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January 31, 2014


Go, Look: Ulli Lust

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Euro-Comics Special: Paul Karasik In Angouleme 03

imageBy Paul Karasik

Angouleme Sans Comics

If you are now on your second day of the Angouleme Festival, you may be ready to get away from anything resembling comics and comics fans. How about ducking into a church?

In the grand tradition of most small cities in Europe, Angouleme has a lot of churches. Wasn't there a Donald Barthelme story about a town that was nothing but churches? Angouleme comes close, edged out only by the ratio per capita of bakeries. On the 12-minute walk from my hotel to my local Angouleme supermarket, there are six bakeries. Believe me, I know.

So during the Festival, if you are looking for some mid-day solitude from the rumble of the foot traffic, why not stop into one of these churches to take time off from comics and silently contemplate your deep moral personal questions (such as, exactly how are you going to explain the credit card charges for comics to the wife once you get back to the States)?

Uh-oh... you are merde-out-of-luck! Even the churches are filled with comics exhibits and fans!

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Hmmm... maybe the prestigious Angouleme Museum might be worth a quiet side-trip to avoid the crowds?

Uh-oh... they are running an exhibit on the first floor of COMICS! Unless you are fans of something called Ernest & Rebecca, a comic for the kiddies that appears to feature a petulant brat with purple hair ("Rebecca") and a cute green something with big eyes ("Ernest"), dash past the throngs of Ernest & Rebecca fans and climb upstairs.

Never mind. I'll let you in on a secret. During the Festival the Angouleme Museum is one of the best places to get away from comics throngs... once you go upstairs. Chances are you'll have the place to yourself.

"But, Paul," you protest, "I came to Angouleme 'cause I'm a comics fan! I don’t go for that high-brow museum art! I like my art to be filled with sex, violence, scatology, and weird stupid stuff!"

Mathilde, one of my students from the EESI school, grew up in Angouleme and was an Angouleme Museum guard. She cued me into a couple of secrets to delight the typical crass comics fan. I now share these secrets with you!

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Seems like a typical rustic genre scene, yes? ["Scene d'auberge," by David Teniers, 1610-1690].

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Look closer! It's rustic, alrighty! There's a guy, painted about an inch tall, dropping his Flemish drawers next to the skating rink.

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This next one I discovered all by myself ["Scene de Patinage," by Claes Molenaer, 1660]:

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Different artists, but the same rascal picture-bombed into both paintings! This time he is taking a leak.

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This is how they are displayed on the wall. Don't tell me that the Angouleme Museum curator does not have a jolly sense of humor!

O.K.... so much for the scatology category. Now for the sex and violence. The Magred collection was assembled by Dr. Jules Lhomme, a resident of Angouleme who never set foot in Africa yet amassed one of the finest collection of 19th century African artifacts in any museum. Just how he assembled this collection during the so-called Colonial Period, I leave up to your 21st century imagination.

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You want violence?

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You want sex?

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You want explicit sex?

I have been to this museum on numerous occasions but never noticed this odd composition until Mathilde pointed it out to me.

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Back in the day, before Photoshop, if you wanted to delete someone from the family portrait, you just used a scissors and bought a smaller frame!

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Now a close-up of the above by Barthelemy Van Der Helst, 1655. It is titled, "Portrait of a gentleman from Pays-Bas and his Wife," but a more accurate title might be, "Portrait of a gentleman from Pays-Bas and his Wife and their Ungrateful Daughter Who Grew Up and Ran Off with the Baker's Son."

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Finally, everyone whom I speak to in Angouleme about the museum mentions this mysteriously charming painting... so it would be a severe oversight to overlook "Jeune Taureau" ("Young Bull") by Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899). Why is the bull jumping over the fence and why does it bear that delightful smile and why was it ever painted in the first place? Some mysteries are better left for the ages.

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Paul Karasik is a cartoonist, author and educator best known for his work on the graphic novel version of City Of Glass and for bringing to a wider audience the work of Golden Age cartoonist Fletcher Hanks.

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OTBP: Leslie Stein Selling Original Art

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This is a note primarily for those that are already Leslie Stein fans, because this (hopefully) involves an original art purchase, but if you're not familiar with her work you might check it out. It's routinely strong, and I don't think it has found its audience even by the unfortunately diminished standard of comics-makers finding their audiences.
 
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International Group Of Cartoonists Send Letter To Angouleme Festival Director Concerning SodaStream

Nearly four dozen comics-maker from an array of countries has published an open letter to the director of Festival Internationale De La Bande Dessinee, Franck Bondoux, asking that the Festival sever ties with Israel drink manufacturer SodaStream. SodaStream has been the recent target of a cascading, international boycott because of the presence of its primary factory in the Ma'ale Adumim settlement.

A number of US cartoonists were included in those signing: Eric Drooker, Joe Sacco, Ben Katchor, Susie Cagle, Peter Kuper and Sue Coe among them. Non-US cartoonists include Carlos Latuff and Baudoin.

Full text of the letter in English:
We, cartoonists and illustrators from all countries, are surprised, disappointed and angry to find out that SodaStream is an official sponsor of the Angoulême International Comics Festival.

As you must know, SodaStream is the target of an international boycott call for its contribution to the colonization of Palestinian land, due to its factory in the illegal settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, its exploitation of Palestinian workers, and its theft of Palestinian resources, in violation of international law and contravening international principles of human rights.

Angouleme has had an important role in the appreciation of comics as an art form for over 40 years. It would be sad if SodaStream were able to use this event to whitewash their crimes.

We ask you to cut all ties between the Festival and this shameful company.

Sincerely,

Khalid Albaih (Sudan)
Leila Abdelrazaq (USA)
Avoine (France)
Edd Baldry (UK/France)
Edmond Baudoin (France)
Steve Brodner (USA)
Berth (France)
Susie Cagle (USA)
Jennifer Camper (USA)
Carali (France)
Chimulus (France)
Sue Coe (USA)
Gianluca Costantini (Italy)
Jean-Luc Coudray (France)
Philippe Coudray (France)
Marguerite Dabaie (USA)
Eric Drooker (USA)
Elchicotriste (Spain)
Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz (USA)
Ethan Heitner (USA)
Paula Hewitt Amram (USA)
Hatem Imam (Lebanon)
Jiho (France)
Ben Katchor (USA)
Mazen Kerbaj (Lebanon)
Lolo Krokaga (France)
Nat Krokaga (France)
Peter Kuper (USA)
Carlos Latuff (Brazil)
Lasserpe (France)
Lerouge (France)
Matt Madden (USA/France)
Mric (France)
Barrack Rima (Lebanon/Belgium)
James Romberger (USA)
Puig Rosado (France)
Mohammad Saba'aneh (Palestine)
Joe Sacco (USA)
Malik Sajad (Kashmir)
Amitai Sandy (Israel)
Siné (France)
Seth Tobocman (USA)
Eli Valley (USA)
Willis From Tunis (Tunisie/France)
Jordan Worley (USA)
The group has set up a tumblr here and is asking any cartoonist that wants to endorse the letter
 
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Go, Look: More Wash-Technique Covers From DC Comics

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Euro-Comics Special: Jen Vaughn In Angouleme 01

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By Jen Vaughn

* the slowest day of Angouleme is the most relaxing one for the cartoonists and publishers.

* the general buzz around the Festival is the that the Tardi show is absolutely beautiful, that you go in thinking one thing and come out complete differently. I'll know for sure by Saturday. Most of the cartoonists are making time -- with their free entry, thanks to their badges -- to visit.

BD/Main Tent
* Casterman has an impressive selection of new albums; most are available in bookstores near you. What appeared to be a new Hugo Pratt book was absolutely a Corto Maltese *game* featuring art by said cartoonist.

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* Delcourt has one of the more impressive setups, reminiscent of Random House at a BEA/ALA convention with hundreds of copies of the same book. To get to the many signings you must first cross through Delcourt and Soleil. Thierry Mornet pulled myself, Moritat and Joe Keatinge into the VIP room which was hosting some movie house lights = everyone sweating and looking good. [Moritat and Thierry pictured directly above.] Boulet was being interviewed, Rebecca Morse of the new album Alyssa was charming and warm.

* Guy Delcourt came out eventually to say high to everyone and gave me his respects to Kim Thompson.

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* many of the Selection Officielle books are available for purchase and parked so in the main tent.

Para-BD Tent

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* lots of sellers were hawking comics, art and more. The sketchbook table Sketchbook Buro was making hand over fist with people like Mara, Valp and Richard Valley signing.

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* ran into former Angouleme prize winner, Ulli Lust of Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life; she was outside, with Joe Keatinge.

Indie Tent

* L'Employe du Moi is featuring a lot of American cartoonists like Alec Longstreth and Chuck Forsman.

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* these 14 year old kids from Angouleme came up to me and tried to sell me their anthology comic. Loved the hustle Eric and Karamba were trying.

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* Vianello was also signing and drawing amazing things in books, as a Hugo Pratt apprentice for years, he has a vast array of knowledge on and off the page. This was the longest line I saw today.

* The vanguard of comics experimentalism and fantastic storytelling lie in the hands of Dash Shaw, Joe Lambert and Frank Santoro -- all seen during their signings.

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* ran into some more familiar faces like Sean Azzopardi, an SPX regular. He had a new comic or two... I bought one!

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* Scott Eder was selling a ton of pages from American artists like Gary Panter, Peter Bagge and Jim Woodring.

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* finally, MK Reed shows off her big purchase, a beautiful album called Milady.

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* Jen Vaughn is a Seattle-based cartoonist and graduate of The Center For Cartoon Studies. You can read her blogging on behalf of her employer Fantagraphics Books here. You can read her digital comic Avery Fatbottom here. You can follow her on Twitter here.

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Go, Look: Cover Gallery For T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1-17

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Go, Listen: Inkstuds Podcast 500th Episode

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Congratulations to my peer Robin McConnell for making it to episode of his podcast Inkstuds. The 500th episode features David Brothers, Brandon Graham and Frank Santoro. It is bound to be very entertaining.
 
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Go, Look: Classic Covers At The Bristol Board

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Assembled, Zipped, Transferred And Downloaded: News From Digital

By Tom Spurgeon

* Tapastic secured a couple of million dollars in funding in the way that companies with some sort of potential return are funded. It looks like the model for the webcomics portal is a South Korean webcomics portal rather than some of the failed attempts to do something similar based out of the US. I would imagine that nearly every model of how these things are going to work is still on the table.

* I was sad to see that Greg McElhatton is going to scale back mightily on his reviewing -- or at least more fully embrace the scaling back that has already occurred. I wish him luck in everything he wants to do from here on out.

* I'm not sure how to get to it that isn't one of these weird cross-postings, but that's a nice article about things to consider before using the Submit program at the digital retailer comiXology. I would have to think that you'd want to maximize your chances there, I'd have to imagine that it is very tough to make yourself noticed given the number of comics they published, and I have to imagine that hitting your marks with an opportunity like that one is something that will be good for you to get in the habit of doing over the lifetime of making comics.

* one webcomics-oriented cartoonist, Miluette, writes about putting the over-one's-lifetime project aside for a while and all the reasons that this might be done.

* I'm always intrigued by posts like this one that talk about mainstreaming work on one's art into the course of a daily existence that may never see standard benefits like money as a return for that time invested, but I'm a creepy guy with no family who types all the time so part of that fixation may be due to the broken aspects of my own life where these things don't come up.
 
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Go, Look: Mike Mignola Tagged On Alex Chung's Tumblr

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Collective Memory: Morrie Turner, RIP

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this article has been archived


 
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If I Were In France, I'd Go To This

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

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

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Go, Look: Judge Dredd IDW Covers

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* Steve Weissman draws Jim Davis and Garfield.

* I'm not sure why it ended up in my bookmarks, but this mother-box shell for a phone is awfully cute.

* not comics: this decades-old acting-era (I assume) Kelly Sue DeConnick headshot is the best.

* Niranjaya Iyer on Alif The Unseen. J. Caleb Mozzocco on a bunch of DC books and Wolverine And The X-Men Vol. 2. Henry Chamberlain on Fade Out: Painless Suicide. Richard Bruton on Drokk!. Whit Taylor on Lou and a bunch of Daryl Seitchik's mini-comics. Tom Murphy on Saga #18.

* not comics: the cartoonist Zander Cannon reposts something that's been going around the Internet in a form where it's not credited to him -- storytelling lessons from the original Star Wars trilogy.

* it's amazing to me that 20 years of being in comics and people are still passing around "how to do coloring in comics" sheets.

* Michael Dooley profiles Mike Diana. Whit Taylor talks to MariNaomi. Ron Marz talks to Laura Braga. J. Caleb Mozzocco talks to Lucy Knisley.

* speaking of MariNaomi, this post on apologies ropes in recent comics events.

* here's a photo of JT Dockery in front of his work.

* finally, Michael Cavna talks to Team March about their book being named a Coretta Scott King Honor book in a recent set of announced ALA awards.
 
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Happy 54th Birthday, Grant Morrison!

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Happy 41st Birthday, Jonathan Baylis!

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January 30, 2014


Euro-Comics Special: Paul Karasik In Angouleme 02

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By Paul Karasik

imageJacques Tardi and The Goddamn War

The exhibition of work by Jacques Tardi in Angouleme this year is claustrophobic, poorly lit, and monotonous.

These very qualities make this a landmark exhibition, undoubtedly one of the best comics shows I have ever seen.

And believe me, I've seen plenty. In a minor fashion, I was involved in the Masters of American Comics exhibition that started at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and so I have some insider's knowledge of how difficult it is to install a show of comic art.

Comics are meant for in-the-hand reading. The cartoonist works with that precept and the publisher obliges by making objects that you have to hold to read. The advent of electronic reading devices has made comics consumption an even more intimate experience.

This makes hanging comics on a wall a tricky proposition -- because you immediately objectify the original pages, whose design and function have been built on subjective manhandling.

The Tardi exhibition operates with a full understanding of this problem -- and uses that awareness to create a situation that forces the reader to embrace his powerful work in an intimate way.

Though the iconoclastic Tardi may not like to hear this, Tardi is an icon, an elder statesman of French comics who has worked successfully in many genres. But his most personal and forceful work are the hundreds of pages that he has spent chronologically chronicling the First World War in France.

The work is intense, brutal, gory, and unrelenting in its aim: to grab the reader by the lapels and lift him off the ground, shaking him out of the complacency that set in early after the Great War to matter-of-factly accept the unacceptable murder of thousands and the seismic ripple those deaths made through the generations.

And because of this, the Tardi exhibit is not a display of work but a continuation of one man's artistic mission.

At first the exhibit-goer may be put off by the space, which is claustrophobic. The walls are constructed of rough-hewn pine boards. The work is hung like lined-up dog tags. The lights emit a subdued incandescent glow, not dim, but not particularly illuminating. As you wander from space to space you may not be certain if you have already been in this gallery before. The soundtrack for the entire experience combines the sounds of a woman (Dominique Grange, Tardi's wife) singing songs of the era with a constant distant rumble of artillery.

Welcome to the trenches.

The work on the walls can be read as narrative sequences. In fact, each gallery space represents a different year of the war. But the experience can also be absorbed by tuning in and out of individual pieces: a body suspended in barbed wire, a child holding a pistol, smoke across the distant no-man's land. Either way, it's chilling.

2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of the War, and Tardi will not let you forget it.

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Paul Karasik is a cartoonist, author and educator best known for his work on the graphic novel version of City Of Glass and for bringing to a wider audience the work of Golden Age cartoonist Fletcher Hanks.
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OTBP: Comic Book Babylon

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This was a kickstarted project that I believe is primarily available as a kindle book right now for next to nothing.
 
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Random Things I've Been Reading About Angouleme This Morning

FIBD in Angouleme begins today. Here are a few, brief notes about major stories developing over there, as well as one or two that simply caught my eye.

image* you're not going to find a more major legit-news story than the passing of the author and magazine editor Francois Cavanna yesterday. Cavanna helped create the satirical mainstays Hara Kiri and Charlie Hebdo at different ends of the 1960s, the latter initially springing forth as a weekly version of the more standard-magazine former. He later become a well-respected memoir writer.

http://www.telerama.fr/medias/mort-de-cavanna-cofondateur-de-hara-kiri-et-charlie-hebdo,108117.php

* I'm not finding a link for the PR, but comiXology is celebrating its one-year anniversary of "holy shit, comiXology!" moments that began last year when they basically swept up a deciding chunk of the French-language comics market via a publishing deal by announcing its completion of multiple-platform availability within that market. A heck of a year for those guys, and their strength in Europe makes them a major player in a way that just doing the US stuff wouldn't afford on its own. This might work as a link.

* for some reason my bookmarks folder yielded this tweet about the rapid growth in sales enjoyed by the Asterix albums in the 1960s. I've never seen it stated so plainly before, and it's fun to encounter figures like that.

* if I'm understanding this post correctly, there's a photographer set up at the Festival that takes handsome photos of comics-makers that they can then use for their own publicity purposes? Sign me up for some of that. If I have that wrong, you can still look at some nice photos, including a couple of cartoonists that I'm not sure I knew what they looked like.

* finally, this video of Lewis Trondheim announcing that a restriction of this year's 24-Hour comics will be the use of images from Boulet's instagram account, and Boulet's surprised reaction, is a very cute moment and the kind that sort of "makes" shows like this one. It also strikes me that we're going to start seeing instances like this routine captured on camera during events coverage. Here is a series of videos on this year's event within the larger event.
 
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By Request Extra: Thought Bubble Sketch Auction For Charity

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Explained through the link. It's very nice, and even if you can't afford to bid on a sketch you can look at the art and enjoy it.
 
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Go, Read: Paul Kupperberg On Stan Lee Vs. Jack Kirby

imageThere are about 15 different things in this article by Paul Kupperberg on Stan Lee vs. Jack Kirby with which I'd disagree, but I thought it a fascinating snapshot of a certain kind of comics professional orientation towards these issues. He's right in that Jonathan Ross did everyone a favor by getting Stan Lee to step away from his usual line about this stuff and speak more plainly about his feelings regarding creative ownership. I think it's also always worth noting that one of the reasons that the specific act of creative authorship is so heavily debated in a way that similar acts of creation in other media aren't is because the value that Stan Lee placed on being an idea man that might be able to find work in Hollywood doing something similar, and the subsequent discovery a few decades later that these ideas had value as entertainment concepts in and of themselves. I'm probably also directly opposed to what I see as an underlying theme to these articles. I think if we're never going to know what really happened -- and we're not going to in a way that satisfies barring a remarkable change in story from Lee -- then a lot of combative back and forth that asserts the value of those historically left out is healthy, not a sign of fan pathology or general unpleasantness.
 
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Go, Look: Marion Balac

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Go, Look: Lisa Hanawalt Prints

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

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By Tom Spurgeon

* Steve Duin, a maker of comics as well as a longstanding fixture in the Portland area's journalism scene, succinctly and calmly describes a not-very-successful-sounding second Wizard show in Portland, Oregon. Reading about the Wizard shows is always odd because it's not clear they overlap much with other comics shows of the kind this site would tend to support, and thus it's not clear how much one of them doing not-great or less-great-than-expected or whatever means in terms of broader conclusions. I would think that unlike some of the markets in which that series of shows finds itself, Portland is pretty well served by local and regional shows that don't have the Wizard name attached. That they only had one local retailer there seems brutal to me.

* the last day to apply for tables at Linework NW is tomorrow. That is Portland's new Spring alt-comics show, and will be curated.

* pro registration at Comic-Con this week. That's become a tough time for most shows these days because of the significant increase in demand and the years of abuse in the system from opportunistic comics people gaming cons for extra passes or whatever. So I try to cut 'em some slack. The show is months aways and if you have legitimate beef with the way something turned out there's plenty of time to have that rectified if you're patient and polite. At least that's been my experience.

* finally, it's my understanding that people have started to hear back from CAKE, the Chicago alt-comics show. So hopefully that means a good day for everyone.
 
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If I Were In France, I'd Go To This

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

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Missed It: The Lie Of Superman

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* here's Brian Cremins on the Wordless! performances in Chicago.

image* Joseph Forrest talks to Jorge Corona.

* here's a helpful list of the Mignola-verse material in appropriate reading order from the writer Sean T. Collins. I suspect that's likely the best and grandest superhero comic of the 21st Century, but I'm not up enough on that material to know for sure.

* Rob Clough on various mini-comics. Sean Gaffney on Higurashi: When They Cry Vol. 24. Paul O'Brien on All-New X-Men #18-21. Johanna Draper Carlson on Sherlock Bones Vol. 3 and BTOOOM! Vol. 5. Dustin Cabeal on Hidden.

* good on Team Heroes for the charitable efforts at their recent mini-con.

* J. Caleb Mozzocco has a fun piece here on one of those teaser images that big publishers -- well, I think almost solely DC -- do. These are portentous images where you decipher visual clues as to forthcoming plotlines. Mozzocco points out two great things: one is that it's silly to call an image in a dozen comic books this week that can be immediately taken to another web site an exclusive; the other is that DC doesn't have a great record for sticking to narratives over the last few years, which makes this kind of thing even more dubious than usual. I find them pretty tiresome as an adult, but I still think I would have liked them a lot as a kid. Of course, if little-kid me felt I was being messed with, I would have been resentful and bailed.

* Tucker Stone reprints a column from 2009 about that decade in serial comics.

* finally, here's a fun story by the great Steve Duin on a recently unearthed Alex Schomburg cover. Schomburg was the Golden Age cartoonist who did the covers that were just figure flying around all over the page -- if you had distinctive image of comics of those times that didn't involve Superman, it would probably be a Schomburg cover.
 
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Happy 41st Birthday, Michael Avon Oeming!

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Happy 43rd Birthday, Robert Goodin!

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Happy 53rd Birthday, Denys Cowan!

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Happy 61st Birthday, Fred Hembeck!

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Happy 57th Birthday, Guy Gilchrist!

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Happy 28th Birthday, Tracy Hurren!

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January 29, 2014


Euro-Comics Special: Paul Karasik In Angouleme 01

imageBy Paul Karasik

Compared to Bart Beaty I am an Angouleme neophyte. For the past four years I have come to Angouleme for the week prior to the Festival to teach a Comics Workshop at the EESI school (in four classes, my students create eight-page mini-comics which they proceed to sell at the Festival). After teaching, I usually stick around for the Festival.

This year I offered to write some pieces for The Comics Reporter for fun (and to score myself a Press Pass!). I had imagined that my pieces would dance around the edges of Bart's usual play-by-play posts. I did not know until this morning that he would not be walking his usual beat this year, delivering genuine news stateside.

Bart's interest and knowledge of global comics and local Angouleme festival politics far exceeds my own. I suspect that my posts will be far more anecdotal and lacking in objectivity (as well as anything resembling real news).

To those of you who have come to depend on Bart Beaty's reporting, I join you in hoping that he returns to the Festival the near future.

In the meantime:

Here are a few things you should know if you are visiting the festival for the first time.

1. It's a comics festival.
This may come as a surprise to U.S. visitors who expect Comics Festivals to be about movies and television and computer games. The focus here is comics.

Wait, let me rephrase that, the real focus here is to separate attendees from the contents of their wallets -- through comics. Comics for every taste and demographic, many of which you will find nowhere else, are for sale everywhere.

2. Angouleme is a tangled mass of tiny streets.
You will get lost as soon as you land. The festival hands out oodles of free maps that you will see overflowing from trashcans throughout the city because they are essentially useless. Even Google Maps has given up on Angouleme, replacing the usual street map on your iPhone with a color drawing of Professor Calculus holding his divining pendulum and shrugging his shoulders.

3. Skip the schedule as well as the map.
Here’s an example: last year I followed the schedule and went to the location where I thought I was going to see an inking demonstration by an interesting Chinese artist. Instead I found there a living-tableau recreation of Asterix and Obelix outfoxing some Romans. I snuck out and, while trying to get my bearings, found myself in an auditorium where Joost Swarte was singing the blues -- a performance which was nowhere to be found listed on any schedule.

4. To sum it up: go with the flow.
The best way to enjoy Angouleme is to exit the train from Paris waving a white flag on a stick. Wander, be surprised, and be prepared to empty the contents of your wallet on the byways of this crazy little town.

*****

Paul Karasik is a cartoonist, author and educator best known for his work on the graphic novel version of City Of Glass and for bringing to a wider audience the work of Golden Age cartoonist Fletcher Hanks.

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Go, Look: Adventure Comics Covers Mini-Gallery

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Conversational Euro-Comics: Bart Beaty On Why He Won't Be Attending This Year's Angouleme Festival

By Bart Beaty

For almost a year now I've been thinking about what I would say today. For the first time since 1997, I am not in Angouleme awaiting the opening of Europe's grandest comics festival. I had imagined I could write a blistering "Why I'm Boycotting the Angouleme Festival" piece, but the fact is that I'm not boycotting -- I'm just not going.

imageOf all the times that I have gone to Angouleme, last year was, by far, the most difficult. A lot of that -- almost all of it, in fact -- was caused by things that had absolutely nothing at all to do with the Festival. They had to do with getting older, and having friends who are getting older. Yet the fact remains: for three Angoulemes in a row I had a close friend from the Festival pass away shortly after the show, and last year I learned of the passing of one of my dearest friends literally five minutes after arriving in town. I think I kind of snapped at that moment, and I decided I wouldn't be back this year.

The funny thing is that the reason I had all of these friends is because of Angouleme. They were all people from all over the world who I met in Le Chat Noir, or at the Mercure. They were people with whom I ate at Passe Muraille and Le Terminus. Over the years, they became the main reason to attend. Every year I flew more than 5000 miles to see my friends, who shared an interest in European comics in this slightly goofy French town. It was great.

The Festival? It can be good, it can be bad. You can't put your foot down and say "That's it, I'm done with Angouleme!" any more than you can say that you're done with comics. I've seen a lot of crap during my time there, but I also got to walk through Le Musee Ferraille with Art Spiegelman and got to dance at the Galerie MR with Edmond Baudoin. Angouleme can be truly great, and it can be truly maddening (when it rains, oh, when it rains).

I recognize that my decision to stay home -- and today that's a decision that I'm not yet regretting at all -- says more about me and my interests and my priorities than it says about Angouleme. Angouleme will roll on without me just fine. It is true that certain parts of the Festival look a little more threadbare every year, but, by the same token, there's going to be a huge Tardi show there this year. There's always something great, even when there's not much going on.

Even the much discussed changes to the presidency don't bother me. I could argue that they've ruined it, but it was probably already ruined in the first place -- and besides, they've tinkered with the format in the past anyway. No, what I've come to realize is that Angouleme is an enormous Rorschach test of an event -- we all project onto it our hopes and dreams, our exasperations and our nightmares. You can't love it, you can't hate it -- it just is.

I'll surely be back. If not next year, then sometime. Hopefully sometime soon, when I can think of the Festival fondly and wish to rejoin it, not out of a sense of obligation, but from a sense of longing. To all of my friends who will be there beginning tomorrow, I wish you well.

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Bart Beaty is the head of the Department Of English at the University of Calgary. He is one of the best writers about comics generally and about modern European comics specifically. Learn more about him here.

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Go, Look: Pete Murgatroyd

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Bundled Extra: Uncivilized Books Nails Down Spring 2014 Season

imageTom Kaczysnki's Minneapoli-based boutique publishing house Uncivilized Books has formally announced its Spring 2014 line-up. I'm not sure how much of this is new information and how much is now-official information, but it's all welcome news. I think Uncivilized is one of the more interesting publishers out there, period.

The announced were:

* Truth Is Fragmentary: Travelogues & Diaries, Gabrielle Bell, 97809889014521 (ISBN13), 160 pages, softcover, May, $19.99.
* An Iranian Metamorphosis, Mana Neyestani, 9780988901445 (ISBN13), 200 pages, softcover, May, $19.99.
* It Never Happened Again, Sam Alden, 9780988901469 (ISBN13), 140 pages, softcover, June, $11.99.

There are nice cover images for all three, but I'll stick to the Gabrielle Bell because I can't make a banner image from them because I lack those skills to do that while keep them color images. The Neyestani is super-interesting; he's the Iranian cartoonist with a hell of a story to tell, how a cartoon where a cockroach used a certain phrase that triggered riots and imprisonment. Sam Alden of course is the young cartoonist for whom this will be an important early book, and the course of Gabrielle Bell's previous book with Uncivilized seemed to indicate a very harmonious publishing partnership -- It was a really good book too, deservedly lauded.

Anyway: good books, good publisher, potentially super-strong season. I hope you'll spend some time reading about what's to come with that line.
 
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Go, Look: The Reaper

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This Tweet From Cameron Stewart Struck Me As Worth Posting



The further interesting thing about this is that the Internet provides only curious, limited ways to discuss what Stewart tweeted -- most likely as some sort of argument to be defeated through counter-example and insinuation, but also by others as a confirmation of an expected circumstance, reposted with a "what are you going to do" world-weary look on one's face. Something potentially interesting just a few steps further down the line from that non-discussion is that many of the people who looked at this will conceive of themselves as having paid for that by the act of spending the time to look at it. It's too bad there's not a place to figure this stuff out a bit; it's a bunch of intriguing notions all brought to a head.

What scares me about this kind of thing isn't that people should buy Stewart's work because they liked an on-line version they saw, or even that people should have to pay for something that Stewart put on-line to be seen, but that we're beginning to craft a model for consumption of art that is based even more significantly on factors other than that art's merit than was true with the model being replaced. This includes the artist being able to make an appeal on some level that they are a good person worth supporting. This is basically celebrity culture, straight-up, with an accommodation for new artists as a kind of generic "new artist celebrity," an assumed meritocracy argument for corporate-sponsored art, and an expectation that it's on the artist to make clear the terms of sale. Yikes.

I am all for artists being realistic about the options they have and figuring out a course of action that best benefits themselves, but I do worry by focusing on that end of things we allow a set of assumptions to become calcified in a way that won't serve effective art and fairly-compensated artists in the long run.

Then again, perhaps the lesson to be learned is a much more practical one.
 
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Go, Look: Thomas Wellmann

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This Isn't A Library: Notable Releases To The 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.

*****

NOV131121 HARTLEPOOL MONKEY HC (KNOCKABOUT) $20.99
This has to my memory been out for months and months over in the UK. I don't know if it's being re-offered here or just offered for the first time in North American comic book shops. There aren't a lot of stand-alone works this week. You might recall the story behind this one: that a monkey (or a small boy called a "powder monkey") dressed in French clothing washed up on the shore of English citizens that ended up hanging him. It's pretty easy to see how this could lead to all sorts of parable-style treatment, as well as being potentially visually effective just for the foregrounded elements. This might be all I'd buy today were I in a comics shop, I couldn't say.

imageDEC131162 PRINCE VALIANT HC VOL 08 1951-1952 $35.00
This right in the middle of prime time Hal Foster, where random sections of random portions of his Sunday pages can just slaughter you did for their old-timey illustrator values made real. This volume takes its title character away from the domestic comedy that bored me as a kid. I never get the same sense from Foster that I get from Crane that all of his action adventure work is staged in a way that's completely fair to the immediate world he's constructed, but damn this stuff is handsome. Foster may be the only cartoonists whose establishing shots are also the money shots.

NOV130057 FURIOUS #1 $3.99
NOV130670 THOR GOD OF THUNDER #18 $3.99
NOV130264 DEAD BOY DETECTIVES #2 (MR) $2.99
SEP130624 INVINCIBLE #108 [DIG] $2.99
NOV130520 SAGA #18 (MR) [DIG] $2.99
NOV130630 MIRACLEMAN #2 $4.99
NOV130900 ADVENTURE TIME 2014 SPECIAL #1 [DIG] $4.99
Weird week for serial genre comic books, and I'm not sure I'd buy any of them but I'd want to look at a bunch. Furious is the Mice Templar guys' new superhero series; I put that in here because I enjoy the fact that Dark Horse remains devoted to comic book series like this. The Thor means Esad Ribic art, and the ones I've those I've read have been attractive and fun. That and the Image books would be the ones I'd be most likely to purchase. I have been able to snap up most of those Ribic-drawn Thors for $1 or less, though, some months after, so maybe I'd wait for that. Dead Boy Detectives #2 was the only comic book in a stack of DC books I read recently where it wasn't sort of fundamentally difficult for me to parse the basic plot line. Invincible and Saga are Image heavy-hitters with loads of fans and it's clear the qualities to which they respond in each series; those are very assured comics. Miracleman I've been told since my initial "why, again?" post is pretty much unavailable in any other form now, so that makes more sense to me. I'm not certain why you might not wait for the collection, but I do like how enamored Marvel seems of this very strong superhero work. And I'm always looking for an entry point with Adventure Time.

NOV130732 WARLOCK BY JIM STARLIN TP COMPLETE COLLECTION $34.99
Jim Starlin's 1970s comics are the comics of the youth I was just too late to experience for the most part, so in that way they've become alluring to the nostalgist side of my personality. If Starlin were a musician his comics would be the albums my older brother played on his stereo with his friends once they kicked me out of the room. They tend to be pretty fun, although a lot of the same elements tend to repeat themselves: he's one of the few creators to carve out an idiosyncratic place of expression for himself at Marvel before the 1990s. This is the kind of book that's only made possible by an increased in interest in the Thanos character because of his role in a future Avengers movie, which I also assume means it becomes a necessary collection for the price on those original comics swelling past the 50 cents I likely paid for them 15 years ago or whatever.

FEB120951 ART OF RAMONA FRADON HC $29.99
Everyone should love and enjoy Ramona Fradon, and now that for most readers there is less of a rigid idea of what mainstream comics art should look like, I can't imagine that her work on the 1960s DC Comics isn't perfectly freaking accessible to fans of that material. I always thought her work was pretty fun. I don't really know how well Dynamite does with books like this, but I would very much want to hold it in my hands and take a look.

DEC131339 GANGSTA GN VOL 01 (MR) $12.99
None of the manga in later volumes interests me so if I were looking in that part of my store I'd likely try this visually appealing, lurid series.

SEP131249 LOST AT SEA HC $24.99
This is Bryan Lee O'Malley's first released volume some ten years ago and a little bit before the Scott Pilgrim series changed his career and to some extent the course of modern comics publishing. I remember liking it. Actually I remember when Scott Pilgrim came out thinking that Lost At Sea referred to a completely different book altogether, maybe just one I made up in my head, before going back and finding it and re-reading it. My other memory is that it's also very much a young person's early work -- there's a lot going on, and the ambition kind of runs about two steps ahead of the execution. Still, I don't know why any O'Malley fan would want to pick this up in anticipation of his forthcoming new work.

NOV131240 SNOWPIERCER HC VOL 01 THE ESCAPE (MR) $19.99
I try not to read what Joe McCulloch does with his preview column at TCJ until this one is up, but it always kills me how in tune he is with all of the European material certain publishers are grinding out -- not that they're treating the material with less than respect in most cases, but I just have to imagine the margins are really think on getting this material into the hands of North American that might be interested in it. This is one of the few I recognize as such an album despite lacking McCulloch's omnivorous appetite across comics traditions and cultures. It's also the subject of a forthcoming movie that sounds like one of those movies that everyone will complain there's a better versions of out there somewhere. It involves people living on a train as a microcosm for life on earth itself, which is the kind of fanciful conceit I tend to like. So I would definitely look at this.

DEC132116 TEZUKA BUDDHA SC 03 DEVADATTA $14.95
This is something I would assume you already have but that there's some sort of need in the marketplace that makes it a very good thing that this is now arriving in stores -- perhaps it was out of print or unavailable. So heads up if that's you.

SEP130429 JOHN ROMITA AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ARTIST ED HC VOL 02 PI
OCT130444 LOAC ESSENTIALS HC VOL 04 ALLEY OOP 1939 $24.99
OCT130430 SUPERMAN GOLDEN AGE SUNDAYS 1943-1946 HC $49.99
A pretty great little run of book all out at once showing off the strengths of IDW as a reprint house. The John Romita Amazing Spider-Manf is not only lovely but it's well-crafted comics, so any time you get a chance to revisit them that sounds like fun. This is material pretty late in his run. I'm a huge fan of Alley Oop, and I imagine it is suited for occasional chunks of reprint rather than a systemic program. I love to look at that strip because the characters exist in space like no one's done since, but the reading of it kind of discourages me over a long period of time. Still, I could stare it for weeks. The Superman newspaper strip material I'm barely familiar with, so there's a curiosity factor there. They did a nice job capitalizing on the success of that character while many companies were stumbling through just trying to figure out how to get semi-professional material on the stands on a regular basis.

*****

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: Leinil Francis Yu Mini-Gallery

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Go, Look: The Shadow Hero Prequel Strips

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introduction, strips themselves
 
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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* Sean Kleefeld reviews the Chicago stop for the Art Spiegelman-involved Wordless! project.

image* the Comics Alternative guys interview Isabel Greenberg.

* not comics: that's a nice-looking Laura Park t-shirt.

* love to be a fly on the wall for the comics-intensive discussions shared by those Great Men Of Pittsburgh, Tom Scioli and Ed Piskor.

* Mimi Pond's Over Easy is imminent. Speaking of imminent books, whoa, this Glenn Bray book.

* Bob Temuka writes about the Mignola-verse books, taking as his starting point a call by Mike Sterling to reboot the line. I would actually like to see some solution other than rebooting, mostly because I hope there is a solution other than rebooting. Because if there isn't, and this really the way that market works with no hope of it ever working another way, that is a weird fucking market.

* Marc Arsenault says he's unable to finish writing the PR for the opening of his brick and mortar WowCool/Alternative Comics store, but they're open and adding titles.

* I like how this series of David Collier pictures ends right before he could end up in a lot of trouble. It's like actually hanging out with Collier.

* $26K sounds about right for a Peanuts daily with Snoopy in it. It sounds on the higher end of about right, but it still sounds about right.

* Rob Clough on Weekend Alone.

* finally, what a pretty, early cover by Robert Crumb.
 
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Happy 35th Birthday, Sascha Hommer!

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Happy 42nd Birthday, Brian Wood!

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Happy 56th Birthday, Jeph Loeb!

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Happy 38th Birthday, Ryan Kelly!

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January 28, 2014


Missed It: The Stanley Kaye Superman Painting Mystery

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Festivals Extra: Southwestern Ontario Festival Announced, Named After Merle "Ting" Tingley

imageIf you read this site on a regular basis, first of all thank you. Second, though, you're probably familiar with the idea that with festivals and convention so generally successful we are bound to see more of them, and because not every community can boast a TCAF we're also likely to see smaller shows run on various permutations of the festival model. In that vein, the ARTS Project in London, Ontario will host a festival in their physical space from April 22 to May 3 of this year, focusing on programming but also featuring a pop-up shop -- think about some of the smaller European festivals or something like Seattle Short Run but with an even more focused distinction between the commercial and programming sides.

The show is named after long-time regional editorial cartoonist of note Merle Tingley, who went by -- and maybe still goes by -- "Ting."

The featured artists will be:

* Marc Bell
* Scott Chantler
* Aaron Costain
* Willow Dawson
* Jessica Desparois
* Antony Hare
* Jesse Jacobs
* Mark Laliberte
* Jeff Lemire
* Gabrielle Norwicki
* David Poolman
* Jay Stephens
* Diana Tamblyn
* Merle Tingley (Ting)

Koyama Press will have a "special spotlight" in the pop-up shop.

Update: An earlier version of this article killed Mr. Tingley.
 
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Go, Look: Olle Forsslof

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Bunded Extra: Joe Casey And An All-Star Team Of Artists To Work On Captain Victory For Dynamite

imageFor some reason I totally missed out on news that the writer Joe Casey will be working with a bunch of different artists on the Jack Kirby Captain Victory concept in the form of a series for Dynamite. An e-mail I just tracked down from Casey brought it to my attention. Sorry, guys. The series will start this summer, and the artists listed are Farel Dalrymple, Ulises Farinas, Michel Fiffe, Nathan Fox, Jim Mahfood, Benajmin Marr, Jim Rugg and Connor Willumsen -- a fine line-up of artists that work on the outer edges of mainstream comics expression.

This will be the second series from Nick Barrucci's company -- they did on in 2011-2012 featuring a number of artists working with the writer Sterling Gates. This one would seem to have a more significant creative pedigree coming into the work: Casey's done good work with Kirby concepts and Kirby-like concepts at various points in his career, and all of those artists have made intriguing work and most are kind of open, enthusiastic fans of Kirby. The Captain Victory material was originally published by Pacific Comics -- Topps had the license for for several years and did some re-publishing, as I recall. While it may be best known in comics history for the fact that Jack Kirby's name being affiliated with one of the smaller publishers was one way that New York establishment publishing woke up to the fact that these might be companies to which they should pay attention, that material like of Kirby's work is filled with fun, workable concepts that would seem to have a lot of life in them for other creators.
 
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Go, Look: Sub-Mariner #35

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Bundled, Tossed, Untied And Stacked: Publishing News

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By Tom Spurgeon

* it was a good week for cover reveals and first art examples seen from a variety of alt-comics projects. Ryan Sands of Youth In Decline claims that the Thickness collection will be out for TCAF sporting the above Michael DeForge cover, the content from the first three issues of the anthology, various pin-ups and new work from True Chubbo, DeForge, Lamar Abrams, Jonny Negron, and Andy Burkholder. The second image above is from this post at Drawn and Quarterly and John Porcellino's Fall 2014 work Hospital Suite. The third image above is from Esther Pearl Watson and was released by Mike Dowers in a friends-only post, so it's probably cheating to present it here (and it's blown up a bit) but I liked it; it's what the cover to his second collection of mini-comics will look like. That first one was awfully cool; I haven't yet processed all of it. The last of those four images is a final cover for Mike Dawson's next work, out in about 8-10 weeks from Secret Acres.

image* if there is any better news just in general for comics fans that appreciate the underground generation (1965-1980, roughly) and the portion of the first alt-comics generation (1981-1995) that worked very similar territory than a new Mineshaft, I"m not sure what that could be. What a marvel that one has made it to 30 issues, and I'm jealous of people far in the future pulling that one out of the bins at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum and enjoying the organic way it presents that material.

* speaking of the Arch City, Ken Eppstein of the Columbus-based small press publisher Nix Comics writes about his company's future plans, including a free local tabloid. I have no idea what the economics are for a free tabloid, how hard it is to rope in advertisers and keep them, but providing comics as a stand-alone or as a section of an established alt-weekly always seemed to me an opportunity for a lot of publishers to become more significant members of their local communities. We forget sometimes that comics publishing in those terms is less than a generation old, really. I hope they find a way for that to work.

* news over at the Richard Thompson blog that the complete publication of Cul De Sac is imminent is only the second best news Richard Thompson shared recently, as it looks like he'll be going home after a significant amount of time in physical therapy after late 2013 surgery. I'm greatly looking forward to having all of that work in one place, and I've liked some of the bigger books that Andrews McMeel has done in recent years. That was a fine, fine comic, and the best of the comic strips since Calvin & Hobbes, I think.

* Julia Wertz provides more clues about this Fall's Fart Party Omnibus.

* I'm not sure I all the way knew about new Lane Milburn, but all right. That strikes me as reasonably significant lead time for that publisher working with a younger cartoonist, which I suppose is nice to see in terms of the promotional possibilities.

* I am a great fan of the word "pitiful" because a close friend of mine uses it hilariously in casual conversation, so I'm all for it being in the title of a new comic, The Pitiful Human-Lizard. I'd like to figure out at some point what social media tools people are using to what effect. I suspect with comics people in general, you've had people over the 6-12 months just settle into the social medial tools they prefer rather than those that might maximize their presence or help to spread the word about their projects.

* finally, First Second Books announced two new works last week in partnership with a pair of sites. Hero Complex had a cover and a profile of The Wrenchies from Farel Dalrymple. School Library Journal announced The Straford Zoo, one I'm not sure I'd heard about even in rumor. Nice high-concept, though.

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Not Comics: Boris Artzybasheff Draws Machines

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Your 2013 Diamond Gem Awards Winners

imageDiamond Comic Distributors, Inc. has named its Gem Awards winners for the 2013 iteration of their awards, as caught by Kevin Melrose over at Robot 6.

I would suppose one useful way to read these is according to the way they're conducted. So take note of the categories as representative of how Diamond looks at the various services they offer, and process the winners as those in that category that have made an perceptible impact on the voting base -- direct market retailers. The winners are:

2013 Comic Book Publisher of the Year -- Over 4%
* Image Comics

2013 Comic Book Publisher of the Year -- Under 4%
* BOOM! Studios

2013 Top Dollar Comic Book Publisher of the Year
* Marvel Comics

2013 Comic Book of the Year -- Under $3
* Afterlife with Archie #1 (Archie Comics)

2013 Comic Book of the Year -- Over $3
* Superior Spider-Man #1 NOW! (Marvel Comics)

2013 Top Dollar Comic of the Year
* Superman Unchained #1

2013 Licensed Comic of the Year
* The Star Wars: Lucas Draft #1 (Dark Horse)

2013 Magazine of the Year
* Batman Automobilia Figure Collectors Magazine (Eaglemoss)

2013 Backlist Publisher of the Year
* DC Entertainment

2013 Original GN of the Year
* Hellboy: Midnight Circus HC (Dark Horse)

2013 Reprint TP or HC of the Year
* Batman: Death of the Family Vol. 3 HC (DC Entertainment)

2013 Licensed TP or HC of the Year
* My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Vol. 1 TP (IDW Publishing)

2013 Manga TP of the Year
* Lone Wolf & Cub Omnibus Vol. 1 TP (Dark Horse)

2013 Manga Publisher of the Year
* VIZ Media

2013 Anthology of the Year
* Dark Horse Presents (Dark Horse)

image2013 Indie GN of the Year
* March: Book One TP (Top Shelf Productions)

2013 Trade Book of the Year
* Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia HC (Dark Horse)

2013 Best Free Comic Book Day Book
* FCBD 2013 The Walking Dead Special (Image Comics)

2013 Best All-Ages Series
* Adventure Time (BOOM! Studios)

2013 Best New Comic Book Series
* East of West (Image Comics)

2013 Game Manufacturer of the Year
* Wizkids/NECA

2013 Game Product of the Year
* The Walking Dead: Monopoly PX (USAopoly)

2013 Toy Manufacturer of the Year
* DC Collectibles

2013 Toy Product of the Year
* DC Comics Super Villains: The Joker Action Figure (DC Collectibles)

2013 Toy Line of the Year
* POP! Vinyl Figures (Funko)

2013 Collectible Statue of the Year
* DC Comics Bombshells: Harley Quinn Statue (DC Collectibles)

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Go, Look: History Of The DC Universe Poster

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Go, Read: A Nice 24-Hour Comics Guide From 2013

Dan Berry had a guide to making 24-hour comics up at the Drawing Words And Writing Pictures site last year here that I've seen several folks reference over the last couple of days. Making those kinds of comics can be a great exercise in terms of figuring out your own creative process, although the context for them has completely changed sine the 1990s when people had a hard time conceiving of projects that didn't take forever to do. At any rate, this all sounds like good advice to me. I've done quick-creation projects before, although never a 24-hour comic. Those kinds of projects have become a part of the Angouleme Festival, and I'm surprised that more North American shows haven't worked some sort of on-site creation programming into their plans -- although I bet it would be difficult to convince folks to participate.
 
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Go, Look: DC Comics Covers Using Wash Technique

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Missed It: Your 2014 Oregon Book Award Graphic Literature Finalists

The Oregon Book Awards has announced its various finalists lists for 2014. There is a Pacific Northwest College Of Art Graphic Literature Award, and the finalists are:

* Barry Deustch, Portland, for Hereville: How Mirka Met A Meteorite (Abrams)
* Steve Duin And Shannon Wheeler, both of Portland, for Oil And Water (Fantagraphics)
* Natalie Nourigat, Portland, for Between Gears (Image)
* Joe Sacco, Portland, for Journalism (Metropolitan)
* Craig Thompson, Portland, for Habibi (Pantheon)

I'm not really sure how these are selected. It's worth noting that Habibi was a Fall 2011 book, which indicates there's either a broad amount of time covered or that these awards are going to working authors rather than recent works and these are just the works listed. At any rate, they're all admirable works and very much of that place, so good luck to each one.

noticed at the Fantagraphics blog
 
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Go, Read: Chris Mautner's Six Over-Looked Books From 2013

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Go, Look: Goblin Week Search Via Twitter

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* Jeet Heer accuses the new documentary on Herblock of over-praising the cartoonist.

image* the Service Industry work of T. Edward Bak profiled at Sparkplug.

* Michael Bround examines a specific scene in the second Stumptown series.

* Rob Clough on Hagelbarger And The Nightmare Goat. D. Harlan Wilson on Magic Words. Polka on Eye Of The Majestic Creature. Cory Doctorow on Bad For You.

* the writer Kelly Sue DeConnick takes on the question as to why so many comics-makers have ended up in Portland, and pretty much nails the reasons why so many comics-makers live in Portland: they can live anywhere, Portland is a place a lot of people want to live, it's cheaper than some other awesome places to live, and the people there are nice. This reminds me once again I need to update the local scenes post.

* not exactly comics: someone is compiling a resource of interviews with 'zine-makers. That seems like a good thing to do.

* Johanna Draper Carlson made a best of 2013 list and this is here to remind me to put it in the Collective Memory in addition to having you go read it.

* I keep wanting to run this profile of Eddie Campbell's Alec stories, but I keep forgetting. That's the easiest-to-buy-discounted great comic of the 20th Century, right there.

* Chris Mautner talks to Kevin Scalzo. Andrea Tsurumi talks to Connie Sun. Alex Fitch talks to the aforementioned Kelly Sue DeConnick. Tim O'Shea talks to Jimmie Robinson.

* Paul Smith draws Wolverine.

* finally, this is a nice on-line publication of that great Robert Crumb print.
 
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Happy 62nd Birthday, Hunt Emerson!

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Happy 41st Birthday, Jason Aaron!

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Happy 45th Birthday, Tony Harris!

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Happy 63rd Birthday, Todd Klein!

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January 27, 2014


Morrie Turner, RIP

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All Eyes Turn To Angouleme

imageThis week is the Festival International De La Bande Dessinee in Angouleme, France, one of the biggest comics shows in the world and certainly the most important for the vital French-language comics market. It will be an awesome show for many, many people barring some sort of horrible circumstance. There will be a huge North American contingent there, because that is something that show offers these days. The winner of the festival's Grand Prix is always of interest because it's one of the cooler awards. Multiple reasons: you get to be involved with the next show, which is the best award perk; it's a big national and regional-European deal; like all the best awards it's hard to tell exactly how the votes work, which is extra-great in that they've recently traded old-men-in-a-room mystery for sprawling-process mystery; because it's a limited award it almost always goes to someone worthy or at least interesting.

I am slightly worried as a comics fan that this year's finalists -- apparently Alan Moore, Bill Watterson and Katsuhiro Otomo -- portend some less than ideally awesome days to come at least in terms of how I like to look at that award. While each one of those comics-makers serving as finalists could win the award five times as far as I'm concerned, they all come from a generally populist mindset regarding that in the past has only been one aspect of what the Grand Prix winners have been. If opening up the voting means the awards skew younger and to more popular creators because the people that might be expected to lean that way are doing the voting now, what I would miss the most is the subset of winners that come out of a respected tradition of French-language cartooning, comics-makers with a ton of great work to their credit but that don't necessarily have a huge audience, only a significant one. There are creators that looked like future Grand Prix winners even just a couple of years ago that you now have to think won't stand much of a chance to win one because the voting is different. So I think that would be too bad. They are so freaking overdue for a manga-maker as a straight-up grand prix winner that I hope Otomo wins, although again, I like nearly all of the comics made by all three comics-makers. Also, I have never picked the winner ever in Angouleme anything.

With every festival comes drama, and there's always drama at Angouleme even when the Grand Prix isn't in question. There are industry issues that will best be encountered on the ground -- I bet just the presence of so many North Americans is going to be its own thing this year -- and there are a ton of more general political/cutlural issues that always bubble to the surface like so many people striding forward on a fashion-show platform. Maybe the best way to access those issues is this rambling open letter from ActuaBD.com's Didier Pasamonik, who has certainly had his own moments of drama in years past regarding things like press passes and various feuds with key alt-comics players. My French is pretty lousy, and I haven't taken the time to translate that sucker yet, but it's always fascinating to read the dance of art and commerce as played out on such a stage. The thing that people find alarming seems to be bottom line a loss of attendance and interest and, one assumes, cash; the solutions, however seem to be very vague calls for increased government interest and committees being formed. It's worth noting that there's a time when all shows -- and this will happen for the North American ones, or at least many of them -- cycle down either temporarily or permanently or otherwise perform in a way that doesn't meet whatever expectations people have for them, fairly or unfairly. I think you're always better off accepting rather than fighting it, but I'm not French.

Anyway, I hope everyone that's going travels safely. If you see Paul Karasik, please encourage him to file promptly.
 
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Go, Look: The Strength Of Man

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March Book One And Relish Among ALA's Announced Youth Media Award Winners Today

According to this lengthy press release, the American Library Association has announced its 2014 Youth Media Award winners. This is the announcement that includes the Newberry Award. It looks from first glance like there are two comics-related winners (I'll change this and deny I ever wrote the original if it turns out I'm wrong). March: Book One by John Lewis, Nate Powell and Andrew Aydin from Top Shelf was named a King Author Honor book, designed to bring attention to laudable books for teens and young adults involving a black author. Relish by Lucy Knisley and published by First Second was one of ten Alex Award winners, which is an honor that goes to books for adults that appeal to teens.

There are additionally two winners with significant ties to comics. Chip Kidd's book from Workman Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design was a finalist for YALSA non-fiction award. Kidd is an important editor and designer generally, but also within comics on a wide range of material. Brian Selznick will deliver the May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award. His The Invention Of Hugo Cabret was a massive work in the comics-hybrid category, those works that include elements of comics or outright comics storytelling in a wider context of other techniques and narrative strategies.

Congratulations to all the winners, many of whom today enjoy a significant career moment.
 
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OTBP: Hacienda

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Go, Read: The Beat On Powerpuff Girls Cover Morality Face-Off

Heidi MacDonald at The Beat covers a bit of the back-and-forth fallout from a recent decision by a company to pull a kids comic cover after complaints by a retailer. It should come as no surprise given the age of the Internet we seem to be slipping into that because the original protest was afforded a bit of oomph by criticizing the pin-up qualities of the cover as not just inappropriate for its intended market but inappropriate, period, that those who worked on the cover, primarily the artist, would push back with a moral argument of their own: from what I can understand reading Heidi's piece that the retailer in question got to grandstand a bit but isn't of high moral character having been photographed at a post-convention strip club evening.

Well.

I thought the more interesting story here was that apparently the cover was asked for by the company licensing the property rather than initially commissioned by the comics people. This is something that from what I understand happens a bit more in the other direction (licensing partners spiking solicited work) than the way it happened here, but it's interesting to note a unique pressure of those kinds of comics-making relationships. It never occurred to me at all that some sort of negative spin would be directed at the artist -- who was just doing their job -- or that there would be an implied moral component to this, or that the other side of things would hit back by taking the moral high ground. I don't really put a lot of stock in those arguments, either side, but I guess if people want to make them they will be heard.

It's going to be a fascinating year in comics. There's something similar going on in culture in general. I was reading some sports sites the other day and one of the "stories" was simply details on what the soccer player Diego Maradona said about the soccer player Pele. It wasn't laudatory. This makes no sense from a news story standpoint -- there's nothing at stake here, there's not even an underlying story illuminated -- until you realize that one famous old guy dissing another famous old guy is the kind of "you and him fight" thing that drives interest in talk radio segments. So I wonder if we're not at a point in comics where stories are starting to be shaped a bit by the possibilities of having certain kinds of rolling, rambling discussions on the Internet, or at least that those discussions are kind of extending these stories in an odd way, like an annoying plot line on a television soap opera that has to be discussed furtively in hallways before the next plot line hits.

I don't want to go all the way back to the days -- okay, they're basically still with us -- where bottom-line economics are the only moral currency and everything is justified in terms of people acting however the hell they want if they can show that they're out to get theirs. So in a very real way I welcome the impetus here. But I think there's significant danger in making any sort of story that gains traction into a giant robot fight of situational ethics and perceived moral character. I'm not a gossip -- I wish I could be, I'm just not good at it, people don't bring me stuff. But even just being around 20 years kind of standing off in the corner not even dating anyone I can sit here this morning and think of the hundreds of people I know in comics and I'm betting two of them -- maybe three -- have failed to do something I could write down on a piece of paper if given a few minutes that then tweaked just a tiny bit or in many cases not at all could be used to beat the shit out of them in Internet Court, that haven't done something that could be presented to people in a way where they'd all go, "Okay that person is not my favorite person." Myself included.

So in this case I think it was a dumb cover, the pushback implied stuff it didn't need to, the pushback against that ditto, and licensing companies should always trust their comics people to know their markets. Everyone can go back to what they were doing originally, none of which was wrong, except perhaps the strategic foresight of that company rep.
 
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Go, Look: Written In The Bones

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Comics By Request: People, Projects In Need Of Funding

imageBy Tom Spurgeon

* the Stan Sakai fundraising continues, and should for a while. You can donate directly and you can donate through the donation of art to be sold off in an art auction. I was told some weeks ago that $20K+ had been raised in the first burst of donations. That's an amazing amount but from what little I know about the shortcomings in my own health insurance coverage vis-a-vis home care, that money can and likely will be spent very quickly. So I hope you'll consider a donation. I've had two people this last week volunteer without prompting to take payment for services in the form of a donation to the Sakais, which is a wonderful thing to do. I hope that the Sakais continue to be supported and we let the example of one of our very best cartoonists allow for all sorts of questions to be confronted.

* similarly, over $25,000 has now been raised for Clydene Nee, best known in comics circles for her work as a longtime Comic-Con volunteer. I hope that if you know her or are touched by her story you'll consider a donation.

* here's a Mike Kunkel crowd-funder in its last few days -- I hadn't noticed it until Ross Richie brought it to my attention via a random social media interaction.

* one of the big go looks of last week and something that seemed to drive a flurry of social-media interest in its first few hours, Jackie Estrada's comics-culture photos project seems to be percolating right along -- I think of those things being vulnerable until about the halfway point, so I'll continue to run updates here until at least that time. I'd like to see that book.

* I'm intrigued by the idea of small press comics shows getting their start via crowd-funding, and excited by the possibility of Indianapolis -- a not-bad comics town once up on a time -- getting one going.

* the writer Sean Kleefeld recommended to me this already-successful project, which has several days to go before it runs out of time.

* finally, Dean Trippe's Something Terrible crowd-funder is heading into its last days, successful as all get out but still there for you to participate if you'd like.
 
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If I Were In Toronto, I'd Go To This

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Missed It: Beatles Imagery From The Comics

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* this is a fun desert island comics article.

image* I keep forgetting to link to this game-over comic strip and surrounding mini-essay about the contributions of Bob Kane's original primary creative partner, Bill Finger.

* Oliver Sava writes in glowing terms about a couple of those Spider-Man comics where it's Doc Ock's brain in Spider-Man's body. The success of that storyline is sort of interesting to me because I imagine why it works is because of the strong storytelling contrasts the move makes possible, but my hunch is that a big reason fans gave that storyline a chance was less about its execution and more the old "this comic is doing something wrong/I must keep an eye on this comic" ploy.

* Larry Vossler on Life Zone and Sammy The Mouse. Joe Gordon on March Book One. Lauren Davis on Shadoweyes.

* Alan Davis drew Batman, Joker, Penguin. Mike Weiringo drew the original X-Men. Jaime Hernandez drew a lady on the subway. Jillian Tamaki drew a favorite movie scene from my youth. Jim Lee drew Iron Fist.

* I don't like linking to what I suspected are copyrighted stories, but the Gray Morrow art here is really, really handsome.

* MBS talks to Kevin Budnik.

* finally, I like all of the nouns in this story, most of all "Jack" and "Davis."
 
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Happy 49th Birthday, Sean Phillips!

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Happy 62nd Birthday, Steve Leialoha!

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Happy 60th Birthday, Peter Laird!

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Happy 57th Birthday, Frank Miller!

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Happy 52nd Birthday, Richard Starkings!

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Happy 55th Birthday, Stefan Petrucha!

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Happy 41st Birthday, Chris Sotomayor!

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January 26, 2014


CR Sunday Interview: Rich Tommaso

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*****

imageOne news story that completely escaped me in 2013 is that the longtime indy/alt cartoonist Rich Tommaso began actively self-publishing. He's put out four books so far, under the Recoil imprint: Don't Look Back!, Vikings' End #1, Yearling: Masked Detective and Dry County #1. These are all comic books, but small-run self-published rather than commercially printed: very high-end mini-comics, think Copra or the kind of books you see come out from young cartoonists at SPX or CAB rather than the world inhabited by Uncanny Avengers and The Walking Dead. Don't Look Back and Vikings' End are oversized for minis, a little taller than the old Golden Age comic book size; Dry County and Yearling are more typically mini-comics sized of the sheet-of-typing-paper-folded over size. I think they're pretty sharply designed and executed. Moreover, the work in them is fun. Tommaso has a pretty solid pedigree in terms of being a horror (Don't Look Back) and crime (Dry County) comics maker, but those comics are no more enjoyable than the works in genre I've never seen the Georgia-based cartoonist work: fantasy-adventure (Vikings' End) and superheroes (Yearling).

It is my hope that those of you working in retail might contact Rich Tommaso through that first site link regarding your carrying his books, if that sounds like something in which you'd be interested.

All of this material has appeared on the Internet in some form or another, at least in part, in much the same way that serialization of pages drove the completion of his The Cavalier Mister Thompson: A Sam Hill Novel, the first in a planned series of books. That they are purposely comic books rather than more book-length work Tommaso talks about in the discussion below. Like all middle-aged men, we began our conversation by talking about duck comics. -- Tom Spurgeon

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TOM SPURGEON: This week was Colorist Appreciation Day. Were you appreciated?

RICH TOMMASO: What? No, I didn't get any appreciation. Not through e-mails or twitter or anything like that.

SPURGEON: I am sorry to hear that. [laughter] The reason I ask is because the last time we spoke was right when you had started working as a colorist on the Disney duck comics being re-released by Fantagraphics. Is that a still a gig for you?

TOMMASO: I amstill doing those. I think I'm on volume seven now. That's the one I'm finishing up. Yeah, still doing that.

SPURGEON: Is it just the duck books for you? I honestly can't recall if they have you doing Mickey or anything else, or even if that works requires a colorist. I know you're not doing Peanuts for them.

TOMMASO: I guess they are doing some Mickey stuff. I did do a few of those. Over a year ago they asked me to do a few -- they might just have a different person doing them.

imageSPURGEON: I'm always fascinated by people when they get to do the same gig in comics for a while. Has it become an easier job?

TOMMASO: Yeah, it is much easier. The first few months of it was rough because we were trying to figure out all the colors and how to get a vibrant yellow-red-blue but without it being too garish. That's when we came up with using pantones for that. At this point I know what I'm getting into every day. There's much less communication than there was in the beginning, much less going back and forth about the color.

SPURGEON: I have to imagine there was pushback -- I think we talked before the work had been widely seen, although maybe I have that wrong. I have to assume there were complaints, with the exacting nature of the fan base for those Barks comics. I wondered if any of the criticisms you heard kind of worked their way back into the coloring itself. Or was that just a process of weathering the pushback you received and keep on how you were doing it?

TOMMASO: I feel bad because I found out that Kim [Thompson] fielded a lot of those criticisms. [laughter] He went to the message boards and engaged with people quite extensively. Most people love how they look -- that's the reaction I get. I think the only thing... well, there were two things. One was the yellow used in the first book; people found it too loud. So that's when Kim chose a different pantone for that color but also came up with the idea of printing a white pantone over it so to quiet that color down a little bit. So we did that, and I kind of slowed down on being too literal with the color choices. There was a thing, a Santa Claus strip where Santa's beard had all of this crazy, blue streaks of shading going throughout it. I was being too literal in following that. Now if I see something, if I see some shading in something -- it doesn't happen very often, but sometimes the shading will be a mess -- I just do a basic reinterpretation of it. I'll usually shade it very simply rather than going crazy with it. That's something where just doing it every day and following color guides can mess you up. If you're following too closely.

SPURGEON: It's rare to stumble on a subject about Kim Thompson that hasn't been discussed a lot in the months following his death. What did you think of him as a color guy? Did you find his suggestions valuable? Did he have a good eye? Was he more about the historical presentation of those comics? What his color sense like?

TOMMASO: He did have a good eye for it, and also of course an historical sense of what those comics should look like. But him being so knowledgeable about printing, and how all of that side of things works, his figuring out the pantones as a solution to the cmyk mixture was really, really good idea. All of his suggestions made sense. He kind of took that project over. At first I was talking to the art directors over there and Gary was editing the book. It moved over to Kim and at that point the fact the books look so nice is really down to Kim. He understood so much about the printing process and how to get what he wanted.

SPURGEON: Not a lot of your work has been colored. Have you been learning things through this process -- perhaps through Kim -- that you can apply to comics work, or future projects?

TOMMASO: I don't really know. I'm not sure exactly what some of those solutions were! [laughter] The books look really nice. [laughs] I know a little bit that I was able to apply to Sam Hill, and learned a lot myself from talking to printers directly on that one. Getting the colors you want -- and depending on the paper you're printing on what that color will look like. A matte surface vs. a smooth surface, all of that. I'd never colored four-color before. Those old comics really informed me about a lot of colors that I never thought would work together. So when I color my comics, the few that are four-color, it's helpful in terms of figuring out what colors work together. Because I never really did that before. Any time I worked with color it was in terms of shading -- thinking of it that way, which is very different than thinking about different colors working together on a page. Looking at those comics intensely has really informed things like the Sam Hill book and the Yearling comic I do. It really helps to inform those. I love the way -- for the most part -- those comics are colored.

SPURGEON: It strikes me when I read old comics how frequently there's a jarring choice on the page and I like trying to figure out if that's a bold choice or just a technical/production error.

TOMMASO: There are times when I see things and think, "Now that's an odd color for that." At this point I just think of a color that might complement that background a bit better.

SPURGEON: You just described a very practical way of building a skill set. You have these jobs in front of you, you apply what skills you have to completing them and learn new ones along the way. Do you think in terms of building comics-making skills outside of just meeting the challenges of the next gig? Do you work on skills that you don't necessarily use right away? Do you ever even look at other comics and think, "I'd like to be able to do that someday?"

TOMMASO: I think it project by project. At this point I'm working on so many things at once I feel like I'm picking up a lot. I knew I always wanted to do four-color, but at this point there's so many ways it's attacked, all these cartoonists like Chris Ware and Charles Burns are using color as part of the writing of the story. I've always put that off, to have an experience with it. Then I was having this experience of coloring every day, and talking to someone way more knowledgeable than I am about color -- Kim, on the phone, month after month. That's a good training ground, even if you're not aware of it at first. "Okay, this is how it's done. I can do this at some point." I think I know how I would attack this if I ever did something in four-color.

I kind of have to be thrown into experience. With Satchel Paige [2007's Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow], I learned that having a job... if I have a job and I'm being paid to do it, I work a lot better. I feel there's an obligation to do that work, and I'm not the typical artist where if I'm given money then the money is suddenly gone and no work has been done on the project. I feel a tremendous responsibility to do the work, and do it right. It becomes a job. With Satchel Paige, because I had been paid for it and certain things were expected of it -- it had to be historically accurate -- I learned that I could do it. It became possible for me to do something that was set way in the past. I learned how to look up all of this reference, and to find historical references in books. It's something I always wanted to do. But it's hard to find the motivation to do these things that require a lot of time and skill and patience when you have other jobs to do and other responsibilities and thus a limited amount of time to give comics work. Whenever I'm thrown into a situation where it's a paying gig and there's a deadline, I quickly pick up these skills. I start learning about things I always wanted to do. It's like a crash course. I take it more seriously because people are depending on me to do this work. It's mostly in situations like that where I learn new skills. [laughs]

SPURGEON: You have to be far enough way to have some perspective on the first Sam Hill book. Do you have a grasp on how that went by now? Have you cycled away from that.

TOMMASO: Yes. [laughs]

SPURGEON: What did you come up out of there with? What was the lesson there?

TOMMASO: One big thing is that in a lot of ways Cavalier Mr. Thompson led to what I'm doing now, these 24-page comics. Doing something in a whole chunk like that, I was happy with the result of the book. I did a ton of reference but you don't really see it in that book. My main goal was to do a work of fiction. So all of the reference, all of the research I read to do that book, the majority doesn't show up because it's mostly a fictional tale.

The big question was... I don't think I'm good at doing a whole book in a big chunk like that. As I'm doing these stories now, a lot of these comics worked out because right at the 24-page or 32-page points, it seemed like a great place to close an issue where another chapter could begin after that. They just seemed to really work that way. It seems like it's easier for me to write a story that way. It's easier for me to continue enjoying working on it. Around page 70 or 80 of working on The Cavalier Mr. Thompson, I just got really burnt out on it. It was hard for me to keep going. That last year of working on it I did much less work than the first year of working on it. I think taking breaks from it, and wrapping up an episode or a chunk of story as an issue and putting that out... you have perspective when you see it printed. It gives you and idea where you go next with a story. Working on a story with a beginning and a middle and end, something over 100 pages, it's really hard for me to work that way. The book didn't really read well at all until I looked it over and realized that two chapters were completely misplaced. There was a chapter where the Thompson character, this grifter, comes into the town and it's many chapters into the book. I realized that doing that put... he's the thing that changes the entire town forever, whether people realize it or not. The reader realizes it. So the character needs to come into the story much earlier. It's not a 400 page book. It's not that long of a story.

I think I have more control over a story when I'm writing these pieces in 24-page segments. I think I'll be able to work more efficiently from now on. With the books I'm doing it's exciting to start a new chapter, and to know you're opening up the second issue of a comic book at the same time. It's made me more excited to work on these things, and I'm getting work done much more efficiently than when I was just working on one thing. Especially one thing that was very long where I felt I had to do it in one big chunk like that.

SPURGEON: Usually when I talk to cartoonists about this, it's personal preference and pleasure. They miss being able to work serially because they like the rewards of having a book out. It sounds like you're talking about...

TOMMASO: That is something I enjoy. [laughter]

SPURGEON: Well, sure. And those pleasures are no longer denied you. But it sounds slightly more complex than that. It sounds like there's something about the way you work that is naturally attuned to specific rhythms of serial comics-making, and that you don't want to waste energy fighting against that. And it also sounds like it helps you in terms of orienting yourself towards the work entire.

TOMMASO: Yeah. It may go back to an early understanding of that's how comics were supposed to work. Everything I read in the late 1970s and 1980s worked that way. I started writing and drawing comics when I was in the fifth grade. I did this comic called "Urban Assault Vehicle" [laughter] -- I think I was watching an Inspector Gadget, but I really liked Sergio Aragones' cartooning, so I was drawing like him. I did 12-13 issues of that thing. I was at a very young age when I became used to that being the way comics worked. That's how I understood the beats. Whenever I reached page 24, my comics always magically had an ending. A close to that story or that part of the story. I think it's more intuitive for me to work that way.

SPURGEON: It sounds like those are the rhythms you picked up. That's interesting. I'm not sure I've heard anyone put it like that before.

TOMMASO: A lot of younger cartoonists, they've been reading graphic novels for quite a while now. This newest generation, when I talk to younger cartoonists, they have no problem working on a big book like that. Right out of college they have a graphic novel ready to go in their head. They've been around long enough for them to understand how you do a book like that.

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SPURGEON: I want to talk in explicit terms about what you're doing with Recoil. You sent me four books. These are books collecting serials you did on-line at one point.

TOMMASO: I think they where... Yes, those are all books that were on-line at some point.

SPURGEON: Now that on-line serialization was a few years ago. Is this everything from the back then just coming to fruition as originally planned? Inferring from what you said earlier, I'm guessing that maybe the serial comic-book format aspect of it is what's new, not necessarily that these comics would end up in print. But are we on time? Is this when you originally thought you'd move into print?

TOMMASO: The idea was to release them as graphic novels. The first book I finished was Don't Look Back! and that was always a one-shot kind of story. It's like 8 1/2 Ghosts in that it's a story with a cute hook to it -- those stories are usually good for about 24 to 32 pages. But really the whole plan [laughs] of doing self-publishing and getting on the phone and calling all of these shops personally -- they really didn't respond to e-mail -- and doing all of this work myself, and working from my list of stores, basically this plan of doing this is that some of these comics were taking so long to do. Not having it be my job was proving difficult. I had lots of time besides coloring the Donald Duck stuff in my day, but I wasn't working. I was being really lazy. This whole self-publishing thing was partly to put a boot in my ass, and make me get to work. If I have all of these shops carrying this stuff, and I let everybody know that every couple of months I'll have another comic for them, then I have to do it. It will at least be more than I'm working right now. Left to my own devices, I can be really lazy about working on this stuff. At the same time, I'm always upset that none of these books are getting done. It was really just to get me to work five days a week on this stuff, to see these stories complete.

SPURGEON: You're saying that going to a smaller form is a change from the original plans of doing longer works, but it will also help you because you will put more work out working in short bursts. Is that a way to put it?

TOMMASO: Yeah. Every time I put out a book, people are talking about the comics, and I get feedback that way. It's not the same as having the comics on-line. It started that with the on-line stuff that I was getting some attention, but when I put out Don't Look Back!, a lot of people that I know visit my web site and have been visiting it for years, they commented on how much they enjoy the comic and that they thought it was really funny... their comments were like they had never read it. That was something I always wondered. I have problems reading stuff on-line myself. I like reading things in print more. It seemed like a lot of people that bought the work were the same way. They may have looked at the art on-line, but they hadn't read it. There's a much better reaction now that I have something in print for people to read.

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SPURGEON: You sent me work in two different formats, one larger and more in a traditional fold-over format. Why two different formats within what you're doing?

TOMMASO: That was just an aesthetic thing. I was thinking about self-publishing comics for the past couple of years. But the problems I kept thinking about were, well, I don't have that much money. They'd mostly have to be in black and white. So a big thing was how I can design these books to be attractive even though they're cheaply printed and maybe there's very little color even on the covers. That's why I spent so long trying to figure out designs for the books. The other things were the sizes. Like you were mentioning. With Don't Look Back! I was thinking it's very slick artwork. There's a lot of brush work in there, and I thought the small size would look strange. Dry County is more simply drawn, it's drawn with pens, a lot of pen and ink. It can take that shrinkage. It looks okay at that size. But I thought something with a brush, something with a slicker drawing would look better at the larger size. It's something that bugs me. Whenever I see nice, professional art in a mini, I'm always confused why I'm looking at this as a mini. I think it's because something simple and gestural can be at any size... If something is drawn a little rougher, it looks okay as a mini-comics, but something really slick... it looks strange to me why I'm looking at it as a mini. So just that larger size helped me to think of it as the size it would if it were published by an actual publisher. It would be that larger sized. The art looks better that way.

With the vikings, there are so many panels on the page it almost wouldn't read as a mini. There are sixteen or more panels. So I thought that would benefit from being a larger size, too.

SPURGEON: I think it's interesting you spoke of the comics at the larger size as the aberrations, whereas I was more confused why they all weren't that size. It sounds like cost, straight-up, then, that Yearling and Dry County are that size.

TOMMASO: Yeah, it's cost. I think those other books benefit from being that larger size but it is more costly. It's larger paper that has to be cut to size. It's also more work because I have to put those together by hand. Stapling can't be done the machine, so it would be triple the cost to pay to have those folded and stapled. So I do that myself to save myself a little bit. I couldn't afford to publish an oversized-format book every couple of months. I'd like to, but it'd cost just a little too much.

SPURGEON: Are these out there to the point you feel like you're benefiting from a feedback cycle yet? I know some of them have been out for a little while. What is the timetable on these? Can you be really explicit? Is it all available right now?

TOMMASO: All the books are out. Yeah. All the books are out. I put out Don't Look Back! and Dry County kind of close to each other. I think July and September I put both of those out. And then October I put out the vikings and then Yearling came out a couple of weeks ago. So at this point they should all be available in stores.

SPURGEON: Let me just run some basic questions at you like that, then. How many stores are you in? What's your penetration?

TOMMASO: I have about 30 stores, around the country.

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SPURGEON: Are you doing it all yourself or are you sub-distributing, either through or another catalog? Or even another store?

TOMMASO: Right now I'm doing it all myself. I have a listing of all the shops and I update that information. It's in my gmail. I keep a chart. The whole thing of making the books and shipping them out and keeping in contact, keeping up with the shops and making sure I'm getting paid -- most of the shops do a 50/50 pay out as opposed to consignment -- right now I'm doing that all myself. The busier I am the more I'm going to work on my comics, I've found out. Whereas when I was just coloring Donald Duck comics in the morning, when I had the whole day free to do whatever I want, it seems like I wasn't doing much work. Now that I've given myself so much more to do, it seems like five days a week I'm getting a page done of these comics. Before I wasn't working at all. I was really lazy.

SPURGEON: And I'll mention this up top, but you're also selling these individually on-line to people. You have a shop.

TOMMASO: On my web site there's a link called "comic shop" that goes to a big cartel account that I have where all the comics are available. I do maybe five percent of my sales of these comics through that.

SPURGEON: Not all of these are continuing features. You mention that Don't Look Back! was a one-off. But the other three will continue. Do you think that will be the general model?

TOMMASO: For the most part, yes. The vikings, I think, have one more issue. There's plenty of things I have that can take its place. I'm working on six different comics but I'm trying not to work on eight or ten. When that one is done with its second issue something new will replace that. Most likely it will be a continuing series.

SPURGEON: Last question in this series of short ones: are you actively looking for publishing partners? Are you hoping that someone might pick up these comics, beyond the fact that I'm sure you hope more shops and more people pick them up? Are you looking for homes for the graphic novel versions. Are these a business card for you? Do you hope to attract attention to yourself and these books that way? Or do you eventually plan on doing the books yourself as well?

TOMMASO: Right now the thing that's exciting is that books are getting into people's hands and I'm getting a lot of feedback. They're peppered around the country enough to have them in major cities. They're visible. I'm just going to give it a few years and see what happens. It's unlikely but I think it would be great if I could keep Recoil its own thing. Or that maybe I could partner with someone if the situation arises if the publisher was able to take on certain financial responsibilities, take on certain work responsibilities leaving me to work even more of my time on the pages themselves. But right now I'm going to do this grassroots thing to see where it goes.

Because of the feedback and the excitement the shops have over it -- it's great how many of the shops have really been into this, and that I've had a lot of re-orders, which years ago would have been unheard-of for mini-comics. It's kind of strange. Because so many people have stopped doing 24-page comics, maybe there's just that much less to order.

SPURGEON: Do you feel like you have fellow travelers? Did you feel an affinity for Michel Fiffe's self-published Copra when that got started? Are there other books you feel live in the same publishing area as the books you're making?

TOMMASO: It's interesting to see what's happening. I hope to keep seeing books like Copra out there. What's interesting to me now is that there are some comic shops printing comics now -- like with Box Brown and Big Planet. They've joined together and Big Planet is taking on more of the financial responsibilities of the Retrofit material. Things like that are really interesting to me. I don't know why that hadn't happened earlier in the history of comics -- why more stores haven't published comics that they'd like to see sold in their stores. It seems like to one way to move forward. At that point you're not even as worried as distribution -- if you're thinking of a chain of stores. With Retrofit and Oily, these are guys that are paying for the books, and working to have them distributed, and working on a lot of the comics for the line. It's a tremendous amount of work.

SPURGEON: I want to ask you about the comics themselves. Viking's End was the one that jumped out at me as something really different than the kind of work we've seen from you before. I wanted to ask you up front -- I'm not sure I've seen you work in such a sustained, stylized approach, and it certainly seems an interesting match for fantasy-adventure comics. Where the hell did this come from, Rich?

TOMMASO: [laughs] It came from me wanting to do something historical after Satchel Paige. I was reading a lot about the Roman Empire, and there's so much there. I thought it'd be interesting to do something there, and I've never done something historical on my own. I thought I should maybe start with something smaller. I was reading a book called The Last Apocalypse about the turn of the first millennium. There were a lot of stories about Scandinavia and what was going on. That led me to the work of Gwyne Jones, one of the foremost historians of Scandinavia. I was reading books on the folklore, Scandinavian folklore. It sounded so interesting to me. The visual idea came from the buying of books about vikings and their art and sculpture. Their sculpture for the most part was very simple and iconic. That seemed an interesting way to do a comic. Instead of doing representational art, I could do art as simple and direct as their own artifacts -- their ceramics and sculptures. It's such an old tale, their creation theory. That's how it came about.

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SPURGEON: And the very involved page structures? They're all over the place -- four, five, even six tiers, larger panels jutting out of all sorts of more complex grid work. The overall effect is very dense, very involved narrative-making. There's a lot of story per page as a result. Can you talk about that basic choice, to make these very dense pages?

TOMMASO: I guess what my thinking was that because the drawings were so simple more of them on a page would be interesting as a result. If I had done the book as a six-panels per page, not the reader so much but thinking of myself, I think my interest may have started to wane. The art is already simple; why not put more on the page, spend more time with the layouts, think of more interesting ways to make a page. Layouts could be filled with panels because the art was so simple.

SPURGEON: How did you go about figuring out each page, then? Because they're almost baroque, what with the number of panel and the variety of transitions on hand. How do you write each page? Are you breaking this down into beats and finding solutions that work? Does every certain kind of moment get a bigger panel?

TOMMASO: I think working on the sequential part of this one is as intuitive as my other comics. I basically start in the corner of the page and if it's something that feels like it needs a wider space or a taller, bigger panel, then it gets that. But if it's a conversation between two people walking along or riding on horseback, I would just use their heads -- it's as intuitive as any other comic I've made. This is just someone saying something, so I'll just use a head there, but if they're riding up on something that's dramatic, the panel will be larger.

SPURGEON: What interests you about the overlaps of religion? That's definitely a through-line here, Rich. You have the symbols transformed from one religion to another directly as well as via the historical outcome.

TOMMASO: The interesting thing about the Last Apocalypse book is that a lot of these cultures saw the end of the world because of Christianity's spread. They were taking over. I never thought of apocalypse being described in terms of Christianity being spread far and wide [laughs], and it's interesting that they thought of this as the end of the world. The cultures' original beliefs were being taken over by the spread of Christianity. In some places this was forced upon other cultures. That was the one thing I thought the most interesting, which jumpstarted my wanting to do a comic about it. The natural history, their folklore... I thought it would be fun to start in a realistic mode but when the character is killed have fun playing with the folklore. I thought it would be great to do something where I can use the history of it but use the folklore to enter into the fantasy it, and have it all be one story.

imageSPURGEON: Your approach to violence is similarly stylized but it's also consistently brutal. Did that have a similar genesis.

TOMMASO: A lot of that came from the reading, like the Blood Eagle -- I read about that and that seemed like it should be part of the story. It's such a lurid image. A lot of the war scenes in the story are swipes of Breughel's paintings of the coming apocalypse in battle and war. So I used that as well.

SPURGEON: Can you give a specific example of a swiped image. Are you talking about the bigger images of fighting, like the double-page spread with the skeleton on horseback?

TOMMASO: Yeah, that's directly taken from a Breughel thing. There's another large panel where it's a sea of bodies, people on top of each other fighting. It's a large drawing also taken from one of his paintings of the apocalypse.

SPURGEON: The superhero book in contrast... [Tommaso laughs] Do you even have a background with superheroes? I don't recall you have any kind of relationship with that genre.

TOMMASO: No, not really. It's very new. I actually didn't read superheroes growing up. I'm not a big [Jack] Kirby fan, either. I know people are just going to crucify me for that, but I don't really respond to his work the way others do. I've read the [Steve] Ditko Spider-Mans, but again this was an adult reading those things, just to do it. I don't know anything about it. I have a little bit of knowledge about the old superhero comics depending on what it is not much, but I think that mostly the excitement is over what's been done recently with superheroes. I think maybe about five years ago I finally read those Ed Brubaker Catwomans and really enjoyed those, and really liked another thing that Marvel fans hated, the X-Force comic that Peter Milligan and Mike Allred did. I thought that was wonderful, a really great take on the whole thing.

SPURGEON: Now pick one of those, and tell me what you responded to. Beyond it being something you enjoyed.

TOMMASO: It's a great marriage of talking about something real and doing it in a superhero comic. It's an approach that a lot of people use, and it's not always something that works. It doesn't always blend beautifully. But with a few of those comics, I just loved how they would talk about something real and it really works in the realm of the superhero drama. Even the Chuck Dixon/Marcos Martin Batgirl, I thought that was a wonderful coming-of-age-story, in this comic book. So yeah, it's very recent, very recent superhero takes have left me wanting to take a stab at it. Now it's up to me to see if I can blend in any kind of personal information into that genre.

SPURGEON: How overtly do you pursue that? Do you find a story that you think will lend itself to that kind of personalized take, or do you start in with a narrative and let the subconscious take care of the personal material coming through? How crafted is your story here, Rich?

TOMMASO: My first stab at it -- the first issue of Yearling is kind of a hodgepodge because my first stab at it was to do a teen comic and do something in the same spirit that Jaime Hernandez did his superhero comics. Let's go back to the original thing, and have it fueled by imagination, and have fun with it. And it just wasn't enough. After a few pages of that, I was like, "I don't think I can do something like this." [Spurgeon laughs]

Whether I jump into anything, whether it's crime or horror, if there isn't something I can put in there, something personal or something a little more three-dimension to the characters, I really can't get into it. So I scrapped that teen idea, but it returned in the way of police report that Yearling reads. This is like her parents. I thought it would be much more interesting to focus on one or two more characters and make them three-dimensional and see how much of myself I can put in there. So again, it started out very much as a kind of '60s Fantastic Four kind of comic, but it didn't hold my interest.

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SPURGEON: Something I don't think I've ever seen in your work before this one is a recurring visual motif. You repeat the image of a set of eyes looking directly at the reader maybe eight, ten times in this issue. Maybe it's a dim reading on my part, but I don't recall you ever doing that before. Was that intentional?

TOMMASO: I haven't really picked up on that. [laughter] I don't know where that came from. That's interesting. But I'm picture it: her eyes looking over the folder...

SPURGEON: ... the man looks back at her, there are skull eyes in the cloud...

TOMMASO: I didn't pick up on that. [laughs]

SPURGEON: Is that something you ever do? Do you ever think that way?

TOMMASO: I think about it in the way that I worry that I do the same things too often. So I try to get out of it. But there are certain things where you really can't get around people that are having a conversation in a room. There are only so many way to cut away from those two people simply looking at each other. In Mysterious Case I thought about what I could put in that panel beside the first thing that comes to mind... so I guess for the most part I'm trying to draw things -- this happens to me every day. I don't have to be looking at a comic, I can be looking at a movie and I'll go, "Hey, I've never thought about drawing something from that angle before." Or "I've never thought about doing a scene that way." An action sequence. Or talking. Anything like that. I'm always trying to do things I haven't done, but if the story doesn't call for it it's hard to break out of the panels that normally, usually come to mind.

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SPURGEON: It seems like Dry County is the most assured of the comics you're doing, the most confident in terms of the multiple visual shifts and differences in presentation. It could just be the nature of first-person narrative, but it does seem like there's a comfort level for you in this comic that feels a bit looser and even more dissonant at times in the other comics. Was that an easy comic for you to do, relative to the others?

TOMMASO: It is easier. I'm smiling while you're saying that because that's the one comic that has a complete script from beginning to end. I don't usually write my stories that way. The idea there was a couple of years ago when I wrote the script was "I'll just write a straight crime novel. Won't think too much about the personal stuff, or getting too crazy... a straight, simple crime narrative." And I did that. I did that for a few weeks. When I first did it, I did the Agatha Christie thing where I solved the crime and wrote backwards. That worked really well for that story. It was going to be just a straight-ahead mystery. Then I sat down and wrote a full script for it, and rewrote it a couple of times. So for that one I do have a solid script, and it is a pretty straight-forward comic book. A straight-forward story to tell.

What's fun about it is I'm able to rewrite what I have when I'm at the drawing table. There are a lot of times when I do read something and because it is a little too simple and a little too straight-forward as a crime yarn I'll change things while I'm at the drawing table. Again, it works well because I already have a perspective on the story. I can make those changes and know that they'll work, that they'll enrich the story -- a little more than if I just did a straight transcription on the script. That would be very boring, and it would be missing... it would just be the crime angle. It turns out to be that the character Janet goes missing and he has to look for her -- it's an amateur detective thing. But if I went straight from the script it'd be boring for me and thus the reader. But because the script is there, I can play with it and change things. I have that foundation. It's probably why it seems more assured.

SPURGEON: That one seems a bit talkier at points than you usually let yourself get, Rich. Is that a function of having a script?

TOMMASO: It might be, because I did the one thing I usually don't do, which is typing it up. It probably did get wordy. I kind of saw that one as being close to 100 pages, but I'm already on page 65 and I'm not halfway through the story. I don't know that I took that into consideration. I might have gone long on the writing. I was only dealing with the writing.

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SPURGEON: I'm not sure that I have a Don't Look Back! question, Rich. The horror one. It does seem like in contrast to Dry County that Don't Look Back! is super-loose. It careens a bit -- although that's interesting too, in a way, because a recurring narrative trick you use are these cinematic moments in the course of a page -- like three panels that tell a moment in sequential form in the midst of all these big panels and key moments.

TOMMASO: It's the best-selling one so far. It's had the best reaction. There was even a good review of it on-line. I was shocked because I was kind of putting it out as a tester. I didn't know if things like turning the color into a half-tone screen and just doing this self-publishing mini-comic approach, I didn't know if I would like this. So it was really a test book, but it ended up being the most popular one. [laughs] I was surprised by that. I was making that one up as I went along every day, as I put it up on-line.

SPURGEON: Those little cinematic moments -- like this mini-scene where a man pulls out a gun and shoots a skeleton's head off -- these progressive visual moments... is that something you did when you wanted something to specifically clear, or was there a rhythm to that you liked...?

TOMMASO: There's so much action in that comic, I have to remind myself to slow it down a little bit. That can mean instead of doing something in one panel I can do it in two or three -- the skeleton getting his head blown off, that slows things down a little bit. Again, that was something where I was doing it on-line it hit me that every page seemed like a different scene. So that is me speeding up and slowing down.

imageSPURGEON: How much of your work is still in print, Rich? This came up in conversation the other day, and I had to admit I didn't know. Is the majority of what you've done out there for people to see? If not, are there positive aspects to that?

TOMMASO: I do prefer it that way. [laughs] I kind of feel like even just a starting point for people to read my work, the only thing would be 8 1/2 Ghosts. The structure of my first graphic novel, Clover Honey, I wouldn't change one page of it. The actual writing -- I had no idea what I was doing, I had read very few novels or books at that time in my life, I was making up as I went along and had no clue what I was doing writing-wise -- is really bad. I've been thinking about reprinting that as a graphic novel or a comic series, but re-writing it. And I really wouldn't touch the story. Scene by scene, as far as the story goes, it seems my instincts were perfect.

I think it's because I'm just really good at crime drama. It's something I've stayed away from for many years. I've spent about 15 years saying, "No, I want to be this serious cartoonist who does things about real life." After so many years of working in that way I think I'm better with genre. These comics: crime, horror superhero -- there's still a lot of me going in there. I'm still researching. Those elements won't be as visible because of the genre, but I think with that limitation I get more interesting results. I don't know, maybe that's because I haven't had an interesting life. [laughter] I may just not be very good with what I would call straight fiction; I'm just not very good working there. I think I'm better off working with something that's been created before, an established genre. Working within that limitation I seem to strive even harder to write a decent book.

SPURGEON: Is is still pleasurable for you to make comics, Rich? What is the most fun part for you? What are the best days?

TOMMASO: The most exciting thing still is penciling a page. A lot of people say they love the inking stage, but for me it's you're going over what you already did in pencil. To me, penciling is it. Every time I pencil something I enjoy, that's the most exciting part. I may have only a fuzzy idea of what I want to do, but to realize it on the page, that's the most fun. For a while, I wasn't enjoying that, because I felt I was working in the wrong area of comics. I don't know how to put it. It seemed like I wanted to do something important and serious, taking my life and find a story that would related to other people. But because my heart wasn't fully into it, it wasn't fun for me to produce the pages, to do the work. When I started doing things like The Cavalier Mr. Thompson and even the Vikings book, I was immediately enjoying what I was doing a lot more. Like any crime writer I've been inspired by over the years, like Jim Thompson, I continue to read everything I can to continue to enrich what it is what I'm doing. I continue to read things like Hemingway. Writers like Thompson got their inspiration from literature even though they were doing these dime-store crime novels. There is still a lot to get out of all sides of comics and all sides of literature.

*****

* Recoil Graphic Novels
* Recoil Graphic Novels Big Cartel Shop

*****

* image from Yearling
* cover to Don't Look Back!
* an early duck page featuring Tommaso's coloring
* the design and limited color work on the Yearling cover
* one of the nicer images flattered by the larger size on Don't Look Back!
* a stand-alone image from Dry County
* one of the fairly elaborate page structures used in Vikings' End
* the Blood Eagle image
* eyes in Yearling
* one of the dialogue-heavy Dry County pages
* the cinematic mini-sequence discussed
* image from Clover Honey
* another image from Yearling (below)

*****

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*****
*****
 
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Go, Buy: Taschen Damaged Sale

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Go, Look: John Byrne Art Commissions Mini-Gallery

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

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

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Happy 85th Birthday, Jules Feiffer!

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Happy 78th Birthday, Sal Buscema!

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Happy 35th Birthday, Damon Hurd!

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Happy 49th Birthday, Jacob Pander!

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FFF Results Post #364 -- Dream Collections

On Friday, CR readers were asked to "Name Five Collections You'd Love To See Published Containing Out Of Print Comics Or Comics-Related Material." This is how they responded.

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John Vest

1. A Dwaine Tinsley collection published by Fantagraphics
2. Collected prose pieces by Steve Ditko from 2000 to the present
3. The Complete Steve Gerber Howard The Duck newspaper strips
4. Omaha The Cat Dancer stories from Sizzle
5. Complete Trots and Bonnie

*****

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Evan Dorkin

1. The Complete Scribbly by Sheldon Mayer
2. Wired World by Phil Bond
3. Johnny Craig EC Artist's Edition
4. A book of cartoonist's artwork and comics from when they were kids/amateurs
5. The Complete Mister Oswald by Russell Johnson, with photos of his store, employees, etc.

*****

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Rob Salkowitz

1. Captain Marvel jr Archives by Mac Raboy
2. Collected Eclipse Magazine
3. Best of Star*Reach and Quack
4. Complete Baker Street by Guy Davis
5. Cerebus High Society Artist Edition

*****

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Jeet Heer

1. The Best of J.R. Williams's "Out Our Way" (designed by David Collier)
2. The Best of Gluyas Williams's panel strips (designed by Chris Ware)
3. The complete pre-Popeye "Thimble Theater" by E.C. Segar (designed by Kevin Huizenga)
4. The Complete "Dunc 'n' Loo" by John Stanley (designed by Seth -- also, really, the completion of "13 Going on 18" and the rest of the John Stanley Library).
5. The Complete "Maw Green" by Harold Gray (designed by Chester Brown)

*****

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Michael Dooley

1. The Complete Richard Guindon
2. The Complete John Held, Jr.
3. The Complete Paul Gravett: Escape
4. IDW MultiMedia Artist Editions (incl. preparatory sketches and illos) ~ Bill Sienkiewicz: Stray Toasters; David Mack: Kabuki/Metamorphosis; Dave McKean: Cages
5. R. Fiore Anthology published by Fantagraphics

*****

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Josh Leto

1. The Collected Tom Heintjes columns from the Kitchen Sink The Spirit reprints
2. A Jim Woodring Artist Edition (I once saw the original for the cover of Jim vol.1 and wish I could stare at anything like it again)
3. Ann Nocenti's Daredevil Run (either a b+w newsprint or a glossy oversized multi-volume)
4. The Complete Jim Steranko comics stories.
5. The Complete Don Martin.

*****

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Michel Fiffe

1. DC Style Guide by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
2. Mazzucchelli's Rubber Blanket & Other Short Stories
3. Blockbuster (aborted mid-80s DC weekly series)
4. The Comics Journal Library: Gil Kane
5. Muñoz/Sampayo Omnibus

*****

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Joe Schwind

* The Collected Robert Armstrong
* T.S. Sullivant: Drawings and Cartoons
* Al Ackerman: Drawings and Illustrations
* Gabby Hayes Comics
* Art of Bill Watterson, 1996-2014

*****

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Michael Grabowski

1. Big Numbers, containing the published issues + all extant artwork by either artist, surviving scripts/notes/outlines from Moore, relevant portions of the Groth-Moore interview, and Eddie Campbell's illustrated post mortem from How To Be An Artist.
2. The Complete Wildwood, by Dan Wright and Tom Spurgeon
3. The Disney Strips of Al Taliafero, including his best Donald Duck & Silly Symphonies work.
4. The Complete Trump, by Kurtzman & Company
5. The Gospels of Mark and Matthew by Chester Brown

editor's note: forgive my indulgence

*****

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Sean Kleefeld

1. The Complete Friday Foster
2. Destroyer Duck
3. Micronauts Omnibus
4. The Complete Ronn Foss Fanzine Comics Archives
5. A collection of all those "adjective adjective adjective anthropomorphic character" knock-offs that came in the wake of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles success

*****

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Tom Bondurant

1. Complete Thriller
2. Complete 'Mazing Man
3. Batman newspaper strips from 1990-92, by Max Allan Collins, Marshall Rogers, and Carmine Infantino
4. Dick Giordano's "Meanwhile..." columns
5. Jack Kirby's 2001: A Space Odyssey adaptation and series

*****

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Frank Santoro

* Ogden Whitey romance collection
* Outland collection (rare Steranko serial)
* Fireball 500 collection (rare Jamie Hewlett serial)
* Paper Rodeo collection
* Cold Heat collection from PictureBox (RIP)

*****

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Steve Murphy

1. The Complete Works of Jaxon (Jack Jackson)
2. The Complete Corto Maltese by Hugo Pratt
3. Essential Master of Kung-Fu (Marvel)
4. The Complete Luther Arkwright by Bryan Talbot
5. A black and white omnibus of the entirety of Charlton's war comics output (or a series of Essentials-like collections of 'em)

*****

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James Moore

1. Essential Master of Kung-Fu
2. Madge the Magician's Daughter
3. A complete library of Leiji Matsumoto's Harlock/Emeraldas/Galaxy Express 999 universe material
4. Grant Morrisons character revamp notebooks.
5.Ninja by Brian Chippendale

*****

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Alan David Doane

1. The Complete Steve Ditko and Stan Lee Doctor Strange
2. Peanuts: The Miss Othmar Affair
3. The Comics Journal Interviews Omnibus
4. Miracleman: The Complete Alan Moore Saga With No Filler or Backmatter
5. The Complete EC Stories of Bernard Krigstein

*****

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Alex Cox

1. HELP!
2. THE HECKLER (by Kieth Giffen, an odd little 1990's DC treasure)
3. 1984 (warren publishing)
4. ALIEN WORLDS (Pacific)
5. SWORD OF SORCERY (DC Comics)

There's a few more I didn't include, like TRUMP, because there' allegedly a collection coming, and 1963, because that seems impossible (and the issues are readily available), but man, it reminds me what a beautiful age we live in when there's multiple hardcover volumes of KAMANDI and FLEX MENTALLO and HUMBUG and BARNABY and all sorts of other books that seemed very unlikely only ten years or so ago....

*****

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Mike Baehr

1. Helfer/Sienkiewicz/Baker's DC run on The Shadow
2. The Dell/Western Peanuts comics
3. Charlton's Hercules by Sam Glanzman
4. Charlton romance by Enrique Nieto
5. The Adventures of B.O.C. by Thomas Perry, James Pustorino & Paul Martin

*****

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John Porcellino

1. Complete Trots and Bonnie
2. ALLEY OOP!
3. Fantastic Four "Galactus Trilogy" Artists' Edition (Scans of original art)
4. The Complete Jack Kirby Monster Comics 1959-1962
5. Best of the National Lampoon Funny Pages, 1970's and 1980's (Two volume set)

*****

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William Burns

1. Sally Bananas newspaper strip by Barsotti collected edition
2. Humor Adventure Gaming strips from 80s and 90s-- Finieous Fingers, Wormy etc.
3. Uncollected Bob Levin comics journalism
4. The two Tomorrow Stories Specials that closed out ABC Comics
5. The complete Kyle Baker run on Plastic Man

*****

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Buzz Dixon

1. 'Mazing Man by Bob Rozakis and Stephen DeStefano
2. Wordsmith by Dave Darrigo and R.G. Taylor
3. Kona, Monarch Of Monster Isle by Sam Glanzman
4. Franklin Fibbs / Little Fibbs by Hollis Brown and Wes Hargis
5. Complete Trots and Bonnie by Shirley Flenniken (Yeah! Sign me up for that, too!)

*****

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Oliver Ristau

1. Fleisher/Giarrano's Haywire Omnibus
2. An affordable and complete reprint of Bill Tidy's The Fosdyke Saga
3. Complete Collection of Julio und Jimmy/Jimmy das Gummipferd/Julios abenteuerliche Reisen by Roland Kohlsaat
4. A reprint of Atomos -- Bande Dessinees Pour Adultes
5. Fantagraphics should do a reprint of Saga de Xam by Jean Rollin & Nicolas Devil like they did with Jodelle

*****

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Matthew Craig

1. Barry Kitson, Mark Farmer & Mike Collins: Spider-Man UK (Spidey visits Birmingham; hilarious carnage ensues)
2. Starblazer: DC Thomson sci-fi novella series (64pg A5 B&W format)
3. The Complete Oink! (1980s UK children's comic, more anarchic than The Beano/Dandy)
4. The Complete Doomlord (photostrip then traditional sci-fi-horror from the 1980's Eagle)
5. The Collected Wildcat (post-ecoapocalyptic sci-fi comic set on and off an interstellar ark)

*****

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Steve Replogle

1. Carson of Venus by Michael Kaluta
2. Machine Man by Barry Windsor-Smith
3. Master of Kung Fu Omnibus by Moench, Gulacy, Zeck, Day and others
4. Complete Den by Richard Corben
5. Outland by Jim Steranko

*****

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Steve Replogle (Again)

1. The Complete Michael Kaluta Shadow stories
2. Paradoxman by Barry Windsor-Smith
3. Aztec Ace by Moench, Day and others
4. Collected Fantagor & Grimwit by Rochard Corben
5. Artwork, Comics & Experimental Pieces from Supergraphics by Jim Steranko

*****

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Chris Duffy

1. Complete collection of Scott Cunningham's "Alien Metaphor"
2. The complete James Stevenson "Grandpa" books (These are the sweetest books in the world, told in hybrid story/comic format.)
3. The complete "Hey Look!" by Harvey Kurtzman. (Out of print for way too long.)
4. The complete Don Martin paperback-original material.
5. The complete Steve Mellor Marvel ComicsInline image 1

*****

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John Platt

1. The early 20th century cartoons of F.G. Cooper
2. The complete short stories of Rick Geary
3. "The Strange World of Mr. Mum" by Irving Phillips
4. The best magazine cartoons of Tom Cheney
5. "Crossfire" by Mark Evanier and Dan Spiegel

*****

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Mark Mayerson

* Dennis the Menace comics by Owen Fitzgerald
* The complete Gil Kane interviews from The Comics Journal and Amazing Heroes
* The complete Conchy by James Childress
* The Unpublished Jack Kirby (Dingbats of Danger Street #2, #3, Soul Love, etc.)
* Midnight by Jack Cole

*****

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Danny Ceballos

1. Artist Edition of John Porcellino's KING-CAT COMICS & STORIES #'s 1-10
2. The Complete Gabrielle Bell's BOOK OF...
3. George Carlson's illustrated novel ALEC IN FUMBLELAND
4. The Complete Lynda Barry's EROTIC SPACES
5. Best of Steve Ditko's Splash Pages

*****

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David Robertson

* Sweatshop by Peter Bagge
* Fleener by Mary Fleener.
* Rubber Blanket by David Mazzucchelli
* Dan Dare (1982-) by Pat Mills et al.
* 1963 by Alan Moore et al.

*****

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David Baillie

* Grant Morrison's Starblazers (I only have one of them)
* Toxic! (Pat Mills' '90s UK Anthology)
* Outbreak of Violets -- Alan Moore's set of cards for an MTV bash (illustrated by Jamie Hewlett, I think)
* Rubber Blanket
* The 80s Spider-Man UK comics drawn by Mike Collins and Barry Kitson in which Spider-Man comes to London and meets a villain called Thunderclap.

*****

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Johnny Bacardi

* A Jerry Grandenetti horror collection
* Complete Trots and Bonnie, most definitely
* Thriller 1-8, no more no less.
* Adventures of Bob Hope featuring Super-Hip
* Complete (to date, anyway) Tex Arcana by John Findlay

*****

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Jeff Flowers

1. Elementals by Bill Willingham
2. Clara de Noche (Clara After Dark) by Jordi Bernet
3. Twisted Tales/Alien Worlds by Bruce Jones
4. Den and other creator owned works by Richard Corben
5. Trots And Bonnie by Shary Flenniken

*****

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Nat Gertler

1. The Complete Trots & Bonnie
2. Jim Steranko's adaptation of Outland
3. Steve Gerber & Jack Kirby's Destroyer Duck
4. Alan Moore's NightRaven prose stories
5. 'Mazing Man

Caveat: As a publisher of reprints, I have filtered out things that I would like to see reprinted where I have some reasonable hope of getting the rights.

*****

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Jim Engel

* COMPLETE BARNEY GOOGLE by Billy DeBeck
* COMPLETE RED BARRY by Will Gould
* COMPLETE 8th MAN (in English) by Jiro Kuwata
* COMPLETE JOSE CARIOCA newspaper strip by Paul Murry
* COMPLETE BULLWINKLE newspaper strip by Al Kilgore

*****

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Frank Young

1. a well-chosen (by me) collection of John Stanley's funny-animal comics from the 1940s. A licensing nightmare, but it could be done.
2. a complete reprinting of Gene Ahern's Sunday-only strip "The Squirrel Cage"
3. a book of Dick Briefer's non-"Frankenstein" material
4. The eight-issue run of John Stanley's "Dunc 'n' Loo," with the two issues of "Kookie" for good measure
5. a big hardcover anthology of comics drawn by children -- the loopier, the better

*****

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Trevor Ashfield

1. Trots and Bonnie
2. Best of John Severin's comics and covers from "Cracked"
3. The Complete "Raw" magazine
4. "Thriller" Trade Paperback (DC)
5. Complete Steve Englehart "West Coast Avengers"

*****

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M. Emery

1. A. S. Paterson's daily humour strips for The Dominion 1925 - 1950
2. John McNamara's run on newspaper strip Paul Temple
3. A complete collection of Moira Bertram's comics and illustrations.
4. Complete collections of Super Detective Library from Amalgamated Press
5. Complete collection of Kathleen O'Brien's Wanda the War Girl

*****

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Rich Tommaso

1. Wash Tubbs And Captain Easy dailies Roy Crane
2. Cerebus Book One Dave Sim
3. Groo Pacific and early Marvel Comics Sergio Aragonés
4. Richard Corben Full-color Den
5. Sam & Max Collection Steve Purcell

*****

topic suggested and examples provided by John Vest; thanks, John

*****
*****
 
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January 25, 2014


The Comics Reporter Video Parade


I Ran This Art Spiegelman Project Trailer As A Stand-Alone, But Not Here


Bill Sienkiewicz Sketches


In Search Of Moebius, Which Seems To End Up In My Bookmarks Every Three Weeks


One Of Those Weird Cartoon Treatments Of A News Story, This Time A Profile Of Ali Ferzat


Presentation By KAL



Freelancer Roundtable, Parts One And Two


I Did Not Know There Was A Punch Dinner


Bob Beerbohm On The Early Comics
 
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CR Week In Review

imageThe top comics-related news stories from January 18 to January 24, 2014:

1. Angouleme grand prix voting -- now a different process than the past-winners-in-a-room method that drove the honor for years, leads to a pre-festival finalists slate of Bill Watterson, Katsuhiro Otomo and Alan Moore. One observer joked that next year may be the first year where the winner doesn't even show up.

2. Marc Toberoff plans as many avenues for appeal as are available to the Siegel and Shuster families as another decision goes against him. Future actions may include perhaps a breach of contract suit on the arrangement courts claimed has been in place for the Superman character for over a decade.

3. Heavy Metal is bought for the express purpose of driving properties to film along the lines of a Legendary Pictures. The magazine seems likely to leave print, although previous majority owner Kevin Eastman, now a minority owner, is likely to be involved.

Winner Of The Week
Lilli Carré

Losers Of The Week
Some of the classic, strong, very European but maybe not best-selling comics authors that may have stood a better chance to win the grand prix under the old system.

Quote Of The Week
"The stuff that I'm always sitting here gobsmacked about and having to write about is so fucking simple and so basic and so remedial... Don't harass women. Please don't say racist things on Facebook. Don't run a national hate group that tries to deprive people of their rights. Respect the people who came before you, who paved the way for you -- that one trips up so many people! Don't tell Alan Moore to fuck himself if your entire career depended upon Alan Moore existing. Appreciate that comics is actually a thing greater than you, that you're a participant in, rather than some vehicle for your shitty ego. Don't spread lies in your industry through Rich Johnston about getting blowjobs in janitor closets (because that's something we have to say now!). Your comic probably doesn't need that rape in it. Your comic probably doesn't need that rape in it. Your comic probably doesn't need that rape in it. Try to stop avoiding minorities so much -- they can be nice people, too. Not all of your pants need to be blue-jeans; they make other kinds of pants. Don't have the celebratory photo of your Expo be a bunch of bros rocking their most special pair of blue-jeans, and then get huffy when someone points out that the Expo looks like it was a smelly denim-clad sausage party -- just take a better photo! Think about the culture you want to be a part of and talk about that culture, out loud, and not just to market yourself to tumblr." -- Abhay Khosla, in conversation with Tim O'Neil

*****

today's cover is from Marvel Comics during the year 1964

*****
*****
 
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Go, Read: A Comic About A Hot Dude Giving Meghan Turbitt Sushi

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

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

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

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

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posted 1:20 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Happy 76th Birthday, Leiji Matsumoto!

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Happy 48th Birthday, Alan David Doane!

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Happy 43rd Birthday, Chris Marshall!

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Happy 62nd Birthday, Turtel Onli!

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Happy 41st Birthday, Geoff Johns!

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Happy 43rd Birthday, Elin Winkler!

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January 24, 2014


Seriously, No One Would Blame You For Just Hanging Out At Mattotti.com On His 60th

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Missed It: Laura Sneddon Makes Short Statement About Accusations Made In Alan Moore Interview

If you enjoyed Alan Moore's recent lengthy interview or any of the subsequent commentary on same, you should take the time to read journalist Laura Sneddon's response to things said about her during the course of that interview. If you covered Moore's accusations, I encourage you to do what one blogger that did cover those things did, and engage what Sneddon says point by point. I didn't cover that stuff, but from looking at Sneddon's response I think the strongest points as she puts them forward are the blanket denial of leaking material, and denial of subsequent follow-up request of interview by phone with Melinda Gebbie.
 
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Go, Look: Alex Raymond Mini-Gallery

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SPX Exhibitor Sign-Up From Now Until February 14

imageSo no need to rush. Last year the crush of people hoping to exhibit led to the first-come, first-served event having its set-up to take applications melt down. This caused a) a significant level of frustration amongst those whose fate was up in the air, b) the Expo to make a good-faith gesture by expand the show, which some folks felt may have led to a diminished level of customer traffic for 2013.

Anyway, that's one of the gems of the comics festival calendar, and it looks like it would be fun to exhibit. You have several days to do so. I am sure like the Sherlock Holmes TV character there are some people that have figured out five or six ways to rig the process a bit -- I know I did back when you could do so with the hotel rooms at San Diego Con. In this case, however, the show's ability to continue accepting applications without processing them like every other show depends on a bit of good faith from those applying. Hopefully you will be one of the good ones.

in industry journalism terms, this is "burn off blurry photos of a past spx" day, a glorious day indeed
 
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Go, Look: 2005

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Go, Read: Zainab Akhtar Makes A 2013 List

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The writer-about-comics Zainab Akhtar has put up an article about comics she liked from 2013; she qualifies why it isn't a best-of list in the articles opening. There are a ton of comics named, including:

* Backyard, Sam Alden
* Black Is The Color, Julia Gfrorer
* Borrowed Tails, Ines Estrada
* Boys' Night, AP Quach And Max Landis
* Dead Cats Of Plum Street, Isaac Lenkiewicz
* Do Not Disturb My Waking Dream, Laura Park
* Drowntown, Robbie Morrison And Jim Murray
* Freaks Of The Heartland, Steve Niles And Greg Ruth
* Godzilla, James Stokoe
* Good Dog, Graham Chaffee
* In The Kitchen With Alain Passard, Christophe Blain
* MIND MGMT, Matt Kindt
* Monster on the Hill, Rob Harrell
* Monsters, Miracles and Mayonnaise, Drewscape
* Nava, Olle Forsslof
* Nobrow Vol. 8, Various
* Out Of Skin, Emily Carroll
* Parker: Slayground, Darwyn Cooke
* Pimo And Rex, Thomas Wellmann
* Red Handed, Matt Kindt
* Resident Alien, Steve Parkhouse and Pete Hogan
* s!, Various
* Scenegapore, Miel
* Sumo, Thien Pham
* The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil, Stephen Collins
* The Initiates, Etienne Davodeau
* Tiny Pencil, Various (Edited By Katriona Chapman And Amber Hsu)
* Toormina Video, Pat Grant
* Various Comics By Boulet

You can read Akhtar's descriptions and explanations through that initial link.
 
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Go, Look: Gruesome Charlie In No Erect Penises

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1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
 
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Go, Read: Tim O'Neil And Abhay Khosla Talk Comics, Comics Blogging, Comedy In Comics

There's a nice discussion here between Tim O'Neil and the writer Abhay Khosla spun out from the tenth anniversary of O'Neil's blog. It's really inside baseball -- not stats and ephemera inside, more like rubber bands wrapped tightly around a ball inside -- but there are some interesting notions about comedy and comedy in comics in there if you want to hear two critics talk about that kind of thing. There's also a mighty paragraph about basic, decent conduct that kind of wraps up a year of stupid comics-industry stories. Everything else seems like it was written explicitly to entertain me and like a dozen other people -- which is a great way to celebrate the anniversary of any blog. And I'm still not sure why Peep Show never quite hit with American audiences.
 
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Not Comics: Conan And Frazetta, Forever And Ever

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Go, Read: Guardian On Alan Moore's Cranky Dismissals

There's an article here about some of the notions brought up on the cultural criticism side of writer Alan Moore's latest big interview. I wrote and posted an earlier mini-essay since deleted that I thought engaged what the writer was saying but on second pass-through really didn't. I actually don't know what the writer is saying. The notion that comics used to be dangerous cultural objects and they've been neutered by the respectability of graphic novels is an old one, and sort of a boring one, and potentially a revealing-in-a-sexist-way one. It's also hard for me to get worked up about the novelty of comics as a cultural signifier of semi-increased sophistication, or where it stands as such in relation to prose, or what their coverage reveals about the potential cynicism of traditional gatekeepers. All of that stuff seems to float up out of its own arcane world of minor detail, assumed value and arguable significance... sort of like those you used to read about in a comic book.
 
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Go, Read: Steranko Interviewing Barry Windsor-Smith

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Assembled, Zipped, Transferred and Downloaded: Digital News

imageBy Tom Spurgeon

* Virginia Paine has launched The Whys. You can bookmark it now and read it as it goes.

* the cartoonist Richard Sala, a maker of vibrant images, has announced a forthcoming Tumblr serial.

* Brian Truitt writes about Oni Press picking up the digital comic The Bunker for print.

* there's a fascinating post at Fleen on a webcomics cartoonist that put an x-rated chapter on a digital service that did not have a low-level, take-that-one-thing-and-go option, but still managed to drive a couple of hundred subscriptions.

* Sean Kleefeld looked for MLK Jr. in webcomics.

* finally, here's a digital comic with a free first-issue offering, a comic that has received some praise.
 
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If I Were In Arizona, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: My Name Is Paris

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* I'm not sure why it had to result in a protest and pulling of the material -- I'm probably just old-fashioned in that that particular action gives me the creeps -- but doing a cover of signify-as-sexualized versions of little girl heroes does indeed seem like a terrible idea.

image* Gary Groth talks to Ed Sorel. Carl Antonowicz talks to Rob Clough. Dave Richards talks to Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto.

* not comics: Sean T. Collins has a lot of tumblr accounts. It's probably not referred to as "tumblr accounts." Not knowing what to do with one is plenty, thanks.

* huh.

* the answer to the classic trivia question, "Which Marvel character debuted on the cover of a Fantagraphic publication?"

* Bob Temuka on From Hell. Sean Gaffney on Attack On Titan Vol. 11. Grant Goggans on With Only Five Plums. J. Caleb Mozzocco on a bunch of different comics. Tucker Stone on My Friend Dahmer. Johanna Draper Carlson on Vinland Vol. 2. Richard Bruton on Missing: Have You Seen The Invisible Man?. Joe Gordon on March Book One. J. Caleb Mozzocco on FF.

* on Watterson, Schulz and snowmen.

* Frank Santoro drives around the Midwest and looks at old mini-comics.

* finally, Sean Kleefeld writes in brief about diversity on the newspaper page. My first thought in response to his question was Cory Thomas, for whatever that's worth.
 
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Happy 32nd Birthday, Ben Morse!

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Happy 60th Birthday, Lorenzo Mattotti!

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Happy 64th Birthday, Steve Geppi!

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Happy 84th Birthday, John Romita Sr.!

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January 23, 2014


Bundled Extra/OTBP: Comic Book People

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I don't know of anyone that's crowd-funded a historical resources book like this one, although someone pretty much has to have.
 
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Society Of Illustrators Names Its Extensive 2014 Comic & Cartoon Art Annual Jury

Here. Lot of good people there.
 
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Go, Look: My Half Assed Cosplay Ideas

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Go, Read: The Never Ending Battle Jokes May Never End

The Hollywood Reporter has a nice write-up here on 1) the latest court rejection for a re-hearing on one of the Siegel and Shuster cases for ownership of elements of the Superman copyright, and 2) what's to come. What's to come looks like unyielding attempts to find legal purchase. The new wrinkle here -- and I only got a D+ in parsing this kind of stuff at comic book college -- seems to be we may see an entire "you breached the contract you're saying abrogated a rights claim" pursuit, in whatever court that's appropriate.

Something that's interesting if you're following these matters for their comics culture implications is that accusing Superman's current corporate owners of trying to game the one-time, agreed upon business deal, trying to add complications or requirements to the deal, is a scenario that might stand to answer the general fan accusation that it's lawyers like Marc Toberoff that capsized what looked like a potential settlement amenable in perpetuity to all sides.
 
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Missed It: Fun 2013 Bastien Vives Convention Set

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Daily Cartoonist: Herblock Prize Expands Eligibility

Good catch by Alan Gardner: the Herblock Prize will expand the work considered to include monthly and weekly publications, including magazine. Given the declining number of quality practitioners overall and the rise of work arrangements that would have been seen as completely odd by cartoonists of Herblock's Day, a wide net seems like a great idea.
 
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Go, Look: Off The Road

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Go, Read: Write-Up On 'Zine Find

imageThis report on a late 1970s/early 1980s British comics 'zine is less interesting to me for its description of the 'zine itself than for a near-throwaway comic about the quality of one of the interviews. I am also of the mind that interviews better served history before social media and the industry coming completely on-line made routine candor a potential multiple-day headache and outright bridge-burner. I know from working on a book about a decade ago that most of the good published stuff we found was fanzine material. That's one reason I'm desperate to see this material cataloged and archived, and hope that we can find a way to get back to candor minus the fear of punishing personal retribution.

Even if you have no use for arcane assertions like that one, there's some neat art in there.
 
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OTBP: Vile

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Collective Memory: Gary Arlington, RIP

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this article has been archived
 
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Go, Look: Lisa Hanawalt At The Beguiling Art Store

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i have a little drawing from hanawalt, and it's lovely
 
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The Never-Ending, Four-Color Festival: Cons And Shows

By Tom Spurgeon

image* for no particular reason, here's a photo of Jaime Hernandez and Trina Robbins from San Diego Con 2009.

* Jaime will be appearing at the LA Zinefest in February. A lot of people have a lot of high hopes for that show as a comics show, at least in part.

* SPX has a Lottery Page up at their main site. They would never say this, and probably don't believe this, but I think it's entirely possible the Expo's basic ability to stand by its non-curation ethos will depend on how reasonable folks are when it comes to playing by the rules with this new system. If a ton of people game the system, it may make too difficult an already difficult task of keeping the Expo open to as many people as possible in a way that embraced open registration.

* a lot of people have a really busy convention and festivals schedule now. Here is Nate Powell's. Notice the mix of events.

* the Charlotte Mini-Con is this weekend. I like the idea of these small cons feeding into a bigger one, in this case Charlotte's regional-of-regionals HeroesCon. Using conventions as an organizing principle beyond its specific weekend can't be the primary concern -- I imagine it's easy to let a convention slip away from you -- but if you have something as solid as Heroes and feel you can build on it in one or two ways, why wouldn't you?

* that fine cartoonist David Lasky finally got around to posting his 2013 Comic-Con photos.

* Angouleme looms. Here's the Dargaud signing schedule; remember that in the French-language market, the tradition is for really intense and elaborate sketches provided to those that show up to get their purchase acknowledged that way.

* finally, the Amazing Arizona Comic Con is this weekend. Phoenix is a fascinating market for comics. I don't know that there's another city (and attendant "greater area") whose retail landscape has changed as much over the last quarter-century; at the same time, the kind of audience that regularly shops for comics isn't exactly the same audience that might attend a comics show. The early calendar date -- while potentially exhausting for those of us that prefer a March through October "season" -- makes sense in that it might be nice for a lot of comics folk to head to Phoenix during the coldest weeks of the year. They're also close enough to LA to attract a lot of the comics business that exists there, or enough to round out a special guests list. I should think they have a very good chance of succeeding.
 
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Go, Look: Jim Rugg's Secret Headquarters Bag

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love, love, love comic store bags
 
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Go, Look: Moon Girl #6

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* I am always a bit wary of PR efforts being reported as news, but I would imagine that a tumblr devoted to a Marvel series with the profile that comes with their latest attempt at a Ms. Marvel character bears noting and watching. I'd love to see both superhero comics companies have more hits up and down their character rosters -- those comics are important to a lot of people.

* it's goblin week.

* graphic novel is dead.

* Tim O'Shea talks to Brendan McCarthy. Sarah Currin profiles T. Edward Bak. Team Comics Alternative talks to Isabel Greenberg.

* Bob Temuka writes about the idea of becoming "too old" for comics.

* Drew Moss draws Nick and Nora Charles (and Asta).

* there is very little in comics that's better than hearing about 'zine culture from 30 to 50 years ago. God bless people involved with comics in that specific and wonderful way.

* Jessica Lee on J.1137. Marykate Jasper on SHOOT First #4.

* on Saul Steinberg's hen.

* finally, here's a reasonably compelling and broadly-conceived list of anticipated books for 2014. It should be an interesting year, if only for the lack of generation one alternative-comics heavy hitters.
 
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George McManus Was Born 130 Years Ago Today

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Happy 80th Birthday, Don Wright!

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Happy 62nd Birthday, Klaus Janson!

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January 22, 2014


Go, Look: Ballwatching

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Lilli Carré Wins 3rd CMA/Thurber House Graphic Novelist Residency

imageThe Columbus Museum of Art and Thurber House announced Lilli Carré as the winner of the third annual Graphic Novelist Residency in a release and related posting made public earlier today. The residency means that Carré will be put up at the Thurber House for three weeks during which she'll work, have her work presented, and participate in some programming.

Carré is Chicago-based, making her a Midwestern artist like previous winners Paul Hornschemeier (who has since relocated to Boston) and Ed Piskor (Pittsburgh). Her most recent comics work is the short-story collection Heads Or Tails (Fantagraphics).

Carré is schedule to lead a Young Writers' Studio on March 18 at the Thurber House, have her work exhibited at CMA March 14 to June 8 -- making a trip to Columbus for this show and the Watterson/Thompson show at Billy Ireland a must for regional comics fans -- an Art Lab session with the enrolled high school students March 19, and a talk and interview with Jared Gardner on March 30. Details through that initial link.

The CMA show will include efforts by Carré in other media.

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Go, Look: A Comic About Tom Van Deusen

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Missed It: Cartoonist Cal Grondahl Lost His Staff Position

imageI totally and completely missed that the cartoonist Cal Grondahl, one of the elder statesmen in that community, lost his staff position about ten days ago. Grondahl was a much-liked cartoonist by his peers and had apparently been with the Ogden Standard-Examiner since 1986.

The Standard-Examiner is definitely a smaller newspaper to still have had a staffed cartoonist at this point, although even at its present circulation figures would not have been a surprisingly small paper to have a full-time cartoonist a generation ago. It's worth noting that in the cases of many cartoonists losing their jobs in the last 10 to 15 years it seems less about the bottom-line itself but the declining nature of that bottom-line and the instability that has settled into a business that used to see near-guaranteed profit margins year-in and year-out.

Grondahl was let go with a small number of other staffers.

In his early sixties, Grondahl subsequently announced that he would be freelancing for his former employer and apparently even doing some of that work in-house -- at a freelander's rate -- until his home studio is set up. We wish him the best. The changing culture for newspapers is a heartbreaking circumstance for those that have made their living there, and those that value that particular avenue of expression for whatever reason. It's hard for me to think that we wouldn't be better off as a culture with more staffed positions rather than fewer.
 
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Go, Look: The Joke

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Bundled Extra: The 2014 SAW Fundraiser Ends Today

Here. Tom Hart and Leela Corman are good people, that's a positive institution, there are some nice incentive-buys there, there is some institutional force there that guarantees they won't simply disappear, and the money will be spent wisely. I hope you'll at least consider it.
 
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Go, Look: Spicy Wings

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Larry Pendleton, 1954-2014

Larry Pendleton, whose Graphic Nature was picked up by King Features Syndicate after initial publication in the Tulsa World, died on January 14 from complications due to pulmonary fibrosis. He was 59 years old.

Larry Dan Pendleton Jr. was born in Arkansas and moved to Tulsa as a toddler. He graduated from a local high school in 1973, and studied commercial art at a nearby vocational/technical school. He served for a time in the US Army.

It looks like Pendleton pursued syndication in the late 1990s, and that the Tulsa World picked up the feature in 1999 after an initial round of syndicate rejection. King Feature would eventually find over thirty clients for the future. In the early 2000s, Pendleton registered a trademark for a studio bearing the same name as his strip, doing business in a variety of artistic expressions before dissolving the trademark before the end of the decade. He struggled with the ailment that took his live for over three years; it caused his hands to shake and ended his career.

Pendleton is survived by a wife, two sons, his father, a sister and two brothers. The initial link contains information on where to direct any memorial donations. He was buried on January 20.
 
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Go, Look: Klaus

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Your 2014 Prix Artemisia Winner: Catel's Ainsi Soit Benoite Groult

imageAinsi soit Benoite Groult by Catel and published by Grasset won this year's Prix Artemisia, as announced on January 11. The award goes to comics produced by one or more women. Benoite Groult is a noted and much-lauded feminist author. The award was presented to the the cartoonist at a book signing on January 16th.

The other nominees for 2014 were:

* C'est toi ma maman?, Alison Bechdel (Denoel Graphic)
* Dark room, Lila Quintero Weaver (Steinkis)
* Eve sur la balancoire, Nathalie Ferlut (Casterman)
* Jane, le renard et moi, Fanny Britt & Isabelle Arsenault (La Pastèque)
* L'Heure du loup, Rachel Deville (L'Apocalypse)
* La Propriété, Rutu Modan (Actes Sud)
* La Tendresse des pierres, Marion Fayolle (Magnani)
* Le Cirque, Surducan Ileana (Makaka)
* Les Filles de Montparnasse Volume Three: Les jupes noires, Nadja (Olivus)
* Les Incrustacés, Rita Mercedes (L'Association)
* Mauvais genre, Chloé Cruchaudet (Delcourt)
* Moscou endiablé, Bettina Egger (Le Moule a gaufre)

Previous winners were:

* 2008: Johanna Schipper
* 2009: Tankxxx & Lisa Mandel
* 2010: Laureline Mattiussi
* 2011: Ulli Lust
* 2012: Claire Braud
* 2013: Jeanne Puchol

Groult was also on hand for the award presentation. As far as I know the book is not up for any of the awards at the forthcoming Angouleme Festival, but I could have that completely wrong. Catel Muller is in the prime of her career, and more of her work can be seen here.
 
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Go, Look: Nina Bunjevac's Fatherland Previewed

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OTBP: Comedian

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This Isn't A Library: Notable Releases To The 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.

*****

OCT130439 JACKYS DIARY HC $39.99
SEP120380 BERKELEY BREATHED OUTLAND COMPLETE COLL S/N HC $50.00
IDW does something it does very well this week: deluxe, bookshelf presentations of strips that would seem to be best read that way. The Jackys Diary is a long-awaited effort for a lot of readers, and they've been doing a fine job with Berkeley Breathed -- there's some curiosity there in terms of seeing that work again, too.

imageNOV130881 I DONT GET IT HC $17.99
This is the latest gag cartoon collection from Shannon Wheeler, and I like those cartoons.

SEP130053 BPRD HELL ON EARTH TP VOL 07 A COLD DAY IN HELL $19.99
Your Mignola-verse collection. If you are the person out there that only buys Mike Mignola-related books at the comics shop, I want to interview you.

SEP130279 PLANETARY OMNIBUS HC $75.00
NOV131388 WARREN ELLIS GUN MACHINE SC $17.00
Two from Warren Ellis, both of which fans likely have in another version. The Planetary stuff is interesting because as popular as that was in its market -- it was an anticipated comic book as a serial, and it was always hard to find immediate past copies -- I'm not sure there it has any natural sequels or follow-ups making the original book much more stand-alone that you're likely to see from a successful project.

NOV131138 HENRY AND GLENN FOREVER AND EVER #3 (MR) $5.00
NOV130040 ELFQUEST FINAL QUEST #1 $3.50
NOV130522 SEX #10 (MR) [DIG] $2.99
NOV130533 WALKING DEAD #120 (MR) [DIG] $2.99
NOV130673 FF #16 $3.99
NOV130951 BAD ASS #1 (MR) $3.99
NOV130343 MY LITTLE PONY FRIENDS FOREVER #1 [DIG] $3.99
That is a pretty diverse group of solo comics. The Henry And Glenn book isn't just a fun book, there aren't a whole lot of alt-comics released anymore. If I had never worked in comics and simply bought them I'm sure I'd be happy to see this at the shop this week, wherever the hell I might be. The Elfquest bears watching -- I would pick that up and look it over for sure, although I'm not certain how much of that work's audience is still buying comics in shops. Sex is Joe Casey; Walking Dead is in the midst of a storyline of people running around shooting each other. The FF has to be either the end or very near the end, at least I think it must be: that's one more than a few readers will be snapping up in discount bins over the next 36 months, me included. I have no interest in the comic called Bad Ass other than to express incredulity that we've never had a comic called Bad Ass, and the My Little Pony material is something I wish I could see on the stands just to look at it.

NOV131152 QU33R GN (MR) $29.99
This is the anthology edited by Rob Kirby, and thus deserving of your attention.

SEP130082 BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL TP VOL 28 RAINING CHAOS (MR) $19.99
NOV131136 VINLAND SAGA GN VOL 02 $19.99
OV131266 WOLFSMUND GN VOL 03 $12.95
NOV131310 OOKU INNER CHAMBERS GN VOL 09 (MR) $12.99
Solid week for older-reader adventure manga; I haven't even seen the Wolfsmund material yet, and would like to.

NOV131137 WEIRDO YEARS 1981-1993 HC (MR) $29.95
Another book where you're likely to have a lot of this material already, and in my case I'd rather have the magazines - I think that was a great publication and it's best to read it in that form. It's also not hard to find that way. Still, other people have different tastes when it comes to an intersecting interest with this material, and absent giant production goof-ups that's going to be a nice book.

OCT131519 BACK ISSUE #70 $8.95
SEP131543 JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR #62 $10.95
I'm not exactly filled with words this week and even at my most loquacious would have a hard time mustering up more than a sentence or two about these stalwart fan-interest magazines. I do like that they're so far into their publishing histories, though, and I imagine that the material being covered now has to be slightly obscure and thus more compelling than maybe what was covered in issue numbers half these.

NOV131192 DINOSAURS HC VOL 01 BEGINNING $10.99
NOV131193 BENNY BREAKIRON HC VOL 03 TWELVE TRIALS $11.99
I enjoyed the first two Benny Breakiron books a great deal -- very densely told children's tales about a very strong and extremely polite little boy being strong and polite and, when he gets a cold, just polite. The Dinosaurs stuff looks like super-cute instructional comics -- I could be wrong -- but I'm grateful it's being published because of the gift-giving possibilities.

OCT131219 FOLIGATTO HC (MR) $24.95
I believe this is the first major work by Nicolas De Crecy, and you can see what the pages look like here. If that doesn't sell you, I'm not sure what will. This might be the only book I'd buy this week were I on a budget and it would be a very good week.

*****

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

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

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Go, Look: Joe Kubert Covers Mini-Gallery

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* Tom Devlin is teaching a comics course this March: four classes.

image* Alex Toth critiques are always one of the great things of the comics internet, no matter when you come across them.

* Tony Millionaire draws Thor.

* I know there aren't a lot of photos of Steve Ditko because Jordan Raphael found a couple for the Stan Lee book we did a decade ago and they have since become ubiquitous on-line just for their relative rarity. Anyway, any new photo find in the Ditko category is worth noting.

* Alexandra Korcz talks to Matt Madden.

* not comics: Louisville will honor Hunter S. Thompson with art from Ralph Steadman.

* let's all go to the Wow-Cool store and buy some weird-ass comics.

* David Petersen shares some gaming art. It's always nice to see people present art like that because it reminds you how many different ways people are inspired to continue doing art.

* submissions are being sought for an all-girl comics anthology, Dirty Diamonds #5.

* Mike Lynch answers a really good question: does selling cartoon work become easier over time? The answer sounds like might become easier but it never gets easy.

* always happy to see a John Thompson drawing. Ditto unpublished Jaime Hernandez.

* not comics: I always suspected this.

* I'm sympathetic to the idea that a bunch of folks are somehow ignoring Archie Comics, but I actually think this isn't true, I think they've be covered to death recently in all the ways that a company like that can be covered. Part of that is what they've been up to, which is a more active engagement with the comics market. Part of that is that when Alex Segura was there he had contacts in comics coverage that have provided a fine template for them to follow even after he left. Part of it is that there's an explosion of interest in comics both generally (Archie can drive mainstream-publication coverage) and going deep (sites want to drive eyeballs and one way to do that is with a lot of articles).

* finally, I would imagine Megan Kelso to be a very good teacher.
 
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Happy 59th Birthday, Dennis Mallonee!

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Happy 56th Birthday, Howard Mackie!

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Happy 44th Birthday, Alex Ross!

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Happy 33rd Birthday, Jordan Shiveley!

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January 21, 2014


Tim O'Shea On The Passing Of Gary Arlington

Given that your tweet informed me of Gary Arlington's passing (and prompted me to write a piece about Arlington's death in Robot 6's Best of 7 column) it is slightly ungrateful for me to vent to you.

Actually it is most constructive to ask you a question. Was it the lack of coverage (from outlets other than you) on the passing of the retail and underground comic pioneer that meant you did not do a collective memory for Arlington? Or was it other mitigating factors?

Either way, thanks for ending my ignorance on who he was.
 
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Go, Read: Patrick Rosenkranz On The Late Gary Arlington

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Go, Look: Peter Disappears

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Bundled Extra: Retrofit In Midst Of Subscription Drive

imageThe small publisher Retrofit will upgrade to twelve-comics schedule in 2014, and is in the midst of a subscription drive in order to fund their year.

The artists announced are:

* Sam Alden
* Niv Bavarsky
* Josh Bayer
* Box Brown
* Ben Constantine
* Antoine Cosse
* Anne Emond
* Madeleine Flores
* Zac Gorman
* Akino Kondoh
* Jack Teagle

The Kondoh comic will be translated by Ryan Holmberg. Box Brown will provide two works, brining the total to twelve. Full-year, half-year, full-year digital only and half-year digital only are available at the Retrofit store.

That sounds like a very good line-up to me, and I'm happy for short works being done by a variety of newer cartoonists. A lot depends on the execution on the page, though, which I think might make a subscription more difficult for someone not on board with the underlying nobility of the project and its potential. I would have to imagine there are more than enough of those people, and let's hope for Retrofit's sake they're on board.
 
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Go, Look: The War Of The Worlds Starring Tom Cruise

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Bundled Extra: The Big Book Of Trashed To Abrams

imageThe cartoonist Derf Backderf made a lengthy announcement here that his new-work follow-up to his My Friend Dahmer at Abrams will be a book based on his Trashed characters, only this time a mix of straight-up fiction and non-fiction elements rather than memoir. The end result should be a narrative that works on that level but also gets at the topic of garbage collection and processing in America. Derf's write-up is a lot more entertaining than mine, though, and if you're a fan you'll want to read it if you haven't already.

That book did very well for Abrams and for Derf -- it's currently one of the official selection at the forthcoming Angouleme Festival -- and I imagine both camps are excited about this new work. Derf notes that this is what drove him to move away from serializing work on-line that will now go into that Abrams release.
 
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Go, Look: Breakdown Press

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Missed It: Heavy Metal Bought; Magazine Leaving Print

Steve Sunu's brief report on a new direction for the Heavy Metal name and related publishing enterprise seems to hit all the required points: those involved, the way they're setting up the company as a kind of film-driven "brand," the fact that the model for this is Legendary, that Kevin Eastman remains involved as a minority owner over on the publishing end of things, that the magazine will eventually leave print publication -- or at least print-first publishing -- to focus on being an on-line quarterly.

It seems to me there are a lot of magazine-related, comics-oriented publishing brand names that are under-utilized right now, but maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part. It does seem odd that things like National Lampoon and Epic don't exist in some form ruthlessly trying out material for these secondary opportunities; then again, with all the publishing opportunities out there I'm not sure you have to publish them yourselves to get access to what you need if you're one of these movie-makers. Honestly, though, it's not something I know a lot about.
 
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Go, Look: A One-Page Sam Hiti Comic, Tweeted

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Go, Read: Colleen Doran On A Rotten Publishing Deal

The cartoonist, artist and writer Colleen Doran has always written about comics-industry exploitation from the point of view of a working artist. Her post here is instructive from the naked exploitative nature of what seems to have gone down, tempered by her underlying incredulity that anyone doing the bare required minimum of research into how publishing works could be left this wide open in terms of being harmed. Both sides are important, and it's a mistake to see the latter as an apology for the former as much as it is all by itself crucial career advice. Anyway, if you can make it through that with out the jaw dropping a bit at least once, you are a more disciplined or perhaps more jaded soul than I am.
 
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Go, Look: The Fox Sister

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Go, Read: Profile Of VCU Class On Comics

Here. I've been screwing up mentioning this class in various "forthcoming events" way, but it's worth noting the collaboration between Tom De Haven and Kelly Alder for a few reasons: the number of outside resources they were able to bring in, the apparent popularity of the result, and Steve Bissette vowing to do comics again in part because of his experiences there.
 
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Go, Look: Random Leslie Stein Comic From Tumblr

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Bundled, Tossed, Untied And Stacked: Publishing News

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By Tom Spurgeon

* Characters, the latest from Paper Rocket Press, is imminent: it debuts February 1.

image* good news from Lauren Weinstein about continuing progress on her book.

* there's a second Aquaman series coming because... actually, I have no idea what that means, but it's sort of terrifying.

* here's a general update from one of our best cartoonists, John Porcellino.

* Trillium will be collected in August.

* I don't know that I'm all the way certain what this is, or why it's in my bookmarks, but I sure like pictures of boats.

* I'm always a little uncomfortable when a presentation of genre comics is presented as comics entire, because there's a wider range of work out there than gets portrayed in such pieces, but it's a good time for comics of that type, too, and I look forward to reading a lot of these books.

* Jessica Abel, Matt Madden and Lewis Trondheim did a comic for the Patte De Mouche collection at L'Asso.

* there's word of Michael DeForge and Pascal Girard projects among other in the "Graphica" section of this Quill & Quire report, including word that Chizine Publications is doing a line of graphic novels starting in 2015, to be sneak previewed this year with a work by Vincent Marcone.

* I'm all for Marvel pushing and pulling a bit with its second-tier characters, particularly if they aren't working for them in their standard form, so bring on this oddball-looking Moon Knight. I'm less happy with the goofy numbering -- I just have to think this makes no sense to anyone not at the shop every single Wednesday and fully engaged with those comics at their point of publication -- on this Daredevil comic, although that's been a solid performer for Marvel creatively for years now.

* nice to see Reprodukt tweeting out the cover for its version of Hilda And The Bird Parade.

* finally, Rob Davis released a cover image for his Fall 2014 SelfMadeHero release.

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Go, Look: Darwyn Cooke Mini-Gallery

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Missed It: Chip Kidd To Donate Archives To Penn State

The superior link-blogger Kevin Melrose has another of his fine stories and nice finds up: that the designer, editor, writer and occasional comics-maker Chip Kidd has donated his papers and archives to Penn State University, of which he is a graduate. This is a significant chunk of work for both book design and comics -- the thought that there are illustrated letters from Chris Ware out there will certainly be great news for an eventual biographer of that cartoonist.

The donation also underlines that with the wider acceptance of comics and graphic design as art forms of value that the school from which cartoonists and designers graduated are likely to be in play as places where some of the best material ends up.
 
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Go, Look: Erotica Par Barbe

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Not Comics: Weird Tales Magazine Photo Array

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Happy Tenth Anniversary To Tim O'Neil's Blog The Hurting

Here. The 2000s were weird and a bunch of us made some very odd choices.
 
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Not Comics: Jeffrey Jones Illustrates Red Shadows

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* Andrea Tsurumi talks to Tom Motley. Chris Arrant talks to Michel Fiffe.

* not comics: there are some lessons about digital archiving in general that can be drawn from this passionate essay about the state of modern academic publishing.

* this Chris Sims essay on DC's Harley Quinn character had a few interesting notions in it. The thing that made me perk up was his discussion of a recent plot point where the character murders a bunch of children followed by Sims noting that a couple of months later the company releases a comic book starring the character that is supposed to focus on her wacky, endearing, anti-hero, Tank Girl-lite side. A lot of big companies do this kind of shift with characters -- soap opera has its share of rapists-turned-romancers -- but the suddenness of it here is fairly alarming in terms of something that's been on my mind over the last two and a half years with DC Comics, the idea of their company-wide reboot as a facilitator for character/property development. It's really interesting for a company to insist on thematic and plotline continuity and resulting sameness but not extend that rigor to its characters within that overall framework.

* Brian Hibbs reminds that Free Comic Book Day as it's developed in some places -- a fan's expectation of getting every possible free comic from their local retailer -- is hardly free.

* not comics: I don't really follow movies very closely, but as Milton Griepp asserts here the when of movies coming out likely does tend change the relative profile of the companies involved; he's also right to note that Guardians Of The Galaxy is a potentially crucial film for Marvel and thus the blockbuster film industry of the next half-decade. I imagine most people are pretty aware of that, actually, but it's not something I think about.

* I don't know if this is publicly available, but Derf posted a mid-1980s photo of a Cleveland comic shop on his Facebook account; it made me smile.

* Kelly Thompson on EGOs #1. Sean Gaffney on Excel Saga Vol. 27. Matt Derman on some more comic books from 1987. J. Caleb Mozzocco on Wolverine And The X-Men Vol. 1. Jeffrey O. Gustafson on the new Marvel Knights books. Henry Chamberlain on Stars-N-You #1. Johanna Draper Carlson on Arisa Vol. 12. Richard Bruton on Psircus #2.

* finally, Fellini writes Moebius.
 
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Happy 57th Birthday, Bob Weber, Jr.!

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Happy 35th Birthday, Till Thomas!

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Happy 58th Birthday, Mark Martin!

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January 20, 2014


Go, Look: Sam Alden Has A Store Now, Kind Of

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New, Reconfigured Angouleme Grand Prix Voting + Protest Leads To Finalists Watterson, Otomo, Moore?

I'm not sure I know all of the context here, mostly because of an error on my part: I thought the articles about re-doing the voting for the big prize at Angouleme -- one of the great four or five honors in all of comics if not the best one -- were more decorative than substantive and at some point we'd get a bunch of fusty old people in a room casting votes for someone that didn't make a whole lot of sense. But not only is that public aspect part of the vote in what seems like a more significant way, it looks like a protest on behalf of some of the past winners has introduced a new, even more populist spin on things.

In other words, a process that seems to include a public vote and an academy vote done outside of the festival itself as seems to be described here is exactly the kind of process that leads you to a finalists list of Alan Moore, Bill Watterson and Katsuhiro Otomo. Those are all considerable creators fully deserving of any honor they could be given, and in fact I'd say I'm on record as praising two of those comics-makers ahead of their wide, public approbation. But it doesn't seem to me a very Angouleme short list, at least not when those choices work, and that's even with Otomo or someone from the manga tradition being so overdue for that specific recognition it's enough to make you run through the streets knocking down cosplayers and bellowing at the top of your lungs. I wouldn't want a half-dozen years in a row of only the most widely popular choices, although I take from the changes in the other awards the show gives out that this may be the direction we're heading.
 
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Go, Look: The Tunnel

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Go, Look: A Small Selection Of Links Related to MLK Day

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* 01 Ethan Persoff's posting of Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story
* 02 Sean Kleefeld presents that same comic
* 03 Persoff's presentation of the Spanish-language version of that same comic
* 04 recent article on that comic's historical importance
* 05 Sean Kleefeld presents Golden Legacy: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
* 06 Resources page at Fantagraphics for Ho Che Anderson's King
* 07 a coloring book page
* 08 although not comics, Dr. King has been the subject of several visual interpretations in children's picture books: here's one list containing some of the better-known examples.
* 09 Martin Luther King, Jr. page at Cartoonstock
* 10 Cagle index of Martin Luther King, Jr. cartoons
* 11 Resource page at Top Shelf for March (Book One)
* 12 Bill Mauldin's Gandhi and King cartoon
* 13 Herblock cartoon from the Montgomery bus boycott
* 14 Pat Oliphant's controversial Rodney King image re-purposing MLK speech
 
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Go, Look: An Illustrated Account Of The Great Maple Syrup Heist

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Comics By Request: People, Projects In Need Of Funding

imageBy Tom Spurgeon

* it's the last few days for the IndieGoGo effort spearheaded by Sequential Artists Workshop. That money will be judiciously spent, and there are several cool-looking incentives like the Vanessa Davis print/poster at left.

* the Stan Sakai fundraising efforts remain ongoing. I hope people will continue to pay attention to this one because I don't think that need is going to go away as quickly as we're able to match it.

* Dean Trippe's Something Terrible crowd-funding effort continues to return value to its participants well over the original asked-for amount. Those are hardcovers now, for instance.

* here's a comics anthology project that's started up its crowd-funder: Maple Key Comics. MOME and the Oily Comics effort are cited in a run of approximate models.

* finally, the Clydene Nee fundraiser looks to be slowing down a bit, but it's at 8X the original, requested amount. I'm sure any and all money could be put to good use if you've ever benefited from Nee's comics-related volunteer work on behalf of artists.
 
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Michael Sporn, RIP

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mentioned here less for his admirable career in animation than for his significant role as a blogger about cartooning
 
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Go, Look: A Bunch Of Alex Maleev Posts At Ungoliantschilde

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1, 2, 3, 4
 
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Go, Look: Slash Maraud Cover Mini-Gallery

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* Michael Maslin talks to Joe Dator.

* Art Spiegelman from 40 years ago.

* reading this Rich Johnston mini-essay on the importance of Miracleman, I think I realized why I have a hard time figuring out why its return has caught the attention of a certain kind of fan. I was at once so immersed in superhero comics of the time that I saw the Miracleman as less singular and more just very well-executed work of a type I thought I was seeing a lot of at the time; since then, I've lost track and interest in marking very specific permutations and incremental changes in that genre. I think it might help to come out this new re-offering of the series form the opposite view in both circumstances in order to see it as noteworthy rather than simply quality work. That sounds pejorative but I swear to God I don't intend it that way. I do like that series; I think it's a lot of fun, it's well-crafted and it's even thrilling at times. I'm glad for the creators involved participating in its re-release and hope they have fun with it. Mike Sterling writes about the work here from a retailing/fan-of-the-work perspective.

* that is indeed a cute cover.

* I'm not familiar with this feature, but I'm glad to see some Sean Ford work gain notice and that is indeed a clever and fun Daredevil page.

* I once suggested this to a friend as a Halloween costume. It's all eyebrows, hair and apron.

* finally, I wish I could be 9 years old reading Esad Ribic Thor comics.
 
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Happy 93rd Birthday, Mike Peyton!

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Happy 64th Birthday, Keith Pollard!

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Happy 70th Birthday, Bill Griffith!

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Happy 38th Birthday, Alexander Danner!

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Happy 46th Birthday, Gerry Alanguilan!

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FFF Results Post #363 -- Help Along The Way

On Friday, CR readers were asked to "List Five People In Comics, Whether You've Met Them Or Not, Who Helped You In Your Career Or Your Understanding Of The Art Form. Give The Year Of Your Encounter. For The Last One, Briefly Describe The Context." This is how they responded.

*****

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ERIC REYNOLDS

1. Gary Groth (1993)
2. Peter Bagge (1993)
3. Daniel Clowes (1994)
4. Robert Williams (1996)
5. Kim Thompson (1996) -- The person I spent more time around over the last 20 years than anyone but my wife. I'm still learning things from him, even though he's not here.

*****

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Julia Wertz

1. Peter Bagge (2004)
2. Benn & Rachel (2006)
3. Laura Park (2007)
4. Annie Koyama (2012)
5. Julie Doucet (2003 and 2013) first inspiring me in 2003 through her work, which was a major lynchpin in my foray into comics, and then in 2013 for telling me that it’s okay to quit comics and do whatever the hell I want.

*****

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STEVE LIEBER

1. Harvey Kurtzman: (In print) 1978
2. Joe Kubert: In print-1974. In person-1987
3. Jaime Hernandez: (In print) 1983
4. Jeff Parker 1993
5. Bob Schreck 1991 I met Bob at a convention and showed him some work. He went on to hire me for three separate projects, all of which had a huge impact on my career.

*****

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JEFFREY O. GUSTAFSON

1. J. Michael Straczynski. (I've been following Straczynski's works since 1993 and his once-voluminous online presence since at least 1996, informative, entertaining, enlightening.)
2. Heidi MacDonald (as long as The Beat's been online/when she gave me the opportunity to write for her last year)
3. Jonathan Hickman (2009)
4. Dan Slott (Every conversation I've had with the man, 2008,'09,'10,'11,'12,'13)
5. JHU Comics Books co-owner/manager Nick Purpura. I have learned more about comics, retail (and Life) from this man than any other person. (2007)

*****

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JAMES VANCE

1. Denis Kitchen (1987)
2. Dave Schreiner (1987)
3. Harvey Kurtzman (1986)
4. Archie Goodwin (1995)
5. John Wooley (1984), who told me that instead of adapting my "Kings in Disguise" as a backup for his Fantagraphics series "The Miracle Squad," I should pitch it as a book on its own.

*****

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TIM O'NEIL

1. Abhay Kholsa (2002)
2. Neilalien (2004)
3. Mike Sterling (2004)
4. Tucker Stone (2008)
5. Milo George (2001) -- My first review for the Journal had actually been rejected by outgoing editor Anne Elizabeth Moore. When Milo got the job his first issue didn't have a scheduled feature, so it ended up being an odds-and-sods backlog of reviews and apparently even stuff off the slush pile -- such as my review of Wendel All Together. I've been coasting on the Journal's reputation for thirteen years now, even if I haven't written anything officially for the magazine since, I believe, 2008.

*****

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MATTHEW CRAIG

1. Simon Furman, 1986
2. art spiegelman, 1991
3. Scott McCloud, 1993
4. Warren Bloody Ellis, 1995-2007
5. Shane Chebsey. For more than a decade, Shane has been responsible for taking small press and indy comics to the masses, through his Smallzone publishing house/distribution service and organisation of conventions in the English Midlands. My first shows (and most of my best) were organised by Shane and his colleagues, and I look forward to their resumption this Autumn.

*****

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DANNY CEBALLOS

* Don Martin (1975)
* Ian Pollock (1984)
* Jim Woodring (1990)
* Gabrielle Bell (2009)
* Lynda Barry's WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE class profoundly changed my writing and thinking about comics and life. (2003)

*****

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JANICE HEADLEY

* lynda barry (1994) -- my gateway artist into underground comix
* mike baehr (1996) -- for a million reasons, natch! and for taking me to million year picnic in cambridge the first night we met
* gary groth & kim thompson (2007) -- for inviting me into the fantagraphics family, and for believing in me
* peggy burns (2007) -- for inspiring me to do things better (WWPBD)
* eroyn franklin & kelly froh (2013) -- for inviting me to be a part of short run, which has been one of the most rewarding projects i've ever worked on

*****

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SARAH HORROCKS

1. Brandon Graham (2013)
2. Sloane Leong (2012)
3. Alison Sampson (2012)
4. Robin McConnell (2009)
5. David Lafuente (2008) -- Met him when I was still just making collage comics, and he had feedback every week on what I was doing with them, and just in general gave me someone to talk about the art of making comics, at a time when I could have just as easily been making comics in a complete vacuum, he gave me both an audience, and someone I could learn from, without him my art wouldn't have progressed nearly as quickly.

*****

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MARC-OLIVER FRISCH

1. Eric J. Moreels (2003)
2. Heidi MacDonald (2004)
3. Frauke Pfeiffer (2005)
4. Klaus Schikowski (2012)
5. Alan Heathcock, who as far as I can tell has nothing to do with comics except having one of his short stories illustrated by Marjane Satrapi but is the best teacher I ever had, told me, when we parted ways, to "Go out there and do some damage." I still hope I didn't misunderstand him.

*****

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DAVE KELLY

* Chester Gould (1986)
* Bob Kane (1986)
* Vernon Wiley, owner of my hometown store The Comix Gallery (2002)
* Michel Fiffe (2011)
* Julia Wertz (2008) -- A former co-worker of mine who couldn't understand why the hell I bought her book (Fart Party I). I liked it so much, it made me want to publish comics of my own.

*****

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James Moore

1. Warren Ellis (2000ish)
2. Robert Loss (2012)
3. Katie Valeska/Ken Eppstein/Christian Hoffer (2011)
4. Lucy Caswell (2013)
5. Joel Jackson (2009) -- for saying "Do you want to make a comic book together?" and then our doing so. I've got to know so many fantastic people, and had so many experiences that all spiral from that moment.

*****

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DERIK A. BADMAN

1. Dave Sim (1991)
2. Frank Santoro (2005)
3. Andrei Molotiu (2008)
4. The guy who ran my local small town comic store which carried everything (1989)
5. Some random person at a comic con in NJ (~1989) who handed me a free copy of Appleseed v.1 no. 2 and thus introduced me to real manga.

*****

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SCOTT DUNBIER

* Ernie Colon (1983)
* Carol Kalish (1984)
* Darwyn Cooke (2007)
* Gene Ha (2007)
* Sarah Becker very kindly showed me how to edit my first comic book when I was too self-conscious and proud to ask for help (1995)

*****

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CHRIS DUFFY

1. Carol Kalish (1989)
2. Howard Cruse (1991)
3. Peter Kuper (1992)
4. Mark Newgarden (1993)
5. Len Wein told me to get my ass to New York City if I wanted a job in comics. (1990).

*****

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PEGGY BURNS

1. Diane Noomin (1993)
2. Daniel Clowes (1997)
3. Jeff Ayers (1999)
4. Joe Sacco: (2000)
5. Tom Devlin: (2001) The love of my life, father of my children, my coworker and best friend: but also the crazy-ass genius of Highwater Books willing to risk everything and his own well-being so people could read the comics of cartoonists who otherwise may not be published. Every morning when we leave for work, he says "Let's Go Save Comics" -- at once driving me insane, making me laugh and happy to go to work.

*****

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JUSTIN J. MAJOR

1. Chris Ware (2005)
2. Ivan Brunetti (2005)
3. Seth (1992)
4. Chris Onstad (2002)
5. Lynda Barry drawing a cartoon for me on a sweetener packet was my first non-commercial contact with a comics artist. (1997).

*****

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TOM DEVLIN

1. Don Martin (1976) The most powerful image maker of that era of MAD. His cartoons from that era are still seared in my brain.
2. Gilbert Hernandez (1984) I had lost interest in comics mostly but the Palomar stories brought me back in hard. I believe he changed everything in modern comics more than any other person.
3. Jessica Abel (1994) I was working at the Million Year Picnic and bringing cartoonists to the store for signings. Not only did Jessica have tons of great advice when I started Highwater, she said to me the famous words, "you should call this kid in Providence, Brian Ralph."
4. Ron Regé Jr (1994) Ron was the first devoted underground comics reader I ever met and the first person I could talk about the possibilities of comics stories with.
5. Peggy Burns (2001) The most important person in comics and my love and every morning she says "ugh" when I say "Let's Go Save Comics."

*****

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ADRIAN KINNAIRD

1. Grant Morrison (1998)
2. Eddie Campbell (2000)
3. David Mack (2002)
4. Mike Allred (2010)
5. Dylan Horrocks (2006) Recommended me to an editor, which led to my first graphic novel pitch - and learning the ropes. Thanks, D!

*****

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SEAN KLEEFELD

1. Paul Jenkins (1999)
2. John Morrow (2003)
3. Tom Brevoort (2009)
4. David Gallaher (2011)
5. Peter Sanderson's work helped serve as an early model for both my research and my writing. (1985)

*****

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JEFF PARKER

* Al Williamson (1989)
* Bo Hampton (1992)
* Steve Lieber (1993-now)
* Hank Kanalz (1994-now)
* Mark Paniccia -- If you've enjoyed anything I wrote in ten years of writing Marvel comics, then please thank Mark Paniccia who has always wanted to hear how I would handle a project.

*****

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STEVE MURPHY

1. Gary Groth and Kim Thompson (1977 onwards)
2. Bryan Talbot (1982)
3. Dave Sim (1985)
4. Eastman and Laird (1988)
5. Michael Zulli, for walking into my comics shop and setting both our wheels in motion (1984).

*****

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MATT EMERY

1. Geoff Harrison (1985)
2. Tim Bollinger (Late '90's)
3. Tom Spurgeon (2005)
4. Baden Kirgan (2008)
5. Brendan Halyday taught me all about the production side of making and printing comics and has been a continual great source of advice. (2007)

*****

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JOE DECIE

* Joann Sfar (2012)
* Kenny Penman (2010)
* James Kochalka (2008)
* Delaine Derry Green (1996)
* Roger Radio, my stepdad, showed me even my stepdad could draw crap jokes -- he used to draw strips and cartoons for VIZ (1986)

*****

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CHRIS ARRANT

1. Mike Heisler (1995)
2. Matt Brady (2005)
3. Dean Haspiel (2006)
4. Dan Warner (2006)
5. Ross Campbell and I hung out at the bar outside SDCC when he was just an up-and-comer and humanized to me the struggle of people working in comics, and gave me a new perspective. (2006)

*****

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WILL PFEIFER

* Matt Feazell (1986)
* P. Craig Russell (1986)
* Jill Thompson (1988)
* Joan Hilty (1998)
* Jay Geldhof let me hang out in his studio and make my mini-comics (1986)

*****

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DAN MORRIS

1. Dustin Harbin (1999)
2. Stephen Bissette (2000)
3. Chester Brown (2003)
4. Frank Santoro (2006)
5. Brian Ralph telling me that I needed to figure out a direction for my work (2009)

*****

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MELISSA MENDES

1. Bill Watterson (1992)
2. Jason Lutes (2001)
3. Brian Ralph (2004)
4. James Sturm (2005)
5. Ana Merino said one of my short stories had all images and no action. (2009)

*****

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BUZZ DIXON

1. Gerry Boudreau (1978)
2. Mark Evanier (1979)
3. Jack Kirby (1980)
4. Stan Lee (1985)
5. Steve Gerber was a fellow staff writer at Ruby-Spears; he asked me to script a fight scene for Destroyer Duck #5 that ended up being drawn by Jack Kirby -- HOW'S THAT FOR A FIRST GIG IN COMICS!!! (1979)

*****

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CHARLES FORSMAN

1. Alec Longstreth (2006)
2. James Sturm (2008)
3. Lynda Barry (2007)
4. Tom Devlin (2007)
5. Sammy Harkham told me to stop drawing pointy elbows on my characters. (2012)

*****

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CHARLES BROWNSTEIN

* Jim Valentino (1992)
* Rory Root (1994)
* Denis Kitchen (1995)
* Rick Veitch (1995)
* Larry Marder (1993) -- answered all my questions for the interview magazine I published, and eventually invited me to run his Beanworld booth from 1995 to 1998, which was my graduate education in the comics business. He didn't teach me everything I know, but he taught me how to think about all the knowledge I acquire.

*****

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ALAN DOANE

1. Cat Yronwode (1979)
2. Barry Windsor-Smith (1999)
3. James Kochalka (2000)
4. Tony Isabella (2003)
5. Milo George asked me to write an article for The Comics Journal (2004).

I doubt Cat Yronwode remembers talking to me on the phone for an hour in 1979, but I'll never forget it!

*****

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JE COLE

1. Goseki Kojima (2000)
2. Sean Phillips (2010)
3. Juan Gimenez (1999)
4. Brandon Graham (2013)
5. Sean Azzopardi (2014) "Good luck Joseph. Maybe next year just put something out. You'll learn much, much, more than any book can offer up. Lose that fear, invite criticism. There is a lot of work to be made, don't leave it too late!"

*****

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RYAN SANDS

1. Jose Garibaldi (1994)
2. Eric Nakamura (2007)
3. Colin Turner (2007)
4. Fred Schodt (2008)
5. Michael DeForge brought me along with him to a basement punk show during TCAF weekend, and we shared a fifth of Jameson. (2009).

*****

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DOUGLAS WOLK

1. Dafna Pleban (2009)
2. Chris Ryall (2012)
3. Randy Scott (1982)
4. Heidi MacDonald (2000)
5. Dan Mishkin gave me my first credit in a comic book. (1983)

*****

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DUSTIN HARBIN

1. Shelton Drum (1993)
2. Matt Fraction (1996)
3. Paul Pope (1997)
4. Chris Pitzer (2005)
5. Annie Koyama (2009)

Annie is inspirational in a way that not many people will ever be. I feel lucky to know her and to have her friendship, and I feel even more fortunate that we have a person with her energy and selflessness working in our selfish little industry.

*****

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RYAN KELLY

1. Peter Krause (1990)
2. Peter Gross (1997)
3. Brian Wood (2005)
4. Becky Cloonan (2006)
5. Wally Wood -- I never met him, I just find his work and life interesting. Plus, he's from Minnesota.

*****

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DAVID BAILLIE

1. Simon Furman (1988)
2. Scott McCloud (1999)
3. Stan Sakai (2003)
4. Matt Smith / Tharg (2006)
5. Mike Carey -- the first professional writer to give me encouragement -- he also passed on the advice given to him by Karen Berger: that there's no such thing as a big break, just a series of small ones. (2007)

*****

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JAMIE S. RICH

1. Jann Robinson (2007)
2. Steven T. Seagle (2004)
3. Scott Morse (1999)
4. Michael Allred (1994)
5. Jo Duffy, gave me my first script review, even though I did it all wrong, at a Creation Con in Los Angeles. (1986).

*****

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TOM SPURGEON

1. Dan Wright (1979)
2. Kim Thompson (1994)
3. Gary Groth (1994)
4. Caitlin McGurk (2011)
5. Wiley W. Spurgeon, Jr. (1981) -- both of my parents were generally positive about my interest in comics but Dad actually clipped Barnaby for a while, and that was an act so light years ahead of my own interest in comics that it really blew me away. He counts because, as he constantly reminded me when I worked at The Comics Journal, he had one of the most important jobs in my industry: buying strips for the newspaper he ran.

*****

topic suggested and list provided by Chris Duffy

*****
*****
 
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January 19, 2014


CR Sunday Interview: Ron Marz

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*****

Ron Marz is a mostly-mainstream industry veteran known for his lengthy runs on a variety of characters including Silver Surfer at Marvel, Green Lantern at DC, Witchblade for Top Cow. He may be best known for two plotlines related to the Green Lantern concept -- the killing of Alexandra Dewitt and the turning of Hal Jordan -- although when I mentioned his name to one of his peers the first thing that person mentioned was the long period Marz spent developing the Sara Pezzini character in the Top Cow books. Marz is one of those professionals that's worked at so many interesting places you look forward to the eventual career-spanner someone will do. His stops include the aforementioned mainstream comics companies in their fascinating just-post-Image days, Virgin Comics, and CrossGen.

I saw that Marz was writing The Mucker in webcomics form, which with art by Lee Moder will be appearing on the Edgar Rice Burroughs web site. I think The Mucker an odd book, and Edgar Rice Burroughs in an interesting place vis-a-vis modern pop culture: this fount of ideas, many of them marketable in other media, forced to compete with a million surging properties and concepts, many of which in some way owing a considerable debt to his work. The Mucker is a well-received Burroughs offering from reasonably early in his publishing career that kind of turns on their head a lot of the ideas we ascribe to Burroughs. It is also broadly rather than specifically indebted to other material of its time. Marz and Moder's The Mucker debuted yesterday, and the upstate New York-based writer was nice enough to give me some time on a Friday afternoon to talk. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

TOM SPURGEON: I think of Edgar Rice Burroughs as a topic that comes up with older comics professionals in their old Comics Journal interviews, how he was a foundational presence for anyone in that era that worked with escapist media. I think of him much less so that way now, much less of an automatic influence. You're slightly older than I am, so I wondered if there was as natural an inclination to engage with Burroughs when you were growing up as there might have been for our fathers' generations. I saw in one interview you did recently that you did indeed read Burroughs as a young person, quite passionately. How did you latch onto Burroughs -- was it the books? Was it through other media?

RON MARZ: I think most guys -- and I don't use "guys" in a generally male/female sense, because it's generally guys that discovered Burroughs in the mid-'70s. I think it was primed for someone of my generation to have latched onto all of that stuff in '76 or '77 up through 1980 or something like that. All of the Burroughs stuff started re-appearing in paperbacks.

SPURGEON: So you're talking these snappily-designed, [Frank] Frazetta illustrated or Frazetta-like illustrated paperbacks?

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MARZ: That would be the Gino D'Achille covers on the Ballantine John Carter Of Mars series. Which were followed by Michael Whelan covers. And then the Tarzan stuff, which had Frazetta and Boris [Vallejo] and Neal Adams. I was buying those things because I had fallen in love with the covers, and then I was falling in love with what was inside. It's pretty common for people at just the right age in that era to have an adolescent attachment to that stuff. I know from reading interviews with Andrew Stanton, who directed the John Carter movie, who I think is just the same age as I am or maybe one or two years younger or older, he kind of had the same experience. You discover that stuff at that magic age between 10 and 14. It sticks with you the rest of your life.

SPURGEON: So what is it that you responded to, Ron? What were those kids reacting to in that material? What is a strength of that material that punches through for you?

MARZ: It was the adventure of it, and that the women were beautiful and half-naked on the covers. I"m not ashamed to admit that. The heroes were stalwart heroes, they were cut from the heroic mold that we frankly don't see a lot anymore. These were adventures as well as romances. It was the discovery of your significant other on an alien planet. It just doesn't get any better than that.

And they were page turners. And still are, frankly. All of the Burroughs stuff to me is a perfect example of what an adventure story is supposed to do, which is propel you through a story because you care about what happens to the characters.

SPURGEON: Yours was certainly not the first generation of readers to fall in love with this material. Did you have any sense of or interaction with Burroughs as someone you should read, as a canonical writer of fantasy adventure? Did you ever feel like he was somebody you were supposed to read because he was one of the greats? Did you get to him on that level?

MARZ: Not really. I think I was too young at the time to really grasp the overall influence that Burroughs had had since the stuff first started appearing. I just read them because I liked them and they were thoroughly entertaining to me. I was drawn to that kind of material: Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Lieber, as well as [JRR] Tolkien. And Terry Brooks with Sword Of Shannara, that was the new kid on the block at the time. There was not a whole of this material out there. If you wanted to read a fantasy series, you read Tolkien and Terry Brooks and there wasn't a whole lot else. It wasn't until a few years later that the spate of fantasy material being written at the time started to hit. Obviously those were generated by the success of this older material finding a new audience. I think I latched onto Burroughs before I did Howard, and because there were so many more Burroughs books that's what I really buried myself in.

SPURGEON: Did you carry this stuff with you as you grew older, then, or do you think of this exposure to Burroughs as being of a time? Did you have go back to Burroughs at some point, or has he always been present?

MARZ: I think in an overall way I have kept it with me. It's been an influence ever since I discovered this stuff. A lot of the novels I haven't read again except for specific work-related needs. I don't know, in a lot of ways your first love is your best love. There's a misty veil of nostalgia when you look back, and in a lot of ways it's more about the feel than the specifics of a work. But now going back and reading a bunch of this stuff -- in particularly The Mucker... that's a pretty damn good book! I know Burroughs is seen as this pulp guy that churned it out, but he was a pretty good damn writer. I know when I was 12 years old I wanted nothing more than to grow up and be Edgar Rice Burroughs. That or Ray Harryhausen, but both of those jobs were taken.

imageSPURGEON: The Mucker is an odd book in Burroughs' career. It's kind of early, as I recall, and it's almost but not quite stand-alone; in fact, I don't know what it is you're adapting.

MARZ: There's two books and then sort of a related book. The plan is to adapt everything that's possible. You're right, it is sort of the redheaded stepchild of the Burroughs canon. It's unlike anything else he did in terms of it being a book set in contemporary times to when it was written -- a lot of the Burroughs books have either a timeless feel or were set, like the John Carter stuff, somewhat in the past.

I think the other big thing with this is the main character, Billy Byrne, is really not a very nice guy. [laughs] The other Burroughs heroes are these honorable, square-jawed stalwarts who did the right thing because it was the right thing. They start off with a sense of decency and honor and what's right. The Mucker is none of those things. He's a street thug, basically. I was fascinated by this. When the opportunity to do this came up, I said, "Is anybody taking on The Mucker?" It's such a different vibe. I felt like it would be a treat to work on it in terms of character and setting.

SPURGEON: You can get a sense of some Burroughs work in terms of a context for work of that type during the time he wrote it: The Mad King had as a contemporary and immediate forbear the Anthony Hope books. The Mucker has always kind of slipped easy comparisons to works from other writers, at least for me. Were there other works like The Mucker out there that Burroughs was riffing on or drawing inspiration from, or is the book series as odd in its time as it is odd in the context of Burroughs' career?

MARZ: My assumption is that there was a fair amount of pulp material out there at the time that was not altogether different from The Mucker, but all of that stuff has been -- except for real aficionados -- all of that stuff has been kind of lost in time. And frankly probably most of it wasn't very memorable in the first place. So it's this weird square peg in a round Burroughs hole. I think it really holds up, maybe because it's so different than everything people associate him with.

SPURGEON: That one is class-conscious, even, and its central relationship is more layered than a lot of Burroughs' other work.

MARZ: It is absolutely class conscious. It's the other side of the coin of the nobility you find in Greystoke and the kind of southern gentleman you have with John Carter. Everyone was fairly well-refined. Then you get this guy who would despise Tarzan and John Carter upon first meeting them.

SPURGEON: There's a transformative aspect to the character, too. He's a bad guy that ends up doing good things. I can't recall if this is because of the central relationship or because of a variety of factors, but there's definitely a progression with the lead character that's maybe not typical to other Burroughs works.

MARZ: Right. There's more of a hero's journey -- the classic [Joseph] Campbell hero's journey -- with Billy Byrne than with other classic Burroughs protagonists. They all start out as pretty swell guys, and completely accomplished. They can fight. The loves of their lives fall into helpless love with them. They're very much idealized heroes. Billy Byrne is the opposite end of this. He's an unsavory character, and because of that there's more growth in him than with other leads.

SPURGEON: Do you have a sense of why this one was so different? Was there an element of genre correction or Burroughs pushing back against some of his other work? Is there a social criticism aspect to this work?

MARZ: I really don't have an answers to that, other than I look at Burroughs as a guy that was first and foremost a working writer. He cranked this stuff out. There was imagination on display like few other things. Because of that imagination he was constantly churning out stuff, and I think this was just something... something different. I admire it in that way even more than some of the other stuff because it's so different. Maybe a lesser writer would have had no interest in pursuing something like this because it wasn't as commercially accessible as another Tarzan book and another John Carter book. He went off and did something different because presumably he felt like doing it, which I admire greatly.

SPURGEON: You're working with the Burroughs estate directly on this, right?

MARZ: Yeah.

imageSPURGEON: So what is their hope in terms of having a Mucker adaptation out there? What is their stake in having you revisit this work?

MARZ: I think first and foremost it's a way to try and breathe life into these properties that haven't had a whole lot of life in decades. You can still go on Amazon and do a digital download of The Mucker. You can order a print copy. But certainly when I was kid in the '70s and you walked into a bookstore -- and I walked into a lot of bookstores, I practically lived in them -- there was an entire shelf of Edgar Rice Burroughs. All the different series: John Carter, Tarzan, Venus, the historical stuff like The Outlaw of Torn, it was all there, in some form or another, from Ballantine or Ace or one of the publishers. You walk into a Barnes And Noble now, there's maybe a John Carter omnibus, maybe a few Tarzan volumes and that's about it. It's not in the public consciousness as much as it once was. So I think these strips are maybe a way to bring some eyes back onto these properties.

For me, I'm doing it because I love this stuff. I feel like I owe a debt to Burroughs for inspiring me to do what I do in a lot of ways. If I can get another generation to pay some attention to this material, I'll feel like I've done some service to the estate overall, I guess.

It's a curious mix of nostalgia -- which these projects certainly have an aspect of, in both the properties themselves and the fact we're doing Sunday style pages, because how many people even look at Sunday comic strips anymore -- married to the fact that we're doing these strips on-line and we're making them accessible to frankly anybody that can log onto the Internet. To me it's a curious and hopefully enticing mixture of nostalgia and new media.

SPURGEON: Something you were talking about just now really hit me. The context is so very different now for any project like this. You've worked on a wide variety of other people's properties, ranging from stuff that's 100 years old to stuff that's 50 to stuff that's 20. You've also worked on your own material, which at its inception is of course brand new. And you're doing this all in this massive, massive marketplace for ideas and concepts that exists right now. There are so many more players in that market than there used to be. These concepts retaining currency has to be an absolute struggle for those interested in seeing these properties continue to find an audience. Do you ever stop to think what it might have been like to work during a time -- 30, 40, 50 years ago -- when there wasn't as much material competing for eyeballs? Do you ever regret the fact that so many people want to place so many things in front of people's eyes? That it's this competitive?

MARZ: It's absolutely a two-edged sword. The access that we have to eyeballs is wonderful... but everyone else has the same access. [laughter] So you're shouting to be heard above the din.

I don't even know if there's a right answer for that. It's wonderful to be able to have access to people and be able to put your think about there on the smorgasbord table with everybody else. But yeah, it was certainly a lot easier to reach your target audience when there weren't literally thousands of other purveyors out there trying to get the same eyeballs.

The first stuff I wrote was in 1990. It's certainly a hugely different marketplace now. I see pluses and minuses to both of them. I think the real winner is the consumer that gets to sample whatever they want. It's a plus for the providers of content to a certain extent because there is so much more access for people to check out what you're doing, but because of that access there's always someone willing to do it for cheaper, or for free. I think there's more competition for slot to get in front of people than there have ever been.

SPURGEON: Someone in your position, someone has been doing this for 20 years now, are you happy with the place you've built for yourself to create? Are you happy in terms of the rapport you have with an audience and the skill set you continue to develop? There's a disposable element to comics culture: "we've seen what this person can do; onto the next person." Are you happy with the audience you've built? Are you happy with the stories you get to tell them?

MARZ: The answer is yes to both. I'm happy with what I can do and I'm happy for the opportunities that I have. Again, there's always somebody there to take your gig. That's reality. I would be less concerned if I were 24 years old and not married and not possessed of three kids to feed. There are practical concerns in which you have to make sure that you're steering your career in a way that you can extend your career.

I'm completely thankful that I was able to establish my career in years past. There's a certain amount of cachet for having done this for a while, for having played in the Marvel and DC universes. I think that's something virtually everybody has to do in their career in order to gain an audience and be taken seriously as a creator. With some exceptions. So I'm glad I was able to do that. Having some name value and having some experience under your belt gets you a bit of a pass in terms of people being willing to try what you're doing. I think that's a huge thing. If I were a 20-year-old creator, just trying to get me worked looked at by somebody, I think it would be a hugely depressing undertaking, because there are so many people trying to do the exact same thing.

I also think there's fiercer competition for gigs now than I've ever seen before, in terms of any gig belonging to anybody. In years past, there was very much a sense of honor or loyalty -- however you want to describe it -- among creators that if you had a gig, that was yours. You didn't pitch for somebody else's book and they didn't pitch for yours until the editor had decided to move on or there were plans to relaunch or whatever. That's very much a thing of the past. In speaking to other creators, that's something that a lot of guys from my generation and the generation that came right after me have noticed. There's not really a sense of "ownership" of a creative gig anymore. It's a free-for-all. I've known people that I considered friends and still consider friends pitch for a book I was writing while I was on them.

SPURGEON: Oh no.

MARZ: That's the new reality, that that sort of stuff is done. I've literally had an editor tell me, "Hey yeah, this guy came in and said he would do the book and he would do it for half the rate you're writing for."

SPURGEON: Oh my God.

MARZ: It's a cutthroat world more so than it ever has been. Creators are moved in and out of assignments more quickly.

SPURGEON: [laughs] You know it struck me that I was about to ask my follow-up questions in terms of the positives and negatives of this, but I don't think we've had that wide a discussion and it's hard for me to figure out any positives. Is there anything positive from a milieu that features this fetid, fevered marketplace? Does it keep it on your toes, at least? Is this something we just chalk up to an overall negative?

MARZ: I think there are more negative than positive aspects to it. It does keep you on your toes. It forces you to consider that you may have to reinvent yourself every so often. It certainly leads to creators, whether they're writer or artists, being aware that they have a shelf life and you need to be thinking about your next gig all of the time.

Certainly when I broke in at Marvel and then moved over to DC, unless there was a problem, unless sales plummeted, you got to stay on a book for as long as you wanted to, for as long as you felt like you had ideas. That's really not the way it works anymore. There's again such a competition to get eyeballs, to get sales to get buzz to get attention. Very rarely do creators get to stick around and do a four-year run on a book because the best way to lose sales is to keep doing what you're doing. Sales attrition happens everywhere, to good books and bad books. Bad books it's worse, frankly. I've found that the easiest way to lose readers in a lot of ways is to just keep doing a solid book every month. [laughter]

Frankly, there is so much competition for the attention of the audience that the inevitable winnowing of those sales numbers continues to trend downward. If you don't do something over four months, every six months, however often you can, to get some press, get some interest, get some people to talk about what you're doing, eventually you're in a position where everybody looks up and says, "How did we lose a third of our sales?"

SPURGEON: There's hard-won wisdom there, so that's an advantage you may have now that you didn't a decade or 15 years ago, but I'm also interested in talking about this in terms of your skills. What do you think is different about your writing now, Ron? How is a work of yours different now than even five years ago? Or are your perhaps obscenely consistent?

MARZ: I don't know. I think perspective always lends a clearer picture and you sort of view what you've done three years down the road with a lot more clarity than when you're in the midst of it. I think I probably have a grasp of what I do and what I can do and feel like what I can do well. I know the things I want to write. I know the kinds of stories and am better at writing than others. I always look at the difference between idea-driven stories and character driven stories. As a reader, I can enjoy both, but I'm much more drawn to character-driven stories. As a reader, but even more so as a writer. I'm not terribly interested in doing stories with big ideas where the characters... you're not terribly invested in them. I think a lot of current comics fall into one category or another. I think that generally the really well-done comics are the ones that can bridge that gap, and be something more than each camp can offer on its own.

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SPURGEON: I've read a bunch of your Top Cow stuff. You seem to have fallen very comfortably into telling the stories of your lead characters. There doesn't seem to be a lot of fussiness there, Ron, it seems like you have a pretty firm grasp on who those characters and the kind of setting you think it's interesting to place them. There's an authority to the way you present your main characters.

MARZ: I think that's my job. That's how I approach my job. I always approach it -- doing superhero stuff or doing supernatural stuff or whatever, my self-imposed edict is I want the reader to care enough about the protagonist that they'd read a book about the protagonist doing something that has nothing to do with being a superhero or being supernaturally challenged or anything like that. The fact that we shouldn't be doing books about superheroes not being superheroes [Spurgeon laughs] is a separate discussion. Ultimately, I don't want to read a Superman story where he doesn't punch somebody after a while.

But I do feel like the writer's job is to make whatever the characters do look interesting. Pages of endless exposition don't interest me the same way that pages of endless fight scenes don't interest me if I'm not engaged with what those characters are trying to do. So I approach my job from a character-first standpoint. If I can make a connection with the character, I can stay on the book a while. For me it's the difference between my run on Green Lantern, which was seven years because I was fully invested in building that character and trying to inhabit his life, and that I lasted a year on Superboy because I figured out I didn't care what a 16-year-old kid was doing.

SPURGEON: With the Top Cow material you write, how is that audience different? I have no sense of that audience. None at all. Is that a different audience than those that might follow you onto a more directly mainstream assignment, Ron?

MARZ: A little bit, but in terms of execution not hugely different. But in terms of freedom... Top Cow has always given me a huge amount of "Go do what you want. If you go too far we'll let you know." I had and still have the ability to evolve the characters I'm dealing with without being too constrained by media tie-ins or selling bedsheets or whatever. That's not to say that's an inherently bad aspect of writing in one of the Big Two universes. That just goes with the territory. If you're not sanguine with the fact that you can't just decide what happens to these characters because you're working within a framework, then you shouldn't be doing that job.

The Top Cow stuff is for me a little more mature, a little darker because we're working with a lot of supernatural stuff. But I don't think in the details of the job I approach it any differently. It's all character-driven stuff and when I have a character that I feel like I can inhabit, I prefer to stick around for the long term. Which I know is the exception rather than the rule in the way publishing plans are set up.

SPURGEON: How is The Mucker structured. I should know this, but I don't. You mentioned Sunday strips -- is it like a Sunday strip, then?

MARZ: It's a Sunday strip. I should say a Sunday-style strip because they will appear on Saturdays.

SPURGEON: So it's like a broadsheet, a big, giant sheet of comics?

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MARZ: Oh, I wish it was a broadsheet. I love broadsheet-style comics. No, this is more a Sunday style comic from when we were growing up, essentially a third of a broadsheet page. I would dearly love to do a Prince Valiant. We actually did an issue of Scion at Crossgen where every spread was turned on its side to reveal a Prince Valiant-sized broadsheet. It's still one of my favorite issues ever. This isn't quite that. I think dimensions-wise this is a regular comics page turned on its side.

SPURGEON: The reason I ask, Ron, is that you have a very assured sense of structure. Your comics don't seem hurried, don't seem to end abruptly. There's enough substance to them without seeming tedious or long. You have a natural grasp of how to use that comic book structure. I wonder after shifting structure to work on The Mucker. Has it been a challenge to make that format work for you?

MARZ: It's slightly different in that there's a brevity that's necessary. You have to make sure each strip, essentially each page, feels complete in some ways. The people that are going to be reading this weekly, there are six days in between. That unit you give them once a week has to have some sense of completeness to it, as well has having some sort of a cliffhanger, some sort of leap in the final panel. There's a little less latitude in terms of "I'd love to do a big-ass splash image here and use the whole panel." You're not able to do that. So that's different that traditionally structured comic book. Even in a 20-page traditional comics you're working towards visual payoffs every so often, you're working towards some sort of larger page on each page so that there's some sort of visual interest and visual contrast on each page. This is slightly different in that you're working on a one-off every time.

That said, I'm really enjoying it. Most of the strips are ending up at about six panels, because they feels like about the right amount of pacing per week. Here and there we'll dip around to five and some of them are seven or eight panels depending if there's a special rhythm we want to give to it. More than anything, the fact that I'm working with Lee Moder on The Mucker and I'll be working Bart Sears on Korak... these guys are two of my best friends, these are guys I've worked with for years, and they both happen to be really damn good artists. So there's a huge saftey net for me. If I write a lousy script one week, I know they're going to save it.

SPURGEON: [laughs] You know, I forgot to ask about your perspective on the conventional wisdom concerning the quality of the Mucker books. That is a line of thinking that says the first one is really good, and the second one and the sequel with the supporting character aren't very good. Do you agree with that?

MARZ: I think the first one is maybe a little bit better because you're introduced to everything. But I think the second one is really strong as well. I think the setting in the first one is probably a bit better, too. More exotic for western audiences. I think one of the things I said in some of the press material that was sent out is that in the sorts of adventures this guy eventually goes on, this is Indiana Jones before Indiana Jones. I'm a big sucker for period stuff, anyway. Because the world seems... certainly in this era the world seems more exotic and mysterious and sexy, all of that stuff, because there was an inaccessibility to all of it. Any time I get to write something that takes place somewhere other than the here and now, I always do it, even though I know that period stuff is a harder sell.

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SPURGEON: Is there a gold standard for the treatment of Burroughs in comics where you're concerned, or, given that the Mucker material may be slightly out out of step with the mainstream of what Burroughs, is there an ideal for this kind of story in comics?

MARZ: It's hard to beat the [Joe] Kubert Tarzan stuff. That's obviously just lovely work and right up Joe's alley in terms of... I think as much as I love all of Joe's work, I think if my choice is Joe's Tarzan or Joe's Hawkman, man, it's Tarzan every time. They feel way more up his alley than the superheroic stuff.

SPURGEON: That's something that's been nice about the last five years, actually, this appreciation for that specific period of work that Kubert did.

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MARZ: I like Joe's stuff a bunch. I remember as a young kid I had a stack of Korak comics when DC took over the license. Those appealed to me for reasons I can't even put my finger on, because at that point I was young enough I didn't know who Edgar Rice Burroughs was. Those appealed to me, and in a very real way I love the hell out of the [John] Buscema Tarzan at Marvel. I think obviously Buscema's Conan stuff is better known and maybe overall better material, but again I think John is one of those guys that did incredible superhero work but was more comfortable and was more suited to adventure stuff like Conan and Tarzan and even the Thor stuff is more like fantasy-adventure material than straight superheroics.

SPURGEON: Is there trick to Burroughs, a key perhaps? Is there something to avoid? Or is that material so sturdy it really does become whether or not you execute it on the page?

MARZ: You know what? More than anything: work with the right artist. The stuff is so visual and so fabulous in sort of the original sense of that word that the material doesn't succeed anywhere near like it should if you don't have the right artists drawing it. I think it's all cool when you get the right guy drawing this stuff is when it really sings. The Burroughs material, particularly the fantastic stuff like John Carter, is so visual if the right guy's not doing it it's okay but if the right guy's doing it, it's just magic.

SPURGEON: You mentioned CrossGen earlier, Ron. That's a company with a certain public reputation now. Is there something we don't understand, we don't get, something you think may be under-appreciated about that company and the work it did? Is there something you wish more people knew about that company?

MARZ: I don't look back on it with regret other than the fact that it ended badly. And it ended for reasons of hubris and naivete in a lot of ways on the part of Mark Alessi who was the guy that founded it and paid for it. I look back on it with regret in terms of what could have been I don't like back on it with regret in terms of what we accomplished there and the material we were able to work on. The biggest regret I have is that its failure has probably doomed any other venture like that. Where you would actually have a studio of writers and artists who were working together and getting paid on salary and getting treated like employees who were worthy of health benefits and vacation time and sick days and all of that stuff the real world takes for granted and freelancers have no access to. To me, that's the big regret. It was an opportunity for writers and artists to have some stability, to have access to a real job rather than bouncing from gig to gig.

The other side of the coin is that creatively I really enjoyed the hell out of it. We were doing at least on the surface non-superhero material and I loved being able to interact with an entire creative team on a daily basis -- if you wanted to. Certainly there were days I didn't feel like getting up and going to the office. There were distractions in the office that actually prevented at least me from getting as much work done in the building as I wanted to. But still I'm proud of a lot of the material that came out of there. Some of the books were dogs [Spurgeon laughs], no two ways about it.

Overall... if I knew now what I knew then... I would probably still do it. I learned a lot about putting comics together. I learned a lot about my craft just being with other people who did the same thing that I do. There was a learning curve I think for everybody there. A lot of artists came in the door good and left the place really, really good or great. I think a lot of that is due to the learning atmosphere as well as the competitive atmosphere. Nobody wanted to be the guy that hung up the shitty page at the end of the day.

SPURGEON: Ron, I think of you as a pretty positive guy. You're very positive about your job -- that you enjoy what you do. Another thing I always wonder about guys that have put a couple of decades in is where the crux of the pleasure of doing comics might be. What is a good day at the office, Ron? When do you enjoy comics most?

MARZ: [pause] For one... [laughs] I haven't really worked a day in the last 20 years. Let's be frank about that. I make up stuff for a living. How cool is that? There are real-world concerns of pay and security and all of that stuff, but at its core I get to make up stories and people pay me to do that. That is... that's no small gift. I try to remind myself not to look that gift horse in the mouth on any day. To me the satisfaction comes, the best moment of my job comes when I've written a script, and it goes off to the artists and then the pages start coming in to my inbox. That's still the best moment of my job. It's not when the issue comes out and hits the stands. It's not when you go to a show and sign autographs and people say they really like this. The best moment is when the stuff that was in your head is now made real on a piece of paper or on a digital screen. To me there's no beating that moment.

Maybe that's just specific to me, because I'm a huge art fan. I appreciate the art, but I can't do it myself. I can't draw to save my life, despite the fact that I'm in love with comics art and illustration art and have been since sort of those magic ages -- 10 to 14, when I first discovered Frazetta. So to me, maybe this is just very specific to me, that's the best part. I can't draw. I can't make art in that sense. But I get to be a part of the process, and I get to see what I imagined made real in front of me.

SPURGEON: You've lived through a cycle in comics where conventional wisdom was at one time that the artist for a comic book was foremost and praised: the Image era and its immediate aftermath. That's when you entered the industry. Now we're in an period where conventional wisdom has done a 180, and now it's believed that the writer is the first praised, even at the expense of the artist. That might even be something that benefits you in a career sense, but it sounds like it might also pick at what you find valuable in comics. It might hit your sensibilities directly, what you value about comics, that we maybe don't appreciate artists as much as we should.

MARZ: I despise the fact that we don't appreciate the artists as much as we should. It drives me nuts. I'm probably more often than anyone wants me to be on a soapbox on twitter about this, or expressing my disbelief and disgust that you read somebody... just a quick scan of the vast majority of the reviews out there might mention the art in one or two lines if at all. That makes me crazy. When I read interviews with writers that can't be bothered to mention the art team they're working with -- it drives me crazy! I feel like I'm the outlier here, because I value so much of what the artists does. I think we're doing a gross disservice to our artistic partners not having them as complete equals. Frankly, they should be more than complete equals. I have no problem admitting that the art is more important than the story.

SPURGEON: Is it just that the cross-media opportunities are so important now that we value the writer because they represent the portability of the idea in question? So we define comics in terms of their concepts rather than their execution because the concept can be re-used. Or if that's not it, why did we make this switch over the last 20 years?

MARZ: I think it's a number of things. For one, yeah, the portability of the idea is a part of it. I also think the audience used to be really into the art. Maybe too much. [Spurgeon laughs] In the Image era there were guys that were clearly lousy artists that were just doing pin-ups with panel garnishment around them and calling them sequentials. That's not great, either. I think the backlash of that is that our medium became so writer-centric because writers are on a book every month. A lot of artists were not up to the monthly grind. Artists are switched in and out of series, almost willy-nilly. There was not much of a writer-artist team in many venues, and there still isn't. It's more rare to encounter that than it is to encounter an artist who sticks on a book and works with a series of art teams that last three or four issues and then get replaced by somebody else. A lot of that is scheduling concerns. And I understand it. But I think that art is not interchangeable. One art team isn't going to bring to the table what another art team does. Frankly, ideally, you shouldn't be able to swap artists in and out of assignments without the attention paid to creative casting. When you get a run like [Ed] Brubaker and [Steve] Epting and Mike Perkins and Luke Ross all in that same artistic style? All pulling in the same direction? That's when you get a memorable run. I think it's more rare now than it should be.

I think the crunch of getting books out has led publishers to use whatever team from whatever studio they can schedule, and deciding that's fine by them. As that becomes predominant, the newer generation of writers isn't used to forming a partnership with an artist. It's just an assembly line. I've spoken to writers from the generation past mine who have frankly never spoken to the artist they work with. That just boggles my mind. More often than not, they don't know who they're writing for. They write a script, and it gets sent off for someone to draw. By and large, if I don't know who I'm writing a script for, I don't want to write it. I want to be able to write to that artist, to that artist's strengths and away from that artist's weaknesses, or at least away from what that artist might not want to draw. You end up with a better book. If you're creating it as an assembly line, the product at the end kind of comes out the same. That's what an assembly line does.

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SPURGEON: So what's a strength of Lee Moder's on this project? How can we appreciate Moder through your eyes?

MARZ: Lee's one of those guys that's pretty good at damn near everything. But he's particularly good at the acting of the characters. The expressions of the characters. It's really good cartooning. I know that once you say cartooning, everyone thinks you mean cartoony art. Lee's stuff is open and there's a life to it, but I don't think it's cartoony. It just doesn't have the life rendered out of it with a million cross-hatching lines. In Lee's stuff, the characters act. They look like they're having thoughts in their heads. They have a variety of expressions. All of that is a necessity for any gig... I think what makes this particularly suited to The Mucker is that he's really good at the period stuff. He's done his research. He's found reference that makes this all feel very much of that era. This is a necessity for a period book. You need to believe it's in that era or I don't think you can fully invest yourself in it as a reader.

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* Ron Marz
* The Mucker

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* The Mucker logo
* one those great '70s covers by Gino D'Achille
* an older image of the character in question
* Lee Moder's imposing introduction of the character, in that first strip, posted yesterday
* Marz at Top Shelf
* one of the Scion #39 Prince Valiant tributes; I could not get the dialogue to reduce legibly, but you can read it here.
* Joe Kubert's Tarzan
* John Buscema's Tarzan
* more Moder
* banner used by the ERB folks to advertise The Mucker (below)

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Go, Look: Jerry Bingham And Gene Day Splash Pages

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I Could Look At Early Marvel Cutaway Images All Day

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Go, Look: Aaron Kim Jacinto Mini-Gallery

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Not Comics: Six King Arthur Drawings By BWS

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Not Comics: Pawel Kuczynski

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OTBP: A Bunch Of Patrick Keck For Sale

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OTBP: USA Truck

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Happy 48th Birthday, Guy Delisle!

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Happy 43rd Birthday, Don MacPherson!

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Happy 45th Birthday, Barabara Canepa!

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Happy 43rd Birthday, Scott Tipton!

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Happy 59th Birthday, Tom Yeates!

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Happy 66th Birthday, Joe Staton!

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Happy 49th Birthday, Frank Cammuso!

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January 18, 2014


The Comics Reporter Video Parade


The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library And Museum Profiled


Ping Pong Anime Trailer
via


Digital Vs. Analog With Stephan Pastis And Scott Adams
via


Comic Books Are Evil


Matt Groening Interviewed


Colleen LaRose New Story
 
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CR Week In Review

imageThe top comics-related news stories from January 11 to January 17, 2014:

1. Gary Arlington died. Arlington was a key figure in underground comix and in comics retail.

2. Something called a "media regulator" targeted a cartoonist in Ecuador for interpretive details of a comic made about a political ally to that country's president.

3. Awards and festival season 2014 begins in earnest.

Winner Of The Week
Theo Ellsworth

Losers Of The Week
People that always read the worst into any action taken by a comics entity.

Quote Of The Week
"We're finding that a larger and larger percentage of our user base -- our new user base -- is people who are buying comics for the very first time with us." -- David Steinberger

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today's cover is from Marvel Comics during the year 1964

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Go, Look: Heart Of London

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Go, Look: Jeff Wong Photos of Benton/Fingerman/Haspiel Signing

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Go, Look: Danny In Wonderland

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

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Happy 42nd Birthday, Scott Mills!

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Happy 52nd Birthday, Mike Lynch!

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Happy 41st Birthday, Alan Gardner!

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Happy 48th Birthday, Charles Yoakum!

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Happy 80th Birthday, Raymond Briggs!

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Happy 43rd Birthday, Yvan Alagbé!

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Happy 62nd Birthday, Patrick Lesueur!

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Happy 46th Birthday, Frank Quitely!

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Happy 48th Birthday, Stefan DeStefano!

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Happy 49th Birthday, Christian Durieux!

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January 17, 2014


Gary Arlington, RIP

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a couple of readers have forwarded word from Ron Turner
 
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Go, Look: Ho, Ho! Snappers!

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Go, Read: Frank Santoro On The Comics Of Bill Boichel

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Your Danish Cartoons Hangover Update

Colleen LaRose was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a federal court a week ago Monday. Although the woman called "Jihad Jane" proved to be an extremely popular and very interesting story on her own, her connection to the original Danish Cartoons incident was a bit more tenuous than is often assumed.

The cartoonist targeted by LaRose and associated was the artist and art theorist Lars Vilks, who only rarely works with cartoon imagery and to my memory has never made a comic or, really, much of anything close to it. Vilks made his drawings of Muhammed -- including those of him as a dog -- in the wake of the international whirlwind that came with the publication of newspaper cartoons in Denmark that depicted Muhammed in a variety of ways. It was in its own way a creature of original cartoons controversy just as was the reaction and this particular fixation on jihad for which Ms. LaRose was sentenced. LaRose's case was compelling for a number of reasons behind the basic attention-getter of hoping that the result of her and her associates' actions would be the death of someone who made some cartoons: she went to Europe herself at some point, the Internet was employed as the element that connected those in the US; there was what seems like overt recruiting; and there were other groups in other countries that also pursued harm where Vilks was concerned.
 
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Go, Look: Madeleine Flores Twitter Comic

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Media Regulator In Ecuador Targets Cartoonist Xavier Bonilla

The phrase "media regulator" should send a chill up anyone's spine, but this story would still be troubling if you swapped out every descriptive phrase for something related to Disney's Country Bears. The idea that a politician in power should be able to advocate against critical art directed at them or things at which they'd prefer art not be directed is maybe the worst trend in international cartooning over the last decade and a half. To institutionalize that in a government role is that much more awful, and that charges be brought against a cartoonist based on such specific readings of material is right up bordering on abominable. As described that is just an awful situation, and I hope that sustained attention to it can bring about its departure.
 
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Go, Look: Another Mort Meskin-Drawn Western

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Assembled, Zipped, Transferred and Downloaded: Digital News

By Tom Spurgeon

image* the kus! people are trying some digital comics offerings; I like all of these comics.

* I'm not sure I linked to Calvin Reid's now week-old report on PW about Comixology's recent run of successful benchmarks reached. No bigger ongoing story in comics than Comixology.

* someone has started a blog devoted to sex in comics. I'm not sure if I wrote that sentence that way because I don't know who the person is or that I don't think we should know, but I'm going to keep it just like that.

* Gary Tyrrell notes the rapid and mostly behind-the-scenes growth of Hiveworks.

* not comics: I had not known that one of the holiday's fairly substantial news stories came from an independent media operator. I know I use the small size of CR as an excuse not to write or break major news stories, and that's not particularly admirable.

* finally, Dave Kellett writes about his future plans. This is important to note here because Kellett is an important figure in this world of comics, but it's also worth noting for its orientation recalling Gary Tyrrell's assertion that a way to look at webcomics is as a specific group of talented people enabled by the relationships they forge with their readerships through comics to pursue a variety of different projects.
 
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Go, Look: Steve McNiven Mini-Gallery

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Missed It: Stunning-Looking J. Campbell Cory Cartoon

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* the great Bob Levin on Guy Colwell.

image* if you live to be a hundred, you will still enjoy this Poohdickery index.

* Kiel Phegley talks to Michel Fiffe. Tim O'Shea talks to Chris Roberson and Dennis Culver. Blake Hennon talks to Scott Snyder. Eva Volin talks to Andrew Aydin. Chris Sims talks to Mark Waid. Peter Howard talks to Omar Francia.

* not comics: there is probably some sort of lesson for comics in how well tabletop games have done with crowd-funding, but I can't figure one out that isn't super-obvious.

* the retailer and industry advocate Brian Hibbs writes about operating a second store.

* Tom Bondurant writes about a new DC Secret Origins title as a way to clean up the confusing continuity of the post "New 52" universe in which that company's stories are placed. I would imagine that it could be a useful tool for that if this is actually a goal they decide to pursue with seriousness. I know that kind of thing sounds fussy and odd, but I do remember that as a youth and a younger teen, the time in my life I bought the most superhero comics I would ever buy, this kind of stuff would have discouraged me right out of buying them.

* Jim Johnson on Batgirl #27. Evan Henry on EGOs #1. Paul Buhle on The Best Of Wonder Wart-Hog.

* not comics: they didn't already have these?

* finally, King Features puts on display photos of a wide array of work areas used by their cartoonists.
 
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Happy 57th Birthday, Ann Nocenti!

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Happy 30th Birthday, Joseph Lambert!

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Happy 47th Birthday, Tom Brevoort!

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Happy 55th Birthday, Jon B. Cooke!

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January 16, 2014


Go, Look: Bunch Of Comics From JR Williams' Crap

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Festivals Extra: Linework NW Names An Advisory Committee

Most conventions and festivals have some sort of official or unofficial board, but this Lineworks NW post jumped out at me because a) festivals like that with a strong local-community vibe that are going to curate almost need to have an advisory board before anything else, and b) the division between members of the board and the slightly wider unofficial interested-parties-group with Stumptown is one of the reasons we have Lineworks NW. So it should be interesting to see how they negotiate this -- I thought they might skip a year, actually.
 
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Go, Bookmark: Batton Lash Launched A Blog Earlier This Month

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Go, Read: JT Dockery's Best Of 2013

imageI'm still casting about madly for 2013 Best-Of lists, and liked this one I came across from the cartoonist JT Dockery. His choices were:

* A Greater Hell Beyond and Heathen, Jeremy Baum
* Annotated #10-11, Aaron Cockle
* Bright Spiral Vol. 1, Christopher Judge
* Capacity #8, Logic Storm and Relax We Have Alien Vehicles, Theo Ellsworth
* Goddess Hand and You Can't Put A Condom On Your Dreams, Matt Crabe
* Hideous, Kevin Uehlein
* Little Tommy Lost, Cole Closser
* Out Of Hollow Water, Anna Bongiovanni
* Songs Of The Abyss, Eamon Espey
* The Half Men, Kevin Huizenga

That's the first time I've seen about half of that work on any best-of list. What a strange year for comics.
 
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Not Comics: Ralph Steadman's Alice In Wonderland Illustrations

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Collective Memory: Best Comics And Graphic Novels Lists, 2013

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this article has been archived
 
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Go, Look: Nighttime

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

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By Tom Spurgeon

* people keep e-mailing me the Facebook page of a new New York comics show called Paper Jam, to be held February 8. In a perfect world I think New York should have two or three big shows and five to six smaller or specialized ones -- they're closer to these number than you'd think -- so I'm happy to hear this and wish I could attend. If the show is a reflection of the web presence, it should be on top of things.

* this explanation of the new SPX registration model is as important a post as you're likely to see convention-wise all month.

* I'm not sure why, but I had these SPX2013 comics -- from way back in 2013 -- in my bookmarks folder. The top one made me laugh.

* I made a flash of concern over Comic-Con International four-day passes its own post. My takeaway is that however they want to do their badges is no big deal, this specific way of doing badge is really no big deal, and that people want to make it a big deal is part of a weird kind of complex that certain people have towards comics institutions generally and that show specifically.

* grande dame of the comics academic conferences ICAF put out its call for papers.

* finally, since enough people ask, and because I always omit conventions when asked to write an e-mail response, I wrote down what cons/festival I plan to attend here.
 
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If I Were In Jersey, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: Headline Comics #27

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* this is the comic that was written by newly-minted Academy Award nominee John Ridley, and congratulations to him. At least I don't think he's been nominated before and a lot of his work hasn't been the kind of movie that receives that consideration.

* Michael Kupperman and David Rees will be doing comics for the New York Times every other week and I could only be happier if it were every week.

image* the cartoonist Dave Kellett would like a word.

* not comics: I've had three different groups of Facebook friends comment on this, which I guess is best defined as the notion that modern culture is ephemeral because young people are stupid and self-absorbed. I don't have any interest in the latter notion and suspect it is true, but I do think that if you being seen as current or whatever is important to you it's good to remember that not only do people process things more quickly now there's enough stuff that they don't have the veneration of the past -- the idea that we missed a bunch of stuff -- that kids of the 1970s and 1980s had. Me, I'll stick with jokes about Fibber McGee's Closet and "Dear Alex And Annie."

* Chris Mautner talks to Paul Pope. David Dissanayake talks to Brandon Graham.

* Jefferson Machamer is one of comics' all-time best names.

* this is a wonderful story about the push and pull of publishing through a big media company, even with the reduced stakes and relative lack of cross-platform sophistication you saw a couple of decades ago.

* that friend of Bully John DiBello wrote a bit on Miracleman here; The Beat and its readers have their say here. I'm still a bit unmoored when it comes to figuring out the culture's general take on this material being republished. For instance I find odd the thought that all of the legal battles surrounding the character are part of the publishing story rather than this horrific distraction and roll around in the stupidity sty; I literally had not thought about that at all, that there would be a "finally, we get these comics back" outcome to those shenanigans. It seems like it should do very well for them. Alan Moore is a first-class comic creator and all of the people that worked on that book are talented.

* not comics: Kali Ciesemier and Eleanor Davis write about pies.

* Oliver Sava and Matt D. Wilson on a bunch of different comics. Jacob Covey on Very Casual. Rob Clough on a pair of new comics.

* finally, Craig Fischer on the portrayal of female character in the BPRD comics.
 
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Happy 31st Birthday, Eleanor Davis!

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Happy 54th Birthday, Al Davison!

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Happy 39th Birthday, Jamie Coville!

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Happy 54th Birthday, Frédéric Boilet!

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January 15, 2014


NCS: Russ Heath To Get 2014 Milton Caniff Award

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Go, Read: Gigantic Comics-Soaked Personal Essay By Julia Wertz Over At Narratively

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Festivals Extra: CCI Announces 20 More Guests

Here.

I like that these conventions are making a big deal of their special-guest roll-outs. I can't follow all of them here; I've missed several shows making announcements including I think the last CCI announcement. But I like these stories as snapshot stories. I always thought that HeroesCon did a good job driving attention to its full guest list. TCAF is good with its top announcements, too.

imageThis round was:

* June Brigman
* Mark Brooks
* Colleen Coover
* Chuck Dixon
* Francesco Francavilla
* Brian Haberlin
* Gregg Hurwitz
* Batton Lash
* Jim Lee
* Paul Levitz
* Sara Mayhew
* Michelle Nolan
* Denny O’Neil
* John Picacio
* Mimi Pond
* Stan Sakai
* Jeff Smith
* J. Michael Straczynski
* Maggie Thompson
* Paul Tobin

I'm excited to hang out with Mimi Pond, and to see Jeff Smith. Actually, there's a lot of people on that list I like and enjoy. I'm glad to see that Stan Sakai plans to attend.
 
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Go, Look: Stand Still. Stay Silent

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Go, Read: Rachel Edidin's Profile Of David Steinberger And Comixology On Their More-Than-Huge 2013

Here. That's a very successful company by any measure other than some bizarre reckoning that involves ideal outcomes that were conceived of 1000 years ago in Internet time. I buy comics there, and I barely have a phone that isn't attached to a wall. They are a dominant -- not wholly, but largely -- player in their chosen market. They are not ideal for everyone, but they make sense in a way that has led to the enthusiastic response from a massive swathe of businesses, creators and readers. They also seem to be good comics citizens, positive members of the community. They should be central to all of our coverage and conceptions of comics moving forward.
 
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Go, Look: Dyspeptic Academic

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A Couple Of Quick Extra Notes About Image Expo

I promised someone that I would revisit the topic of last week's Image Expo as a window into comics' diversity issues. I wish I hadn't made that promise because I'm not sure I have anything of value left to say. Additionally, I think there's a warping effect that comes with talking about something -- even the most important issues or, as it happily turns out, the most traffic-friendly issues -- at the exclusion. The array of topics I engaged here is far more representative of that event as a whole than this post or similar ones. But hey, a promise is a promise.

This is about a photo, and the reality behind the photo. The photo in question is some version of this final stage shot, which underlined in visual form a perception of Image as a place where white men in their approximate Don Draper prime go to make comics. I think those discussions are good, but I think there's some distortion in the form of splash-back that is unfortunate. So there are some things you can do to remind yourself that it's probably not as dire as the initial tweets and those whose analysis -- for whatever reason -- fails to get much deeper than a tweet would you have believe. In addition to the always very you-notice-she's-there Kelly Sue DeConnick, I'm told Leila Del Duca and Paul Azaceta were on hand; it's also my understanding that Marian Churchland cancelled on the Expo for a personal matter. If you look at this photo that was circulated since, you see the much more diverse Image employees and publishing team from I believe that same event. That's an area over which the company has more direct control. You can also read creators that represent diverse backgrounds talking about their experience working Image on threads like these.

Reality is complicated.

I think everyone would agree with Allison Baker this was an unfortunate PR moment. Comics always goes both ways on this kind of thing. When something like this happens -- when I screw up here on CR -- on the one hand there's this element where you just sort of refuse to admit that screw-ups happen in part because there's this unkindness where we don't allow people to admit screw-ups happen. One of the advantages of working in a small industry full of mostly smart, nice people -- it ain't the money -- is that we should more quickly process these shortcomings in light of what we know and then move onto the next thing. Instead there's this weird mechanism where we say this, but then we dwell on the screw-up while the person that feels accused curls into ball and screams no-no-no-no-no and then we kind of get as much juice out of whatever is beneficial to us or works into the issue we hold most important. A lot of writing about issues lately seems to be "a-ha" writing, in that context is rarely considered or is asserted to be untrustworthy in light of the foregrounded circumstance. That seems horribly self-serving most of the time, and could stop. I always hope to avoid the push and pull of blame and soapbox by concentrating on the fact that on some of these issues there is so much work to do that we could literally get better by accident by leaning in a specific direction -- this is one -- but that gets to be a dodge, too, a way to kind of spread out the hurt that frequently means nothing gets done.

I would also disagree with Allison a bit in that there's a point at which I'm not sure you can do a whole lot more about what the reality is on the ground, and while you may recognize there's a strategic disadvantage and you may not want to emphasize it, I don't think the harm of perception through PR goof-up always approaches the severity of an actual problem. I come from a PR background, too, but it's a PR and marketing background, which may mean I more easily see things like the expression of a public profile as part of a larger, systemic whole. I think the relationship between a publisher or a creative community and its participants is different than a buy/vote relationship in a substantial way that limits the use of surface appearances as a pivot for change. Others may certainly disagree.

So I assume that Image will give more thought to the public appearance aspects in future shows -- the first two e-mails I got about the stage photo were complaints that everyone looked schlubby! -- and will re-examine their ability to accept and process work for potential publication from a diverse array of creators, in pursuit of a similarly diverse readership. It's good to have these discussions, but it's even better to get to work on the problems. Hopefully I will re-examine aspects of this site's coverage to make sure I'm doing what I can to engage the diversity that exists in comics already, can follow Joseph Hughes' lead in engaging the abominable lack of diversity in color among creators at Marvel and DC while finding a few stories of my own if they're to be found, and as much as I have a public role I will hope to no longer participate in, say, convention panels that assert representation without being representative. Or at least question the heck out of them. (My memory is I haven't been on a blogging-in-comics panel since 2008 with a non-white person.) Recognizing a problem and our potential role in that problem is the first step towards making progress and being a part of that progress. That's very exciting. Someone should take a picture.
 
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Go, Bookmark: Origins Of The Sunday Comics

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Go, Read: Michael Dooley's List Of Prominent Comics Works That Have Been Challenged In Libraries

Michael Dooley wrote about comics censorship from a broad, historical perspective in the latest issue of Print. As an on-line supplement to that piece, he has penned a piece on recent challenges to considerable comics work available here. The two things that jumped out at me were 1) the range of material that is challenged, from the "oh you have to be kidding me" to "wow, that was in a library?" and 2) the range of final results. I think there's a lot of discussion yet to be had about what work is available where, and I think the best way to have that conversation is with the free-speech principle aspects of that conversation loaded for bear.
 
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OTBP: TCJ Archives Yearly Subscription

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Go, Read: A Redtail's Dream

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This Isn't A Library: Notable Releases To The 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.

*****

NOV131243 HEARTS TOON BOOKS YR HC GN $12.95
I don't usually spotlight the Toon Books here, and I have no idea why. I'm a big Geoffrey Hayes fan, and I enjoy a lot of individual books from the line. This looks like something for young readers, and looks very self-conscious in its design -- I don't mean that as a criticism, I mean that it's the kind of book where people are almost guaranteed to note its look. Anyway, I'd certainly take a look, and I have a feeling I'd find a way to work it into my library.

imageNOV130622 MIRACLEMAN #1 $5.99
NOV130012 BPRD HELL ON EARTH #115 $3.50
NOV130265 ASTRO CITY #8 $3.99
AUG130706 PROPHET #42 [DIG] $3.99
JUL130311 BLACK DYNAMITE #1 [DIG/P+] $3.99
NOV130873 3 GUNS #6 [DIG] $3.99
NOV130913 ADVENTURE TIME #24 MAIN CVRS $3.99
NOV131169 SIXTH GUN #37 $3.99
I'm still not all the way clear why Marvel is so hot on giving us more Miracleman. It could be that it's a seminal work for this generation of Marvel creative higher-ups, it could be that they see potential in a Captain Marvel doppelganger that comes pre-packaged in terms of having a gritty, ready-for-filming take. It could be the creative people involved. I'm not sure. For an entirely different reason I can't comment on the technical aspects of this version because I have no eye for color, I am caveman-simple when it comes to noting changes in production. The rest of the comic-book comics this week are an odd bunch. There's a Mignola and the latest issue of Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson's superhero saga. Prophet #42 is a Ron Wimberly issue, so that's bound to be super good-looking. The rest are books I'm just curious to see for a single factor as opposed to thinking that this will be something I buy. I would have thought that Sixth Gun was in the mid-twenties issue-wise, or at best at #30 or #31, so that one is in there mostly because I have a child's fascination with bigger numbers. At some point I'll catch up to it in large gulps.

NOV130131 CONSTANTINE #10 (EVIL) $2.99
I can't imagine buying an issue of a comic starring DC's odd Sexy Constantine character, but if they had put "Evil" next to comic book solicitations in the 1980s, that would have worked on high-school me every time.

OCT130763 THOR GOD OF THUNDER TP VOL 01 GOD BUTCHER $19.99
This was the best-looking first few issues of the previous run of Marvel Comics' debuts, and I remember the story being entertaining -- drawing on the both the "Thor standing around with Viking in the olden days" and "Thor flying around in space and meeting other space-gods" thing. If you had the Absorbing Man or Mr. Hyde, that would be pretty much all three sides of Thor.

NOV130405 RIO COMPLETE COLLECTION TP $29.99
NOV130406 TORPEDO TP VOL 05 [DIG] $17.99
Two very, very handsome works out by admirable cartoonists. I want them both. I'm not sure what I already have of the Doug Wildey Rio work and what I don't, but I still want this. I like Wildey's comic when I come across them randomly. Really, if you bought just these volumes that sounds like a really good day at the comic shop to me. The only reason I'm not giving them a bigger place in this column is I think both of these book have been out in some form for a while now. That shouldn't matter if you don't have them.

OCT131440 100 ILLUSTRATORS SLIPCASE ED $59.99
I would guess this is the Taschen book previewed here. If your local comic book store carries this book, you are a lucky person and I urge you to consider buying a copy -- if you're buying a copy -- from that fine retailer. I'd certainly look at the thing were I to come across it unannounced, and if it's nice I might work it into end-of-the-year holiday shopping or something similar.

SEP130056 MONSTERS AND OTHER STORIES TP $12.99
Finally, here's a wordless stand-alone from Dark Horse, my favorite place these days for stand-alone genre comics and series I wasn't really expecting to enjoy. This looked super-cute when it was announced.

*****

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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*****
*****
 
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Go, Look: Rock And Roland

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Go, Read: Retailer's Profile Of Massive

Massive is the umbrella business operated by Graham Kolbeins and Anne Ishii that is doing both the books of manga like this year's Fantagraphics release sharing the company's name and the merchandising business that runs alongside it in support.

I think I ended up on this profile from one of their retail partners because someone posted about it on Facebook, but I'm sort of super interested in how comics and comics-related merchandise can enjoy certain kinds of retail opportunities of the kind you read about in Monocle magazine as opposed to over at TCJ. Also, Ishii and Kolbeins have clearly thrown down the gauntlet for publishing-related publicity photos.
 
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If I Were In Portland, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: Chris Weston Mini-Gallery

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* according to this evidence and my memory of the time period, Mindy Kaling was the only colledge cartoonist that wasn't the subject of a massive on-campus protest of some sort.

image* Alex Dueben talks to Chris Claremont. Rob McMonigal talks to Matt Moses. Angela Jann talks to Left Handed Sophie. Rob Bricken talks to Scott Allie.

* Kieron Gillen writes about influences on the Young Avengers series that a number of people have enjoyed so much.

* Calvin Reid writes about a comics-related art show at Rutgers.

* this is a very attractive superhero comic book cover from Marcos Martin. I'm confused as to why they're relaunching Spider-Man again, but I guess there's enough of a response to that kind of thing sales-wise in that market that even Spider-Man has to pull that particular trick.

* Aaron Nelson on Mengelmoes #1. Richard Bruton on Dangeritis: A Fistful Of Danger. Ian Stephen on Minimum Wage #1. Vince Ostrowski on Minimum Wage #1. Dana Jennings on various newspaper-related comics. Rob McMonigal on The Stolen Lovelight. Greg Baldino on a pair of comics projects. Micah Mattix talks to Julian Peters.

* Brent Anderson draws Ka-Zar and gang.

* finally, Gene Demby on race and identity issues in superhero comic books.
 
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Happy 29th Birthday, Jacq Cohen!

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January 14, 2014


Go, Look: Joseph Lambert 12-Panel Pitch At Slate

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Eisner Awards And NCS Awards Make Calls For Entries

image* the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards has put out its annual call for entries, stressing its various categories and March 17 deadline. That's a good thing to do I think, even if you're not into awards or don't think you have a chance of being nominated. The same post reminds us of this year's judges. The nominations are announced in Spring and the award ceremony itself -- featuring the results of professional and peer voting as opposed to the judge-selected nominees -- is held the weekend of Comic-Con International.

* for what it's worth, and this is of course not comics, but the comic-con film festival deadline is coming up near the beginning of next month as well.

* the National Cartoonists Society has a lengthy post up here about applying for one of their divisional/categorical awards. I thought that one pretty information-loaded, so if you're just curious about the awards more generally it might be a good read, too. They only accept e-mailed submissions for the on-line awards, which makes me laugh just because that means they must get them for all the awards and people being sort of lazy and entitled and not researching things makes me feel less alone in this universe.
 
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Go, Look: Tom Raney Mini-Gallery

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Festivals Extra: Call For Papers For ICAF 2014 Goes Out

imageHere. Due March 7.

Since this year's version of the premiere academics-in-comics event is being held at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum in Columbus, Ohio, they are looking extra-closely at papers that cover topics in the Museum's wheelhouse.
"In recognition of the new, expanded facility of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, we are hoping to schedule some panels on issues pertaining to the specialties of the collection, which include underground comix and manga. We are also interested in papers that address the interaction between comics and the art world. Given the ever-expanding role of technology in the exhibition, preservation, and dissemination of comic art, we especially welcome paper proposals that address comics in the digital and online realms, as well as in museums and other unconventional exhibition sites."
The conference is in mid-November. I plan to attend.
 
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Missed It: Nobrow Fifth Anniversary Post, Sale Link

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Missed It/Bundled Extra: SelfMadeHero Announced Its Spring 2014 Line-Up Back In Mid-December

imageA few readers sent me links to a couple of blog posts about the SelfMadeHero Spring 2014 line-up. I'm not sure how that ended up back in circulation, but it looks like the publisher made that announcement official back in December and as far as I can tell I didn't run anything. So if that's true, that I didn't write anything, let this post be my apology. If I've forgotten, let this post be both my mistake and the extra exposure it brings -- such as it is -- my apology.

They announced through May:

* Celeste, INJ Culbard
* Terra Australis, LF Bollée And Philippe Nicloux
* The Boxer, Reinhard Kleist
* The Cigar The Fell In Love With A Pipe, David Camus And Nick Abadzis
* The Good Inn, Black Francis And Josh Frank And Steven Appleby
* Vincent, Barbara Stok (Art Masters Series)
* Weapons Of Mass Diplomacy, Abel Lanzac And Christophe Blain

(Those links will allow you to track mention at SelfMadeHero's site, although right now there's only the one post.)

That sounds like a good line-up; I'm particularly interested in the Lanzac/Blain.
 
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If I Were In Berkeley, I'd Go To This

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Missed It/Assembled Extra: Matt Bors Announces Ambitious Line-Up For Medium.com's The Nib

I completely missed that the cartoonist Matt Bors had announced a line-up -- divvied up to the day when appropriate -- for The Nib, the comics section at Medium.com where Bors himself has done so well and where he's enjoyed a lot of initial success expanding that opportunity to established web cartoonists and a few editorial cartoonist types. I'll list the cartoonists without doing the daily breakdown just to give you a reason to go to that site and read the original announcement.

Bors' line-up includes, as announced:

* Pat Bagley
* Scott Bateman
* Lucy Bellwood
* Ruben Bolling
* Susie Cagle
* Leigh Cowart
* Blue Delliquanti
* Liza Donnelly
* Emily Flake
* Emi Gennis
* Sarah Glidden
* Darryl Holliday
* Keith Knight
* Jeannette Langmead
* Zohar Lazar
* Mike Lester
* Wendy MacNaughton
* John Martz
* JJ McCullough
* Brian McFadden
* Erika Moen
* Josh Neufeld
* Jack Ohman
* Ryan Pequin
* Ted Rall
* Erik Rodriguez
* Jon Rosenberg
* Jess Ruliffson
* Jen Sorensen
* Rich Stevens
* Tom Tomorrow
* Zach Weiner
* Julia Wertz
* Shannon Wheeler
* Signe Wilkinson
* Ron Wimberly
* Adam Zyglis

I don't like all of those cartoonists as much as Bors apparently does, but that's a strong, strong line-up. It will be interesting to see if the site is able to use them in a way they and the cartoonists profit.
 
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Go, Look/Read: Chris Schweizer On The Three Musketeers

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Bundled Extra: Marvel Announces Re-Vamped Ultimates Line

I should probably mention that Marvel has announced the shape of its latest Ultimate Line revamp a) before it gets too far in the rearview mirror, b) because I have a really bad habit of skipping mainstream comics publishing news entirely, c) I already made reference to this story, noting that its announcement right after the Image Expo cut into that event's "cycle dominance" when it came to PR.

There are a couple of things worth noting beyond the storyline implications for the sake of narrative payoffs. The Miles Morales Spider-Man character seems to stand tall as the flagship character, which makes sense and that's a good character for them. Michel Fiffe is involved; he's best known for the wild, self-published Copra and will be writing the Ultimates title. The line is only three titles wide, which might actually help in terms of enticing a reader to commit to the group of them -- that sounds manageable by most standards. That line's roles as a place to revamp characters has become lost a bit as the successful parts of the initial line's reworking have made their way back into the core Marvel titles, but the Cloak And Dagger featured in the imagery through the link feels like the exact kind of thing a line like this could do for Marvel as a place to develop characters -- that's not a characterization, even as roughly realized here, that would come easy to a continuity-heavy version of the Marvel books.
 
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Go, Look: Simon Simple

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Amherst Library Won't Move Tintin In The Congo

imageThis seems a fairly self-explanatory article: a library in Amherst won't move Tintin In The Congo from the kids' section to another section or into a non-section filing strategy. On the one hand, parents have complained that the book is super-racist because, I'm guessing, that book has super-racist stuff in it. On the other hand, the librarian points out difficulties in moving material out of sections due to complaints because of slippery-slope notions. It's hard not to see both sides of this, depending on one's personal constellation of beliefs and values. I know that when I was a kid I read a bunch of weird stuff in the kids section of my library because it was available to me in the kids section of the library, so there is sort of imprimatur provided to material just by virtue of something being on the shelves of certain sections of a library. It's almost more an indictment of our inability to stick to principles and not press an advantage to whatever purpose, because I think that's a legitimate fear by the librarians that you get a bit of removal fever, even as, again: that book's imagery is awful and really hard to contextualize in a way that doesn't overwhelm anything else about it.

It's an interesting issue, deeply problematic, and one with no end in sight as a lot of 20th Century material becomes canonized entertainment. My hunch is that the eventual solution is to directly engage the problematic material in some way, but I think we're a long way from getting there.
 
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Go, Look: Some John Severin-Drawn Ringo Kid Comics

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CBLDF Welcomes BOOM! As Corporate Member

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This is more announcement than news story, but I'm all for a publisher like BOOM! joining the CBLDF's corporate membership for a numbers. It's good comics citizenry. It's a way of reinvesting in the industry after the last few years of success that the publisher has enjoyed. The CBLDF continues to do important work. I would think negotiating the kids/older kids/young adults with a taste for material that is reminiscent of kids material audience the way BOOM! does, they'd be keenly interest in a lot of the soft-power applications of censorship. It's way more difficult to dismiss an organization in which major industry players aren't invested, if it ever comes to that.

Charles Brownstein or Alex Cox can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the corporate membership program was shepherded to health and relevance by Paul Levitz in his admirable work with the Fund.
 
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Go, Listen: Joe Sacco Discussed At Deconstructing Comics

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Festivals Extra: Porter Air Ends Latest Sale Today

Here. There will be more sales, no doubt, and I likely won't cover them at this point. Still, I know that a bunch of people are hammering out their TCAF plans right now. This is what I've found to be the easiest way to fly into Toronto for TCAF, particularly from Chicago or New York, because a) it's generally cheaper, b) you fly into the island airport 15 minutes from the show as opposed to the regional airport 65 minutes from the show.

Some sort of Buffalo/Megabus combination is also a favorite of US-living TCAF attendees.
 
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Go, Look: Elaine M. Will

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By Request Extra: Initial Push For SDCC's Clydene Nee Reaches $17.5K; Please Consider Giving

Explained here.
 
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Go, Read: La Mano History Part The Third

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I Lost 230 Pounds In 2011 With The Help Of This Book

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Bundled, Tossed, Untied And Stacked: Publishing News

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By Tom Spurgeon

I have a bunch of stuff this week that's a combination of new and old material and I get back up to speed.

* Fantagraphics sent out a press release that they're doing two with Lucy Knisley, both related to travel: An Age Of License in Fall 2014; Displacement in Summer 2015. The latter is 128 pages while the former is over 200. I apologize if they released this information through some site or another; I didn't see it until the e-mail. Anyway, that's a nice match, and further established that company's reach into the group of cartoonists under 40 along with folks like Chuck Forsman, Simon Hanselmann, Lilli Carré and Julia Gfrorer.

image* totally missed that Norm Feuti's Gil ended at the beginning of the year. It ran for about two years: it looks like it was the syndicate's decision to pull the plug based on the level of sales and projected future sales. I know that was a real labor of love for the cartoonist, and while I haven't caught up with it since the syndication packet, but he's a very good gag writer. I learned this from Buzz Dixon, who is not pleased.

* BOOM! Box announced Lumberjanes from Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Ellis and I believe Shannon Watters. That's their creator-driven line. I think a lot of the comics they're planning could do rather well: there's a huge pool of talent they've worked with at BOOM! that make comics that seem way more commercially viable than similar work from 30 years ago, projects that could stand to benefit from the market presence that the publisher will provide them.

* good to hear that the Stumptown series will return to Oni Press. I think that's solid work. Apparently, Matthew Southworth will not be involved.

* this is about two weeks old -- well, it's a couple of months old but it came out for public consumption on January 1 at I think Robot 6: the Massive book once planned for PictureBox has found a 2014 home at Fantagraphics. That's good news; that's a lot of high-end work that hasn't been seen in English-language versions to a great extent, and anything involving Anne Ishii, Graham Kolbeins or Chip Kidd is going to be interesting -- the three of them together is ridiculous.l

* if you're look for some Gengoroh Tagame before Massive hits the stands, looks like you'll be able to do that in March with an English-language release from Bruno Gmunder.

* here's a sneak peak at the Fantagraphics trade release of the Love Bunglers material from Jaime Hernandez, aka "the comic that made everyone cry."

* here's an official press release for the forthcoming IDW anthology In The Dark; that's an eclectic group of creators, many of whom haven't worked on that kind of release before, at least not to my knowledge.

* looks like Gerald Jablonski's work is available again. Accept no substitutes.

* a version of Airboy by James Robinson and Greg Hinkle is kind of a weird project, but a lot of the writer's best works has come from pushing back against some of the more staid properties from old comic books.

* Terry Beatty takes over from Graham Nolan on Rex Morgan, MD.

* the Incal sequel material is set for English-language translation.

* finally, I totally, totally missed this the last several months; it got lost in my bookmarks but I dug it up when I was looking at Alan Moore-related things. I think Moore and artist Kevin O'Neill are both formidable comics makers. I don't always agree with elements of the stories presented in these League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen books, but that goes all the way back to the use of violence in those comics from issue #1 or so. I'm always interested in seeing new ones, and it looks like I will sooner rather than later.

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Go, Look: Those Kids Next Door

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Go, Look: Steranko In Black And White

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* don't know if this old news or new news, but congratulations to Theo Ellsworth on winning an Artist Innovation Award from the Montana Arts Council. That dude is an interesting artist and cartoonist.

image* Cory Doctorow on Sardine. Andrew Liptak on Violent Century.

* Katherine Wirick draws Walter Johnson. Dane Martin draws a back cover. Bastien Vives draws a ninja turtle.

* Sean Kleefeld wrote a fun bit here on being irrelevant to the the marketing purposes of companies. I think this is true, sometimes the companies and artists about whom you write have little to no use for you, and I urge writers about art to take this into consideration when dealing with media companies of all sizes and having respect for those companies that decided getting you free stuff is not something they're going to do for whatever reason. That's a bonus, not a requirement. Beyond that, I urge writers of criticism not to give a shit about this when it comes to their actual engagement with the art. Your interest as a 73-year-old in Zita The Space Girl is as legitimate as a nine-year-old's interest in the same book. What you have to say may be smarter or dumber or just as pertinent. One great thing you learn about making art is how to embrace this wonderful moment after which you give up control about who sees it or experiences it or reacts to it. The interests of marketers and critics intersect but rarely overlap; ditto artists and critics.

image* Noah Van Sciver draws a Fantastic Four page.

* John Hendren profiles the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.

* Scott Edelman sent along this photo, and I'm not sure I want to know why.

* don't give up; please don't give up.

* over at Daily Cartoonist, we get word that Clay Jones has decided to syndicate himself, a decision shaped market forces.

* finally, J. Caleb Mozzocco writes about getting rid of stuff.
 
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Happy 2nd Anniversary, Study Group Comic Books!

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Happy 30th Birthday, Nomi Kane!

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Happy 49th Birthday, Anina Bennett!

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Happy 39th Birthday, Gabe Fowler!

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January 13, 2014


Go, Look: Wordless!

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By Request Extra: Clydene Nee

Here. She's a nice person involved with Comic-Con International. If you can, please consider helping. If you know her I'm sure didn't read past "here."
 
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Go, Look: Eleanor Davis Gallery On Facebook

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Festivals Extra: Notes On Last Week's Image Expo 2014

* I would assume that overall that was a successful event. There are a dozen reasons you do a show like this one, and not all of them are obvious. But across the board it seems like Image can check off positive results in general media attention, local attendance/interest, branding, local event status, and publisher/creator relations.

* I'm also all for Image Expo as an example of a non-traditional convention -- I want comics events of all types, and this includes conventions or convention-type events that are based around interest in a specific company. I don't see any reason why the top 10 publishers couldn't have an event of some sort. Comics doesn't have a ton of institutions, and I think this is a fine way where one set of institutions it does have -- publishers out the wazoo -- can't contribute to the establishment of another group of institutions, in this case local/regional events with national/international publishing news elements.

image* remember that Image isn't a long-time resident of the Bay Area in which its settled, and one other benefit of the show bubbles to the surface: the Expo as a signature Bay Area comics event, and a way for that publisher to build local ties and become more of a local cultural player. I think a lot of companies and communities have benefited by publishers developing their local identity, and I think there is a ton of potential there for other companies to step up in this way. With WonderCon having moved south due to an odd reluctance on the part of local facility coordinators to change their strategy regarding an established comics show, Image Expo could be one of the two or three reasons to hit that great land of comics in a calendar year, or, perhaps more importantly, could become one of two or three peak weekends for local comics fans. In a way, Image Expo has a lot in common with things like the Fantagraphics and D+Q stores, another strategy I think a lot more publishers should consider.

* I thought they did a pretty good job with coordinating press coverage. It seems like they had a good crew of people on hand covering the show -- it was not hard to find article or live-tweeting -- and the Image folks were generally available for support and follow-up pieces. I was encouraged to attend, and was contacted about follow-up coverage on a couple of stories -- not by Image in the latter case but by the pros involved, but that's still a good sign. If they lacked in one area from what I hear talking to my peers and to a few Image fans I kn ow it was in coordinated coverage to hit at the moment something was announced.

* the reason I didn't attend Image Expo is that traveling for business in the single-digit dates of the New Year is out of my skill set the way my life is organized right now. I wonder how necessary and/or advantageous this was. While Image dominated the news cycle the day of the show, I'm not detecting that there's going to be a big Image hangover for the next few weeks -- Marvel cut right into their cycle dominance with a major publishing news story the day after the Expo. Comics coverage is capricious and weird right now, and I do appreciate any attempt by a publisher to present their news to the world in a way that best benefits their people, but I'm not sure anyone has figured things out yet -- not in wider media, not in comics.

* I would say the big story publishing-news wise coming out of the Image Expo, given a few days of reflection, is the fact that Ed Brubaker/Sean Philips signed a new "anything you want" deal. A few reasons I'd vote for this one. For one thing, that's a solid team, with options elsewhere, so we'll get solidly-crafted comics from the company that of all that creative duo's potential suitors is the one they prefer. Image simply coming up with a new way to get people to work with them is worth noting, too. While I'm not sure how a deal like this really works any differently than any relationship they have with a favored creator, if there are ways to get people on board and excited that's a benefit for that publisher and for the creators. Third is I think this underlines that Image can fully compete with mainstream publishers as the primary comics outlet for top creators. It's good PR, if nothing else, the equivalent of the writer and the artist wearing Image's letterman's jacket to the homecoming dance. That's an important step for Image, even if an incremental one -- to become seen as the place for creators with options to set up their primary home.

* series announcements were dominant. A significant element to the Image resurgence story is that they've done a good job of getting retailers on board with what they're doing. Part of this has been by exploiting a weakness of DC and Marvel's decision to publish so many comics within certain titles and brands per year. I know I bail on specific issues of superhero titles I might follow because of a switch in creative teams; this isn't a problem with the Image books, which are creator driven and thus almost rigidly adherent to using the same creators in every circumstance. A bigger part of it is putting out material that sells, of course, but variances in a series when they sell can almost be more troublesome than with one that doesn't because you might not be able to gauge demand. That's not a problem with Nowhere Men or Saga. That's going to be what it is every issue out, or very close to it.

* I don't have much to say about the diversity issue. For those of you that missed it, the Expo ended -- or come to an ending of a specific public-announcements phase, I'm not sure -- by putting everyone on stage and, well, it looked the US Congress in terms of its race, gender and orientation breakdown. I don't know if people talk about twitter opportunities the same way they talk about photo opportunities, but if they do that was a bad twitter opportunity. I'm sure the issue would have come up without the photo op, because white dude white dude white dude kelly sue white dude white dude, but putting it right out there and on its feet gave it a little more juice than usual. I'm glad for that. There's no escaping that it is unfortunate that the creative line-up at the Expo was overwhelmingly not-diverse. Sure. I say that even though I'm of a mind to forgive certain institutions for time periods of exclusion -- whether that's a function of my righteous brain or an assertion of white-hetero-male privilege, I'll leave that for others to consider.

I think all of the comics institutions with a public outreach aspect could be far more aggressive in facilitating maximum opportunities at those stages of the process. I think the history of comics is so unfortunate, and the potential benefits so awesome, that every single company should be rigorously examining that part of what they do to see if they can do a better job. In the case of this site, I could do a better job ensuring I read and consider certain comics and cartoonists for coverage and review. In the case of companies that depend upon pitches for established creations, I think every one of them should have a specific program in place to ensure the broadest range of participation at that stage of things. Image could do more but it's a bit more problematic for them than I think it is for a lot of companies because they depend more than many of their most direct peers size- and genre-wise upon individuals taking initiative to set their publishing slate. There are a lot of reasons for this, including the nature of what they hope to publish and the way they approach institutional development given their basic set-up. That's not an excuse, but I think it should inform how we approach our criticism here. Image does a better job than most companies at diverse hires on the publishing end of things, and they've been a good partner for a multifaceted community of creators. Let's see if we can figure out ways for them to more aggressively participate in a culture-, community- and industry-wide problem.

* I thought the Scott Snyder book, Wytches, worth noting. He has a history with the company yet also seems perfectly happy with his burgeoning star treatment at DC Comics, something he's earned the old-fashioned way: by coming through on projects of increasing visibility in a way that not only pleased fans but made them notice him. With the increased wattage of Snyder's name comes greater attention on each and every individual choice of where to take what project. And it should be this way for him. Ditto that attention at least to some extent for the announcement of a Bill Willingham project, although I'm not sure I know what books he's done the big "I" or if he has, really. It should be interesting to see how the publisher balances established creators, Image-affiliated creators wanting to do more projects and finding new voices. That kind of second stage development did not go super-great at the publisher the first time they gained serious traction; it's a very different world and a very different set of circumstances now, though.

* I'm not sure that I saw a ton of material announced that I'm thinking about days later. Planet Bitch is a great title. One thing that Image can do now that they maybe couldn't do before is build enough of a line that retailers might be able to recommend another Image title to fans of a first. You can't force this, but I have to imagine that a reader enjoying Sex Criminals from their local comics shop might be a sales target for the relaunched Minimum Wage. The one book they've announced that I've liked a lot in a previous iteration is the newest volume of Matt Fraction's Casanova cycle that he does with the artists and cartoonists Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, along with Michael Chabon doing some writing there. I think that's Fraction's best work, and I think he's been doing work with the mainstream companies that may give him different skills to see to this latest series. It's also worth noting that this is another book that had opportunities to publish elsewhere. Whatever the hell Brandon Graham wants to do right now is perfectly all right with me. Let that guy get his Jan Strnad on if he wants, that's what I say. In fact, I know those kind of independent creators with some potential mainstream audience crossover don't grow on trees, but they might look to more actively develop anyone who can work in that same rough area -- one thing I heard from a lot of friends and peers about Image was variations of "everything they do is terrible except for Brandon Graham" which leaving the critical analysis part of that aide means they don't see a lot for themselves at that publisher. It seemed like Graham had more same-type peers 24 months ago.

* you can read a full account of new projects announced here.

* maybe the most important story overall for Image is the kind of thing that doesn't reported because of lack of novel news hook. But it seems to me that Image -- even working with only a half-year of ramp-up PR wise this time around -- has enough stuff of interest in the basic areas they pursue that they can continue to be an effective publishing force independent of the penetration of individual titles. As much as retailers and fans have bought into Image, there seem to be enough books that they can have that relationship with the publisher for the next several months moving forward. The fans that said in November "I collect a lot of Image books these days" shouldn't be left hanging in terms of being able to say that in March. I know how dumb that sounds from a certain perspective, but I'm a big believer that thresholds are important to comics.

* so God bless you Image Expo for putting comics and their creators front and center and making a bid deal of some publishing news and giving the comics readers of the Bay Area another event to attend and through which to interact with this great art form. I think given its half-year ramp up and nascent state it was executed fairly well. I'm not a fan of early January, but I can deal with regretting not being able to go and I'm not the primary audience here, anyway.
 
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Go, Look: Julien Ceccaldi

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Go, Look: Golden Age Ibis-Related Madness

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Not Comics: Article At HU On Paying Artists For Art

I quite liked this article at Hooded Utilitarian by Isaac Butler about the idea of paying artists for the art they make, through the example of a theater arts company in New York City that has set itself up in a specific way to not do that in most cases where one might hope they would. That's an issue for comics, of course, and a lot of the logic in play will remind many of you of related comics rhetoric. I don't agree with every single one of Butler's conclusions, assertions and implications. I also favor different points of emphasis. For instance, I think what frequently gets lost in discussions of pro-am work is a rigorous vetting of non-monetized benefits that are transferred to the non-artists involved: it is very rarely "these people here get money; these people here receive freebies/exposure/prestige/enjoyment/satisfaction," because the latter frequently accrues to the non-artists as well. Still, this is a smart piece, well argued and reasonable, and you should read it. I'm glad I did.
 
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Go, Look: Anna Syvertsson

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Comics By Request: People, Projects In Need Of Funding

Tom Spurgeon

image* the Stan Sakai fundraising efforts remain ongoing, if emergence from the holiday has left you with an extra $5 you might want to apply to a bad situation facing one of our best cartoonists and finest arts-community members. They are also still accepting art for auction. You might need to poke around a bit -- I'm never quite sure on which day which paypal button works, but if there's a will there's a way and I think that cause is worth a second attempt if one is necessary. I was told over the holidays that $20,000-plus has already made its way to the Sakais, and I can now assure you this includes those that donated through CR when the linked-to site's paypal was down. So thank you.

* Dean Trippe's Something Terrible crowd-funding effort continues to return value to its participants well over the original asked-for amount.

* I'm not finding a bunch of stuff that jumps out at me or is notable name-wise just looking at the browse interface at places like IndieGoGo, but I assume with the holidays behind us you will start to see a surge of projects -- also with MoCCA and TCAF coming up in the Spring there should be people focusing their efforts there. I'm sure all of them represent someone's hopes and dreams, though.

* this also strikes me as a potentially fallow time of the year -- post-Christmas, pre-major cons season -- for a lot of standard fundraising-dependent comics organizations like CBLDF, Hero Initiative, the schools and the museums. Something to consider, anyway.
 
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Go, Look: Steranko Outlander Mini-Gallery

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Festivals Extra: Comic-Con International Tweaks Its Badge Mechanics, Altering (Slightly) 4-Day Buys

Comic-Con has explained its decision to no longer offer a four-day badge here. From what I can tell, the thinking is that since there is no longer special status provided in terms of timing or pricing with getting that kind of badge, there's no reason to offer it that way and disincentives for doing so. If someone wants a four-day badge, they just order four individual badges: the preview night access that used to come with a four-day pass purchase now comes if you buy the four single-day badges; or, as a short cut, you click the "preview night" area and the site fills in the four days of badge purposes.

imageOne potential benefit is to shake people out of the habit and/or fear that might cause them to purchase a four-day pass when they really only want to attend one or two days. As a long-time proponent of attending part of Comic-Con as an experience equal to and for most folks superior to doing it beginning to end, I'm very happy for any move in this direction.

I would also imagine -- depending on their ability to collect data -- this would also allow Comic-Con to more accurately track demand across the four days. That could lead to better planning. If they're to remain in San Diego and the demand is crazy-intense on Fridays and Saturdays, say, one option would be to work out a plan for off-site expansion options for one day or two rather than four. You may not be able to track that if you have requests for multiple-day badges mixed in with the single-day requests.

Also, unless I'm totally missing something, I think the fact this was noticed at all is another sign of how kind of intense and odd elements of the fan communities' relationship with this specific show have become. This is worth a longer essay, but it seems like there's a body of attendees and comics-interested people attuned to placing any move by the con within a specific narrative that not only overwhelms what's really going on but enables a kind of crossed-arm paralysis where people stop seeing that show as an opportunity or a platform through which to do things it can do very well.

Mark Evanier talked about this move here.

snippet of a photo by Whit Spurgeon
 
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Go, Look: The Original Art For Union

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Go, Bookmark: 365 Days Of KirbyTech

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* I'm not sure if this is new or if I'm just now seeing it, but I enjoyed reading this post on making, selling, living, breathing mini-comics.

image* Kate Haegele on Couch Tag.

* not comics: I love the color in these images created by Rina Ayuyang.

* love this post about the attempt to stretch panels for a primetime Peanuts back.

* not comics: I don't really follow movies made from comics, but I'm a great fan of Phoebe Gloeckner's and thus anything she wants to do with it I'm pulling for its success and her satisfaction. That seems like a first-class production.

* nothing wrong with staring at a few 1990s Guy Davis sketches, no sir.

* I will post to this again in the Festivals column, but I can't imagine there's a more important post to the small press comics community right now than this one about registering at this Fall's Small Press Expo. I do respect their attempt to keep the show's open registration ethos in the light of what happened to last year's show in terms of a meltdown that kept people from registering.

* they're not exactly comics, but these animation character studies are pretty cool.

* Anders Nilsen draws Kris Kristofferson.

* finally, update your address for super-reviewer Rob Clough.
 
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Happy 81st Birthday, Ron Goulart!

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January 12, 2014


CR Sunday Interview: Jesse Reklaw

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*****

imageJesse Reklaw is a veteran of the alternative comics scene, with almost two decades worth of work behind him (even this photo is ancient; I'm guessing it's from 2005 or 2006). Reklaw is perhaps still best known for his dream comic Slow Wave, which was an award-winning alt-weekly comic strip and a pioneer of on-line publication. He has always been a prolific maker of mini-comics and 'zines.

Reklaw released two significant books in 2013. The 32-page Lovf New York: Destination Crisis from Robyn Chapman's Paper Rocket Minicomics was the first place many of us got to see a wild, painterly style that stands in stark contrast to the controlled, cool line for which the cartoonist was affiliated. The two styles mix in Reklaw's second major release, the remarkable Couch Tag, just out from Fantagraphics Books. Couch Tag is a searing memoir marked as much by its core instability as any single, dominant insight into the cartoonist's make-up.

We played phone tag a bit before finally settling into a conversation mid-December. -- Tom Spurgeon

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TOM SPURGEON: Tell me about your daily life, Jesse. How much time do you get to make art? How much of that time is comics?

JESSE REKLAW: I have pretty serious arthritis right now. I'm still kind of struggling being diagnosed with bi-polar and taking a lot of meds and doing all those meds trials and then finding out that I'm a different person than I thought I was. So... I'm not doing a lot lately. [laughs] Honestly? I'm doing a lot of introspection, and a lot of sleeping.

SPURGEON: Are you set up somewhere where you can do this? Jesse, I've lost track of where you are. Are you on the West Coast? My guess is you're on the West Coast.

REKLAW: I am right now. I'm sort of attached to my girlfriend. I'm unable to care for myself right now. I can't even bathe properly. [laughs] Hey, girlfriends are nice. Or boyfriends. I'll take one of each.

I don't really adhere myself to any state or city. Whenever she's in Portland, I'm here. Whenever I'm on tour, I'm there. I look for friends to stay with. Right now we're living in New York and it's just really tough for me being a sensitive boy from California. That kind of culture is too visceral for me. I like to get out of town.

SPURGEON: You ended up in New York a few years back, as I recall. That's a reasonably recent development. When I say recent development, I do so acknowledging we're both at that age where we begin to talk in terms of years when we speak of recent events.

REKLAW: [laughs] Yeah, I know. It's really gross, Tom.

I'm not sure this is an interesting part for the interview, but the last three years have been a living hell for me. I'm one of those type-A, gotta work, gotta do it all the time guys, 14 hours a day, take on a new project kind of people. And I'm only able to work one to two hours a day. Sometimes I'm so tired I'll just sleep even -- I'm sorry, not that I'm tired, but I'm so exhausted from the pain that I'll just sleep even though I'm not tired. So, you know [laughs] it's sad. I joke with my girlfriend I'm pushing to sleep 16 hours a day.

SPURGEON: You had work out this year -- so is this down physical period for you recent? Or is the work older and coming out during a fallow period?

REKLAW: I put out a couple of minis through Robyn Chapman's Paper Rocket, and I may have had a few things in anthologies, but mostly they're commitments that I had made previously, or they were things I randomly did while I was just fucking off. So I haven't really taken on any new work. I'm trying to be as responsible as I can to the commitments I've already made. Those 60 pages or less that Robyn put out, that took me a year and a half. [laughs] I'm used to putting out 30 pages a month.

SPURGEON: Does that change your approach to the work itself that you only have this limited window in which to do it? Do you do change to a quicker style? Do you find yourself stuffing each work with more ideas than usual just to kind of express yourself?

REKLAW: That's interesting, I hadn't thought of that. That's likely. The stuff that Robyn put out was a sketchbook I kept with me when I had a manic freakout a couple of years ago and threw all my things away and told everyone I was moving to New York. Then I got bumped off my medication and so then I really had a thrill. [laughs] I just kept moving to different cities and calling different people my girlfriends and boyfriends... Meanwhile, I had this sketchbook on me and I tried to pour all that exciting adventure stuff they tell you to have into that book. Like you're saying, it's not overdone, but it's more finessed, maybe, than things I used to let myself get away with.

SPURGEON: How do you mean more finessed?

REKLAW: I would sketch in this sketchbook, and then maybe go back to a previous page and put more stuff on that and then find a to do list and say, "Well, that really doesn't belong in this picture of, you know, Satan, so I'm going to turn it into this group of dogs." I didn't want to see the paper, really. More than that, I wanted to look at that page and say, "This is done. This is a full, final [laughing] six-by-nine piece of colored paper and it's not going to get any possibly better so I should leave it alone." Yeah, I wanted to work on everything until I saw that working on it more would be a bad thing.

SPURGEON: A lot of your work over the length your career is strict deadline work.

REKLAW: Yeah.

SPURGEON: I think of you doing the alt-weekly strip and I think of you doing the diary comics, which both have an element of outside control. There is a very limited window in order to get things done, or at least considering the ways most people would approach such projects -- it's possible to work in a variety of ways, of course. But the way that most people work, there's a discipline instilled by a deadline or by the demands of keeping up with a daily expression. Was that helpful for you, do you think? Was that a structure you counted on all those years?

REKLAW: Absolutely. It's absolutely that. It was... well, you know, part of it started with Slow Wave when I had a web site in 1995 and I was honestly trying to be commercial with it. I had a little catalog to sell things. It came directly out of 'zine publishing. In a 'zine you have your content, and it comes out regularly and then in the back you've got like a few things you sell, like a doll or a poster. I just tried to put that on-line. So I had to publish. It was publishing to me. Every week. I committed to that. [laughs] I did it for 15 years. [laughs]

SPURGEON: So the strip going away, was that just your changing artistic appetites? Had the market slipped away from you? How did you end up losing that outlet?

REKLAW: It was both of those two things. I was getting more into doing longer work. I've always been doing serialized comics, I love that format, and doing longer work. I think it just so happened that the serialized format is a more accessible format. You can fail three times in a row and then make one good strip and everyone likes your work. [laughs] Whereas if you make a comic that's 75 percent bad they're not going to like your work.

I found it easier to bite off these little chunks and to learn more there. I was putting out longer comics during that time; they just all sucked. [laughter] It's true! That first chapter of Couch Tag was the first thing that I did as a long format work that my friends actually liked. That was very significant to me, because I'm one of those people that bounces around in my own head for a very long time. It's where I find a hole to ooze out.

imageSPURGEON: A couple of things run though your autobio comics from that period that I find interesting still. One of them is you were using those comics as a self-diagnostic tool, to kind of figure out what's going on in your head. That seems to be an element of Couch Tag, too, to help you figure things out.

REKLAW: It is.

SPURGEON: The other thing is this dissatisfaction with comics that you evince, the publishing options you have and the milieu in which your work is read and experienced. How you're able to create. That's kind of an interesting pair of things going on. The first one: is it clear to you looking back now what was going on in your head when you were doing those pages? I don't know that you ever look at the pages now.

REKLAW: I do.

SPURGEON: Was it a successful diagnostic tool for you, Jesse?

REKLAW: It was. It was very much. I had known I had depression for a while. But it wasn't until I started doing a daily mood chart -- which is something I added and bootstrapped onto the diary comic, and I'm really glad I did. For one, it made my diary comic a little more distinctive, and for another I got this mood chart out of it that clearly showed that I have a two-week up and down cycle as well as one that lasts about eight months up and then eight months down. [laughs]

I've been keeping a mood chart since Ten Thousand Things To Do. I've got a good five years of it now. I can see I also have a three-year cycle. [laughs] I don't know. Maybe that just says that it's normal. We all have "milestones." All this stuff happened to me when I turned 40.

I think we all have cycles like that. I just think that my cycles are a huge part of my life, whereas they're not so big a part of the line of other people. I think that's why I ended up doing a random mood chart. [laughs] It's not the first time I've charted my mood. It's probably the reason I made serialized comics. I'm just very aware of moods all of the time. When I"m spending time with friends, I immediately check in with what moods they're in, and I notice I have friends that have wider mood variance than others. It's just something I'm interested in, I guess. And therefore that extends into my comics. If that makes sense.

SPURGEON: That makes sense... well, I'm not sure that makes sense. It's fascinating, though!

REKLAW: [laughs] That's very generous of you. [laughter]

SPURGEON: That's kind of a through-line for you, right? You try to figure out how you're thinking, why you're thinking. This is super-facile analysis, I know, but it seems like figuring out how you think is maybe the big connection between a lot of your work: you've done dream analysis, you've studied artificial intelligence...

REKLAW: Sure, sure.

SPURGEON: When you teach, you teach process. Which is a how-you-think topic.

REKLAW: You know what's gross? I not only teach process, but I've been teaching this class I call image science. It sort of started out as a Photoshop class, but I got to the point where we were talking about computer vision and how we see and trying to get at a scientific approach to iconography. I've been extending this now not just into teaching Photoshop but to teaching penciling and composition from that same point of how the eye actually works. I'm trying to do some research right now on how we perceive motion, which I think would be a really great point for understanding comics transitions and montage in film. Not just from the -- I feel like the research into comics has been empirical. "A lot of people do it this way, so do it this way." I think it's interesting to look from a scientific point of view why we find comics fascinating. Not from a social scientific standpoint, but from the actual mechanics in your brain.

SPURGEON: As rich as that kind of material is in terms of it being an intellectual exercise, or as useful it might be in terms of self-discovery, does it change the way you're a patient? This constant self-analysis, does it help to negotiate the things that have happened to you, to be this conscious of how you process things? Has it helped?

REKLAW: I think it's helped me refine who I am. [laughs] I don't know which... it's sort of the tail wagging the dog. Did my nature turn me into myself or did my self have that behavior?

SPURGEON: Can you describe a way you think you're more yourself now that you have this knowledge? An insight that you have?

REKLAW: Oh, yeah, sure. Absolutely. As I mentioned before... it was very world-view changing when I took an anti-depressant. My level of anxiety... I have post-traumatic stress disorder from a lot of the events that happened in Couch Tag. When my anxiety level came down to the point where I was not almost constantly disassociating, it seemed to me the world was more colorful, larger, more physically present and solid. I feel like I had been living in a ghost world for 40 years. It made me very sad for those 40 years I spent not really attached to reality, not understanding what people mean when they say they like sunshine. [laughs] I like to go outside in the park now, I appreciate nature, it's more accessible to me. Prior to that I was so inside my head all the time. Those were the things... I think this is common for people that have chaotic household environments or early trauma is that they fall into their own heads and get interested in fantasy or comic books. Role-playing games. The imagination. I think, interestingly, that trauma causes imagination. [laughs] Hope for something better.

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SPURGEON: It's a way of negotiating what you have in front of you. So the material in Couch Tag, did it precede these realizations or come after? Where did Couch Tag come in, the work that went into Couch Tag, fall in this narrative of self-discovery?

REKLAW: Right in the middle. The freaking middle. I worked on the book for about five years. Then I had a personal epiphany about mental illness. Then I finished it in the next three. "Finished it." [laughs] I even had to get other people to help me to finish the book because I was so ill.

But yeah, when I started Couch Tag -- I was telling my girlfriend Hazel this -- it was like a rant. You know? I was so angry at all of these people in my life that had abused me and abandoned me. It seemed like they had done it in such a subtle way. I had always been very quiet and... it's hard for me to engage with other people and tell them what I think without totally blowing up and screaming at them. [laughs] This was my way like you say to mediate my world. Say, "Here's my point of view about all of this, jerks." Then in the middle of that I had this breakdown and I saw that that those were all the reasons that I have a trauma. This is the way I look at it now. I was writing the book to rant because part of my symptom of bipolar mood disorder is to get paranoid and angry and megalomaniacal and I just want to [makes noise] arraraarraraarh, I just want to yell at everybody about what jerks they are and so this is the book version of that.

When I finished the book, I really tried to undo a lot of that. My editor's view at that point as to the themes in the book was to take out the ranting and put more in of this sort of Freudian or Jungian psychoanalysis idea. I mean, that's sort of why I went with a book cover that look like a child psychology book or something.

SPURGEON: So there were actual physical changes to the comics?

REKLAW: Oh yeah.

SPURGEON: You went in and took out accusatory, slamming elements of it.

REKLAW: Completely. I threw out several pages that were way too angry. [laughs]

SPURGEON: You have to be talking about the personalizing of the anger, though, right, because [laughs] I mean, it's not any less a devastating portrait of a milieu. [laughter] It's not like you would high-five someone for being portrayed in this world, I don't think. [Reklaw laughs] It's a fairly damning portrayal, Jesse. I wonder... I wonder what was important to you in -- two things that are interesting about the portrayal in Couch Tag are the thoroughness of it, and the slow-drip quality of it.

REKLAW: Thanks.

SPURGEON: You're dealing with these mostly innocuous elements of life, maybe outsized but not deeply troubling, and then the stranger moments off in the corners begin to seep into it more and more. Was that a deliberate strategy? Did you want to use like a slow boil?

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REKLAW: Like I said, that first chapter, "Thirteen Cats," was the first thing I had done in long form that my friends said they liked -- friends of mine that were famous cartoonists, so I thought, "Well, gee, I'm on to something good here; I'm going to make the book version of this. What people said they liked about "Thirteen Cats" I was going to do in a book format.

SPURGEON: Do you remember the switch that flipped that took you to "Thirteen Cats"? Did you just accidentally do it, or was there something specifically on your mind that that came out? Do you remember the conscious choice that maybe people responded to when reading the resulting work?

REKLAW: That was another manic phase. I actually did those 28 pages in about 20 days.

SPURGEON: Oh my God.

REKLAW: It was while I was running the distro Global Hobo and preparing for APE. So I was also doing the show display for APE to represent ten different artists, and scheduling all of that, and doing all my projects at the same time. I don't know if previous to that I had had some crack in my brain, some level-up moment that enabled me to be a better writer or if it was just one of those manic whirlwinds that I had in a manic phase that I was able to capture and write down and then later go back analyze it and say, 'How can I do that again?" To me it seems it could be either, or maybe those are the same thing.

SPURGEON: The striking part of the book, the obvious striking part, is that the book can be seen in two sections, essentially with a formal element to that. There are these tightly controlled, line-drawing, anecdotal autobio -- stories of various aspects of growing up. The second section is this expressive color, ragged approach you have. I would assume this second approach came after your second realization -- that this was not something you had planned to introduce from the beginning.

REKLAW: [laughs]

SPURGEON: I know, I know. That's why they pay me the big bucks, Jesse. One thing that's interesting about that is how you apply that second style -- you do go over some of the same issues, but from this different vantage point; it's almost a rehashing, or even a summary statement of that earlier section. Why have that second section in this work? In addition to it being obviously formally different it also seems like you're vacating a lot of the structure that you built to that point. I wonder after the choice of an author to end the book that way, the compulsion to do that.

REKLAW: Part of the compulsion is that I hadn't seen a lot of style shifts like that in comics. I think it's an area of artistic exploration for me, just like the science. It seems very fascinating to be able to change style like that so quickly because I believe that's very much how the mind works. We don't see a movie in our head, we see this weird morphing cartoon mash-up of thing. At least that's the way my brain is. [laughter] So I think that's interesting to explore on the page. It reminds me something my friend Geoff Vasile says -- he's a great cartoonist and I'm sure you're familiar with his work. He's also a musician. He said he didn't want to do music anymore, he wanted to do comics, because most of the territory had been explored in rock and roll. In comics there are so many cool ideas that keep popping up that inspired whole genres. Fort Thunder or something. That's so exciting to me, to see whole new ways of looking at narrative.

SPURGEON: So was there an outside source for the color work that went into the Couch Tag book? Were you looking at anything that helped inspire or shape how that came bubbling out of you -- or was that part of a process very specific to you and you experimenting and working directly with color until you got to how you wanted things to look? Was there anything that inspired you?

REKLAW: Oh, definitely. I have a lot of influences, You know, I collaborated with a lot of them on that first Lovf -- Vanessa Davis, and Trevor [Alixopulos], Hellen Jo, Calvin Wong, Melanie Davis, Damien Jay -- they're friends I've had for a long time that have similar sensibilities. We work in similar areas of comics. I saw Lovf as sort of a free for all, but I was trying to focus in on -- I was trying to push myself, draw in different ways and find the ways that work for me. It was deliberately a Couch Tag practice book. I wanted to try out working with markers. I wanted to see how I could break the media, like blowing on Sharpies, adding in fingerpainting or collage elements. I wanted to come up with a toolkit of style I could then bring to the book. A mature style -- something I hadn't drawn in before, but a mature style. I knew I wanted a different style for the last chapter, I knew I wanted to work with style shifts. I didn't get to work with it as much as I wanted on this book because I was so ill, but I did get to do a few. The exact styles I ended up using come more from the internal changes and what my brain was doing at the time. The choice to do the style was more the... mentally interesting, more cognitive, less emotive.

SPURGEON: How confident are you in that style, then? How considered an effect are those that you get this way. Are you still feeling your way through certain expressive qualities on the page? The color section -- maybe even specifically the Couch Tag color section. You say you have a toolkit, but have you figured out what you want to do with it or is there an element where you're like, "Ah, I don't know"?

REKLAW: [laughs] Always. I don't think it's any less confident than the other style, which frankly I can't even do anymore. I tried to do a few pages in that clear line style, the real flat Lego-land looking figures, and I just can't do it. My biggest worry with the newer style is that I haven't been doing it as long and I'm not sure who I'm unintentionally ripping off. It looks to me a lot like stuff coming out of LA in the early 2000s. It looks to me a lot like Lynda Barry. Other influences of mine. I just want it to be me and to be all mine. Or I'll drop it and find another style, I don't know. [laughter]

SPURGEON: Is it physically difficult, that style? I understand that everything is right now.

REKLAW: It's so much easier. I'm not doing that tight, controlled line. I really am fingerpainting, and the cross hatching is done from the elbow to get a feathered look, so it's not as pained. A lot of times I just scribble, especially with light colored pens. It ends up with a painterly quality where you have this big, scribbly blob of ivory color next to another one. It's great what technology has done with the marker movement is what I'm saying.

SPURGEON: Did that just work out for you that way, or was this partly a conscious desire to find an easier way to work. I know that a lot of cartoonists get into their late 30s and early 40s kind of cast around to get to an easier version of the same effect.

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REKLAW: Yes. [laughs] Me, too. That's what we're all looking for. This is hard work! I don't want to be too self-congratulatory, but I love looking at Lovf. I will sometimes just pick up my sketchbook and look through it, look at my own drawings. It's for me. It takes me as long now. This is what I always do. I switch styles, and they take me a couple of hours, and then the more I work in that style the more it gets refined and then suddenly it's taking me 10 hours to paint a six by nine inch piece of paper -- which wasn't the initial intent. So then it's time to switch styles. I don't think I'm getting lazier in my 40s, I think it's just part of a cycle. I start a style, I take it to a point, and then I need to let it go.

SPURGEON: I thought the ending of the two sections in Couch Tag were fascinating in contrast. The ending in the more tightly controlled section is about the cookie jar. And the ending in the wilder section, the second section, it's more personally focused and specific. Is that a benefit of this new style? Does it make it easier for you to access these expressive moments. Does it make it easier for you to get at certain things?

REKLAW: It is a lot more expressive a style, yes. I think the worry there is getting to melodramatic.

SPURGEON: Are you happy with the ending, then? Because you go right into it there, Jesse. It's almost a personal credo.

REKLAW: Yeah... I was trying to capture not necessarily the voice but the mental outlook of a 19-year-old. So it was pretty emo, but I also knew I had to have a happy ending and that was about as happy as I could get.

SPURGEON: Why did you have to have a happy ending?

REKLAW: You can't have someone read a book like that and not give them a happy ending. [laughter] It's all commercial, Tom. Happy endings sell better.

SPURGEON: [laughs] This is a super-highly commercial book that way, Jesse, I can tell.

REKLAW: It is my most commercial book.

SPURGEON: You know, that's true. It's your biggest book as well. Was doing something large a pain in the ass? That kind of sustained, single expression? I mean, it's broken down into chapters, but it's not serialized small comics like we spoke of earlier.

REKLAW: I do not like pains in the ass.

I thought it would take me three years. I did two of the chapters in one month each so I was convinced I could do it in a few months -- I gave myself a little leeway there. If someone had told me it would have taken this long, I wouldn't have started. That's the thing with comics. Once you've made that commitment, you have to keep going. Like Lady Macbeth.

SPURGEON: Hopefully not totally like Lady Macbeth. [Reklaw laughs]

I want to veer off a little bit. You mentioned Global Hobo. As much as this is a major work, and indicative of the amount you spend creating, there's an entire aspect to your time in comics that's enmeshed in how small-press publishing works. You were also there very early in digital, and I would imagine have some insight as to how that works. Do you have any perspective on the state of those markets? I saw you at CAB. Is this a healthy place to make comics right now?

REKLAW: Totally.

SPURGEON: Do you like it more now than the context that existed ten years ago?

REKLAW: No, I like them the same. They're different culture. I find the current culture a little too hard for me to access. I'm not as patient for animated gifs and I just can't look at a lot of these things. I don't know how people can read things on a tumblr screen. But I think what's essential for any comics era or movement or scene is some sort of free area. There was magazine publishing and then you had 'zines. This safe ground where anybody can get in there and learn the skills. I think that's necessary to let artists grown. Artists aren't going to really get hired to be lead editors at magazine. But they can make small publications, they can start a tumblr stream. When it's that accessible to publish, that's what makes a successful scene. I had that in the '90s.

SPURGEON: It seems your implicit criticism of the different contexts that exist for your work is that it doesn't always benefit the artist. Do you get worried about the publishing options you have now? Does it worry you, the options you have in front of you to find an audience for the kind of work you want to do? Does your attitude change?

REKLAW: I just read A Drifting Life and I think, "I haven't got it so bad. This is all right." [laughter] It would be great if this country cared more about literature and art and working artists... as much as Europe does, that would be marvelous to me. I'm sure people in Europe are thinking of some Valhalla that's better than what they've got. It's always the same. You have to chase the industry. You have to chase the jobs. It's not horrible that I have to spend 10 or 20 hours a week doing illustration work or design or looking for change on the ground. As long as I can spend at least half my time as a professional cartoonist, I'm pretty happy with that. I'm getting to do exactly what I want. That's amazing.

SPURGEON: A lot of guys roughly our age have talked to me in the last year about finding a place to work -- a kind of variation on ambition where they realize they have a certain amount of projects they'd like to do and carving out a space in their life to get that work out there. I know the problems you talked about earlier are foregrounded in a way that your thinking might be different on this, but do you conceive of ambitions for your career? Is it project to project for you? Do you think about your work in that way at all?

REKLAW: It's very much about the books. I just see in my mind a dozen books that I have made and I'm just trying to get to that point. I think... I think I'm also doing that because of what I believe the direction of the industry is going to be. I don't believe in e-books. I think that that idea of the book has been around long enough that it's a good investment. I think there's a pretty decent royalty scheme for books and creative property rights that I can think of it as a sort-of retirement fund. [laughs] "If I make those 12 books, maybe I'll get a couple of hundred bucks a months to supplement my SSI" more so than if I dumped a bunch of time into a web series.

SPURGEON: I watched you read some of your comics to people in a bar last Spring, as part of performance event. What do you get out of reading your comics out loud? You seem well suited to that, but I know that performing comics is not something we thought about in 1995, or if we did, I wasn't included in those conversations.

REKLAW: That's a very weird medium, and I don't know why I like it so much. I do like performing, I like performing to a small audience where you feel like you have a personal connection to everyone in the room. You feel like you can make jokes that appeal to specific people. That's very exciting to me to have all that attention. That's partly why I teach. That's partly why I'm in bands and want to be the lead singer. So it's really gratifying -- when I'm in the right mood -- to get up there and entertain. It sucks when your jokes are falling flat, of course. [laughs] That's the risk.

I think that could be the subject of an entire magazine. Power point presentations and readings and that kind of cross media -- it's a lecture and it's a comedy routine! I don't know. That's a weird space.

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SPURGEON: One of the things I thought most interesting about Couch Tag is knowing you're a performer, how much do you feel like you're on stage when you do autobio comics that way? Is there a way of making a case for yourself... is there a downside to having that performance aspect in works like this? Do you ever feel like you're getting yourself over at the expense of getting at the truth?

REKLAW: [laughs] Getting myself over?

SPURGEON: Ingratiating yourself with the audience, having the audience like you -- giving yourself a joke that maybe wasn't yours in the story being depicted, being generally attentive to coming across a certain way independent of the narrative... how do you find that balance between performing and exploring those truths about yourself?

REKLAW: It's a nice balance. My father was a performer and he said a lot of his performances went better if he came out and told a self-deprecating joke before he started insulting other people in the audience. [laughter] If he came out ranting about the world and how stupid everyone was, they didn't laugh at his jokes as much. I guess it's kind of that. It's like having a deep conversation with a friend. You give them some. They give you some. You say, "You did this wrong." Then you have to say, "Hey, I did this wrong." I think that helps build rapport. I'm willing to make that sacrifice. It causes me extra anxiety to think that somebody might come up and yell at me about the book, or call me a creep. Or that maybe one of my family members might appear with a bat. [laughs] Or a lawsuit.

SPURGEON: You've said you've had a hard time sometimes associating yourself with certain parts of your life. Do you feel that comics Jesse is a version of you -- or do you feel like he's a tool for you? Are you comfortable with thinking of him as you, as you being in the stories you tell?

REKLAW: I've been thinking about this a lot, Tom. About identity. Because I know who I am now. I know who I used to be and who I think I was. That's something I find fascinating about autobiography and something I wanted to capture in Couch Tag. Not with the language, but the mental state. I can remember being a six year old and know what it's like to have that identity, but that's not who I am now. Who am I really? I don't know. Am I all of these things. Am I the integration of everyone I've thought I've been? Or am I the person I am right when I die? [laughs] That's the guy that gets the last say. The rest of you guys are wrong.

*****

* Jesse Reklaw
* Couch Tag, Jesse Reklaw, Fantagraphics, hardcover, 192 pages, 1606996762/9781606996768, December 2013, $26.99.
* Lovf New York: Destination Crisis, Jesse Reklaw, Paper Rocket Minicomics, comic book, 32 pages, 2013, $9.

*****

* cover to Couch Tag
* photo by me, I think at an old MoCCA Festival
* an autobio strip with some of the tagging and iconography for marking certain aspects of his life at the end
* three pages from Couch Tag and one color work from Lovf
* a panel from Couch Tag (below)

*****

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*****
*****
 
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Go, Look: Cee And Bee

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Go, Look: Still More Golden Age Madness

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Go, Look: Space Garbage

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Happy 49th Birthday, Andrew Wales!

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Happy 47th Birthday, Takehiko Inoue!

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Happy 46th Birthday, John Jackson Miller!

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Happy 52nd Birthday, Joe Quesada!

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FFF Results Post #362 -- Name Game

On Friday, CR readers were asked to "Give Four Names For What Comics Could Be Called That Sounds Reasonable To You, And Give One Name You Think Has No Chance In Hell Of Ever Catching On But Amuses You, Anyway." This is how they responded.

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Chris Duffy

1. Comics
2. Sequential art
3. Funnies
4. Graphic novels
5. Picto-Ficto Narratives

*****

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Patrick Dean

1. Sequential art
2. Fun-mettis
3. Comics, or comix if you're into looking edgy.
4. κόμικ βιβλίο
5. Platter-o-panels

*****

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Michael Grabowski

1. Comics
2. Graphic Lit
3. Words & Pictures
4. Graphic Texts
5. Drawn Books

*****

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Jamie Coville

1. Illustories
2. Paper Movies
3. Picture Novel
4. CBR/CBZ
5. Panel Serials

*****

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John Platt

1. PictureWords
2. Drawn fiction
3. Paper movies
4. Magazines
5. Adult illustrated literature

*****

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Karl Stevens

1. Comics
2. Comics Fiction
3. Comics Non-Fiction
4. Comics Fantasy
5. Goofily-Drawn Serious Stories

*****

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Matt Holman

1. Staymations
2. Cartoons
3. Toon-ups
4. Laugh-in-the-Box
5. Vignettiques

*****

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Oliver Ristau

1. Comic Strip
2. Visual Tales
3. Picture Books/Épinal Prints
4. Fiction Illustrated
5. PicFic

*****

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Marc-Oliver Frisch

1. Comics
2. Manga
3. iScans
4. Flipflaps
5. Something something graphic something

*****

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Matthew Craig

1. Comics
2. Mini-Comics
3. Manga
4. Comix
5. Supe Roll-Ups

*****

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Chris Arrant

1. Comics
2. Sequental art
3. Manga
4. Cartoons
5. Picture Book

*****

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Frank Santoro

1. Comic Books
2. Comics
3. Graphic Novels
4. Manga
5. Sequential Art

*****

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Buzz Dixon

1. Funny books
2. Pictoral stories
3. Narrative art
4. Manga
5. Comics-Comics-Bobonics-Bananarama-Fo-Phonics-Me-Mi-Mo-Momics Comics

*****

images from various Planet Of The Apes comics, for no particular reason

*****

idea and suggestions from Chris Duffy; thanks, Chris

*****
*****
 
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January 11, 2014


The Comics Reporter Video Parade


The Return Of He Aims To Please!


Updated On Bezango, WA


Trailer For Movie Called Cartoonist


Winsor McCay Filmed


Murs Goes Comic Book Shopping
 
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CR Week In Review

imageThe top comics-related news stories from January 4 to January 10, 2014:

1. Amid a wave of nonsensical, PR-driven activity from the recipient enabled by celebrity-interested on-lookers, Daniel Clowes' legal representation issues a cease-and-desist letter in the direction of the actor that plagiarized his short comic "Justin M. Damiano."

2. A short list for the Angouleme Grand Prix is released, showing just how powerful that award is, in part, for primarily rewarding one cartoonist a year (there have been special and anniversary honors).

3. It's not a story I'm writing about until tomorrow, and even then I have a different take on it, but people seem worked up about the fact that Comic-Con is getting rid of the ability to click for four-day attendance with one button and making people click four or five.

Winner Of The Week
Kim Thompson

Losers Of The Week
People that really liked the exact way they were receiving comics from Oily Comics.

Quote Of The Week
"If I could draw like that guy I'd be the biggest pornaholic in the world." -- Gilbert Hernandez, on brother Jaime

*****

today's cover is from Marvel Comics during the year 1964

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

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Happy 55th Birthday, Bob Harras!

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Happy 43rd Birthday, Gil Roth!

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Happy 54th Birthday, Clint Hollingsworth!

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Happy 51st Birthday, Sam Kieth!

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Happy 29th Birthday, Lucy Knisley!

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Happy 34th Birthday, Neil Cohn!

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Happy 56th Birthday, Terry Beatty!

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January 10, 2014


Go, Look: Jesse Jacobs Art Sale

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Go, Read: Chris Sims Considers Stan Lee's Legacy

I think Chris Sims' consideration of Stan Lee's legacy here is a reasonable one. It's not exactly my own. I would emphasize different things and there are maybe a half-dozen things I think are important that aren't engaged here. Still, I think Chris hits a lot of the same major themes I will when it comes time for me to write a new piece like that one. Hopefully that's a long way off.
 
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Go, Look: Land Of The Lost #3

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People Are Talking About People Talking About Things

So there's some stuff going on I guess I should talk about, although it's tough: a lot of the attention the following received are due to factors beyond any reasonable standard of newsworthiness. Let's wade in briefly, though.

* a cease and desist letter was sent from Daniel Clowes' lawyers to representatives of the actor and occasional cartoonist Shia Labeouf. The instigating incident was the recent discovery that the actor plagiarized to a spectacular degree a published comic from Clowes in order to make a short film he submitted at Cannes last year.

There's a bunch of other stuff that's happened, as the actor has engaged in a cycle of publicity-type stunts marked by increasing furtiveness and oddness, but it's not really stuff I care to cover. When a celebrity is involved in something like this, what you very frequently get is a lot of close attention that revolves around factors other than the legalities at stake or even the moral/ethical issues. It eventually becomes untethered from the actual structure of the story: actor wrongs cartoonist.

What's extra-horrible about the extra noise here is that it exacerbates the harm done Clowes in the first place, at least in terms of dragging him into a situation against his will where there's a lot of general ridicule involved, as well as some hostility from fans of the actor that -- because they're fans -- will boil this down into an us versus them scenario. At some point down the road, there's a chance that people will be less receptive to any compensation Clowes might pursue or receive because they'll be "tired" of the story -- from the actions on one side.

I'm annoyed by the time I have to spend reading these articles, I can't imagine having to live in the world of these articles for several weeks. I hope Dan Clowes is okay; he deserved to be left alone.

* another thing worth noting here: an irony involved is that as much as it pains me that this happened to Clowes -- who strikes me as a decent, private guy who would like to work and has a sense of the limited time to make work we all have in our lives -- part of me is glad it happened to someone like Clowes. Clowes can afford representation. Clowes has a popular and distinguished profile. Clowes has a career in film that might make damages easier to claim in a copyright-type case. One horrible thing is that the unique qualities discoverable in Clowes' personality and career on this circumstance underlines to how many people this could have happened where there would have been very little anyone could have done about it, or would care to do about it.

I hope that if Clowes wants compensation he receives it. I hope that no one takes very seriously any of this as a platform to discuss issues of artistic appropriation: this wasn't an act in a continuity with Lichtenstein; this was an act in continuity with a guy that downloads a term paper off of the Internet. I hope that very few people get tired of the actual issues in close proximity because they're exhausted by the one-sided shenanigans from the actor, and I hope that maybe everyone takes a look at how accessing, consuming or re-using art can sometimes be done against the will of the original maker of that art. This is a bad thing no matter how much we like one artist or the other. It's a bad thing no matter the legality of what might be permissible. It's a bad thing when consumers do it and it's a bad thing when fellow artists do it. We should all try to stop.

* the other item of much on-line chatter is another interview with Alan Moore about the primary thing on which Alan Moore seems to be interviewed: what people think of Alan Moore. There's some magnificent writing in there: mean and spirited and funny. I will never write anything as funny and brutal as "herpes-like persistence" to describe a peer.

Many, many people will hate this interview.

I would imagine the objections to the interview will fall along the lines of 1) Alan Moore is a grumpy hypocrite who wants to criticize in others what he has done and enjoyed himself, 2) Alan Moore shouldn't be going anywhere near certain issues of rape and violence and race he's decided to engage and his excuses for doing so are weak-ass, 3) his dissection of encounters with the journalist Laura Sneddon are imbalanced and excessive, 4) seriously, fuck that guy.

I have to admit: Moore almost always sounds super-reasonable to me in the general. His specific cuts are so nasty and funny here that I can't really claim they're reasonable in any way. The items of contention are difficult for me to figure out. I will say the proportion of upset he directs in certain ways makes sense to me. I know people who get more upset about far less: I think people mistake the amplification that comes from material appearing on-line for a kind of obsessive seriousness on Moore's part.

Mostly, though, I have a hard time understanding why people keep asking him these weird questions, interview after interview. It's like all of his interviews since 2009 have been about the kinds of things one usually throws in at the end of a longer, more substantive piece. I wish he would interview with Gary Groth again, or some other skilled talker about comics and issues. The least interesting thing about his recent League books to me are the legality of some of their plot points, or their nature as "narrative reveals." It also seems to me the least interesting subject on which we can hear from Alan Moore in general terms is Alan Moore. It takes a writer of Alan Moore's skill to make me want to read something like that, and I think I'm out on any future installments with the same creative team, let alone any new ones.
 
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Go, Look: A Bunch Of David Aja Immortal Iron Fist Art

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Assembled, Zipped, Transferred and Downloaded: Digital News

By Tom Spurgeon

* the writer Rob Clough will be one of those contributing to Infinity.

* there are two from Gary Tyrrell worth noting: One is his look at the recent SOI call for entries and what he feels the opportunities for digital comics might be. Another is a lengthy, enthusiastic review for Stand Still, Stay Silent .

* Lauren David recommends webcomics starring superheroes, which is one of those things you realize you don't know a whole lot about until you start thinking.

* finally, here's a Guardian piece on the success that print publishers have had with some webcomics authors with a significant following.
 
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If I Were In Detroit, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: Square Toilets

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* missed it: USA Today stole Scott Bateman's map and was called on it; USA Today apologized.

image* Rob McMonigal on Battling Boy. Rob Clough on Black Is The Color. Adrielle Mitchell on Daytripper. Henry Chamberlain on The James Bond Omnibus Vol. 5. Johanna Draper Carlson on Takasugi-San's Obento Book Vol. 1.

* I missed celebrating Peter Arno's birthday, which is only okay if you're in a bar somewhere in a tuxedo.

* not comics: there is never a bad time to look at a Noel Sickles illustration or two.

* I run that one panel of Wolverine popping his claws in the sewers beneath the Hellfire Club that a few people have asked after other, similarly iconic 1970s and 1980s panel. This Miracleman slaughter spread is one that comes to mind, as is the page where Animal Man sees the reader and the one where Cerebus cries on his sword after Jaka has returned it to him.

* Sean Kleefeld on diversity in comics.

* don't know that I've ever seen this Robert Crumb illustration of Marilyn Monroe.

* check out this lovely Tezuka-drawn action page.

* finally, at first I thought these were convention table arrangements, but they're really panels-on-page. At least now I know why I like staring at convention table arrangements.
 
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January 9, 2014


By Request Extra: Hey, Let's All Send Heidi MacDonald A Few Bucks In Tips For Computer Repairs

imageReading this post about the tough life that many choose by choosing to be in comics, I noticed that Heidi MacDonald of The Beat, its author, is suffering from missing computer syndrome. Heidi's computer is only broken rather than dead forever, but broken isn't a good thing when you blog for part of your living.

After securing permission from Heidi, I'd like to ask you to consider maybe going to the about page on her site, hitting her tip button and throwing a couple of dollars in tip money her way to pay for the sudden necessary upkeep for her primary working tool. It is on the far side and says "donate." I'll be doing this myself. Heidi is good people, and if she's gone I'll have no one to subtweet.

Update: Heidi says she's made enough to pay that bill, so thank you to everyone nice enough to help with that. Any money that she gets now she'll use to pay bills, but the computer crisis is over.
 
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Not Comics: The Silmarillion Project

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I bought a copy of this book with my own money at the bookstore at Marshall Field's in Chicago, the main one, the one with a cafeteria. The fact that I can remember buying books in department stores -- and looked forward to seeing four or five racks of books in that very well-lit setting! -- makes me feel older than any of the gods and goddesses depicted here.
 
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The Never-Ending, Four-Color Festival: Cons And Shows

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By Tom Spurgeon

* this is the kind of thing that only interests me, but ten years ago you would not have seen organizers in Fort Wayne going anywhere near the same weekend as a big show in Detroit. Those two cities are only like 150 miles apart. The thing is, I'm not sure this is even the barest whisper of a problem these days.

* Image Expo is today, so expect the mainstream comics sites to explode with publishing news stories in a few hours. I had a business news story I was tracking I may have screwed up by being old and ignoring my phone when I go to the studio, but I will certainly analyze the crap out of the publishing news stories at some point. Not sure I'll offer them a real-time pr platform, but new comics really are news so I will surely get around to everything covered.

* I am all for Image Expo, by the way, because I think using a convention to throw a spotlight on your company is a fantastic idea. I hope this doesn't mean that the big conventions will in a few years be without big publishing announcements, because I think those are great for that, but man, I would want to go to a big Fantagraphics spotlight show at their store, or a DC con in Burbank or whatever. I mean, as much as I ever want to leave the house. Anyway, give me as many shows built on as many ideas as possible, that's what I say. We need a giant Jack Kirby con in New York in 2017.

* finally, it looks like there's a show of the comics + junk culture variety in Albuquerque this weekend. I like shows like that, too. I like to buy old comic books at such shows.
 
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If I Were Near San Francisco, I'd Go To This

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Go, Look: Those David Aja Hawkeye Covers

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* Josh Kopin on Inhumanity #1. Sean Gaffney on Takasugi-san's Obento Vol. 1. Grant Goggans on Chiggers. J. Caleb Mozzocco on a bunch of different comics. Henry Chamberlain on "Justin M. Damiano." Johanna Draper Carlson on Midnight Secretary Vol. 2-3. Richard Bruton on Hitsville UK #2 and Long John Silver #4.

* I did not know that R. Crumb once drew Frank Zappa, although I'm also wondering if maybe I should have known that.

* Bully catches that Mark Twain and Albert Einstein had a pre-Kupperman adventure with Captain America and Team America because comics is the greatest art form on any planet, ever.

* not comics: occasional comics critics Sean Witzke and Tucker Stone write about the year in good films. I have a hard time believing that #1 isn't like a really strong #9, but the only people who see fewer movies than I do these days are parents of newborns.

* Blutch, Blutch, Blutch.

* my Mom once told me that she bought every single comic book she saw as a kid that featured a wedding on the cover.

* Bob Temuka remembers a good birthday.

* Paul Gravett profiles Leo Baxendale. Kevin Cortez talks to Ed Piskor.

* this cartoon and these reactions are sort of amazing.

* finally, this is some real without-a-net work from RC Harvey.
 
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Happy 46th Birthday, Sean Azzopardi!

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Happy 62nd Birthday, Frank Margerin!

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Happy 55th Birthday, Booksteve!

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My Deepest Thanks To The 2013-2014 CR Holiday Interview Participants... And To CR's Readers

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We did 17 interviews for this year's CR Holiday Interview series. I'm grateful to all of the participants and to any of you out there that spent some of your holiday time with us. Here are the interviews in one post for hopeful linking and/or rediscovery.

* CR Holiday Interview #17 -- Gilbert Hernandez
* CR Holiday Interview #16 -- Lucy Caswell
* CR Holiday Interview #15 -- KAL
* CR Holiday Interview #14 -- Zainab Akhtar
* CR Holiday Interview #13 -- Ed Piskor
* CR Holiday Interview #12 -- Nate Powell
* CR Holiday Interview #11 -- Colleen Doran
* CR Holiday Interview #10 -- Jeff Lemire
* CR Holiday Interview #9 -- Sam Alden
* CR Holiday Interview #8 -- Gary Tyrrell
* CR Holiday Interview #7 -- Dean Mullaney
* CR Holiday Interview #6 -- David Murray And Kate Deneveu
* CR Holiday Interview #5 -- Dave Kellett
* CR Holiday Interview #4 -- Brian Cremins
* CR Holiday Interview #3 -- Geneviève Castrée
* CR Holiday Interview #2 -- Sean T. Collins And Joe McCulloch
* CR Holiday Interview #1 -- Paul Pope

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Happy 24th Birthday, Minna Sundberg!

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January 8, 2014


CR Holiday Interview #17 -- Gilbert Hernandez

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*****

imageGilbert Hernandez is a future greatest living cartoonist. The only question is whether he's already there. His work is routinely vital, groundbreaking and propulsive. In 2013, Hernandez had one of the greatest publishing years since Osamu Tezuka and Jack Kirby at the respective heights of their Rushmore-level careers. In Marble Season, Hernandez explored the everyday rhythms of a mostly pleasant, positive, nerd-culture cognizant upbringing. In Julio's Day, he explored the exceptional qualities of an ordinary life. His work in this year's Love And Rockets: New Stories tugged at notions of memory and family and lives as templates, while his portrayal of members of that same community in The Children Of Palomar provided comics with some of its best-looking moments of the entire year. Finally, in Maria M Vol. 1, Hernandez found a way to tell pulp stories that inform the personal, where the positioning of bodies and the eyes that look out from different faces demand equal attention. It was a restless, exciting year Gilbert Hernandez shared with us, and I can't imagine ending this interview series with any other cartoonist. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

TOM SPURGEON: What is your work day like? What is a standard work day? I don't even know if you're a five-day-a-week guy or a six- or seven-day-a-week guy.

GILBERT HERNANDEZ: I pretty much break it up. I would say I'm a seven day a week guy, but it's broken up. One or two days in the middle I won't get much done, like a Tuesday or a Wednesday or something. Normally, it's seven days a week. It's too much, but right now I'm pumping out these graphic novels. I gotta double up.

SPURGEON: You talked about this at an SPX a couple of years ago, that it was a conscious choice on your part to work more quickly. Is that fair?

HERNANDEZ: More quickly, but not any less productiive as far as the story or art goes. Simply drawing smaller. It's a lot quicker.

SPURGEON: How small do you draw now, Gilbert?

HERNANDEZ: It depends! Looking at a page here... For Love and Rockets, my standard size would be, the image art would be about eight inches across and 11 inches tall. So that's my standard size. But when I work with Dark Horse or DC I've got to use their paper and that's around 15 tall ten wide.

SPURGEON: I didn't know companies like that still had people use their paper.

HERNANDEZ: Well, it's cheaper. [Spurgeon laughs] Those little Fritz books, the standard page size is around five and a half inches wide and then tall about eight inches.

SPURGEON: You're drawing to size on the Fritz books?

HERNANDEZ: It's still a little bigger. Originally, the plan was to make them paperback sized. But knowing that hardcovers sell better [laughs] or that you can get better returns on them, Fantagraphics decided to go with hardcovers that are slightly bigger than paperbacks. I can live with that.

SPURGEON: You've spent the last 18 months doing a lot of talking, Gilbert. You've done a lot of interviews, a lot of panel appearances. Some of the settings were kind of unique. We talked earlier this year to open TCAF; you spoke in Columbus, Ohio at a larger theater. Those two were career-spanning type interviews. I wondered... and maybe this is a good time to ask you this. There's a conventional wisdom about you and Jaime that you're unique to comics because you don't fit into any of the standard generations. You pay attention to old-school mainstream values concerning craft, but at the same time you're forward looking in terms of the stories you want to do? Do you have a sense of yourself as being in this unique position?

HERNANDEZ: I think we're in the middle. Like you were saying, I think we use our mainstream background to our advantage. We also... we can only write the stories we can write, so that's why we look outside of our influences. Sure, we have our influences in terms of comics and movies and such, but when it comes to creating new characters or stories, we've always just kind of pulled it out of the world [laughs]. Our observations, that kind of thing. We do feel like we're in the middle sometimes. Sometimes we'll lean towards a mainstream way of doing things, sometimes we'll lean towards an underground. Sometimes we'll lean towards European style. Whatever works for us. Sometimes we'll mix it all up.

Yeah. We do always feel like we're in the middle.

SPURGEON: I don't even know if this is a fair construction to use, but do you ever feel like other cartoonists might be better off taking some lessons from you in terms of where you look for inspiration, how you solve problems on the page. Do you ever wish for younger cartoonists to maybe value some of the things you value? Do you ever think of your specific background as an advantage?

HERNANDEZ: Personally, I do think we have an advantage in that we do have a strong, core reading of mainstream comics to present stories in the most engaging way possible. Instead of the most indulgent. What I mean by indulgent is very close to the chest... that's hard to explain. When somebody reads Love And Rockets, we just want them to read a comic book, not a kind of comic book. [laughs] You know? Just to read stories done in a comic book language. We never considered, "Well, we're going to do it this way because it's going to be to our advantage to be different from these people." Being different has held us back a little bit, but that's the only way we know how to do it. I don't think Love And Rockets is as... there's this image of Love And Rockets being this huge, spanning-global comic, and it really isn't. It's a small deal. It just gets to certain people. I don't know.

SPURGEON: That's a discussion that friends of mine and I have had about you in the last year or so, Gilbert. We wonder after why you aren't bigger in that general-culture sense. Do you think that has to do with the kind of comics you've been doing? Is it that you've kind of outpaced the infrastructure that might have been developed to serve comics like yours? Is it just that things that are as good as Love And Rockets generally don't do as well as they should? Why isn't it a spanning-global comic. Because the people that react to it react very strongly. But there don't seem to be as many people reacting to it as maybe could.

HERNANDEZ: When I look at mainstream comic books, and I take a good look at them every now and again, and I take a look at mainstream television shows, mostly crime dramas and stuff, I notice that they're completely told differently. They are going for a completely different thing. I think that what the rest of the world adapts to. They follow stories that way. I'm not saying it's anything simpler or anything like that -- it's sometimes more complicated, actually. I think it's just the way people absorb stories, and the way stories are told; the people that absorb stories that way are legion. There's just more of them. [laughs]

imageSPURGEON: Is there a quality you can describe, a specific quality you see in some of these other expressions that's not one you have in your work?

HERNANDEZ: Part of it -- I've been thinking about this lately with rock music -- part of it is that it's very serious. Whether or not there's a lot of goofy stuff going on, there's a serious tone. I guess that's what it is. A tone. I guess it connects to... I don't know. It's sort of hard to explain. I can watch an episode of some CSI show or something and after the show I'm like, "Did I just see something?" Everybody else that saw it thought it was the greatest show they ever saw. [laughs] It's the way it's told, it's how it's told... I think of lot of it with Love And Rockets it's the psychology, unconscious stuff. When they see violence from me it's too ugly and weird. But if they see something more violent but in a different context, that's fine with them.

It's just weird. I think it works on an unconscious level. You read a little of Love And Rockets and it doesn't connect with... it repels certain people. I'm not saying... that could be a dumb person or an intelligent person. It's basically not not getting it anymore, it's not wanting it. That's what I've noticed about people's tastes now. They just don't want it.

SPURGEON: They don't want the way you depict violence, the way you depict sex...

HERNANDEZ: Right. They just don't want it. They can find what they want somewhere else. That's my guess. I'm not even saying that they're picking this consciously. "Oh, I don't want to read this. I want to read this." It's more like, "Eh." And then they go on to something else. That's my guess.

SPURGEON: You kind of feel like you're in your... you have your milieu. There's no desire to go chasing an audience at this point. I would guess, anyway, particularly how good your comics are right now. Or do you? Do you ever go after an audience in that way?

HERNANDEZ: Well... what I want -- what I want, which hasn't happened in 30 years [laughter] what I want is to get our comics to the people out there that we know would like it. Sometimes it just doesn't get to those people. Go back to the old days, painters died and then 100 years later their paintings are considered brilliant. It just didn't get to the right people's eyes. I think -- for any comic, for any comic! -- there's more people that might like it but it just doesn't get to them.

SPURGEON: You've been meeting your readers for years and years now, too, Gilbert. We sometimes forget that about cartoonists, that over time you do meet a cross section of your readership. Do you get any sense from them that they're reacting to the same things? Are they the same in certain ways? I know when I talk to other fans of yours, there's no great distance I have to travel to have those discussion. We share a space concerning your comics. Do you feel like those that get it -- that want it -- are they picking up on the same things, the right things? And if true, does that make it a case of it just not getting into enough hands, a basic supply issue?

HERNANDEZ: I think that's the problem. I think that's the problem with all art. To toot my own horn here, better comics. We know cartoonists who started and were really good but then just faded away. There was no support to them. Maybe they only had a couple of stories in them. I don't know... it's hard to grasp. Sometimes in a more cynical mood someone will tell me, "Well, maybe just 6000 people get it." I don't think that's true.

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SPURGEON: You had a lot of work out this year, and a lot of work of different qualities. I was really taken with Marble Season. I thought that was a fine book. I wondered how you approached the writing of that one. That milieu you present, of course it draws from reality, but it's also very well-considered. It feels very tight. At the same time, this crafting of it doesn't drain the story of any of its energy; there's still a bounce to the narrative. How do you approach doing a single book like that, presenting a world that complete in that kind of short hand.

HERNANDEZ: I just looked at it, and I knew before I started it that "Okay. I'm doing graphic novels now. People like some of them. Some of them they like, some they don't like so much. I want one that -- part of that is what we were just talking about, people wanting it and not wanting it. I wanted to make a book that people wanted to read. In my head. I'm not mind reading. I'm guessing. I'm feeling it out. If I'm writing a story that doesn't have sex, which turns some people off for whatever reason, unconsciously or not, and violence is another thing that turns people off, and the depressing side of childhood... the reality of child abuse and molestation, the dark stuff, the poverty -- I wanted to leave that out. I wanted write a book from a 10-year-old's point of view that's having a good life. The worst problem he has is avoiding bullies. That sort of thing. For so many kids, there's a point where you aren't worried about shit. [laughter] It's all about, "What are you going to do the next day? Where will my next step take me?"

I just wanted to be pals. [laughs] "Hey, let's be pals here." Let's all experience something... the details are my own experiences but everyone can project their own TV shows or music they liked or comic books of whatever. It was about being pals and hanging out. Literally hanging out with the reader and saying, "Remember when we were kids?" As simple as that.

imageSPURGEON: It's psychologically astute, though, Gilbert. You don't shy away from the nuances of certain relationships, the casual cruelties and the disappointments that kids feel. There's not the presence of evil. But even just watching those kids negotiate their social milieu, how one kid will act towards another because of the presence of a third... that felt very real. It seems like you had a nuanced view of how kids interact. Was that reflective of your own experiences -- watching other kids interact? How did you construct that reality?

HERNANDEZ: I wanted to have those real things happen without it becoming overwhelming. It was sort of like how a day was. I pictured a good day, a normal day when I was 10 years old. I went to school. I dealt with listening to the boring school work. You hung out with friends, and there was someone to avoid. That was how your day went. With kids it's not about long-term effects. If there's a real dark period in your life, you move from it, you get over it. It's just a part of life. One second you can be miserable from a bully and the next second you can be hanging out with your friends and forget about the bully -- unless you're really being tormented; that's a different thing. But the usual bullying/harassment... it's just sort of a fact of life. [laughs] I wanted to present that.

Peanuts has always been a great model for me because Schulz went pretty dark and depressing in some of those Peanuts, but it was also a beloved, nationally syndicated strip. So if he could do that for a broad audience, I could do that for a graphic novel audience.

SPURGEON: It did seem like there was a universality to the setting, particularly the outdoor backgrounds; they reminded me of Peanuts. It seems like a lot of what you depicted had equivalents to things in neighborhoods where I grew up. I don't know how intentional that was.

HERNANDEZ: Yeah, yeah. I wanted to have a different version of Palomar. A make-believe place that we all lived in. We all lived there.

SPURGEON: That last scene with the two kids walking and talking... it's very different than the structure of what comes before. The bulk of the book is short bursts of scenes, and scenes that pivot on different players or different activities that are introduced halfway through. That conversation scene was one of the favorites I've read in a couple of years, and in your work, period. I wondered how you came to end the book with an extended conversation.

HERNANDEZ: I was coming to the end of writing the story, and I felt that any more I put into it would become repetitious. I had quite a few pages to go. I didn't want to do that, so I played around with stopping what I was doing, and smoothing it out, and having two kids reflect. Not anything heavy -- they talk about monster movies and stuff. I had those conversations when I was a kid. You had your busy days, and your boring life, whatever it is, and then one day you hook up with a kid and you just walk. You'd walk for what seemed like forever and you'd just talk like that. I thought that would be a good place to end it, rather than having the busy-ness, or some huge climax. Just have a nice walk and talk. [Spurgeon laughs] It notes encroaching teenhood.

SPURGEON: The comics that play a role in this one, and you've talked at length in the past about the comics you read when you were a kid. One thing I was struck by when I caught your presentation at TCAF on the comics you valued from your childhood was that you guys had really good taste. Your mom had natural taste when she was reading comics as a kid, too. Where do you think taste like that comes from? Is it natural-born? Is it that you respond to something differently if you're looking for something that others might not need to find? Is the repetition of reading, as you've talked about you re-read a lot of comics? Was it making comics of your own -- do you read differently for that action? How did you develop an eye for what was good?

HERNANDEZ: I think that watching movies had something to do with that. There are certain qualities to watching movie. My mom would watch 1940s movies, and even if it's a screwball comedy the quality is pretty sophisticated compared to comics. Whenever we read comics that was closer to that feel, they stood out. I loved junky comics. I loved the worst, lurid... crude [laughter] comics of the early '50s. The EC knock-offs. I loved those. But as far as being close to the chest. On one hand my mother was different because she liked The Spirit and Captain Marvel and Donald Duck. But still those seem to be respecting the audience. Those seem to respect the audience. When we were growing up, certain kinds of comics we gravitated towards -- the Marvel Comics of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, the Archie comics, the Dennis The Menace comics we always talk about -- they seemed closer to the chest. They seemed more honest.

We could recognize the gifts of those particular creators. Somehow we could see their gifts. I don't know how we did that. It could have just been repetition, because we did read those comics over and over and over and over, until they were tissue paper. Drawing our own comics was a lot different experience because they were so crude. We were just kids. Why we gravitated to... boy, I want to say Archie Comics and Dennis The Menace comics we gravitated to the most because they felt like part of the neighborhood. They felt like family.

SPURGEON: You've talked about comics like the Fitzgerald comics in terms of the values of family they projected, whereas we tend to process a lot of work like that in terms of its cold craft. Were these value that you felt you shared? Could they have even been compensating values?

HERNANDEZ: I could see that even as a kid that it was idealized... that it was somebody else's life. I felt like I was there, though. They didn't condescend to me, they didn't reject me in any way . I always felt like a party of those comics. I don't know. I don't know where this interest came from. [laughs] But it was natural. We really liked what they were about. We were in Archie's neighborhood. We were in Dennis The Menace's house.

Of all the Marvel comics, Ditko captures that as well. He was very kind to old people and average people in his stories. Even as stylized as he drew, they were important to him in his drawings and the way he told his stories. The way Stan Lee told his as well! That's surprising when I think about it. That's why I get a little irritated when people start talking, "Well, when Don Heck took over the Avengers got better." I'm like, "Okay. Whatever you say." [laughter] Kirby had that too. I saw him first in the monster stories. We saw them so scattered. We never saw them in order, the order they came out. They were in stacks of old comics at the barber or a stack that a cousin might give us. So we were reading comics from 1959 ten years later not caring when they came out. They were comics. Kirby in those days whenever he drew a family or he drew a couple or he drew a man and a woman living on a farm, they were very humanistic. There wasn't this cynical attitude that's completely taken over our modern pop culture. It was a different time. We absorbed that so much into our way of thinking that it comes out naturally in our stories.

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SPURGEON: Re-reading Julio's Day I was struck by how pretty some of the pages were. I think you're consistently underrated as a visual artist, the handsomeness of stand-alone images in a lot of your work. You're such a story guy, you're very story-oriented, do you ever have a problem finding ways to make use of a single, striking image given the demands of a story to keep the eye moving, to keep a narrative flowing that way? You use a bunch of different rhythms, too, Gilbert, so I wondered how much of that was even conscious. When you have a beautiful pages, how conscious of a decision is that for you?

HERNANDEZ: I'm more conscious of that decision now. In the old days I just winged it. In the old days there was a lot of repairing, a lot of cutting up and reusing panels. Re-doing pages, cutting them in half and moving panels around. There was a lot of that in the early days. So learning from that, it's a lot easier for me now. So if I have a dialogue, two people talking, depending on what they're talking about I have to decide, "Is this going to be one page or two pages?" Then we have to open the scene with a large panel, a forest or something, because it's inviting -- a big panel in a new scene has always brought me into a story. Just pulled me in. That's something I'm conscious of. So I"m more conscious of doing a relatively pretty picture in the course of a story, I will open it up that way. That's something I've learned from mainstream comics, because those stories are told that way.

SPURGEON: Are you comfortable with your style? Do you ever still wish you could draw like someone else? Your work is distinctive in the way of a great strip artist in that I can look at a building or a tree or a chair and I know it's one of yours. Are you aware that your style is that palpable, that specific?

HERNANDEZ: Yeah, yeah. But I know I'm in the middle. I don't go either real simplistic or hyper-detailed -- I'm just not that skilled an artist to go hyper-detailed. I'm in the middle -- I want to tell a story, and my favorite cartoonists like Bob Bolling, the backgrounds were very much a participant in the story, setting a tone. I've never read another cartoonist that set a tone the way Bob Bolling did. I think that's why I've gravitated to him so much. His tone was absolutely perfect for me as a kid. So... I'm aware of my limits. Of course I want to draw better! But the trouble is, if I drew as well as Jaime, you'd probably see a lot more indulgence from me. So it's probably good I don't. [laughter] If I could draw like that guy I'd be the biggest pornaholic in the world. [laughs]

SPURGEON: How do you see Love And Rockets now? Given how prolific you are, is that a place you put a specific type of story? One thing I've noticed is that a lot of your recent stories have focused on conversation on many of the pages, very much about the figures in the foreground interacting in a specific space, through specific language. In general, though, what does that avenue supply you? Is that were shorter works go? Do you feel obligated to do a Palomar story? How do you approach that?

HERNANDEZ: Yeah, Love And Rockets is different than the other books. There's three different kinds of books I do. Love And Rockets is one. I just let myself be myself in Love And Rockets. Today is going to be about a bunch of women talking -- that's basically every story. [laughter] With Love And Rockets, it seems to be scrutinized to me.

I am looking at a larger audience for it. I'm looking at browsers. I'm thinking of browsers. I'm pulling back on a lot of the sexy girl stuff in Love And Rockets. There's still a lot of it, but I'm pulling back in recent issues because I do want the browser not to be turned away from it. They're jumping on Jaime's stuff, which is great, but if they happen to get stuck on some of my pages [laughs] they might not want to look at it. That's my guess, anyway.

So I'm looking at Love And Rockets with a wider scope. It's more about interconnecting relationships, people talking to each other about their relationships and their feelings, that kind of thing. I think about that in Love And Rockets. With books like the failed commercial attempts like Fatima The Blood Spinners. Grip, books like that. Girl Crazy. Those are just meant to be fun mainstream comics. They just never connected to these people. That's why they disappeared. I think Fatima was my last one. That's my last attempt to make a fun comic for a general audience. [laughs]

SPURGEON: As I understand it, that's a more difficult market in which to place work as well. It's not solely your desires, you run into what the publishers want to do now which is very different than 10 years ago.

HERNANDEZ: Yeah, the high-concept Hollywood thing has entered the publishers, creators and readers minds now. What is the high concept? Why should I read this? Instead of just enjoying a comic the way we did as a kid. You picked up a bunch of comics, and you read them. Now it's how does this work into my schedule. [laughter] That's what it seems like to me. It seems more high concept. It has to be in terms people understand right away.

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SPURGEON: The Fritz books are high concept: they're pulp books that represent movies made by the character from the Palomar stories. This first volume of Maria M was my favorite of them so far, but I have to admit: I struggle with the Fritz aspect of the series. I feel bad asking you this, because I almost feel like I'm asking a stage magician to explain in 1-2-3 fashion a trick, but here's the thing: I like the stories, the pulp-story aspects to these books. But Maria M is the first one where I felt the dissonance of the reality you're presenting... this character playing a fictionalized version of her own mother, it seemed haunting for the first time -- maybe for that family connection.

So that masking effect, how central has that been to what you've attempted with these books? Or was it perhaps just a hook to do these pulpy stories?

HERNANDEZ: I've learned the hard way that if we connect our stories to our main stories -- if Jaime connects something to Locas, to the Hoppers world, they're more interested. Fatima, Grip, they weren't connected to Palomar and they didn't do as well. So I kind of jumped into the Fritz stuff knowing that. On one hand, I didn't want it to be connected to the Palomar stuff. I wanted it to be pulp novels. At the same time, when I was developing them, I knew I wanted to be doing graphic novels as well. This was before I started doing like ten graphic novels a year -- these were early. So I put two ideas together. My problem with Fritz is not having her own character -- there's something to that. I didn't know the character, but I was compelled to show her story. I've said this in several interviews. People in the post-modern world love those kinds of links. I needed that link to bring attention to it. I bit the bullet on that one. I didn't want to do a book series linked to phony movies -- that wasn't my big goal. But as comics, and getting attention for them, I thought I should go with this and see how it works. Nobody's ever done this. The gimmick aspect of them.

Personally, they're two things. They are pulp stories I like doing. Crime stories. Secondly, I get to explore Fritz's character through her acting. She doesn't have much of a personality in Love And Rockets, but once she's in a film she completely adapts to a character. You see her playing herself out through these characters.

SPURGEON: You have been working at such a high level for so long, but as we discussed earlier the context for your work has changed right out from underneath you, and maybe several times. Do you think that you could have the same career if you started now. How would your career, how would Jaime's career, be different if you started now? How much are you creatures of your very specific time?

HERNANDEZ: I think there was a bit of timing: the way it's been for so many artists and musicians, where it was the moment to strike. I think it would be hard for us now.

I think we would do okay, maybe... well, there's two ways to look at it. One is that we'd be cult-y indy guys... we might enjoy what we have now but on a smaller level. But at the same time I wonder if we did our stuff now and there was no prejudice against Love And Rockets -- because that's a problem -- if there was no prejudice against a comic for being around 30 years, it might take off in a whole new way. It's still different from other comics.

It's hard to say. In a better world, I guess, if we started tomorrow maybe everyone would be like, "Wow, this is great." But that's not likely. More likely we'd be an even smaller cult than we are now.

*****

* Gilbert Hernandez
* Gilbert Hernandez At Fantagraphics
* Gilbert Hernandez At Drawn And Quarterly
* Marble Season
* Julio's Day
* Love And Rockets: New Stories
* The Children Of Palomar
* Maria M Vol. 1

*****

* from The Children Of Palomar
* photo of Hernandez at TCAF 2013 by me
* cover image from L&RNS Vol. 6
* panel from Marble Season
* part of a full-page illustration used in Marble Season
* from Julio's Day
* from Maria M Vol. 1
* from Julio's Day (below)

*****

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*****
*****
 
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Go, Look: Bunch Of New Mike Dawson Stuff On-Line

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Go, Look: Beautiful-Looking Wally Wood EC Art

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

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Go, Look: Luke's Junk Drawer

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* yeah, I've also always wondered about the conception of writing as a spirit to be summoned into existence. I think it may come from two different places. One is that some writers feel that writing should be immensely pleasurable, perhaps because that kind of creativity started out as an enjoyable contrast to school work and other things; another is that there is a mythology to writing and one of its major aspects is writing an elevated state. The other weird thing is that when you're doing a lot of writing, you never think about doing a lot of writing. You're just doing stuff.

image* Rob Clough on Real Good Stuff #1-2. Andrew White on Rolling Stock.

* there is to be a new series called Don't Be A Dick.

* someone pointed out to me that the Searle In America site has had a bunch of art up in recent months just showing stuff being sold through the exhibit.

* not comics: I don't really follow the various Marvel movie and TV efforts, but I found the one episode of the SHIELD-related TV show I saw in a hotel room pretty excruciating. At the same time, it seemed a prime candidate for that new tradition of extending the life of TV shows by reforming them in the light of what the hardcore fandom wants; this sounds like that process has begun. I would imagine a significant degree of difficulty with a show like that is found in the fact the "universe" is underdeveloped because superhero movies are mostly about the early days of superheroing as opposed to the well-worn, developed time periods -- a show about secret agents operating in that world would seem to work better at a much later stage of "world development." Also, the show I saw didn't seem well-executed on any level, really, beyond the sturdiness of its veteran cast members.

* I don't think I've ever seen this picture of a kid reading newsstand comics, and I thought by now I'd seen most of them.

* John Porcellino will partner with SAW to present a class in Chicago the week after CAKE. I hope I get to take a class from Porcellino someday.

* finally, if my Dad were still alive and found out through me that there were Emergency! comics, there would be no rest for anyone until he had read them all. Seriously, that show was created in a test tube for every manly interest my dad had; I was always afraid if I slept too soundly he'd try to restart my heart with those shock-paddles they employed in every other episode.
 
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Happy 54th Birthday, Domingos Isabelinho!

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Happy 59th Birthday, Ken Steacy!

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Happy 73rd Birthday, Boris Vallejo!

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January 7, 2014


CR Holiday Interview #16 -- Lucy Shelton Caswell

imageLucy Caswell is the founder and the former curator of The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, on the campus of the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. In November, the new Sullivant Hall facility for the institution was opened at the front of the 2013 iteration of the every-three-years Festival Of Cartoon Art.

Caswell is an accomplished author about comics, and has done significant work in bringing cartoon art to bear in the teaching of history. My favorite comics-related moment of 2013 was the long, deserved moment applause Caswell received during the Billy Ireland opening ceremony. The comics community owes her more than it can ever repay. She is a role-model for every non-creative to work in proximity to this great art form, and for everyone else besides.

I'm grateful Caswell took time out of her busy schedule to visit with me, and talk about the work ahead. I tweaked a bit for flow and for circumspection. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

TOM SPURGEON: We're talking not too long after the big opening weekend for the new Billy Ireland facility. I wondered during the weekend if you got any time to step back with all that was swirling around you and have a moment to reflect on all of that, to take it in on a personal level. In a way, that opening must have been a completion of a personal journey. Did you get a moment like that, Lucy?

LUCY CASWELL: I guess I don't feel like it's complete.

SPURGEON: Ah.

CASWELL: Whether or not I am involved to the extent that I have been in the past, I feel like we're just starting.

SPURGEON: What a great answer. Let's talk about your involvement now. Are you freed up now, are you a step away from the institutional weight of the place in a way that allows you to pursue projects that encompass specific interests that you may have?

CASWELL: Yes. I hope so. I would like to continue to curate exhibitions. I am on the campus and national committees of whatever we're calling the advisory groups for the library. I am going to continue my involvement in those ways. I also expect to continue my service on the Schulz museum board. I am member of the Swann Foundation board at the Library of Congress. I expect to be involved in assorted ways.

SPURGEON: Talk to me a bit about curating exhibits. That's something I don't know a ton about.

CASWELL: [laughs] That's sort of one of the in-jokes, that until you've done it, you won't understand exactly how much work that is and what it involves. I think that it's unfortunate that we as curators have not done a better job communicating exactly what is involved. I think, too, we are -- and this kind of keys into another discussion -- I don't think we have a critical mass of art critics who can talk about curation in any kind of meaningful way. I think until that happens, until that exchange happens, we're still on a journey to get to a certain level of understanding and appreciation.

SPURGEON: What's the biggest misapprehension that someone like me has about curation? Is it simply the amount of work involved? Is it in the nuances of the execution?

CASWELL: I think it's a variety of things. Partly it is coming up with a thesis for your exhibition. What is it going to be about? And what is it you want it to communicate to folks that come and visit? Then you have to figure out how best to do that. In order to answer that second question, you have to know what your resources are. This includes secondary means: if you have the technical capability to do video loops or QR code, do you want to do that? Do you want to have only framed pieces or two-dimensional pieces? Do you want to have three-dimensional pieces? All of these questions feed into what the final product will be and how your viewers will understand that.

SPURGEON: So are you on the exhibit schedule yet, Lucy? Do we have an idea on what we might expect to see from you?

CASWELL: I've suggested several things. Jenny [Robb] has still not firmed up the schedule.

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SPURGEON: Can you talk about one that you would like to do?

CASWELL: One that I would like to do is a World War I show. We have very rich resources in that area, and it's an anniversary, as you know. I think we could have a lot of fun. We have very rich local work in the Passing Show pages that Billy Ireland did and the World War I cartoons that Edwina Dumm did as the first woman editorial cartoonist. She happened to be in Columbus.

It's particularly interesting because there was a committee on public information that sent out weekly suggestions for cartoonists to follow up on. The patriotic response to that war was fairly uniform. Whether or not these are propaganda is a very interesting question. What is propaganda? How does it work? It seems to me we can ask a whole bunch of very deep questions with this kind of exhibition... questions we need to be asking now.

SPURGEON: We know a bit about cartooning in subsequent wars, or I think it's fair to say that knowledge of cartooning in World War II or in Vietnam is a little more immediate to people. Other than the work of committee, can you talk about some of the general differences in cartooning in that period? Were there cultural differences that found their way into that work? Was the milieu for cartoonists so profoundly different then in a way that would have an impact on any work they might do about war?

CASWELL: Oh, yes. We need to remember how important print was. Many communities had multiple newspapers, and while in most communities everybody was supporting the war by the time we got in -- that's another interesting thing. In central Ohio, in '14 and '15, we were a lot more concerned with the border war with Mexico and Pancho Villa than we were with what was going on in Europe. There were Ohio troops down in Texas involved in that conflict. That's not something we're taught in history classes. It's something we need to remember as we look at so-called American Isolationism, what Wilson was doing, and what was going in Western Europe. It's just really to me a fascinating period to me in editorial cartoons -- and in comic strips! Mutt and Jeff went to war. We can really talk about a lot of issues that have resonance today.

imageSPURGEON: You know, Lucy, I think of that orientation as a specialty of yours, that you've done an outstanding job with the collection in terms of using editorial cartoons and comics more generally as a window into history, or as history itself.

CASWELL: Oh, yes. That is how I've approached it.

SPURGEON: Is that a notion you always had, or is that something you had to develop? Were you always aware of editorial cartoons? Or is that something you developed as you grew to work with the collection?

CASWELL: No, no, I've always read them. I've always read comic strips, too.

SPURGEON: You've always had an eye on them.

CASWELL: I've come to this with a background in history. A serious background in history. The idea of what happened in the 20th Century -- and there are a number of historians now, that argue, for example, that it was one long war that occurred from 1914 to 1945. There was more or less fighting at different points during the conflict, but that we really need to see this as one arc of history instead of World War I and World War II.

SPURGEON: You've talked in terms that there might have been government influence --

CASWELL: No, no, no. I don't think there's any "might." It's very clear that there was government influence.

SPURGEON: So how do you process that as history? Do you just take that into account? Do you look for a populist surge that pushes back against this influence?

CASWELL: I would argue from a very specific definition of propaganda. Editorial cartoonists in this country were not forced to draw anything. What we saw was I believe genuine patriotic fervor, love of country if you will, that caused them to embrace these suggestions. That's very different than being in a totalitarian state and being told you must produce a cartoon on this topic on this day. That is not what we had.

SPURGEON: Now I'm guess this is something that would be very translatable to now, a cultural context that involves different mechanism of coercion. The pressure to get on board, to support the troops or however it's presented.

CASWELL: It's totally different now because we can say starting with the Vietnam War -- and maybe even with Korea, but definitely with Vietnam -- there was no longer this patriotic, widespread patriotic support of the effort. I think it's interesting to look at the range of opinions in editorial cartoons across society, and how we accept that. Versus in Syria where cartoonists are killed or have their hands smashed. I think we forget that there are places in the world where drawing critical pictures of the leadership or criticizing those in power is simply not allowed. China being another case in point.

SPURGEON: So this is the kind of take that may be missing when people engage with a curated exhibit.

CASWELL: I think that many people hadn't even thought about this. And that's okay. But our jobs as curators is to make them look anew, or in an enhanced way at something they might not have thought about before. I think that's what [creator, comics historian and curator] Brian [Walker] was trying to do with the Substance And Shadow show. "Let's take something you are familiar with and kind of recast it and maybe look at it anew."

I was showing some people the Mother Goose Goes To Hollywood drawing. We were talking about the fact that these folks recognized Edward G. Robinson but they didn't recognize some of the other caricatures in the four that were show. In order for caricature to work as a device, the viewer has to know who it is, has to recognize who it is. I remember teaching... my students didn't know what Nikita Kruschev looked like. They were clueless about those cartoons.

SPURGEON: I would guess there are even instances where the caricature outlasts the historical person.

CASWELL: I think Boss Tweed could be an example of that.

SPURGEON: I always wondered how much we process Hitler through caricature, too.

CASWELL: Yeah. Yes.

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SPURGEON: So do you think people have thus far engaged with Brian's exhibit with the nuance and complexity that it deserves?

CASWELL: I don't know, because I haven't talked to very many people about it. [Spurgeon laughs] I felt that over the weekend people liked it very much. But that's a subset of people that bring a lot of prior knowledge to their viewing of the exhibit. I think they were also not prepared for the kind of gallery presentation we can now give.

SPURGEON: It was very overwhelming for a lot of people. I remember talking to someone -- I don't remember who it was -- who told me straight-up they weren't able to handle looking at a whole bunch of it at a time. They would actually walk outside for a while, sit a spell, and return.

CASWELL: Brian and I talked about it. I think the show's a bit too big. I think that's something we're going to have to figure out. Either this needed to be a multi-trip visitation experience, or we need to make smaller shows. Because in my experience, people kind of experience exhibit fatigue after about 60 or 80 pieces. This is not like looking at paintings on a wall. Some of them you can take in fairly quickly, but others... like the Krazy Kat, or the Cliff Sterrett, you do really need to read frame by frame and that takes a while.

SPURGEON: That Sterrett you guys had up was the belle of the ball, I thought.

CASWELL: Isn't that a gorgeous piece?

SPURGEON: That was an incredibly gorgeous piece. I don't know if that was because of those thick blacks or what, but that looked so freaking good as a stand-alone on a wall.

CASWELL: That was Brian's favorite wall. He was hilarious talking about how stunningly fabulous that group was, with the Nemo -- and it is a pretty fabulous wall.

SPURGEON: It is! Hey, I have a question about the original contribution. I'm hoping you'll indulge me. I read once where the original donation came to you in parts. It didn't come in all at once. I was wondering why that was.

CASWELL: Are you talking about Caniff?

SPURGEON: Yes, the foundational donation from Milton Caniff. Was the incremental nature of the donation a reflection of his uncertainty over whether it would be taken?

CASWELL: Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no. It was all circumstance. The first shipment happened in 1974 because his mother died in Dayton. They had a house they needed to clear out. It was purely circumstantial. The second large shipment of Caniff came in 1983 because he closed his studio in Palm Springs. The third big Caniff shipment came when we closed his studio in New York City after his death in '88.

I think pretty much 100 percent of the time this kind of gift is in one way or another circumstantial. People move, they divorce, they get sick... we are by nature, human beings, sedentary and comfortable [laughs]. Change and giving away stuff and making this kind of life decision is hard for us.

SPURGEON: One thing that's impressive to me from an administration standpoint with what you've done over your career, and this speaks to that, is how flexible you have to be about taking these opportunities as they come to you.

CASWELL: Absolutely. And I credit William J. Studer, who was director of libraries. I don't remember when Bill retired. During the first 15 to 20 critical years -- and in fact he was still director when [the collection of Bill] Blackbeard came, so that would have been '98 -- Bill always was willing to look and listen. There were collections we said no thank you to. But not of cartoon art. They were of film material and other kinds of things. As I look back, that was the right choice for us. He was always open to why this matters and then figuring out how we could make it happen. I think an awful lot of library directors would not have been willing to do that.

I think this is public knowledge: Blackbeard is a case in point. We negotiated for about a year back and forth. Bill at one point wanted us to buy his house in San Francisco with the understanding that he could live there and the academy could stay there throughout his lifetime and upon his death the university would still own the house and all of the contents would come to us. I give Bill Studer so much credit. He went to the appropriate administrators for property and said, "Can we do this?" instead of immediately saying, "That is the craziest thing I ever heard of." [Spurgeon laughs] He went to them and they said, "No, that's really not going to be possible." I could go back to Bill and say, quite truthfully, "Bill, this isn't something we can do. The university is not able to do that. Is there another way we can talk about making sure your holdings stay intact?"

It was about a year we went back and forth until we figured out how we were going to do this. A lot of administrators would have said to this guy. "No. Why bother?"

SPURGEON: Did the Blackbeard donation change the whole nature of what you were doing here, just the size of that collection, the scope of it?

CASWELL: I don't think it changed the nature. I think it changed the extent. Because it is so huge. We were so fortunate again... I don't like the world "luck" but the fact that the Getty Foundation gave us the money to jump start the creation of the finding aid was critical, because we never would have had the resources to devote to that kind of intensive work to have it started. And once you get that kind of thing established, it's going to take quite a few more years to finish up. But we know where we're going and we know how to get there. We know how to invest modest resources we do have in terms of the biggest payoff in terms of making it available. The Getty grant made that possible for us. Apparently, when I wrote my initial inquiry the grants officer kind of wandered around the halls and said, "Does anybody know anyone we can talk to about this proposal to make sure it's legit?" And [laughs] I think that's a fair response on their part.

SPURGEON: When you get an opportunity like that... I guess there's nothing of the Blackbeard collection's size that makes a comparison possible, so let's say something like the Jay Kennedy collection or the Edwina Dumm material you were given. When you get something in the library like that, does that ever involve a mini-pivot on your part to redefine the collection as something that now includes this material -- or is your mission big enough that it encompasses all of these various opportunities no matter when they come along?

CASWELL: We've always said we wanted to be comprehensive. That distinguishes us from pretty much everyone else that's collecting. I think... if you read our collection development policies, I hope we've done a pretty good job of saying there are things... we truly mean comprehensive, all of everything. There are other people whose work we value but we cannot take all of everything because of space and financial limitations in the commitment. When we accept the collection, we say we're going to keep it and care for it in perpetuity. That's a pretty serious commitment.

SPURGEON: You guys have a bunch of Bud Blake. You have a bunch of his editorial cartoon work and a lot of Tiger as I recall.

CASWELL: Yes.

SPURGEON: Now, does having all that Bud Blake work bring with it a desire to find specific things to do with it?

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CASWELL: Of course. Of course! I think that's one of the interesting things... back to curation. When Jim Borgman did his speech for the IMCA [International Museum of Cartoon Art] celebration, he talked about reading cartoon art in a very eloquent way. He used Bud Blake as an example: someone whose name is not well known, but for Borgman had been a seminal figure in his own artistic development.

SPURGEON: Blake to Borgman actually makes a bunch of sense.

CASWELL: That's an interesting thing to think about. I think that could be a fun show: talk to a half-dozen people like Borgman and say, "Who really mattered to you?" And we know that Sparky would be one. And probably MAD Magazine. Bud Blake was unexpected for me. That's the kind of thing... we look at people like Picasso or other so-called fine artists, and we can talk about how they were trained and how they were influenced. I think we can do the same with cartoonists but we just haven't thought very seriously about this.

SPURGEON: I wanted to touch on the OSU Festival Of Cartoon Art. That was a very nice weekend. It was the first one of those I was able to attend, but I talked to a number of people who had been to all of them, or close to all of them, anyway.

CASWELL: Yes, yes.

SPURGEON: I have to imagine every time you do one it triggers a bunch of memories of past events. What was the initial impetus behind those? Are there specific memories you kind of hold near where the Festival is concerned?

CASWELL: Both yes and no. They all kind of mush together. [Spurgeon laughs]

The first one in 1983 was prompted by our interest in the Philip Sills collection. He was a very wealthy New York collector who had made his money in the garment industry. He got connected with Caniff and Toni Mendez. He had a very nice collection. It was ironic that that show occurred in the Hoyt Sherman gallery at Sullivant Hall in the Fall of 1983.

We decided if we were going to do this show, we might as well have some cartoonists in to speak. So that we did. And people came and enjoyed it. We were surprised by the reaction of the cartoonists. There were people whose studios were 20 blocks apart in Manhattan, people who hadn't seen each other in years. They were so thrilled to see each other, and to be at a university campus where it was sort of neutral territory. There weren't syndicate agendas or association agendas. Everybody was here celebrating cartoon art. It was a festival of cartoon art.

It was so successful... I can remember the assistant director at the time saying, "You know what? That worked really well. Maybe we should think about doing it again." I looked at him and said, "There's no way we can do it every year. We can't." He said, "What about every other year?" And I said, "Huh... maybe every three years?" That was literally how best to shepherd resources and keep doing this.

Frankly one of our biggest challenges was to convince people that they need to come to Columbus, Ohio. The bi-coastal prejudice at that point was still pretty severe. Ohio was something you flew over. I remember a speaker saying, "Do you have taxicabs in Columbus?" [laughter]

SPURGEON: Oh no.

CASWELL: Just bringing people to campus, showing them we did know how to do serious exhibitions, we did know how to do quality programming and we did know how to be hospitable, and to value them as creators, I think has been very important to us. The other segment of this is the collectors and scholars who have participated in this since the beginning also found value in being a setting where it wasn't so ginormous, where they couldn't really talk with and connect to one another. That's the reason we've tried to keep the scale manageable.

SPURGEON: You mention scholars and collectors... there are bookmakers, too, that attend.

CASWELL: Yes, yes.

SPURGEON: You have always maintained an admirable policy of working openly and directly with people that want to do publication work with your holdings.

CASWELL: I think it's an important part of our mission. That's one way we can talk to donors about continuing the life of the work. Interesting, I was with a friend over the weekend, whose uncle was Art Poinier, the editorial cartoonist for the Detroit News. They had a summer family enclave at Little Point Sable on Lake Michigan, way north on the lower peninsula. We were there one week and Art came over and was quoting Kipling about art and the power of art communicate. Art Poinier speaking about art -- it could get confusing here. [Spurgeon laughs] We were around a fire and it was very moving. He talked about editorial cartooning giving him a bully pulpit to communicate on issues he felt strongly about. Justice issues. It is because of that connection that I was able to meet Julianne Warren, who was the archivist of the editorial cartoonist association [AAEC]. The rest is really history, because we got their archives and made connections with all of that group.

The point here is I was talking to Art's niece, and she wanted to know if his collection here was still being used. I said yes because we have it in the database and book publishers and text writers now who want cartoons about a certain topic can go in and Art Poinier's works are among the editorial cartoons they have to choose from. That's something important we can say long after this person is gone. We can put this work out there so that this whole range of users can see what we have and decide this cartoon is the exact one they need for their text on labor movements in the United States -- whatever it is. I think that's a real obligation we have.

SPURGEON: Universities don't always have the best reputations in terms of continuity and in terms of staying open to scholars and publishers.

CASWELL: I think that's correct.

SPURGEON: That's a fear that's expressed to me by a lot of my writer friends when it comes to university holdings generally.

CASWELL: We don't want to fall into that category. That's really important to us. When I was responsible, I think that was a key, driving motivation. We've always tried to make finding aids and keep things available. This goes back far enough that the first ones were done not on an electric typewriter but on a manual typewriter.

SPURGEON: Oh my goodness.

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CASWELL: The fact we can use an on-line finding aid, and have the art database and the image database, it's just incredible to me. Christina Meyer, who is from Germany, can use our Yellow Kid digitized pages in her classroom in German because of the Internet. That is so wonderful.

SPURGEON: You co-edit with Jared Gardner the current press wing of the... I'm not even sure how that's set up.

CASWELL: The Ohio State University Press is a separate entity.

SPURGEON: So you have... an imprint at the Press?

CASWELL: We have a journal series -- it's a book series, not a journal series. The first one was on francophone comics, and we have two or three others in the pipeline. We are proposing we do a collection of the papers from the scholarly symposium at this year's festival. The Press can't say they'll do it or won't do it until we have papers in hand and they go through a review.

SPURGEON: Is having a strong press presence to go along with the museum and library efforts an ongoing challenge? I seem to remember that the Jeff Smith exhibit book was done by the Wexner Center but that it might have bounced around first.

CASWELL: "Bounced around" is not the right term. They did that book because they did the show.

SPURGEON: Hm.

CASWELL: I think for somebody not in the university it might not make any sense at all. [laughter] I'm very sympathetic to your question.

SPURGEON: I feel much better then.

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CASWELL: We have published a number of books, the most recent a monograph on Ding Darling by Rich West. I feel like our challenge now is to attract the brightest and best so that our series can be important and make the kind of contribution we want it to.

SPURGEON: I wanted to ask you about a piece of writing you did. You did a short introduction to the Calvin and Hobbes Sunday Pages book. Am I right in remembering that was you?

CASWELL: Yes.

SPURGEON: One thing you talked about in there I thought fascinating was the notion that at the moment of that book's publication there hadn't been enough time for a fair judgment on what Bill Watterson had accomplished with the strip. You and Bill even talked about whether you could call a book like that a retrospective or not, whether enough time had passed so that it could be properly termed a look back. It had only been a couple of years since he ended syndication.

CASWELL: It had been ten.

SPURGEON: More time has passed since. One of the things I've tracked this year is it seems like there's more of an interest in Watterson now than even there was at the time of the book you did -- you're doing a show, of course, in 2014. But just in general it seems that people may love the strip more now.

CASWELL: I think that's true. I think it's a real -- it's a wonderful example of the power of the art form, that Calvin and Hobbes continues to communicate to a new generation of readers as well as those that remember reading it in their paper every day when he was doing it.

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SPURGEON: Do you have any insight as to why that is? I talked to the cartoonist Dave Kellett for an earlier installment of this interview series -- he had contact with Watterson for the documentary film he's doing -- and he suggested that there was as purposeful timelessness to what Watterson did.

CASWELL: I think he's right. In some ways... everyone makes the analogy to Peanuts and Schulz. It's the same kind of timeless creation of characters that readers care about. The writing is so superior. The humor and the pathos... it really is so excellent. We can look at art, the lithographs of Goya, for example, or we can talk about Charlotte's Web or other types of literature, and they're timeless.

SPURGEON: We talked about Jim Borgman and his relationship to Bud Blake, this influence that's a bit off the beaten path now -- even though it was reasonably well syndicated back in its day. Is there someone for you like that? Is there someone you have a specific interest in, someone on whose behalf you might proselytize given the chance, someone you wish more people knew about? You have a bunch of Edwina Dumm... You have a number of Anne Mergen pieces here, too. Is there anybody you'd love to spotlight by grabbing our collective sleeve and kind of tugging us in their direction.

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CASWELL: We do this all the time. Barbara Shermund is the latest one we're sort of in love with. She's not very well known. There are a lot of people... Eldon Dedini.

SPURGEON: That's a wonderful choice.

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CASWELL: His work is gorgeous. Knock-your-socks-off gorgeous and funny, funny, funny. We'll be doing a Dedini show at some point. [laughs] We will have to say it has mature content, because we can't possibly do a Dedini show without the Playboy work, which is color and boy he was good at it.

SPURGEON: There's an intense physicality to his work that I don't know that anyone approaches... maybe VT Hamlin... it looked like Dedini was carving shapes out of the air.

CASWELL: Lee Lorenz is another person whose work -- Lee's still publishing! He's still active! I would put Arnold Roth into this category as well. These are people whose technical expertise is just stunning. We really need to look closely at what they have done. I would argue for all of these folks. There is a timeless quality. It still communicates. Humor, sarcasm, political commentary... it runs the gamut.

SPURGEON: Comics expressions change and develop. You've done a great job bringing in the undergrounds through something like the Jay Kennedy collection, and now the mini-comics have a focus with the Dylan Williams collection... the unanswered question is what about comics created for digital publication? Webcomics... this may include some comics that may not have a physical component at all. Do you have any sense at all of how that stuff may eventually be curated and stored? Or is that just an ongoing question for all librarians everywhere.

CASWELL: I think it's an ongoing question. I've been raising this question for eight to ten years.

For us it's a resource question. Because when we get these things, they're going to take up a lot of digital storage space. We're going to need to be able to say what we've said about our print and physical comics collections: that we're going to make these accessible over time. So when a certain program or a machine is no longer commonly used, we are either going to upgrade whatever this is or we're going to keep the old thing -- like a 35mm projector -- so that we can show it, see it, study it, whatever. That's one part of the equation.

The other part is convincing the creators that they need to be saving these things and placing them in institutional repositories. I just don't think we're there yet on either side of this.

SPURGEON: Digital material is almost more at risk than comics on paper, despite its newness. It seems more at risk of near-instantaneous redundancy.

CASWELL: I think we know that, and I think we're working really hard to capture it. Part of it what I was saying earlier about inertia. Comics work on deadline, and that deadline is always more important than what I did a week ago. Sending what I did a week ago to a URL that's going to be dark storage at an institutional repository, we're just not there yet in terms of having that partnership established with people.

SPURGEON: My last major question concerns the paradigm shift of newspaper cartoons and editorial cartoons more directly -- the shudder and near-collapse of newspapers generally in 2008-2009, and the fact that editorial cartoonists have seen this tremendous decline in reach and influence over the last generation; certainly the staffed cartoonist positions have largely disappeared relative to what they used to be. There's not the kind of support for cartoonists on an industry level the way there used to be. I wondered about your perspective, if that has any impact on your mission. Does this wobbly quality to editorial cartooning make it maybe more important to nail down the importance of this work historically, or does the relative lack of staffed positions put you in a greater position to proselytize about everything that these artists have been able to accomplish over the years.

CASWELL: My perspective on this is that a free press is a vital factor in a democracy. The exploration of opinion in order to help voters understand what the issues are and how to cast their ballots is the primary mission of a free press. Editorial cartoons are a way that can happen that really, historically, has been important. You can read and understand an editorial cartoon in a way that might take five columns of print. You may not have the time to read that much print. The idea of educating voters no matter how we do it, digitally or on paper or whatever, to me that function is what we ought to be talking about.

I would like to make the distinction between people who simply put their opinion out on a blog and people for whom this is their primary job. These are not people who think casually about news. These are people that 24/7 take in the news, filter what's important according to their own political views, their own education, their own life experience, and then make an opinion about this issue in order to make voters/readers, the political constituency, come to their own conclusions about the issues.

You can tell I feel really strongly about this. We need not to lose this. Whether that's in digital or print or some other medium we don't know about yet. We still as a democracy need to be very careful don't lose this. The fact that leaders in totalitarian countries are threatened by this, would indicate that it still has power.

SPURGEON: We certainly learned that with the Muhammed cartoons, and you mentioned Syria earlier, where the importance of cartooning has come into focus. Are there practical concerns as well, Lucy? You had Matt Bors come in and speak at this latest festival. Matt is probably the leading light among cartoonists age 35 and under. Does it become more important to get Matt there, to support Matt, because there's no longer 15 people like him? Do the practicalities of where that industry seems to be heading provided an accelerated sense of mission?

CASWELL: I think we've always tried to support editorial cartoonists, through the AAEC and the John Locher Award for student cartoonists. I worked with the Lochers, and that has been a way to try to foster editorial cartooning -- a new generation of editorial cartoonists. I've also judged the Pulitzers six times and I'm very happy to say I was on the committee the first year we awared animated political cartoons as part of the Pulitzer [to Mark Fiore]. The fact that the Pulitzer could take the step to say, "This is fantastic commentary" and it doesn't have to be in print, it's a digital platform. To me, that was one of the most exciting times. I really felt we had moved forward to a new place of thinking.

SPURGEON: Which award is heavier? The Segar or the Silver T-Square?

CASWELL: The T-Square. [Spurgeon laughs] I couldn't believe it when Jeff [Keane] put it into my hands because it was so heavy. We were lucky that year we were driving because I don't know how we would have gotten that thing through airport security. It's big. You could use that as a weapon! Not that I wanted to. [laughter]

*****

* The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum
* 2013 Festival Of Cartoon Art

*****

* photo of Caswell provided by The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum
* a WWI-era episode of The Passing Show, by Billy Ireland
* a famous Edwina Dumm image from WWI
* Bud Blake's Tiger
* a Yellow Kid cartoon
* Ding Darling examined
* a Calvin & Hobbes Sunday
* Barbara Shermund
* Eldon Dedini as published
* substance and shadow image from Punch -- the Brian Walker show's title was taken from here
* photo of Caswell with Silver T-Square provided by The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum (below)

*****

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Bundled Extra: Charles Forsman Suspends Oily Comics Subs

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Here. I don't know much of anything else. Oily Comics provides monthly subscriptions to small mini-comics made by a variety of creators; it's been lauded for the variety of work on display, its general quality and the fact that Forsman apparently makes a little money from the way he has it set up. A quarterly subscription is apparently a possibility. You'll know when I know.

The latest mailing I got from them had two issues from Aaron Cockle and last issues of Real Rap and Teen Craps, classic signs of an interruption in service.
 
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Your 2014 Angouleme Grand Prix Short List

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According to this, the next Grand Prix winner at Angouleme will be one of these people.

* Binet
* Christophe Blain
* Charles Burns
* Pierre Christin
* Daniel Clowes
* Richard Corben
* Cosey
* Etienne Davodeau
* Nicolas de Crécy
* Edika
* Emmanuel Guibert
* Hermann
* Alejandro Jodorowsky
* Manu Larcenet
* Milo Manara
* Lorenzo Mattotti
* Alan Moore
* Katsuhiro Otomo
* Quino
* Marjane Satrapi
* Joann Sfar
* Jiro Taniguchi
* Jean Van Hamme
* Chris Ware
* Bill Watterson

I like nearly all of those cartoonists. I've always seen Ware, Sfar, Blain and Satrapi as obvious future recipients and have always been sort of baffled that Mattotti and Taniguchi haven't been named already (Mattotti because he's Mattotti; Taniguchi because it seemed like they were seriously flirting with Taniguchi for several years there). Ditto Cosey now that I take a second look at the list. But seriously almost none of these names would surprise me. That is one fusty, odd process. I look forward to any tweeting Trondheim might do.

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Kim Thompson Named Comics Industry Person Of The Year At Heidi MacDonald's The Beat

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This is very nice. One of the best things about it is that you could argue that he should be in the running for all the things he did that weren't passing away -- he remained a vital force within his industry until the last day he worked, and the comics he made possible were some of the very best of last year.

Thompson's longtime publishing partner Gary Groth suggested buying some Fantagraphics books as a way to honor Kim receiving this nice thing. I'll be more specific: why not buy The Adventures Of Jodelle? It's a really good book, a beautiful book. It's a book Kim was very proud to work on; I know this because he showed it to me on multiple trips to Seattle and I can't ever remember being shown the same book twice other than that one. Check out his enthusiasm here. It's also a book that in this current form would almost certainly not exist for you to buy were it not for Kim. One of the splendid things about Kim Thompson -- and this is also true of Gary Groth, and a number of members of that generation of comics industry people -- is that he used his position as a publisher and the skills he had as an editor and translator and historian and critic to make possible works like this one. I know he wanted to talk to this site on its behalf when it was released.

Here's a review of the book by the cartoonist Katie Skelly.

Trust me, this thing is stupendous-looking and super-cool; you can forget all about Kim Thompson in a few months after its purchase and you will still have one spiffy book. Think about it!

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Go, Look: Wendy

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Bundled, Tossed, Untied And Stacked: Publishing News

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By Tom Spurgeon

* Rich Tommaso says his Yearling ships its first issue this week; I'm going to put that here rather than in the "Library" or even "OTBP" categories just because it looks like a wide, somewhat-scattered launch in that it will be available a bunch of different ways.

image* Jim Starlin is apparently doing a graphic novel effort with Marvel featuring his Thanos character, which suggests a settlement of any issue that Starlin might have over who owns that character right now in terms of primary profiting and all of that. Late night dorm hallway lawyer thinking suggests that Starlin might have had a pretty good claim to really press for ownership, but divorced from Marvel the character of course has much, much less value. I like Starlin's comics of this type; they were very much a part of my superhero-obsessed childhood.

* I find a lot of these year-end type things generating copy from survey pretty rough going, in that they're kind of these mass exercises in industry myopia: the biggest stories always seem to be right in the wheelhouse of the person writing the piece. You do glean some crucial nuggets out of them, though, such as Sarah Glidden writing that her Rolling Blackouts now has a Spring 2015 release date. That's her book from Drawn and Quarterly.

* Matt Kindt will apparently leave Suicide Squad just as soon as Overman stops standing on top of the White House or however you want to describe their current "Forever Evil" plotline. They don't seem to keep their bigger writers on titles for very long at DC, or at least it seems like there are one or two announcement per quarter where you think, "that didn't last very long." I'm not sure why that would be a strategy to pursue, and I'm sure someone will tell me it's not really a strategy at all. That's a curious line right now.

* the hobby business news and analysis site ICv2.com provides an overview of Dark Horse's Sin City publishing program headed into a year where another movie is expected related to that property. I like that kind of piece.

* Robot 6 announced that Abrams will publish Philippe Squarzoni's Climate Changed and that SelfMadeHero will be the place to find Rob Davis' The Motherless Oven. They also have a look at the Sam Alden cover for his project at Retrofit.

* CBR caught that Jim McCann and Janet K. Lee have acquired the rights to their Return Of The Dapper Men, which was a kind of left-field hit and awards-hoover a few years back with publisher Archaia, now part of the sprawling BOOM! empire.

* Albert Uderzo may write Asterix again.

* finally, great news: they're working on a White Boy book.

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Go, Look: Beautiful-Looking Mort Meskin Western Art

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Not Comics: Gnome Press Calendar Imagery

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* Dustin Harbin draws Sherlock Holmes and friends.

* Sawyer Heppes talks to RJ Casey, Andrea Bell and Kevin Budnik.

* not comics: David Brothers shares photos, insight and perspective.

* Rob Clough on a pair of comics. Katie Skelly on The Adventures Of Jodelle. Sean Gaffney on Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin Vol. 4. J. Caleb Mozzocco on All-New X-Men Vol. 2. Henry Chamberlain on JFK: Secret Ops. Johanna Draper Carlson on A Bride's Story Vol. 5.

* Sean Kleefeld writes about copyright searching.

* finally, happy 5th anniversaary to The Tearoom Of Despair.
 
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Happy 55th Birthday, Karl Kesel!

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Happy 69th Birthday, Jay Lynch!

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Happy 76th Birthday, Werner Wejp Olsen!

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Happy 61st Birthday, Bob Wiacek!

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Happy 50th Birthday, Aaron Lopresti!

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Happy 61st Birthday, Kevin Dooley!

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January 6, 2014


CR Holiday Interview #15 -- Kevin "KAL" Kallaugher

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*****

Kevin "KAL" Kallaugher could be interviewed in full about single aspects of his multi-faceted career. He is a political cartoonist for The Economist, and his distinguished career for that publication is the subject of the 2013 retrospective Daggers Drawn, one of the loveliest kickstarted projects put out there by any comics person.

imageKallaugher was one of the highest profiles early casualties of the downturn in North American newspaper publishing, and as a current Baltimore Sun cartoonist may be the only cartoonist of this generation to return in a significant role to the publication that let him go. He is a formidable proponent of animation as a satirical tool (he's an animator that once worked with Richard Williams), one of the most active cartoonists in terms of placing work in shows and taking advantage of institutional arts-opportunities such as residency programs, a former CRNI and AAEC president, a Nast and Berryman winner, one of the few North American editorial cartoonists with a pedigree of publishing work about Europe, South America and Africa and the only cartoonist I know that toured with Second City.

I was thrilled to talk to him. You can tell I was nervous by the length of my questions. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

TOM SPURGEON: 2013 was the 25th anniversary of your initial hire by the Baltimore Sun. I was always a bit curious about why you made that move then, because it seems like you had a pretty good thing going overseas. What was appealing about that opportunity?

KEVIN KALLAUGHER: Let me try to paint a picture both for you and for me as to where I was in 1988. I'd been working for nearly 11 years in the UK. I had transitioned from being a person that did, largely, caricatures and editorial illustration -- which I did for the first years of illustration career -- to being a political cartoonist. I'd already had at least one job on a daily British newspaper and other jobs on weekly newspapers. I was establishing myself in that way. So in some small way it seems kind of odd that I'd be coming back.

The circumstances were this. I'd come over for one of the AAEC conventions, in Washington DC. The year must have been '86, I believe. There was a cocktail party where Lee Salem, the head of Universal Press Syndicate, and I were having a chat over a drink. He said, "You know, there's a job going in Baltimore." I had never worked in the US. I had immediately upon graduation left the US and gone overseas. The prospect of working the US seemed kind of tantalizing but I hadn't thought it all the way through. Furthermore, I had just about three years prior established my own small syndicate in the US. This was before I was picked up by Cartoonist and Writers Syndicate. I used to send cartoons to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, and Boston Globe from England. I'd do two cartoons a week, which in those days meant I had to do the cartoons, photocopy them and send them airmail to the US. I lost money on the deal because airmail was so expensive. And they would get the cartoons about a week later.

I had been to the Baltimore Sun. I had a rough idea of what it was like. I packed up a portfolio and sent it off to Baltimore. Then I kind of forgot about for a month or two. In the meantime I signed a new contract with one of my daily papers I was working on, and my wife and I had just bought a new house. Then I got a letter back from the Sun that said they'd love to have me come over for an interview. So I saw the interview as a possibility to come over and see my family. [laughter] I would come over and do the interview, then I would go up to Connecticut and see my family. But I was in Baltimore for about two days, and they were showing me around, and it all seemed compelling. I told them there was no way I could even entertain this job without getting my wife involved conversation. They said, "Well, we'll fly her over in a couple of weeks. We'll have you both over." [Spurgeon laughs] This shows you how times were different for newspapers.

In the interim I approached The Economist, and said, "Look, I've been offered this thing." The art director at The Economist at the time said, "You know, there's this brand new thing called The Internet. It's possible that you might be able to send your cartoons for The Economist from Baltimore." Suddenly this whole prospect became more tantalizing. So my wife and I took the job with the idea that we were going to come over for two years: give the kids a new experience and test it out a little bit. That was 25 years ago.

That was a long answer, by the way.

imageSPURGEON: In CR Holiday Interview parlance, we call that "a shorty." Perfect size. [KAL laughs]

Kal, you have something of an outsider's perspective on the whole field, I would imagine, given your range of clients and how your career started not in the US. You also knew about the Internet very early on. Is there a point at which where you began to see -- even if it was years away -- that there might trouble forthcoming for the way newspaper editorial cartoonists functioned, and maybe newspapers more generally? Certainly 1988 was a different era.

KAL: There was a bunch of things that I did notice early on. The first thing I noticed as an outsider coming into American political cartooning is you'd come into these AAEC conventions, and the cartoonists were kings. They were kings within their own newsrooms. The conventions were bordering on decadent, I thought, as an outsider coming in. I thought, "Wow." I thought they treated cartoonists so well in this country as compared to my experiences in the UK and Europe. But then you always thought in the back of your head, "Do these guys deserve it?" And "How long can we keep fooling everybody that this is what we should have?" [laughter]

Where this first came into play for me was when I was president of the AAEC in the mid-'90s. When you're president of the organization, you're responsible for the convention, which means also raising money. You were the ambassador-advocate for the industry. What I found in the decade between when I joined in 1986 and in 1996 when I was president is that the stature of the cartoonist in the newsroom was diminishing. Newspapers themselves were struggling, and that was before the crap really hit the fan. You could already see that syndication numbers were going down, and that people were struggling. You could see we had less to stand on as professionals in our field. In journalism.

The second thing is that I could feel within the Baltimore Sun where I was working, I could see that budgets were getting tighter all the time. I was in a fairly unique situation. The Baltimore Sun when I arrived had two newspapers. The Evening Sun and the Morning Sun. Like so many evening papers, it eventually bit the dust, and the cartoonist for the Evening Sun was a very competent fella by the name of Mike Lane. He joined the morning newspaper because we were a union shop, which meant that because he had seniority over me if they had to fire someone they would fire me. They didn't want to do that, so they found a way to keep both of us on board. We would alternate days... we had some arrangement that fit both of us.

My boss, who was the editor, I was getting a lot of information from him about how budgets were being cut, how editors were fighting to keep cartoonists because publishers just didn't see the value in them anymore. Not like the old days. So I started to feel that.

My favorite story about when the Internet started coming around was in the late '90s. The Baltimore Sun had the URL "baltimoresun.com." They bought it fairly early on, and they could have used it from the beginning. They use it now. But they didn't use it for the first five or six years because they were afraid if they had that URL that readers would choose to view them on the web rather than buy the newspaper. Now, it's the complete opposite. They want people to find them easily. But they didn't want that at first. The URL they used was intended to drive people away -- like putting their fingers in the dike. [Spurgeon laughs]

Another thing was that in university I did animation. I'm a huge fan of animation, and I'm a huge fan of the potential it offers us collectively in the realm of visual satire. I'm convinced of its future and dynamism. For years when you're a cartoonist at a newspaper, and the satirist in your community, every aspiring comic writer, drawer, comes and sees you. I'm delighted to meet these young kids and give them encouragement. In the mid '90s,it became apparent that anyone that wanted to become an editorial cartoonist, there was not going to be opportunities in newspapers anymore. It was becoming so small. So I kept on telling people to pursue animation. You need to look at this, because that's where there's going to be money. That's where there's going to be hope and possibility. So the more and more the web became apparent, the more and more I became convinced that's where the possibilities were.



SPURGEON: You've been beating the animation drum for years now, and I was wondering how you see... do you see progress in using animation as an editorial cartooning tool? Are there people using it the way you thought they would be by now? Is it far along as you thought? I mean, you sound as bullish as ever.

KAL: Yep.

SPURGEON: So I wonder, then, why you think we're not further along in its ubiquity, why there aren't more people using it as a matter of course, in addition to why you're still so positive.l

KAL: I postulate that at any time we are ready for an explosion, and it's a little bit like this: I remember -- and you probably remember -- what it was like before Doonesbury. Nobody could dream that a comic strip could be political. It wouldn't enter anyone's mind. It came on board as a curious collection of coincidences, but it happened and it changed the course of comics. You and I also remember what it was like before Jon Stewart on TV. When satire on TV was pretty pathetic. No one thought you could do that. Again, a bunch of coincidences came together and you have this amazing institution that modern democracy couldn't do without.

I think there will be something that can do the same for political animation. Something that if done right will capture the imagination of a large part of the public, and be extremely powerful and influential. There's one reason why I believe that, and several things holding it back. One reason I believe it is that I saw first hand how Spitting Image, the puppet show in the UK, did -- I think they only ever reached about 75 percent of their potential, but they had a great thing going. It was amazing how that penetrated the culture, and how it was talked about. It was the most talked-about thing for several years in the UK. It was massive. I know that something not exactly like that but that involved good satire, good caricatures, good writing, put together on a timely basis, would be very effective.

Some of the reasons we're still being held back is due to technical difficulties. One is that to do it right, it's going to cost some money still. And whether you're doing with Hollywood or with the web, investment is something that's uncertain is going to be a bit tricky. The kind of technology that would allow this to work involves some of the 3-D animation you're seeing in TV shows abroad. In French Canada there's a pretty good weekly satire show called "God Created LaFlaque" [Et Dieu crea Laflaque]. It's been on for about four or five years. It's headed by an editorial cartoonist who does the show -- it's popular, they have a great production pipeline. They show you can do it on a weekly basis. There's a show in France that works on a similar basis. I know you can find in South Africa and other places people doing the same thing. I'm just waiting for us to do something that will be really good.

It's expensive. In 2008 I pitched a TV show to Comedy Central, with a production team that I put together in Hollywood. We got pretty high up on the ladder in the discussion of making this thing a reality. The problem is that places like Comedy Central are used to animation on a South Park budget. That's pretty low. We were low for the kind of stuff we were offering, but we weren't that low.

Now we're moving towards Hulu, and other on-demand stuff, so the 22-minute show won't be a necessity. The future will be a webisode that will be two- to five- to seven-minute shows that can be woven together into longer shows. And I think there's still some strong possibilities out there.

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SPURGEON: You mentioned caricature as a positive just now. Doonesbury is an interesting contrast for what you do, Kal. You were in school during its sensational phase, and that's almost an anti-caricaturist comic, because he relies on his cast of characters rather than graspable visual approximation of real-world figures. You, though, your caricature skills are a core strength, and have carried you throughout the course of your career. That becomes hugely evident when you read Daggers Drawn.

Do you feel like you have to defend the art of caricature as a core value? We live in a kind of
Doonesbury/South Park world in terms of the craft of visual satire. But you can't fake caricature.

KAL: No.

SPURGEON: Do you feel like caricature is at the heart of what you do, that it's at the heart of what you do?

KAL: Caricature is a great passion of mine. I feel caricature is at the core of satire -- it's a satirical art form. It's also one of the forms that it utterly and totally unique to cartoons. If you want to find something that's special to our craft, that sets us apart from Jon Stewart and these other things, these other people who work in the world of satire, caricature is something that belongs to us.

I love caricature, and I appreciate its strength and vitality. But I don't see those who do caricature in competition with those who don't. The reason I say that is because it's hard to be a caricaturist. Not everyone can do it. It's the same as doing jazz. Not every musician can be a jazz musician. I remember being at a concert with a classically trained guitarist. He was on stage with a jazz guitarist. They were asked to riff together, and the classically trained guy couldn't do it. It wasn't in his DNA. The same thing with caricature. Not every trained cartoonist can do it. But that's not slight on them. Some cartoonists are fabulous writers, and bring something else to the table -- that, of course, is the strength of Doonesbury.

Because caricature is so strong, so potent and so effective, I feel if someone can't utilize it they're missing out on a great opportunity. It kind of makes their job a little more difficult. It's like having a great clean-up hitter -- it's a great thing to have in your tool belt.

imageSPURGEON: One thing I think distinguishes your skill as a caricaturist -- and this might be the animation background -- is that you do a nice job with they physicality of your characters, their movement and the way they stand. I'm not sure I see that with some caricaturists that concentrate on facial appearance. I thought your [President] George W [Bush] was very funny in this kind of ex-jock slouching he would do. There's a [President] Obama cartoon you reprint in Daggers Drawn where he is about to run the gauntlet of healthcare reform, and the way he's standing is funny -- the perfect student. Is that the animation background, Kal?

KAL: Yes. I remember one fella I used to show my cartoons to to get feedback. This is early in my career. He made a point that in my early cartoons that if you started in the middle of the nose of the face the further you got away from that point the weaker the cartoon got. Because I was putting so much emphasis on the face. You realized that caricature goes throughout the whole body -- this is true of animation, too. It's like being a mime artist. It's like being an improv actor. You can signal so much to your audience in terms of emotion and possibility through your entire character. If you don't utilize that, you're missing out on a great opportunity.

When I'm doing my cartoons, what I'm trying to with whatever gag I'm creating as a metaphor, I want to milk every opportunity to help deliver your joke. It's like being a good actor. You hand a joke to five people, the first four will blow it and the fifth will make it sing. It's because the delivery is so important. In the case of a political cartoon, you want to deliver your joke as best you can.

I do want to make a point about caricature, and I've found a few other colleagues who think this exact way. In fact, I met a great Australian cartoonist recently who does the same thing. When I do a caricature, I don't look at a single photograph and try to copy that photograph. I never think of that person in two dimensions. I think of them in three dimensions. I draw a face; I'm building a face. A shape I'm putting on a Mr. Potatohead. I know I have a face down well when I feel I can draw them from three-quarters behind, like I'm looking over their shoulder, without a photograph. Because I know the structure of their face so well I can turn their head in my mind and see those features.

SPURGEON: One thing the Daggers Drawn book did for me is remind me how varied the structure of your cartoons runs from installment to installment. You can do single-illustration cartoons that are very direct and lean, you can do single-illustration cartoons that have a lot of chicken fat to them, where there are jokes and visual asides to them. You're also a fine multi-panelist cartoonist, working in a Sunday strip form, where your line becomes a bit more spare. I wonder about the variety. Is that you finding solutions cartoon to cartoon? Is that you just staying interested? Because I can't think of a KAL rhythm, a KAL structure. I think of the variety more than any one format.

KAL: I do it for a variety of reasons. I think I started it more when I was with the Sun, when you're doing daily stuff and talking to your audience regularly. The whole time in this job, we're having a conversation with our readers. We're not standing on a soapbox preaching. If that was the case, our readers would stop listening to us really quickly. We're having a conversation. You have to engage them and just like with any friends and relatives, if you speak in the same way every time you will bore them, and you will the pants off of yourself. Partly as a way to keep me entertained, but also to maximize my effectiveness as a communicator, I wanted to learn all of these different approaches. Find whatever subject would speak to me and then match it to an approach that would suit it. Furthermore, I wanted to be surprised. I wanted every time that someone opened a newspaper they didn't know what they would get. They'd be surprised by choice of subject matter.

In the case of The Economist, it would be mixed geographically, so it might be Asia this week and Europe the next. Mix it up according to your temperament: hardassed to funny. Mix it up in terms of use of large single-panel with elaborate caricature... you would try to make yourself a virtuoso in all of these things to make your work as effective as possible.

It's probably an approach to skill set I learned playing basketball. I played fairly high-level basketball, but as you know I'm a five-foot-nine guy from suburban Connecticut. In order for me to play at that level, I was never going to be the fastest, I was never going to jump the highest, and I was never going to shoot the best, but I could try to be good at a bunch of different things, and that would make me valuable. The same way with cartooning. I always figured someone might be able to write better than I can, so I wanted to have as many high-level skills as I can. The curious thing was to put together a book of The Economist stuff. The Economist audience is much more sober than the the audience for the Baltimore Sun. It might be more sophisticated. I was surprised by the amount of comic, lighthearted stuff over the years. It was in part because when I joined The Economist, they didn't want that stuff at all. They were dead serious. I think over time I introduced a lot of humor to the magazine. I think it's now become part of their trademark look.

SPURGEON: Do you not sign your work for The Economist? A friend of mine was presented with some of your cartoons, and couldn't recall your name, but thought they could scan for your signature but told me there was none to be found.

KAL: That's right. Nothing is signed in The Economist.

SPURGEON: But you are a prominent person with the culture of the magazine. It seems like they value what you have to offer. Is it a good relationship that way?

KAL: It has evolved into a really nice relationship. When I was first with The Economist, they were a small, niche publication. About 300,000 circulation worldwide. Now that number is creeping up to two million. They have an enormous international brand that they certainly didn't have when I started. But you're not allowed to sign anything. I remember that after I'd been there a few years, I'd been offered jobs with other publications and I was thinking of quitting The Economist because one of the things was you can't sign your work, and when you're young and starting off you want to get your name out there. But in time... it was a great wave to catch with The Economist. They took off and I became part of that great explosion. My work became a signature of its own.

When I first came on, there was resistance to having a cartoonist at The Economist because it meant that I stood out more than the other writers. When I started doing political cartoons for them that was another case -- the Economist speaks with one voice, but they have this other guy and he does his own thing. On their web site, they credit me. I have a signature, and I have my own section. And so I am getting a name. They use me as an ambassador for the publication, even though I've never been a staff member. It's an amazing experience. I'm so proud, and flattered and honored, to work with them.

SPURGEON: Your relationship with that publication is often held up as a model for how folks can use a cartoonist. Is it really just a confluence of factors that have made that one work. Why aren't there more of you, Kal? Why aren't there more single cartoonist/single publication relationships of note?

KAL: One thing is that I've honed an ability to communicate in public. I'm a good ambassador. I can do performances. I can go out and speak. All of that works much to my favor. The publisher commented once that the only time The Economist gets a standing ovation is when KAL on the stage. [laughter] I do lots of fun things for them. That's really helped a lot. We do have some cartoonists that are doing public performances. I think that helps. I know when I was at the Baltimore Sun I would give weekly talks all around the regions -- whether that's at a school, or a pensioner's home, things like that -- so people not only grew up reading my cartoons, they've actually met me. In some ways that elevates your presence. You might be the most recognizable person at your paper; you can be a media star if you manage it correctly. I think that really helps a lot.

Tom, you might be a better judge of this than I am, I think my cartoons -- even if you don't agree with them -- I think they're approachable. I think people respect the artwork, respect what I'm trying to do. I think that helps a lot. When I do my cartoons I try and honor my audience by investing a lot of time and energy into my artwork, by giving them a lot.

SPURGEON: That seems like a general value for you, Kal. You seem like an "added value" guy. Is that just your personality? Are you very concerned with distinguishing yourself in a marketplace? Is that a basketball value again, were you the guy who picked up towels off the bench? Or is that just smart business.

KAL: A little bit of both. I so value that piece of real estate I'm given. I had to work really hard to get it, both at The Economist and at the Sun. I realize how incredibly lucky we are in our craft to have someone pay us money to read the news and draw and connect with people and do all this cool stuff. I'm going to put back twice as much to make sure I bring honor to that space.

One thing I remember from early in my career [laughs] when I was working at the Observer, a newspaper there. There was a cartoonist there who was quite good. He was the senior guy; I was kind of the new kid on the block in respect to cartoons. He would stroll in on Friday at two in the afternoon, finish at five, kind of whip off his cartoons, get paid a fair bit of money, and people would see him at the pub in the evening. The journalists would all grumble. The way he drew looked like he drew it on the back of a napkin. They basically showed him no respect. I wanted to make sure if I'm going to do my job, I don't want to be the first person to leave the building. I want to prove to these people that what I do is worthy of what the other journalists do. I always wanted to make sure that in any editorial meeting I could hold my own with anybody on any given subject. That took a lot of work. I knew my job was vulnerable, and I wanted to do everything I could to keep my job. That was my motivation.

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SPURGEON: You're fairly even-handed, too. You engage a variety of subjects -- you haven't shied away from anything, but you also don't have a signature subject. So is there a stand on an issue about which you feel pride? A specific issue or a general take that you feel happy with, looking back?

KAL: I think there's a few. The first one that comes to mind is the Iraq War. I was a strong, ardent opponent of it from the beginning. Bush made a speech at West Point and it was the first time he had made reference to a proactive invading of countries. [laughs] I thought that this was an outrage and that something was cooking. I took a lot of heat in the early days for my resistance to the build-up to the war. I was against the first Iraq War. I was against the way they were packaging it to fool the American people as to the whole purpose of the undertaking. There was a case to be made for getting rid of Saddam, but they were trying to phrase it as something it wasn't to get more people on board. I took a lot of heat for that.

The Economist was in favor of the Iraq War. Finally, they came around.

[The Patriot Act...] there were a lot of people screaming on both sides of the aisle when this thing was being written. Attorney General [John] Ashcroft was basically in hiding while pulling thing together. Everyone also knew that whenever this came out, it would basically be rubber stamped and thrown in. No one knew what was going to be in it. So they couldn't wait to get more information. Ashcroft finally agrees to appear... I think it was front of a Senate judiciary committee -- I forget which committee it was. He opened with a written statement that was like two paragraphs long. I used to carry that statement in my wallet it was such an outrageous thing that he said. It was long the lines of "to questions my actions, my motivations, in this area is to aid the enemy." So basically "don't ask me any questions." When I heard this I was so outraged, because I thought it was not only my job as a journalist and a commentator to question the actions of any public servant, it is the responsibility of every citizen to question them. I did a very strong cartoon on that day. While I was doing that cartoon I felt very sad for our society... feeling how crazy the the environment was in the country at the time, I though more people would support him than not. I did this cartoon, and I though I'd be barraged the next day with e-mails and phone calls from people against it.

So I did the cartoon. The next day rolls around. There are no phone calls or e-mails. There are no faxes. I look around at my cartoon colleagues around the country and they're also doing a lot of cartoons berating Ashcroft. Along with politicians on both sides of the aisle. I was so relieve that at that moment our society had protested. We had passed the test, if you like. I know we'll be tested again.

Fast forward two or three years. The library of congress is putting together an exhibition about 9/11 where they gathered a lot of tidbits: stories, photographs, memorabilia, and other important stuff. They asked for about a half-dozen cartoons and that cartoon was one of the ones they wanted to have for the show. I was very proud of that.

SPURGEON: We've talked about the shifting nature of satire... the shifting nature of politics itself, the hyper-media awareness that politics has and how this and other factors have exacerbated the banal aspects of public discourse. I remember talking to someone... an editorial cartoonist, I think... and we were trying to figure out why the last election wasn't great for editorial cartoons. Was there something missing? Is there something different about the field now? Do you have any thoughts about making work in this political landscape? Our political process' orientation is so different now than when you started. Do you find it changes the way your work is read?

KAL: This is also I guess part of the demise of political cartooning as we know it, where the content applies. Because... it's all about audience, and who's reading them. On the days -- to pick the Baltimore Sun as an example -- where the market penetration of the newspaper in the neighborhood was so strong, you know if you did a cartoon it was going to be something this many people would say, and it would have the chance to become an objective conversation. The politicians would have to pay attention to that. Our presence has been so diluted that even if you do a great cartoon no one is going to be reading it; the best you can hope for is being picked up by USA Today in their weekly round-up. That's no place to be a kind of thing where you can be effective. This is a really big difference that's we've seen in the last decade, and every four years it's going to get more watered-down. There's no question. Particularly on anything national. Let's return just for a second back to that's where the difference with the animation can be. It has the potential to capture a larger group of people's imagination. That will be the next place where visual satire will be able to have an impact on the conversation, in my view.

What happened is we had to consecutive campaigns where they lasted from month to month to month to month to month. So the story got dragged out. When you're talking about a singular great cartoon or series of great cartoons, I like to compare it to your classic baseball metaphor. It's the World Series, seventh game, two outs, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, you're coming up to bat. You have all the elements for history right in front of you and you have the opportunity to hit the home run or whatever. But that rarely happens anymore. These days there are so many elements in the news constantly changing and going around. The audience is now also so incredibly visually sophisticated. In the newspaper, the cartoonist has to compete with your own weather map! [laughter] That's not even to mention the Web. Or you can go to CNN for five minutes and you're in graphic overload -- your eyes can't take it anymore. Every special effect you see in every movie. The cartoon as a visual almost can't compete, unless you have the capacity to do something really special. What the cartoonist has to offer is this strong mix of good journalism, satire, and innovation. We can't rely on the same tools anymore. They're just not as interesting to people. We're working with an old tool set, and the news is getting spread out over a longer period of time, and you have the dissolution of the audience. Those three things are conspiring against us.

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SPURGEON: You're coming up on two years since your return to the Sun. I remember when you went back, but I'm not sure I know how it's gone for you. Has your second stint with the Sun been tailored to the views you have about how that relationship, that kind of venue, works best? How much of how things have been tailored to you encompasses the different role that cartoonists must play now?

KAL: First of all, it's been extremely interesting being back. And a whole lot of fun. Part of it is the very great satisfaction is that the people are so delighted to have a cartoonist back they really feel the value a cartoonist brings to the newspaper. Whatever remaining audience the Sun has, they also love cartoons. You can feel the love. That's the first thing. The second thing is you can feel the local politicians... trembling isn't the right word, that's overstating it, but they are now watching very closely. When you're a cartoonist in a local newspaper, you're the only satirist in your community. These guys, they get nervous by what you can can do to them! So that's been really interesting. Doing the local cartoons has been great fun. The newspaper has been showcasing me a lot. I don't know if you saw it, but just yesterday I did a double page spread -- this is a broadsheet, so two pages bigger than my drawing table -- looking back on 2013. It was a great thing. They want to commission me to do some animation. They want to showcase what I bring to the table.

For me, I'm glad I'm not doing it every day. You do it every day, you get kind of locked into this machine -- you're churning it out. This way I keep fresh, I'm doing other things. It's been a good thing all around. I also know that this could collapse and die in four months. The Sun could collapse, it could be bought by someone that doesn't like cartoons. They could just run out of money. "Sorry, it's either you or having someone to do the toilets." [laughter] That could happen. So I'm just enjoying it.

SPURGEON: When I think of you doing all the outside activities for which you're partly know, the residencies, the Second City tour -- in fact, you just got back from overseas -- I think of that as being the result of that hiatus period, between when the Sun let you go and before they brought you back on board Winter 2012. That you were forced to seek out different models for arranging your professional life, and without the Sun, you also had time to pursue these things a bit further than maybe some of your peers. It seems like that time was spent well in terms of finding a new model for a cartooning career -- how do you look back on that period now? Because as mentioned, you've stuck with a lot of that stuff even with your core professional responsibilities shifting back to something that looks more like 1990-2005, at least from the outside looking in. Is it fair to say your efforts intensified in 2006?

KAL: It's fair. It is. Partly it was out of necessity. To give you a little background on how I left the newspaper. I told you before that for years I've been telling youngsters to go into animation. And the Sun was offering buyouts as they'd done... they'd offered a round of buyouts as other places as had done for several cycles. Every time a buyout would come, you might be offered a buyout, and you'd go through this ritual of talking to your boss, and saying, "Hey, should I really take this." I did this several times. They were always like, "Nah, we love to have you here." But this one year, when I went to go see my boss, she said, "You know, if you don't take the buyout, and we don't get the bodies we need, I might have to fire you." And I went, "What?" [laughter]

She said the dictate from the Tribune Company said that anybody's whose job doesn't cross with anyone else's job -- if somebody was laid off and this meant that somebody else had to do that job, that person was more valuable than someone who was independent like me. There was a guy in the next office whose job it was to open the letters to the editor and read them. His job was more invaluable than my job as the cartoonist because if he go fired somebody would have to do what he did! [laughter] This is ridiculous. So I went home... it was on a Friday. I had until Tuesday to decided whether I was taking the buyout or not. So I talked to my wife and I said, "You know what? Screw 'em." [laughter] "This is going to happen again and again." I decided I would take my own advice and go do animation or something. Fortunately, I had The Economist as a bit of a buffer, but I had to find a new way. I didn't know what the future was going to be. I would go back and live on my with the way I did when I first started. Go out in the world and try to make it.

I talked to UMBC, which is a local university here. I met with them on a Monday. Instead of saying, "Take some classes" they offered me a part-time position as an artist-in-residence. That's where I started, and then other things came along. It was just piecing stuff together. I was delighted that it happened. It happened at just the perfect time... basically, I was one of the first guys to lose a job. I know that among my colleagues when they heard that I was dispensable, that meant that anybody was dispensable. That turned out to be true, of course.

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SPURGEON: You kickstarted the Daggers Drawn book. This was totally crowdfunded.

KAL: True.

SPURGEON: How did you control your impulse not to overdo a project like that? I know that's a problem with crowd-funders that are well received like that one was.

KAL: We put a lot back into the book. The book was an extension of the philosophy I bring to this stuff. If I was going to do a book, I was going to do it 110 percent. I was going to do it the best I possibly could. Little did I realize I would get the money that I asked for. I thought I'd be luck if I got $20,000, if I got $25,000. To get $100,000 was such an astonishing achievement, I felt now I had to honor all of my backers, and I was going to deliver something special. So at the end of the day -- I reached $100,000 but with the book and the postage I probably spent more than that on the whole project. I'm now selling book to get back some of what I spent altogether. That kind of fits into everything. I wanted to do something special and I hope people appreciate it.

SPURGEON: One thing that's interesting about your career is you've always published. You published a few books from your first run at the Sun. You've done a ton of shows, as I recall, too. You're going to do more animation... you've done animation. So you've worked in a variety of formats, in a half-dozen contexts. Is there one that feels more natural to you than others. Is the core of it still seeing the Sun cartoon, or something in The Economist? Do you even think in terms of format anymore or venue anymore. Once your work is all over the place, do you value them differently? Are all of these satellite to a core expression.

KAL: Boy, that's a really good expression. Part of it -- part of it -- is that variety is the spice of life. I like have these different types of thing. It's kind of cool. No question. What I think... I'm going to take us back to 2000. The election 2000. Where a group of several hundred voters turned an election for George W. Bush. That to me is an historic election. The country and the world might be a different place if George Bush wasn't elected. For a start, we wouldn't have invaded Iraq. That's not to say Gore would have been a great president, and there's a lot of movements going on in the world which would still lead us to where we might be now. But it was an historic election. I'm sitting here in Baltimore doing cartoons for my audience. My audience is all going to vote against George Bush. I would have done anything to be working or at least have the ear -- or the eyes -- of about 2000 people in Florida for three months. To try at least change their mind and affect what turned out to be an amazing turn of history in my lifetime.

imageTo me the prospect that in some way, that maybe through what I do in my medium that I could affect history in any way? That still to me has to be one of the prime goals in your doing this. Sure, this is terrifically satisfying. Sure, I've been luck to have live in an exciting, diverse world and meet so many interesting people, but at the end of the day what you want to try and do is with whatever powers you have at your disposal, you want to try to make the world a better place. I sound like freaking Miss America. [Spurgeon laughs] But it's true. If you can do it, that's what you would like to do. I still believe in our craft, the craft of satire, that that's still possible. And in ways hopefully -- I'd like to hope -- I can be in the in the forefront in some way of trying to bring us into the next generation of visual satirists. If I could do that, I could feel like I was making some sort of contribution to the bettering of public discourse, if you like. So that's what drives me. I do get the satisfaction that you pointed out of reading the cartoon in the paper, being in The Economist. Getting a lot of views on Facebook or whatever. The feeling that your stuff is out there. Those things give me a charge, they really do.

I love the traveling and helping other young cartoonists, too. So there's still a lot to be done, if you like. But at the end of the day I feel like I'm still a political animal... I'm going to say, I'm afraid it's going to sound a little profound, but I feel it's true: there's a lot of bad guys out there, and it takes a lot of good people fighting, you have to fight to retain your freedoms, you have to fight to right the ship. You have to fight to point our lives in the right direction. Because if you don't do it, some jerk is going to take it the other way. It's part of participating... taking some responsibility in making the world a better place.

SPURGEON: I can't think of a better ending than that, Kal, although I'm sure I forgot to ask something. Is there anything else you wanted to mention?

KAL: This summer, in June, July and August... I'm going to be an artist-in-residence in Bermuda.

SPURGEON: [laughs] Well, of course you are. [laughter]

That's like a made-up gig. That's not a real gig. Come on. That's like a 1985 Robin Williams movie.

KAL: [laughs] The reason I bring it up is that there's a little more to it than you'd think. The deal is this. It is an artist-in-residency, but unlike a lot of these things, they don't pay you. They give you a visa for three months, they give you a small apartment, and they give you a bus pass. You have to produce work -- you have to give them a proposal. At the end they have an exhibition in the island museum and you try to sell your work at this exhibition and hopefully this covers the costs while you're there. For your average artists, it's a bit of a risk. You have to give three months of your life, you're paying for your own food and everything because you're not making any money. In my case, I can still make my cartoons for The Economist and The Sun. So I'm better off than most folks.

Here's the deal. The proposal I made to them... having done a fair amount of travel and knowing that any time as a visitor or as a tourist you get a completely superficial view of the place you're touring. I figure that as a commentator and as a journalist, if I'm going to go to this island, I'm going to want to be wearing those hats -- that's my strength and that's my passion. So I told them what I'd like to do is go and do a bunch of itnerviews -- I want to get in depth interview with folks. Chat them up all the time. I want to interview everyone from the garbage man to the prime minister. Then I want to do 20 cartoons from the perspective of each the twenty different people. I'm their eyes and their mouth and their soapbox.

SPURGEON: Nice.

KAL: Then when I'm at the end of my three months, at which point I'll probably have cabin fever, I hope to make some cartoons that make some sense of my experience there, be able to portray it in cartoons. I think this might peel away the veneer of the country, and get some interesting conversations going. I'm much more interested in doing that than sitting and doing watercolors or something like that. I think that's going to be really interesting. It could get a lot of attention.

SPURGEON: Not ruining this for any other cartoonists I think is the important thing, Kal. I think can I speak for your peers there. [KAL laughs] If you poison the Bermuda well, you're going to get a lot of attention and none of it good.

KAL: [laughs] I think there will be a lot of opportunities there. I'm looking forward to it. I'm going to see how it unfolds. It will be a good challenge. [pause] An adventure.

*****

* Kaltoons
* KAL At The Economist
* KAL At The Baltimore Sun
* Daggers Drawn

*****

* cover to new work
* self-portrait
* color work I like
* KAL's most famous contribution to satirical animation, I think; it's the one I remember
* a number of caricatures in one cartoon
* President Obama's body-language here made me laugh
* the Ashcroft cartoon
* one from the recent run of Sun cartoons
* an Economist cartoon
* on George W Bush]
* another color piece I like (below)

*****

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*****
*****
 
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Go, Read: Lengthy Survey Of Girl Comics #1-12 By Atlas Comics Expert Dr. Michael J. Vassallo

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Go, Look: Neko's Cat Panel Pitch

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Go, Befriend: Jacob Covey As He Writes On LB Cole

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The designer Jacob Covey is working on a book for Fantagraphics about LB Cole and is writing occasionally about the process on Facebook. I don't know that there is a lot of writing on Golden Age comic book design, and Covey's posts have really intrigued me so far.
 
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Go, Look: Laurent Lolmede

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Comics By Request: People, Projects In Need Of Funding

By Tom Spurgeon

* a big thank you to those of you that mentioned in casual conversation or via social media that you were giving to one of the formal year-end campaigns or were sending something along to the Sakai family. I don't believe that giving like that is the end of any story, but I think it's frequently a necessary step moving from one place to another. If someone is in need, they can be helped, and then we can figure out how to reduce the number of people in need. Both are important. I appreciate getting to hear about your efforts.

* the Sakai family effort is ongoing until it isn't.

* the two names I recognize from a quick glance at Kickstarter are Winsor McCay and Dean Trippe.

* the one name I recognize from a quick glance at Indiegogo is Breathtaker.
 
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Go, Look: Gene Colan Daredevil Pin-Up Gallery

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Go, Look: Phillipe Caza Mini-Gallery

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* there was about 10 months there in middle school where I didn't love anything in any art form as much I loved Cerebus comic books.

* not comics: you can read this Adam Gopnik essay on Duke Ellington and the Beatles and think of any number of comics people, including Al Capp, Stan Lee and Harvey Kurtzman.

* I could read a Leslie Stein comic like this one every day.

* not comics: cute, but I'm guessing it's that cute that only a few folks can pull off.

* that Gnus/Gmane guy on My Dirty, Dumb Eyes.

* Paul Montgomery talks to Jeff Parker.

* most folks have seen this Chester Gould character chart before, but that doesn't make it any less fun.

* can't remember if I linked to this Conundrum Press year in review or not. It's not like there's any harm in linking to it again. I'm also at a loss if I ever linked to this review of Pompeii by Adam McGovern.

* finally, everyone looks attractive when Charlie Chu takes their picture.
 
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Go, Look: Claudio Castellini Mini-Gallery

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January 5, 2014


CR Holiday Interview #14 -- Zainab Akhtar

imageAs I admit scant inches below, I know very little about Zainab Akhtar of Comics&Cola and other sites except that she hasn't been around comics for a very long time. She's written about this; it's not that I simply haven't noticed her. I also recalled independent of the conversation that follows that she does some work in comics retail. Akhtar is one of a new wave of writers about comics, and one in particular that crossed my screen a bunch of times in 2013. Our general interests seem to overlap more than any other newer writer I can name, but there are worlds of difference in those spaces.

I am keenly interested in opinions that break with what I believe important where comics I concerned, and I had a sense when I asked Akhtar to do the alt-/art- comics round-up interview for this series that she might qualify as someone with opinions very different from my own simply by virtue of the radical shift in context which is our comparative experiences engaging with the art form, when we took notice of it and what that meant to each of us when we did. Zainab took a staggering number of questions from me, which I very much appreciate, and engaged with them in forthright fashion during a time of the year that's busy for everyone. I hope that you'll add her Internet presence to those to which you pay attention, as I have. I tweaked a tiny bit for flow and for the sake of a few style preferences. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

TOM SPURGEON: I know almost nothing about you. This is a very standard question, but I think a vital one. Can you talk me through your comics-reading to where you are now, what was important to you in terms of what you were reading and when?

ZAINAB AKHTAR: I was actually talking to Tim [Hodler] about this the other day. I'm always genuinely interested to know how people came into comics because I think I've had a pretty weird journey to the point where I'm at now -- immersed in certain areas of the medium -- and I think that meandering effect has had a significant impact on the way I read and what I read. A lot of the way I read comics is tied into personal background and context -- the area I grew up in (and still live in) is very socio-economically deprived -- it used to be a very rough council estate with a large immigrant make-up and that identity still exists. It's had a strong Bangladeshi and Pakistani community for the last 30 years or so, which in the last eight years or so has been supplemented by Africans, Europeans, Middle Eastern immigrants. The significant portion of that initial wave of immigrants, my parents included, came from an agricultural background, and their priorities on arrival were more on surviving and building something better for their children. Communities like that are often very insular, with people relying and supporting one another -- those with similar experiences, and shared cultural backgrounds -- it has its positives and its negatives of course (offering this background up as an excuse for not knowing comic book stores were a thing until I was about 19).

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My first interaction with comics was at the local library -- one of the tenets of my childhood was my dad taking us to the library every three weeks (the length of the loan period) without fail, and I read all of the Tintin books, and most of the Asterix series. At the same time, at primary school we had The Beano and Dandy (British kids weeklies) which we were allowed to read on "rainy day" breaks. I was always a super-voracious reader -- I'd read anything -- and I never really viewed comics as comics until I was older, they were just another thing to read. I went to a private Islamic school from 11-16, and we didn't have a TV or a computer until I was around 16, so I guess it was a pretty different, almost sheltered existence. I'd been reading trades from the local library still -- probably about six to seven a year -- Batman, Superman, X-Men, and then later on, things like David B's Epileptic, Blacksad, Fables.

imageBlacksad and Fables are the two I clearly remember as having the effect of pushing me out to seek comics to buy and exploring further; I came across Arctic Nation first, which was released in 2003, so yeah, I'd have been 16 then. I remember reading Mean Seasons a couple of years later, which is the fifth trade of Fables, and then buying all the collections that had been published prior to it -- it was the first series I bought and remember waiting for the trades to come out. I still had no clue about comics as a culture -- you know, Leeds has three (!) comic book stores and I wasn't aware of any of them, or what they did. I bought books off eBay initially, just purely on what looked interesting to me and from Waterstones (chain of UK bookshops). Around the time I was doing my undergraduate dissertation, I was looking for a subject that I wouldn't mind spending some time with and settled on the contemporary relevance of the superhero, with a focus on Batman. Over the course of the research I discovered the comics community online and a world of other comics of which I wasn't aware and I've been reading since.

It's a weird journey, right? But I think it shows how I avoided the serialized model -- bookstores tend to carry more of what they consider literary graphic titles (another factor being I like to read in thick chunks, so the idea of chapters is unappealing).

SPURGEON: How does working in comics retail change your orientation towards comics? Are there positives, negatives, even practicalities that those of without that experience might not see?



AKHTAR: I think it's far too early to talk in terms of positives and negatives. I work two jobs -- my main one is at a college library, and then I work at OK Comics on Tuesdays and any other times they need me, for example at Thought Bubble, etc., so it's limited in itself. I'm lucky in that I don't really need an extra job, but I applied because I wanted to know more about the business retail side of things, to be more "in" comics and learn more overall, and I feel I landed on my feet a bit working with three genuinely lovely, very knowledgeable guys. I love it; I love the physicality of being around comics so much. We just had a great Christmas period and it was fantastic to see people buying comics so much.

I'm still taking things in: I've never seen the superhero phenomena up close before; it's interesting to me because so many people when they talk about "comics" that's what they're specifically referring to, and that's not my definition or experience at all. When the job was advertised, part of the stipulation was that they wanted someone who know more about independent/small press comics, but the proportion of regular customers who come in for their standing orders or visit the store want Marvel or DC. So when I first started I tried reading a bunch of X-Men, Spider-Man, Batman, all the better to help people who come in asking for issue #001.24 of whatever, but I couldn't keep it up. That might come across as a bit condescending, but in terms of the evolution of my reading preferences, I realized I just can't read that kind of thing anymore. There's regurgitating stories, and then there's regurgitating stories. I don't remember it being that bad -- it's gotten a lot worse in terms of numeration and endless crossovers, tie-ins and emphases on stories being "jumping on points." Nothing has ever been set in stone in superhero comics, but it's ridiculous now. I don't know if my reaction is partly coming back to superhero comics after a period of time and probably with a more critical eye? But, yeah.

I think about superhero comics a lot -- my position, others, the place of the genre. I understand having preferences for genre, but without dictating what should be read, it's difficult for me to comprehend people who read those comics religiously -- I think it's a natural step to want to see what else there is, to extend, to grow -- I guess I assume people want to read good stories and good comics. I get sentimentality -- my reaction towards Batman is hugely sentimental -- Batman comics are essentially what kept me reading comics from ages 7-16, but I don't know that sentimentality is what sustains years of that kind of reading.

imageBrandon Graham said something that resonated with me recently when talking about Batman, where in Year One and The Dark Knight Returns you have a beginning and end (and very definitive ones at that), and everything else is middle. My stronger leaning is that it's hard to constantly be telling the middle of a story. It's hard to care about things that aren't absolute -- characters who are never going to end or die, in a universe where nothing sticks, where almost every story has been told and told and told. I do still believe it's possible to tell a good story, but I don't think there'll ever be another great superhero book. Having said that, I like the idea of having this character and narrative that goes on and on, that lives beyond people, that different writers and artists get to come in and play around with (within certain confines), I just don't know how serviceable it is. I'm sure the comparison's been made before and much more eloquently, but it's a type of fan-fiction almost -- you have this character you love so much -- or who makes you so much money -- that he lives and lives, sometimes young, sometimes old, sometimes good, sometimes, bad, in scenario after scenario until it's pointless.

I hope that doesn't come across as fatalist: it's interesting to me due to seeing it first hand for the first time, and it puzzles me, I guess, because we are currently experiencing such a volume of very, very good and very different comics being produced. I'm glad that seems to be gaining some traction.

SPURGEON: Why did you relaunch Comics&Cola?

AKHTAR: Hmm. God -- I regret my frivolity at times! For instance whenever people say my blog name back to me! I initially started the blog about four years ago with a friend, and we weren't really clear about what we wanted it to be... there was movies, games, a mix of things. I really wanted it to have a regular schedule and it just didn't work out, partly because I have a very fixed notion of how I want things to be and probably don't work very well with people when they don't adhere to that aesthetic. The idea I had for it was to simply talk about any good comics I'd read which would hopefully help anyone who was looking for things to read- I'd had a weird roundabout journey on the internet looking for recommendations and such, and I wanted it to be accessible and easy for people doing the same thing. My comics knowledge, such as it is, wasn't too great either at that point, so the dormant period was probably for the best. Essentially, it's a place for me to indulge in my foremost passions -- reading and writing. I'm reading always, but when I'm not writing in even a meager capacity, I feel itchy and staid. In 2012, I decided to give it another go, this time just to write about any comics and illustration work I found interesting and with the renewed aim of posting when I could, without placing any pressure on myself.

I think that lasted a couple of months -- I was sort of corresponding with Richard Bruton (who writes for the Forbidden Planet blog) at the same time, and he asked me to come and write for them. Many people have misgivings or perceptions about FPI due to the name/association, but it's largely a separate thing, and simply one of the best comics sites, full stop. Richard, in particular, has been formative in the developing of my comics reading, and later my writing. He and Joe were great in introducing me to all their contacts, guiding me through experiences -- "I've had a bad comment!" -- and supporting me all-round. So I started writing for them in June 2012, reproducing that material on Comics&Cola.

SPURGEON: Do I take it from the relaunch that this ends the chapter of your writing life where you were doing work for The Beat? Do you have a perspective on that whole experience yet?

AKHTAR: I got in touch with Heidi [MacDonald] after reading her holiday interview on here last year, where she said she wanted to support and nurture upcoming future writers, and that led to writing for The Beat for a short while -- I was doing my Masters at the same time and still trying to write for FPI -- and I was getting frustrated by all three. I'm pretty ego-maniacal in that I like to have an identity: on FPI, Richard and Joe had UK comics covered, so I was writing more about North American work and beyond, but felt that was falling on deaf ears somewhat. I didn't write for The Beat for long, and now I only contribute the odd pieces -- a year in review and a feature of anticipated titles of 2014 are the most recent ones on which I've been working. Heidi's great but I just kinda felt the things I wrote about and pieces were getting lost on there, it's a bit disparate identity-wise -- none of the platforms that were available felt right for what I wanted to do. Another thing with The Beat is that because it is so strongly -- and rightfully -- associated with Heidi, people assume everything on there is written by her, regardless of whether it's by Steve, or Laura, or myself. It's important to be able to own your work, and it's not helpful ambitions-wise if people aren't even aware you've written it. And, you know, I don't like the idea of adding that biographical addendum "John is a writer, blah blah blah, find him on Twitter here" at the end of every bitty post. I did it with the TCJ Thought Bubble report and really wish I hadn't -- it felt hugely tacky.

Anyway, I had the blog, I'd wrapped up an awful year of academia and felt immensely grateful to be able to write what and how I wanted again, so it made sense to address the frustrations and concentrate my energies in one place. There was a lot of conversation at the time about people being paid for their comics writing, and while that would be fantastic, you could probably count on one hand folk whose job description is "writes about comics for a living." So I thought I could at least make a space writing about the areas of comics I'm interested and passionate about. And Richard, Joe, Heidi and Steve have been instrumental in giving me the confidence to strike out on my own in a more ambitious fashion.

On a semi-related aside, something I don't understand is that if you have your own site and you're producing all this material for free, for the love of comics, is why not focus on the comics you love? I'm probably missing something, but I've heard people say "Oh, I'd love to cover indie/small press comics. But nobody reads about it" -- but then their blog/site isn't monetized anyway? So you're reproducing press releases from Marvel for, what, the clicks? Or the few pennies that brings in? I don't get it. I understand that people want a readership, I want that too, I want a shit-ton of people to read what I write (kind of), which is why I share it on Twitter and Facebook or whatever, but the point isn't to be popular for the sake of popularity, it's to be popular for the thing that you do.

If I have one aim that's it: to write about comics I enjoy, to enjoy the process, and to hopefully build an awareness. Probably in that order! The best thing for me is when someone reads something I wrote about a book and then goes away and buys it. That, and bringing attention to creators or comics that aren't as well known and who I appreciate. I don't think I'm adequately informed, experienced or educated enough to lend to the criticism side. If I'm honest, a factor that plays into that is fear of reprisal -- people jumping onto your back to tell you why you're wrong or why something is this way and not that. There was a lot of discussion around what comics criticism should be towards the end of the year, and frankly quite a but of it fucking annoyed me, because most of it was actually coming from comic creators -- don't tell people how to react to your work, or what they should and shouldn't talk about and how. If people want to go online and talk about a comic, that's their business. They can say the shittiest of shit things about your book, correctly or incorrectly, but they have that right. Unless it's a personal attack on you -- and I understand that your art can feel like a part of you -- suck it up. Comics is a great community, but the gap between creators and "critics" is non-existent almost, unlike in any other field, and that insularity is double-edged.

I mean, that whole women critics in alt/art-comix thing -- I know what Sean and Frank meant, but I still feel it's so insular -- there's such a feeling of "you have to know about this, you have to like this, you have to write this way otherwise you're wrong." You know, I'm a bit of a dick, and culturally desensitized to crap to some extent, so I don't give a fuck what people say -- I don't care that I haven't read Jack Davis or Robert Crumb, but I can imagine how it could affect you to the point where you'd go "why the fuck am I doing this?" Particularly as so often people are making time to write after work, after family, for no remuneration, a couple of hours squeezed out here or there, simply for the love of it. And then someone comes along to inform you that if only you were doing things right, you'd have read so-and-so and thus have picked up on that vital, life-altering reference on page 32; judging people and making them feel lesser for their choices. It's odd -- just saying that -- because that's the life of a lot of comics creators, working around jobs -- you would think they understand, but there's little to no respect for those who write about comics. That's not conducive to getting new voices and perspectives into the field. People should be allowed to learn on the job -- it's what I'm doing now. I think -- I know -- comics can be so much better than that, because I've been a direct beneficiary of that support and kindness. It's wholly possible to be critical without being negative.

SPURGEON: Reading a bunch of your work at once, it's hard for me to nail down anything that's super-specific about your aesthetic approach. That isn't a criticism -- I also have very catholic taste. Is there a way you could describe that? Are there things that you tend to value in the comics that you prefer over other comics?

AKHTAR: Yeah. This probably links back to how I got into comics -- that all over meandering and being open to everything because I wasn't aware of anything: biases, arguments for or against. I'm a big genre reader: I love crime and mystery, sci-fi. But I'll give anything a go, as long as someone has made the premise appealing, or the art looks good. Story -- I'm traditional in that sense, I love when something has been so effectively crafted and realized that you believe in it straightaway -- that feeling of almost instant immersion and investment.

You linked to that article the other day on books becoming a luxury object -- that's something I've always bought into, where books represented knowledge, and knowledge was education and education meant betterment. When I was a kid, my mum and dad used to go to Sunday car boot sales -- my sisters hated going -- it was invariably cold or raining and it meant getting up early to get any of the good stuff, but I used to go because people sold books by the suitcase for 20p a pop. I still have some paperback Garfield collections I got, purely for nostalgia reasons... I bought The Bourne Identity at one when I was nine -- this was in 1997, before the films, and I read it in full but I didn't understand it; I'd never read an actiony thriller like that. We were in Pakistan for a while and it was the only book I had and I read it over and over until I got it -- who Carlos was, what was happening -- all of it. I still have that copy -- the cover and spine tore off, so I made it a new one -- I'm stupidly bloody sentimental! That's one of my favorite books but that position has nothing to do with the way it's written or what it's about. So the physicality of books and sitting down with one, the experience of it is important to me -- I don't think there's anything else like that.

imageIn comics that physicality extends to paper, print process, format, design; I like looking at people who experiment and play around with those -- Ryan Cecil Smith does that really well, and I love things like Brendan Leach's The Pterodactyl Hunters -- that large newsprint, or the Immonens with Snipe. I basically like feeling things up a bit. It's why I like self-published work, you can feel the craft. Steve (Morris, who writes for The Beat) has a running joke where he likes to say I'll pay extortionate sums of money for something that's six pages long if it looks pretty, but that's because he knows nothing about printing! [laughs] I saw this fantastic off-set, multiple exposure, bootleg Batman comic at ELCAF (East London Comics and Art Festival), limited run for £25 -- no idea about the story, but it was amazingly good-looking, and Morris is at my elbow just looking at me with a "you're-not-going-to-buy-that" face, so I ended up leaving it. I'm more forgiving of a mediocre story if the art is outstanding.

SPURGEON: How much do any experiences you might have with other art forms have an effect on how you approach comics?

AKHTAR: I'm a bit of a cultural vacuum [laughs]. I don't watch television, I'm not a huge music person, I'll go to the theater every now and then. Same with cinema -- not fond of film as a medium, although there are aspects of it I like and appreciate. That said, I'm pretty into the idea of media and ideology and presentation: I simultaneously take everything and nothing at face value. Comics are part of literature so you couldn't count that as a separate art form, but I probably look to prose writing and poetry the most.

I understand how references can be formative, but the approach I take is simply to take the thing, look at it, describe it, say what works, what doesn't, why. My friend Andy and I had this conversation about reviewing a while back, talking about when reviewers compare someone to someone else -- "it's very Clowes-ish," "her work is strongly reminiscent of Mignola's," and I remember him telling me about a music reviewer he used to love who would never compare artists or bands or their sound with each other, he would simply try to describe what he was hearing in his own words, what it sounded like to him, what it made him think of. I liked that. I try to do that mostly.

SPURGEON: Do you have any broad observations about the state of the art form right now? Are there any schools or approaches that you ascending? Are there any kinds of comics being made that you see, or even any that you wish you saw more of?

AKHTAR: Not really, to be honest. I think the thing with comics at the moment is the sheer volume of good to very good work being produced, to the point where it's impossible to keep up with it all. And if you take a moment to think about the statement, really. I truly believe that the best, most exciting and challenging work is being self-published or coming from a umbrella of outfits that are usually termed "small-press" or "independent" -- Image, Koyama, Fantagraphics, D&Q, Uncivilised Books, Secret Acres, Retrofit, Boom, Blank Slate, Jonathan Cape, Nobrow, and on and on. And that's without taking into account the amount of work that gets self-published. There's sort of a roster of creators who put their work online and haven't been published, or have published a little that are going to break out in a big way sooner or later: Sloane Leong, Cathy G Johnson, Emily Carroll, Sophie Franz, Sophie Goldstein, Jane Mai, Lala Albert, L Nichols, Madeliene Flores, Sarah Glidden, Mia Schwarz.

imageIn terms of approach there's quite a few folk who do that mix of video-game/comics/animation style nicely: Guillaume Singelin, Valentin Seiche, Zac Gorman, Hannah K, Thomas Wellman, I'd put Brian Fukushima in there, maybe. I personally love the combination of Japanese elements with the European clear line cartooning -- James Harvey and Brandon Graham do that really well, and they often use a similar bubblegum/ice-cream color palette. I love Anatola Howard, too; she's very obviously influenced by Crumb, but also by anime and manga, so you have that bristling viscerality amalgamated with attractive, more cutesy elements which makes for an interesting juxtaposition. I'm a huge fan of Isaac Lenkiewicsz's cartooning -- his self-published Giant Fighters comics are amazing -- I wish he'd do a load more. Like everyone, I think Ronald Wimberly's a bit of a genius, so anything by him I'd pick up. Simon Roy I've liked since I came across his shipwrecked with a gorilla comic -- I think he has a collection of his work coming out soon. Joe Lambert's going to be/already is huge -- Anne Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller is a masterpiece. I read anything Geneva Hodgson does, but like quite a few comic folk, they're all being stolen way by animation -- and you can't blame them, so.

SPURGEON: One thing that I think is undeniably different now in terms of a challenge facing critics is that there seems to be so much accomplished work out that separating all of the material that's good from the few that are great seems maybe tougher than ever -- it's no longer 1985 where a few comics really stood out against a backdrop of mostly forgettable work. I know it's something I struggle with... How tough is it for you to nail down those comics you think are a cut above the rest?

AKHTAR: Yeah, this is bloody tough. I have a tendency to be very effusive about work I enjoy, and then go through a review and think I should temper it in order to be more objective. A week or so later after publication, I'll read it and think it didn't sound like I enjoyed the book very much at all! It's hard, but I think it's more about bracketing good and very good -- I honestly believe truly great work is very, very rare. And then you get into the whole discussion of what defines greatness... I don't really spend much time writing about comics I didn't like -- I don't know if that skews things slightly -- I'm critical and if I can find both good and bad in a work. I'll discuss it, but I don't trash things. Not yet, anyway!

The answer to this question is superlatives: when I get stupidly, unnecessarily verbose, it means you should stop reading what I wrote and go read the thing I was banging on about.

SPURGEON: If I were to pop out of a time capsule from the mid-1990s I think one of things I might find a bit unmoored and unsettling is this recent surge in British comics. Is there a way you can explain the general almost-avalanche of new and interesting comics that are coming out from over there? Why do there seem to be so many all at once? Is there anything we're truly missing out on?

AKHTAR: Well, it's not really happening all at once. It's a culmination of events and people working their arses off for years that's' slotted into a cultural zeitgeist of what seems to be a greater awareness of the medium, propelled to some extent (love it or hate it) by Hollywood. The scene has developed more fully in the last decade, and a lot I think from people looking at one another and being encouraged by what they see and trying it for themselves, coupled with the availability of technology -- printing machines, internet, online stores, which meant that you could effectively write, draw, print en masse, market and sell your comic all by yourself. It also meant reaching wider audiences where perhaps before there was the worry that UK interest alone wouldn't guarantee the success of a venture. John Allison is probably a good example of that. I do think it's also symptomatic of the larger evolution of comics, as people from various creative and artistic backgrounds have entered the field -- whether it be for a one-off or as a career -- and have helped the definition of "comics" progress and evolve. And as that has loosened, it's drawn others in.

So the community grew, organizing events, getting people together became easier -- there are so many comic events, festivals and conventions in the UK now- almost one every month- 2013 saw the inauguration of two new large ones -- the Lakes Comics and Arts Festival and Stripped, the Edinburgh Book Festival's comic off-shoot. I think all of comics knows about Nobrow now and deservedly so, but Blank Slate, Jonathan Cape, Self Made Hero, Knockabout, Great Beast... these companies maturing and making more adventurous publication choices has been instrumental. As to the avalanche of material, I don't feel it's that much (perhaps looking from the outside in) -- I know some people here don't think we have the audience to support it, but I'm hopeful -- I don't think all this interest and growth is baseless.

People who should all be read -- older and newer: Luke Pearson, John Allison, Joe Decie, Dan Berry, Dan White, Kyle Platts, Isaac Lenkiewicz, Vivian Schwarz, Jamie Coe, Isabel Greenberg, Warwick Johnson Cadwell, Robert Ball, Julia Scheele, Rob Davis, Dilraj Mann, Josceline Fenton, Adam Murphy, Kate Brown, Briony May Smith, Josh Shepherd Tom Gauld, Simone Lia. It's interesting how we seem to have produced so many cartoonists, people who write and draw -- I was talking to an artist recently who pointed out to me that it's not a conducive landscape for those who illustrate only, apart from 2000AD, there isn't much opportunity or choice other than to look abroad.

I'm really proud of what UK comics is achieving, but, it saddens me deeply that the make-up of it seems to be mirroring the literary establishment in it's overwhelming white, middle-class majority. I'm British Pakistani and when I go to conventions here the amount of non-white people attending can honestly often be counted on one hand. And you know, I'm not entirely sure why, but I think one of the factors is probably similar to that of literature -- the socio-economic position of people of colour -- if you can't afford to have books in your house and the library's an option you may or may not take, that impacts on your chances of becoming a writer. And let's be clear: comics in all formats now are expensive. That may be changing with second and third generations, it may not, but it will be a long while before we see it reflected in the scene.

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SPURGEON: I've seen you write about Peow! and about kushcomiks... how much of you reading do you think is informed by European comics expressions, and is that different than perhaps a same-age peer in North American might see their view of comics develop?

AKHTAR: It's weird, I feel like I've talked about Peow! a lot the past year, to the point where I think "Should I stop? Is it getting weird?" but I'm genuinely excited by them -- I really hope they continue to produce their own work as well as publishing other artists, because they're very talented individuals. My favorite comics creators are all European: Bastein Vives, Lewis Trondheim, Nix, Frederik Peeters, Christophe Blain, Winschluss, Juanjo Guarnido, Juan Diaz Canales, Stepahne Oiry, Thierry Martin, Thomas Wellman, Kerascoet etc. I wish Cinebook were much more widely appreciated -- they do a fantastic job with their titles- a diverse, quality range, whilst retaining the larger album format. The odd thing is I have no idea as to what the community/culture is like because I'm rubbish at languages -- maybe that's one of the reasons I appreciate that work -- it comes largely without baggage or hype. The extent to which my reading is informed by them... probably not much? My preference derives from the artistic ability; to my mind they're the most aesthetically pleasing and technically advanced in that area. That makes it sounds like I just like pretty books -- and I do -- but there's still something about North American/Canadian/British comics that feels early, like people trying out things, and that's part of what makes it exciting, but to my mind there's a barrier that's not been pushed past, as if people go, "this is a comic, and this is the furthest you can go with a comic." European comics often feel a more cohesive whole, and less bound.

In an internet age, I can't really imagine why a North American peer wouldn't be as aware of those folks as I am -- I can only read English, Urdu and Arabic, so there's no distinguishing factor other than awareness.

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SPURGEON: Is there a pocket of European comics-making you think deserves more attention?

AKHTAR: I don't know enough about European comics -- that's a pretty wide net you're casting. From what I do know, I would pick the Peow! guys; they're working with some very talented folk around Europe and beyond, and coming to TCAF this year, also. I think that's gonna be a really good opportunity for them to make more contacts and enlist artists. Also Rotopol Press who have published both Thomas Wellman and Sebastian Stamm amongst others. I need to learn more about German comics: I read an amazing anthology called Neufundland which collated animators to make comics, from there, which I've been meaning to write about forever. There's some really cool work coming out from Brazil which I wish I knew more about, too, but language barrier. People buy lots of foreign language comics simply because they're enamored by the visual language, but it frustrates me not being able t read the story with both words and pictures together -- I'm a English lit graduate -- words are my opium.

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SPURGEON: I asked you to list a group of comics we might discuss, comics representative in some way of 2013. Godzilla Half Century War was the first one you listed. Why that one, and why did that one come to mind first?

AKHTAR: It probably came to mind because I'd just written an intelligible essay on why I loved it. I wish I could tell you there was a deep reason for it, but it's just James Stokoe doing fucking Godzilla, and to me that doesn't require further explanation. I don't know that anyone would argue Stokoe's illustrative mastery, but I think he can really turn a piece of writing as well. His Silver Surfer short in Strange Tales was perfect, wasn't it? The blend of humor and emotional resonance he does -- he has an ear for character too, which I would think helps when you're writing iconic ones like Godzilla and Silver Surfer. And that's all on top of his towering ability to draw. I enjoyed it specifically because he allowed both the lizard and his human protagonist to be characters, and for the manner in which he conveyed the stature of Godzilla's impact by transplanting it against the whole life of one man. Also: his art.

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SPURGEON: The Giant Beard That Was Evil is an award-winner and the one with which I'm least familiar on your list. How much do you pay attention to the various awards? Do you find them useful, important? Are the BCAs the real deal?

AKHTAR: I don't pay a huge amount of attention to awards. I think comics awards can be significant in relation to the industry in that they lend a legitimacy of sorts, whether it's needed or not is a separate issue. Recognition... is nice. Which is what all awards are essentially about-- why else do you need them? Comics being nominated in more mainstream awards is nice, simply because it usually means people picking up the book who normally wouldn't, and more sales, and that's good for everybody involved. In similar vein, the BCA's are important to British comics as a thing, for viability, for an access point, to introduce people to work -- I was tabling at Thought Bubble this year with the shop and people were asking about nominated works and creators, so they have a function in that respect. In a sense, I think it can be important when attempting to build something like we are in UK comics, to have all the trappings as it were, so awards are part of that. Beyond that, I don't know.

SPURGEON: I know how well-crafted that book looks, and I know that it works in really broad metaphors, a traditional strength for comics and an underrated one in terms of making a comic that broader audiences will enjoy. Are the visual here as powerful as the mainstream reviews would have us believe? Is there any detriment at all to kind of working with the sort of whimsical fantasy the story seems to?

AKHTAR: Yeah, I think one of the things that struck me most on reading it was how much page/panel layout and design shifted and changed- that can quite easily be disruptive if it's not done right, but it felt very organic, it was a strength. You could see how much thought had gone into getting that right and what effect each transition would have, and I thought that was a bold choice where the temptation for a first book could easily be to err on the safer side. But if you take into account the rhyming approach, the starkness, the relative simplicity of Collins' style, it needs that visual inventiveness to lift it. And the story lends itself to those elements -- the shapes, the starkness, the space, the black and white. It's sort of like a Roald Dahl comic with the whimsical fantasy and metaphor, although not as biting, the openness of the metaphor makes it more inclusive -- now I consider it, pre-teens could probably read it easily. If there is a detriment to the whimsical fantasy, it's probably that some people dislike that sort of thing very strongly, but then we all dislike certain styles.

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SPURGEON: I thought In The Kitchen With Alain Passard was a super great-looking book, but almost no one talked about it. Why was that, do you think. In general, when a book goes under read even by the way we measure those thing in relative terms -- I mean, in a sense all comics are under read -- why is that? Does it just not connect? Are there broad marketing issues?

AKHTAR: Yeah, and translated comics are the most under-read, are they not? I think I'm correct in saying that they don't do particularly well-- even the least well -- for any comics publishers who do put them out -- Fantagraphics, First Second, NBM, Self Made Hero.

With In the Kitchen, it was published by Chronicle, a book publisher rather than a comics one, and I think that affects things. I don't know a comics publisher who wouldn't be extolling the virtues of a new Christophe Blain months in advance. In its original French, it sold past 25,000 copies in the first two months of its release, but comics aren't a niche market in France, and Blain and Passard are names there. Perhaps with the English version they hoped to push it as a cookery book with a quaint twist: it's also a comic! I saw a couple of more mainstream pieces to that effect. They didn't really seem to be aiming for the comics market, and that may have affected awareness.

Those who did come across it, seemed to be disappointed it wasn't a Christophe Blain book a la Gus and his Gang -- the fast, expressive visuals, riots of colour etc. I personally love it when authors change up genre and subject matter: Kitchen is a docu-comic -- it was three years in the making, three years of shadowing Passard while he was cooking, interviewing him in various places, talking to his staff, visiting his various gardens around France, even sitting down with his business people -- and I think it's a superb book. I'm the world's crappest eater and I was interested and invested the whole way through.

I read it before I read Etienne Davodeau's The Initiates and they're very similar tonally, and in the running dialogue approach. I found it arresting visually, too -- lots of white background, a crazy amount of speech bubbles, a lot of text -- the liveliness of his cartooning tattoos to all the hustle and bustle of a kitchen well. There was so much text, it would have been difficult to include it all within panels, it would have given a feeling of intense constraint. The overall lack of background and floatiness lend it an affability and looseness. Somebody on twitter said they felt it didn't play to Blain's strengths, in expressing movement, paciness and so forth, but it worked on a different level -- hell, I don't think it's even necessary for Blain to play to his strengths in order to be good.

In more general terms, I think it's so easy for comics to be under-read. There's this cycle of instancy almost: a book comes out, maybe with some pre-release hype, it gets a few very good reviews over a period of what -- three weeks or so, and then everybody seems to move on to the next thing. And there is so much available now. The pattern of which makes it incredibly easy for things to go un/der-read. There are exceptions- if there's controversy or discussion etc. that period sustains for longer.

SPURGEON: Do you think comics are particularly good at that kind of reportage -- that's a been a buzzword for a while in terms of the vocational possibilities, but I wonder what you thought about comics' ability and maybe even limitations of conveying information?

AKHTAR: I don't think there's a limitation in that sense: it's another form of presentation. All mediums have their strengths and limitations; with comics you can do practically anything- you have words, you have pictures, you can switch from viewpoint to viewpoint, you can do talking heads, you can have almost any form of narration, you can include passages of texts, photographs- it's a bloody strong medium with endless possibilities. if needed As for reportage, there's Joe Sacco, Guy Delisle, Sarah Glidden, Lindsay Pollock's recent comics on Somalian immigrants in Europe, the Guardian's been using them more for editorials, and I'm sure there's a whole bunch more. It's an area I hope grows and grows. One of the best-selling categories in the store and I would say (alert: sweeping statement ahead), the fastest-growing in comics is non-fiction. I also think non-fiction is more accessible for people picking up comics for the first time: with fiction there's so much nuance and choice, but non-fiction is hard and fast in the sense you can say: this is about the Holocaust, this is a biography of Johnny Cash -- it's less geared towards personal tastes, in a manner of speaking.

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SPURGEON: I'm not sure I've read a lot about Lisa Hanawalt's My Dirty Dumb Eyes in terms of it being one of the books worth noting for the year. Why did it make your list?

AKHTAR: I picked it as a more objective selection because to me it's representative of the new directions and evolution of the medium: illustrated essays, diagramic drawings, comics, sequential narrative as well as comics (I can't remember, but is there anything in there that's a traditional paneled comic -- maybe one?). I know it's a collection of work, but I like that presentation, it's indicative of the way comics are moving forward in that you have work and people who aren't rigidly comics, from various creative backgrounds producing a diverse range of work. And you know, her art is terrific.

SPURGEON: Do you have a refined aesthetic for humor in comics? Are there definite things that you find funny in comics and things that you don't?

AKHTAR: Well, yeah, humor's very subjective isn't it? It has to flow, and not seem forced, however much thought's been put into it. I was at a panel at Thought Bubble in December, featuring Joe Decie, Donya Todd, Lizz Lunney and Jim Medway discussing humor in comics and most of them were saying they don't consider themselves funny, or categorize their work as humor. I get that to an extent: you think or speak a certain way and that's the way you think and speak -- other people may find it funny or view it a particular way, but it's nature to you. Deliberation for effect is separate, and of course, considered to some length, but I think it's intrinsic in the first instance.

I can never pin down what I find funny -- the last really funny comic I read was the first volume of Ralph Azham, if that gives you any indication, and Nix usually manages to make me laugh. The (ostensibly) kids stuff that D&Q have been releasing -- Pippi Longstocking, and Anna and Froga really do it for me too. It's maybe easier to pin down what I don't get: puns, goofiness for the sake of goofiness, "stoner" humor, out there, crazy, over the top things -- that so bad it's good vibe. But even those can surprise you: there's rarely anything set in stone.

SPURGEON: How much in general are you a prescriptive critic? Do you think there's value in writing about how something could have been done differently? Are there basic accepted tracks for criticism more generally, ways of writing about art, that you have less interest in pursing?

AKHTAR: If something didn't work for me, I point it out. Obviously there's a difference in things that didn't work for me specifically and subjectively -- things I may not have "got" -- and things that didn't really function within the work, or were to its detriment. I do try to blend a bit of both -- it's important to be subjective because ultimately it is a personal reaction -- how you responded to this work. There can be immense value in pointing out something that didn't work and could have been done differently -- it can depend on the thing that you're referring to -- for example, there's generally some discussion around the depiction of women in comics, and where that's done badly it needs to be called out. Funnily enough, I find it hard, and even annoying to do the opposite: to praise when it's done well or "correctly" -- "this female character is written as a person" because to me that feels patronizing, that should be level ground -- that should be normal -- that shouldn't need pointing out. I prefer when people don't make a big deal out of things, but I recognize the value in doing so.

imageThis is something else I've been thinking about: when people use those facets as a focal or selling point, where it identifies the character. Take Marvel's new Ms Marvel. Before a single issue has been released, the focal point of her identity is her religion. With G Willow Wilson and Sana Amanat involved I don't doubt the intentions behind the project at all and I get it's a big deal, but I also sort of resent that that's how it's presented: "Hey look, a black character." Ryan North's new series with Boom, The Midas Flesh, has a black, Muslim, female lead character who wears a hijab: at no point are ay of those facets mentioned, instead the reader knows her via her job role: she's a pilot, her humor and her intelligence. It was perfectly done. And I picked up The Midas Flesh because a dinosaur was involved.

Similarly, in the Indonesian film The Raid which was a global hit last year, in the opening minutes we see a 30 second or less snippet of Iko Uwais's protagonist performing the morning prayer for Muslims. That's it. Totally normal, just a thing he does, part of his routine, something most people probably don't even remember, because it's a great balls-to-the-wall action movie. And that's a film coming from the world's largest Muslim population. It seems to me the thinking is that in order for this character to sell you have to sell it to the associated demographic: "Ladies, here's a strong female character" and yes, you want to read those, you want to support those titles, but you also don't want to be defined by it; we are all human first. So negotiating that. I don't know that any of that makes sense [laughs] I go round and round with it in my head. Someone said until there's equal representation, there's a need for positive stereotyping. I understand that, but it frustrates and saddens me there is still that need after all this time- we should have moved past that years ago.

If there is a basic accepted way of writing about comics -- I'm not aware of it. I think I saw a comics writer/reviewer once state that they didn't talk about the art in a comic, because they write for mainstream platforms. And I guess the un-comicked wouldn't understand what an expressive, loose line is, or how coloring works. We want to keep tricking them into reading "graphic novels." I should really spend less time on Twitter. On the whole, when I write about comics I discuss the art and the writing, the coloring, the lettering, the lines -- I'm slowly but surely getting more pedantic. One of the things that's important to me is transparency -- I really, really hope I'm unbaised as can be. I see so many people writing either about one company, one collective -- hell, even one creator, article after article and I wonder how people can read that, or trust them. There's specialism and then there's... something else. I want people to trust me, not agree with me necessarily. That extends to the type of comics or news I cover: I had a problem last year, where hugely influential comics artist and industry figures were passing away, and I felt I couldn't write anything because I didn't know enough about them so it would be dis-honest, but I think as long as you're sincere in the attempt, that should convey itself.

I know there are people who think I'm perhaps too "rah rah comics," too positive, which I find hilarious. I thought I would address that, but I don't know how to respond...

imageSPURGEON: Where was the primary strength of Chuck Forsman's TEOTFW for you? I've heard literally a half-dozen different answers to that question.

AKHTAR: Primary strength? I think he write the teen characters really well -- the story is rooted in their believability as people so they have to work in order for it to work.

SPURGEON: How much did that strike you as an early work? Do you think Forsman five years from now would have, say, the Satanist pursuer angle in such a story?

AKHTAR: I don't know that I'm well-placed enough to make that kind of observation. The book as a whole worked really well -- you could consider the Satanist angle over-cooking, but in the scheme of things, I don't think it matters. There are people who have been working in comics for years who add threads, plot-lines, characters, that could be considered surplus. It's up to the artist whether he considers something that's been pointed out to him as a valid criticism, or whether he would have left it as it was.

SPURGEON: I have read East Of West... and, well, I'm not sure that leads me into a question. I do get a sense from your writing that you like a lot of the source material that a book like that -- is that a fair statement? Are there certain creators you think do work like that well?

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AKHTAR: [laughs] What are you saying, Tom? I went into it without any expectations, apart from a vague notion that it had been well received. It's really good- so much so that I'm reading the issues as they come out. Yeah, it's fair to say it's a combination of elements and genres I like: grandiose, mythic, religion, sci-fi, socio-political -- and romance too! -- it has a lot going on but it doesn't feel convoluted. And Nick Dragotta does a beautiful job with the art, with his use of space. A sci-fi western, ostensibly, but the furthest thing from Cowboys and Aliens that you could imagine... And I love westerns -- my dad passed on his love for them to me -- I love Anthony Quinn, Charles Bronson, those dudes. I love the specificness of location -- most genres you can set anywhere but westerns are very setting specific -- it's part of the iconography. The essence of the central character is also very similar to the PI noir genre -- lone crusader with some sort of skewed moral compass. They can be a tad more fatalist -- the protagonist has a tendency to die.

SPURGEON: Can you identify three books you're dying to see next year?

AKHTAR: There's a ton of good stuff coming out this year, from Emily Carroll, Eleanor Davis, Pascal Girard, Ian Culbard, Fumio Obata, Sam Alden, Rob Davis, Corrine Mucha, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, Bryan Lee O'Malley, Bengal's being translated into English for the first time -- so much. If I had to pick three books it would be Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet from D&Q, Weapons of Mass Diplomacy by Christophe Blain and Lanzac from Self Made Hero, and Art Schooled by Jamie Coe from Nobrow.

SPURGEON: What about you? Where are you a year from now and what is going on with your writing?

AKHTAR: My writing -- I think I really want to write for myself. I start feeling pressured anytime I do it elsewhere and worrying whether it fits with the tone and aesthetics of said platform. The aim is to manage my time effectively and generate a work ethic of sorts. Allie Brosch did a wickedly on-point comic about motivation and the internal dialogue you have with yourself. You can sit down and say to yourself "I'm going to write for two hours" but there's that part of you that says you don't have to. Or "I'll have a muffin after half an hour," and 10 minutes in the muffin is gone, because you know you can just eat the muffin. I do a lot of that -- my favorite one is "What if I die tomorrow? Nobody will care that I haven't updated my shitty little blog; I should just live in the moment." Living in the moment involves sleeping a lot. I want to be a better writer though, and I recognize the only impediment to that is myself. But I've sorted out a schedule -- I update three days a week now: Mon, Weds, and Fri, with designated features for particular days, so it's about establishing that pattern, I guess and ensuring I write every day.

A year from now? You know I could be dead, right?

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* Zainab Akhtar On Twitter
* Comics & Cola

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* photo provided by the writer
* Tintin panel
* from the eventual English-language translation of the Blacksad album mentioned
* from Batman: Year One
* from Snipe
* from Giant Fighters
* a panel from a Peow! book
* Neufundland
* from the Stokoe-drawn Godzilla book in question
* from Giant Beard That Was Evil
* from In The Kitchen
* from Lisa Hanawalt
* Midas Flesh cover
* from Mr. Charles Forsman
* from East Is West
* photo provided by the writer; from Thought Bubble (below)

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Go, Look: All Those Stuart Immonen Nextwave Poster Images

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Go, Look: Jack Kirby Early 1960s Marvel Pin-Ups

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* this is fun: Robert Crumb holds forth. I could probably gush and pull-quote my way to a unique posting, but really you should hear that stuff from Crumb, not me.

image* man, those X-Men comics were some death-soaked comics. My best friend -- who was a bit older than me, already in high school while I languished in the 5th grade -- re-created Wolverine's resistance army outfit and wore it a lot that Fall. Not the hair, though. Never the hair. It was a cool look, though.

* there was a time when I was a kid that I would have spent about eleven and a half hours staring at this picture. The only thing that strikes me now looking at it is that Marvel has done a pretty good job of keeping together a recognizable line-up of heroes -- I don't really follow those books and that feels like a Marvel group picture to me. That is possibly the dumbest measure possible to man, though.

* congratulations to Marc Arsenual on his new store.

* Chris Arrant talks to Gregory Benton. Tim O'Shea talks to Ales Kot.

* finally, Michel Fiffe rattles off a better best-of comics than most critics including myself have been able to put together mulling this stuff over directly.
 
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Happy 47th Birthday, Eric Haven!

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Happy 73rd Birthday, Hayao Miyazaki!

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January 4, 2014


100 Comics Positives For 2013: Hope

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The passing of Kim Thompson last summer made me think long and hard about his accomplishments and those of his generation of comics industry people and comics-makers. It's an extraordinary thing they've done, taking a neglected, despised, hyper-commercial art form and helping to turn it into a platform for some of the most affecting, idiosyncratic expressions of art available on the planet.

My hope is that we continue to strive for great art and a for a significant, honorable place for its makers, that we let go of ego in terms of what we think we need out of this industry, art form and its attendant arts communities and allow ourselves to be a part of greater, collective accomplishment. I think there is so much work yet to be done in institutionalizing the startling leaps made over the last 35 years, and improving on them, that it would take a dozen lifetimes to see to it all, and that waiting around for the applause we think we deserve gets us no closer to any of it. I think there are people that are going to need help, and in return they can provide us an example to stamp out before others take its form. I don't think we're bound by legal permission or economic compulsion. I don't think grinding exploitation is any more inevitable than great comics art.

I think we get to shape the next 50 years, and that in 2013 we can see its outline every bit as much as we may feel its shadow. What an opportunity.
 
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100 Comics Positives For 2013: Back To School

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One of the surprising places I found myself this year was at two academic conference, both of which took place in Columbus, Ohio: the MIX show held by Columbus College Of Art And Design; the conference opening the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum before their opening night celebration and convention weekend. The last academic thing of more than one-speaker length I attended was an ICAF in Bethesda in the late 1990s, held in conjunction with SPX. There's no reason I hadn't attended an academic conference since then. I liked those I attended just fine. They are just not usually in proximity to what I'm doing or if they are, as is the case with the papers presented in San Diego during Comic-Con International, there's something else I'm doing.

If these two are any indication, I've been missing out. They're kind of cool now. There are a lot of post-TED talk flourishes in that almost everyone seems comfortable on their feet and there's a lot of work with visual aids and video, but there's also a place for independent scholars and people that are only there to get an idea or two over as part of professional expectations for their chosen career. A generation of comics scholars raised on a kind of comics discourse I value -- lunatics screaming at each in newsprint magazines and on message boards -- are central figures now, so they sort of speak my language and share my values in a way the previous generation of scholars really didn't, although god bless them.

I also think these places are increasingly useful as idea farms -- places to find new angles aren't work that don't feel the impact of the desperate marketing pressures of commercial criticism. For instance, at those two conference, three ideas that have stuck with me I hadn't considered before are 1) black kids from the 1970s that were actually slightly embarrassed by the lack of nobility in Luke Cage's pay-for-play motivations relative to a hero like Superman, despite finding him appealing in a bunch of other ways, 2) Walt Kelly as a nostalgist for a general way of American life that was fading, independent from regional focus, 3) World War I cartooning as a dry run for the issues facing cartooning during World War 2. None of this is going to find me running the streets at night shirtless screaming "Yes!" to the heavens, but it's all new perspectives to engage on a variety of topics. I look forward to attending more.
 
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100 Comics Positives For 2013: All The Brits

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This is another feel thing because I certainly haven't done a survey. It could be that I'm simply oriented in a different direction than I used to be but it seems like the last few years have brought this kind of mass surge in interesting in comics from the UK, and that 2013 was another pretty good year for their being lots of material worth noting. The first few months of the year found a bunch of people I know still processing 2012's The Nao Of Brown, for instance, and a handful of us North American bound festival visitors were thrilled to get to meet Oliver East at TCAF and Darryl Cunningham at MoCCA. And so on. Cartoonists like Isabel Greenberg, Simon Moreton, Joe Decie, Sarah McIntyre, Stephen Collins and maybe two dozen others are suddenly just there now, making what they make, without any of the usual passing-through of publishing milestones by which we might have become acquainted withe them once upon a time (I feel our courtship with Tom Gauld, for example, was much more stately and old-school). I may be confused, but there's no way in hell I'm going to complain. I'm on board. How much does it cost to get over there?
 
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100 Comics Positives For 2013: Copra

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I don't know all of the numbers, and I haven't been able to track down all of the issues, but my sense is that Michel Fiffe had a genuine self-published hit with his super-team adventure Copra in 2013 in that it looks like demand outstripped the bulk of his ability to get the book into folks' hands and what we know about the margins of self-publishing indicate that he will profit more per book than someone with a formal publishing partner. I thought the self-directed aspects of Copra actually improved the aesthetic experience -- when someone is essentially tilting at windmills by publishing themselves, it changes the context by which we understand the homage aspects of what they're doing; it feels less opportunistic. These are fun, kinetic comics and perfect the way they are, not as a lesson for what corporate publishers should be doing. I hope he does them for as long as he can find an audience.
 
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100 Comics Positives For 2013: Comics Publishers Everywhere

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We have a lot of strength in boutique publishing, particularly collectively. I think that gets lost because 1) more traditional publishers haven't backslid, 2) there are so many companies publishing, 3) if you look at any one company's efforts, I think all of them can be ably criticized by anyone giving a serious effort. But I'd miss every single one we have right now if they were to go away, a sentiment that's increased this year as one of the big ones in my constellation -- the consistently excellent PictureBox -- wrapped things up after a lengthy run.

So here's to all of the publishers that didn't for whatever reason get their own, devoted, comics positive, despite all of their merits indicating they deserved one, among them Secret Acres, Hic and Hoc, Space Face, Koyama, Retrofit, Oily, Conundrum, Studygroup, Sparkplug, Nobrow, La Mano, Uncivilized, Spit And A Half, kus!, Peow, Blank Slate, Paper Rocket, Drippy Bone Books, Alternative and probably a list just as long of publishers I'm forgetting.

Any one of you is a minor miracle. Any three of you is a comics festival.
 
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Go, Look: Visions Of Arzach

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1, 2
 
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CR Week In Review

imageThe top comics-related news stories from December 28, 2013 to January 3, 2014:

1. The long-expected announcement -- since Disney acquired both -- that the Star Wars license would migrate from Dark Horse to Marvel is made.

2. Steve Wacker ends a long and fruitful stint in the NY editorial office at Marvel and heads west. Good luck to him.

3. A Jim Starlin Thanos-related book is announced at Marvel, interesting in that Starlin potentially had a case to go after some sort of settlement related to rights on that character had he wished to... and if he didn't quietly in some way already.

Winner Of The Week
Wacker

Losers Of The Week
Super hardcore comics-reading Star Wars fans -- I'm not being mean, either, I thought Dark Horse did a swell job of hitting the taste centers of a really devoted fan and that's a totally legitimate strategy with a property like that. I can't imagine that Marvel will pursue the same kind of books, but you never know.

Quote Of The Week
"Are you a life long learner? Do you like comic books? Do you think it would be interesting to discuss social issues using comic books as a lens? Are you an educator looking for different methods to present your material? If so, this course is for you!" -- from the pitch for Christina Blanch's new on-line comics course

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today's cover is Marvel Comics from the year 1964

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

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Go, Look: Ladronn Mini-Gallery

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* if I'm reading this correctly, Scott Edelman is a free agent.

image* there is an entire generation of comics readers -- maybe two, maybe three -- for whom a very specific kind of Peanuts paperback was a ubiquitous childhood presence. One of the things about the Complete Peanuts publishing program -- and I looooooovve those books -- is that it marks the ending of one kind of reading relationship and the beginning of another in the same way that, say, moving certain sporting events from broadcast to cable television might. How this changes, no one will know for years yet. It probably won't have to do with any of the weird specifics of these paperbacks, like trying to figure out the overlapping printing from a kids perspective, where certain strips were "from."'

* here's an overview of Michael DeForge's mini-tour.

* the writer Jim Zub writes at some remove of his participation in a publishing news story that had an embarrassing aspect for him.

* Dave Richards talks to Charles Soule. Chris Arrant talks to Gregory Benton. Tim O'Shea talks to Ales Kot.

* that is one adorable Red Sonja-related graphic. I realized looking at this the first time that I have no connection to this character whatsoever beyond a rough understanding of the seedy high-concept elements. I have to imagine there's an entire narrative forced to the character in this current incarnation that all sorts of people enjoy, but I've completely missed out.

* what Comics Dungeon sold in 2013. Wallingford 4-ever.

* it's 2 AM as I'm typing this and I can't remember which person is the "Guttergeek" person -- is it Jared Gardner? -- but here is a review of Pachyderme. Mark Squirek wrote about the color Mickey Mouse slipcase.

* finally, JHU Comics profiled.


 
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Happy 50th Birthday, JP Trostle!

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The Comics Reporter Video Parade


Steve Benson And Brian Fairrington Speak


Comics-Maker Acts Out Oddly Towards More Established Comics-Maker He Plagiarized


40 Seconds Of Drawing With Simon Fraser


A 2010 Presentation By Ed Piskor on Wizzywig
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Scott Adams: Goals Vs. Systems


Paul Coyle Remembered
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January 3, 2014


100 Comics Positives For 2013: The Image Deal As Ideal

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A more formal history of the year would get into the growing momentum that Image Comics enjoys right now -- it might even nail down its size and extent. My hunch is that their recent success is a combination of several things, including smart hires and the way all of the big companies have oriented themselves towards the Direct Market, a way that has flattered Image's line because it's creatively dependable. The big takeaway and a positive for the year, though, at least to my mind, is that the Image deal has become, once again, the one that works best for a lot of active creators -- creators that because of their orientation towards comics growing up want to create work on their own, creators that because of past role-models want to direct what happens in their careers as much as humanly possible. It's a fun model to have out there doing battle with the big mainstream companies and their library of iconic licenses to manage -- you could almost contrast them as general creative strategies, and I'm sure someone smart out there has. For now, though, it's a good thing because of the quality work that's results, the creators that have found a way to make this model work they way they want it to, and the readers that benefit from engaging with something perhaps familiar, but also new.
 
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100 Comics Positives For 2013: This Richard Thompson Photo

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This is the year between the year Richard Thompson put his pen down in terms of making the daily comic strip he was born to do, Cul De Sac (2012), and the year where we get all of the strip in one splendid package as well as a major exhibition of work from all facets of his career at Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. Chris Sparks won the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award at the Eisner Awards for the admirable charity work he's done for Parkinson's related causes in Richard's name.

Caitlin McGurk is curating Richard's retrospective. The above is a photo from her visit with the cartoonist -- he had broken his hip and was in recovery, a recovery made a bit more difficult for his ongoing battle with Parkinson's. He gave permission for this photo to go out, and Caitlin passed it along and posted it on her Facebook feed.

I don't know, I just sort of like this picture.
 
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100 Comics Positives For 2013: They Finished Omaha

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This went a bit unnoticed. I don't think that should be a surprise. Omaha The Cat Dancer was in the mainstream of a certain kind of comics-making decades ago now, and it's not surprising that the work might finish its run a bit out of the spotlight. I also have to admit: I haven't read it yet myself. I don't get those books in the course of that publisher's PR and I'm not buying the volumes. I know I have some of the earlier volumes of the explicit, anthropomorphic soap opera somewhere in the house, and I'm super fond of comics' ability to sustain lengthy narrative over time -- some days I think it's the very best things comics can do. Mostly, though, I'm just sort of glad this got finished because it was there to be finished. I can't imagine what holding this last volume in his hands must have been like for James Vance, husband to the late writer Kate Worley and the person that complete the script work necessary for artist Reed Waller to finish his contribution. I'm curious to read the whole thing someday, but in the meantime: congratulations.
 
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100 Comics Positives For 2013: WonderCon In Anaheim

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I know that WonderCon moving from the Bay Area to Anaheim was a big bummer for a lot of people for whom that was their local, big, funnybook convention, but it's ridiculous that the show wasn't a bigger priority for facility managers and my own experiences trying to get some bare minimum answer out of those people as to why there wasn't more flexibility working with such a long-running event was frustrating enough all by itself that I wanted to own a SF-based con just so I could move it elsewhere. It's important that as cons and festivals grow they gravitate to the most favorable deals; they deserve to -- they're good events. I'm also glad that if there's going to be a big Spring show that close to Los Angeles, that it's Comic-Con that's running it as opposed to an aggressive -- and potentially crass -- start-up. So I consider this a positive. I hope to attend the 2014 version, back in Anaheim, for apparently the same basic reason.
 
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100 Comics Positives For 2013: Pierre Feuille Ciseaux #4

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That there was a small-press festival in Minneapolis again was a big deal, and it's great that Autoptic plans another event for 2015 -- that's a wonderful comics community, and a city that will support the arts given a chance. One way to build that support is a regular event upon which the larger community can count. Besides, there's no better place in the world than summer in the upper reaches of the Midwest, so we're all going to want to go in future years.

This year, though the bigger deal was the Pierre Feuille Ciseaux workshop held before the festival (and my apologies if that's not how you describe it, or if there's a redundancy in doing so). This allowed a number of important -- and a lot of young -- cartoonists a chance to get to know each other, and work together, and learn from one another in a space that was divorced from competition and commerce. Every single creator I've talked to about that week has called it life-changing, and hopefully there will be more events and more like it in future years.

photo swiped from the linked-to site
 
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100 Comics Positives For 2013: There's Still Interest In Ali Ferzat

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Because his is a story worth repeating, again and again, until things change.
 
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100 Comics Positives For 2013: BOOM! Takes Money, Publishes More And Weirder Comic Books