in dramatic fashion?

MURRAY: Though I'm certainly tempted to strain my friendship with Michael DeForge and use him in every show, we made a point in our first year to use different artists for every show -- the one exception being the most recent portrait show -- but this only scratches the surface of the amazing artists out there.

imageDENEVEU: As far as relationships with artists is concerned, Warren Craghead is the hero of our story. When we opened the gallery, we had no idea that he lived in Charlottesville - Now he and his little girls are fixtures at our monthly Sunday Comic Craft Days. He was a guest speaker at the July SCCD, and it was phenomenal to have him guiding the workshop, working one on one with adults and kids, talking about zine folds, experimental formats, and encouraging a joyous approach to creation. He's been the biggest cheerleader of Telegraph, and has probably done a better job of marketing us than we do. Oh -- and there's a "seed toss" conversation happening on our bathroom door, between Warren and Billy Glick, another local illustrator we work with.

SPURGEON: Are there areas of comics art in which you have little to no interest? Do you see yourself having a specific focus, and do you think that people will see what you do in a certain way that may be different than your self-conception?

MURRAY: Charlottesville is a big enough town, I think, to support one Big Two comics shop and one comics shop that tries its best to cover everything else, with a bit of overlap here and there. I don't think we can realistically afford to limit ourselves beyond that. I have my personal tastes and that's reflected in the books I'll personally recommend to people; we have to stock beyond our own personal tastes. Kate is the person who taught me this; she definitely has her eyes on the big picture and is better at seeing things from an objective business standpoint when she needs to. In the big picture, it doesn't matter a damn bit if I don't personally like steampunk things, for instance.

DENEVEU: He has a blind, seething hatred for all things steampunk. I think it personally offends him every time he has to ring up steampunk titles. In all seriousness, though, we're a weird shop, which requires open mindedness from our customers, so it's only fair to be accepting in return. Just because we don't like something doesn't mean it isn't worthy of respect.

SPURGEON: How much of a background in comics and comics art do each of you have? Can you each talk about how you've come around to having a relationship with that kind of art, what was meaningful to you to experience and when?

MURRAY: I was a huge Marvel head as a kid -- I had every Spider-Man title on my pull sheet and read a lot of trades of older stuff, and wanted to be a comic artist when I grew up. I spent a lot of time drawing little gags to make my friends laugh when I should've been studying, but school work was pretty much a breeze for me until college. In high school, I was filled with so many emotions and found solace in stuff like Optic Nerve, Eightball, and Milk & Cheese. In college, I started off as an Architecture major, because I was good at math and liked art and design and had no idea what to do with myself, but I ended up with a degree in Japanese Lit. Proudly, I used my language skills to read a lot of manga, my final paper for my penultimate Modern Japanese Lit course had a three-page comic strip intro, and I spent a good deal of time at a library in Yokohama poring over the first French language comics that were published in the country in the late 19th century and are credited with introducing the idea of speech bubbles to Japanese artists.

I'd studied wood block printing while living in Kyoto for a year, and when I got back, I decided to give screen printing a go because putting my jokes on t-shirts seemed like a fun and easy way to make money -- which, of course, it isn't, but it was fun at least, so I stuck with it. I'm actually more known by my artist pseudonym, Seibei, taken from the name of the character in a Japanese short story that stuck with me in college, Shiga Naoya's "Seibei and his gourds." As Seibei I've made t-shirts for the past seven years, and I've collaborated with comics artists on tees from time to time, like Jason Fischer, Derek Ballard, Zack Soto, Hellen Jo, Mia Schwartz, Kris Mukai, and Bryan Lee O'Malley. It was also through my t-shirt work that I met Ryan Sands, now of Youth In Decline. We've been friends for a long time, and he first introduced me to a lot of the artists I'm friends with today, opened my eyes to the works of so many awesome publishers, and let me borrow a lot of good books. Fun bit of trivia -- I gave Ryan the Risograph that he's printed a lot of his books on.

I'm now trying to put together some comics in time for TCAF.

DENEVEU: I have a degree in Art History from the University of Virginia, but my origin-story in the art world is from my god-father, Gerhard Wurzer. He was an art dealer for over 30 years, specializing in works on paper from contemporary artists and some masters like Lautrec, Cassat, even Rembrandt. When I was a teenager, I spent summers with him at his gallery in Houston watching him hang pieces and sneaking off to flip through folios that I probably shouldn't have been touching. He was one of the people that taught me the importance of ethics and reputation in this business. While what we're doing is not the same as the secondary fine art market, the principle is the same. These people trust you with their work, their name, their reputation -- and that's not to be taken lightly.

imageSPURGEON: You've told the story that initial impulse for the show, and in fact its name, was derived from the kinds of galleries that you found on Telegraph Avenue in San Francisco. I was wondering as specifically as possible what it was that you thought that was worth transferring into a different context, and if as a result your gallery is different than the others in Charlottesville. In fact, if you could just talk about your place in that communities of galleries, I'd love to hear about that, too.

MURRAY: The half-gallery/half-shop business model seems to be way more prevalent on the West Coast than it is out here -- Giant Robot magazine was a huge influence on me in college, so their galleries were like holy ground for me -- and we thought we could give it a go back home. When I was in school here, I was just getting into some of the artists that first started to carry me to where I am today, like Deth P. Sun and kozyndan, and I felt like there was nothing for me in the Charlottesville art scene. I wanted to make the kind of place that I'd always wanted.

DENEVEU: David's always been an entrepreneur, and I wanted to work with him on this gallery/shop idea we'd been toying with for the last couple years. Charlottesville was always the plan. We met here. Selfishly it's a town we want to live in, and it's where we could afford to open the shop on our budget. Initially the concept for the shop was closer to something like Park Life in San Francisco. We were both working at a screen printing shop at the time. David was the head of the art department, and I was the head of sales. We were walking down Telegraph Avenue after brunch at Aunt Mary's Cafe in Oakland, talking about the shop. I don't know whose idea it was first to have us actually produce the pieces, but that became the cornerstone of the gallery concept. "We know screen printing from the printer's side; we know the process, the costs, what to spend money on, what not to waste money on. That's our edge." That was the moment that I knew we could actually do this, and maybe not starve to death in the process.

SPURGEON: [laughs] Can you talk about the bookstore part of Telegraph in isolation a bit? I have to admit, I'm pretty unclear how extensive that part of your business is. How do you conceive of that part of your business, how much are you trying to carry, and what audience is there for those books? Is it art books? Comics? Both?

MURRAY: Comics are the bulk of what we carry -- a solid selection of Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Koyama Press, Retrofit, Last Gasp, Nobrow, Youth In Decline, et al, and lots of self-published stuff bought directly from the artists, but we also carry art books, in part because it helps provide context for what we're doing and bridge the gap between the gallery and comic artists. The bookstore component was always part of the plan -- it made sense to sell the books of the artists we worked with, to try and present a curated vision of comics culture rather than showing these prints and pieces on their own -- but it's grown significantly over the last nine months.

DENEVEU: We opened with only three dozen titles from Koyama and Last Gasp. Now we carry about 500 titles. Comics, art books, art instructional books, zines, art theory books, papercraft, children's art books, -- but mostly comics. We're working on getting that inventory onto our website. Our target audience is young professionals who may already be familiar with comics in some form. Very few of our customers are entrenched in the indie comics scene, but most have picked up a Batman or a Calvin & Hobbes at some point in their lives. So part of our daily running of the shop is actual one-on-one education, talking to people about small press, recommending titles based on their favorite movie and books.

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SPURGEON: Do you have a surprise best-seller -- or very good seller -- either art or books?

MURRAY: I'm surprised we haven't sold any of our Tom of Finland books yet.

DENEVEU: Bicycle by Ugo Gattoni for Nobrow. It's such a gorgeous book, all we have to do is put one out for display and it sells itself. We can't seem to keep it in stock. The best part is it's a great "in" book for people unfamiliar with comics. It doesn't look like a comic. Older ladies love it. And then we've got 'em hooked. As far as posters go, Simon Hanselmann's High Priestess Print sold a lot faster than we anticipated. It is a phenomenal design that fits well into his body of work, but it's also the first poster we've had sell out within just a couple weeks. It's satisfying that Simon's work is in so many more homes now, but there are times when I yell at myself, "Dammit, we should have made a larger edition!"

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SPURGEON: Is there a difference between exhibiting successful and unsuccessfully for you? Is there a risk in that kind of expenditure? Do you find something does particularly well for you at shows?

DENEVEU: We've had a couple stinkers. Successful means we make enough money to do the next collection, plus a bit on top for rent. It doesn't always work. We've lost money on some shows in the short term, but luckily art prints don't go bad. And we make it up with the next show. But I do the books, so that's how I see things -- Truthfully I think David thinks of a show as successful when the prints are up to our quality demands.

MURRAY: Smaller prints are definitely an easier sell. There's only so much wall space in this town, and no matter how nice some of our larger prints are, it's sometimes too much of a commitment. We have loads of framed prints in our house -- admittedly, half of them are sitting in a stack and I've been meaning to hang them for a few weeks -- but I imagine this isn't the norm.

DENEVEU: Our best shows are smaller in other ways, too. Tarot Cards and botanical prints have attracted more attention than larger clumsy themes like "space" or "monsters." We initially wanted big themes with lots of artists to allow for more conceptual freedom, but a small tight shows with focused subjects are outselling the big shows.

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SPURGEON: The vibe from your part of this interview is overwhelmingly positive. There's a notion in small business right now -- and something that comics has entertained as well -- that we're starting to see more people engaging with the difficulty of small business by embracing the lifestyle-choice aspects in addition to the hard realities of doing a business. How do you like being small business people, how do you like being comics merchants? Are there specific joys you can point to about doing Telegraph?

MURRAY: Kate's stuck by me through a lot of stressful times with me running my own business as Seibei, so we're certainly no strangers to this lifestyle. I get listless and depressed if I'm not working enough, honestly, so having two jobs where there is always something to work on is ideal for me. Working with Kate is great because she's far more focused than I am and knows how to differentiate between which things need to get done now, later, and eventually.

DENEVEU: They just did an article in The Onion about how as the economy improves, more people are becoming Delusional Enough To Start Their Own Business. I read it this morning and couldn't stop laughing- oh my god it's us. But I don't think we're that delusional. Definitely risk takers. We knew the economy was terrible when we started, but weirdly it became a part of our strategy. We're not going to make any significant money in the first couple years no matter what the economy looks like, but why don't we use that time to build our company? Tighten the belt, put out a great product, build a good reputation, and then then the economy recovers -- we'll already be established.

As far as the day to day goes -- I love selling comics. I get to talk to people about comics all day long, and I love arranging/rearranging our displays like a crazy small press Martha Stewart. No matter what the stereotype is, comics shops aren't the dark little places I remember as a kid with warehouse shelves and bad lighting. Our shop has a tin ceiling, bright lights, custom woodwork, and way too many pine display crates. My two great joys are coming up with new ways to prettify, and putting a copy of Big Team Society League into someone's hands.

MURRAY: I feel like I've hit a really good rhythm as a salesperson, and am getting better every day at finding at least two or three books to recommend to any person based on a short description -- a vital skill during the holidays for sure. People are actually starting to trust my tastes, which is great. It's so gratifying to be able to introduce people to something that we love, and, even better, I get to spend a significant portion of each day talking about how talented my friends are and how great their work is. That's a damn privilege.

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SPURGEON: Do you think have a role in comics? Your internet presence give you at least the beginnings of a presence not fettered by geographical concerns, but I wondered about your conception. Do you see yourself in service to a regional or local comics scene? As a player nationally or even internationally for what it is you specifically do? And do you feel obligated at all to do comics shows or pay attention to that industry in that way for how you see your gallery growing moving forward?

MURRAY: We do have a role in comics, and I think we'll get out of it whatever we put into it. We were in the trenches at New York Comic Con and SPX this year, and honeymooned at TCAF, and I see comic shows as a huge part of our business. We opened a bookstore in a time when the convenience and ubiquity of Amazon has hurt a lot of small businesses. We have to give Telegraph a face and a personality. Conventions and shows are how we do that, and how I met you at SPX. We've got to pay attention, and we've got to fight. It's still early days yet, but we're ambitious and just dumb enough to not know what we can't do.

DENEVEU: We love reading and talking about comics, but we didn't have to start an art gallery to do that. Comics, particularly small press pieces, are worthy of greater attention in the fine art world. It is one thing to look at Lichtenstein and talk about comics as a part of greater pop culture. It's another thing to look at contemporary illustration and say -- "This is not just a part of pop culture. This is not just about comics." Taking illustration out of its current context of comics and graphical representations of greater texts, and creating new unique original pieces of art. While what we produced is not part of the fine art world, deep down I know that what we are doing is significant -- that's what gets me out of bed every morning.

*****

* photo of store provided by Telegraph
* from Jeremy Taylor
* from Benjamin Marra
* from Rebecca Tobin
* the seed toss conversation
* from Bicycle
* from Allyson Mellberg Taylor
* from Niv Bavarsky
* from Hannah K. Lee
* three more photos provided by Telegraph (below)

*****

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*****
*****
 
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Go, Look: Bully's Four-Color Christmas

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Your Broken Frontier Awards 2013 Nominees

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The site Broken Frontier has announced nominations for its tenth annual awards. You can vote via information presented here. Their nominees are:

imageBest Writer -- Mainstream
* Brian Michael Bendis (All-New X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, Uncanny X-Men)
* Matt Fraction (Hawkeye)
* Jonathan Hickman (Avengers, New Avengers)
* Mark Waid (Daredevil)
* Scott Snyder (Batman, The Wake)

Best Writer -- Independent
* Charles Forsman (Celebrated Summer, TEOTFW)
* Nicole Georges (Calling Dr. Laura)
* Matt Kindt (Mind MGMT, Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes)
* Greg Rucka (Lazarus, Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether)
* Brian K. Vaughan (Saga, The Private Eye)

Best Artist -- Mainstream
* David Aja (Hawkeye)
* Chris Burnham (Batman Incorporated)
* Jamie McKelvie (Young Avengers)
* Esad Ribic (Thor: God of Thunder)
* Stuart Immonen (All-New X-Men)

Best Artist -- Independent
* Becky Cloonan (Demeter)
* Michael DeForge (Very Casual)
* Marcos Martin (The Private Eye)
* Gary Northfield (Teenytinysaurs)
* Fiona Staples (Saga)

Breakout Talent
* Gareth Brookes (The Black Project)
* Hannah Eaton (Naming Monsters)
* Charles Forsman (Celebrated Summer, TEOTFW)
* Katie Green (Lighter Than My Shadow)
* Isabel Greenberg (The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, Tall Tales and Outrageous Adventures)

imageBest Ongoing Series
* Copra (Michel Fiffe)
* Hawkeye (Matt Fraction & David Aja, Marvel)
* Mind MGMT (Matt Kindt, Dark Horse)
* Saga (Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples, Image)
* Young Avengers (Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie, Marvel)

Best Limited Series
* Dream Thief (Jai Nitz & Greg Smallwood, Dark Horse)
* Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard 2 (David Petersen et al, BOOM! Studios/Archaia)
* Numbercruncher (Si Spurrier & PJ Holden, Titan)
* Storm Dogs (David Hin & Doug Braithwaite, Image)
* Trillium (Jeff Lemire, DC/Vertigo)

Best New Series
* Lazarus (Greg Rucka & Michael Lark, Image)
* Kinski (Gabriel Hardman, Monkeybrain)
* Pretty Deadly (Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios, Image)
* Sex Criminals (Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky, Image)
* The Private Eye (Brian K. Vaughan & Marcos Martin, Panel Syndicate)

Best Original Graphic Novel
* Boxers/Saints (Gene Yang, First Second)
* March: Book One (John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell, Top Shelf)
* Swear Down (Oliver East, Blank Slate)
* The Black Project (Gareth Brookes, Myriad)
* The Encyclopedia of Early Earth (Isabel Greenberg, Jonathan Cape)

Best Book on Comics
* Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary (Denis Kitchen & Michael Schumacher, Bloomsbury USA)
* Bazooka Joe and his Gang (Jeff Shepherd & The Topps Company, Abrams ComicArts)
* Comics Art (Paul Gravett, Tate Gallery)
* Curing the Postmodern Blues: Reading Grant Morrison and Chris Weston’s The Filth in the 21st Century (Tom Shapira, Sequart)
* Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore (Lance Parkin, Aurum Press)

Best Publisher
* Blank Slate Books
* First Second
* Image Comics
* Nobrow Press
* Oily Comics

Voting ends tomorrow at midnight!

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Go, Look: Christmas Imagery At The Golden Age Site

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Go, Read: Rachel Edidin on Scott Lobdell's Apology

Here. I get a little lost as to how tumblr provides URLs to instances of re-blogging but if you go to Edidin's tumblr site more generally you can see additional commentary in at least one subsequent post.
 
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Go, Look: Deck Us All With Boston Charlie

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Comics By Request: People, Projects In Need Of Funding

imageBy Tom Spurgeon

* please consider including the CBLDF in your year-end giving. There are a lot of people clamoring for cash over the last six weeks, and I hope no one forgets a charity with the CBLDF's pedigree. You could also do a membership. Or both.

* I'm not sure I was aware that the Sparkplug Comic Books recent posting about pre-orders and support included an on-line, art-auction component: here are those art auctions.

* Ted Rall would like your support through a service called Beacon.

* various publishing projects continue to look for your support right through the holidays, like this one from Montreal whose artist was nice enough to contact me asking me to ask you to take a look.

* Mark Evanier details the happy outcome for Bob Kahan in keeping his apartment via asking for help, and I join with him in hoping that the one-time editor at DC is able to secure long-term employment. I'm not sure I'm exactly where Mark is on the broader point of people criticizing those that turn to crowd-funding as a way to make it over a rough spot in their lives. I agree with Mark that the spiteful certainty of some of those sentiments as expressed are demeaning, and I'll never question anyone that says they're in need, but I think at some point having a conversation about those issues of need and charity more generally can be useful in deciding how best to spend the limited resources we have to help each other out.

* efforts to help Stan Sakai as he attempts to make up a home healthcare insurance gap remain ongoing. Please note the CAPS paypal button is working again. Sakai is one of the best people in comics and I hope you'll considering lending him a hand or seeing your way to one of the things being offered on his behalf for well-meaning peers.

* the Sequential Artists Workshop is seeking a few thousand dollars in support of its 2014 programs. Tom Hart and his fellow SAW folks are good people and that money will be well-spent.

* finally, don't forget that Dan Nadel continues his 50 percent off sale at PictureBox as that company winds down the front-list part of its admirable life. If you can't think of anything for yourself, get me something.
 
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Go, Look: The Return Of A Christmas Carol

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Go, Look: Longbox Graveyard's Thing Pinterest Gallery

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* all the images are disconnected which I take as a sign he really, really doesn't want the imagery being used, even to direct traffic there, but the Lewis Trondheim Advent Calendar is a lot of fun. I mean, it's a commercial promotion, but some of the images are lovely.

image* I collected comics in the obsessive back-issues sense at a remove from just wanting to read the comics themselves for only a brief period, but even that's a stretch as I like most kinds of comics and certainly read the ones I bagged and boarded and crossed off checklists. I did enjoy the idea of the having these books for the sake of having them, though, and I loved them as cultural objects. The two comics I liked most for collecting were Marvel's Avengers and X-Men series, I think because they went through multiple recognizable periods that could be enjoyed distinct from the others. It's hard to read the Roy Thomas-era Avengers now in a way that allows me to become absorbed in the work, but I still love looking at how brutish John Buscema's figure-drawing was at the time. Everyone was a giant thug. Reading those comics was like being in a hotel elevator with members of a professional football team.

* not comics: hard not to love the story of Herbert and Dorothy Vogel.

* how one column celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Avengers and X-Men concepts created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.

* yes.

* this looks potentially nice. The English-language comics how-to market remains as puzzling to me as early New York state politics. I mean, I get a ton of stuff -- or at least I did at one point -- but most of it seemed pretty useless. I guess there's good stuff with the Matt Madden/Jessica Abel and the James Sturm involved books.

* go, look: Calvin's snowmen.

* finally, the good folks at the Billy wish you a Merry Christmas via Arnold Roth. When are we going to have that year where every week we marvel at Arnold Roth's career?
 
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Happy 56th Birthday, Tony Caputo!

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Happy 38th Birthday, Jai Nitz!

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December 22, 2013


CR Holiday Interview #05 -- Dave Kellett

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*****

imageDave Kellett is the cartoonist behind the humor strip Sheldon and the humorous science fiction comics Drive. Both of these creative effort have their primary home on-line, where Kellett has forged a career as a cartoonist. He started out wanting to do a syndicated newspaper strip, and as he'll point out below, comes to that world of comics as an appreciative professional on a variety of levels. With Fred Schroeder, Kellett has made the documentary Stripped, about the intersection of those two worlds as webcomics have surged into viability and newspaper comics have weathered a rough period relative to their long and glorious history. The movie was crowd-funded not once but twice. The film may get a publicity boost from the fact that it features audio from Bill Watterson, and I think it stands to connect with audiences for its genial and hopeful tone. One nice thing about the film is it simply gets a lot of people on camera in a way that provides a snapshot of this unique moment in comics history; the resources represented by its raw interviews and research materials will be a boon to comics for years to come. The following conversation is shaped in large part by the movie. It was nice of Dave to take time from his various projects during such a busy period to talk with me, and I'm very appreciative of the additional work he did on this interview. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

TOM SPURGEON: Where are you exactly with the movie, Dave? What do you have to do that's left? What stuff has to be done with the movie itself?

DAVE KELLETT: The good news is that all the creative stuff at this point is locked. In the terminology of film-making, the sound was locked a few months ago -- that means it got re-recorded, leveled and mastered. That included all the music, the dialogue, the ADR, all of that stuff. So that was locked a few months ago and the last two or three months was spent trying to lock the picture. That's everything from color timing the interviews so that so-and-so doesn't look too pink or too blue, and then also getting final approval for all of the comic images and illustrations and caricatures that appear in the film. There are 627 different ones in the film, so it took a while. The good news is if we're not picture-locking this week, we'll be locking in 7 to 10 days.

SPURGEON: So then you have to get it out there so people will see it, or it goes into some sort of alternative distribution system, I assume. How does that track of it work?

KELLETT: This is the part of it I'm actively learning about now. The interesting thing from a comics perspective is that independent film, or smaller film -- depending on how you want to say it -- is sort of going through a similar thing to comics in that there's a breakdown in traditional models in how you get your product to people. The traditional way you would do it if you were an independent filmmaker is you would hook up with an agent and/or distributor, you would get it out to a very short theatrical run, and then you would have sold it on DVD and streaming, that sort of thing. But there's been some really successful and landmark films, like Indie Game: The Movie -- I don't know if you're familiar with that one --

SPURGEON: Sure.

KELLETT: -- that have really completely sidestepped that. They won at Sundance, had offers at Sundance, and really said "No, thank you" to all three of them. And they proceeded to self-distribute, removing all sorts of middle-men. They've done absolutely fantastic for themselves. I'm personally kind of leaning that way. I like the idea. Unfortunately -- not unfortunately; fortunately -- the side effect of making a living in webcomics is that I like that whole model.

SPURGEON: The fact that you cut out the middleman, is that an implied critique of the money involved? Or is the control involved? Do you feel like you can simply do a better job in helping this movie find its market because of your personal experience with its subject matter? What exactly makes that model more appealing to you?

KELLETT: It's definitely not a question of ultra-confidence that I can do a better job of it. [Spurgeon laughs] I'm absolutely sure there are pros that can do a better job of distributing the film than I could. It is a statement on the money aspect of things and the control aspect of things. Just as a web cartoonist, I love that I don't have an editor; I love that I don't have anyone telling me what I can or can't do in the way the business is done. From a film standpoint, it's kind of a dirty little secret that the money has never been great in independent film. So you could sell your film to a distributor or to HBO or PBS and -- this is true for many people -- still be in debt in how much money you spent to make the film. It was never a great proposition. So even some films you or I might consider a high visibility independent film might still be in debt or might not have made more than a Midwest teacher's salary off of the net profits. 

I think the potential and the joy of holding onto control is a wonderful thing.

imageSPURGEON: When you did the book [How To Make Webcomics], did you do the book the same way? I actually don't recall this off the top of my head, if that was self-published by the four of you that did that book. Did you work on that distribution yourself?

KELLETT: Oh, no. None of us wanted to be the main -- what's the best way to say it? -- the main protagonist in getting that published and out to the world, so we decided none of us would spearhead it, and we'd do it through Image, instead. Which I don't think we would do again. I think one of us would spearhead it and do it on our own. It's unfortunate, but I think because they handle so many titles I found Image's accounting to be really wonky at best. I think they made some... well, it doesn't matter. I think we would do it ourselves at this point.

SPURGEON: I can't let that go, Dave, without asking -- you think the number of titles they handled means they didn't pay attention to the sales that you had?

KELLETT: They did fine as far as launching the book. And overall I think they're best-of-breed at what they do. But I do think they made some easy-to-catch administrative mistakes in printing up the third edition, which had us scratching our heads big time. I think looking back on it, and hindsight is always 20/20, that we would have done it ourselves if we could do it again. A successful webcartoonist always sticks with what is working for them, especially because our careers not reliant on any distribution system or publisher. So it's telling that all four authors on that How To Make Webcomics book haven't used them again.

But I think at this point, there's a maximum profitability point for any book, and this book has passed it. So it's not worth it for us to take that book back over, to handle it now. There's only a few thousand dollars left in the arc of that book's life at this point.

SPURGEON: So you have that experience and the webcomics experience generally -- do you think you're just more attuned to the possibility of self-direction with a lot of these business decisions? Is DIY in your DNA? That would be the cheesy way to put it. Do you feel more comfortable and actualized as a cartoonist to at least have self-direction as an option? It would seem to me likely to become an orientation.

KELLETT: Oh yeah, absolutely. The joy about retaining ownership and doing it all yourself is that even if you screw it up the first time around, provided you make manageable-sized mistakes, you've learned enough to rock it the second or third or fourth time you do it. I may well make a huge error with this or that print run, or this or that book, or the way that I handle this or that thing, but overall, cumulatively, my career is so much better for having done it myself.

SPURGEON: You've been around a while now. Do you count on that as a resource, this core of people that are interested in what you're doing? Are you that analytical about it -- do you have a mailing list, do you have transferable knowledge about the more passionate fans of your comic? Do you think about it in those terms? Are you that kind of businessman, even if it's just the business of being Dave Kellett?

KELLETT: Absolutely. I think it's really to the detriment of the artist's career who doesn't think about it that way. In my way of thinking about it, it's akin to health insurance. You can be an asshole and say, "Oh, I don't need health insurance. I'm fine." But then you're the moron that gets stuck with the kidney operation that damn near kills you and bankrupts you. That's probably a stretch as a metaphor, but I think it's similar in that nobody wants to deal with the numbers, no one enjoys sitting down and poring over your cost-per-goods-sold or how your books are doing or this or that. But it has single-handedly insured that I will have had a career for at least a decade now, and into a second decade. You and I both know far, far better artists than I who don't have a full-time art career because they can't keep a grip on the numbers.

So I think it's critical to being a functioning artist.

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SPURGEON: Was there a point in the learning curve for you, where you had to make that decision? Or did that always come naturally?

KELLETT: It's a story worth telling. I grew up wanting to be a syndicated cartoonist. That's where the audience was. That's where the money was. That's where the prestige was. A few years after the turn of the century -- god, that sounds stupid -- but a few years after the turn of the century, I had done a series of labels for a barbecue sauce company in Kansas City. They flew me out to do a signing, and I was next to Andrews McMeel/Universal. And so I was at this point where all of my friends in syndication were like, "Oh my gosh, this is far less money than I thought it would be." And all my friends in webcomics were saying, "Wow, I'm hiring an assistant, and a second assistant for the Christmas shipping season." That kind of thing. The money was getting better and better in webcomics. So I realized I kind of needed to make a decision about which way to go. I don't know if he even remembers this, but I e-mailed John Glynn at Universal Press and said, "Hey, can I take 15 minutes of your time. I'm going to be in Kansas City." And I sat down with him. I said, "Hey, is this ever going to happen for me? Am I ever going to be syndicated? Do you guys have any interest?" And he said, "You know, just not at the time. I don't know that we could launch it. I don't know if we could make it a success for you or for us."

I needed that, because it was like, "Okay, fine. Now that makes that decision super-easy, to step away from the childhood dream of syndication and make a career in webcomics." So that's what I did. It sounds kind of silly to say that I needed that one last confirmation, but from there, I've been 100 percent towards building a career in webcomics.

SPURGEON: So when you do this film, that's your background. One of the things I thought was interesting about the movie is that during the period the movie was in production, there was a shift in the discussion of webcomics vs. print comics. It seems to me that the germ of the movie might have come in that newspaper collapse period, but then things stabilized. It seems like if things had continued to decline rapidly, the movie might have been much different than it turned out. Did the movie change according to events?
 
KELLETT: It changed for two reasons. For an audience, watching a disaster movie of "Oh, everything's falling apart" is really sad after an hour and a half. You walk away bummed about it. Where's the joy in saying "Hey, guess what, everybody? Vaudeville's dead" for an hour-and-a-half? That's not a fun movie to watch. So that had an impact.

More importantly, the newspaper market went form "Oh my God, it's all falling apart" to "Oh my God, it's just really bad." Which was a step down in terms of their dire financial status. Sure, editorial cartoonists kept getting laid off left and right, and syndicated strips went from two a year being launched to one every two years. It's still not good by any stretch, but it's not, "Oh my God, it's all falling apart." So I think the attitudes shifted a little bit.

imageAnd what happened is we also realized in the process of making this film that this has happened three or four time in print comics, where [William] Hogarth and [James] Gillray figured out a completely different way to do comics in the 18th Century, Punch figured out a different way from there, the first generation of newspaper guys figured out it one way, then syndication came along and figured it out another way. One of the central themes, and I don't know if you remember this from the film, is that comics find a way to survive. That I think is the most hopeful note in the movie. Comics always find a way to survive.

SPURGEON: Maybe I'm just old and bitter, but I'm not sure that I was convinced by the hopeful ending to your movie. And I'm further suspicious in that there's such a pressure on people when doing art to be positive, to hit that positive note if only because the negative note is so hard to take. Did you feel compelled at all to end on that positive note? Or do you really think comics will be okay? And if you think comics will be okay, I'd like to know why you think that.

KELLETT: Good question. So, a couple of answers. First: You are old and embittered. [Spurgeon laughs] I'm kidding. Ultimately, I'm an optimistic person. And that's probably a fault. But I do think that the number of careers that I'm seeing -- and I think that's as good a measure as any -- the number of careers I'm seeing where people are paying rent or their mortgage or their kids' schools from comics is going up. It's just that you and I don't see it because they're not water cooler comics. They're these smaller, almost micro-audiences that have huge support for their creator. It's just that you and I don't have them on our radar.

I imagine your average reader doesn't know me from Adam, or my work from Adam. Which is fine, I don't need them to. I just need the few 10,000s, or however many there are, readers to keep supporting me. If that make sense.

SPURGEON: It does. Now who are some of these people that I wouldn't have heard of, or just that comics fans might not have heard of -- who are examples of that kind of cartoonist?

KELLETT: I think a good measure is that your parents and my parents would know Pogo. They would know Peanuts. They would know For Better Or For Worse. Those were water cooler comic strips. Compare that to The Oatmeal, or Diesel Sweeties, or my strips -- anyone you want to name. Even Penny Arcade -- outside of their core audience, nobody knows who they are. So we no longer have water cooler comics, but that's fine, because there's atomization in comics. Provided the fan base is there, it doesn't matter that everyone in your average accounting office isn't able to talk about me in the office kitchen. The only thing that matters is these artists have careers, and their tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of fans are supporting them.

SPURGEON: It seems like you're comparing what we have now to top of the line syndicated people, but the syndicates had pretty deep catalogs back in the day. There were guys making a living not as well known as a Walt Kelly or Milton Caniff. The water cooler comics doesn't seem to me an entire set of how people made a living, but a subset of those making a living through syndication back then. So I'm not sure there's a direct correlation. Do you think there are more webcartoonists making a living right now than the entire roster of one of the old syndicates in 1948, say?

KELLETT: I should couch my optimism in context. My context is the '90s and early 2000s, where I was losing hope that comic strips would even survive. And largely, aside from the recent Dutch or Swedish comic strip that Universal launched a few weeks ago [WuMo], nothing has really taken off in the last few years in comics syndication. You can point to Lio, and there are another few probably, but for me the context was, "Oh hell, the entire syndication model doesn't seem to be launching careers anymore. But wait... there seems to be a lot of webcomics where there are careers. So there's not a cause for absolute despair; there's a cause for hope.” So my optimism in the movie, that you were asking about before, comes from comparing it to, "Oh God, it's all going to end."

SPURGEON: So it's really a critique of the last 20 years.

KELLETT: Remember that before anyone figured out how to make a living on-line, there was real hand-wringing going on about the death of print, or the death of the print syndication model at least. It's not unlike -- and I know far less about this -- when the market in comic books started to dry up, when all these shops closed. It's like, "God, what do you replace this with." For syndicated comic strips, when you start losing two-newspaper towns, and you start having entire pages cut from newspapers, the genuine question is, "Oh God; how do you replace this." The answer seems to be you replace it with digital distribution and it seems to be working for a few dozen creators around the world.

SPURGEON: So the creative aspect of those strips that are making it work... they do seem to be specifically targeted, for instance, which indicates a creative outcome to this model. Something like Penny Arcade has a specific creative mission that's not the same as a lot of strips that attempt print syndication. Many of those strips are asked to play to the broadest possible audience, or at least as much as content and approach allow. Do you feel like the strips that are making it according to this newer model are strong for that specific focus? Or is only difference access to a business model through specificity, a model that allows them to survive?

KELLETT: I think a good way to start that answer is to say that form follows function. So for a newspaper comic strip, the function was that you had to appeal to a five year old and an 85 year old, you had to appeal to all sorts of social and religious backgrounds, and above all else you had to not piss off the publishers so that you could continue to sell newspapers. The common critique, now, is that it's 1950s humor: You can't say the word "sucks" in the newspaper -- Stephan Pastis often jokes about that, what he can't say in the newspaper. What syndication did was create a comic strip that everybody in America could relate to and understand. What happens when you get to the on-line world is that you don't have to do that. To make a living, to make the art you want to make, you don't have to appeal to a lowest common denominator. You can make a super specific math joke, if you're xkcd, or a super specific video game joke if you're Penny Arcade or a super specific joke about the nuances of running if you're The Oatmeal. That may not appeal to the lowest common denominator, but it will be a much more passionate resonance for a very specific kind of reader. So yeah, you get a new subset, a core readership, that's much more passionate. Whether or not that's better or worse is a subjective call. I happen to think that it's better in the sense that a certain... not malaise, but a certain retreading had started to happen in syndication. So it's nice to have new blood, new energy in it. It's a completely subjective call, so I wouldn't claim if it's better or worse.

SPURGEON: So are there people you think might be suited to one or the other realm creatively? You mentioned Pastis, is that someone that might be better served by a direct model? Are there strips in the webcomics world that are broadly pitched that might be better served by traditional syndication?

KELLETT: Again, it goes back to form follows function. [Robert] Crumb never would have worked as a syndicated cartoonist. That wouldn't have worked for him. Thank god there was a model that worked for him, and a living to be made, that established his career. Different cartoonists rise to different occasions and the webcartooning model brings about a generation of artists that are better at wearing 20 hats than a Mort Walker -- well, actually, Mort's a bad example. It's a different kind of cartoonist than someone who would draw their cartoon, send it in, and then golf. It's a different kind of cartoonist that rises to the occasion. That absolutely means that some cartoonists will fail that would have succeeded in a syndication model, but the opposite is true -- there are fantastic cartoonists that never would've made it into the syndication model because they couldn't create for an audience in the way that syndication required.

So yeah, absolutely. Different artists succeed in different syndication models. If you look at this generation of cartoonists that are succeeding and hiring staff, they have almost a different make-up as people than syndication artists or the black and white -- although no, actually, the black and white artists are very similar. I'll take that back. People that work for Marvel and DC. It's a different sort of genetic code for this generation. But it definitely means some people aren't succeeding that are fantastic artists because they can't handle the business end of all this stuff.

SPURGEON: Have you given any thought as to why there hasn't been a model that's bridged that gap? I guess there have been some attempts at publishers and packagers within the webcomics world distinct from the artists themselves, but it's not usually the model you hear about working. Why hasn't there been someone to solve that riddle? Is it that there's a limit to the audience? Does the audience not want that person involved? Is it the money?

KELLETT: I think generally in culture there's not only an atomization of comics, there's an atomization in all types of popular culture. So there's absolutely less money than would have been the case when Hearst and Pulitzer were setting up the syndication models to tap into that. What you're finding is, in individual cases, there are business people that step in like Robert Khoo at Penny Arcade, and say, "Oh, there is money to be made here, enough to pay four, five, 20 different salaries." And then you find businesses like TopatoCo that say, "Wait a minute. We can absolutely provide, if not business management, then services that allow the artist to focus more on the art." And then there are companies that focus on ads. So as opposed to the all-inclusive, all-your-needs-are-met model with syndication, cartoonists are finding individual companies that provide this and that. So TopatoCo for my books and t-shirts. Another company for my ad services. Still another company to handle any animation I have to do. And this is a better model for the DIY mindset.

SPURGEON: The section you did on Robert Khoo in the movie was interesting because what he did seemed a bit like magic -- you presented him as a guy who came in and helped them make money but didn't in any way get into how. One thing I wonder is why someone like Khoo seems unique, why there hasn't been more than one person that people can name that have that relationship with a webcomics effort. Why hasn't that become a model as opposed to more of a unique, one-time thing? Why has his achievement remained singular?

KELLETT: There's a many-faceted answer to that.

So, in the same way that I think in the 1920s and 30s and 40s all the talent in comic art got drawn to comic strips because that's where the money is, now they get pulled to Pixar. Or they get pulled to DreamWorks, because that's where the money is. A similar thing happens to people of business orientation. They look at comics or webcomics, and the average business person says, "If I can sell it on to Sony, then great, I'll get involved. Otherwise, this is a pittance compared to other business I could be in." So for the most part I think your average businessperson looks at comics from the outside and says, "Nah, not enough money there." But Penny Arcade, even more than anything having to do with their comics, have tapped into one of the biggest media movements in the modern age. The videogame market is I believe bigger than film. Yet how many well-produced comics are commenting to a broad audience about videogames? It's pretty much just them. So there's a lot of money to be made with that company. Really, any good MBA grad could've executed on it... but Robert was the one that saw the opportunity. So that's why I believe he's somewhat unique. And I don't know, but I'd be surprised if Matt Inman doesn't have someone like that with The Oatmeal. I'd be surprised if he doesn't have a business manager. And there are a few artists for whom a business manager would be better. But yeah, from the outside looking in, most people just don't see a return on the day to day drudgery of working with comics.

SPURGEON: Do you ever get sick and tired that we're that focused on the monetary aspects of the webcomics world? [laughs] I mean, your film kind of invites discussion of some of these issues, so I can't all-the-way apologize for this interview going there, but the discussion in general... The last six or seven years, no matter what the reason webcomics might come up, it seems like you guys are pressed to justify your existence as business entities or something. There's a massive curiosity there, but that has to be exhausting.

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KELLETT: Yes. Absolutely. No one every talks about how Karl Kerschl's art on The Abominable Charles Christopher is some of the best that's ever been produced or how Oglaf's writing is genius, none of that stuff ever comes up. It's always the business model. And that's fine. What I recognize is that for most people these questions are coming from a place of fear. Most people are terrified about where their own careers are going and where comics are going. They're desperately trying to make sure that "Wait a minute, is it true that these people are hiring in webcomics, and how are they making a career on this and how is this happening?" I'm sure you get this even with what you do: how the hell do you make a living?

SPURGEON: Sure. I do, quite a bit.

KELLETT: What that is is that's grown men and women terrified about their own career. They're trying to figure out if this is legitimate, and how they know it's legitimate. It's hard for them to know because there's no third-party confirmation. It used to be when you heard somebody was syndicated, and you heard they were in 400 newspapers, you knew they were making a living. For all you know, on the other end of this line I'm in an RV and barely making do with beans and hot dogs.

SPURGEON: I knew it.

KELLETT: [laughs] What I'm saying is that there's not third-party confirmation, so these questions keep getting asked until some kernel of confirmation can come through that it's working.

SPURGEON: I think the dialogue deteriorated years before webcomics came along, in the last three decades with syndication. There were a lot of people making a modest amount of money that never really let on they weren't making Jim Davis money. So the dialogue was already pretty lousy on those issues.

KELLETT: Because webcomics cartoonists are DIY, they don't mind so much talking and being honest about what works and what doesn't. "That didn't work, but I made a lot of money doing this. I sure didn't doing that." If you wanted to go down that rabbit hole, I could take you through what works and what doesn't with my business. I wouldn't necessarily mind. But if you did the same with a syndicated cartoonist, or even more accurately a syndicate, there's no way in hell they'd tell you what's working and what's not working.

SPURGEON: Was there any desire with the movie to shy away from business -- to purely talk about the art of it, and not talk about Robert Khoo or the newspaper industry collapse, just generally not bring up these issues? How would you prefer the conversation go past the conversation you host in your film?

KELLETT: I think the ideal situation is ten more films get made by ten more people about comics. There's no way that this single film, even though we try to touch on the art, the history, the business and the personalities of comics -- which I hope you see we at least tried to do -- it's really hard even in a feature to pack in as much as you want to about comics in one movie. So we tried to basically crack the door on a lot of these topics and handle them as thoroughly as we could in a feature. So we talk about the passion and the joy that cartoonists had when they started cartooning the first time, we talked about the greats and the lives they led in comics, and we talked about the newspaper crisis and the rise of digital, and we talk about where things are going. I think from all of that, different people will take different inspiration from the film. It probably says as much about you or I that this is what we ended up talking about, the business stuff. But different people have asked completely different questions coming out of viewing the film. In that sense it's good, because it's a litmus test for what you find interesting in comics right now.

SPURGEON: Do you think there's an under-appreciation -- you mentioned Karl's work -- but do you think webcomics are consistently under-appreciated?

KELLETT: No. I guess what I was trying to say about that is that this is where the conversation naturally ended up going: To business instead of the art side of things.

SPURGEON: Let's take it to the art side of things. What is it about the world that excites you right now? I think there was a point at which with webcomics 10 years ago, maybe even 15 years ago where going on-line meant discovering new people, just this endless parade of new voices. Now you still have that, but you also have artists who have developed on-line, who can mark the majority of their creative progress in various on-line projects. What do you enjoy amongst the people that do what you do?

KELLETT: Not to sound wide-eyed or naive about it, but I'm excited about the possibilities that digital presentation presents. We see it in format. We see it in the footprint of a panel or a page. We see it in the materials being used -- the mixed media being used. I think we see it most importantly in the voices, the writing voices that you hear coming out, that you never would have seen in syndication. To me there are more artists writing, more voices for more audiences, than you ever would have had in syndication. It's the equivalent -- and this is a bad summary -- of syndicated comics becoming a version of the desert island joke in The New Yorker. They were all either a baby strip, or an animal strip, or a white family dealing with white family problems. That is basically what syndication had become. Now there are all sorts of voices. You look at Meredith Gran, or Danielle Corsetto, or Kate Beaton or Spike, there are so many new female voices, which is exciting. You look to the new audiences being written to, and what's being said. It's an incredibly exciting time for webcomics. Again, that's not mean to sound naive or wide-eyed or "Oh, golly, what a great world we're heading into." It's just that I see a re-emergence of comic strips as something exciting to write for.

SPURGEON: Your specific joy is for that strip... why is that? Do you like the beats there? You've been doing one for years and years and years now, Dave, and asked that question about work in general it's where you went -- for the most part, anyway. Where is your specific joy for Sheldon right now?

KELLETT: Even different than a comic book or a graphic novel, for me a comic strip is commonly a single person working on a regularly updated basis talking to a vast audience. There's an immense joy in that, that a team working on a comic book that comes out once a month or working by myself or with others on a graphic novel that comes out every three years or so, that's just so joy-filled. It's a great format, it's a great way of communicating. No single idea is a make or break one. If Thursday's is bad, then the next one will be fine. Over time, if you're batting .700 you're going to be doing great. Maybe that number's too high. It's a great way to communicate.

For me, I love being able to switch back and forth between character jokes and situational jokes. And the stand-alone single jokes... so I find great joy in it.

For me with Sheldon I've been doing it 15 years now, since '98. And in the last five or six years, I started doing a sci-fi strip. That's given me a whole new jolt about comic strips in general. It feels like I'm doing one of the old adventure strips.

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SPURGEON: The fascinating thing to me about Drive -- and I'm not sure I can articulate this without coming across as insulting -- is that you have a very stylized approach, your strips have a stylized look; they're not rendered in the classic sense. They're not based on figure drawing, and there's a certain amount of arch cartoony-ness to your figures.

KELLETT: Absolutely.

SPURGEON: So it surprises me in Drive how well you employ that in that milieu. It doesn't seem like that should work.

KELLETT: No, you're right. It's funny that you say this, but I had another cartoonist tell me, with such brass balls... he e-mailed me about six months into the strip and said, "Hey, I'm really enjoying the strip, but you shouldn't be drawing this. Someone else should be drawing this." And I was like, "Wow, that is ballsy." But you're right. You're right. If you look at Sheldon, you wouldn't think, "Oh, this is a guy that should be drawing sci-fi." But for me, I wanted that Hitchhiker's-Guide-meets-Frank-Herbert feel to the strip. You would have these vast science fiction empire kinds of things going on like you would in Dune, but you have the goofiness of a Hitchhiker's Guide. I think the style works because of that.

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SPURGEON: You mentioned Douglas Adams... I imagine doing humorous science fiction he has to be a colossal, nearly unavoidable figure. How do you deal with a genre where there's a singular, obvious influence like that? It seems like he would be almost the definition of that sub-genre, and I wondered how you negotiated that.

KELLETT: Yeah. That's a really good question. I think the best way to describe it is that for whatever reason that wasn't an overriding fear on my part when I started. I don't know if that's a helpful answer. I was less worried about... I knew from an alchemy sort of way I wanted a little dash of Frank Herbert, and I knew I wanted a little dash of Adams, and I knew I wanted a little dash of this and that. I could never write the scope and power of a Frank Herbert story. I could never write the goofy joy of a Hitchhiker's, but I knew if I shot in that direction with my own writing and drawing skills that I would find my own story, which is what I really wanted to do. And Drive is one of those stories where the whole arc of it kind of sprang into my mind, if not complete, then near-complete. So it's not like I was thinking, "Oh, I want to do an android, but I want to do one different than the one in Hitchhiker's.” For me, the story was whole cloth, and I wanted to present it in a way that reflected those two styles. But I never had an overriding concern. He is so damn good how could I ever come close to that style?

SPURGEON: To tie that back into the film... your film ties print and webcomics together via the strip format, which isn't the primary interest for a lot of people working in print or on-line. There's also an argument that there's an ossification in webcomics, that there's a gentle nudging towards models "that work." That there are a few dominant ways of doing webcomics that are favored over others. And that maybe some kinds of comics have faded a bit. For example, I can't remember the last time I saw someone working in a strip format that was also interested in infinite canvas notions as a way of simply presenting such material, like, say, Drew Weing used to be. Do you wonder if webcomics will end up being like so many other art forms, with a kind of webcomic becoming dominant and the range of expression narrowing a bit? Someone that wants to do work on-line about gaming culture, for example, has PvP and Penny Arcade to negotiate in a way they would have had those institutions 15 years ago. How does webcomics avoid the rigidity that can come with success?

KELLETT: To go back to the first part of your question, I don't want to keep going back to the phrase of "form follows function," but I think one of the reasons why some aspects of experimentation with webcomics fell by the wayside is that they just weren't able to make a living from it. For me, Drive is a long-form story where you have to know the characters and the plot to read any individual installment. That can be a killer on-line depending on the type of reader. For me, it was only because Sheldon was affording me a great living that I could take the time to do Drive. I couldn't start my career with a Drive. So I think the same kind of thing happened in webcomics. People got experimental. "Oh, I can do infinite canvas." Or "Oh, I can do lots of things." "... Change the way I update. Change the way a comic appears on the screen." All of that is great, but if you can't figure out a way that contributes to you making a living, then that experimentation or that path withers a little bit. So there's that.

The second part of your question is how does the second or third generation... not fight the existing webcomics?

SPURGEON: How do you not end up repeating the same cycle you're claiming for syndicated strips, where building on tried and true routines because of that desire to make money doing this limits the creativity involved? And is there at point where the kinds of cartoonists that will go to webcomics will start to be more and more the ones for whom some sort of financial success is built-in due to a willingness to chase certain styles? How do you avoid the same cycle. How do we avoid three to five people doing what you're doing, or doing what Scott Kurtz is doing?

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KELLETT: I take your meaning. First of all, it's worth acknowledging it can happen. It's happened a couple of times in comics. Both in magazine cartooning and newspaper cartooning. It's probably already happening in webcomics. How you avoid it, is that the magic thing about webcomics is that there are no gatekeepers. So you have this constant opportunity for success going to a new voice and a comic that's never been done before. If you had asked me, "Hey, Kate Beaton's history comics. Is that going to go?" I would have gone, "No. No." But she's brilliant and that voice she has is so unique that now you're like, "Of course that work does well and has a massive audience." The same is true for all sorts of different comics. The Unshelved library comic strip; I never would have guessed before I knew and saw their audience how massive and passionate a library audience could be for a comic strip. So I think what's happening is that sure, a lot of people might go, "Hey, Penny Arcade is doing video games. That is what I should do." But if you're not writing from where your passions are, it's only going to last for a few years anyway. But, the flip side of that is that the people that truly write from a place of passion and interest, a Kate Beaton or a Meredith Gran or a Karl Kerschl, you might see a format you wouldn't think would work for webcomics, but it's brilliant. So that's the saving grace for webcomics, I think. Because there are no gatekeepers, people are allowed to follow their passions. That means 100 failures to every success, but that one will be new and different.

SPURGEON: We always talk about these things as if they're brand new. You've been around 15 years, which is the length of a standard syndication contract plus a first option period. And in Internet time, that's a billion years. I certainly get my information on-line differently than I did in 1998. What is it about comics that allows you to have a continuity in the way they're distributed and consumed that doesn't apply to other media?

KELLETT: Here's the criticial difference. It's a thing that people with a tradition from print comics never grasp at first. Webcomics is never a zero-sum game. For me to succeed, Ryan North doesn't have to fail. For me to make a great year of profit, The Oatmeal doesn't have to fail. What that means is, how I weather the storm, is that because of this I can be absolutely open with my peers and friends as to what is working or not. You would never have the head of DC calling up the head of Marvel and saying, "Let me tell you, these crossovers we're doing are really working. You gotta try it." But in webcomics you have that all the time. You have friends and peers that will say, "Guys, XYZ isn't working as a business model. But I'll tell you what is working. YZX." That helps us collectively weather the storm because none of us are in direct competition in a way that surprises people from a print model.

So you can have a rising tide of information that lifts a lot of careers.

SPURGEON: You have an immediate peer group with whom you share information like that.

KELLETT: Absolutely. It's both at shows and constantly through other ways that peer groups talk to each other: e-mails, forum postings, all sorts of stuff. For example, you'll see a ton of webcomics over the next six to 12 months trying Patreon. It's a new version of Kickstarter. It has the potential to be a game-changer as to how webcomics work, and because some of the initial reports from some of the webcartoonists is them saying, "Hey, holy crap, this is really working" you'll see more and more cartoonists trying it.

That's what keeps us afloat. Six years ago we would have said, "Self-published books are really working as a business model." Or "Shirts have a tremendous profit margin." Or "Do this kind of advertising." That passing along of information keeps entire careers afloat.

SPURGEON: I'm interested in the creative aspect of that. The strip form has remained sturdy for you.

KELLETT: Look at it in terms of output. If I was producing a page a day, or if I was producing a mini-story a day, it would be untenable. But with the strip format, the beauty of it is that you can produce a strip a day. It's just enough of a snippet of a world that people will keep coming back day after day and finding it satisfying. I tip my hat to the people at the turn of the century that figured that out, because it's a great format for a story on a regular basis.

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SPURGEON: How are you a different artist now, Dave? It seems like you have more control over your line? How would you describe your own artistic growth?

KELLETT: I guess that I'm learning. I don't want to be falsely humble and say, "Oh, I'm no good." But I think I'm definitely better than where I was. That's no different than anyone else's career. I often think I'll be really good in about ten years. I think that's a universal for any artists that you'd ask. When the film is done -- I feel like I've been coasting a bit since the film has been going on -- I want to experiment a lot more, especially with Drive. I think there are different ways I can draw now. I'm excited to get back to it when the film is done.

SPURGEON: You mentioned this earlier. How do you avoid the tyranny of your audience?

KELLETT: That's a great question. That's a really great question. It's hard to do, especially when this becomes your living. That's why ultimately I have to write for myself. If I don't, the spark is gone because I'm writing for somebody else's strip. I'm writing for tens of thousands of people embodied in an imaginary person. I'm not writing for me. That's why I was saying the beauty of the comic strip is that no individual strip is make or break. I can write a strip where the joke is very personal and makes me laugh, and know that five people -- maybe -- will like it. But I don't care, because I needed to write that one on my way to write a strip that will appeal to a broader audience. But it's hard, because who doesn't want to be loved in this world? So of course you want adulation and praise, but you have to be careful to write for your own joy, your own sense of humor.

SPURGEON: What's the difference for you between the 70 percent that work and the 30 that don't, then? When something works, what is that like on the page that makes it different from one that doesn't?

KELLETT: For different styles of jokes, it can be entirely different things. For one, there are times where you think you've written a punch line in your last panel but actually what everybody loved was the physicality you drew in the second panel. And you didn't even know that is where the humor was. Sometimes the joke is accidental, even to the cartoonist. If you're truly good, and this is one of the reasons why [Bill] Watterson was brilliant, and why [Charles] Schulz was brilliant, is that they had many legs under the table. If the writing couldn't support it, then the art could support it. And if the art couldn't support it, there was something structural in the strip that made it more beautiful to look at. I think if you do enough of those, you're doing all right as a cartoonist. Where the 30 percent don't work is usually where you don't have enough legs under the table. You either phoned it in on the art, or the writing needed to or three more passes, or the punchline wasn't strong enough and you didn't realize it. Or it's too inside baseball a joke. There's a billion reasons why, but when it comes down to it, it's that there wasn't enough legs under the table.

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SPURGEON: I wanted to ask you a Watterson question -- not about his involvement with your film, which I think will be a big part of how you roll this film out and will likely be pretty well-covered in feature articles. I thought you used his responses well and that you earned his trust. His statements are interesting, too, but that's not really a surprise since he was always a fine thinker about comics. I'm more interested in the reason why people will be interested in him being in your film, in the fact that he appeals to two entirely different generations of kids that read his work. People my age and people in their 20s seem equally interested in his work, and maybe even more so now that he's been gone for a while. As a fan, and as a fellow cartoonist, and as someone who thought enough of him to try and get him on the record about some things, what do you think the nature of his appeal is? Why so much passion for him?

KELLETT: Can I back up and take a broader view first?

SPURGEON: Of course.

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KELLETT: I was -- for lack of a better phrase -- a student of cartooning. I did two master's degrees in comics history at UCSD and University of Kent in England. When I was in England, I was a junior assistant art curator in their archives, whatever my title was. Basically a junior archivist. And it was really helpful to me as a cartoonist to hold forgotten strips' originals in my hands and see how poorly the average comic's writing ages. It's kind of a version of why those 30 percent of strips don't work. If you take a comic out of its age, and try to have it communicate to people 50 years on, so many of them fail. Right? The Gumps or Mutt & Jeff were massive hits of their day, blockbusters that made millionaire cartoonists. But if you ask the average person on the street now? Never heard of them. Never read them, never seen them, never even heard the titles.

SPURGEON: I find the one that's happening to now is Pogo. That's faded from appreciation over the last 20 years, I think in part because it's very specific to its time.

KELLETT: The same thing will happen to Bloom County. I am aware as a cartoonist that my own work will fade very quickly from history. I'm OK with that. But one of the things that I think Watterson did so brilliantly, and Schulz to a similar extent, is that they wrote for timelessness. Watterson almost never had a reference that couldn't be inferred 30 years from now, 100 years from now. I haven't asked him about it, but I think that was a rational choice from day one, to have a timelessness about what the characters were talking about, the world they inhabited, and what they were doing. Calvin's average playdate was to be up in a tree or making mud pies or playing an imaginary game of football, right? There was never a joke about Dr. Who or Star Trek or even a product -- there's never a brand. And so much of today's humor is based on that kind of thing. It's the same as when I would read comics in that archive from 60 to 70 years ago and think, "This doesn't land at all." I think one of the reasons why Watterson will succeed for generation after generation, and maybe for a few hundred years, is that he wrote for a timelessness. Because it's sweet, and because the philosophy is also timeless, I think it will hit for years to come.

SPURGEON: Remind me what the next step is with this movie. You may take the reins yourself, so what does the next six months hold?

KELLETT: Pixar has invited us up to show it to them. We'll show it to the whole studio up there. I'm excited/vomiting thinking about it. Out of nervousness. But that'll be purely for fun. And because it's not set yet we'll be figuring out the best way -- probably digitally -- to get it out to people. Whether that's a service like iTunes or a short theatrical tour we control -- that's called four-walling -- we're going to be nailing that down the next few weeks: a first quarter release to the world.

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* Dave Kellett
* Sheldon
* Drive
* Stripped

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* Sheldon panel I like
* promotional image for Stripped
* the book in question
* a big panel from Sheldon
* Gillray
* Kerschl
* two from Drive
* two from Sheldon
* Watterson
* from The Gumps
* a page from Drive that I love because it's just drawing spaceships (below)

*****

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I Love Going To The Comic Book Store

Fantasy Comics, 2595 N 1st Ave, Tucson, AZ 85719, 12-21-13

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photos by Whit Spurgeon; I've never seen a copy of that Romita Legacy book -- long story, all my fault -- so it's funny that I missed it again even as my brother didin't

*****

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cost: somewhere around $34 or so, I can't remember

*****
*****
 
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Go, Look: Christmas Beware

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Missed It: Society Of Illustrators Putting Together A Comic And Cartoon Art Annual Via Competition

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I don't know how these kinds of things work in general, and I sure as heck don't know how well one will work for comics and cartoons, but the Society Of Illustrators has announced they're doing a juried competition for both static and moving cartoon-related art. Plans for what to do with contest entries/winners include a catalog, a summer-showing at the Society, an awards gala where medals and certificates will be given out, and then a tour of 40 works in an educational traveling show.

Here's all the information, including fees for submission:
ABOUT THE COMIC AND CARTOON ART ANNUAL

As we strive to expand our mission of promoting the understanding and appreciation of comic and cartoon art, we are proud to announce the first Annual Comic and Cartoon Art Competition.

This juried competition will result in an exhibition that will showcase the most outstanding works created in this genre throughout each year.

The original works will be exhibited in the MoCCA Gallery at the Society of Illustrators from May 28 through August 16th, 2014.

Opening Award Galas will be scheduled where Medals and Certificates will be presented to the artists whose works are judged best in each category.

All accepted entries will be reproduced in a full color catalog. This catalog will present not only the year's finest works, it will also include commentary by the artists, who explain their creative processes in their own words.

A selection of 40 works from each Exhibition will then tour colleges throughout the country in an educational traveling show, a tradition that we have had at the Society for over 30 years.

CATEGORIES

Long Form: A work that is longer than 40 pages. Includes graphic novels, comic books, etc.

Short Form: A work that is shorter than 40 pages. Includes stand-alone work, zines, comic books and work that has been published in anthologies.

Special Format: Work that is design-driven and created with special attention to production values, including limited edition, small press, hand-made and artist's books.

Digital Media: Work that is native to a digital format. Includes web comics, online comic strips, and other digitally driven works. Up to 20 images accepted per entry.

Comic Strip: A short-form work published in newspapers, magazines, books, online, etc. featuring four or more panels.

Single Image: Work featuring a self-contained narrative image with or without caption. Includes gag cartoons, political cartoons, single-panel cartoons, etc.

Moving Image: Motion graphics and animations (including gifs) intended to be shown on computer screens and tablets and created for apps, ebooks, digital versions of magazines, etc. Must use .mov files to upload through the website. Email links for other formats to

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HOW TO ENTER LONG FORM & SHORT FORM BOOK SUBMISSIONS

Eligibility: Any book that was created from January 2013 -- January 2014. Both published or self-published are accepted. International entries are welcome. Each submission will receive consideration by every member of the jury for its category.

How to enter: Mail 6 copies of the publication to the Society of Illustrators: 128 East 63 Street, New York, NY, 10065. Attn: Comic and Cartoon Art Competition. Must include the official entry form with each copy. Download the form here.

DEADLINE: Monday, February 3, 2014.

Entry Fees For Book Submissions:
$30 per entry (includes all six copies) for non-members of the Society of Illustrators.
$20 per entry (includes all six copies) for members of the Society of Illustrators.

Include a check with the entry. Checks made out to Society of Illustrators.

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HOW TO ENTER SPECIAL FORMAT SUBMISSIONS

Eligibility: Any work that was created from January 2013 - January 2014. Both published or self-published are accepted. International entries are welcome. Each submission will receive consideration by every member of the jury for its category.

How to enter: Mail 1 copy of the publication to the Society of Illustrators: 128 East 63 Street, New York, NY 10065. Attn: Comic and Cartoon Art Competition. Must include the official entry form with each copy. Download available here.

DEADLINE: Monday, February 24, 2014.

Entry Fees For Book Submissions:
$30 per entry for non-members of the Society of Illustrators.
$20 per entry for members of the Society of Illustrators.

Include a check with the entry. Checks made out to Society of Illustrators.

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HOW TO ENTER ONLINE SUBMISSIONS FOR DIGITAL MEDIA, COMIC STRIP, SINGLE IMAGE SUBMISSIONS

Eligibility: Any work that was created from January 2013 - January 2014. Both published or self-published are accepted. International entries are welcome. Each submission will receive consideration by every member of the jury for its category.

How to enter:
Submissions accepted at www.soicompetitions.org. Images must be 1000 pixels on the longest side, RGB, JPG.

DEADLINE: Monday, February 24, 2014.

Entry Fees:
$30 per entry for non-members of the Society of Illustrators.
$20 for members of the Society of Illustrators.

Pay online or mail a check. Checks made out to Society of Illustrators.

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HOW TO ENTER MOVING IMAGE CATEGORY

Eligibility: Any work that was created from January 2013 -- January 2014. Independent projects and international entries accepted. Each submission will receive consideration by every member of the jury for its category.

How to enter:
Submissions accepted at www.societycompetitions.org. Mov files only. For other formats including gifs please email links to

DEADLINE: Monday, February 24, 2014

Entry Fees:
$30 per entry for non-members of the Society of Illustrators.
$20 for members of the Society of Illustrators.

Pay online or mail a check. Checks made out to Society of Illustrators.
I guess there are a few news angles here. One is that this marks the Society Of Illustrators' further commitment to folding comics and cartooning more explicitly into what they do. I have to imagine that scoring a place in such a show -- in addition to just "winning" something, which is still rare enough in art that people seem to super-enjoy it -- could be something that goes on the resume for all sorts of potential auxiliary work. I have very little experience with this kind of thing save for one standard-illustration friend for whom placing in competition was a career boost simply in terms of his work being seen. Coimcs has a more aggressive sorting mentality than that field did at that time, though. It's interesting to think there are things like this now and we should see a mad scramble for this kind of institutional and process recognition over the next three years.
 
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Go, Look: Bucky Ruckus

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

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Not Comics: Franklin Booth Christmas Imagery

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* this book was in my family's dining room, on the tea tray, which was never used for tea but instead housed all of the coffee table books because any coffee table book on the coffee table would last about two weeks before becoming pulp and glue. I don't think my parents understood much about Steinberg -- I still don't -- but the drawings were cool and clever and bore repeat viewing as they and I would periodically struggle to figure out what was going on: View Of America From A 1970s Suburban Home Tea Tray.

* Christmas evil.

* Noah Van Sciver will draw you.

* James Romberger talks to Paul Kirchner. Mark Frauenfelder talks to Ruben Bolling and Vanessa Davis. Robin McConnell talks to Jesse Reklaw. Alec Berry talks to Mardou.

* Chris Schweizer populates HP Lovecraft.

* the cartoonist Nate Powell is recognized as an Arkansan working in entertainment in a prominent way in 2013.

* Todd Klein on Astro City #5. Whit Taylor on Strong Eye Contact and Mimi and The Wolves Act I: The Dream.

* finally, the great RC Harvey profiles George Baker and Sad Sack.
 
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Happy 53rd Birthday, Phoebe Gloeckner!

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Happy 62nd Birthday, Tony Isabella!

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Happy 57th Birthday, Bill Willingham!

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December 21, 2013


CR Holiday Interview #04 -- Brian Cremins

imageI met Brian Cremins this fall in Columbus, Ohio, where it was my honor to introduce his paper on Pogo. I was intrigued by his thesis that Walt Kelly was writing as much about his beloved Connecticut home town and its now-lost early 20th Century glory days as he was any more widely-accepted culprit on the map of the United States. I found him engaging in person as well. Cremins is one of a growing group of comics academics between 35 and 50 years old that are as comfortable negotiating the public sphere in which comics exist as they are theory and jargon. I asked him to join me here to talk about elements of his work and the changing world of comics academia, and was happy when he accepted. As much as I've benefited from their work, I know very little about what scholars with a focus on comics actually do. -- Tom Spurgeon

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TOM SPURGEON: Brian, before we get into some basic biographical information, I was wondering if you could talk a bit about the academic conference we both attended at the front of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum opening weekend. First, could you walk through how you approach a conference like that? Like really basic stuff. You hear that this is going to happen, and you think of presenting why, and how do you determine what that might be, and what do you hope to get out of it?

BRIAN CREMINS: Before I get started, let me thank you again for asking me to do this, Tom. It's been fun to work through these questions with you, and thanks also for sending the follow-ups. Let me apologize in advance for being long-winded, but I figure that, since I tell my students to read the directions and to answer questions as thoroughly as possible, I need to follow my own advice!

SPURGEON: There is no such thing as a long-winded CR Holiday Interview.

CREMINS: Generally an academic conference will make a very broad call for papers, but the CFP for Columbus made a few specific suggestions -- like papers about Charles Schulz and Walt Kelly. Kerry Soper, who just published a great monograph on Kelly and Pogo, and I had been corresponding over email, so I asked if he'd be interested in putting together a Walt Kelly panel. 2013 would have been Kelly's 100th birthday, so a panel on his life and work seemed like a great idea for the academic conference that opened the Festival.

Once I submit a proposal for a conference, it's usually two months or longer before I get a response. Sometimes I'll submit an abstract based on a paper I've already published, as in the case of the article on Edie Fake's Gaylord Phoenix I presented at Michael Chaney's Dartmouth comics conference in the spring. I was in the process of writing that essay for the Journal of Medical Humanities when I saw Michael's CFP. I adapted some of the material I already had, added some material on Kane and Spider-Man's adventures in the Savage Land, wrote an abstract, and submitted it.

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For the OSU paper, I started with the Kelly essay I'd published in Brannon Costello and Qiana Whitted's collection Comics and the U.S. South in 2012. I took a look again at that one, which I'd started writing and researching in 2008, and discovered that my ideas had changed significantly.

Since I'm in the middle of writing a book about the Otto Binder and C.C. Beck's run on Captain Marvel, I felt very distant from the Kelly research, until I realized that the issue of nostalgia -- and the theories of nostalgia I've been reading in the work of Svetlana Boym and Susan J. Matt -- are also present in Kelly's work.

I still struggled with what I wanted to say until we visited my parents in Connecticut and I had the opportunity to work in the clipping files at the Bridgeport History Center in Kelly's hometown. As I read the newspaper reports from the Bridgeport Post, and Kelly's Barnum series from the early 1930s, I had a new idea for my paper. Without that trip, and without that drive from Waterbury to Bridgeport through the Naugatuck River Valley, I don't think I could have written this new essay on Kelly. I needed to be there to understand why he writes so affectionately about his childhood in Bridgeport.

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As other academics and artists will tell you, conferences are a good way to see old friends. At its best, a conference is also an introduction to new ideas, or books, or artists, or writers, or theories. I know I've been to a great conference when I get home and I'm still taking notes, still thinking about the people I'd met and considering their ideas. The Billy Ireland Festival this year was one of those conferences. When I got back to Chicago, I bought a copy of March, because I remembered Qiana's paper, and I was reading The Eternals again because John Jennings had shown all his Kirby remixes during his talk, and I was looking at Eisner because of James Vance's talk. Those are just a few examples.

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SPURGEON: Until this year, I haven't done one of those since 1997 or so, one of the ICAFs in the room above the Holiday Inn conference room where they had SPX. I assume you've been doing these a while in some form yourself. Two things I noticed is that there seems to be a post-TED talk approach to visuals and dramatic presentation style, but it also seemed to me -- and this just might be that particular event -- more open to independent scholarship and maybe more something that a general audience could understand. Can you talk about how they've changed? Will that continue, do you think?

CREMINS: Since my Ph.D. research was focused on early African American film, I'm accustomed to the use of technology at academic conferences, although in the late 1990s, when I first started presenting at places like the American Literature Association, we were using VHS tapes and praying that we'd synced them correctly before we got on the plane! My very first comics-oriented conference was the Popular Culture Association in Toronto in the spring of 2002, which, to this day, is still one of the most memorable conferences I've ever attended.

Gene Kannenberg had invited Thierry Groensteen as a keynote speaker on Martin Vaughn-James' The Cage, and we all did field-trips to The Silver Snail and to The Beguiling. I walked into The Beguiling and there's Joe Matt, Seth, Chester Brown. "They really do hang out together," I remember thinking. It was like stepping into one of their comics. I remember great presentations from Jeet Heer on Harold Gray and José Alaniz on the X-Men and disability studies. Anyway, at that conference I remember very rudimentary slide shows, but I also remember being disappointed in myself for not bringing along something more sophisticated than the photocopies I had in my briefcase.

So I think the use of multimedia in comics studies conferences predates the TED talks that have become so popular in the last few years. It's very difficult to talk about comics and film without using clips of some sort. I think the technology has caught up with the presentations, and we're seeing academics and artists taking full advantage of the technology available.

In Columbus I overheard several people remark that there was a good range of presenters -- academics, independent scholars, writers, artists. I think this mixture is what makes comics studies so unique and vital. I would not be able to do the research I'm working on now without all of the writing from independent scholars, dating back to the fanzines of the early 1960s. One of the reasons I try to write for as many different venues as I can -- peer-reviewed academic journals like Studies in American Humor, popular comics magazines like Alter Ego, my zines and my blog -- is that I feel the need to balance my writing for fandom with my writing for a purely academic audience. I think -- I hope, anyway -- that writing for those two often distinct worlds has sharpened my skills.

And the relationship between academia, independent scholarship, and fandom has existed for decades in people like Trina Robbins, R.C. Harvey, M. Thomas Inge, the late Jerry Bails. I'll give an example from a couple of decades ago: When I was in high school, I wrote a letter to CBG's "Information, Please" column in which I asked for help on a project for a Spanish class. This was in late 1989 or early 1990. I was thinking of writing a report on the Hernandez Brothers. A few weeks later, I got several responses in the mail -- one from a comics fan named Hec Rambla from New York City, who sent me a stack of beautiful Condorito comics, and another from Tom Inge. I also remember an envelope from Cat Yronwode. I didn't have known it at the time, but I was experiencing the critical discourse of fandom, a discourse that has provided the foundation for the more formalized academic study of comics.

SPURGEON: I was also sort of fascinated by the social milieu both of the shows I attended presented, particularly this one. Is there specific value for academic in what still seems a loosely organized focus to see one another, to interact with one another? Is that ever overstated?

CREMINS: I attended three conferences this year -- Dartmouth, the CAKE Festival in Chicago, and OSU -- and I kept thinking about something Edie Fake said recently regarding his work, his comics, and his gallery shows. This is from an interview he did with Thea Liberty Nichols earlier this year around the time of his gallery show Memory Palaces:
Cross-pollinating is how ideas spread and get expanded upon. Sharing what we can is how we help each other thrive on this messed up planet. It creates networks, emotional bonds, kinship, thought, and physical resources. You can't always give and you can't always take.
I don't think the significance of community to comics studies can be overstated. Although writing and research -- like cartooning -- can be solitary pursuits, the work always exists within a larger social or historical context of ideas and texts. The networks Edie talks about are significant and vital -- those networks make it possible for us to communicate and to survive or, as he puts it, to "thrive."

imageSPURGEON: This may be impossible to answer, but what is the state of comics in academia in broad terms? It seems like the popularity of the classes and the aging of some very skilled and popular professors program to program are starting to generate more institutional interest, but I don't have a good read on this.

CREMINS: I'm stunned by the popularity and acceptance of comics in academia. When I was an undergrad at Dartmouth College in the early 1990s, I began to see some casual interest in comics as a field of study. Marianne Hirsch, for example, was teaching Maus in her Holocaust course with historian Leo Spitzer, and she would eventually transform some of those classroom ideas into her analysis of Spiegelman in her book Family Frames (1997). But I remember some of the other students in that class resisting the idea of a comic book about the Holocaust. Why are we reading this? What is it? Is it some sort of joke? It's hard to imagine such resistance now that Maus is such a canonical text.

Many of my Studio Art classes were even more challenging. I'd originally planned to complete a double major -- studio art and English -- but I found the English department, at least at that time, more open to the idea of comics as an art form.

I mention that because, when I took Hirsch's course, I was able to write papers about Maus and its relationship to other books in the 1986/87 comic book "renaissance," like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. I had the opposite experience in most of my art classes. I still recall my first group critique, in which the professor took one look at my drawings and said dismissively, "So here we have a picture-maker." I got tired of struggling in those classes but I found a home in the English Department because of faculty like Melissa Zeiger, Bill Cook, Jonathan Crewe, and Peter Bien. When I first heard about the Center for Cartoon Studies opening in White River Junction, I wanted to send a message back to my 18-year old self -- just wait until you see White River Junction in 20 years.

Now, having said all that, I also learned a great deal in those art classes about Modernist and Post-Modernist art movements, knowledge I draw on in my writing two decades later. I sometimes wish I'd had more guts and stuck with that double-major.

So, yes, I think comics are gaining more acceptance within academia as an area of study. In fact I think we're well beyond the early phases of that acceptance. With all of the conferences and academic journals now devoted to the field -- not to mention the faculty across disciplines incorporating comics into their courses -- we're witnessing an exciting time for comics studies. Some of the scholars in Columbus even suggested that the opening of the Billy Ireland might be a culmination of this first wave of comics scholarship. Just as there are a lot of great cartoonists working right now, there are a lot of amazing writers and critics.

SPURGEON: For that matter, do you see one or two things that are out there to be done, immediate things you'd like to see happen for this area of interest?

CREMINS: As a field I think we need to be mindful of what we might lose or forget as we continue to build a canon of comics studies. I mentioned earlier the relationship between academia and fandom, and I think it's important that we not forget or ignore the works of comics scholarship that existed before comics began generating more widespread, formal academic interest in the 1990s.

In the interview you did with Jeet Heer a few weeks ago, he mentioned his desire to publish a collection of critical work from the fan press. I think he also joked that he might be the only person interested in reading it, but I'll line up to buy a copy, too. I think a collection of that sort would be essential and I'd love to see him edit one.

I think any critical discourse that seeks to define and understand American comics of the last century must engage seriously with these early works of criticism, while at the same time understanding how issues such as race, gender, and identity have shaped the history of comics in the United States and around the world. There's a lot of work to be done, but we have access to the raw material that we need, especially in archives like the Billy Ireland at OSU and in the amazing archive Randy Scott oversees at Michigan State.

I should mention that I'm trained as a literary scholar or historian rather than as a theorist of aesthetics. I'm often less interested in how comics work than in the historical forces that shape them. In several of my essays I'm writing as much about the advertisements in newsstand comics as I'm writing about the stories themselves. I'm interested in comics not just as art but also as material objects with a history all their own.

imageAlso, I tried to fight that battle -- are comics "real" art? -- in my undergraduate art classes, and I decided it was better to focus my energy on making things -- on writing about what interested me -- than in wasting time trying to convince those who might never be persuaded in the first place. Before I got to college, in fact, I was entirely ignorant of the divide between high and low art. I was immersed in comics fandom but I was also reading Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. Maybe my inability -- or unwillingness -- to distinguish between Ulysses and the artfulness of an old issue of Mighty Samson reveals my questionable taste! But my family was always very supportive, and none of my teachers or fellow students -- until college, anyway -- seemed to care all that much when I'd bring a stack of comics to school. I think everyone was happy that I'd developed a love of reading.

Two of my non-comics heroes, I should mention, are Queer filmmaker and performance artist Jack Smith and early punk musician Peter Laughner. I did some sound design for a couple of experimental theater pieces in New York in the 1990s, so I got exposed to a lot of radical, often politically engaged, inventive artists I probably never would have encountered otherwise, filmmakers like Smith and directors like Richard Foreman and the late Reza Abdoh. Those movies and those plays still inspire me. If you see Smith's films, and listen to Laughner's music with Rocket from Tombs and Pere Ubu, you find a willingness to cross genres and forms -- high art and trash, literature and music, movies and live performance. That punk sensibility informs a lot of my writing and thinking about comics. I think it's unlikely I would have discovered Smith and Laughner anyway if I hadn't first been exposed to the idea of an underground in the form of the small press artists and zine-makers who advertised in the Classifieds section of CBG in the 1980s.

SPURGEON: To take us all the way back, I always assume that an academic's interest in comics preceded their focus on it as an academic. Can you talk a bit about your comics background, what was significant for you in terms of what you read and when you read it?

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CREMINS: My first exposure to comics must have been the Power Records sets that were popular in the 1970s and 1980s. Do you remember those? Before I could even read, I was looking at the pictures in those books and listening to the records. I was born in 1973, so I guess I'm part of a generation of American comic book readers who grew up surrounded by comics merchandise. My exposure to all that merchandise -- Mego action figures, T-shirts, superhero Slurpee cups at the 7-11, the Shazam! and Super Friends Saturday morning TV shows -- was an important part of my childhood. All the toys, the shirts, and the cartoons might also explain my interest in comics as artifacts, as material records of post-War American consumer culture.

Both of my parents also read comics when they were kids. I once found a stack of Batman comics in the basement of my dad's childhood home in Waterbury, CT, and my mom tells me she mostly loved Nancy and Sluggo, the Lone Ranger -- I think the TV show more than the comics -- and Mad Magazine. So I grew up with two parents who themselves had grown up with the pop culture of the 1950s and with a grandmother who loved old time radio shows. My sister read some comics, too. I loved her copies of Marvel's Star Comics, especially anything by Trina Robbins. I'd like to see Meet Misty back in print. My mom also likes to draw, so when she saw that I was also taking an interest in drawing and in comics, she bought me a copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way.

I remember being disturbed by the violence of those issues of Avengers where Yellowjacket abuses The Wasp. I was a kid, but this didn't seem like a comic book just for kids. And it was on the newsstand like all the others! At some point late in 1983, my dad and I visited Jim's Comic Book Shop on East Main Street in Waterbury. Jim's is long gone. I'd never seen so many back issues, or things like Eisner's A Contract with God, or the Marvel Graphic Novel series, so I started reading as much as I could, and at some point I also got a free trial subscription to the Comics Buyer's Guide.

That's when things really opened up for me. I started reading a lot of the old pulp magazines, and I got interested in writers like Harlan Ellison. At the time, the CBG letters page and the features and columns were very important resources for me. As I mentioned earlier, in those pages, especially the letters and the small press column, I entered a world of discourse that, at the time, must have seemed very old-fashioned when compared to the pop music and video games that were popular with so many of the other kids my age. And I started reading comics at a perfect time: within a couple of years, I was following Tim Truman's Scout, Matt Wagner's Mage, Miracleman, Chaykin's The Shadow, Watchmen. I read Marvel and DC comics and titles from indie companies like First and Comico. I also loved Deni Loubert's Renegade Press and Cat Yronwode's Eclipse.

There was a long period of time where I dropped out of comics, or only read them occasionally. I did a few zines in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and then, when I got to college, I found it was too difficult to keep up with what was happening in the comics world. There were no comics shops in Hanover, New Hampshire. I also got burned out during the black & white implosion. There were way too many radioactive gerbil comics being published, so I started listening to the Velvet Underground and playing guitar. That was a good thing for me, I think, because my interaction with comics fandom at that time, while rich, was also limited to letters and letter columns. It was a little lonely. It's hard to be lonely with a guitar and a band. I met a lot more friends and allies when I started playing music.

Anyway, I have three comics that I guess I'll say have had the most impact on my life. When I was a kid, it was those issues of Avengers and Moore's Miracleman. Then in grad school it was James Sturm's The Revival. Within a few years of moving to Chicago in 2005, I discovered Edie Fake's Gaylord Phoenix. I carried a copy of Gaylord around in my messenger bag for almost a year after I first read it. I started passing out copies to friends. You have to see this. I don't know of another comic that's had the same emotional impact on me as Gaylord Phoenix. Edie's work was also a gateway for me for other artists in the Chicago scene -- Corinne Mucha, Julia Von De Bur, Marnie Galloway, Anders Nilsen, John Porcellino's older work. I've also been lucky that artists like Mucha, Nilsen, and Porcellino have all visited my comics classes at Harper. Those visits have been very inspiring for me and for my students.

SPURGEON: Am I right in looking at your CV that you might have been at the UConn when Charles Hatfield and Gene Kannenberg were there? Are there any stories there?

CREMINS: Actually, I was going to mention that if it weren't for Gene and Charles, I don't know if I would have gotten back into comics again in the mid-1990s.

I think I met Gene first. As soon as he discovered that I'd been a huge comics fan, he and Charles invited me on a field trip to a great comics shop in Putnam, Connecticut. I forget the name. I hope it's still there. They gave me copies of James Sturm's The Revival and early issues of Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Library. I felt the same way about Sturm's The Revival as I did about Moore's Miracleman. Suddenly all the promise of the comics of the mid-1980s seemed to be coming true. Are there more like this? And Gene and Charles kept making suggestions -- Jessica Abel, Julie Doucet, Seth, Chester Brown.

I think one of the many reasons I'm in Chicago now is The Acme Novelty Library. The first time I visited Chicago in 2002, I said to a friend of mine, So this is why he draws the brownstones the way he draws them. Those pages suddenly came to life. It all made sense.

Both Gene and Charles have always been kind and supportive. When we were at UConn they would often introduce me to guest artists like David Mazzuchelli and Steve Bissette. One of my most vivid memories is grading papers in my grad school office, probably in 1997 or 1998. Gene or Charles walked in and asked me, "What do you think of David Mazzuchelli?" What did I think of him? I'd spent years trying to draw eyes and foreheads the way he drew them in Daredevil! "Well, here he is!" So I'm standing there over this stack of student papers from English 101 and talking with David Mazzuchelli about art school. A few years later, after both of them had finished, I got the opportunity to teach my first comics class as their mentor, Tom Roberts, was in the process of retiring. One of my students from that class, Andrew Drozd, even got a Xeric Grant for his work. He had no idea the Xeric even existed until James Sturm visited our class, and I was able to invite James because of Gene and Charles. I can't tell you enough how much affection and admiration I have for both of them.

SPURGEON: I was going to ask if comics was always going to be a part of the things on which you focused as an academic, but I guess I should couch that in terms that you have a broader range of interests than that comics focus. Can you talk about making comics a part of what you do, and how your other disciplines inform your approach?

CREMINS: This is a great question, and it's one I've been thinking about quite a lot over the last two years. Although I'd written a little bit about comics for Marianne Hirsch's class at Dartmouth, I had no idea that it might be possible to write about comics for an academic journal or magazine -- until I met Gene and Charles and a few other friends at UConn. My dissertation, however, touched on issues of pop culture.

I wrote about Oscar Micheaux, the pioneer African American filmmaker and self-published novelist. I have a chapter in my dissertation on the detective novels and films he produced in the 1930s and 1940s. It's important to remember that Micheaux is also an interesting figure in the history of hip-hop culture and underground cinema. In his autobiography, Chuck D. from Public Enemy draws a comparison between Micheaux, who often sold and distributed his films door-to-door, and early hip hop entrepreneurs. At the same time, film critics like J. Hoberman and artists like Ken Jacobs claimed him as part of the same avant-garde lineage that later produced Jack Smith and Andy Warhol. When I first read Micheaux, at the suggestion of Clare Eby, my dissertation advisor at UConn, I began to think of him as an indirect ancestor of the indie and underground comics and zine culture that had meant so much to me in the 1980s. So one of the chapters of my dissertation focuses on Micheaux and the pulp magazines of the 1930s. That dissertation also gave me the theoretical training and primary document research skills I needed in order to do the kind of work on comics I'm now pursuing.

It was only in 2001 that I started to take the idea of writing about comics seriously. I hadn't yet started my dissertation, and I wasn't sure yet if I'd finish it. I thought I might complete my secondary teaching license and leave the world of higher ed. I was also going through a pretty severe bout of depression and anxiety, and my escape was in the comics I was reading and collecting again -- not just art comics, but Peter David's Captain Marvel and whatever Kirby back issues I could get my hands on. I decided my only way out of the depression was to write my way out. I think I'd read that phrase in William Burroughs or Jack Kerouac -- I had to write my way out of whatever was afflicting me, so I sat down and wrote that first essay for John Lent's IJOCA. That's when I started to notice a pattern -- comics for me are always about nostalgia, and they have always been a safe place. They remind me of home. But I wanted to know why, over the course of my life, I'd returned to them again and again.

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Right now I'm working on two projects, but for me they're linked together. I'm writing and researching the book on Binder and Beck's Captain Marvel and theories of nostalgia, but, at the same time, that research is allowing me to explore the life and times of my maternal grandfather, a working-class, World War II vet who died when my mother was only 12 and he was only 46. For years I've wanted to know what happened to him, what caused the "nervous disorders" that eventually took his life. That's why in the recent essay for Alter Ego, I wrote about Captain Marvel Adventures No. 12, in which Billy Batson tries to join the Army. The comic was published the same month that my grandfather was traveling around the US as part of the Army War Show before he was sent overseas to Tunisia. I want to know what happened to him, and I want to understand the world that shaped him and my grandmother and the other people I was close to when I was a kid. Writing about them means writing about nostalgia, which also means writing about comics. I think I'm still trying to write my way out, not only for myself, but also for him and for my family.

imageSo I guess I've probably always been writing about comics, and probably always will, but not necessarily in a form readily apparent to the reader. In that way, I think I'm very limited as a writer, and I don't think of myself as much of a critic. I think I'm trying to get at those images Albert Camus talks about in this quotation -- which I know not from Camus but from Scott Walker's fourth solo record, where he uses it as a statement of purpose:

A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.

I'm sorry if this all sound very ponderous. It's also a lot of fun, which is another reason I think I responded so strongly to Edie's work when I first read it: here is a universe of loss and sadness, but also of humor and mischief. I have that sensibility, too, which probably comes from my years of being a musician -- if a song is a little too sad, maybe it's best to step on a fuzz pedal and make some noise. Bug the neighbors. Maybe even make them smile a little.

SPURGEON: The thing I found fascinating about your essay on Scout is how your observations are kind of built -- but also kind of not -- on a specific critical reading of that material. I think something that critics find problematic with a lot of academic writing on comics, just in general, is that some of its sees depth and majesty in genre comics that for the critic doesn't exist, that there's an assumption of intentionality regarding factors attributed to the comics that aren't there, and that there's a general allowance for some weak material that flatters either the academic's own taste or even the narrative of comics self-climb out of childishness. How much do you find it necessary to question your own taste in comics when engaging with a comic series like Scout as an academic? Do you think that some academic work projects qualities onto comics that may not be there? Is there a danger in slipping away from critical inquiry and into an apologetic?

CREMINS: One of things I hope to avoid in my writing is the question of value, or taste -- that is, whether or not a comic is worth the time and effort it takes to read carefully and analyze. I'm not interested in the relative merit or value of a work of art. It might be my training in African American literature and literary theory, but I am always suspicious regarding questions of a work's transcendent worth or power. When I wrote the Scout essay, I was most interested in exploring the social context in which it was published -- the way in which publishers like Eclipse, as Ron Goulart has pointed out, combined the genre conventions of Marvel and DC with the politics, aesthetics, or values of underground comix. I was also interested in exploring something Tim Truman mentioned in an email to me when I was researching the essay -- that Cat Yronwode thought of Scout as a kind of "left-wing Rambo." I wanted to explore what a left-wing Rambo might look like, what sorts of adventures he would have.

My writing students at Harper will often ask me if they're in danger of, as they put it, "reading too much" into something. I usually respond that I'm not interested in finding the "deeper meaning" of a work of art or literature. I'm interested in its context. Was it a popular work that had an impact on readers, on other artists? If so, why? Was it a more obscure work known only to a small audience? My work is heavily influenced by what German historian Alf Ludtke describes as "the history of everyday life," a concept sometimes also referred to as microhistory -- the record of those voices who too often have been kept out of the historical record because of class, race, or identity. I was talking with a friend just last week who asked if I thought of myself more as an archaeologist than as a literary critic or literary historian, and I would have to say yes. I'm interested in how we might understand and reconstruct the past by drawing on its popular culture -- those otherwise ignored or dismissed artifacts that reveal for us, here in the present moment, what the world looked like to those who came before us -- especially those whose voices are too rarely heard.

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What's interesting for me about the Scout article, which I wrote when I was in my late 20s, is that it was the first essay in which I removed myself from the research process. While I had read Scout when I was in my teens, I remembered very little of it, but when I returned to it as an adult, I was curious to see what impact it would have on me. As I began reading it again, just for fun at first, I became fascinated with Truman's use of Native American folklore and African American popular culture, especially his use of the blues. That was the first piece I published in the third person. In writing that essay, I didn't set out to elevate Truman's work, or to ennoble it in any way. Rather, I was curious to understand how those comics reflected the era in which they were published. What I discovered was that Scout was more complex than I'd imagined because of the ways in which Truman toys with the genre conventions, and also because of the ways he employs African American and Native American oral tradition and folk cultures.

The other writer whose work has shaped my consciousness is Walter Benjamin, especially the Benjamin of "Theses on the Philosophy of History" and of the Arcades. My understanding of Benjamin guides and shapes how I approach my writing -- not just on comics, but the other, more autobiographical work I do in my zines and in my essays on music and on my family and on Connecticut. Let me include a passage from Harry Zohn's translation of "Theses on the Philosophy of History" that came to mind when I read your question.

Benjamin says that "every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably." So, that seems clear enough -- a writer must recognize the value of the past as a way of understanding or shaping the present. In that sense, the past is a lens through which we view the present -- or, to bring us back to comics, making the past manifest in the present, through history, art, literature, is a kind of x-ray vision, one that reveals the inner workings of that present moment. But then Benjamin adds this parenthetical, paradoxical statement: "(The good tidings which the historian of the past brings with throbbing heart may be lost in a void the very moment he opens his mouth)." I read this as Benjamin's admission of the impossibility of ever retrieving the past as it was lived and experienced. But in the notes for his Arcades project Benjamin also reminds us that consumer culture has left behind for us artifacts that we might read just as we would read a narrative. Those material objects offer brief moments of revelation. Earlier in the passage from "Theses on the Philosophy of History," he writes, "The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at that instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again." I can't read German, so I don't how Benjamin describes these ideas in the original essay, but I read Zohn's English translation as suggesting that the only chance we have of seeing those flashes -- maybe even of documenting them -- is by recognizing their significance.

This is one of the dangers I sense in the idea of a canon or hierarchy of comics: once we become too certain of the greatness of one work of art, we run the risk of failing to recognize these brilliant "flashes."

I think the idea of a canon poses significant problems for writers and artists. The free play of ideas is essential for the creative process. Good taste does not always make for good art, I don't think. I'll go back to my earlier example of my undergraduate art classes: twenty years ago, several of my professors bluntly told me that comic art has no value as real art. Were they right? Do comics as a form still lack value? What's changed in the last twenty years? The art itself, or the way we understand comics as an art form?

Then again, I love Van Halen -- with or without Diamond Dave, though I do miss Michael Anthony on bass -- just as much as I love Chekhov or J.G. Ballard or Anna Kavan, so maybe I'm the wrong person to ask this question!

I want to come back to an artist I mentioned earlier. Sylvère Lotringer once asked Jack Smith to imagine an ideal society. Smith replied,

I can imagine other types of societies... Like in the middle of the city there should be a repository of objects that people don't want anymore, which they would take to this giant junkyard. That would be a form of organization, a way that the city would be organized... the city organized around that. I think this center of unused objects would become a center of intellectual activity. Things would grow up around it.

In some of my writing, such as the Scout and Captain America essays, I want to see what might "grow up around" material others see as junk. I'm also curious why some works are considered junk while others are considered art.

SPURGEON: I don't know that I recall a lot of academic work in indy comics -- by which I mean genre comics published independently from companies whose bread and butter is superheroes. Can you talk a little bit about what comics like that may have to specifically offer academic study?

CREMINS: If we're talking about the indy comics companies of the 1980s -- Comico, First, Eclipse, for example -- I think a study of the forgotten or neglected books from that era might offer us more perspective and insight into how the contemporary idea of the graphic novel, at least as understood by the world outside of comics, came into being. How did the fandom of the 1980s, for example, respond to these smaller companies, and what was the relationship between genre comics published by these companies and what we now might call art comics? The world of comics we inhabit today has its roots in that world, so I'd like to read more about the work the Hernandez Brothers and Seth did on Mister X, for example. I also think a series like Wendy and Richard Pini's Elfquest is long overdue for a reevaluation.

But we're already beginning to see some exciting work being done on 1980s American comics like Brannon Costello's work on Howard Chaykin. There are so many other artists and series from that era I'd love to learn more about. For example, what impact did Reggie Byers and his work on Shuriken and Robotech have on the popularity of manga in the United States? And earlier I mentioned Deni Loubert and Cat Yronwode. How did their critical and aesthetic sensibilities shape the work they published? When I was at the comics archive at Michigan State this summer, one of the librarians was in the process of cataloging Cat Yronwode's papers. Those papers alone might provide a scholar with unique insights into the indy companies of the 1980s. There are a lot of great books waiting to be written.

One last question -- why were there so many radioactive gerbil comics at the end of the 1980s? I'm still waiting for a scholarly essay on Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters.

SPURGEON: The Captain America essay on relevance in comics, issues comics-making, interested me because you seem to have a broader response to those notions than to a) see it as genre correction, b) see it as progressive development within the art form, c) see it as a cynical sales pole -- at least not just those things. Can you talk about how you see those issues, and how a wider understanding might change how we view comics.

CREMINS: One of the reasons I began writing that first Captain America essay for IJOCA was because of Gene Colan. I've always been fascinated by his art, especially the pencil-only work in Nathaniel Dusk and his and Cary Bates' adaptation of Robert Silverberg's Nightwings, which is one of my favorite science fiction novels and one of my favorite comics of the 1980s. His disembodied figures are so strange, so unreal and ghostly, that I was curious to understand how an artist whose work is so ethereal -- and therefore perfectly suited to a poetic, metaphysical novel like Nightwings -- would look in the context of a work produced during the era of "relevance" that Bradford Wright and, before him, Gerard Jones and Will Jacobs talk about in their book on American comic book history. As I read the comic, I also became curious about its letters page, about the way in which the story itself, and Gene Colan's telling of that story, related to comments from Captain America fans and to the pages filled with advertisements.

Much like Colan's art, I think there are nuances to a comic like Captain America #133 that we can only recognize through careful analysis and research. I don't think genre comics should be ignored or dismissed just because they're genre comics, and, at the same time, I don't believe they should be celebrated either. Rather, I think we need to approach them for what they are -- or, at least, examine what we believe those comics to be, although such an analysis might reveal more about the writer than about the comic itself.

imageWhen I presented my research on Gaylord Phoenix at the Dartmouth conference earlier this year, I shifted from my original plan, which was to discuss the book in the context of Queer theory. I included portions of the essay I'd published in the Journal of Medical Humanities, but I also felt compelled to place Fake's work in a larger context. Gaylord Phoenix is about a lot of things but one of its major concerns is the body itself. I'd been reading John Benson's classic Alter Ego interview with Gil Kane, and began thinking about Kane's study of human anatomy, his interest in form and design. I began to notice parallels between Kane's work with the human form and Fake's experiments in Gaylord Phoenix. As I put the presentation together, I decided to juxtapose Fake's art with Gil Kane's splash pages from The Amazing Spider-Man, just to see what they might look like together. I find those possibilities exciting. How might these two artists, working in two different eras of comics, speak to each other?

SPURGEON: For that matter, how much do you view any of your academic writing in the way that a critic might, as in part a dialogue with the work's creator. It seems like enough of that work is rich in ideas that it would work, but I'm not sure if you think that's important at all, or that if people write in that manner.

CREMINS: I don't feel I'm entering a dialogue with the writer or artist. I might be entering into a conversation with the work itself, but then again I'm not sure that's even an accurate description of what I'm after in my writing. I want to go back to Benjamin for a moment. One aspect of his work that is often ignored is his mysticism. Ultimately I believe Benjamin wanted to understand what Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin in the Arcades translate to English as "affinities." I borrowed the title of my dissertation, in fact, from these lines from the Arcades. As Benjamin studies these objects of nineteenth century consumer culture, he writes, "A world of secret affinities opens up within: palm tree and feather duster, hairdryer and Venus de Milo, prostheses and letter-writing manuals" (see The Arcades Project 540). He then calls this collection of items a "rebus" and wonders "how one ought to read" them.

I'm fascinated, for example, in how to read an old comic book in its entirety. For me, those advertisements are part of the narrative itself. For Benjamin, this process of reading clearly owed a debt to the surrealists and to film. When I read Benjamin now, I think of William S. Burroughs and his cut-ups, of Public Enemy and their production team the Bomb Squad, of Kathy Acker. Benjamin draws together all sorts of objects, juxtaposes them in order to create a moment of revelation, of truth. In order to do so, he's looking for the truth he believes -- or that he hopes -- exists beneath the illusion of these material objects. Benjamin's desire might be a Platonic one -- a search for ideal forms -- but I also sense his desire to locate the right combination of words, the phrases that will dismantle time and space himself. He's looking for a kind of magic or clairvoyance.

I'm sorry if I'm getting too Doctor Strange, here, but I guess I want to take that same journey in my writing. I want to know how a copy of Captain America or Scout or Gaylord Phoenix and my responses to each one will reveal to me why I was born at the particular moment in history when I was born. I'm really asking a pretty simplistic question -- not, why are we here making these marks, but how does the interaction between the present and the past find expression in works of the imagination, no matter how humble they might be?

SPURGEON: Your presentation on Pogo I thought fascinating because I'm always looking for ways to enter back into material that is slowly fading from those generations that experienced the work in question first hand and may not be able to see it for their assumptions as to its value. I don't know if I inferred this, but it seems like you were almost suggest that what we might assume of Kelly's interest in depicting the south, say, was actually a more personal exploration of a sense of the community in which he lived, but that this gets somehow masked according to the general branding of a cartoonist seeing a certain kind of success. Do you see a lot of value in going back over older work in terms of how we might conceive an artist engaging with work in the present day -- those personal aspects -- or are there dangers in that kind of projection that outweigh potential benefits?

CREMINS: I don't think the approach I took in my OSU paper on Kelly's work and its Bridgeport roots would work for every cartoonist. When I was writing that paper, I had in mind a stray comment from Will Eisner's interview with C.C. Beck. Eisner begins the interview by asking Beck a few biographical questions and Beck responds by describing his upbringing in Minnesota and his experiences in Chicago and in New York. Then Eisner says, "The reason I'm questioning you about that is that I believe geographic origin impinges on style of art considerably" -- you can read the entire interview in the Shop Talk collection or in Will Eisner's Spirit Magazine, No. 41, June 1983. Eisner doesn't return to that point, but I began to think about his idea in relation to Walt Kelly.

imageIn my older essay on Pogo in Qiana and Brannon's Comics and the U.S. South, I mention the fact that other critics, notably Eric Jarvis and Edward Mendelson, have discussed that Kelly, despite the Southern setting of his strip, is from the Northeast. R.C. Harvey talks about Kelly's first visit to the Okefenokee Swamp in an article in The Comics Journal from 2002 (No. 241). With all of those points in mind, I began to wonder what Kelly was writing about if he was not writing about the South.

The more I read of his essays -- which, by the way, I hope one day are collected and published -- the more I began to wonder about his affection for his childhood in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Kerry Soper also talks briefly about the impact the city had on Kelly. Again, I don't know if the biographical, geographical approach I took with Kelly would work for all cartoonists, but I find myself thinking more and more about Eisner's remark to Beck. In what way does "geographic origin" influence or inspire a cartoonist's work? This is a question I'm exploring in my research on Binder and Beck, who are both Midwesterners. I'm beginning to read their Captain Marvel stories in the same way that I read Booth Tarkington's novels about Indiana. There is a regionalist sensibility at work, I think, that makes their comics very different, for example, from Jack Kirby's or Joe Simon's. But is there a distinctly Midwestern style? That's a question that came up in passing this summer when Jake Austen interviewed Chris Ware at the CAKE festival. It's a question worth exploring, too. Thinking about the role geography -- the home, either real or imagined -- plays in an artist's work is another possible way of writing about comics without those questions or merit or value we talked about earlier.

SPURGEON: One of the criticisms lobbied against criticism in general is that it's writer oriented -- either outright, in an assumption of authorship for writers as opposed to co-authorship with artists or even service to the decisions made by an artist making the writers not the authors at all, or as an outcome on looking at the work as a whole, as a storytelling event or artistic effort in which all creative facets play a contributing role. Do you struggle at all with a sophisticated treatment of art in your work, when engaging these comics? Are there academics you admire that engage the art aspects of comics more directly?

CREMINS: Most of the writing I've done on comics has focused on creators who write and draw their work -- Tim Truman, Walt Kelly, John Porcellino, Carrie McNinch, Bill Mauldin, Edie Fake. I've actually written more frequently about single creators than about creative partnerships, with the exception of the Captain America essay and now with the major exception of Binder and Beck. I feel that in my writing I'm facing the opposite problem.

For the last few months, I've been reading all of the letters and essays in which Beck praises Binder and the other Fawcett writers, and claims that without them, the comics would not have been successful. He claims again and again that, at least from his perspective, the writer -- or, anyway, the story -- is more important than the art itself. So I've found myself looking for ways to describe Binder's work, how he adapted the themes and ideas, for example, that he and his brother Earl first explored in their science fiction stories. As I've been writing about Binder and Beck's relationship, I've begun to think that I've ignored the writing of comics, the narratives themselves, in favor of the visuals. Some of this no doubt has to do with my background in drawing and studio art, but I also find that I enjoy writing about images, finding a narrative in them, describing them.

Late last year at Pencil, Panel, Page, Adrielle Mitchell wrote a great essay about critical writing on comics and ekphrasis, writing that describes a work of art. That post has influenced my thinking about how I approach writing about comics. And there are other academics writing about comics who I look forward to reading because of their willingness to engage in detail with lines, with texture, with color -- I'm thinking of Charles Hatfield's writing on Kirby, for example, and Qiana Whitted's essays and posts.

SPURGEON: You're working with Binder and Beck right now, and there are some component works available. You have a very interesting theory as to why, maybe, that Captain Marvel resists transformation into the same kind of movie character that has proven successful thus far, pointing out that this is something that very much worked for the World War 2 audience. I was wondering if you could talk about that uniqueness a bit, and what exactly changed in our national character that this is less interesting as source material when similarly aged superheroes have adapted to modern storytelling.

CREMINS: These are issues I'm working on in my research, and I don't know if even at the end of the process I'll have all of the answers. But I'll make a few quick observations about Binder and Beck's work (and the work of their editors and Beck's assistants). First, I came to the Captain Marvel stories in my late 20s. Although I'd grown up with the Saturday morning live-action TV show in the 1970s, I don't think I'd read any of the old Fawcett comics until the first DC Archive editions, and I don't think I read any of Binder's Captain Marvel work until I started looking for the DC reprints of some of those Golden Age stories. So, aside from the TV show and maybe my old Mego action figure, I had very little nostalgia for the character or for these stories. But when I was reading the black-and-white ashcan edition of Whiz Comics #1, probably sometime in the early 2000s, a friend of mind remarked, That looks like it could have been published today. Beck's drawing style reminded her of Seth, or of Jaime Hernandez. Then I started tracking down as many of the 1970s-era DC reprints as I could find, especially the 100-page specials that include reprints of the Fawcett stories.

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What I think I've discovered is this: Binder and Beck, in addition to being masters of the form -- especially in the Mr. Tawny stories -- were also theorists. By the end of his life, Beck had developed a very clear, articulate vision of what a comic book should be, of how a comic book, for example, differed from a comic strip or a pulp magazine. Trina Robbins has been kind enough to share with me her letters from Beck, and they've been a revelation for me. Meanwhile, in the science fiction fanzines of the 1940s, and in his letters to the fan press of the 1960s, Binder also speculated on comics as an art form and imagined what shape they might take in the future (you can read some of those letters in Bill Schelly's book on Binder). So I'm interested in Binder and Beck not just as creators but also as theorists, while at the same time I'm exploring how the character lived on, not so much in the popular imagination, but in the nostalgia reminiscences of writers like Dick Lupoff, Roy Thomas, and -- to some extent -- Alan Moore. The story of Captain Marvel -- the character's incredible popularity, sudden disappearance, and return in the fanzines of the 1960s -- has given me the opportunity to explore all sorts of issues, from psychiatric evaluations of soldiers during World War II to critical theories of nostalgia from psychology and cultural studies.

Of the bits and pieces I've written about Captain Marvel so far, I think the piece in Alter Ego #121 that came out this November is the most interesting. It draws on the critical material I published in Studies in American Humor, but it combines that scholarly research with material on my own family, and my grandfather's experiences in the war.

First, I wrote a nonfiction essay on the Army War Show itself that's gotten rejected from everywhere. It's still here on my desk! So I had a literary essay about what I'd discovered about my grandfather. I combined that material with my research on the Captain Marvel comics. Roy Thomas and Fawcett Collectors of America editor P.C. Hamerlinck strongly encouraged me to make the essay more personal than the scholarly work I'd already done, so it seemed like another interesting juxtaposition of those two worlds -- the public and the personal, the popular and the intimate.

I like that essay. Even though my Captain Marvel book will be a more formal academic study of Binder and Beck and their work on the character, that piece for Alter Ego is the secret narrative I'm trying to tell, only I'm trying to tell it by talking about a superhero a lot of people don't remember all that much anymore. In your interview with Jeet Heer he mentioned that some of his critical, scholarly work might be read as a secret autobiography, and I find myself really inspired by that idea.

SPURGEON: The photo we're running up to has you in the classic King-Cat t-shirt. Chicago is one of the great comics areas, and I wonder if you had any insight as to why. Do you have any sense of Chicago that way? Are there elements of Chicago in your work?

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CREMINS: I should probably explain that picture a little. My band played a benefit gig at Schubas last weekend. It was hosted by Chicago writer Jake Austen, probably best known in comics circles for his long-running underground music and comics zine Roctober. We had to pick a theme for the cover songs we played, so we decided to learn a few songs about animals -- or at least indirectly related to animals. So we did "Needles on the Camel's Eye" and "Horse with No Name" and even "Foxy Lady." I wore the King-Cat shirt because it seemed to fit our theme, and I love Porcellino's work, especially Perfect Example, which I teach quite a lot in my composition classes. Then Jake asked if he and Lil' Ratso, the puppet co-host of the cable access kids' dance show Chic-a-Go-Go, could interview me. I had to pick a song kids might enjoy listening to before going to school in the morning. My singer suggested "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." Towards the end of the three or four-minute interview, Lil' Ratso -- or Jake in the voice of Lil' Ratso -- asked me why I still play music -- no one knows who you are, you're not famous. Why do you keep doing this? I remembered an old NPR story in which a reporter asked a street musician, I think somewhere in Moscow, why he kept playing. Who was he playing for? Well, for God, of course, the musician answered. I've always remembered that story, and I think it sums up my experience of Chicago. I get that sense in so many of the minicomics and zines I find at Quimby's and Chicago Comics -- these artists are going to make this work, whether or not people are listening closely.

I think Jake asked Chris Ware a similar question at CAKE this summer -- only without the puppet: why has Chicago produced so many cartoonists in the last two decades? In the report I wrote on the Festival, I asked the same question -- what is it about Chicago and the greater Chicago area that has given us Otto Binder, and Grass Green -- he was from Indiana but I'm including him anyway -- and Edie Fake, and Corinne Mucha? As I write this, Lilli Carré is having an opening at the MCA, and we've got Ivan Brunetti teaching comics at Columbia, and Anne Elizabeth Moore at the Art Institute, and Noah Berlatsky writing his book on the original Marston and Peter issues of Wonder Woman, and Hillary Chute of course doing amazing, groundbreaking theoretical work on comics at the University of Chicago. Corinne Mucha has been teaching classes on how to make comics for kids and adults at the Old Town School in Lincoln Square. And we have Chicago Comics, Quimby's, and arts collectives like Spudnik Press. Edie Fake did a much better job than I'm doing right now of describing the Chicago scene for The Comics Journal a couple of years ago!

I think we have the best or one of the best comics scenes in the country, both for cartoonists and for those who write about comics. But we also remain one of the most segregated cities in the country, and we're dealing with the threat of privatization of public services like our new CTA fare-collecting system. If I take these reflections any further I'll start quoting Carl Sandburg, so maybe I should stop. But, for me at least, I don't think I'd have the confidence to do the work I'm doing now if I hadn't moved to Chicago, if I hadn't found the small community of writers and poets and musicians in which I live and work. I've only been here for nine years, so I still feel like an outsider. Maybe that's why I write so much about southern New England, though I'm trying to break that habit in my work on Binder and Beck.

Chicago for me will always be my first ride through the Loop on the Blue Line, in November, and it was cold, but there was so much sunlight coming through the windows that even though it looked cold and desolate outside it was orange and gold inside. It was like magic. I kept thinking, people live here. This is a place where people live their lives every day. Could I survive here? What would that be like? I'm not describing it well at all. You're better off reading Stuart Dybek's "Pet Milk" in The Coast of Chicago. That story sums up best what I feel about Chicago, but it leaves out one thing: the music. I think of the city in the same way I think about Howlin' Wolf and Koko Taylor and Curtis Mayfield and Muddy Waters. The animating spirit of the electric blues and soul music that came out of Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s comes from the South. Charles Shaar Murray talks about some of those issues of music and the Great Migration in his books on Jimi Hendrix and John Lee Hooker. So that music is Chicago for me: always in two places at once, here and there, the present and the past, living side by side. There's a lot of ghosts here, and I think a lot of them came from someplace else, and some of them are still dreaming of what they left behind.

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* Brian Cremins

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* photo of Cremins supplied by the professor
* classic Pogo book
* article on Walt Kelly
* early Kelly effort
* Gaylord Phoenix, by Edie Fake
* a Mighty Samson cover
* a Power Records cover image
* Miracle Man #1
* Army War Show ticket
* article about Cremins' grandfather
* more Edie Fake
* Amazing Spider-Man #103 cover
* another piece of Walt Kelly history
* from the Captain Marvel re-launch
* a copy of Cremins' 'zine
* his favorite page from Miracleman (below)

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Go, Look: The Galaxy Magazine Christmas Covers

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CR Week In Review

imageThe top comics-related news stories from December 14 to December 20, 2013:

1. The deadline passes for New York based DC Comics employees making the decision whether or not to relocate to Burbank.

2. Two horrible and outsized acts of harassment throw an end-of-year spotlight on of the comics community's lingering and egregious problems.

3. Stumptown, one of the original artist-directed small press festivals, ends its stand-alone event orientation for a partnership with Rose City Comic-Con and a focus on its non-festival programs. It takes four days for a festival to be announced that same weekend -- a spiritual replacement at best, for the small size of it, but very much its own show with a potentially bright future.

Winner Of The Week
Karen Green

Loser Of The Week
Let's say Shia LeBeouf and his rampant plagiarizing here because I have no place to put him.

Quote Of The Week
"I had the normal trajectory for my generation: superhero stuff (mostly Marvel), then slowly losing interest in that whole deal. Still loving comics, but not getting what I wanted out of them. I've told this story too many times (that might happen a lot during this), but at the moment I was about to give up, I ventured into the back room "smutty" section of the comic store, and picked up two comics: Love and Rockets #20 and Yummy Fur #1, and my life changed. It really was one of those moments -- everything changed, right then and there. Something I thought I knew about comics, but had never really seen with my own two eyes -- that they were real art -- that was now real. I had proof. You could do anything with them." -- Zak Sally

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today's cover is from the all-time series Classics Illustrated

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

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

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Not Comics: Norman Rockwell Christmas Illustration

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* Gipi, Gipi, Gipi.

image* a big part of my growth as a comics reader in the 1980s was reading the best superhero comics being done. Daredevil was one of the few titles that my brothers and I did not collect at one time or another. When we heard -- and I have no idea how, exactly -- that the title had become good, we used the local used books stores to dig up the Miller run-to-date. Those comics were a lot fun. They were very much of their time in that a lot of their juice comes from a constant risk of death in a way that provided a strong contrast with the threat level present in other comics.

* the writer Neil Gaiman went to look at the Sandman art at Cartoon Art Museum, and there was press on hand to cover it.

* I was entertained yesterday afternoon by some art on-line: Matt Kish's collected portraits of Nazgul, Ethan Rilly's cover for Taddle Creek, and "Chief O'Brien At Work."

* Addie on Fairy Tale Comics. Rob Clough on Mineshaft #29. John Kane on a bunch of different comics. Andrew T on The Furry Trap. Sean Gaffney on Sunshine Sketch Vol. 7.

* I'm not sure I'd seen this review of The Massive in comic form.

* finally, The Seattle Weekly runs a profile of the Intruder cartoonists. It's probably worth noting that the article indicates this is a new feature at the Weekly.
 
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Go, Look: Classic Comic Book Christmas Covers

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The Comics Reporter Video Parade


James Romberger At The Kirby Pop-Up Museum


Michael Ramirez Speaks


The Bartoonist


Lynda Barry At The National Book Festival 2013
via


In Conversation With Cartoonists


An Interview With Ann Telnaes
 
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December 20, 2013


CR Holiday Interview #03 -- Geneviève Castrée

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*****

imageI thought Geneviève Castrée's book Susceptible was one of the strongest releases of 2013, and I am delighted that she acquiesced to speak with me about it. I hope after reading what follow that maybe one or two of you that hasn't yet will buy the book or at least make sure it gets on your general comics-reading radar. Susceptible is the story of Castrée's childhood with a specific focus on her relationship with members of her immediate family. Like many of the best memoirs, Susceptible offers up wave after wave of specific detail that both distinguishes and universalizes her youthful experiences. It also sports one of the best endings of any book this year. The native Canadian artist, musician and cartoonist lives in Anacortes, Washington -- a small town north and west of Seattle. I was very excited to talk to her and any small mistakes in the transcript below can be attributed to my nervous interjections over something Castrée said. I also tweaked a few words of my own speech for flow. -- Tom Spurgeon

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TOM SPURGEON: You have to be through most of the cycle with Susceptible at this point, it having come out several months ago. Are you happy with the way the book was received?

GENEVIÈVE CASTRÉE: Yeah! Yeah, I'm happy. I would say that maybe I'm not even at the end of the cycle. Like maybe I'm at the beginning of the next one.

The weird thing I never thought about when I did that book was just like all of a sudden I spent nearly one year of my life talking about it, and that was weird. You finish a book and you think you're done with something and next thing you know... you're done with it but other people are just starting! [laughs] That was just... of course I should have known better, but I never imagined that way into October I would still be talking about it because of the German translation, still be giving the talk I was giving back in February. People still asking me questions like, "How did your family react?" [laughs]

SPURGEON: Did your perspective on the book change for having to talk so much about it?

CASTRÉE: Oh, yeah. Totally. It was this thing that... I used to be haunted by these stories. Then I told them in this book version and got over it pretty quick. I had these stories that just followed me around for... I don't know, almost 15 years of my life if not more. I found myself to be just like, "Oh, man..." To me these stories were so old, but for other people they were new. Then I had other people's insight and I just often felt like, "Well, it was not that bad..." [laughs] People are discovering them and they're like, "Whoa, that's intense!" [laughter]

SPURGEON: You've talked about Susceptible in terms of the longstanding offer you've had to do something with Drawn And Quarterly, an offer Chris Oliveros extended to you years and years ago. But I'm not really sure that I know the impetus for you turning all of these memories into a book when you did. If there was a triggering incident. You've said you've had all of these memories and stories for all of these years, but what was the impetus that took you to, "I would like to do a book now," where you knew that it was going to be this lengthier work you'd been avoiding and that this is the one that was going to go to Draw and Quarterly.

CASTRÉE: It kind of was a series of events. And also it was this thing that I kind of felt like a bit of a mess of a person. I had this longstanding invitation and I wasn't doing anything with it. It had been really hard for me to make something more concrete and more to the point than anything else I had made before. I was wondering what was up with that. [laughs] I felt like I was always telling the same story over and over. It got to me. I had a series of bad depressions, and I just thought, "Fuck this. I'll just get rid of this story once and for all. And move on." It was good.

It was also the realization... I don't read a lot of autobiographical comics. I think some people are really good at it. I'm a big fan of Chester Brown's way of telling autobiographical stories, for instance. But I also felt like, "Oh, yeah, I don't want to make another boring book where not much happens and there's a 'poor me' feeling." But then I thought maybe that what happened to me when I was a kid were interesting in a way that didn't necessarily happen to that many people, or again, that happened to some people but no one has made a book about this type of family before.

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SPURGEON: You're at a very specific place in your life as an artist, too. You've worked in different disciplines. I wonder if there was something about the nature of the work you were doing that made this book easier to do now? For instance, there's the idea that performing makes it easier to do confessional narrative. Do you feel like you maybe you had skills now that you might not have had earlier on that were applicable to doing this kind of work?

CASTRÉE: Yeah. Of course. It's this weird... I think I'm the type of person that will be terrified of riding a bicycle -- I'm just using that as an example, this is when I was six or seven or something -- or terrified of learning to do something new and then getting on the bicycle and falling down because you're terrified. And then one day you figure it out, and then a week later you're really good at riding your bicycle. [laughter] I think it was a little bit like that. I was scared of trying to do this... my other stuff before was more imaginative and not based on reality, so I was scared of actually addressing facts and things that were real, true stories. Then I went ahead and tried it out and once I got the hang of it I felt really comfortable.

SPURGEON: Did you have a support system during the creative process? Were you running events or ideas past anyone? Did you have an editorial process in terms of the making of the book, even, with Chris or anyone at D+Q? Or were you in the classic comic sense kind of left alone... maybe you even preferred to work alone on something like this. What was your support system like?

CASTRÉE: I really prefer to work on my own. I didn't have any input from my publishers that was like, "Maybe you should do it this way." I didn't have any of that. I was working simultaneously with Jean-Cristophe Menu who was my French publisher and with Chris Oliveros who was my English publisher. I would wait a really long time and not show them anything [laughs] and then I would send 20 pages or something. Both of them would give me feedback, but didn't give me the type of feedback that would change my way of going about it. They were very supportive, both of them.

I adore my publishers. I adore Jean-Cristophe and I adore Chris. I also have a very good relationship with my publisher in Quebec at L'Oie de Cravan. I haven't worked with them for a while. For this book I felt supported in a way that I felt trusted.

SPURGEON: Now those guys are... very different. Chris and Jean-Cristophe. At least in my limited experience and by reputation. Were their notes different? Did they pick up on the same things? [Castrée laughs] I'm kind of fascinated you were getting notes from two such very different-seeming people.

CASTRÉE: That's kind of an interesting thing to point out, that they're very different. But actually their notes were quite similar. I mean, maybe [laughs] maybe Jean-Cristophe was being more French about it. [laughter] But yeah, I don't know, that's the thing: now I miss making a book. That's the kind of attention I prefer. It's really sweet -- I'm not saying I expect it to be the same the next time I make something, but it was really a nice way to work. It was very emotional for me to work on this stuff, but my publishers they were really understanding about it. And patient. I've talked to other cartoonists, and I don't think that many people have that kind of working relationship. So I do feel blessed.

I'm not going anywhere. I'm hoping to work with these people some more.

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SPURGEON: Was there any difficulty in the practicalities of doing a longer work? I'm not sure I know the exact size of everything you've done to date, but I think of most of your stuff from earlier as shorter, even much shorter. Were there practical considerations for you in engaging a longer piece for the first time?

CASTRÉE: I just kind of had to clear my schedule. I had to say, "No." I had to learn to say "no" to a lot of stuff that came up, like opportunities to go traveling. And actually that was nice, because that's the place I felt like I was at in my life. I guess when you -- and I'm changing the words here because I don't remember the exact words that you used -- ask if there was some sort of trigger that made me do this book, you get this existential crisis. People stereotypically get into this existential state when they're about to turn 30. And I had that. New age people around here call it Saturn Return, and that was very much what was going on. There's a Kurt Vonnegut quote where he says something like, "There's nothing more nostalgic than a 30-year-old." [laughter] So I was really in this place where I was revisiting... I was prompted to visit my past. That is nice. It's nice to move into adulthood and shed some of those weird, annoying things behind you.

SPURGEON: Thirty is also an age where you begin to question your career. There seem always to be vocational issues, too. Was there any of that, that you felt it was time for you to do a book, to do a longer, more considerable work? Do you even think of your art in those terms?

CASTRÉE: Yeah! Well, it's funny, and it might sound pompous or something, but I started drawing comics when I was really young. I was in my teen years when I started to make self-published comics. Then I met Benoit [Chaput] from L'Oie de Cravan, and he published my book when I was 18. I actually was this young person that had a few adults around me telling me things like, "Oh yeah, you have a bright future ahead of you" and "Oh my God, I can't imagine what you will have done by the time you're 30." And then I was 30, next thing you know. [laughter] And I hadn't done many of the things I wished I could have done.

That was a weird thing. It happens really fast. I realized how scattered I had been, that maybe -- I don't think I was necessarily aimless, but I wasn't supporting myself... I didn't do what was expected. So I felt like, "Okay, maybe this is one step in the direction of becoming more fulfilled as an artist." I already felt pretty confident about my work. The only thing is I wanted to prove to myself and to my publishers that I'm worth publishing. It's a hard time for a lot of people right now. I'm not successful in a way that there's no question whether or not people should publish me. I'm not there yet. Maybe I won't ever be there. You know what I mean. I'm not a highly celebrated and well known author. [laughs]

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SPURGEON: I actually don't want to ask you a ton of specific questions about the work because I want people to find it on their own, but I had a few questions. Two things I thought were remarkable about the work. One was the nature and quality of the memories you present in your narrative. There's a scene where you're looking at your father on a motorcycle: it's very early on. It's astonishing that you even have a memory from that age, but it's also a really detailed memory: within the memory you remember another memory of the person that your father is meeting outside [Castrée laughs] and you remember sensory elements to where you were when you saw this. Are there flourishes provided to a rougher memory, maybe? Is that the way you remember things -- this kind of multiple-sense memory?

CASTRÉE: It is the way that the memory was in my mind like my whole life. I remember being a ten year old and thinking back on that moment.

I tried as hard as I could not to add flourishes to the book. There are so many things in the book that are kind of sensitive. Sensitive in this way that if I didn't tell them the right way, if I didn't tell them in the way that I remember it, it could give someone involved, one of the characters in the book, some some sort of excuse to deny the events. So I tried to stick to what I remembered and tried not to add onto it. This memory from being a kid, I know that. I know that I was looking out the window and I was like, "Oh, that's this guy. That's the guy with the little black dog." And remembering...I put it into words, but I have a very visual memory. So I remember looking out the window, looking at the motorcycles, looking at the rain. I remember thinking back at my arm that had been punctured by this little black dog that had bit me. And listening to this record with thunderstorms. [laughs] Maybe it's like... it would be so cheesy to say that, but the Proust effect like when he's eating the fucking cookie [laughs] and that thing people always talk about where he's eating the cookie and it brings on all the other stuff.

It's strange, though, because I have a very visual memory, but since I made the book one thing that I know has changed is that my memory is not so -- especially of things that happened, recent events -- my memory is not so sharp. Like I exhausted it or something. [laughter] I went too deep. I went pretty deep.

I would think of something that had happened, and I would try to write it down. Quite a few years ago, almost ten years ago, I wrote down most of these stories in a notebook. I wrote down what I remembered when I was working on the book, a couple of years ago, and I compared it with what I remembered 10 years before. That helped me, because in 10 years you can have this weird monologue with yourself. But the details were not really altered. These are sharp things... a lot of this stuff is pretty sharp in my brain. I had a timeline that I was following, too, because sometimes I wasn't sure if it was like, "Did this happen at Christmas or did this happen on my birthday?" And then being like, "Oh yeah, it happened on my birthday."

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SPURGEON: The other thing I found remarkable about the book -- and this may be its defining characteristic for me -- is how non-traditional you were, at least in terms of comics autobiography, in terms of choosing not to present yourself as the vehicle through which to understand the events that happened to you. It's not "Hey, I'm screwed up... and this is why." You're very straight-forward of presenting what happened without filtering it through your present self. You don't overplay it. [Castré laughs] There's a very evenhanded tone because of that. I trust you as a narrator because you're not constantly making a case for yourself.

CASTRÉE: Well, it's just kind of how I feel real life works, is that there are many layers to every event. The thing about my book is that there are some things that I put in there that I didn't realize could have had a negative impact on me until I had drawn them, or written them. There's an example in the book where I go and meet my father in British Columbia for the first time. There's this moment where I go to his house and they put up a blanket to make me a room in one of the corners of his house. And he says, "Sorry -- ha ha -- as you can see, this was a house built for two people." And I just kind of laugh it off. I didn't really have any feelings like that until it was printed and I read it again. I realized that I could have interpreted that many different ways. I could have felt like, "Oh, you just assumed you'd never see me again." [laughs] "This was a house built for two people, but you do have a kid." So I think that one of the things I wanted to make sure of when I was making the book was I wanted to offer up this story of a childhood in a way that you get to choose what you think is right, what you think is wrong, as a reader. The judgment is not done for you.

On the other hand, there was kind of a part of me, and I actually have met people like that, there was a part of me that was kind of hoping I'd encounter parents who think that my parents were really cool. [laughter] Like people who think, "Man, your parents are so open-minded. Great." And it's not that extreme, but I have encountered people that have just said, "I'm so glad you talk about how it's awkward for parents that their parents smoke weed." And then they make the case for how weed should be legalized. They completely miss the point. I'm like, "Yeah, sure. Weed should be legalized." It still does not take away the fact that it's really awkward for a child when your parent is completely different all of the sudden because they went behind the garage and... [laughs] I Just wanted to leave it up to the reader.

imageSPURGEON: In one of your interviews, you talked about how you're not sure you can report accurately what happened.

CASTRÉE: Yeah.

SPURGEON: You say that making art of your memories changes it, and then the reader's perception changes it. So you have these two automatic distortions from what happened. I think that's true, but I wonder... accuracy isn't the only purpose in making a book like this.

CASTRÉE: No.

SPURGEON: It's not the only purpose for autobiography. There are all sorts of things you might want to get out of it, all sort of specific truths that don't count on 100 percent fealty to what happened as a kind of progression of events. You must have had more than the worries of reporting things accurately, am I right? There must have been an emotional truth you wanted to convey.

CASTRÉE: I read a lot of novels. I read a lot of comics, too, but I've been reading a lot of novels as of late. And I do find comfort in reading something that I can relate to, that is similar to experiences I've had. Seeing the characters mess it up for me? [laughs] I'm very interested in human psychology. I don't read about human psychology, but I have this little -- and I think this comes from seeing a lot of different specialists when I was younger -- have this weird little psychologist residing in me permanently that has this analytic way of dealing with people.

It was important to me to have a book that painted things in nuances of grays, rather than in blacks and whites. I felt that there needed to be a book out there for people like me. And so I got a lot out of it. And I was hoping that people from my generation -- I think in at least Quebec that's a big thing, that people went from not divorcing each other to all of the sudden divorcing and experimenting in all sorts of different ways. They thought they were free and cool but they didn't really... a lot of my friends' parents didn't sit down and think about their behavior. And perhaps they should have. It seems like it was just a short window of time where people went from having a very traditional family to like the parents wanting to be more like friends [laughter] and now we're back to parents acknowledging that they should be parents. [laughs] I get along with a lot of people that had experimental childhoods.

SPURGEON: This is bad amateur psychology to even suggest this, so I apologize in advance. I know when I started writing, my father said that he'd support whatever writing I did... unless it was about him.

CASTRÉE: Oh, boy.

imageSPURGEON: [laughs] So I wondered about this book as a sustained act of disobedience, about it being you telling stories out of turn. Is there that element to it? Is there an exercise of your artistic freedom going on here, or is that way too easy of a summation?

CASTRÉE: Sometimes when it's easy to make a psychological analysis about something, it's because it's true. [laughter]

I feel like yeah, it was very liberating. It was very liberating and rebellious, and I'm still not sure what the price of this will be, for me to do this. I was scared shitless for years about addressing any of these issues, especially to my mother. Or acknowledging them in interviews or in book form or whatever. I just decided to go for it.

The thing that is scary, going back to the filter of me putting it down on paper and somebody else reading it through their own filter, the thing that's scary is that there have been few comments that people have made, whether it's in reviews or someone sharing that they enjoyed the book on their blog, there have been a few people that have made the assumption my mother was an alcoholic. I'm very uncomfortable with that term. Whatever, you can put whatever labels on anything, but for me personally I think she had a drinking problem. It kind of freaks me out, because if you're a character in my book and you read a review and someone just jumps to conclusions too fast, they're just like, "I don't want to read this book; they're full of shit." Specifically, I have no idea if my mother read the book. I do think that once these labels are put, it could be disturbing.

SPURGEON: You live in a small town. I do as well. You said in an interview this summer that you wanted to be more involved in your town, be more focused about contributing to your town, be a good citizen of the town.

CASTRÉE: Yes. [laughs]

SPURGEON: What does that mean to you, exactly?

CASTRÉE: I don't know. I'm a hypocrite; I can't really get involved politically in my town because I don't have American citizenship. I have a green card, but I still very much feel like a Canadian. There's not much I can do on that side, either. [laughs]

The place where I live is called Anacortes; it's in Washington state. I have a really good community here. My community is very supportive. Maybe the comments that I made have something to do with how I believe I get a lot out of living in this town, but I don't live in the type of town... I have a good community, but most people in my town don't know what I do. They don't know that that book in the window of the bookstore, that that's mine. Whether it's giving comics-drawing classes to kids here in town, or my friends and I organize this small music festival that also has a book fair portion -- I like doing things like that. Mostly what I feel about my involvement with my community is that once in a while it's important to take a rest from being so focused on my own personal projects and do something with other people for the place where I live to make it -- I mean, to make it my version of nice. [laughs]

SPURGEON: You did Autoptic this year, didn't you?

CASTRÉE: I did.

SPURGEON: Do you have that sense of community in terms of your relationship with other cartoonists? Certainly you lived in a place for a long time that had a scene like that. Was the Autoptic experience a good one? Do you extend that same community feeling to your fellow comics makers?

CASTRÉE: There was Autoptic and there was PFC, the Pierre Feuille Ciseaux.

SPURGEON: I'm totally conflating them. That's the specific name for the week-long program that happened before Autoptic, where you're staying in dorms with all the other artists.

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CASTRÉE: That was life-changing. That was really incredible. I feel like cartoonists are weird animals. [laughs] I don't have... I don't know if that's true for a lot of other cartoonists, but the vibe I got from them is they do hang out with other cartoonists pretty regularly. Like the New York cartoonists hang out together.

SPURGEON: I think they do.

CASTRÉE: Where I live, I wouldn't say I'm the only cartoonist, but I don't have cartoonists friends in Anacortes. I know some people in Seattle, but I don't go to Seattle that often. I don't even know how to drive. [laughter]

When I was at PFC I felt a very strong sense of kinship. It was so easy to talk to each other. I was very excited because there was a bunch of cool people there, and a bunch of cool dudes, but it was really nice to hang out with people like Domitille Collardey and Lisa Hanawalt and Eleanor Davis... you don't have to do that basic groundwork where you have a conversation. You don't have to explain what it is you do. You speak the same language; it's really exciting. Also getting to know that other cartoonists feel like shit [laughs] and feel like that they have got to get their act together the same way you do, it's exciting because you look at what they do and you think, "I would never have guessed..."

I don't know how much I would feel inspired -- I do feel it once in a while, to do something comics-related, and try to bring cartoonists to the town where I live. But I don't know if I have the energy to do that.

SPURGEON: How did you find the ending to Susceptible? I don't want to give it away, but I'm interested in where it came from. Did it just sort of bubble up from the creative process more generally? Did you know you were going to end the book that way all along?

CASTRÉE: I kind of like to know what the end is going to be like when I do something like this. The thing is... it really did happen, it was just a matter of choosing where I wanted to end the book. It's my life, so I know what the story is. [laughter] So I have to be like, "Okay, where do I draw the line?" It's impossible to end something like that, because really there is no end. It just keeps on going.

There is this moment... it is good to realize, to have this epiphany if you're a kid that's moved out of your parents' house and it was hard, to have this epiphany of "Well, I'm grown now. I'm responsible for my own actions." The ending... I got a little more poetic. The book starts on a more poetic note that's metaphorical, so I wanted to end it on a metaphorical note, too. It was really important to me since it's never over to make it very sparse, because I wanted a sense of release.

SPURGEON: I spoke to the cartoonist Gilbert Hernandez earlier today and one of the things we spoke about was his occasional frustration that maybe his work wasn't getting into the hands of everyone that might enjoy it. In one of your interviews you spoke of pressing comics into the hands of friends because you didn't think they were reading them, and this was particularly true of your female friends. Further, you noted that these are comics those friends enjoy when you place them in front of them. Do you worry about the size of the audience, the nature of the audience, for works like yours?

CASTRÉE: It's true; I worry about that. I don't know... sometimes it can be too easy for someone like me... All cartoonists put a ton of work into their thing. I feel like comics themselves are hard work. There aren't a lot of comics out there done very fast. For me, there's often a feeling of, "Okay, I spent two and a half years doing this. I didn't make any money -- with the two versions of my book combined, I've maybe made $4000 this year, which is not enough to live. [laughs] I feel like... you do see people that seem to be having more success that you are out there, so I can get lazy about it and say like, "Put me out there, coach! Put me out there!" [Spurgeon laughs] Because you feel like somebody is being given a chance. It's like, "Put me out there! I'll prove to you that I'm good!"

The hard truth is that this is a depressing book, and it's not for everybody. I think generally there's a lot of people that don't want to hear about other people's problems. That are like, "Uh! I don't want to her about that." They don't see anything past whiny-ness when they look at my book. But then I do feel, I do believe that there are other people out there that may be interested in this kind of work. Sometimes if especially a woman friend of mine is going through something in their life where they need a little pep, I like to hand them a book and be like, "Check this stuff out." It's so much faster to read than actual novel. [laughter] It can be so inspiring. I have a lot of friends that are good at art, good at drawing, but they never consider reading comics. I don't think people read many books any more, straight up. I have friends that especially when they spend the night, I'll make them a little stack. "Here, read this!"

I hate making comments that are generalizing things, but at least in my immediate surroundings the women that I know that are buying comics, draw comics. I hate to do the gender, to divide it, but I know so many guys that don't draw comics and that will never draw comics but will read them. And do buy them. I wonder why that's the case. Who knows? It's changing. I get really angry when women ask me about being a woman cartoonist because this year I feel like we've arrived at this place where it's like "Let's stop making a fuss about it" because clearly everybody will agree that many of the best comics put out this year were done by ladies. We're no longer female cartoonists. We're just cartoonists.

*****

* Susceptible, Geneviève Castrée, Drawn And Quarterly, hardcover, 9781770460881, 2013, $19.95.

*****

* cover to Susceptible
* one of the countless times the cartoonists drew herself in this work, at all sorts of ages
* photo of the artist
* a bit of writing I've seen multiple reviewers note
* the two-page sequence showing off the depth and breadth of Castrée's memories
* a mother-daughter moment featuring an altered state
* two stand-lone image from the book I just like
* a panel from a collaboration done at PFC
* an illustration, with a lovely use of color (below)

*****

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*****
*****
 
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Zack Soto, Francois Vigneault Announce Linework NW, An Art/Alt Comics Show For Portland April 12

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Zack Soto and François Vigneault have announced Linework NW, which they call a "new illustration and comics festival" for April 12, 2014 in Portland's Norse Hall. It is a one-day, free event.

They have announced Michael DeForge as their first special guest, marking that cartoonist's first appearance in the Pacific Northwest.

They have already lined up as exhibitors Fantagraphics, Koyama Press, Grass Hut, I Will Destroy You, Magnetic North, Oni Press, Pony Club, Press Gang, Revival House, Sparkplug, Top Shelf, Yam and Traditional Comics.

Both Vigneault and Soto are cartoonists, well-ensconced in the Portland comics community; both also have organizational backgrounds directly related to comics. Soto edits Study Group Comics and was a member at Pony Club Gallery; Vigneault ran the San Francisco Zine Fest for several years. Their release says that they planned the event when they could not get a firm commitment from Stumptown Comics Fest as to the state of the 2014 show. Stumptown earlier this week announced their decision to end their stand-alone show and push their non-profit mandate into different directions, including a presence at Rose City Comic-Con. If Stumptown had come off, they would have run their show at an alternative event in much the same way satellite programming has been taking place during Comic-Con International at the "Trickster" location. With Stumptown out of the way in terms of its festival aspects, Linework NW becomes a spotlight event.

I've talked to three pretty well-connected alt-comics people about the show and they were all ecstatic over the possibility of a more devoted show of this type, and about Soto and Vigneault more generally. Some sort of different show -- whether additional, supplementary or competing -- has been rumored for a couple of years now.

The release also notes that Norse Hall is a small space, they plan to curate the remaining spaces pretty stringently. They are asking for applications now and will accept them until January 31 with a decision coming as to who got in on February 7.

The event will take place in roughly the same neighborhood as Stumptown. They also plan at least one off-site show featuring the work of guest DeForge.

A twitter account has been established here.

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Go, Look: Danny Hellman Draws Santa

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MariNaomi Writes About Being Harassed During A Convention Panel; Harasser Scott Lobdell Apologizes

The cartoonist, artist and essayist MariNaomi wrote a first person account of being harassed during a comics convention panel that everyone tangentially involved in comics should read here. The person doing the harassing was later identified as the mainstream superhero writer Scott Lobdell, who apologized in a statement published here.

Together with the letter published at TCJ.com from a cartoonist who received an aggressively solicitous letter from a fellow professional, MariNaomi's piece should signal an end to most attempts to paint comics' failures in this area as simply flashes of bad decision-making in a social sphere from outliers conditioned by quirky comics culture to believe certain behaviors justifiable. The letter is an awful thing in and of itself but it also represents likely hundreds if not thousands of similarly conceived and toned e-mails sent and received. MariNaomi's experience was awful in and of itself but it also represents hundreds of uncomfortable experiences you can see referenced on a lot of cartoonists' twitter feeds and other accounts the week following every sizable show -- and even more that are never referenced at all.

I'm sorry both of these things happened, both for the experiences as described and for the unwanted intrusion that comes about with having to process it. I'm glad these two incidents of many were brought forward in this way, and applaud those that did so.

I hope that rather than dissecting these events or using them as a platform to place ourselves into a fictional construct whereby there was a different outcome or however folks express their anger that we also consider the broader issues in terms of how we all participate in a culture of harassment: from horrifying incidents like these to even mostly benign elements of that culture like the general attention paid young female industry members and cartoonists by older males to all the things in-between, like the reluctance to call into question the behavior of friends and business partners in the moment. We can all do more. As a set of public professional events I hope that all conventions have a harassment policy in place by 2014 and that each one is publicly endorsed by the show-runner; I hope that all companies and entities will revisit their harassment policies to see if they're doing the best they can in that area. I think that's a start, not a solution. There really are no solutions, but a set of reasonable standards backed by a sub-culture's collective will can change things for the better. Because every incident is important, that also means every improvement is a positive.
 
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Go, Look: Guido Crepax Interprets The Peanuts Characters

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By Request/Bundled Extra: Sparkplug Makes Plea For Support In Year-End Letter; Notes 2014 Plans

imageVirginia Paine of Sparkplug sent out a year-end letter to the company's supporters and customers that did two things: provided a rough outline of publishing plans for 2014 from the longtime publisher and distributor started by the late Dylan Williams, and folded in a public plea for support.

The plans include:

* a conclusion to Elijah Brubaker's long-running comic book series Reich, hopefully by fall.
* a hopeful fall release date for the long-awaited Orchid 2
* the launch of a "Sparkplug Minis" series with four books planned for the year, including work by Asher Craw and Ariyana Suvarnasuddhi in February and May, respectively.
* a collection of William Cardini's Vortex for summer

Paine also described the company's need for financial support, noting first that she has suspended the modest payments she received to run the company. She suggests direct action in one section of the letter:
To make these books happen, though, we are going to need a lot of support from our fans and friends. As always, you can make a donation directly to us via the Donate button on the right-hand side of our blog. These donations are so greatly appreciated and go directly toward producing our books. I'm also going to offer preorders for our books, which will be the best way for you to help us and add some great comics to your library simultaneously. Reich #11 preorders start today! Please, just look at that cover and tell me it's not one of the most beautiful things you've ever seen. Visit http://sparkplugcomicbooks.com/shop/comic-books/reich-11-pre-order/ to get your issue and contribute to a good cause: keeping us in business so we can continue to publish these amazing independent comics.
I enjoy that Reich series, and hope it finds its way to completion, and was a great fan of the first Orchid anthology.

From that letter and from other sources, it looks like the company will exhibit in several places in 2014, including the LA Zine Fest, the inaugural Linework show in Portland and CAKE.
 
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Go, Look: Midnight Tales #18

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Your Fumettologica Best Of 2013

imageAndrea Queirolo sent along this slideshow presentation of best comics of the year that were published in Italy, as selected by Fumettologica. If nothing else, you should maybe go look at a bunch of handsome covers. New Gipi!

Their choices are:

10) Golem Stories, Sammy Harkham (Coconino Press)
9) Troppo non è mai abbastanza, Ulli Lust (Coconino Press)
8) Ogni Maledetto Lunedi su Due, Zerocalcare (Bao Publishing)
7) Verso una nobile morte, Shigeru Mizuki (Rizzoli Lizard)
6) Io René Tardi prigioniero di guerra allo Stalag 2B Jacques Tardi (Coconino Press)
5) Corpicino, Tuono Pettinato (GRRRzetic)
4) Il Nao di Brown, Glyn Dillon (Bao Publishing)
3) Opus, Satoshi Kon (Manga Planet)
2) La proprieta, Rutu Modan (Rizzoli Lizard)
1) unastoria, Gipi (Coconino Press)
 
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Go, Look: Some Sweet, Sweet Esteban Maroto Art

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Your Uproxx Top Comics For 2013

imageIn trying to spotlight as many of these lists as space and time allows, I'm always happy to put up lists with which I have to little to no connection, which usually means lists where the list-maker is tightly focused on mainstream comics slightly -- or significantly -- ahead of my own interest in those works. I am delighted to hear about works in those genres that might interest me. This is one such list. Their choices are:

* Afterlife With Archie, Roberto Sacasa-Aguirre And Francesco Francavilla (Archie)
* Archer And Armstrong, Fred Van Lente And Clayton Henry And Matt Milla (Valiant)
* Astro City, Kurt Busiek And Brent Anderson (Vertigo)
* Batman, Scott Snyder And Greg Capullo And Various (DC)
* Buzzkill, Donny Cates And Mark Reznicek And Geoff Shaw (Dark Horse)
* GI Joe: The Cobra Files, Mike Costa And Antonio Fuso (IDW)
* Harbinger, Josh Dysart And Khari Evans And Ian Hannin (Valiant)
* Hawkeye, Matt Fraction And (Primarily) David Aja (Marvel)
* Heck, Zander Cannon (Top Shelf)
* Nowhere Men, Eric Stephenson, Nate Bellegarde And Jordie Bellaire (Image)
* Numbercruncher, Si Spurrier And PJ Holden And Jordie Bellaire (Titan)
* Sex Criminals, Matt Fraction And Chip Zdarsky (Image)
* Star Wars, Brian Wood And Carlos D'Anda (Dark Horse)
* The Crow: Curare, James O'Barr And Antoine Dode (IDW)
* The Mighty Avengers, Al Ewing And Greg Land (Marvel)

Some of those credits were a guess; my apologies if I got a couple of them wrong.
 
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Go, Look: Jock Mini-Gallery

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DC Comics Employees Expected To Make Burbank Decision Today

Rich Johnston seems to always have a host of reasonably reliable sources as to what's going on at DC Comics, and is using those connections to report that employee decisions about moving west to the Burbank offices are due today. One would assume that some sort of decision is due soon if not exactly today, to allow for staff departures before the New Year and to facilitate the Spring transition. Heidi MacDonald, a former DC staffer tied into the local comics community in New York City, confirms.

imageThat's a super-tough thing to have to decide; my sympathy to those that have struggled with the decision or maybe even continue to do so as day are now hours and will soon become minuters. There are probably -- probably -- more employees at a comics publisher than at most businesses that favor their job in a way that they'd want to move wherever that job went -- that's how I felt when I worked in comics more officially than I do now. That doesn't mean there aren't a ton of folks that have a connection to the city, family, a significant other, a family member or significant other's job situation of the kind that would make a decision like this extremely difficult. I would also imagine that if there are any lingering doubts about the status of one's job once the move is made -- they were promised that all jobs would be held, but that kind of promise is frequently made with a certain rate of attrition in mind, or from a perspective where what that job entails may be different from management's perspective than from the person holding it -- or worries about the general corporate culture in Burbank that will mark this next era of DC Comics, that these would come into play now. Further, I have to think the instability and potential loss of editorial talent is of a direct concern to the freelancers for whom they are the entry point into that particular, likely important, client of theirs. A tough Christmas-season circumstance for many folks today, and I hope everyone negotiates this difficult situation with as much effectiveness as they can muster.

When word of departures gets sorted out -- and that should happen fairly quickly as DC tends to be a sieve even when the people talking are still working there -- my guess is that the next step will be figuring out how DC will fit into their new home, what that means for the company in the short- and long-term, and what that ultimately means for comics. Someone told me this morning that in the broadest industry sense, away from the very real pain that comes with the life decisions being made today, that watching DC move is a bit like watching a TV show they like decamp for a different time slot, and everything that sometimes portends.
 
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Go, Look: LL de Mars' Comics

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Assembled, Zipped, Transferred And Downloaded: Digital News

By Tom Spurgeon

* longtime comics magazine Tripwire has made the full transition into digital, launching a bi-monthly publication this month. Their first issue features articles on superhero films, interviews with Ian Rankin and Cory Doctorow, and reviews of various media including comics. Tripwire is in its 21st year in some form or another, and going back to my days at The Comics Journal remember it mostly as being the magazine whose coverage area between Wizard and the Journal seemed to be something people seemed to openly wish for without knowing that at least one publication was working that territory already. At this point, I'm old enough I'm just glad to see things around with names on them I remember. Follow this link to buy.

* a bunch of the Delcourt Group material is now available via comiXology. That's one of those stories where it's a little too big for me to grapple with in terms of the amount of comics now available to me -- I can struggle through reading French -- but I'm happy for the chance to find out.

* finally, Gary Tyrrell points out a recent webcomics development that made him think how much time has passed with some of these features. I was talking to someone today that talked about doing a digital comic for 15 years, and that was the old standard for doing a syndicated strip: 10 years + 5 years.
 
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Go, Look: Berliac

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Go, Look: Emmi Valve Fan Club

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* the Buddy Bradley material dominates a lot of memories of Peter Bagge's fine one-man anthology Neat Stuff, but nearly all of the features are worth going back and exploring in collected form if not in the magazine itself. In fact, I think the magazine is a great have-around-the-house read, as accessible as name-your-animated-program-of-choice. I've said this a bunch of times and will say it a bunch more, but I'm super-hoping that 2015 being the 25th anniversary of that great comic book Hate will lead to a greater appreciation of Bagge's career more generally.

* missed this list of books at Domino Books. Well, maybe I didn't miss it because I don't always run lists like that, but I find this one interesting.

* that is indeed a very nice splash page.

* word of Free Comic Book Day material has begun to slip out via official and unofficial announcements; Ed Piskor's work will be featured in a Fantagraphics offering. I like that Free Comic Book Day has some traction, although I'm not sure I could explain to a skeptical person how that event works for everybody involved.

* here's a fun year-in-review list featuring a lot of random festival photos from your friends and mine, Conundrum Press.

* Michael DeForge on tour.

* here's a very, very broad review of DC's New52 initiative, that makes a solid point about its conceptually ramshackle nature: so much depends on individual creative choices, because there's nothing there otherwise.

* finally, I'm very jealous of those students that not only get to take comics courses in college but get to take them at that lovely Billy Ireland facility.
 
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Happy 64th Birthday, James Van Hise!

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Happy 61st Birthday, Mack White!

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I had this at 60 as per past years' wishes, but his Facebook account says 61
 
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Happy 46th Birthday, Rantz Hoseley!

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Happy 28th Birthday, Ed Kanerva!

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December 19, 2013


CR Holiday Interview #02 -- Sean T. Collins and Joe McCulloch

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*****

We rarely talk about the alternative and art comics portion of comics as an industry with its own set of concerns. I thought this year might be a good year to do that in the holiday interview series. I chose to have this conversation with Joe McCulloch and Sean Collins, both of whom wrote compellingly of the latest important story in that world, the closing of PictureBox, Inc. I've known both critics -- and Collins is now a writer of comics -- for years. I respect their observations and insights. I hope that the following has something in here you'll find of interest. I tweaked a bit for flow. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

TOM SPURGEON: I guess a first question would be how frequently does your conception of alt-/art- comics include an industry component? We seem to maybe blend the business and art in mainstream comics and even in newspaper strips more than we ever conceive of art- and alt- comics that way, and I wonder if you had any thought as to why that is.

JOE McCULLOCH: Well, since you're talking to a pair of critics, my first thought is that there's a big difference between writing about art and writing about industry. Put simply, the former is much easier to do, because in the end it's just you and a book and whatever perspective and experience and theory and wisdom you're gonna bring to the table, and while disagreements are obviously gonna happen -- and I absolutely do think it's possible to write bad criticism -- there's much more in the way of intellectual wiggle room. Writing about industry, though -- you need a very solid grounding in practice, economics, distribution; it's more like math, because you can very easily get a lot of shit obviously, factually wrong, and nobody likes getting shit wrong, especially when they're not being paid for the pleasure.

imageSEAN T. COLLINS: Good Lord, imagine if Frank [Santoro] and I had talked about the dearth of alternative-comics reporters instead of alternative-comics critics. The list would have been, what, two people long tops? "Follow the money" is a solid rule of thumb for this discussion. There's very little money to be made in alternative comics, still less to be made in alternative comics criticism, and, as best as I can tell, zero to be made in alternative comics business journalism. So those habits of thought don't get cultivated, for practical, financial reasons.

McCULLOCH: And, as a result, I think a lot of writers-on-comics today are reluctant to address industry concerns in areas where "industry concerns" aren't already a broad pool of knowledge from which to draw, like with the big superhero publishers. The legwork on them was done years ago, to the point where any random Bleeding Cool message board poster might find the guts to hold forth on the hard truths of the biz, and not immediately look like a clown. Plus, I think the nature of reading superhero comics -- or reading newspaper comics -- is affected by the fact that they're pretty far removed from the locus of original creation: it's usually hired hands providing maintenance for valuable properties, and while there's obviously an artistic component to that, the observer is nonetheless placed at a certain distance, encouraging speculation as to business practice. That goes triple when superhero movies are involved, because there's just so much fucking money involved -- unreal money! It's like following sports.

With "alternative" comics -- I mean, Jesus! What fucking toad wants to drop science on "the industry" of what's been whispered into our cradles as the very marrow of the creative urge? Wasn't the whole struggle for comics-as-art about promulgating a theory of 'alternative' or 'art' or 'underground' or [your favorite oppositional term here] comics as separate from readily monetized company craftwork? Let me answer my own question -- it wasn't, not strictly, but this romantic conceptualization probably turned out to be the most immediately appealing of the various arguments for a genus of comics against a status quo, which, 35 years ago, was legally disinclined in the majority of circumstances to even recognize artists as the creators of their own work, per the fictions of authorship that lie at the basis of work-made-for-hire.

COLLINS: This is also true. Though in my experience a lot of makers of, and thinkers about, alternative comics enjoy pulling apart the business practices of any and all industries with which they come in contact, that's only very rarely true of alternative comics as an industry itself. When it comes right down to it I think a lot of people are just kinda bored by the practicalities of funding these things, until a crisis makes it newsworthy.

McCULLOCH: [laughs] Sure -- nobody likes to shit where they eat! But wasn't it David Foster Wallace who prophesied that the locus of power would reside within "boring" data? Because in the media rush -- we gravitate towards what's the most fun, the tastiest, the most stimulating. So anything that happens in a boring way; you're wearing the One Ring, my friend.

Plus, criticism itself is a field pregnant with theory and ideals, and I think there's a perception that it's anti-intellectual, in some way, to divert one's focus from the object of art itself. I mean, the movement in popular criticism for the last few years has been very much toward a sort of quasi-academic analysis of artistic works as social actors, which reflect or promulgate or repel or inspire resistance to prejudices and inequities in the daily life. In this way, the industrial component, if acknowledged, is often cast in the role of systemic compulsions resulting from some financial interest in maintaining the status quo; declarations tend to go broad. If you mention business too much, I mean -- you feel like one of those movie bloggers who won't shut up about box office. Don't you even like movies, Tom?! Sean and I liked Only God Forgives.

COLLINS: I even bumped into Nicholas "The Long and" Winding Refn on the street afterwards and told him so. Sensational cinema!

McCULLOCH: But, you know, eventually, if you stick around in comics for long enough: you see people disappear. And not a few people -- enough so that it really hits you in the face with how difficult it is to make a living at this thing. Like, you see one or two or three people vanish, and you think, "Okay, it's like gallery art, it's like screenwriting, it's like music, or anything; few do it forever." But after a while, even if you lack the responsible and/or messianic impulse to want to improve or perfect this scene from which you derive enjoyment and love, you begin to examine your own assumptions about how the field operates, and that pushes you to develop some of the expertise I've mentioned. And, you know, you're growing older, worrying about money, trying to figure yourself out -- it becomes part of the interrogation of your own life. So, yes, I do think about industry, but I imagine really any practicing artist would have developed these opinions long ago; you know this already, but I can assure your readers that every one of these topics are discussed at length, in private, by almost everyone, incessantly.

COLLINS: Ah, there's the other component of it, a phenomenon encapsulated by the cantankerous music and music-industry critic Chris Ott on twitter the other day with the phrase "Let's take this to e-mail so I can tell you you're right." With the exception of figures who for better or worse, rightly or wrongly, find themselves becoming lightning rods about whom it's okay to opine in public, what you see in print online in terms of discussion regarding the mechanics of publishing alternative comics, or even run-of-the-mill "I don't actually think that book is very good and here's why" criticism, is the tip of an enormous offline, off-the-record iceberg of speculation and shit-talking. For pete's sake Ryan Cecil Smith saying "I don't much care for Adrian Tomine's comics" in a series of tweets was forwarded to me by a breathless friend in full "man bites dog" mode. Imagine starting to hold forth publicly about which micropublishers don't pay their contributors, or spilling the open secret that PictureBox was closing down before Dan [Nadel, PictureBox publisher] was ready to reveal it himself.

McCULLOCH: Ah, but people don't want to say it! Because they don't know enough about the business to be certain they won't wind up fucking over someone's book release! There's like 35 people total in alternative comics, and if someone has to go back to working at Panera Bread because of you, don't even go in the goddamned Our Lady of Mt. Carmel gymnasium at CAB -- head straight to the altar and pray to whichever god you're about to meet."

imageSPURGEON: Let me put it another way: when you think of someone entering into comics, say Tom Kaczynski with Uncivilized, do you think in terms of how he might operate as a business person?

COLLINS: Personally, I try not to, beyond "behave ethically, don't overextend, if anyone's gonna make money off this stuff then your artists should be making it too, hopefully find a distribution method that works well for you." I wish there were some kind of Alt-comix Humane Association that could certify "no cartoonists were harmed in the making of this comic," albeit one not so easily bought off as the one that ensures Ang Lee isn't drowning tigers.

McCULLOCH: I do think that way, personally, because I've seen too many Uncivilizations rise and fall.

But as I inferred earlier -- there's a difference between a private bull session and serving up writing for public consumption. I mean, if you're a critic, there's this eternal suspicion that your writing-for-publication time could be better spent on being attentive to artists, whether your interest is in a diarist's account of the works in front of you, or promotion of young, new, hungry art, or proffering commentary on the means by which works operate in the social climate, or wielding the sword against the hydra of mediocrity bedeviling culture.

COLLINS: That about nails it, though now that I think of it I don't see why accounting for the business practices of alternative comics as an industry can't be seen as a valuable component of all of those things.

McCULLOCH: Well, I think it comes down to expertise, again, because all of us recognize that a non-publisher's perspective on business can be valuable, or even revolutionary, but few of us have the means and guts to really go for it in an authoritative manner -- God knows we've seen people try and fail! Moreover, we probably know a lot of people who've insisted in private that they has all the answers, and then demonstrably did not -- so there's an element of personality too. Not that you need answers to have a discussion, of course!

COLLINS: Right. "What's your solution?" Do I have to have one?

McCULLOCH: Honestly, if what's been said about social media is true, we may be evolving beyond all of this. Because where are the distinctions on twitter, or tumblr, or whatever the hell the next compelling platform will be? Blogging provided a handy means of replicating the experience of "good" print writing without the trouble of gatekeepers; character limits and an emphasis on visual appeal have broken down those classical expectations so that everybody sort of exists in a gob of rapid give-and-take, feinting from long-form writing to instantaneous commentary, and the only expectations about content there, I think, are driven by personal interest, so that it's like private communication in character, transubstantiated into public writing. Granted, there's also little in the way of permanence -- but there's more permanence than just talking!

COLLINS: It's always striking to me to come across exchanges on tumblr or twitter that feel like back=channel chit-chat suddenly got itself reified. Almost any industry topic that truly strikes a nerve is gonna feel that way -- just look at Tess Fowler taking her experiences with Brian Wood public, for example. A lot of talking that had been going on offline suddenly went online. Perhaps as we all settle in to the post-blog world, this will happen with alt-comix industry issues as well.

SPURGEON: Is it fair to say that a lot of alt-culture, and maybe particularly the comics version of same, resists this kind of business role, or kind of fundamentally distrusts it? Do you think this has an effect on these publishers and stores? How much of that is generational, do you think?

COLLINS: I don't think that's true anymore. Speaking broadly, hustle and virtue are largely conflated at this point, and I think many if not most alternative comics-makers believe printing, production, distribution, promotion, and so on fall under that "makers" rubric. I wish there were more distrust of comics-as-business as far as alternative comics were concerned, not less, insofar as it shouldn't fall to artists to be businesses, necessarily.

imageBut if you're going to be A Publisher? Know your role. And I think most do. Even the ones that fudge aspects of what you or I might consider the necessary and sufficient tasks for declaring oneself a publisher, I can't think of anyone who's doing so out of ignorance or defining those tasks out of existence. They've looked at their capabilities and made a decision or series of decisions based on what they see. Moreover, as Joe points out, the growing preeminence and predominance of social-justice considerations has forefronted ethics in pretty much every discussion of business involving the kinds of people you'd expect to be interested enough in alternative comics to make and sell them; to have that conversation seriously requires, again, following the proverbial money. If there's distrust in play, a desire to educate oneself and act trustworthily seems to follow in its footsteps, however successful that may wind up being.

McCULLOCH: Right. But, at the same time -- we're talking a sustenance culture here. Like, getting by with one book, or one grip of books, enough to keep yourself alive and healthy as both a publisher and a biological entity. As Dan Nadel told you, though, Tom -- there's a potentially wide gap between that and the kind of life security you might eventually come to desire.

COLLINS: Uh-huh. I'll tell you what: It's hard for me to imagine another 30-year anniversary of an alt-comix publisher after Drawn & Quarterly has theirs, maybe ever again. Looking around right now it's difficult to see anyone pulling themselves out of sustenance mode enough to make that kind of long-term prospect anything but exhausting.

SPURGEON: My hunch is that the primary defining characteristic of the alt-comics culture as a set of businesses is a significant, ongoing lack of capital. We still, in fact, encourage people to enter comics as businesspeople without having two dimes to rub together. I think this is loaded with potential harm, particularly for exploitation -- a publisher without capital or without the ability to promote a book, tends to take the same percentage of sales as one that doesn't. Do you agree with this general assessment? Where might you disagree, or where might you places emphasis in terms of the overall landscape?

McCULLOCH: Some publishers do have adequate or more-than-adequate capitalization to start with; they're the ones that drop out of space and seem impossibly certain of themselves from the get-go. But if you look to the history of the types of comics we're talking about -- a lot of it comes from the internet, or DIY zine culture, or punk rock, or self-publishing as a means of personal expression. And when one artist builds up a little money to throw around, to help facilitate the expression of others, nobody's gonna turn the garden hose on that kind of community-minded engagement. I think the excitement that follows something like Oily comes from their ability to produce appealing works in a format that appears to demand comparatively little in terms of investment.

imagePlus, even the seeming untouchables -- sticking with PictureBox, Dan didn't even start publishing comics-qua-comics until after the Wilco Book. He was doing not-quite-annual issues of The Ganzfeld before that. And, as the origin story goes, the money he made off Wilco went into comics, but even those first releases in 2005 were short, newspaper broadsheet-style comics, and Paper Rad, BJ, and da Dogz. That was it. And all of those, I think, were produced through a non-profit corporation, with an NEA grant. And then the next year they put out some more stuff, the website opened, Comics Comics happened, Dan had Art Out of Time placed with a mainstream book publisher -- there was a plan, a big, rapid-fire expansion, and it did very well, but even then, you wind up smashing your face against, maybe, the limits of the an audience acclimated to comics like this. Obviously, Dan had a foot in the gallery world too, but I have no idea how much that benefited him as a publisher of books.

PictureBox did amazing things in reorienting the conversation among certain committed comic book maniacs, or 'art' people interested in comics, but it never pulled off the a trick, like, say, flipping a November release onto the desks of certain harried, busy, non-specialist mainstream publication editors as a means of getting a sudden Best of 20XX list run out of a book only devotees even knew about prior to the coronation, and then wringing the buzz for all it's worth. That's money, there. But I suspect there's only certain kinds of comics, in rather specific formats, which would have a chance of breaking through like that; and you've got to decide what kind of things you want to publish, you know? Regardless of capital, from there, to an extent, you're playing the hand you're dealt. Maybe you'll have a Michael DeForge, his buzz solemnized by a job on a TV show, but it's not likely.

COLLINS: Speaking of DeForge, in a roundabout way: Capital doesn't guarantee that a publisher will take a traditional shape, either. Annie Koyama's superhero-origin-story of an initial business plan -- use money acquired by playing the stock market following a dire medical diagnosis to bankroll your favorite artists -- never wound up including, like, making it so you can buy the books directly from the Koyama website or what have you. That's unusual compared to most publishers, but at the same time, have you ever heard a single person in comics complain about Annie Koyama as either a publisher or a person? She's been an ideal facilitator for DeForge just for example.

Are people getting taken advantage of? Well, yeah, probably, though not maliciously, not like the predators who stalk the sick animals around the edge of the mainstream-comics herd do it. Mostly it's a matter of off-the-record conversations about how such-and-such popular anthology with high production values ought to pay their contributors, and if they can't they need to reconsider how they're doing what they're doing. But in general, Team Comix helps prevent exploitation rather than shush people about it, which is good.

SPURGEON: So snapshot: how are things different right now in that segment of the industry generally, do you think, than maybe they were five or ten years ago? Is it a healthy segment? Can it ever be healthy? What leaps out to you a defining elements of this year over previous ones in terms of the broader issues involved?

McCULLOCH: It looked healthy two months ago. [Spurgeon laughs]

COLLINS: I'll go with the newsy angle: Although I'm not convinced any one outlet is ready to step up to PictureBox's plate at PictureBox's level, there are certainly enough micro-publishers and boutique publishers out there at this very moment to make me a lot less concerned than I might have been five or ten years ago over PictureBox's closing, and enough small-press conventions of both the continent-wide magnet and local-hotspot varieties to overcome, at least in part, the dearth of distribution options. There are redundant fail-safes that didn't used to be there.

But that's not health, I don't think. Dan Nadel decides he needs to take a full-time job and PictureBox liquidates its inventory; Kim Thompson dies and Fantagraphics -- Fantafuckingraphics! -- needs to crowd-fund its continued existence. What would happen to alt-comix distribution if Tony Shenton got hit by a bus? What would happen to the publishers' revenue streams without Warren Bernard, Gabe Fowler, Tucker Stone, Tom and Amy Adams, Christopher Butcher, Jason Leivian -- these multi-talented, dedicated people whose jobs encompass retail, publishing, convention organizing, promotion, and god knows what else, often simultaneously? What about the cartoonists who rely on the regular micro-publishing opportunities provided them by fellow cartoonists, like Charles Forsman or Box Brown or Leah Wishnia in print, or Zack Soto online, or via distribution by John Porcellino -- if those folks close up shop, who weathers those thousand cuts? I think that's the scarred side of the 2013 coin.

McCULLOCH: Also on the five- & ten-year comparison, I think the globs of community that are these comics have sort of split away from one larger entity and gummed onto another. Specifically, I'm no longer seeing quite so much interaction between dedicated small press comics people and the larger book world; it used to be that scoring a mainstream book publishing contract was comparable to getting a nice gallery show in terms of temporarily transforming your life from drawing with a day job to drawing as a day job. There's much less of those opportunities now -- though you can still theoretically get a nice gallery show, if you've got a foot in that world.

COLLINS: Yeah, I never hear about that at all anymore from young or young-ish cartoonists. The days of David Heatley's Pantheon advance are over.

McCULLOCH: I tend to associate a lot of the new, young small press artists with tumblr, which implicates the old webcomics question of how you can make a living. I'm expecting to see more illustration world crossovers, fortuitous television series hookups -- whatever it takes. I genuinely don't know how much money anyone expects to make from the comics-specialist publishers anymore, which probably feeds into the lack of public discussion of industry; maybe it's all just the small town you'll hold dear to your heart forever after that move to the big city, i.e. Cartoon Network.

I'm also pretty sure that last sentence has recurred with a different i.e. joke for every decade in comics subsequent to the Korean Armistice, so maybe everything is also the same. It's a Christmas miracle!

COLLINS: Some coal in your stocking then: My understanding is that the much-ballyhooed -- by myself and a lot of other people; first time I remember seeing someone point it out was Frank Santoro, I believe -- Cartoon Network gravy train is a bit closer to those little handcarts where you pump the handle up and down and roll down the track behind the gravy train. It's a cool replacement for a lame dayjob, but from what I've been told the pay's about the same. All things considered, I'd rather be back in the David Heatley days than wait for Adventure Time/Regular Show/Steven Universe to save us all.

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SPURGEON: Fantagraphics lost Kim Thompson this year, certainly a gigantic figure within Fantagraphics and thus alt-comics, and also one of most important men and women of that post-World War 2 generation of comics industry people, the fans that remade and transformed an empire of junk literature. What was your perception of Kim as an industry figure, as a person that operates within that business landscape and at that specific company? How should he be seen by someone writing a history of this part of comics in 25 years?

COLLINS: Kim's a titan. I wrote recently that alt-comix is very good at rising from the ashes, and that while the loss of PictureBox is woeful, so too was the loss of Highwater, and plenty of worthy efforts came long in its wake -- PBox, Bodega, Secret Acres, Buenaventura/Pigeon, Tom Devlin's role at Drawn & Quarterly, and so on. But the loss of Kim at the same time that the actor James Gandolfini and the journalist Michael Hastings also died made me think of him as a practical loss, a loss of a certain capacity that will go unfulfilled, the way there were basically no other journalists with Hastings's tenacity and access, the way there were no other actors with Gandolfini's monstrousness and tenderness. Simply put, we don't have any other foundational alt-comix publishers who spoke eight languages. No one else combines his near-total command of North American alternative and mainstream visual and narrative culture with his mastery of worldwide cartooning traditions and his innate ability to translate, literally, the latter into the idioms of the former. I mean, just a colossus of a figure. If his death had any kind of silver lining at all it's ensuring he's spoken about with the same appreciation for his importance to the art form as [Gary] Groth, [Francoise] Mouly, and [Art] Spiegelman. I think he should be. I don't know that we'll fill his shoes ever.

McCULLOCH: Plus, if you care about European comics being published in English, surveying the field post-Kim was like watching a capsule dinosaur sponge falling out of the sink and onto the radiator. I'm pretty terrified at the potential loss of pure knowledge. Like, we still don't even have a basic book on the history of Franco-Belgian comics available in English; we have shit scattered far and wide, hidden in tomes and whispered person-to-person; real oral tradition stuff, and now we've gotta re-learn it. And that was a life, Tom! That was a fucking life's worth of information, and because it never entirely coincided with a public demand for that information, it departed and left only a scattered record. A wonderful record, but a product of happenstance. His history could be written from an assessment of the holes he left.

SPURGEON: I think it's been fascinating to see Fantagraphics kind of reform in a slightly different way in Kim's absence -- with Kim's influence, for sure, and still with Gary [Groth], but it's a different company now. Is there any downside to this lack of institutional continuity, do you think? Or do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages? Do any of the companies that make up this productive and admirable part of the comics industry exist in 40 years, and is that a bad thing?

McCULLOCH: I, for one, was very amused by the hierarchy of interest established by their Kickstarter campaign: (1) the main line of releases, identified in full in support of the primary goal; (2) a few Eurocomics titles, sort of tossed out there for the first stretch goal; and (3) poor ol' manga, bringing up the rear with nary a prospective license named. How tsundere.

imageBut as much as I'd love it if Fantagraphics kept publishing stuff like Sibyl-Anne Vs. Ratticus -- the entire readership of which I think I'm currently following on twitter -- I can't imagine books like that were very good for the bottom line. Looking at that Spring 2014 lineup -- it's pretty focused, heavy on long-term relationships, recognizable reprints, and cherry items from already-prominent new-to-Fanta artists. I'm not saying all of these choices are safe -- I mean, they're publishing Inio Asano and Carol Swain, for heaven's sake, and the only safety to the likes of Tim Lane and Olivier Schrauwen is that Fanta has kept flogging their stuff to the point where they're familiar -- but there's a distinct lack of abrupt personal fascination to the selections, which is definitely something that the super-obvious 'Kim projects' sometimes displayed.

And, the problem with that is -- my idea of the "institutional continuity" of Fantagraphics is its enthusiasm for taking weird chances and publishing books in an almost capricious manner. A continuity which will inevitably be disrupted by one of the principals dying, because the institution was only even an expression of certain individual aesthetics. The trick with aesthetics is that you can find safe, familiar expressions of such to practice as a means of cultivating security, and this sort of shock to the system might inspire just that reaction in Fanta, which -- I mean, more serious-minded critics than I tend to feel Fantagraphics folded up the flag for serious, experimental, boundary-pushing art a decade or more ago, but there was always still the chance you'd see something like Abstract Comics: The Anthology.

Maybe that's not responsible business. Like, who wants to play the Mom and Dad role in art? Traditionally, I guess that's establishment galleries, curators. Gatekeepers. Publishers -- the kind that will still exist in 40 years, alive enough to see young radicals issue manifestos against their vampiric impositions on cultural capital. Very lean publishers can survive too, though; modestly, with very few releases per year, more a name on a door than a bustling office, and not anyone's day job. Probably we shouldn't fear death either, even in a fragile ecosystem.

COLLINS: I'm glad you took point on this one, Joe, because I wasn't exactly sure I understood the question, because the jury's still out. The kickstarter was funding previously announced books, after all. How can we tell how Fanta has changed without Kim, aside from the obvious consideration of the books he was working on, translating, championing? Seems like it'll be a few more months before that becomes apparent. What I'm most curious about is whether Groth/Thompson/[Eric] Reynolds will now become Groth/Reynolds/Someone Else in terms of that company's major editorial voices. Or am I missing someone obvious already?

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SPURGEON: Sean, it's a not an accusatory or critical statement I'm making; it's one I just see as a fact: these small companies are different for the make-up of their people. This is true when they add a significant person or two; so I'm assuming this would hold true when they subtract one. Now, is there one or are there a couple of the newer companies you think are poised to make an impact over the next few years? Are there any you find particularly admirable or promising? Why?

COLLINS: Ryan Sands and Youth in Decline are worth watching. Ryan has almost impeccable taste, his ambitions are reasonable in that he makes sure he can deliver before he makes promises but also expansive in that he's making some gutsy choices without regards to content and presentation, he's well-connected all over the world, he has a foot in non-comics visual culture, he's friendly and together, and he makes sure his artists get paid. Exemplary. He seems to be the closest in spirit and execution to PictureBox, though his output is less tied to the fine-art world, obviously, and I think he's got an interest in and eye for lush crowdpleasers that wasn't where Dan's emphasis fell.

One thing I'm quite curious to discover is the future of Oily and Retrofit. The comic-book-based subscription-based model is a smart and strong one, and they've both put out work that benefits from that format; do they take things bigger, do they stay where they are, what? And how do these publishing concerns square with Charles Forsman and Box Brown's increasing prominence as cartoonists in their own right? Do The End of the Fucking World and Andre The Giant change their priorities?

I've also had cartoonists in the know come right out and tell me "Space Face is the new PictureBox." I don't know what that means but these are people I'm inclined to trust.

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McCULLOCH: Pay close attention to the UK publishers. Nobrow already feels like a fully-formed aesthetic, and SelfMadeHero has made prominent inroads to North America via Abrams, which is a relationship many U.S. publishers of the same size distinctly lack. There's big, interesting mini-comics and self/micro-publishing scene out there too; the Mould Map 3 campaign felt like a focusing event, an art comics project around which the American community seemed to gather in solidarity. I certainly hope as much attention is paid to the results as the funding, because if that's not a Kramers Ergot, it might at least be a NON.

COLLINS: That's certainly how it was pitched to me by figures whose historical relationships with crowd-funding have been...stormy, let's say: that anthologies like this are how the art form learns about itself. I think there's an awful lot to be said for having the work of so many prominent mini-comics/tumblr cartoonists all in one place with production values that are obviously going to be through the roof, that's for sure. That's why I funded it to the tune of whatever it cost to buy the book, $50 or something -- I want the thing! But I don't know that an alt-comix anthology that costs $40K to produce, with well north of $21K just for printing, is going to wind up being the wave of the future any more than Kramers 7 was. Also, I think it's probably priced out of the range of the casual-ish shoppers who might not have seen the work of the contributors; indeed, crowd-funding it dictated that primarily preexisting devotees would be precisely the ones buying this. It's not like Kramers 4 arriving at MoCCA down the aisle from Blankets and suddenly the cream of Paper Radio and Monster is airdropped into New York City like the Hulk in that first Ultimates arc.

imageSPURGEON: We're several years in to the idea of book publishers having a graphic novels imprint: First Second, Pantheon, Abrams ComicsArts, the various efforts like the Will Eisner library at WW Norton. How have they changed the business of comics? Is there a relationship between a Paul Pope book at First Second and a Michael DeForge book at Space Face?

McCULLOCH: There's a relationship to the extent that individual artists might move from one publisher to the other, doubtlessly seeing better pay from the bigger houses. Beyond that, however, these comics divisions of huge publishers tend to be very beholden to marketing strategies, and their books are designed to appeal to very specific audiences. Parents are a huge one, maybe the reliable consumer audience for books right now, so you see a lot of YA-type books from First Second.

I think dubious manga-style adaptations of prose works aimed at the same audience are still a thing, but not so much as a few years ago; my suspicion is that "manga" is now considered a mostly-autonomous nation of readers in its reduced state. Pantheon, of course, is the Fanta/D&Q that exists inside a multinational publisher, and the occasional heat is used to take for snatching big projects from top artists may provide a maximal variant on Fanta/D&Q's own reputation should they survive another half a decade, albeit with way less money. I said "used to" because nobody made those complaints about Building Stories; probably nobody could fucking afford to do that thing without a Knopf Doubleday behind it.

And then there's prestige reprints, as you've mentioned, and the all-important personal memoir and/or political reportage sub-genres. It's still pretty hilarious to me how autobio -- the most widely mocked style of 'indie' comics by action/fantasy partisans for as long as I can remember -- is now ensconced as reliable money by vastly-more-mainstream publishers, but then: we've been forced to evolve our definition of "mainstream," which is the key legacy of these efforts, I think.

It's mostly a separate audience, though. The "casual" audience, to use a gaming term, although I'd caution that "casual" games and big-time "AAA" releases are different things over there, with the latter ostensibly appealing to the "hardcore"; in comics, they're sort of the same thing. The "hardcore" comics audience tends to encompass folks who read comic books every Wednesday, or who follow artists through tiny print runs and a myriad of websites, or both, which is more of a marginal pursuit. Yet by virtue of being "hardcore," those readers will probably have some relationship with the big publishers anyway, when certain favorites take work on a high-profile book project.

SPURGEON: We're talking pretty soon after the public announcement by Dan Nadel that he was closing shop at PictureBox. What are you thoughts on this as an industry story? Dan is pretty insistent he could continue, so is that a positive aspect to this story? Is there anything to the notion that publishers that last 10 years are going to be what should be expected from now on?

McCULLOCH: Yeah, PictureBox totally could still live on as an occasional entity; as I said before, that's arguably the best way to do it once you've surrendered the possibility of this being the fulcrum of your economic situation, although I guess that raises questions of how critical such publishers are to "comics" as an "industry."

COLLINS: I do think it's positive that he wasn't forced out of business, that he closed down of his own volition on his own terms and his own time frame, yes. I think it's negative that the publishing entity had nowhere to go without him, but Dan had always spent his time and money on publishing rather than staffing up to continue publishing, so that stands to reason. I think Dan's model could provide a lot of comics publishers with valuable pointers: Situate your comics work within the wider array of visual culture; pay your artists; present a certain totality of vision that goes beyond, "Here are books my friends made."

One thing I'm going to bring up here because I don't know where else to do it is that amid all the encomiums you did see a few notes of "haha serves you right" from people whom Dan had rubbed the wrong way in his fourfold-gatekeeper role: publisher, Comics Journal editor, BCGF organizer/curator, and fine-art/comics interface curator. The serves-you-right thing misses the point for a whole lot of reasons in my view, not least that again, this was a choice he made not something his fuck-ups forced upon him. But one of the drawbacks to having any one person do so much stuff in so evidently prominent and weighted away is that people will come to resent that person's role and only so many countermeasures can be taken. It's the same thing I was getting at when I spoke to Frank Santoro about how the dearth of alt-comix critics makes the foibles of all of us who remain -- and I can barely count myself in that number at this point 0--stand out in starker relief.

imageSPURGEON: Jog, you wrote about PictureBox as this kind of loose assemblage of books, ideas, and attitudes -- and I think that's something we recognize in a lot of the publishers, right? If these companies don't have magazines, I think we can all pretty easily conceive of what each of the top dozen art-comics publishers comics magazines would look like. They all have a bit of culture to them, the ones that have been around. What is the unique loss, then, when that broader conception of PictureBox goes away. How does the industry culture change for their absence?

McCULLOCH: [laughs] I just realized I identified all those major book publishers up above by the marketing strategies they'd adopted, so yeah: it's a shared trait. But none of them had such an effect on a particular scene -- again, the "hardcore" comics scene -- as PictureBox did. Like, the way people approached the comics canon was modified by Dan and Frank and Tim [Hodler] and company; maybe it was all a lucky parallel to the internet basically ashing the last vestiges of mono-cultural consensus anyway, but they were the crew. Much like Gary and Kim were the crew years ago -- we can imagine the magazines everyone would publish, but not many of them were published, you know? I mean publication in a rather wooly sense here, both in terms of physical writing and a sort of phantom self that exists when the conversation swirls around a particular entity and draws from its inspiration so as to effectively become a carrier for its persona, like a virus imposing itself upon cells. Except here the virus too is modified by the cells it touches.

So, basically I don't think the broader conception of PictureBox will go away, because it's now something that can survive without PictureBox itself. Now, inevitably, the phantom too will fade; even by 2013, PictureBox itself wasn't quite the noise comics-y force of confrontation it was in '06, '07, so change is inevitable. But I think how you behave and survive as a tangible being is different from how your accomplishments and legacy 'survive' in the wider culture. So I don't think the departure of PictureBox-the-publisher denotes the vanishing of "PictureBox" -- if anything, it prevents the publisher from operating as a modifier for its own phantom self.

But infrastructure is a different thing. That's dollars and cents. Related, but different.

COLLINS: I'll be honest with you: I can't picture magazines from most of the alt-comix publishers. PictureBox had enough vision to publish two, The Ganzfeld and Comics Comics -- three, if you count TCJ.com; four, if you count Art Out of Time/Art In Time. Youth in Decline stems from Electric Ant and Same Hat! Same Hat!, which come to think of it is probably why I listed them first when hashing out publishers to watch -- you know Ryan has a vision, because he's articulated it. Which is not to say that the absence of some kind of flagship publication means you don't have a vision. I may not know what kind of magazine Barry [Matthews] & Leon [Avelino] at Secret Acres would publish, but that's a company that knows what it wants to do and does it. My point, I guess, is that that element of PictureBox makes them an even bigger loss. What Dan -- and Tim and Frank -- did is rare, having that kind of full-spectrum ability to create a world of its own.

Another component of PBox that it seems like we'll be losing: Its anchor presence at conventions. The artists they were able to put at a single table, the art books they brought with them, Frank and his longboxes all side by side? That's a loss. And that vibe was basically enough to give rise to an entire convention model in the form of BCGF/CAB, which still remained "PictureBox: The Con" even after Dan's departure from the organization.

SPURGEON: One thing that links the Kim Thompson passing and PictureBox closure stories, at least for me, is this idea that specific agents of culture and specific institutions matter, that certain comics Kim Thompson enabled to be published will not be seen now, that the exact set-up that some artists enjoyed at PictureBox slipping away means that works from those artists will not be seen now. I know that there is conventional wisdom that they don't. I was on a panel at SDCC in the mid-1990s when Image signed with Diamond and some folks thought that this might be an extinction event and one pundit suggested that things would be okay because the Hernandez Brothers could do mini-comics. Where do you stand on that notion? Is it healthy that the infrastructure is so drastically changed by individuals moving on, in whatever way they do so? Or is that actually healthy, the idea that work falls in and out of favor according to public taste or the presence/absence of certain gatekeepers? How confident are you that we have a business infrastructure to match and maximize the wide expression of work we have out there?

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McCULLOCH: Pity Sibyl-Anne, is what I think. Actually, I'm sympathetic to that mini-comics notion -- artists make art, right? Steve Ditko is 86 years old, and a someone who worked for that span of a life in comics had to be a businessperson to an extent; they had to manage clients and accounts and produce work made for order to please the demands of their editors, to close their eyes and do less-personal work to pay the bills. But all those editors and companies went away, and Ditko still makes comics, and that's because he's a fucking artist, and artists make art.

SPURGEON: Well... [laughs] Yeah, I don't know how much it helps this interview for me to unpack that statement.

McCULLOCH: Mini-comics aren't gonna feed the family, though, and there's hardly any middle class of comics anymore where you even can accept less-personal work in many circumstances -- that's maybe what the big book publishers' comics divisions are to some artists -- and if you've gotta take a day job -- in the admittedly unlikely circumstance that you're not already a cartoonist with a day job -- your art's gonna develop in a very different way, under circumstances harsh enough that you might just fuck off for good.

That's a pretty workable analogy to PictureBox ceasing publication too. Because while the cartoonists they published will probably find new venues, there's no guarantee they'll be paid in the same manner, given the smaller state of most alternatives. And there's a very real chance that'll knock some people back enough that their continued work could suffer. But you're asking a lot of questions here, like -- is healthy that works fall in and out of favor by curatorial presence? I'm trying to imagine the alternative to that, and at the moment it involves a much heavier presence of governmental support for the arts than this country is ever likely to produce -- and, significant Canadian participation notwithstanding, I think we're basically talking the U.S. here -- because I don't think what you're describing is so different from any major player in a buying market withdrawing; it's just the comics market is so small that almost anything seems to imperil its biodiversity. Granted, you can also simply imagine a bigger market, which is what the internet represents, I think, but -- is it a buying market? And who is paying?

Old, old, old, old questions I'm asking. Ask anyone into gallery art and I'm betting they'll grow misty over prior incarnations of this discussion dating back years. Comics is so heavy on salable reproductions for its corpus, it's more readily compared to book publishing, which is a perpetually wider terrain that has always carried an aspirational value for comics publishers. If only we could get into bookstores! If only! But there's a lot of very specific demographic targeting going on in there, which is often anathema to very much talk of "agents of culture," save for the inadvertence that follows the agency of any cultural participant. Ditko got into Kickstarter, for the record.

COLLINS: We don't have a business infrastructure to match and maximize the wide expression of work we have out there. No way, no how. Major, major under-40 cartoonists in the prime of their popularity and creative power barely squeak by. I make more in a handful of Homeland recaps than people make in book advances. Fantagraphics needed to crowd-fund its continued existence. A few years back at SPX Frank Santoro was on a panel and the idea of cartoonists "making it" came up and he just started hollering "It's over! It's over!" I think that's basically true. You're doing it because you must, not because you have any hope of adequate recompense whatsoever.

In that sense individual losses can have a hugely deleterious effect. Who would have published [Yuichi] Yokoyama when Dan started to? Shit, who'd publish Maggots now, let alone then -- Tom Devlin excepted. Who'd have had the idea to publish Ninja first to fertilize the soil? Who'd find and translate Jason, who'd do the hard work to build a line of releases that would succeed in getting Jason over with North American audiences? Who'd do it all over again with the notoriously un-get-overable [Jacques] Tardi?

imageI'd imagine that some cartoonists have found ways to do okay without getting that big book deal. I'm not privy to any details but I think Jonny Negron's cross-quadrant strengths as both a genuinely avant-garde cartoonist and a maker of stand-alone, printworthy images that are appealing yet still uncompromising are remarkable. I'll bet you his prints keep him afloat. And I guess someone like Gabrielle Bell doing a comic a day for a month and then selling the originals can keep herself fed that way. But Gabrielle Fucking Bell shouldn't have to squeak by. I mean, look, this is alternative culture and that means something, whatever we '90s teens grew up believing, and whatever turn-of-the-century comics-journo rhetoric led us to believe about the relationship between diversity of style, quality, and popularity. Some of this stuff just has a limited audience. But I'd have liked to believe it wasn't so limited that you couldn't make a lower-middle-class living off of it. From what I've seen it's not even close. DeForge made something like 250 pages of comics in 2013 -- do you think he cleared minimum wage, in terms of man hours?

SPURGEON: No. No, I don't. Not from the comics.

Jog, one of the ideas that came into focus as PictureBox left the market was that they published a lot of non-genre, non-formulaic manga, work from that tradition of comics that engages with a variety of expressive forms and themes. At the same time, they weren't the only people working that corner of the market. So is that it? Is it over? What are the best case and worst case scenarios?

McCULLOCH: Well, there might be some irony at work here, because 'art' manga releases even at the height of things are so utterly meager, I can pretty easily imagine everything PictureBox was doing absorbed into other publishers. D&Q for the Ryan Holmberg stuff -- at a reduced rate -- Fanta for Yuichi Yokoyama's annual-plus release -- since they were the first NA publisher to work with him, though I'm really just picking names out of a hat -- and really anyone for that upcoming bara anthology, up to and including LGBT specialty houses without a comics focus; I notice Bruno Gmunder is releasing a new Gengoroh Tagame book in English, for instance. That's the best case scenario.

The worst case scenario is that Ryan Holmberg is discovered picking back issues of Archie out of a dumpster behind SLB Films in Mumbai, and next thing we know I'm seeing him at the movies getting punched across the screen by Ranveer Singh. This is because I'm not a fan of Ranveer Singh.

COLLINS: Thing is, I got the sense that readers tended to prefer PBox's handling of manga cartoonists who'd previously been published by other outlets. Will they follow them back outward again?

SPURGEON: Why hasn't that kind of manga found a firmer foothold just generally, across a broader range of companies and encompassing more artists? Are there structural impediments? Jog mentioned in one of his new comics reports that Vertical has a pretty quick trigger in terms of allowing certain kinds of work to find a market toehold.

McCULLOCH: You see, this is what I'm talking about when I talk about markets. Manga used to be a subset of comic books for much of the '80s and '90s, but the revolution set off by Tokyopop and the like reestablished the identity of manga as a youth sensation in bookstores which were already seeing good returns off the YA market.

The problem is, when publishers reorient themselves around that market, it becomes difficult to break out, because you build a set of expectations from both existing readers and succeeding generations. And you can't continue to exist at the level you've reached -- or, potentially, at all -- by going back to comic book stores, which by and large didn't derive very much benefit from the wave.

imageAlternative comics publishers, meanwhile, while generally very receptive to reading manga -- at least among under-30 artists -- often lack the connections necessary to wrench licenses out of the grip of Japanese companies, which tend to favor long-term relationships with publishers. Plus, they typically lack translators, and all the same basic here's-how-we-set-up-a-deal know-how that bedevils French-language comics too. Plus, the "art" comics scene in Japan is pretty small, at least coming out of big-ish publishers, and it's gonna be hard hours searching through webcomics and dojinshi to locate new experimental work; like, you'd best be on the ground in Tokyo for that, and most enthusiasts don't even know Japanese, let alone possess the ability to get somebody to pay them for that. They'd need a teaching job or something that would place them in Japan, which I think is what Bill Randall had when he first wrote about Yuichi Yokoyama in '04, around the same time Editions Matière was publishing Yokoyama in French.

I guess those are the structural impediments. Much of the 'art' manga that's printed -- and not a little of the standard-issue "mature audience" manga a la Taiyo Matsumoto, who is hardly an obscure or marginal presence in Japan -- is now adopting formats that look a bit more like mainstream bookstore fare, which is to say they also look like something Fantagraphics or D&Q might release. I don't think this represents a zero confidence decision re: the manga market's acceptance of such fare, but there's an eye now toward alternate audiences. And a good deal of caution; Viz still releases tons of youth-targeted fare, and my understanding is that Vertical basically can't afford to pursue too much in the way of anything that won't prove itself financially, they're just too small. On the other hand, if Gundam fans comes out in force to pre-order enough fancy hardcovers: oh my god, it's salad days for Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. He's not an "art" comics guy by any means, but manga is so fucking big, Tom, and so much of what we see in English is just a local phenomena that hardened into a definition of the form -- everything else is precious to see.

I'm really interested in Kodansha's experiments with subscription-based digital-only comics, by the way; sorting out the licensing situations of various titles has always been the hurdle, but if one of the Big 3 publishers in Japan can get shit done in English on its own, it can re-write a lot of expectations.

COLLINS: See, my answer was just going to be similar to my thing about alt-comix criticism: Alternative comics are a small pond filled mostly by devotees. No matter how popular manga is, I don't really know anyone who got into alternative manga first and alternative "comics" second, though maybe I'm just looking in the wrong place; it's mostly alternative comics fans looking to branch out. With rare exceptions like Joe, it's never going to take on a life of its own. But I'll leave it to Joe to talk about the, you know, facts and shit.

SPURGEON: Sean, you've been doing comics this year, and even have a devoted tumblr that hosts them now. I think the idea of self-publishing that way has obvious advantages in terms of the low threshold involved for participation -- no one's going to stop you from publishing what you want to publish -- and the possibility of placing something in front of a bunch of eyeballs in a way that seems wholly impossible for a printed work or even a digital work from which you have to pay. Are there advantages that aren't obvious, something about the kind of audience that reads work that way, or the way in which a real audience can be built?

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COLLINS: The less obvious answer is -- well, maybe it's an obvious one, I don't know. But when I launched my comics tumblr, the first post was a comic I wrote for a popular alternative-comics cartoonist who wound up passing after first agreeing to do it; it was instead drawn by M. Crow, whose twitter account @mean_crow is part of "Weird Twitter"; he cold DM'd me. We pitched the resulting collaboration to a popular alternative-comics website that wound up passing for complicated personal reasons. So I threw it up on tumblr, where its initial posting got approximately zero traction from M. Crow's weird-twitter following or my own following in alternative comics. Instead, an acquaintance of mine whom I know exclusively because of our mutual fascination with David Bowie and Beyoncé on tumblr posted it to a couple of her tumblrs, which essentially never post anything like this; today the comic has over 30,000 notes, meaning over 30,000 people saw it and thought enough of it to hit "like" or reblog it. Who knows how many more people than that saw it? This is likely many orders of magnitude more people than would have seen it had it gone out through the usual alt-comix channels, and probably 99% of those people aren't alt-comix readers, they're just people on tumblr who've had experiences with depression and for whom the comic's imagery and tone resonated. So if you've ever suspected in your long dark nights of the soul that alt-comix exists in part just for people interested in it to be impressed by one another at afterparties, putting them on a platform like tumblr can launch you free and clear of that insularity. Which is wonderful. Not the be-all and end-all of artistic expression, certainly, but very nice. It's not the tumblr notes themselves that matter, it's the idea that the thing connected with a bunch of people who aren't already friends or colleagues.

SPURGEON: What is the state of the free-to-pay model as we understand it more generally? We've seen some book collection of essayists that use cartoons, and certainly Dark Horse and Drawn and Quarterly have published work that's built an audience that way; Fantagraphics will have a Simon Hanselmann book out next year. Is the way that model works set in stone now? For whom does that best work?

COLLINS: The breakout artists get books. I don't know that it's any more complicated than that. It's a way for the publishers to talent-scout. Nick Gurewitch, Kate Beaton, Simon Hanselmann -- you can see why these cats got attention. Appealing style that contains a multifariously interesting set of ideas. Doing an old thing in a genuinely new way seems to help, too.

SPURGEON: Do either one of you entertain the notion that was advanced pretty early on with the rise of digital access to comics, that those models are anti-industry, or at least best utilized that way? Is there a future in this way of doing comics that might directly compete or work against traditional forms?

McCULLOCH: I've always felt that sort of talk came from less a distaste for industry-in-general than Diamond's distribution to comic book stores. Ha, remember the time Diamond refused to carry Paper Rad, B.J. and da Dogz -- written in significant part by future Fox ADHD creative director Ben Jones -- because "[t]he writing is not up to comic industry standards"? I think these days you can probably go to SPX or CAB witness a generational divide between publishers that derive a certain amount of money from Diamond, and younger types who don't even think about meeting those order minimums. Which, effectively, means a lot of comics will never see the insides of any but the most aggressively arts-focused comic book stores, an alarmingly large portion of the key personnel from which Sean listed above.

From a wider perspective, I suspect a lot of internet-savvy artists will continue to mix their own monetization efforts with traditional publishing, because it's still a semi-reliable source of income, and I expect most of them realize that the insane levels of choice inherent to online consumption places a lot of money-making power in the hands of people fortunate enough to ride a wider trend to celebrity, after which they become arbitrators of what is worth the time of users by virtue of that very success. I'm not denying that you can make a life for yourself posting webcomics and handling commissions and merchandise and stuff, but you're generally gonna keep one eye on traditional publishing -- maybe even if only to secure your place as a reliable, upworthy quality online.

COLLINS: Joe's smart to pin this industry divide on Diamond's minimum order cutoff. I never hear anyone in... oh god, am I going to say it? I think I am... I never hear anyone in Generation Tumblr [Spurgeon groans] talk about Diamond. It went from "Goddammit" to "oh well" to "who?" in very rapid succession. Which has absolutely crushed alt-comix and self-publishing penetration into the Direct Market, even by the Direct Market's abysmal standards, but there's basically a thriving Dark Market out there instead, an ad hoc assemblage of distro and sales opportunities centered, as Joe points out, on that list of people I mentioned earlier. Creating a sustainable distribution alternative to tie together or abrogate the need for all those individual actors is where the real work of making alternative comics sustainable in North America could be done now. I think that code is crackable.

SPURGEON: What's the most surprising thing about the alt-comics industry in five years time?

COLLINS: Am I crazy to think it will weather a wholesale transition to digital very well? Chris Ware and Tom Devlin and Jordan Crane are true heroes in terms of setting up alt-comix readers to appreciate books as art objects in and of themselves. With that as a backbone I think publishers will be able to take a variety of approaches to the coming death of print and still survive.

McCULLOCH: I don't think print will be dead in five years; I think "the death of print" will continue to stand as a useful metaphor for market contractions, some -- as with newspapers -- probably more severe than others. That said, concerns about the money available in comics will intensify as Generation Tumblr approaches their 30s; I'd expect a new PictureBox-like focusing presence to appear on the scene by then. It'd pretty much have to, given how much material there's gonna be from all the talented young artists I'm seeing all the time. Maybe it'll be an institutional presence, by which a major book publisher or a cool media empire will decide their market is gonna be people interested in young cartoonists. Hell, maybe Ben Jones' tenure at Fox will collide with Cartoon Network's continued development to foster a new interest in crazy cartooning, and the rain shall verily be made. That would be a surprise!

The bottom line is, you've gotta believe something's gonna happen. Because if you set aside industry, as we do most of the time, you can't deny we're in a period of extravagant plenty. People all over the world who understand comics, immediately. It's part of the language, part of the idiom online. And if people don't believe it's all for naught, it won't be. But how will we live upon such lovely terrain?

*****

* Joe McCulloch
* Sean T. Collins

*****

* Collins in a photo I took at CAB 2013
* McCulloch in a photo I took at CAB 2013
* work discussed in context
* Collins' Destructor character (below)

*****

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*****
*****
 
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Al Goldstein, RIP

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Screw published Wally Wood, Robert Crumb, Peter Bagge, Bob Fingerman and John Holmstrom in addition to any number of mostly NYC-based cartoonists. Without those gigs, some of those artists might have given up on cartooning altogether. Also, some of those covers are pretty great.

Danny Hellman has a bunch of prominent cartoonists' Screw covers up at this blog.
 
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Go, Look: Ron Garney Mini-Gallery

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Your 2013 Comics Waiting Room Best Of List

imageMarc Mason at Comics Waiting Room -- one of the sturdier survivors of a previous age of the comics Internet -- has piped in with a Best Of list that features his humble mea culpa as to why it's not grander and more authoritative. He chose five books and then named two comics, one he thought was the best he read and one he thought needed more attention.

The books:

* Boxers & Saints (First Second)
* March Vol. 1 (Top Shelf)
* Red Handed (First Second)
* The Great War, (WW Norton)
* The Initiates (NBM)

The comics:

Best Book That Needs A Bigger Audience
* The Shadow (Dynamite)
Best Single Issue Of 2013
* Sex Criminals #1 (Image)
 
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OTBP: Show Me The Map To Your Heart And Other Stories...

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Columbia Announces Acquisition Of Kitchen Sink Press Archives

According to a release yesterday, the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University acquired the papers related to Kitchen Sink Press. I guess this also serves as another reminder that Columbia is going to do its best to make itself a major player in the comics library and museum-type holdings business, under the general guidance of Karen Green. It should be fun to have a New York City presence doing that kind of work in a focused way.

That's a fairly lengthy release, so you should stride over there for details, particularly as it's late December and a proper feature article may be beyond me until the new year.

I always hear Denis Kitchen kept everything in terms of correspondence and the like, so that should be some interesting stuff to work though at some point.
 
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Go, Look: Renata Gasiorowska

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Festivals Extra: Comic-Con International Names First 20 Guests For 2014

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Comic-Con International has announced its first 20 guests for its big summer event, planned for July this year in San Diego. They did so via social media and their devoted blog. The guests represent the range of material covered by the convention, and include a number of super-admirable choices on the comics side of things.

Those guests announced are:

* Amanda Conner
* Brian Crane
* Eleanor Davis
* Jane Espenson
* Raymond E. Feist
* Drew Friedman
* Michael T. Gilbert
* Willie Ito
* Caitlin R. Kiernan
* Lucy Knisley
* David Lasky
* Graham Nolan
* Jimmy Palmiotti
* Benoit Peeters
* Don Rosa
* Jim Rugg
* Francois Schuiten
* Scott Snyder
* Fiona Staples
* Gene Luen Yang

Bunch of stuff jumps out at me here. I got about a half-dozen people e-mailing me right away excited about Schuiten and Peeters; that's a great choice, and that con has a long history of inviting over otherwise difficult to see European cartooning guests, particularly those with a foot in the arts-comics album making of the pre-L'Asso era. Eleanor Davis, Gene Yang and Lucy Knisley all strike me as broadly appealing cartoonists of the kind whose material you could very easily introduce people to on the floor as well as providing people that are already fans of their work a chance to meet them. Dave Lasky and Jim Rugg are super-admirable mainstays of alternative comics. Drew Friedman is an excellent cartoonist and a smart and articulate speaker about his work and things related, so I'm glad he's going to do this show. Scott Snyder and Fiona Staples are key mainstream comics talents of right now. I'm always happy to see Don Rosa... Extremely solid comics list.

The convention has provided biographies of each guest here, and plans to announce a ton more in coming weeks.
 
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Go, Look: Noticing The Sound Effects In Batman: Year 100

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Festivals Extra: TCAF Announces First Round Of Guests For 2014; Names Expanded Pro Programming Slate

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TCAF has named its first round of guests for the 2014 iteration of its show: Lynn Johnston, Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki, Est Em, Kate Beaton and Gabrielle Bell. Johnston is a really good get for them as she's Canadian and very much loved by not just the general public but by a huge swathe of the comics-makers in attendance. I'm excited for her to get to experience that weekend. Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki will have a major book at the show from First Second/Groundwood: This One Summer. Est Em's appearance continues the festival's admirable approach to significant international guests. Kate Beaton and Gabrielle Bell are two of the best cartoonists under 40.

TCAF also announced that the professionals-focused development programming will be called The Word Balloon Academy. That will take place the day before TCAF proper, along with an academic conference and focused educator/librarian programming.

That show is off to a great start. They promise details and more guest announcements into January. The show itself is Mother's Day weekend in May.
 
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If I Were In Portland, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: Davis Ozols

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Go, Read: Deeply Idiotic And Assholular Mash Note From Male Cartoonist To Female Cartoonist

Here. Just read it. It's awful. I'm grateful to the person who allowed it to be published.

Anything a hundred miles in proximity to this kind of thing should end yesterday, the relative awfulness of this act to another one or the comics community to the world at large being entirely beside any point worth making.
 
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Go, Look: Dace Sietina

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* here's another feature article on Neil Cohn's study of comics as a unique and important language.

image* if you're a big enough comics nerd of certain age and you think about it for a while, you'll probably figure out a single purchase or series of purchases that changed the course of your life. For me it was discovering early indy comics at Comic Carnival in Indianapolis that were published and were purchasable in roughly the same manner as the mainstream comic books that I liked. It's the combination that was crucial: I knew other types of comics existed, but being able to go to a devoted shop and buying them was a big deal in terms of my becoming an active comics reader in a way that random Saul Steinberg books and Peanuts collections had no chance of being. Cerebus during this time period was everything I liked about the adult world I wanted to be a part of: politics and humor and violence and melodrama. I loved those days when a new issue appeared on the stands.

* Benjamin Woo continues to unpack material learned from his cartoonist surveys.

* not comics: Jason reviews Thor: The Dark World.

* these presentations at CCS look a lot more fun to put together than my 37-page paper on photojournalism depicting violence in 1960s Latin America.

* every single superhero is someone's favorite. Except maybe Sentry.

* Paul Gravett does another one of those giant profiles, this time on Yves Chaland.

* apropos of nothing, this Matt Bors comic made me laugh.

* I don't know that I've looked at Cameron Stewart's site in a really long time. There are a lot of nice-looking prints available there.

* finally, there's a new comic, Anxiety, at Letters From Schwarzville.
 
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Happy 62nd Birthday, Dave Scroggy!

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Happy 61st Birthday, Peter Gillis!

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Happy 46th Birthday, Dan Taylor!

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December 18, 2013


CR Holiday Interview #01 -- Paul Pope

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*****

imageI've known Paul Pope for more than 18 years, and have read his work for two decades. He's one of my favorite people in comics. Pope's latest adventure is the Young Adult graphic novel series Battling Boy, the first volume of which arrived in October from First Second. Pope has since that project's inception signed a multiple-project deal with the Macmillan imprint, which should give us a same-universe project next summer, the sequel to the main title the year after hat, and a return to his reputation-making THB with five volumes, much of the material new, starting in 2016. It is an ambitious run of books whose exact make-up is likely to change as additional opportunities arise for the New York-based artist and illustrator. With Pope, it's always a tiny bit unclear which books stand at which stages of production, and which projects are more fanciful than fully loaded.

Battling Boy was delayed by Pope's recent, multiple-year, sideways sojourn into film-making, an avenue of expression he indicates will remain part of his overall artistic output moving forward. Now firmly focused on managing a slew of publishing projects, Pope seems determined not to have his announcements outpace his work rate. I caught Pope a few days before a holiday season through which he planned to labor. I was happy to continue an ongoing discussion about his life and current orientation towards making art, a sprawling chat that had predecessors in chance meetings in New York and Columbus earlier this year. Last Toronto, Paul Pope gave me his hat. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

TOM SPURGEON: I have no idea how you work these days, Paul, or even how much time gets devoted to comics as opposed to one of your other gigs. What's going on right now? What's your schedule like for today?

POPE: I don't really have a schedule. I'm trying to get it sorted. Part of the problem is I'm wrapping three projects. I'm wrapping the Battling Boy art catalog, I have the deadline for Battling Boy 2, and I'm commuting back into the city again. So it's just a lot. I'm art directing the Aurora West books. I worked on the scripts with JT Petty on those, and now it's intermittent art directing with that project. There's a little bit of work to do on the Escapo project, too, basically scanning some art and corralling some guest artists that will be in the book. So it's non-stop.

SPURGEON: Why this busy? Is it something you brought on yourself? Is it a confluence of events? Do you prefer to work like this?

POPE: No. No, I don't. It's nerve wracking, to be honest. I'm hoping it will be over soon. Battling Boy is going to become a phenomenon, so it's taking on a life of its own. So there's a lot of interest there. With the gallery shows, they've just sort of blown up. Through Charles [Brownstein] at the CBLDF, I managed to forge a connection with MoCCA and the Society of Illustrators and an opportunity opened up to have a show there. That turned into six separate show internationally for Battling Boy, six exhibits. I'm going over to France in February after Angouleme for a one-man show at a gallery called Ninth Art, which is apparently the premiere Parisian illustration house. It's where Moebius and Frank Miller show art. That's going to be amazing. I realized when the Society Of Illustrators thing was coming together, you may recall that I was working with Dan Nadel at PictureBox to put a catalog together. It turns out now it's going to be at Image. Jim Pascoe is designing the book, and it looks awesome. But the details fell to me: to find the international translators, hire Charles to write an introduction, hired a guy to photograph all the art from the show. It's actually lightboxed -- what they call shadowboxed art, like an old-school art catalog.

I have a couple of assistants now working for me. It's really become a cottage industry.

SPURGEON: So you're at this dead-on sprint until... Spring, it sounds like.

POPE: Until June. My hard deadline for Battling Boy 2 is June. It's a lot of work. Because it's the end of quarter four everything needs to be wrapped for 2013. So there's more organizational stuff than usual.

SPURGEON: Based on a conversation we had earlier this year, it seems like you were super-busy before this latest period, but it was super-busy because you also had a run of movie-related opportunities. This, on the other hand, seems more like like a conscious decision to get back into publishing and make more out of the opportunities that come with having a published work out there.

POPE: True.

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SPURGEON: So are you happy with how that's progressed? Are you happy with the way Battling Boy has been received? Are you satisfied with the opportunities that may present themselves there?

POPE: Yeah. They tell me not to talk about the movie too much right now, but we're backshopping it to Paramount with the same team. Everyone involved still wants to make the film. That's good news. I've got a couple of other film options out there... this is all invisible stuff, stuff that people never know about. It's not even really in comics. It's more like the franchise, right?

I worked on Kavalier & Clay, that was a year or maybe 18 months. I worked briefly on the Dune film. And then I co-wrote and co-directed a film with an Indian director named Sridhar Reddy that was financed through Sony. It's a short film, not a long film. It's a festival film. It's for Tribeca. That's going to debut I think in January.

SPURGEON: This is the film you shot with a new camera, right?

POPE: Yes. It's called the F-65. There were only four of them in the world at the time. It was a little bit like having the president's football. [laughter] It was a little strange. They had a guy that flew out from Sony to be on the set with it the entire time. We had a prototype, so it broke down a lot. One day we were stuck for hours doing nothing while they tried to upload some software that was missing. I just played guitar sitting around Lancaster, California. [laughs] It was a little surreal.

SPURGEON: That seems like a lot of work for a sustained period of time. It also seems to me like it would be crazy to try to create in the midst of that. Is it hard to carve out space now? Will this have any impact on the next wave of comics from you, do you think? Is it more of a challenge now to find that creative time?

POPE: It's a challenge. I've talked to Mike Mignola and Frank Miller about how to manage a creative career where you are simultaneously running a business and getting pages done. My editor Mark Siegel gave me this really great book. I would recommend it to anybody in any creative field. It's called Daily Rituals, by Mason Currey. It's a study of 200 philosophers, composers, dancers, writers, film directors from the last 400 years about the mundane shit: how they worked. You asked a question about my work habits, and it's funny because I've been meditating on establishing very set work habits. Some days, particularly a day like a Monday, I'll wake up and I'll have four or five hours of e-mail -- they're all urgent. [Spurgeon laughs] So the rest of the day I will have text messages all of the time.

By now my personal assistant is handling a lot more of the things we need. For Escapo we have a bunch of guests artists. John Cassaday is on the list. He got his piece done. As much as I want to just go hang out with Cassaday tonight, I'm going to send my assistant over to pick up the art and I'll see John some other time. You know what I mean? It's just delegating. We had nine action points yesterday, nine action points of things that needed doing. I'm hoping after Christmas I can just lock myself in the studio and get back to work. I'm getting stuff done, but there's just a lot of stuff right now.

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SPURGEON: Do you feel like this is a transitional period for you? You're right at that age where you're no longer that young artist by any reasonable measure. You're fairly well established. People are going to start looking to you for guidance instead of the other way around.

POPE: Oh, that happens all the time already.

SPURGEON: Do you like that transition? Have you enjoyed that transition?

POPE: No... I know that with Battling Boy, this and Boxers and Saints have been their big releases. I've got full support from Macmillan -- not just First Second, but Macmillan in terms of publicity and even just right now we're planning a four-city UK tour before my French and Belgian tour. There's a lot more administration. I've been studying... everybody know I'm into music and musicians, but I've been looking at the model of how a recording artist will have time to go into the recording studio and record and still have time to tour.

imageSPURGEON: You're mentioned Mark Siegel and First Second... it seems like that's a fruitful partnership for you. What do you value about that relationship, Paul? The resources? The specific personalities? Do they simply know when to leave you alone? It seems like you're pretty solidly in bed with them at this point.

POPE: Yeah, we have contracts for multiple books. There will be a young adult novelization of Battling Boy. There will be an audio book of Battling Boy. We're working on an apparel line. There's like merchandise now, do you know what I mean? It all involves lawyers and contracts and time and negotiations and meetings and stuff. So there is that. It's all valuable. But at the end of the day, what I'm interested in doing with like the new THB and with the Battling Boy books. Even though it's graphic novels they were able to see and purpose my books as young adult stuff.

Macmillan publishes cookbooks, they publish books for little kids. They do have an institution, because they publish young adult novels. Right? So when I'm doing these events, I'll do panels with Young Adult fiction writers. The kind of people that write what JK Rowling would do, something like that. These are books I've never read, and people I don't know. They're interesting people. But it's cool because the audience a lot of the time is teenage girls. I'm at the point where I do signings and I'll be signing for hundreds of kids. It's crazy. For some of them this is their first graphic novel. Battling Boy. That's pretty cool. I remember when I was a kid, the stuff I remember seeing. My dad brought back this book on the origins of Marvel's super-villains called Bring On The Bad Guys. I was like six. That blew my mind because I'd never seen anything like that.

I don't make any secret that there's a ton of Moebius and [Jack] Kirby influence in Battling Boy. It's part of the purpose of the project: the way that it felt being a kid and discovering these epic-scale stories.

SPURGEON: At the same time, as you've been doing this project, you've been forthright about wanting to do a story that works in the context of what kids are reading now, how they're surrounded by these larger-than-life fantasy constructs. It seems there's a little bit of genre correction here.

POPE: True.

SPURGEON: So what in the work do you feel speaks directly to where these kids are? Those kids that respond, what are they responding to?

POPE: In Battling Boy?

SPURGEON: Yeah. Beyond the fact that it looks nice, or features elegant cartooning, what do you think kids might be responding to?

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POPE: Well, I think kids like dinosaurs and monsters. I remember thinking they're cool. They like goofy villains who are also scary...

When I started to come up with the idea for Battling Boy it occurred to me there aren't enough comics aimed at kids that are sophisticated, and that there weren't enough comics with kid characters -- at least not kid characters that felt like real kids. Battling Boy lies and he's lazy and he tries to get out of responsibilities... he's like a real kid. He just happens to be indestructible. [laughs] I just thought it was an interesting idea. I've said this before, but I really loved Peter Pan. Fantasia is my favorite Disney film, but Peter Pan is probably my second -- it's hard to say, Pinocchio and Dumbo are both great. A lot of that early Disney film stuff I just love; it's so heartwarming. A lot of people think Battling Boy is cynical because it has this fairytale notion to it. So I wanted to have this veneer, this sweetness of Disney, but also have it... not cynical, because I don't think Battling Boy is cynical, but have it where you don't win just by beating the villain. That was the inspiration.

imageSPURGEON: There's a definite critique of violence as a problem-solving tool here. And there are certainly consequences to violence in the story. You open with a death, and then Battling Boy fails when forced to sustain violence for more than a few seconds at a time. He has to call in the power of his parent at one point. Should we take these kinds of things as a critique of the easiness of violence in a lot of popular art?

POPE: Yeah. I think so. I have no problem with Iron Man. I did Batman... I have no problem working on the big characters at Marvel and DC. I think it's cheating kids not to give them new stories. My nephew is five years old, and he knew that Spider-Man's uncle is killed and that's why he becomes Spider-Man. But those stories were old when we were kids. I think it's no surprise that Adventure Time is a big hit, partly because Adventure Time is new. It's new and because of that it speaks to kids.

SPURGEON: It's theirs.

POPE: It's theirs. Right. When were kids, we had the muppets. I was just talking to a friend of mine, another artist, and we were talking about the muppets. I never thought much about [Jim] Henson. We were talking about how brilliant and original it was. It wasn't the puppets themselves that were original; it was the way it was done. It's the same with this. One of the critiques I've seen of Battling Boy is that it's too obvious. The bad guy's name is Sadisto. The good guy's name is Haggard West and he's tired. But that's the whole point. It's like Charles Dickens, where the teacher's name [in Hard Times] is Gradgrind.

SPURGEON: I don't know if this is an overly facile reading, but it seems like you're drawing a dichotomy between the two kids in terms of talent and discipline. I don't know if that may even been something that you related to in your memories of being a kid, as a developing artist perhaps. But certainly Battling Boy is gifted in a specific way, and is advantaged, and then you have Aurora, who relies on her training and the way that she engages what she's taught and applies that education to these things she really wants to do. That does seem to me the twin poles of an artist's development -- of any kid's development. Is there anything to that at all?

POPE: For those two, I wanted a contrast more about -- I guess the short answer is "No."

SPURGEON: [laughs]

POPE: I wanted a contrast to them, and I was thinking about a couple of different things. One was the notion of privilege, and not being aware of privilege. Battling Boy takes for granted the things he has; he doesn't know how his magical technology works. It's like a kid with an iPhone. Even a lightbulb -- you don't have to know how a combustion engine works to drive a car. That's the job of a [Nikola] Tesla or an Edison, that's for them to figure out. Aurora is more the offspring of a science-hero, as I call them in the book. Battling Boy is the heir of a god of war. They're the next generation. So I wanted a bit of that feeling. Aurora -- in some ways she's the hero of the series because she appears in all four books. She's in the Aurora West series and she's in Battling Boy. Whereas Battling Boy is only in Battling Boy. They both have their through-lines, their different stories.

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SPURGEON: When you have elements like you have here: there's a girl protagonist and a boy protagonist, there are parents and children, there are the t-shirts... I don't want to say they are cynical elements, but there's a crafting to it, it seems, where you might want to hit certain buttons or are at least very aware these genre signposts exist. Did you think in those terms, Paul? You talked about kids liking dinosaurs, and certain kinds of villains: is a lot of this work crafted from these things that you think the audience will appreciate or enjoy, and does this extend to story structure and broader narrative elements?

POPE: In this case, I really wanted to make a kick-ass comic for kids. So I did think in terms of what I thought was cool when I was 11 years old. I did. When I did Heavy Liquid, I thought in terms of the Nicolas Roeg film Performance and The French Connection and those '70s cliches. And then with Batman, I wanted to make a kick-ass Batman book [Batman: Year 100], so I thought through what I hadn't seen Batman do yet. I always liked that surveillance state notion with superheroes because of the secret identities.

With Battling Boy I saw something missing in the market. There aren't enough cool comics for kids. Also, I was tired of doing the adult stuff. I've said this a million times, but when coming up with this idea my nephews knew I did comics but I couldn't show them anything I'd done. That made me think about all the kids out there that aren't going to read Iron Man. They're not going to be able to understand this Crossover Of Crisis Infinity Sequel that people seem to be buying. What's cool is that what I was thinking was what I've come to learn since is Young Adult Fiction. It's more like Adventure Time or even Harry Potter without intending to.

SPURGEON: Do you feel common cause with any other work that's out there, any comics work specifically? If a kid comes up with their parents and they said how much they liked Battling Boy, are you confident with where to send them or are you like, "Well, hold on until the next Battling Boy!" [laughs]

POPE: The few times people ask that, I always tell them about classic comics. Like all the early Fantastic Fours, I think those are universally great. There's Adventure Time now, there's Bone, there's all the Carl Barks comics. I love the French comic Valérian, by Jean-Claude Mezieres and Pierre Christin. Stuff like that.

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SPURGEON: Where is Valerian in Battling Boy, Paul?

POPE: Battling Boy's dad is based on a character from one of the Valerian books, which in turn is based on Thor. This is going into the art catalog, because I'm pretty certain that Kirby got the idea for the look for Thor from the Fritz Lang film Die Nibelungen. This is a German silent film from the '20s. He would have seen this. He would have seen this as a young guy living in New York. He would also have seen [Sergei] Eisenstein's Ivan The Terrible, which has this great scene in it with this Black Knight character. So in the art catalog, part of the purpose is to show young readers the influences, and the tradition of oral storytelling, the story of Theseus or whatever it might be -- these are everyone's stories. These are universal. When you re-tell them, you embellish them. You add a little more to it. In this case, the character Dad is not Thor, he's not Genghis Khan, he's not Darth Vader. He's secondary, though. The story is about this new kid.

This is all coming from Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. Some people roll their eyes when they hear a cartoonist talking about Joseph Campbell again. He really locked in on a sense of Story in a capital-S sense that I find refreshing and kind of universal.

SPURGEON: Everyone gets to Campbell through Bill Moyers, which is kind of getting him at a slight remove.

POPE: I have about 80 hours of audio records of Joseph Campbell's lectures from Sarah Lawrence. Back before TED Talks. He had a series on the Upanishads. He had a series on the grail mythologies. Tibetan mythology. Native American mythology. A lot of stuff is the bedrock of getting into it. With Carl Jung, I've read a lot of his books. I have a copy of The Red Book, in fact, which is his personal mandala book. He has a book called Man And His Symbols. He lays out the theory of the collective unconscious. I'm not sure if I exactly subscribe to this, but he points out that there are universal symbols: the womb, the moon, blood, skulls, a rose. This type of stuff. He points out how throughout history different cultures have appropriated these images into their stories in order to make sense of the world. This is all mythological stuff, right? But to me this is a lot more interesting than going back and re-doing another version of Spider-Man.

SPURGEON: You have a body of work now, Paul. Do you make sense of the world through your art and your comics? We've talked about the problem-solving aspect of making art, but in terms of the wider meaning of things, is engaging that something art enables you to do?

POPE: The thing that makes the world make sense to me is the discipline of drawing. I'm a very neurotic, nervous, agoraphobic personality type. I find a great meditation in drawing. A sense of solace. I'm a sensitive type. I'm prone to brooding a lot, and lethargy. I feel like this is the saving grace. The reason I started drawing as a kid is because it was a way to live. Luckily, I got to the point where I was proficient enough to make a living at it. And now it's a daily discipline. We were saying earlier that right now it isn't always daily discipline because there's so much more business, but I am patiently thinking that one day... it's like starting up the engine -- someday I won't have to worry about five hours of e-mails.

SPURGEON: Even when something is absent but felt, it's still sort of there. You're not able to do it; it's not that you're not doing it. I think those are two different things in many senses.

POPE: As a self-publisher I did have a lot of experience in the '90s having employees. Cash flow issues, shipping things, but also the public side of it where you're out on the road and you eat and drink but don't get sick. All that type of thing.

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SPURGEON: You've talked about some of your influences already. One thing I've liked about our discussions over the years is that you seem kind of omnivoracious in terms of your reading -- even your comics influences. Do you still do that? Do you still engage with new art that way? When was the last time you saw something that turned your head, maybe something that you wanted to fold into your own work?

POPE: I'm reading a lot of biographies. Right now I'm reading the journals of the French painter Eugène Delacroix along with this book suggested by Mark Siegel, Daily Rituals. Actually, Rituals I read in about two days. It's one of those books you can't put it down. I didn't realize this, but in France Delacroix is equally known as a diarist as he is as a painter. He's an 18th Century French classical painter. He was a really brilliant, sensitive, hard-working artist. And he also was very articulate. So it's been really great getting a glimpse into his personality and his daily habits. His thoughts. Right now that's something that's really turning me on. Next I'll probably move onto reading Emerson. Mark Siegel gave me a copy of Stephen King's book, On Writing, which I'm told is a very good "life of a writer" book. And I keep a journal as well.

Sometimes people ask me if I'm ever going to do a technique book or if I'm going to publish more essays. It might be interesting to do that. I'm not sure we have a lot of cartoonist autobiographies.

SPURGEON: Paul, the last time I saw you was in Ohio, but I think of you as a New York City guy now; you've been there around 20 years. Battling Boy, like a lot of your work, is very much a city book. The city in Battling Boy... is it called Acropolis?

POPE: I inverted Acropolis. It's Arcopolis. The arc-light of lightning. Struck lightning, energy and electricity is a big part of this book, so I wanted the name to reflect, somehow, electricity and science fiction.

SPURGEON: Do you see yourself as an urban cartoonist? There are a lot of French comics with a city-centric orientation, books that seem to see themselves as existing, at least in part, for the sake of exploring a city or cityscape. Do you ever feel you're working out your feelings about cities working within these fictional constructs?

POPE: Yeah, maybe. I like the immersion and the randomness of living in the city, the anonymous quality of it. Every day you can go and see new people, experience new things. I grew up in a small town. It was very frustrating. Once you had an identity put upon you, you were that forever. When I was pretty young I knew I wanted to take off and go live in a big city.

For Battling Boy, I didn't want to set the story on Earth. It's like an Earth-2, an alternate earth -- mainly because the first thing I started thinking about is that if there was a problem here with monsters coming out of the woodwork and stealing children, the first thing you'd think of is blowing them up with a suitcase nuclear bomb or something. I wanted to make this a planet where they didn't have atomic technology. I wanted a feel of the 1930s serials, the old Flash Gordon serials. Haggard West is a Flash Gordon-type character.

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SPURGEON: When you work with First Second... this first Battling Boy volume is a book that works squarely within the parameters that First Second has established. One of the ways you made your reputation is as an extravagant designer, particularly within the context of the mid-1990s. I thought your work stood out that way; it was at the very least something quite noticeable about your work. I wondered if it was a shift for you to work with this disciplined, market-sensitive design constraint when so much of what you've done has been extravagant and over the top. Did that take some getting used to?

POPE: It's a real frustration, to be honest. But it's a model they know sells. Jack Kirby might have wanted to do all treasury editions of everything, but he was stuck in the pamphlet. In some ways I know that Battling Boy provides a foundation.

The art catalog we're doing is pretty far out. The designer is Jim Pascoe. He's a great friend of mine. He just sent in the PDFs of the guts of the book, and it's really sick. I'll send you the cover for Escapo that he designed. I asked him to do something like wheatpaste and he turned something in that's so far out. We're talking about doing an omnibus, over-sized Battling Boy book later. The catalog isn't The Art Of Battling Boy, it's the touring catalog in French, Italian and English to correspond with the shows.

We hope there's an opportunity to do some stuff with First Second that's a little out of their normal -- I hate to say "wheelhouse." That's such a cynical term. They did publish the [Emmanuel] Guibert book, The Photographer, and they're thinking of publishing more books at different sizes. If you look at what Macmillan publishes, it's all kinds of stuff from cookbooks to poetry books to non-graphic novels. That kind of stuff. They are able to do different kinds of things, but they're an established company with a business model that works. In my case, I didn't have a vote for the size of Battling Boy. The French edition is cool, it's a little larger. It's not quite the size of a normal bandes dessinees, but it's bigger. So if anybody gets a chance to see that, it's kind of cool.

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SPURGEON: Do you feel that you've had enough of a career to have had an influence on the course of comics? Do you see yourself or your past work in things that come out now? Do you feel like people have picked up on what you've been up to over the years?

POPE: When we last saw each other in Columbus, it did strike me that we were in a full auditorium at the Mershon, and I was on stage with Jeff Smith. Everyone knows him. He's a tremendous cartoonist. Multiple millions of copies of Bone. He's one of my favorite living cartoonists. I'm on stage with this guy. I realized this is my life. I've known this guy for 25 years. I'm now sitting on the stage where I saw Martha Graham. Where Jimi Hendrix performed. Where I saw Kabuki theater. Philip Glass. I'm on that same stage now and people are listening. They're responding. They like the stories we're telling. There are stories to tell. That was kind of cool, although I've never been a guy with a kingly attitude -- where I have to be the best or the greatest. I'm more like a long-distance runner where I have to give myself a challenge.

I don't like teaching. I cringe at the thought of portfolio reviews. [Spurgeon laughs] Telling people critical stuff about their work. I want to be invisible.

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* Battling Boy Vol. 1, Paul Pope, First Second, various formats, 9781596431454 (ISBN13), October 2013.

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* cover to the US edition
* photo of Paul Pope by me, 2010
* various images from Battling Boy, including the one below, save for the woman on the bicycycle, which is just an image I like, the Escapo cover Paul sent, and a photo I took of Paul doodling in a bar in Columbus in November

*****

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Go, Look: Approaching The Air Fortress

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Go, Look: Marvel Magazine Ads

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Zak Sally Begins A History Of La Mano

Here. Zak Sally's small press is admirable both for its output and for its general orientation, and I think Sally himself a really interesting cartoonist and comics figure.
 
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Go, Look: John Romita, Jr. Black And White Pages

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Valuable Denys Cowan Original Art Lost By UPS

Michael Davis writes about the frustrations of trying to find an outcome for a significant instance of lost delivery material here. The primary thing about a story like this is that it's awful for Denys Cowan and to a lesser degree the people that were going to see the work in question in the Milestones show planned. I say that because I don't want to minimize the specific pain here for a more general point. I think the general point here is worth engaging, though, that it's slightly terrifying to ship valuable art for a lot of publishers and artists, and every so often you hear a horror story like this one. For whatever it's worth, when I had to send about $20K in art about three years ago, I asked around with about a dozen people and the general sense was that in order of trustworthiness they favored the USPS sign-at-every-step-and-store-locked option, Fed Ex, and then UPS. The only problem with the USPS option is that at least three years ago it was still so old school that they didn't have the ability to allow you to track the package on-line at every stop.

I hope there's a positive outcome here, and I think a Milestone-related show is a great idea.
 
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Go, Look: Jean de Wet

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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.

*****

JUL131237 INFOMANIACS HC (MR) $22.95
This is the comic-shop debut for the last book out from Dan Nadel's PictureBox Inc. publishign house, and I agree with Nadel's sentiment that it's a fine one to end on. If your store was a supporter of PictureBox and has this book on hand, you shop at a very fine comic book store.

SEP130460 TARZAN RUSS MANNING NEWSPAPER STRIPS HC VOL 02 1969-1971 $49.99
Back in the 1990s when jaded comics fans would come to me for an area of comics they might enjoy exploring, a new genre or group of books, I always recommended "Tarzan" as its own category. One of the better expressions within that category is the newspaper strip work by Russ Manning, something that might have avoided even the wealthiest and most obsessed comics fan of my acquaintance 15 years ago. You only have to have a reasonable amount of money to have tons of this material now. I'm glad these are being done.

OCT130046 DARK HORSE PRESENTS #31 (MR) $7.99
I have very little to say about the content of these books issue to issue, but I'm always amazed at how regularly published this title is, how many issues they've done so far. I can imagine a life for myself that didn't involve working at Fantagraphics where this new version of their anthology is a major stopping point for my comics shop visits.

OCT130958 SERGIO ARAGONES FUNNIES #11 $3.50
OCT130060 BPRD HELL ON EARTH #114 $3.50
OCT130055 ITTY BITTY HELLBOY #5 $2.99
OCT130185 HARLEY QUINN #1 $2.99
OCT130595 BOUNCE #8 (MR) [DIG] $2.99
OCT130619 SAGA #17 (MR) [DIG] $2.99
OCT130622 SEX #9 (MR) [DIG] $2.99
OCT130713 FANTASTIC FOUR #15 $2.99
OCT130714 FF #15 $2.99
This is a compelling week for the higher-end genre material in serial comic book form. You want everything that Sergio gives us, and this anthology comic has had a lot of primetime material, I think. There are the standard two Mignola-verse titles -- one and a half, if you insist. The Harley Quinn title has some buzz because of a page that was featured in a try-out contest by DC that featured a joke about suicide that didn't seem like the best idea for the company given issue concerning the depiction of women in mainstream superhero comics. I read this issue; it seems like a really standard borderline superhero/supervillain story, and those bored me to tears even when I was a kid. Lot of good artists for that kind of material contributing a page here and there. Two Joe Caseys sandwich the very popular Saga comic, which has a nice rhythm to it in terms of balancing this kind of epic sprawl represented by the child's life story with the jittery quality of a narrative that could kill any character any time. That doesn't strike me as common or necessarily easy. Finally, these two Fantastic Four series are nearing their post Marvel soft not-a-relaunch run; I don't know what you do with that title at this point, and I'm almost afraid that the only thing you can do is an unnecessarily grim approach that would be like watching one of the characters on Downton Abbey starting to cook meth.

OCT130281 WAKE PART ONE #1 (MR) $9.99
This Scott Snyder/Sean Murphy series is at its halfway point and this expanded "floppy" represents an odd strategy for getting out those first five issues not just putting them into trade form. Snyder is box-office gold right now in certain worlds of comics, so I imagine it will do very well, but I don't get why Image can do trades at this price and DC can't. If I were a fan, I'd skip it entirely, and I might not if it had a spine.

AUG130398 LOCKE & KEY ALPHA #2 CVR A RODRIGUEZ [DIG/P+] $7.99
AUG130399 LOCKE & KEY ALPHA #2 CVR B BISLEY $7.99
AUG130400 LOCKE & KEY ALPHA #2 CVR C FABRY $7.99
AUG130401 LOCKE & KEY ALPHA #2 CVR D KALUTA $7.99
AUG130402 LOCKE & KEY ALPHA #2 CVR E SIENKIEWICZ $7.99
AUG130403 LOCKE & KEY ALPHA #2 CVR F SIM $7.99
AUG130404 LOCKE & KEY ALPHA #2 CVR G WRIGHTSON $7.99
Not a big fan of the variant covers, but that's a semi-astonishing line-up of superstars from the last 35-40 years of genre comics-making. That's interesting to me in and of itself.

AUG131403 ASTERIX AND THE PICTS HC $14.95
A passing of the torch, as this 35th volume in the popular series is the first not written by Rene Goscinny or Albert Uderzo. It will sell bonkers-level amounts anyway. I don't exactly know what it is about the classic series in the French-language market, but they seem to have unique event status due to the cultural ubiquity. I can't imagine this isn't the best selling comic of the year in Europe, and don't know the One Piece numbers to be able to suggest "the world."

JUN138036 COMPLETE PEANUTS HC VOL 05 1959-1960 (NEW PTG) $29.99
It's good that Fantagraphics is keeping these in print.

OCT131323 WORLD WAR 3 ILLUSTRATED #45 (MR) $7.00
Finally, I'd look at this publication based on the cover even without the pedigree. I always think of WW3I as a very New York book, and it seems to have become even more so over the year -- at least to my way of thinking.

*****

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 because I hate you.

*****

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Go, Look: Lee Weeks Draws The Hulk

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Go, Look: Weng Pixin

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* I don't want to overstate the great joys of finding a fun and offbeat comic book series when you're a young person and comics are important to you, but it's a definite pleasure, the early to mid 1980s weren't exactly a time when it was easy for a reader with mainstream-comics expectations to find a lot of work that was different than the rigid norm. I don't know what it was like for most comics-reading teens, but the idea that I had slightly loftier taste than most of the other people at the shop was part of my self-conception as reader back then, and comics like Thriller were ready-made for me. This was also a time that because of the dearth of good comics on the stands -- you could buy all of them on a 14-year-old's budget -- you were inclined to give a kinder reading to books that tried to do something different but maybe didn't execute everything they tried with aplomb.

* Mike Sterling sent along this post he made about one of those Neal Adams-drawn X-Men comics I like, reviewed by a reader right on the book itself. Someone should do a 'zine of comics reviews written on art from the comics themselves. I would buy that 'zine.

* Rob Clough, a recent beneficiary of comics culture largesse, would like you to know about some of the fundraisers that have caught his attention.

* John Kane on a bunch of different comics. Andrew T. on Brooklyn Quesadillas. Sean Gaffney on Attack On Titan Vol. 10. More folks writing about comics they'd like you to consider from 2013. Henry Chamberlain on The Encyclopedia Of Early Earth. Richard Bruton on It Girl, Weak As I Am and Youthful Attack. Robert Stanley Martin on Blue Is The Warmest Color.

* world, Bob Temuka would like to visit your comics shops.

* Sean Witzke talks to Michel Fiffe. Matt Badham talks to Neill Cameron. Gil Roth talks to Kipp Friedman.

* finally, What If The X-Men Were Black?

 
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Happy 60th Birthday, Richard Krauss!

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December 17, 2013


Go, Read: The Death Of The Age Of Stuff

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Festivals Extra: Stumptown To Merge Its Events With Rose City Comic-Con, Ending Stand-Alone Show

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Alison Hallett at the Mercury in Portland, Oregon has the story of the Stumptown Comics Festival ending its stand-alone show in favor of a partnership with Emerald City Comic-Con's Portland-based show Rose City Comic-Con in terms of specific aspects of its primary event, including programming and its awards. They will also seek to fulfill their non-profit mandate by pursuing non-show outreach like a potential lecture series and work with schools.

You should read Hallett's story rather than any summation or liberal quoting of it here.

imageStumptown as a stand-alone festival was an important show in the bridge period between the initial SPX era of small-press shows and the modern, more hardcore arts festivals. I enjoyed the early shows I attended at the Doubletree and had a good time at the one I attended at the convention center last Spring. That there were even shows like Stumptown at all during a period of wobbly health for art-comics making -- even given the relative standards of what health in that world means -- that was sort of a miracle. It was an unlikely thing to have in existence even five years ago. So thank you, Stumptown.

That said, Stumptown was a strange show the last couple of years. It is the most complained-about show of any I attended in the last three years. It had a strange relationship to some in the Portland comics community. I spent time with two prominent Portland-resident alternative comics cartoonists in 2013 a couple of days before the event who literally did not know which weekend the festival was until my arrival in town told them. Similarly, there were always rumors about a split on the organizing board between those that had what one Portland described to me tongue-in-cheek as "ECCC Envy," and wanted a show with the surging popularity of Seattle's Emerald City, and those that wanted more of a hardcore arts festival that reflected the city's rich tradition of alternative comics talent more wholly and explicitly. As Hallett points out, this battle for the soul of the show was frequently fought on quotidian battlefields, such as a tussle between those that thought the convention center was the only suitable venue for a show of that size and those that felt that any place with a personality would have been preferable, even if that meant a few more people couldn't exhibit or people from outside of the town proper had to struggle a bit for parking.

One thing I noticed when I was at the 2013 version is that enthusiasm for the show had been dampened ahead of anything I could tell was structurally or physically or even conceptually wrong with the event. I stayed at the host hotel within a short walk of the convention center, liked it there, the room where the event itself was held was boring and had problems but didn't seem a deal-breaker of the kind that could have killed an enthusiastic crowd, the programming rooms were fine and the programming slate smart enough, I could walk somewhere for drinks, the parties were good, and so on. But it still felt deflated, like Portland's comics community had had such a horrible argument behind closed doors that this was the final family road trip before the divorce.

There will be other Portland small-press shows. In addition to their having been two "Projects" events focusing on process and comics-making hosted by Floating World, Hallett's article hints at another announcement forthcoming, likely but certainly not guaranteed to be some sort of replacement event. I would imagine the model presented by Short Run in Seattle would be encouraging to anyone attempting to do so. It seems to me that the natural life of the previous show had expired.

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By Request Extra: I Keep Skipping The Hic And Hoc Sale And Now I Feel Like Krampus So Here It Is

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The small-press publisher Hic and Hoc is having a codeword-enabled sale from now until December 31. This stand-alone post is to remind me I keep forgetting to mention it in the "By Request" posts.

I have to imagine that all the publishers and all the cartoonists and all the stores could use a few extra sales over this holiday season, so I hope you'll spend any money on comics wisely.
 
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Go, Look: Five-Page Sophia Foster-Dimino Comic

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Shia LaBeouf Apologizes For Elements Of Plagiarizing Daniel Clowes' Comic For A Short Film

You can go several places on-line -- here's one! -- to track the twitter barrage via which the actor and occasional comics-maker Shia LaBeouf apologized for taking material from Daniel Clowes' comic "Justin M. Damiano" to service his extremely similar short film "HowardCantour.com." A posting of the film -- which was shown at Cannes in 2012 and was directed by the actor -- led to people quickly picking up on similarities including wholesale lifting of lines from Clowes' 2005 comic, a reasonably obscure work for the cartoonist that was published in 2007 in an anthology The Book Of Other and most recently re-appeared as part of The Daniel Clowes Reader. The film was subsequently taken down.

This will be played out in Internet court all day, and in comics Internet court for maybe the next three, where I imagine that you're going to see the actor get credit for the straightforward embrace of culpability, but also get slammed for the stuff where he crouches in the gray area between "copy" and "inspiration" as his answer to the perceived question of "what were you thinking there exactly?"

It will also be pointed out -- and it should -- that LaBeouf grew up in that industry and has enough movie experience in all sorts of different roles making them that this kind of thing should be super-clear by now. He's also a comics fan that knows and purports to respect comics.

I have to admit, I kind of thought that this might be the approach pursued. I'm certainly open to the possibility that this is a case that involves the actor just not registering this was a bad thing until it was pointed out to him, as opposed to someone slyly trying to sneak something by folks: a mutant creature of a bizarre moral orientation, self-indulgence, denial, celebrity entitlement, our world of easy borrowing and comics' traditional role as fodder for other media, often uncredited. No matter how you get there, it still sucks. That guy fucked up.

I also feel badly for Daniel Clowes, one of the great cartoonists, who I imagine in no way wanted to deal with this avalanche of bullshit, some rocks from which will likely hit him on top of his head just for having been involved. One of the awful things about plagiarism is that the person being plagiarized is suddenly attending a party against their will, a pain in the ass above and beyond then having to secure credit for your work as it stands opposed to someone else's appropriation of that work or however one chooses to react. No one wants to spend a few days before Christmas like that. I'm sure Dan has things he would much rather be doing.

No positive outcome absolves the negative circumstance that precedes it, but if you haven't read the comic, The Daniel Clowes Reader was a very strong book of its type, maybe the best I've ever read. You could do worse than to buy a copy for anyone in your circle of friends that expresses interest in this goofy story or that liked the movie (the only reader review of which I read had praise for a funny line: one direct from Clowes).

Weirdly, as reader John Boren pointed out to me on twitter -- whether his original observation or not, I could not tell you -- LaBeouf's apology seems very close in wording and tone to a response in this Internet thread on the bad/good artists steal/copy quote.

Update: Mr. Boren has tweeted the observation about LaBeouf's apology originated with this person.
 
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Go, Read: TEOTFW Over At What Things Do

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Bundled Extra: Marvel + Wizard World Launch Variants Program

I thought this bit of PR worth mentioning because, if I'm understanding it correctly, it's a program by which people that attend Wizard World shows at certain levels of money paid will get as one of their perks a variant-cover issue of a comic book. Variants aren't a new thing, but the level of specific targeting we see with variant covers is indeed something new, and conventions are one of the entities -- along with specific stores and specific comics-related charities -- participating in such programs. I am of the mind that when rampant they are generally harmful to comics in the way I want to see comics succeed -- as a popular art form driven by content as opposed to a collectibles activity driven by overt market manipulation. I wish they didn't exist. At the same time, I have a hard time working up a panic over individual instances, and can sort of understand wanting a special cover for a special issue of a series I'm following, or whatever. I suppose what I'm getting at is an orientation towards this kind of thing might become deeply worrisome, or at least needlessly distracting, and thus demands our attention.
 
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Go, Look: John Buscema Cover Mini-Gallery

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By Request Special: Various Folks In Need Of Funding

By Tom Spurgeon

* efforts to help Stan Sakai as he attempts to make up a home healthcare insurance gap remain ongoing. Please note the CAPS paypal button is working again. Sakai is one of the great, classy pros out there and I hope you'll consider helping him out.

image* if you have a favorite artist and some extra cash it's worth a reminder that a lot of creative people are doing holiday sales and most of them are doing it for the reason they could use the extra money -- not in a desperate way, but in the way that making art isn't always all that secure a profession, and certainly not for as much as we get from a lot of those people. One artist just brought to my attention doing a sale right now is Joëlle Jones. Two other cartoonists with self-directed sales I've been tracking this holiday season are Gabby Schulz and Tony Millionaire. There are a ton more.

* I'm told this cartoonist is having a sale for the specific purpose of replacing a stolen laptop. That would be a nice thing for you to do, plus the comics look pretty cool.

* as I mentioned yesterday, the other basic advice I have for right is to maybe not count on any artist being able to fulfill orders at this point; some even suspend sales around this time so as not to disappoint or so as to better reflect time away from the studio and/or the piles of things being sold.

* it also might be a good day to make a trip around the established charitable comics Internet as detailed by scrolling down to #59 here.

* the Sequential Artists Workshop is seeking a few thousand dollars in support of its 2014 programs. That one has a ton of time left, but it still feels to me like it's underperforming a bit, so please check it out. That money will be well-spent.

* finally, as will be the case this entire month, Dan Nadel continues his 50 percent off sale at PictureBox as that company winds down the front-list part of its admirable life. There is so much great material there, so if you're looking for a gift for yourself or for the hardcore art-comics fan in your life, have at it.
 
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Go, Look: Paul Paetzel

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Bundled, Tossed, Untied And Stacked: Publishing News

By Tom Spurgeon

* there's a surprising amount of publishing news given that people are beginning to shut it down for the holidays. Okay, it's not a lot, but basically any amount of publishing news strikes me as odd right now. If you pair that with stuff that gets announced just as on-line booksellers grind through another month of releases making it to their sites, and it's a party.

image* Image Comics put word out of a Stray Bullets revival of some sort via a visual teaser. I don't know that I can think of anyone who would think David Lapham's 1990s to mid-'00s crime series a poor match with that publisher's current series line-up, but I guess it's possible. Sounds good to me.

* this caught my eye: one of the Marschall Books releases promised in 2010 to arrive from Fantagraphics. I asked Eric Reynolds, and they said that even though those works have been delayed, they are still on board and those should start seeing the light of day in 2014.

* finally: I made a stand-alone post of Pikitia Press announcing its 2014 publishing season highlights, but here it is in case you missed it.
 
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Go, Look: Small Bernie Wrightson Gallery

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Go, Look: Ruta Briede

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* this was one of the favorite comic books I ever bought through back-issue channels; in fact, I was hugely fond of that whole post-Xavier's death mini-run on the title. I also like the Werner Roth stuff, for some reason. When I was a kid that style seemed to me to be "old comics" in a way that cleaner styles weren't. Plus they were affordable, and the Jack Kirby-drawn stuff really wasn't. But the Adams issues? I liked the way they looked, and they were obsessed with death in a way that the modern X-Men comics I was reading at the time enjoyed a fascination with things being killed. Also, for some reason I always really loved that Cyclops was sitting on a sentinel head here.

* Molly Crabapple talks to -- and draws -- Art Spiegelman.

* I'm not sure I knew that Melissa Mendes has a dedicated store.

* OTBP: Jonny Negron + Sean T. Collins = Flash Forward.

* Kevin Leslie on King-Cat. Henry Chamberlain on Pompeii. Todd Klein on Green Lantern Annual #2 and Suicide Risk #1.

* this is a really old post from Luke Pearson, I think, but the exhibit and his contributions to it both seem interesting.

* every so often I'll check out Eric Reynolds' massive edited/acquired list with Fantagraphics. No real reason, it just makes me feel good.

* Richard Sala draws Christmas holiday-themed ladies: 1, 2.

* not comics: I really, really like the Stefan Norblin.

* go, look and/or read: 1) Lucy Bellwood's origin story. 2) a Christmas story for Shark And Unicorn. 3) four drawings from Darryl Cunningham. 4) cover pencils for a forthcoming issue of Eltingvilleville Club. 5) Leon Beyond explains dating. 6) various Will Dinski pages. 7) Chris Schweizer makes posters for episodes of Sherlock. 8) actually, I'm not sure what this one is.

* not comics: former Fantagraphics and Devil's Due art director Evan Sult writes about his day job, drumming.

* finally, an exhaustive essay on the origins of the Sadie Hawkins dance. That makes it sound like I was really, really dying for an exhaustive essay on that subject, and I am perfectly fine with that.
 
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Happy 59th Birthday, Beau Smith!

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Happy 45th Birthday, Matt Hollingsworth!

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Happy 61st Birthday, Ronn Sutton!

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Happy 59th Birthday, Michael Cherkas!

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Happy 50th Birthday, Bart Sears!

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December 16, 2013


Shia LaBeouf 2012 Short Film "Howard Cantour" Accused Of Lifting Material From Daniel Clowes Comic

imageSo I guess the actor Shia LaBeouf released a short film he made about an Internet film critic onto the Internet today and it's a lot -- a lot -- like the Daniel Clowes short comic "Justin M. Damiano," most recently included in The Daniel Clowes Reader. I don't know what's more amazing, that this happened or that no one noticed for about, I don't know, 18 months? I guess certain worlds don't cross streams, but still. The public posting and people subsequently noticing the similarity is the first Clowes heard of it, apparently.

Actually, let me take that back: that it happened is much weirder than it not being noticed. And the thought process behind it -- a thought process no one I've spoken to can fathom -- is the thing that may be weirder. Maybe we'll see if it gets unpacked a bit what the thinking was there.

I suppose someone might make some sort of stab at an argument that this kind of thing isn't seen as theft in some circles -- I've seen stridently passionate arguments of that type in the face of equally open-and-shut accusations -- but I can't figure out how any argument might be convincing. Someone just pointed out to me there's no script credit, so it could be that there will be a claim for the Clowes comic as something that "informed" the film in the same way that the conception that Jules Feiffer offered up of Superman in his "Great Comic Book Heroes" essay "informed" a chunk of Kill Bill 2 script. Maybe. I don't know.

The whole thing seems aggressively awful to me, creepy and sad and fucked up.

Here's the comic, although I imagine that's an unwanted appropriation as well.
 
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Festivals Extra: First TCAF 2014 Poster Image, By Michael DeForge

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Go, Look: Kevin O'Neill Nemo: Heart Of Ice Pages Up For Auction

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Head Of Fifa Wins Injunction Vs. Book Of Cartoons Featuring Him

The story I read is here, originating with reporting here. This story strikes me as a straight-forward one: a public figure with resources has blocked a book of satirical cartoons that he feels could damage his reputation, and as much as it is hard for some of us to wrap our minds around this there are countries where this kind of thinking is a matter of legal concern and therefore you see injunctions like this one. Actually, I guess this kind of thing could happen just about anywhere you could find a sympathetic judge, but it seems largely idiotic. As a billion people will likely point out, this also gives the book international publicity it wouldn't have had before, and whatever negative picture comes out of the book is compounded by the person in question seeking censorious action.
 
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Go, Look: You'll Be Mark

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Go, Read: Nick Jones' Top Comics For 2013

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The only very occasional writer-about-comics Nick Jones has posted a best-of for 2013 at Existential Ennui. He does it in the form of "comics I read" which is really only a digression from a more standard list with one selection.

His choices are:

10. Saga, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image, 2012-2013)
9. Sex, Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski (Image, 2013)
8. Fury MAX: My War Gone By, Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov (Marvel, 2012-2013)
7. Hellboy in Hell, Mike Mignola (Dark Horse, 2012-2013)
6. New Avengers, Jonathan Hickman, Steve Epting and Mike Deodato (Marvel, 2013)
5. JLA, Grant Morrison and Howard Porter (DC, 1997)
4. Optic Nerve #13, by Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly, 2013)
3. East of West, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta (Image, 2013)
2. The Manhattan Projects, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra (Image, 2012-2013)
1. Lazarus, Greg Rucka and Michael Lark (Image, 2013)
 
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OTBP: Kid Mafia Digest

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Pikitia Press Announces Highlights Of 2014 Publishing Slate

imageThe New Zealand publisher Pikitia Press has announced highlights of its publishing slate for the first half of 2014 in a lengthy blog post appearing Saturday. Projects are:

* Claire Melody, Bob McMahon
* Die Popular
* Let Me Be Frank #5, Sarah Laing (work pictured)
* Lucky Aki, Barry Linton
* Moa #4, James Davidson
* New Zealand Reprint Comics, Geoff Harrison
* The Art of Harry Bennett, Tim Bollinger and Geoff Harrison and Matt Emery
* Wellington Stories, Tim Bollinger

Some of these may be continuation of series; the announcement is hard to parse in terms of certain particulars. You can also get basic descriptions project to project through that link.
 
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Go, Look: Behind The Comics

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Comics By Request: People, Projects In Need Of Funding

By Tom Spurgeon

* looks like longtime DC editor Bob Kahan's fundraiser to stay in his current apartment has gone over its initial goal, although I can't imagine any additional funding wouldn't be put to good use. I don't know that the surge came from the comics community when people started posting about it late last week, but maybe so, and if so, good on comics.

image* just a note: this might be just about the last day that a lot of cartoonists -- even struggling ones -- will be able to accept a Etsy order to get something to you by Christmas, as 1) they'd be fulfilling the order themselves, 2) many single-owner Etsy set-ups start to shut down this week because of holiday travel and/or similar plans. Two cartoonists with self-directed sales I've been tracking this holiday season are Gabby Schulz and Tony Millionaire.

* efforts to help Stan Sakai as he attempts to make up a home healthcare insurance gap remain ongoing. Here's an even better link with -- hooray! -- a working paypal button. I guess the art is coming in for their planned art auction and they report that initial donations have been forwarded to the Sakais.

* as far as I know, you can still support Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash and their sale to help pay off recent flooding damage.

* the Sequential Artists Workshop is seeking a few thousand dollars in support of its 2014 programs. That one has a ton of time left, but it still feels to me like it's underperforming a bit, so please check it out.

* there are still some old-fashioned "make my dreams come true" crowd-funders going this holiday season: this Periscope Studios one will likely meet its goal in the next 50 hours or so, but nothing is guaranteed and you might want to get in on that if only in a pre-order fashion. Here's one I ran last time from a very hopeful and insistent cartoonist.

* finally, as will be the case this entire month, Dan Nadel continues his 50 percent off sale at PictureBox as that company winds down the front-list part of its admirable life. There is so much great material there, so if you're looking for a gift for yourself or for the hardcore art-comics fan in your life, have at it.
 
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Go, Look: Love And Rockets Collection Endpapers

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Go, Look: Roméo Julien

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* for no particular reason, I'm going to eschew posting images related to a review for the holidays and just post old comic book covers where I remember liking the comic book when I encountered it 100 years ago. It took me a while to get on board with Love And Rockets -- maybe three issues of the magazine -- but when it hit it hit like a ton of bricks and to this day it's the only comic book I've ever read in the car outside of the comic book shop. This was during that astonishing run in the issues from about #17-18 through #35 or so, my favorite period.

* sad to hear that the Grasshut space in Portland's Floating World shop is closing. There is apparently a sale. I like very much the idea of comic shops giving over part of their space to other retailers when that's a strategy that works, and I thought that particular relationship added to the distinctive nature of that very fine shop.

* Richard Bruton on Carry Me and Seasons. Derik A Badman on a bunch of different comics.

* I have next to no eye for restoration and re-coloring, but this European version of those Lee/Kirby Thor looks terrible to me. That probably means it looks super-terrible or that it's actually awesome, such is my disconnect from any sort of ability to suss such things out.

* there are very few comic strips that looked as good as Pogo.

image* there is a call out for presentations at the Comics & Medicine conference, schedule for June 2014 in that great city of Baltimore.

* Ryan Holmberg talks to Deeptanil Ray. Tom Murphy profiles Oliver East. Francoise Mouly profiles Ad Reinhardt. Douglas Wolk profiles Gilbert Hernandez.

* Frank Santoro is starting up another round of his correspondence course and answers a bunch of questions about it here.

* not comics: Matt Bors made a vine.

* finally, this is a fondly-remembered X-Men comic book splash page. One of the things I find intriguing when I look back at these kind of plot-driven elements is how much they seem to depend on the characters being a mostly blank slate, by which I mean they have a strong core identity -- or even a lack of one -- against which acting "out of character" stood as a strong contrast. I'm not sure you get the same "oomph" if the character of Storm were to act in a similar way now, because she's had so much history that she's acted in a variety of ways according to the dictates of creators and the needs of whatever plotline.
 
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Happy 54th Birthday, Steve Murphy!

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Happy 45th Birthday, Ariel Bordeaux!

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Happy 34th Birthday, Mike Bertino!

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Happy 81st Birthday, Quentin Blake!

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What It Feels Like Turning 45

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December 15, 2013


Go, Look: The Elements Of Painting

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Five Things I'll Be Thinking Over As 2013 Becomes 2014

On a coffee-fueled Sunday morning, here are some of my broader thoughts on the shape of comics near the end of 2013, what underlying issues are of significant importance.

1. People And Their Contributions Matter

This sounds platitudinous, I know. I'm talking about something slightly more specific than the important way in which we all matter. I wonder sometimes that because so much of the money in the various comics industries is settled around those things where a property and its facilitators matter more than any single person working on that property or for that company, that we don't sometimes downplay the unique contribution of individuals across the board. This may be assisted by the fact that all of the industries that serve comics are quick to repeat success on all levels, so that what is one person's unique contribution one day is a corporate practice or artistic legacy the next. This is even further assisted by the self-lacerating mindset that everyone's contributions are of equal value. This last one I find fascinating because you can see it infecting a lot of how we grapple with institutions as well. If all achievement in comics does is simply to get you into the club through the same rope line as everyone else, if all anything you do grants you is an invitation to the party, then the nature and shape of your achievement hardly matters, and, besides, someone will pick up the slack if you want to take off. Hey, maybe they'll be hiring.

We should never shrug our shoulders when someone passes away, or reduce them by minimizing the collective loss to art form, community and industry. We should stop making facile connections between publishers and artists and entities as if what connects them -- usually phrased as what connects us to them -- is easily achieved. There is no new Kim Thompson or new PictureBox Inc. or new Stan Lynde. There are those inspired by them and those working in their spirit, and maybe even those that surpass what they've done; that's not the same thing. It never is. We are diminished by those things we lose just as we are strengthened by their existence. We can value the House That Jack Built but realize and appreciate that Jack doesn't live there anymore. And if we choose to grapple with what losing people and precious institutions really means, it may be that we can better appreciate those that are still around.

2. We Still Have A Lot Of Work To Do On The Industry End Of Things

For as much as the bulk of the rewards seem to flow in their direction, I'm not sure we have anything close in terms of the collective non-creatives in comics to match the creative talent on hand right now. I include myself in that criticism. I think we could be a lot harder on that end of things, on our way to doing a lot better. I think we can improve even as we already have.

Why might this afflict non-creatives? I suspect that unlike the low threshold of participation that benefits the art form by helping us find voices and talents that we might never find otherwise, there isn't the same ruthless element of making comics in comics-related roles that serves to winnow out the undeserving and slack in the same way as a blank page, a bottle of ink and pens and brushes might. I think non-creatives have a greater opportunity to settle in, and the same way this has never been healthy for the art form on those rarer occasions it happens for creatives the fact that our specific arts culture doesn't regularly challenge its non-creatives may be causing damage now, or at the very least allowing for things to settle far below where they should be. I also think that a lot of the defeatist horseshit that gets passed around about comics being really hard and hey, what are you going to do is something in which non-creatives as a collective whole maybe shouldn't get to traffic in because, with very few exceptions, they simply haven't accomplished enough to merit that cynicism.

3. Industry Is Desirable

I mean industry in the broadest sense here, so while I know that term can be manipulated to make a funny wisecrack or dismissive put-down and suspect that might be done in response to this point, what I really mean by industry is a connection that isn't based on everyone being friends but on a shared value of work and accomplishment. If you must: a community served by businesses and institutions in addition to being the place where your friends live.

I value my friendships in comics as much as anyone does; they are a great treasure of my life. Still, there are satisfactions and rewards and wonderful moments of actualization in having relationships other than those defined by being pals, just as one gets different things in one's everyday, physical life from businesspeople and elected officials and neighbors way different than we are, and from fellow citizens with whom our interest to interact is minimal. I think that may be true for comics as well. To put it another way: most people could not ask for better friends through comics, but they could probably use a few more customers, a few more generous patrons, a few more life-changing resources, a few more people to call and reasons to call them that aren't restricted to a personal support system.

A first step may be to value someone outside of our personal narratives, whose story is like our own but in whose index we might never appear, and go from there. A second step may be to act in ways and on behalf of people through the connection of comics rather than through the connections that comics facilitates.

4. Exploitation Is Everywhere

The three scariest things about the recent coverage of classic instances of industry exploitation are 1) the idea that what is legally permissible is the best outcome, 2) the idea that this doesn't happen anymore even if it's less likely to happen the exact same way, 3) the idea that this is only something that happens with million dollar properties and big-time corporations.

Comics is soaked in exploitation, and a person providing free content for someone else's glory and/or pocketbook is a shame no matter the number of zeroes involved. Ditto disproportional reward. Conversely, it's a victory whenever these policies and practices change. If we could come out of 2013 with the simple idea that if anyone gets paid for something, the maker should be paid, we would be significantly better off as an arts community. That's not enough, but it would be a start, and it would be moving the line of acceptable behavior from an embarrassing place to a less mortifying one. It's okay to judge a project by the reward it brings to its creators; that should matter, too. It's heartbreaking that even as our form's great artists have created work that shapes the world, we do so very little to shape a world that benefits those artists. We should look back on conversations like this ten years from now amazed that they ever happened. And because all of it matters, so does any progress made.

5. We Need To Take Better Care Of Ourselves

Too many artists have no idea what happens to their work when they die, no plan for retirement even for those who see that as an option, and no idea how they might participate in best securing their legacy when they're gone. I sympathize; I have work to do here, too.

I think all of us that make art or that work near the making of art can at some time in the next year confront the twin possibilities of what happens if we die before we hope to and what happens if we continue to live for a much longer time than our ability to see to our grandest plans allows. If your ability to work depends on willful denial, I get it, but that doesn't mean we're any less worried about you. That also doesn't mean there probably isn't something you can do in some area of this kind of thing. If your art is so important to you right now that you're not going to think about the financial sacrifices you feel you have to make to see that through, then maybe you can figure out who controls that art if you get hit by a train. There are institutions that would love your comics and oh my goodness your personal papers -- this isn't true of all of us, but it's true for some. It might be worth reaching out. It's definitely worth mulling over.

One great thing about comics right now is that there's so much that can still happen but we can see the shape of it, and we can certainly engage with a lot of the realities as we ourselves move from one place to another. I'm encouraged that so many people want to spend a lifetime making comics or a lifetime in service of those that do. Next year might be the time to sort out what that really means, and to expand our definitions of taking care of things to something beyond going to the gym.

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This site will host some everyday blogging over the next few days, and then move into the Holiday Interview Series with full blogging on down the page in terms of any breaking news, a model that will end with us on the other side of the New Year. Hopefully in 2014 I can write about some of the above issues on this site in more straight-forward, detailed fashion. An even greater hope is that we might progress on these and other issues that matter.

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I Have A Couple Of Spare Wildwood Things To Mail Out

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I have a few loose sheet collections of Wildwood sheets from a book proposal that failed to find much interest back in 2010. It's about 10 pages of strips, a pretty good selection. If you actually know me/know me or can claim to have been a fan of Dan Wright's strip and want me to mail you one, I wrote for the feature. It's not really worth a darn thing, and it may be material I've posted on-line, but tossing them in the trashcan without at least asking first would seem weird. They were even already in envelopes. (US-only, I'm afraid.)

Update: And they're gone; thanks!

 
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Go, Look: Chris Samnee Selling Artwork

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OTBP: MAS Context #20

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

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Go, Look: What I Wore Today

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

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Go, Look: Reinis Petersons

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Happy 46th Birthday, Zep!

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Happy 53rd Birthday, Philippe Dupuy!

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Happy 60th Birthday, JM DeMatteis!

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Happy 48th Birthday, Ted Slampyak!

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Happy 43rd Birthday, Matthew Southworth!

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FFF Results Post #361 -- The Year In Comics

On Friday, CR readers were asked to "Name Five Comics You Enjoyed In 2013 -- From Five Different Publishers, At Least Four Of Which Were Published This Year." This is how they responded.

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Tom Spurgeon

1. Susceptible, Genevieve Castree (D+Q)
2. The Children Of Palomar, Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
3. The Best Of Comix Book (Dark Horse)
4. Incidents In The Night Vol. 1 (Uncivilized)
5. Very Casual, Michael Deforge (Koyama)

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Sean Knickerbocker

1. Pompeii, Frank Santoro (Picturebox)
2. Optic Nerve #13, Adrian Tomine (D&Q)
3. The Collected Deep Girl, Ariel Bordeaux (Paper Rocket)
4. The Adventures of Jodelle, Guy Peelaert (Fantagraphics)
5. Rubber Blanket # 3, David Mazzucchelli (Self-published)

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Jamie S. Rich

1. Journey Into Mystery, Kathryn Immonen, Matteo Scalera, & Valerie Schiti (Marvel)
2. Kinski, Gabriel Hardman (Monkeybrain)
3. Helheim, Cullen Bunn, Joëlle Jones, & Nick Filardi (Oni Press)
4. Genius, Steven T. Seagle & Teddy Kristiansen (First:Second)
5. East of West, Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta (Image Comics)

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Colin Panetta

1) Rain Comic #1, Mickey Z, Michael Deforge, and Patrick Kyle (self published)
2) Pond Smelt, Jane Mai (PEOW Studio)
3) Inflated Head Zone, Zach Hazard Vaupen (Spithouse Publications)
4) Alien Invasion Volume 3, Lauren Albert (self published)
5) Edna II, Sophie Goldstein (self published)

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Shannon Smith

1) Habit #1 (Oily)
2) The Grizzly (Study Group/Patrick Dean)
3) X-O Manowar (Valiant)
4) Satellite Sam (Image)
5) Ame-Comi Girls (DC Comics)

*****

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Stergios Botzakis

1. Mind Mgmt (Dark Horse)
2. You Are All Jealous of My Jetpack (Drawn and Quarterly)
3. Heck (Top Shelf)
4. Julio’s Day (Fantagraphics)
5. The Legend of Ricky Thunder (Robot Mountain)

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Matthew Craig

1. The Dandy (DC Thomson)
2. Viz (Dennis Publishing)
3. The Beano (DC Thomson)
4. Superior Spider-Man (Dan Slott, Ryan Stegman, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Humberto Ramos, Marvel Comics)
5. Sugar Glider #3 (Gary Bainbridge & Daniel Clifford, Unterwelt Comics/Daniel Clifford)

*****

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Ryan Sands

1. Lose #5, Michael Deforge (Koyama)
2. Sunny, Vol. 1 & 2, Taiyo Matsumoto (Viz)
3. Helter Skelter, Kyoko Okazaki (Vertical)
4. Life Zone, Simon Hanselmann (Space Face)
5. Roghi, Anna Deflorian (Canicola Edizioni)

*****

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Art Baxter

1. Study Group Magazine #2 (Study Group Comics)
2. Captain Easy - Volume 1, Roy Crane (Fantagraphics)
3. Nobrow 8: Hysteria (Nobrow)
4. Nemo: Heart of Ice, Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill (Top Shelf)
5. Lose #5, Michael Deforge (Koyama)

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Woodrow Phoenix

1. Love and Rockets new stories 6, Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
2. Souvenirs de L'Empire da Atom, T Smolderen & A Clerisse (Dargaud)
3. ARIOL, Marc Boutavant & Emmanuel Guibert (Bayard)
4. Après-midi a Drouot, Serge Clerc (Le 9ème Monde, 2010)
5. Hand-Drying in America and other stories, Ben Katchor (Pantheon)

*****

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Scott Ashworth

1. Copra, Michael Fiffe (self-published)
2. Supermag, Jim Rugg (Ad House)
3. Batman Inc, Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham (DC)
4. My Dirty Dumb Eyes, Lisa Hanawalt (D+Q)
5. The Airtight Garage, Moebius (Marvel/Epic)

*****

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Andrew Mansell

1. The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme (WW Norton)
2. Manifest Destiny 1 (Image)
3. Barnaby (Fantagraphics)
4. Brothers of the Spear Volume 3 (Dark Horse)
5. Society is Nix (Sunday Press)

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Johnny Bacardi

1. Battling Boy, Paul Pope (First Second)
2. Daredevil, Mark Waid & Chris Samnee (Marvel)
3. Copra, Michel Fiffe (self-published)
4. Wonder Woman, Brian Azzarello & a multitude of artists, some named Cliff Chaing (DC)
5. Stumptown Vol. 2, Greg Rucka & Matt Southworth (Oni Press)

*****

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Andrew White

1. Gold Pollen and Other Stories, Seiichi Hayashi (Picturebox)
2. Smoo 7, Simon Moreton (Self Published)
3. Slam Dunk Vol. 31, Takehiko Inoue (Viz)
4. The Elements of Painting, Aidan Koch (Online)
5. Journal 3, Fabrice Neaud (Ego Comme X)

*****

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Evan Dorkin

1. Kitaro, Shigeru Mizuki (D&Q)
2. Barnaby, Crockett Johnson (Fantagraphics)
3. King Aroo vol. 2, Jack Kent (IDW)
4. Hellboy Library Edition vol 6, Mignola, Fegredo, Stewart, et al (Dark Horse)
5. Black Hole, Charles Burns (Pantheon)

*****

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Joe Decie

* The Black Project, Gareth Brookes (Myriad)
* Lose #5, Michael DeForge (Koyama Press)
* RL #2 by Tom Hart (Self Published)
* Take Away, Lizz Lunney (Blank Slate)
* Picnic Ruined, Roman Muradov (Retrofit)

*****

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Michael Dooley

I appear to have a "thing" for colons:

1. Society is Nix: Gleeful Anarchy at the Dawn of the American Comic Strip 1895-1915, Peter Maresca (Sunday Press)
2. The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius, Jennifer George (Abrams)
3. Pretty in Ink: American Women Cartoonists 1896-2013, Trina Robbins (Fantagraphics)
4. In Love with Art: Françoise Mouly's Adventures in Comics with Art Spiegelman, Jeet Heer (Coach House)
5. Aesthetics: A Memoir, Ivan Brunetti (Yale)

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Evan Harrison Cass

1. Anti-Hero #1, Jay Faerber & Nate Stockman (Monkeybrain)
2. Clockwork: Volume 1, Paul Allor et al (Gov't Comics)
3. Saint Cole, Noah Van Sciver (TheExpositorComics.com)
4. Satan's Soldier, Tom Scioli (AmBarb.com)
5. Sin Titulo, Cameron Stewart (Dark Horse)

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Michael Russo

1. Velvet, Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting (Image Comics)
2. Battling Boy, Paul Pope (First Second Books)
3. Buck Rogers, Howard Chaykin (Hermes Press)
4. Trillium, Jeff Lemire (Vertigo)
5. Copra, Michel Fiffe (Copra Press)

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Jeff Flowers

1. The Manara Library, Milo Manara (Dark Horse)
2. Marada The She-Wolf, Chris Claremont and John Bolton (Titan Comics)
3. The Star*Reach Companion, Richard Arndt (Twomorrows)
4. The End Of The Fucking World, Chuck Forsman (Fantagraphics)
5. Habit #1, Josh Simmons (Oily Comics)

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Charles Forsman

1. Velvet, Brubaker & Epting (Image)
2. Men's Feelings, Ted May (Revival House Press)
3. Blobby Boys, Alex Schubert (Koyama Press)
4. Shadow Hills, Sean Ford (self-published)
5. Incredible Hulk #138, Herb Trimpe & Roy Thomas (Marvel)

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Oliver Ristau

1. L' Intervista/Die Übertragung by Manuele Fior, Writer, Artist/Anne-Lise Vernejoul, Special Effects/Tinet Elgren, Lettering (Coconino Press/avant verlag)
2. Change by Ales Kot, Writer/Morgan Jeske, Art/Sloane Leong, Colors/Ed Brisson, Lettering (Image)
3. Dial H #13 "Tekel Upharsin" by China Miéville, Writer/Alberto Ponticelli, Pencils/Dan Green, Inks /Tanya & Richard Horie, Colors/Taylor Esposito, Lettering (DC Comics)
4. Frontier #2 by Hellen Jo (Youth In Decline)
5. Zegas #0 by Michel Fiffe (self published)

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Bluna Williams

1: Fuchs sein fetzt, Tim Gaedke (self-published)
2: Das UPgrade 2, Ulf S. Graupner and Sascha Wustefeld (Zitty)
3: Eremit, Marijpol (Avant)
4: Tesserakt, Tim Gaedke (SuKuLTuR)
5: Bettgeschichten, various (Zwerchfell)

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John Platt

1. March, Book One (Top Shelf)
2. Rachel Rising: Cemetery Songs (Abstract Comics)
3. You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack (Drawn & Quarterly)
4. Ditko Public Service Package # 2 (Robin Snyder)
5. Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas (First Second)

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Charles Brownstein

* Nowhere Men, Stephenson & Bellegarde, Image Comics
* Lone Wolf & Cub Omnibus, Koike & Kojima, Dark Horse
* Captain America, Remender & Romita Jr., Marvel
* Couch Tag, Jesse Reklaw, Fantagraphics
* Capacity #8, Theo Ellsworth, Secret Acres

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Matt Emery

1. The End of The Fucking World, Charles Forsman (Fantagraphics)
2. Raw Power 2, Josh Bayer (Retrofit)
3. Squirt Stone: the Collected Plump Oyster Volume One, Ben Constantine (Milk Shadow Books)
4. Deep Park, David C Mahler (Pikitia Press)
5. Dalies #3, Various (Silent Army)

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Danny Ceballos

1. Raw Power #2 (Retrofit)
2. Butler Comic #1 (self published)
3. CAN'T LOSE A Friday Night Lights Fanzine (Oily Comics)
4. Smoke Signal #16 (Desert Island)
5. RL #3 (SAW Workshop)

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Dan Morris

1. Prophet by Brandon Graham and various (Image)
2. Andromeda Stories by Keiko Takemiya (Vertical)
3. Gamma by Ulises Farinas and Erick (Dark Horse)
4. The Grizzly by Patrick Dean (online)
5. Optic Nerve #13 by Adrian Tomine (Drawn and Quarterly)

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Jones

1. Problematic: Sketchbook Drawings 2004-2012, Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics)
2. Complete Little Orphan Annie vol 9, Harold Gray (IDW)
3. 21st Century Boys, Naoki Urasawa (Viz)
4. Long Cours, Boulet (bouletcorp.com)
5. Showcase Presents: Superman Family vol. 4, Kurt Shaffenberger, Curt Swan et al. (DC)

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Mike Baehr

1. Real Rap, Benjamin Urkowitz (Oily)
2. Sammy the Mouse Book 2, Zak Sally (Uncivilized)
3. Good Dog, Graham Chaffee (Fantagraphics)
4. Prophet, Brandon Graham et al. (Image)
5. Space Basket, Jonathan Petersen (Domino, 2012)

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Scott Dunbier

* Hellboy in Hell (Dark Horse)
* Joe Kubert Presents (DC Comics)
* Barnaby, Vol. One (Fantagraphics)
* Hawkeye (Marvel)
* Locke & Key (IDW -- but not edited by me!)

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Zainab Akhtar

* Nava: ruins of a dream/tree of life, Olle Forsslof and Mikael Lopez (Peow! Studio)
* The Infinite Wait and Other Stories, Julia Wertz (Koyama Press)
* Drowntown book 1, Robbie Morrison and Jim Murray (Jonathan Cape)
* Do Not Disturb My Waking Dream, Laura Park (Uncivilised Books)
* Delusional, Farel Dalrymple (AdHouse Books)

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John Parkin

1. Rocket Girl by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder (Image Comics)
2. Head Lopper by Andrew MacLean with Mike Spicer (self published)
3. Over the Wall by Peter Wartman (Uncivilized)
4. Lost Cat by Jason (Fantagraphics)
5. Superior Foes of Spider-Man by Nick Spencer, Steve Lieber, Rachelle Rosenberg, Joe Caramagna and many other talented folks (Marvel)

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Tom Bondurant

1. Dial H (DC Comics)
2. Fearless Defenders (Marvel Comics)
3. The X Files: Season 10 (IDW)
4. Bad Machinery (Scary Go Round)
5. The Star Wars (Dark Horse)

*****

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Marc-Oliver Frisch

1.) Optic Nerve 13, Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly)
2.) Fran, Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics Books)
3.) Very Casual, Michael DeForge (Koyama Press)
4.) Copra, Michel Fiffe (Copra Press)
5.) Vakuum, Lukas Juliger (Reprodukt)

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Derik A. Badman

1. Journal, Julie Delporte (Koyama)
2. The End, Anders Nilsen (Fantagraphics)
3. Pompeii, Frank Santoro (Picturebox)
4. Ecole de la misère, Yvan Alagbé (FRMK)
5. Alack Sinner, integrale t.2, Munoz and Sampayo (Casterman)

(Since you said publisher, I didn't choose webcomics or self-published minis.)

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Steven Stwalley

1. K-Mart Shoes, Lance Ward (Seventh Avenue Productions)
2. Double Barrel, Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon (Top Shelf)
3. Sammy the Mouse, Zak Sally (La Mano/Uncivilized Books)
4. Barnaby, Crockett Johnson (Fantagraphics)
5. Forgotten Fantasy, various artists (Sunday Press Books)

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Robert Boyd

1. Fran, Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics)
2. The Property, Rutu Modan (Drawn & Quarterly)
3. How to Look, Ad Reinhardt (Hatje Cantz Verlag/David Zwirner)
4. World Map Room, Yuichi Yokoyama (PictureBox)
5. Had-Drying In America and Other Stories, Ben Katchor (Pantheon)

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Janice Headley

1) susceptible -- geneviève castrée (d&q)
2) the end -- anders nilsen (fantagraphics)
3) journal -- julie delporte (koyama)
4) calling dr. laura: a graphic memoir -- nicole j. georges (houghton mifflin harcourt)
5) incidents in the night -- david b (uncivilized)

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posted 12:00 am PST | Permalink
 

 
December 14, 2013


The Comics Reporter Video Parade


Renata Gasiorowska-Made Video


Prizon Food Trailer



From The Gutters: Ted Naifeh



From The Gutters: Eric Stephenson



From The Gutters: Dave Stewart


Cartoonist Simon Tofield Presents
via


Commercial Video For The Turtle Tamer Of Istanbul


Video From Leif Goldberg
 
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Totally Missed That There's A Fantagraphics Pop-Up Store Presence In Downtown Seattle

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It looks like Amex is sponsoring this for Fanta and some other non-downtown Seattle businesses
 
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CR Week In Review

imageThe top comics-related news stories from December 7 to December 13, 2013:

1. A significant number of comics people and entities are pressing for needed, necessary funds as Christmas roars into view.

2. Editorial cartoonists mark the passing of a significant world leader, Nelson Mandela; some cartoonists are more involved with his legacy than others.

3. Best Of lists in comics like this one mark the significant sprawl of opinions as to what constitutes the best of the art form, particularly past a few, widely-accepted "prestige" projects.

Winner Of The Week
Brian Hibbs

Loser Of The Week
Anyone that ever dreamed of going to all the comics shows

Quote Of The Week
"Despite the updated coloring, it probably isn't fair or even realistic to hold the series up against contemporary comics, despite Miracleman's significant influence on a good deal of them. Instead, it's best to view these stories in the context of the times, which makes it easier to see why Miracleman (or Marvelman, if you prefer) is the natural stepping stone to Watchmen, and established many of the themes Alan Moore and many creators that followed him would explore in subsequent works up through the present day." -- Corey Blake

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today's cover is from the all-time series Classics Illustrated

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Go, Read: Massive, Lushly Illustrated Brandon Graham Post

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

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If I Were In San Francisco, 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 Baltimore, I'd Go To This

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

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Happy 36th Birthday, Brendan Burford!

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Happy 54th Birthday, David Quinn!

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December 13, 2013


By Request Extra: Longtime DC Fixture Bob Kahan Could Use Your Help

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OTBP: Linework #1

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Go, Read: Profile Of Clifford K. Berryman