A Non-Response To Eric Powell’s Creator-Owned Comics Video
I wrote a lengthy response to Eric Powell's video from last week indicting the comics industry for its lack of diversity. Other than the phrase "dorkshach test," which I will employ elsewhere, I can't think of anything I've ever written that was more idiotic, self-congratulatory and useless. I apologize for getting anyone's hopes up. If I can sort things out, I may give it another shot.
Prageeth Eknaligoda Updates: Offices Burned, Festival Shut-Out
There were a couple of odd updates over the weekend in news related to the missing Sri Lankan cartoonist and columnist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who failed to return home from work over a year ago on the eve of contentious elections about which he had written in searing, confrontational fashion. The first is that the offices of the on-line news agency for which Eknaligoda worked, Lankaenews.com, was set on fire early today. The second is that Eknaligoda's wife Sanjaya, accompanied by her son, was apparently not allowed to address the Galle Literary Festival. This is unfortunate because the literary festival was the subject of a suggested boycott because of government inaction on the Eknaligoda case, and also news travels haphazardly countries like Sri Lanka, so the opportunity to make an address at a public event like that is a bigger deal than it might appear from the outside looking in. The family members did meet as many people as possible, and distributed some pamphlets about the situation.
Your Danish Cartoons Hangover Update: Jihad Jane’s Guilty Plea
* according to a massive wave of reports sweeping international wires starting Saturday morning, Colleen LaRose, the Pennsylvania woman believed to have participated in a plot against the artist Lars Vilks for making cartoon imagery that included Muhammed's head on the body of a dog, will switch her plea to guilty in a Philadelphia court on Tuesday. This is one of those cases where it's hard to get past the flash heat of the "Jihad Jane" nickname and all the easy, summary truths that come with such a depiction, but certainly the acts themselves are alarming and worthy of legal reprisal.
* this article on al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden suggests that they have transformed into a cultural force, and that one of the engines of the trouble they've caused over the last ten years includes events related to the Danish Cartoons up to and including the bombing of Pakistan's Danish embassy.
* this profile of National Review contributor and Montana politician Travis Kavulla is the first time I've ever read about the publishing of the Danish Cartoons as part of a U.S. citizen's political biography. He published them in the Crimson while at Harvard. While I don't share the bulk of this young man's political views, I do think everyone in journalism should have published the cartoons when they what they looked like became a key part of an international news story the killed dozens of people and caused untold politically-motivated strife.
* hey, if nothing else, responsibly running the cartoons as part of an overall news mandate would have avoided the goofy spectacle of the decision not to publish the cartoons being used by folks as an example of anti-Christian bias.
* this is the first time I've ever seen the Cartoons mentioned in a glamorous star profile, although it's really only a tiny aside.
* as expected, three men arrested by Danish officials over the holiday and believed to be planning a terrorist plot that would have included shooting up the Jyllands-Posten offices that originally published the Danish Muhammed Cartoons will be detained for another four weeks.
* here's more on Said Jaziri, the cleric that was smuggled into the US across the US/Mexico border near Tijuana. Jaziri's resume includes agitating against the Danish Cartoons. I can't imagine what my worldview might be like if I had go from the leadership of a large church in a major world city to the trunk of a car outside of San Diego, but it probably wouldn't be all that healthy.
* finally, this is the most detailed account of the plans to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in which David Coleman Headley participated I've yet read. I'm not certain of the provenance of most of the information here, so I have to look at it with sort of a squinty eye and skeptical look on my face, but it's a compelling narrative. Apparently, one of the things that gummed up Headley's plan for the newspaper is that he wanted a couple of assassinations while his sponsors/contacts in the more militant terrorism world wanted a bigger, more general terrorist attack. To hear about such discussions being hashed out in meetings seems kind of chilling.
French Convention Hangovers More Charming Than U.S. Ones
* CR will start a collective memory tomorrow on this year's just-concluded Angouleme, but today we'll go with a few quick notes.
* if you're not following these, you should be: Tom Devlin and Peggy Burns from Drawn And Quarterly extend their photo essay into a second day. People always point out how Angouleme has a definite mainstream component, but it's hard to take San Diego comparisons seriously when you see so many people dressed this casually and well that it doesn't even merit mention. Anyway, I enjoy these photos and their accompanying commentary a lot.
* this is the only article I've seen with Art Spiegelman's reaction to be named the Grand Prix winner. As most CR readers probably already know, this gets Spiegelman directly involved with the 2012 show. Spiegelman has a very idiosyncratic sense of what's important in comics history, and is a charismatic personality generally, so his participation could be a lot of fun.
* one of the fun things about Angouleme weekend is that it always generates a couple of odd profiles based on something at the show catching some feature writer's attention. This year I read two: a Guardian piece on Quai D'Orsay that compares it to the British TV show The Thick Of It, and a well-traveled international wire piece on the "female manga underground."
* finally, if you haven't scrolled down the page or if you sometimes stop at the Quick Hits, I'll hope you'll take the time to read Bart Beaty's snappy report for CR sent from the show at its conclusion yesterday. This includes his thoughts on Spiegelman's win, the other prize winners, and what festival shows were worth attending. I'm worried that Bart might be penalized in terms of eyeballs for filing at the moment of the festival's conclusion rather than waiting until this morning.
* if you haven't been following that Buffy The Vampire Slayer comic but are still sort of interested in how fans are reacting to an "official" television series being played out in comic book form, this may be the article for you.
* not comics: check out this celebrity shelf-porn I got from someone a couple of weeks ago (probably Gil Roth). It's funny that a couple of these already look like comic book libraries. Plus Oprah's is surprisingly the least human and slightly scary, besides.
* it's over on Facebook, which I understand for many of you is still a dubious proposition, but Noah Van Sciver has his contribution to that Fantastic Four commissioned re-do project posted here.
* missed it: most of what this shares with a comics story is a couple of pieces of art, a career that moved in those arenas and a sense of unbelievable sadness, but here's an article I've had in my bookmarks forever about the Frazetta children and their battles over their father's legacy and their access to the art he created.
* I'm not sure why I failed to link to a short, mainstream-media penned history of Catwoman, but I'm sure something about it irritated me. Here it is. That Halle Berry Catwoman movie is totally freaking nuts, by the way, if you're ever bored and up at 4 AM waiting for the shuttle van to the airport.
some of you will write in to complain about a gallery of images taken from the place the artist might ideally wish you to look at them and placed into another context when a link or two might take you to the original place, but I do appreciate how this one seems to want to drive attention to sale of that art and hope you'll consider supporting Steve Rude that way
An Internet Favorite: A Thrilling Buz Sawyer Sequence
1) this is more fun to highlight with the wider middle gutter; a stellar Roy Crane sequence, the key being he doesn't cheat on any of the action, and sticks to the consequences of the physical locale he created for the scene 2) I originally identified this as Captain Easy because I read the date as 1940 on the strips and apparently didn't read the strips themselves and apparently can't tell the more traditionally heroic Sawyer from craggy ol' Easy; sorry about that
On Friday, CR readers were asked to "Name Five Comics Industry Figures Who, Like Johnny Cash, Would Make Great Columbo Villains Playing Near-Versions Of Themselves." This how they responded.
Al Capp (5), Bart Beaty (5), Bob Kane (5), Bryan Talbot (5), Chester Gould (5), Dan Vado (5), Doug TenNapel (5), Frank Frazetta (5), Moebius (5), Harlan Ellison (5), Joe Casey (5), Lewis Trondheim (5), Lynda Barry (5), Five Rick Olney (5), Rory Root (5), Steve Niles (5), Steven Grant (5), Al Columbia (4), Cathy Guisewite (4), Dirk Deppey (4), Don McGregor (4), Frank Thorne (4), Gareb Shamus (4), Gary Groth (4), Gilbert Shelton (4), Jill Thompson (4), Larry Hama (4), Marc Alessi (4), Paul Levitz (4), Rich Johnston (4), S. Clay Wilson (4), Wally Wood (4), Art Spiegelman (3), Bill Jemas (3), Bob Burden (3), Chris Staros (3), Dez Skinn (3), Frank Santoro (3), Gerard Way (3), Ivan Brunetti (3), Jack Kirby (3), Jason Aaron (3), Jim Woodring (3), John Gallagher (3), Kevin Eastman (3), Kurt Busiek (3), Matt Fraction (3), Michael Kaluta (3), Milo George (3), Rick Geary (3), Shintaro Kago (3), Alan David Doane (2), Branwyn Bigglestone (2), Brian Azzarello (2), Brian Hibbs (2), Catherine Yronwode (2), Charles Burns (2), Chris Donald (2), Clifford Meth (2), David Choe (2), Ed Brubaker (2), Eddie Campbell (2), Lizz Hickey (2), Mark Evanier (2), Rich Stevens (2), Robert Crumb (2), Robert Williams (2), Scott Rosenberg (2), Spain Rodriguez (2), Steve Rude (2), Ted Rall (2), Tony Harris (2), Wendy Pini (2), Alex Toth (1), Brian Bendis (1), Bill Griffith (1), Bill Willingham (1), Dame Darcy (1), Eric Reynolds (1), Greg Rucka (1), Jim Davis (1), Jim Lee (1), Johnny Ryan (1), Josh Latta (1), Jules Feiffer (1), Kathryn Immonen (1), Michael Netzer (1), Mike Richardson (1), Mitch Cutler (1), Nicholas Gurewitch (1), Paul Pope (1), Phoebe Gloeckner (1), Rich Buckler (1), Simon Bisley (1), Spain (1), Tom Brevoort (1), Tom Spurgeon (1).
* Alan David Doane: Rick Olney, Gareb Shamus, Mark Alessi, Paul Levitz, Michael Netzer
* Chris Arrant: Todd McFarlane, Rich Johnston, Bill Jemas, Alan Moore, Steve Ditko
* Chris Mautner: Lewis Trondheim, Joe Matt, Dave Sim, Clifford Meth, Tony Millionaire
* Danny Ceballos: Stan Lee, Cathy Guisewite, Frank Santoro, Lizz Hickey, Todd McFarlane
* Dave Knott: Robert Kanigher, S. Clay Wilson, John Byrne, Ted Rall, Jim Davis
* David Jacobson: Bob Kane, John Byrne, Stan Lee, Grant Morrison, Bendis
* Don MacPherson: Harlan Ellison, Stan Lee, Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, Marc Alessi
* Douglas Wolk: Rory Root, Alan Moore, Robert Kanigher, Howard Chaykin, Seth
* Eric Reynolds: Steranko, Seth, Jim Woodring, Eddie Campbell, Dame Darcy
* Evan Dorkin: Steranko, Seth, Kazuo Umezu, Tony Millionaire, Kathryn Immonen
* Gabriel Roth: Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Matt Fraction, Paul Levitz, Greg Rucka
* Grant Goggans: Chester Gould, Gilbert Shelton, Gerard Way (with Grant Morrison as that episode's victim), Matt Groening, Alan Moore
* Greg McElhatton: Alan Moore, Stan Lee, Warren Ellis, Brian Azzarello, Simon Bisley
* Jamie Coville: Doug TenNapel, Jill Thompson, Evan Dorkin, Rich Stevens, Phoebe Gloeckner
* J.E. Cole: Jean Giraud/Moebius, Warren Ellis, Dez Skinn, Catherine Yronwode, Jim Lee
* Johnny Bacardi: Jim Steranko, Don McGregor, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Paul Pope
* John Platt: Steve Niles, Warren Ellis, Rick Geary, Alan Moore, Mike Richardson
* Justin J. Major: Lynda Barry, Dirk Deppy, Ivan Brunetti, Charles Burns, Todd McFarlane
* Larry King: Grant Morrison, Jim Shooter, Dan Didio, Jim Steranko, Alan Moore
* Marc Arsenault: Jim Steranko, Neal Adams, Kevin Eastman, Robert Williams, Mitch Cutler
* Marc Arsenault: Matt Groening, Al Columbia, Michael Kaluta, Branwyn Bigglestone, Nicholas Gurewitch
* Mark Coale: Stan lee (funky flashman era), Dave sim, Dan didio, Steven grant, Tom brevoort
* Mark Mayerson: Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Evan Dorkin, Al Capp, Jules Feiffer
* Mark Spedding: Bill Gaines, Robert Kanigher, Jason Aaron, Chris Donald (from the UK's Viz), Tie: Bill Griffith or Alex Toth
* Matt Silvie: Frank Frazetta, Frank Thorne, Jack Kirby, Spain Rodriguez, Tony Millionaire
* Max Fischer: Harvey Pekar (especially for the scene where he breaks character and starts railing on the network, until the producers restrain him and they cut to a commercial (this would hopefully be scripted)), Kazuo Umezu, Shintaro Kago, Robert Crumb, Dave Sim
* Michael J. Grabowski: Alan Moore, Stan Lee, Todd McFarlane, Scott Rosenberg, Al Capp
* Michael J. Martens: Frank "Darryl' Miller
* Michael May: Alan Moore, Mark Millar, Kurt Busiek, Grant Morrison, Bill Willingham
* Mike Everleth: Harvey Pekar (Well, he would have been), Stan Lee, Steven Grant, Alan Moore, Johnny Ryan
* Mike Rhode: Bart Beaty, Stan Lee, John Gallagher, Al Capp, Harvey Pekar
* Richard Melendez: Joe Matt, Alan Moore, Stan Lee, Brian Hibbs, Mark Millar
* Richard Pachter: Bryan Talbot, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison
* Rob Clough: Stan Lee, Wally Wood, Jim Steranko, David Choe, Spain
* Rob Martin: Dave Sim, Todd McFarlane, Art Spiegelman, Jim Steranko, Stan Lee
* Rod DiManna: Howard Chaykin, Jim Steranko, Dave Sim, Mark Evanier, Eric Reynolds
* Scott Cederlund: Mark Millar, Dave Sim, Stan Lee, Steve Rude, Alan Moore
* Sean Kleefeld: Steve Ditko, Larry Hama, Bill Gaines, Wendy Pini, Tom Spurgeon
* Shannon Smith: Tony Millionaire, Jim Steranko, Bob Burden, Tony Harris, Josh Latta
* Tim O'Neil: Joe Casey, Seth, Milo George, Alan David Doane, Rich Buckler
* Tom Spurgeon: Neil Gaiman, Gary Groth, Jim Shooter, Ed Brubaker, Neal Adams
* Woodrow Phoenix: Dan Vado, Joe Quesada, Chris Staros, Evan Dorkin, Trina Robbins
I laughed all the way through compiling this one. Thank you, all.
The top comics-related news stories from January 22 to January 28, 2011:
1. Wizard restructures in favorite of putting the best corporate face forward for new penny-stock set-up. Print magazine is a casualty. Despite their long-time lousy track record with getting stuff on-line the one-time giant of hobby magazine publishing assures anyone that cares to lesson they'll finally start killing it as an on-line magazine, just you wait.
2. Thirty-eighth festival at Angouleme gets underway in the town of the same name in France. Special focus is on the striking L'Association table, where one can pick up a letter with the grievances of the staff with the current state of things.
3. One Year anniversary passes of the disappearance of cartoonist and prose columnist Prageeth Eknaligoda from Sri Lanka. A protest/entreaty to the United Nations to look into the matter underway.
Quote Of The Week
"Remy Martin was doing some kind of brainstorming session there on Thursday so out of shot there was something like $40,000 of top-line cognac sitting around." -- The Tom And Peggy Show
today's cover is from the great comic book series Four-Color
A Few Places To See Cartoons About Events In Egypt
A few of you have written e-mails asking where one might go to find cartoons reflective of the developing situations in several northern African countries, particularly Egypt. A couple of things come to mind. The newsroom page at Cartoon Movementhas meatier cartoons than most English-language sites, efforts vying for a broader spotlight. The Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff isn't everyone's cup of tea, but he seems very comfortable on-line and his twitpic page is filled with cartoons about the region. His cartoons about Egypt and these protests actually preceded the protests. You can also access the New York Times news syndicate here. Daryl Cagle has a whole index of world cartoonists accessible from his left-hand column; in terms of those with a regional proximity to the area the only one I'm aware of that tends to do straight-forward, forthright work is Osama Hajjaj, who is from Jordan.
Your Danish Cartoons Hangover Update: Smuggled Cleric
* this has to be one of the weirdest stories about an actor in the ongoing Danish Cartoons controversy: the Montreal cleric Said Jaziri was arrested while attempting to enter the United State illegally. Jaziri was one of the strongest voices condemning the initial publication of the cartoons from his then-position in Montreal, and later called for violence against cartoonist Kurt Westergaard as that artist became increasingly well-known for his role in making one of the infamous cartoons. He has since had difficulties finding a western country in which to set up shop. This can't be beneficial to that particular quest.
* I'm not certain why we didn't get daily news updates on the Mohammed Geele trial after Kurt Westergaard testified. Granted, that's the most compelling storyline, but there are others. For instance, this new, breezy summary piece mentions in passing that the child in the house at the time Geele entered with bad intentions has testified, which is the first time I'd heard that.
Ben Yomen Miller, who under the pen name Ben Yomen became one of one of the most productive labor cartoonists of the mid-20th Century and a cartoonist that placed work into hundreds of publications both mainstream and obscure, died on January 10 in his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was 99 years old.
Yomen was the son of Ukrainian immigrants. His family moved from Massachusetts to Michigan when he was four years old. Yomen developed a passion for art as a child by copying from newspaper strips of the day, and was trained at Cass Tech High School and the Wicker School Of Fine Art, both in Detroit. His first sale was as a student to a humor magazine called College Life. In 1930 he went to New York to find work as a cartoonist or as an artist but failed, returning home on a bus ticket he was given in exchange for painting an office.
The artist was one of dozens arrested at the infamous Ford Hunger March Of 1932. He had arrived at the event in order to sketch some of the participants. His arrest and his proximity to the death of laborers involved in the March radicalized the young artist, and a few years later he returned to New York to find his fortune, taking on a variety of jobs to keep his head afloat, starting with a gig at Max Fleischer Studios. Yomen used a job teaching with the WPA to make ends meet. As those program slowly died out at the end of the decade, he slowly transitioned into freelancing cartooning. His clients at the time included Milady and Judge. He also painted and exhibited those works along with lithographs at New York area galleries.
He was drafted in 1943 but classified as 4-F.
Yomen may be best known as the creator of "Congressman Dripp," a lightning-rod style moronic, corrupt character that opposed the rights of labor and women. Dripp was a patriotic creation, representative of those politicians Yomen felt were weak on Adolf Hitler. Yomen placed cartoons featuring Dripp in a variety of magazines and was syndicated from 1943 to 1955 to over 200 union-friendly publications through Federated Press, the syndicate with which he hard partnered since 1939. He was voted "most popular labor cartoonist" in an AFL-CIO poll in 1943, partly because of the Federated work that preceded Dripp but also because of the work he picked up in and around those more formal obligations.
A now-married Yomen returned to Detroit in 1945, where he became art director of the UAW's Ammunition and worked in the union's Education Department. He also actively showed his work in Michigan art galleries whenever possible. He was briefly the art director for a grocery chain in the 1950s.
In the 1960s, Yomen's work also encompassed a pro racial-integration stance at a time when that wasn't exactly agreed upon by everyone, either. He had actually been doing cartoons sensitive to national issues on race since the late 1930s, in part spurred on by personal experience traveling in the south. His obituary in local Michigan media indicated he was still concerns with permutations of modern labor issues such as the outsourcing of jobs out of the region and overseas.
In 1980 he went to work for the union publication Solidarity and developed his second recurring feature, Senator Rightwing. In 1994, he produced a number of campaign cartoons for that year's gubernatorial campaign.
In 1999 an exhibit of Yomen's cartoons called "Artist For The Worker" went up at a University of Michigan graduate library. Yomen and his son, Bob Miller, maneuvered through the publication stage a compilation of the elder's works called In Labor's Corner in 2005. They were his first publications since the 1940s, which saw the release of a cartoon anthology named Needles And Pins (1941) and a children's book called Roberto The Mexican Boy (1947).
He was a member of three unions during his professional lifetime: The Cartoonists Guild, The United American Artists, The Newspaper Guild of New York.
Ben Yomen Miller is survived by a wife of 75 years, Rose; two sons, two grandsons and two great-granddaughters. A memorial service is likely to be held in March.
* so I guess there's a rumor out there that Marvel will institute a tougher $2.99 price point on its comics. I'm not so interested in the gamesmanship aspect of such an announcement, and in fact I'm doubtful that those moves really work to that end as cleanly and as comprehensively as some believe. However, I've said it multiple times: whatever it takes for the most comic books as possible to be priced at $2.99 rather than $3.99 is an overall good, because raising prices that much jacks up the prices on a weekly purchase by $4 to $7 to $11 or whatever is proportional to the number of comics purchased, and it's the latter purchase point that runs the risk of being rejected, a fitful bleed that weakens that way of selling comics over time in a way that's almost impossible to track.
* the photos uploaded by Peggy Burns and/or Tom Devlin at Drawn And Quarterly from their ongoing trip to Angouleme seem like they'll be about as much fun as promised. There's Rich Tommaso and Ulli Lust, and I don't think I'd write that phrase at any other show. I like how they fully admit they have no idea what they're doing or where they are at times, which is probably how I'd experience 93 percent of such a trip. And my goodness, check out where they're staying.
* the godfather of all comics bloggers NeilAlien walks through the current, mostly-decimated state of the Dr. Strange corner of the Marvel universe. I can't help feeling that despite all these goofy-sounding plotlines that group of characters should have a place in the current comics publishing world. I know he'll be a potentially usable movie character as long as most A-list male stars are over 35 years old. By the way, is that really Dracula? For the first time in my life, I want to kill a vampire.
* Brigid Alverson endorses Paul Gravett's Creators 101 profiles, with one small caveat.
* it's always hard to track running arguments on the hobby business news and analysis site ICv2.com if you're not there from the beginning, but it seems like there's something of a back and forth going on there about the utility of the retailer advocacy organization ComicsPro: Buddy Saunders, Amanda Emmert, David Loftus, Andy Battaglia, Joe Field, David Gray, Barry Branvold. There are likely more. Basically, it seems as if some non-member retailers are mad that the retailers in the organization have secured some sort of bonus or advantage for its members, which seems to me at the very least the sort of mercenary behavior that said critics use to decide not to join.
* Don MacPherson dissects a fan-instigated and professional-approved campaign to get a certain book reprinted. I mention it here because while this kind of thing isn't limited to comics, it may be most effectively done here.
The Never-Ending, Four-Color Festival: News On Cons, Shows, Events
By Tom Spurgeon
* some actual news regarding the North American convention circuit: Comic-Con International is going to give attendee registration another try, this time on February 5. The registration page is here; more details apparently will come. The demand to attend the event is such that two previous attempts crushed the set-ups employed by CCI partners. I hope this one goes well.
* this weekend all eyes turn to France for coverage of the Angouleme Festival, which starts today in the small French city of the same name. Angouleme is that industry's big-tent show and has become a place where a small but happy-to-be-there group of North American cartoonists attend year after year. Bart Beaty's preview should be at the top of this page throughout today. I will post anything Bart sends me throughout the weekend, and the results of both the prize winners and the next Festival president when they're made available although maybe not right away given that it's a weekend.
* this is Baru's year at Angouleme -- meaning he's the previous show's Grand Prix winner and this year's festival president as a result. That dude loves himself some early rock and roll, so expect a lot of that at the show. The Grand Prix/Festival Presidency is the best and coolest honor in all of comics, I think. Imagine winning the biggest award at a country's biggest festival and all the press and career-defining fist-pumping that might entail, and then you get to participate in planning the next year's festival as a reward, another solid two-month period where your books and your tastes are on display. Even if that sounded awful, you could make your friends help you. One fun thing about this year's show is I don't have any idea which direction they'll go with the big prize winner, whereas in about half of the years of the last half-decade or so you could kind of pick out the general category from which the next winner would probably come -- I mean, I couldn't, because I'm a dolt, but close observers of that scene could. Let's put it like this: this year, there's very few people they could name that would surprise me after I puzzled it through for a few seconds. If I had to guess, I'd think they'd move back into the 1990s generation -- someone a little younger than Baru. I don't think they've ever named modern manga creator, either, that seem inevitable at some point.
* I'm trying to remember all the American artists and comics people that are going to be at the Festival, and I'm sort of drawing a blank. Tom Devlin and Peggy Burns are attending, and Devlin told me they want to really nail down what that experience is like for North Americans, so expect writing and photos from that pair. Bob Sikoryak and Paul Karasik are going to be there. Dash Shaw. Rich Tommaso. I'm likely forgetting a half-billion people. I think Angouleme will become an even bigger stop in future years as more and more North American creators in their 40s and 50s attend European shows as a way of getting in workations of varying size and ambition.
* finally, a friend of mine wrote in to express some frustration that while TCAF seems to be providing information about their May show on an almost daily basis, other alt-shows don't do this, even ones that take place up to a month earlier. Just sayin'.
Go, Read: Snapshot Of Team Stan Lee Going Into 2011
These kinds of PR statements hit the wires every so often, but with the attention being named to reformulated Wizard they've achieved a sort of greater, assumed significance. For what it's worth, Stan Lee's team looks like it remains the solid two-fer of Arthur Lieberman and Gil Champion, who barring some sort of series of later revelations seem to me to have done a fine job of guiding the career of the world's busiest octogenarian since the unfortunate Internet Era One days, with a switch from one person to another when it comes to who's reporting and I suppose generally supervising the financial matters. This kind of set-up always brings with it some criticism in certain circles -- who are these people and why do they have titles and what do they mean? -- but my general sense is that it's worked pretty well for Lee, who 15 years ago looked like he was headed towards a quieter and much less public final act.
Prageeth Eknaligoda UN Petition Receives Support Of IFJ
I can never tell if such moves hold any more power than what is necessary to create a wire story, but the International Federation Of Journalists (IFJ) has apparently backed the petition submitted to a UN representative by the wife of missing journalist/cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda calling for that body, its regional representative and its Secretary-General to push the Sri Lankan government into a more significant investigation of the highly publicized disappearance. This was a continuation of earlier, more specific efforts to push Sri Lankan authorities, at the 200-day mark and the 11-month mark. Hopefully, some of the publicity involved, or perhaps even one of the agencies or offices taking interest in the case will see the Eknaligoda family get their wish. Prageeth Eknaligoda failed to return home from work a couple of days before contested election won by politicians he had been criticizing in written columns for a Sri Lankan news service.
* Daryl Cagle has a lengthy post up on a deeply fascinating -- at least to me -- topic: what happens when a flamboyant, odd or otherwise out-sized politician comes to whatever initial power they have in proximity to a working editorial cartoonist at the top of their game? Cagle presents a sampling of the torrent of cartoons that Steve Sack has made about Michele Bachmann.
Craig Maynard, an employee of Fantagraphics Books during that company's initial years in Seattle and a cartoonist that split time between the publisher's main and Eros Comix lines, died in September, 2010. The cause of death has not been reported.
Maynard was born in 1958, and came into Fantagraphics' orbit in the late 1980s upon that company's move from Los Angeles to the Pacific Northwest. His contributions on the production end -- Fantagraphics ran an active art department with a number of artists assigned to doing jobs by hand for the bulk of that decade, employing from part- to full-time a number of that region's talented local art directors and cartoonists -- were spread throughout the company. For instance, he transcribed several key Comics Journal interviews of the period and worked in production on early issues of Usagi Yojimbo. Fantagraphics' Eros Comix effort would not have been possible without the production efforts of people like Maynard -- the line was designed to generate income in part by passing through the publishers and a much greater rate of speed than their traditional alt-comics efforts. Maynard even hand-lettered many of the translated Eros comics years before this became possible for the company to do on computer.
"He was a great, voluminous, out-sized presence -- not physically, where he reminded me of the tightly-built actor William Defoe, but a whirling dervish, energetic and raucous in his enthusiasms," wrote his former employer Gary Groth to CR. "This was in contrast to his comics, which I published in two anthologies I edited in the late '80s and early '90s -- Prime Cuts and Graphic Story Monthly -- where he wrote and drew bittersweet memories of childhood, clearly autobiographical, where he portrayed his troubled relationship with his father. Craig had his demons -- and, perforce, we became close, kindred spirits -- but he never exploited those demons, his comics being searingly but gently honest without being in the least sensationalistic."
The stories he created for the Fantagraphics anthologies were run under the series title "Minor Memories And The Art Of Adolescence. The story that ran in the first issue of Graphic Story Monthly was created by Maynard in 1988 and remains one of the stronger short stories of that time period generally and the autobiographical comics specifically. In that story, reprinted by its publisher here, a young version of the artist attempted to negotiate an unhappy household first by grasping onto the moral code of the comic books he was reading to escape and then trying to actually turn himself invisible. Maynard's contributions like that one to a growing body of comics literature based on that period's white-hot fascination within cartooning circles in autobiography and memoir were more lyrically expressed and more closely resembled prose fiction than a lot of his peer's comics, which depended on an essay-like presentation, or a narrator that broke the fourth wall and addressed the audience direction. Noting that they were neither as light nor as comfortable as they might first appear, critic Jeremy Pinkham summarized their plainspoken, cumulative effect in the "Autobiographical Cartoonist Survey" in The Comics Journal #162. "They are well-written and sad."
Maynard contributed two memorable and very different comics to the Eros line as an all-in-one cartoonist and creator. His Up From Bondage was autobiographically informed and creatively inventive; it also danced across genre boundaries with a suppleness reminiscent of similar, same-period comics from Ho Che Anderson and Gilbert Hernandez. It was singled out for praise in critic Richard Gehr's survey of the dirty comics scene in 1992, "The Smut Glut."
"Craig Maynard's fact-based Up From Bondage, however, is a powerful example of politically conscious homoerotica. Radically ambivalent, Maynard depicts a hardcore S&M scene that turns fatal when a passive safe-house organizer unknowingly submits to a CIA dominant. The moral polarities, violent sex, and art are as clear as black and white (the cover depicts a pissed-off Uncle Sam rolling up his sleeve to fist the hero), while the pleasure one might conceivably derive from the leftist's torments threatens to redefine the politics of pornography."
Gary Groth related to CR a story on how that book came together.
"When Craig was drawing his Eros comic, Up From Bondage, he needed a male model so that he could accurately draw the bondage poses. He needed a model and I was cheap, available, and willing, and one of my fondest memories of time spent with Craig was the evening in my living room where he photographed me in a couple dozen carefully staged poses, most of which were used in the comic (I will always be grateful that he made me look better than I was). Sexually, we were polar opposites -- he, the proud homosexual, me, the proud heterosexual -- and we couldn't have had more fun.
Maynard's three-issue comic book series Leatherboy (1994) was a different creature altogether, although certainly elements of political commentary and satire remained. This writer's memory is that it was lighter and funnier than most of the comics the Eros line published, more gracefully plotted and filled with sympathetic characters that wouldn't have been out of place in straight-ahead alt-comics. Tightly crafted to a degree not always a priority within that line, Leatherboy was certainly a favorite Eros effort of the artists in the Fantagraphics art department where Maynard had once worked. "I really enjoyed Craig's range of creativity, from childhood stories to very edgy gay comics," cartoonist and co-worker Roberta Gregory told CR. She called Maynard "the sort of person whose work you look forward to, to see which direction it will take in the future, which, sadly, never came." Critic Dirk Deppey told CR that "finding Maynard's almost embarrassingly intimate work in an early-'90s Fantagraphics anthology comic was both a challenge and a joy -- a challenge because he was capable of discussing things that I was barely able to look at in my own life, and a joy because he did it so well."
One of his editors at Eros, Carol Gnojewski, told CR she "respected his pioneering spirit as a gay artist writing about gay themes, and especially gay erotic themes, which aren't well represented in any medium and ought to be. When I was editing Eros there weren't that many gay comics in the line. The ones that did have gay scenarios were either written for the benefit of a heterosexual audience or were inaccessible to straight readers." She noted that Maynard's comics had more going on than merely depicting a string of sex scenes. "There was something more enduring than mere camp to his work. He was clearly having fun with Leatherboy, for instance, but I thought his work had a broader appeal."
Most of those contacted by CR remember the person at least as much if not more than the cartoonist. Former Fantagraphics editor Robert Boyd remembers Maynard as a co-worker who was a source of much humor in a then-active Seattle cartoonists social scene. "He kind of had a rough-hewn, working-class appearance, but he liked to dress up on occasion," Boyd told CR. I remember at a Halloween party, he came as Jesse Helms. His costume was basically a loud suit and tie and a deflated pale balloon hanging out of his fly representing Helm's flacid, dessicated penis -- and Helms' attitude towards sexuality of any kind. He bowed his body forward to give himself more of a chubby Helms-like appearance and to be able to swing his balloon... We liked to throw a lot of parties back then, and Craig was always the life of the party."
Maynard's most productive period as a cartoonist was short-lived, and he left Fantagraphics' employ entirely by the middle 1990s. According to Kim Thompson's tribute at the Fantagraphics web site, various maladies suffered by the cartoonist over the years eventually left Maynard physically unable to make art. "I am so sorry to hear his health declined so severely," said Gregory. "In the Fantagraphics days, he was very active and an avid bicyclist, sometimes riding out to Kenmore for Fantagraphics events, after loudly criticizing my poison-spewing death-mobile truck.... but would gratefully accept a ride back if the weather deteriorated. Just a real, real guy."
Thompson wrote that Maynard's passing wasn't exactly a shock to his friends and former co-workers, although it seems many had to varying degrees fallen out of touch: he noted that the death had been revealed to him only when he followed up on a returned Christmas card and heard the news from the late cartoonist's parents. Thompson expressed sorrow of his own but also on behalf of the creators and other young people that were Maynard's co-workers and scene starters twenty years earlier. "Craig deserved far, far better from life than he got, and those of us who knew and loved him were and are humbled by his fortitude and perseverance in the face of adversity."
"Craig was a minor cartoonist," noted Gary Groth in a letter to CR, "his 'career' (he wouldn't have thought of it as a career) cut short by recurring health problems and life circumstances -- but he was part of the post-underground generation who saw cartooning as a way of expressing the truth about his life and all his comics uncompromisingly reflected this commitment."
* hey, no one told me that there was new Matt Howarth coming out. That's terrific news. I have a semi-interesting trivia story about Matt Howarth's comics and the best comics of the 20th Century list that TCJ did; if you ever see me at a convention, please ask after it.
* the big announcement from a publishing-news standpoint late last week was First Second with their 5th anniversary season, Spring 2011. The books they announced were: Anya's Ghost, Vera Brosgol; Hera: The Goddess And Her Glory, George O'Connor; Level Up, Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham; Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity, Dave Roman; Defiance, Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis; Feynman, Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick; Lewis & Clark, Nick Bertozzi; Zita The Spacegirl, Ben Hatke. That seems like a solid season, kind of an ideal for First Second as its developed. It's dominated by projects for younger readers (the Feynman book may be the sole exception, but even that depends on approach), but nearly every project bears the idiosyncratic stamp of a potentially intriguing creator involved as opposed to looking like something that was fashioned by the high-concept-o-tron. I look forward to many of them.
* so Bongo's going to do a SpongeBob Squarepants comic, to be edited by former Nickelodeon comics ringmaster Chris Duffy. That would seem like good news, and with Bongo's sales to markets like the French comics marketplace a potentially surreptitious sales success if all things work out. Duffy knows how to use great cartoonists on material like that.
* I know almost nothing about a small-press project called Crater On The Moon but any comic book that features fumetti with cartoonist Pat Moriarity as "Phaeton, Prince Of The Moon" is one for which I'm keeping a definite eye out.
* the cartoonist Paul Hornschemeier has released cover images from his forthcoming Villard collection Life With Mr. Dangerous and his forthcoming Fantagraphics series Forlorn Funnies, and is taking orders on special editions of the former.
* I kept meaning to write something about this Johanna Draper Carlson post and the article to which it links, concerning Archaia's success with Return Of The Dapper Men and how this might force them to reevaluate their aggressive serial-comics program. It's hard to provide much in the way of analysis when it comes to people thinking about things, but it's fascinating to hear about someone thinking out loud in one direction or another. If there were a serial-comics lobby, they'd be trying to get air time to speak against some of the suggestions made in this article. I don't quite understand who's buying Secret History in serial form, to use an example.
* finally, here's a post about things that Roger Langridge has planned. It's always good to know what Roger Langridge has going on, doubly so if it involves one of his immaculately-constructed mini-comics.
While this column deals in formal publishing news, forthcoming publications are also tracked in the Crystal Ball section of this site.
Missed It: Murfreesboro Comics Shop Damaged By Fire
There are a few items worth teasing out of this pretty straight-forward local news report of massive damage at a strip-mall comics shop in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Although the article doesn't outright say so -- it kind of hedges around characterizing the fire in any way -- it looks like from reports that they had another business owner come and let them to minimize damage and give them access to the comics store that the fire started in there, and was not just significantly damaging there. The owner is moving shop for a while, which I don't think would be possible in the same way if not for the serial comics business. In other words, a full-on bookstore model of comics shop logically wouldn't need a temporary home as quickly as one with a Wednesday sales day on the horizon would need one, if that makes any sense. The owner was apparently insured, which I hope is more common than I suspect. Finally, the story of how the fire department fought the fire reminds that fires are particularly devastating for comics shops because the smoke and water involved can ruin print publications as completely as fire might. The business was purchased by the current owners about a half-decade ago.
Zunar Joins Cartoon Movement; Remains A Human Rights Concern
The comics- and cartooning-journalism site Cartoon Movement has added the Malaysian cartoonist Zunar to its line-up of featured artists. This is particularly great for those of us selfish enough to want to see more of Zunar's broader perspectives on international affairs as opposed to some of the caricature-based material he's done within his own country. Zunar is perhaps best known for the various hassles he's experienced from the Malaysian government in trying to fulfill what he feels is the cartoonist's role, peaking for now last Fall in an arrest on sedition charges the evening of a book signing and launch. Human Rights Watch cited the government's arrest of the cartoonist and the seizure of his books in their mostly negative report on the status of rights within Malaysia. That story was picked up on and discussed further by regional media.
A Super-Brief Note Or Two On Marvel’s Latest Character Death
There are around 400 news articles that pop up searching "Fantastic Four" through Google News, so on a sort-of slow news day with the too-dry-for-cable State Of The Union Address on the docket I think Marvel's publicity team should be pretty happy with what the story wrung out of the increasingly geek-friendly mainstream press. A lot of the articles were even aware of the dubious permanency that has come to define super-hero deaths and their employment -- that aspect of the plot point is discussed openly here with writer Jonathan Hickman. I think Marvel might also be encouraged by the interest in the story as a story, the fact that the Fantastic Four comics right now are pretty good examples of serial work in that genre. Twelve-year-old me would have liked them a lot, although I think he might have been frustrated by some of the art. David Uzumeri's close reading of the recent series with this plot point as its focus reveals the multiple ways in which Hickman can bring the character back and make it a story about bringing such characters back. (If nothing else, there's a character with the power to shift realities sleeping a few doors down from where the deceased lay his head.) I still believe the takeaway may be that Marvel has helped create a market that limits the reward that used to be due better-than-usual work, and that drastic ways to goose interest and sales in such titles may be the only tools left to them if they want to move more copies.
* Timothy Callahan begins a very long look at the Daredevil title that's been coming out pretty regularly from Marvel Comics since like 1964, one of those on-line series that just a bit too long and too focused to match my interest but I can imagine yielding insight for the primary reason I won't be reading. Someone needs to do a long storyline about Daredevil being consistently foiled by a shadowy underworld figure and then we find out that figure is Mike Murdock. Although that's probably already been done. Twice.
* speaking of comics like Daredevil (but not actually Daredevil), the writer JM DeMatteis shares two long-ago reviews of great Marvel comics efforts.
* the cartoonist David King fills in for fellow cartoonist Dustin Harbin. David King is one of the fine, consistent, underrated cartoonists of our time.
* you could buy 15 of these, split into teams of four, serve beer and have a really good hour of convention programming. Just saying.
* not comics: I frequently compare the musical's place within theater to the superheroes place within comic books, but it wasn't until reading this post by Mark Evanier about a roundtable to pick the greatest American musical that I realized another thing those two forms share for me: they're ultimately unsatisfying. For the record, I guess Guys & Dolls is the sturdiest show. It offers up three meaty leads, five memorable musical numbers, a killer dance scene and a perfectly satisfying supporting role (the wonderfully-named Nicely-Nicely Johnson), but I'm not even sure it's all that great. In fact, none of the musicals I enjoy -- Guys & Dolls, Sweeney Todd, The Fantasticks, Cabaret, Sunday In The Park With George -- really compare with the plays I admire, like Arcadia or True West or The Dumb Waiter. When it comes to plays like Uncle Vanya, those seem to exist on another planet.
* also not comics: this, of course, is my favorite American musical number, and it's not even in a musical.
* Matthias Wivel has been killing it lately, and here provides his take on how we should look at Jimmy Corrigan given all the Chris Ware work that's come since. It has me very tempted to pull Ware's first major book from the shelves this weekend, especially with ACME Novelty Library #20 on the mind.
* finally, if I had a bunch of money, I'd be tempted to spend a significant amount of it on Dan Zettwoch, just so he'd keep making posters.
This Isn’t A Library: Notable Releases To The Comics Direct Market
Here are the books that make an impression on me staring at this week's no-doubt largely accurate list of books shipping from Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. to comic book and hobby shops across North America.
I might not buy all of the works listed here. I might not buy any. You never know. I'd sure look at the following, though.
NOV100684 GLAMOURPUSS #17 $3.00
It's weird that many of the people that 20 years ago starting visiting their local comics shop solely for the reason of purchasing the latest Cerebus are still going to the comics store primarily to purchase the latest Glamourpuss. Every new issue feels like a statement to me, and not just for what's within the covers.
NOV100262 NEW YORK FIVE #1 (MR) $2.99
You can read about this one here. This isn't a comic book series for me, but something makes me wish that a sharply-designed book that don't sell itself on a supernatural, movie-ready hook was a common occurrence on the stands instead of this oddball anomaly.
NOV100150 SHAZAM #1 $2.99
This is a one-shot from DC's continuing attempts to drag the Marvel Family into the mainstream as represented by the shared universe of DC Comics superheroes. I'm sure comics like this have an audience that loves them and that some of the creators do a very nice job, but these always seem wrong to me on a fundamental level, like trying to work Big Bird into episodes of Mad Men just because of an accident that gives them shared ownership.
NOV100442 WALKING DEAD OMNIBUS HC VOL 03 $100.00 NOV100443 WALKING DEAD OMNIBUS HC VOL 03 S/N LTD ED $150.00 NOV100413 WALKING DEAD WEEKLY #4 (MR) $2.99
One thing Robert Kirkman and Image have done well in terms of his most successful comics is releasing them on multiple tracks for different kinds of consumers. I prefer the original comic book over the reprints and the giant hardcovers, but I can understand people engaging the series in each way.
NOV108259 FANTASTIC FOUR #583 3RD PTG EPTING VAR (THREE) $2.99 NOV108260 FANTASTIC FOUR #584 2ND PTG EPTING VAR (THREE) $2.99 NOV108261 FANTASTIC FOUR #585 2ND PTG EPTING VAR $2.99 NOV108262 FANTASTIC FOUR #586 2ND PTG EPTING VAR $2.99 NOV100584 FANTASTIC FOUR #587 THREE $3.99
This chunk of books ending in today's release of a comic book that kills one of the team's members indicates definite interest in comics shops, but perhaps expressed in a way where initial orders did not rise to meet this overall demand. If you can't have initial orders re-orders will do, I suppose.
NOV100401 LAST UNICORN HC $24.99
I never saw this comic. I enjoyed the book as a kid, and some of the art I've seen looks pretty. It seems like the kind of book that might make for a pretty good comic book. It caught my interest here, though, because I imagine that the trade has a chance of finding an audience that might have been resistant to the work in serial comic book form.
OCT101018 STIGMATA HC $19.99 OCT101014 BLECKY YUCKERELLA GN VOL 04 $$$$ YOU A-HOLE $11.99 SEP101024 KING OF FLIES HC VOL 02 $18.99
Lorenzo Mattotti is one of the great artists doing comics, period, and I can't imagine not snatching up everything he does. While this isn't the major work we're all still waiting for, it's obviously beautifully drawn and contains sequences reminiscent of the early 1990s works through which the Italian artist made his name. The other two are Fantagraphics books similarly left off of last week's shipping lists. They're all worth your time. The first volume of King Of Flies is showing up on a lot of folks' "under-appreciated" lists.
OCT100768 KILLER HC VOL 03 MODUS VIVENDI (MR) $24.95
I like the look of these paeans to 1970s hard-man-in-a-harder world movies; all that's missing is Charles Bronson. This one ends rather abruptly, though, and folds right into the next series. If you liked the first two that's not likely to harsh your buzz, but it's worth noting.
NOV101119 ALTER EGO #99 $7.95 NOV101120 BACK ISSUE #46 $7.95
I'm not sure I pulled these out, as I'm a haphazard buyer of these publications. Alter Ego being close to its 100th issue seems worth noting, though.
The full list of this week's releases, including some titles with multiple cover variations and a long, impressive list of toys and other stuff that isn't comics, can be found here. Despite this official list there's no guarantee a comic will show up in the stores as promised, or in all of the stores as opposed to just a few. Also, stores choose what they carry and don't carry so your shop may not carry a specific publication. There are a lot of comics out there.
To find your local comic book store, check this list; and for one I can personally recommend because I've shopped there, albeit a while back, try this.
The above titles are listed with their Diamond order code in the first field, which may assist you in finding comics at your shop or having them order something for you they don't have in-stock. Ordering through a direct market shop can be a frustrating experience, so if you have a direct line to something -- you know another shop has it, you know a bookstore has it -- I'd urge you to consider all of your options.
If I failed to list your comic, that's on me. I apologize.
Whoops: Chad Carpenter Named Cartoon Laureate In ‘08
Thank you to the readers that wrote in on occasion of yesterday's story about James Kochalka being named Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont to remind me that Chad Carpenter was named a cartoon laureate by the Alaskan legislature in 2008. I can understand why this wouldn't come to mind for those putting together the Kochalka honorific -- they are similarly-named and intended honors but function very differently on the ground in the sense that one's a singular honor and the other is more of a program -- but there's certainly no excuse for my not being thorough and remembering this fact. I blame a lifetime of reading comic books. Still, if this somehow leads one day to the widespread madness of comics people moving across the continental U.S. in the hopes of scoring a sweet, state gig over less-talented homegrown creators, I'm even more for it than I am already.
John Trever Retires After 34 Years At Albuquerque Journal
There is a lovely straight-forward quality to this interview by Rob Tornoe with retired Albuquerque Journal cartoonist John Trever. The 68-year-old cites visiting the grandchildren as one of his planned activities, and suggests that editorial cartooning will survive the ongoing newspaper industry chaos but long-time staffed positions such as his own likely will not. When asked what might miss about his work of the last 34 years, Trever endorses the basic job description: "I'll miss the daily opportunity to come up with something provocative to say about a political/economic issue in a clever and/or humorous way." It's almost a sample interview, which is interesting in that despite giving answers of the most conventional kind -- there's no zag to his zig; no shocking idiosyncrasy -- Trever also seems smart and rational and at peace with his vocation's demands and his own, personal relationship to the field. If you ever wanted to read an interview with a cartoonist leaving one of those rare staffed positions at what seems like peace, this one seems to fit the bill. The Syracuse University graduate -- he drew for the Daily Orange -- and former Air Force officer is contracted to continue doing one cartoon a week, and plans on attending Association of American Editorial Cartoonists in order to keep in contact with his fellow cartoonists and the vocation more generally. He was widely syndicated by King Features, ending that relationship in late December.
Marvel Parlays Character Death Into Mainstream News Coverage
You can read all about which character dies in the latest Fantastic Four storyline and the context surrounding the plot point -- from a straight-forward fan's perspective, basically -- here. That comic book is on sale today, part of Marvel's brand-new effort to turn the day-early release of comic book and the potential healing that can bring the marketplace generally into another way of goosing things in the short term. I can tell without looking that there will be complaints from fans that wished to read the comic book later today or even tomorrow without the events being potentially revealed to them through wider media coverage, and I guess there's a five-minute bar conversation to be had in the space over what serves Marvel best and why: the reader reaction or the press being interested.
The good news, I would imagine, is that they're going to explore the ramifications in a storyline penned by writer Jonathan Hickman, whose work so far with the original Marvel superteam has been widely lauded. There's also a kind of grunt publishing reality on display that with today's ossified market there may simply have to be a drastic, splashy plot point to drive sales upward and away from the comics equivalent of the Mendoza line in any meaningful fashion, and that's only if the comic clicks in that slightly peculiar and very specific fashion hoped for it. As I mentioned yesterday -- maybe this morning in Random News? I don't remember -- I thought Marvel did a pretty good job protecting their storyline and working this particular territory, some years after most people stopped believing these licensing sources will be allowed to stay dead.
* I don't get to read as many superhero comics as I would like to, but one thing that says a superhero comic is a pretty good one is that when I see some art on-line I re-read the sequence. Here's one such superhero comic. I'm always a little distrustful of work that seems better in hindsight than it did at the time, but the Morrison/Quitely X-Men comics were pretty good at the time.
* speaking of superheroics, Marvel has yet to give up on the idea of mainstream the world-building parts of its 1970s dip into classic horror narratives into its modern superhero universe. You know, there's probably some storytelling juice to be had from all of that material, there's so much of it there, but it will take a clever writer to draw it out. Maybe they've found that person, or maybe they will two or three writers down the line.
* I think Marvel has done a pretty good job with this Fantastic Four promotion, given all the recent history that fights against it working on any level whatsoever. Still kind of creepy, though.
* finally, the CBLDF is offering up a Paul Pope print to those able to join at one of a pair of their premium levels. Pope's prints are usually very handsome, so if you were thinking about making that kind of donation/membership payment, now's the time.
Kochalka was born and raised in the state, graduated from the state's university, and currently lives in Burlington. He was a celebrated mini-comics maker and became a noted alternative comics talent in the late 1990s. He is best known today for his pioneering webcomic memoir American Elf, now several years into publication and featuring the cartoonist's daily updates on life and family.
According to the press release, Sturm's Center For Cartoon Studies school conducted the selection process, and will hold one of the many celebrations planned across the state on the 10th. Kochalka will hold the position for three years, serving as an ambassador for the art form and for his home state.
One-Time Runaway Success Story Wizard Magazine Folds
I'm going to play catch-up on this one for the next few days. I'll say this for now, though. I and most other news sites received a press release from Wizard this morning about the convention company's switch to a penny-stock funded public company and the launch of a new web site driven magazine. Unlike many of my peers, I was not this morning or last night reading the multiple reports that flooded more mainstream-oriented sites and Twitter about rumored than actual massive lay-offs and the cancellation of freelance assignments at the once-dominant industry print publication. I only had this new press release.
That press release says nothing about the print magazine being canceled.
This almost seems better than any epitaph I could write for the publication that dominated comic book industry discourse in the 1990s and into the 2000s, made rich men out of a lot of people, served as a launching point for dozens of comics-industry careers and was the core acting agent of the American comic book industry's louder, dumber, greedier, more crass and business ethics-challenged side: it couldn't admit it had gone away, or, if you prefer, its self-image was such that that its print departure wasn't as important to its owners as trumpeting the next slightly dodgy-sounding and not at all guaranteed to succeed gig.
By the way: don't trust anyone that sells the move to digital as the big story. It could be, eventually, if it works. If this were 2001, or even 2005, "natural progression to digital" might be the way one would process this move. But in 2011? After a decade of Wizard's disastrous on-line moves already on the books? With little more than a "we're going to do this" press release to show for this new initiative as opposed to having something up and running when you print plug was pulled? With concurrent news out there that they're firing people and canceling freelance gigs -- not moving them to this on-line initiative? Together, that's all about as convincing as some of the funnier back-issue pricing whoppers of years past. The new digital Wizard doesn't deserve any place in headlines, let alone pride of place. No, the story for right now is the departure of the print iteration, the most financially successful about-comics publication in history, a once-overpowering comics industry institution already diminished in such a way it's difficult to even recall the days when it maintained a signature presence in American comic books. There was a time when Wizard was such a dominant force that the only reactions to it seemed to be despair, accommodation, or dark humor. That time is long past, and I will not miss it.
My best wishes to all of those whose employment status was changed by the moves.
This much-traveled and linked-to article on the BBC about comics in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the kind of thing we tend to read at a remove: such profiles are all-too-common in this modern features world. I thought this one picked at some delicate tensions, however: the idea of its relationship to Belgium having an influence as to how comics are viewed there, the notion that a recent group of cartoonists traveling to the country wanted to expose local cartoonists to newer artists, the way that a art can reflect a city's self-image and how a growing industry can change the rules of making comics for the sake of artistic expression. We talk in this country about the industry infrastructure being disabled for various reasons, but the infrastructure for books sales has been literally destroyed in the Congo. Still, comics live on.
Please Consider Going To Paul Karasik’s Angouleme Presentation
Paul Karasik is worried that he'll be performing to an empty room later this week.
"I am teaching at the Masters School in Angouleme and next Friday I will be making a presentation at the Festival on Friday at 4:30 about the process of adaptation in comics with a City of Glass focus... Since it is an event sponsored by the museum, it does not appear in any festival literature and I am afraid that nobody will show up, so please give me any play that you can."
Since Karasik is one of the most thoughtful and articulate cartoonists going, this is bound to be a fun way to spend your time and if you make the time for it I'm betting you'll be rewarded. I have special sympathy for anyone with pre-presentation jitters that involve the specter of looking out over a vast plain of empty seats, so I hope it goes well.
Garry Trudeau is apparently testing out the post-Tucson shooting waters with a series of strips on congresspeople carrying concealed weapons, which seems like a potentially rich subject matter and a compelling to engage some of the issues involved. Certainly Trudeau has a much wider array of choices in how to dig into such subject matter than the average editorial cartoonist, who is compelled to comment in more direct fashion, more immediately, and in a way constrained by various sensitivities and expectations for such commentary. This article from Heath Shuler's district is positively droll, and worth a read if only for the In The Loop-style slam with which Shuler's representative hits the columnist right out of the gate and the straight-faced and unintentionally amusing reaction of a local political science professor on Doonesbury's impact on any election.
Sri Lankan Cartoonist/Columnist Prageeth Eknaligoda Missing 1 Year
In a sorrowful anniversary sure to be remembered differently in the public and private realms in which the man traveled, prose columnist and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda went missing one year ago today on the even of important elections in Sri Lanka. As this article written closer to the time of the disappearance indicates, the disappearance came in classic "never came home from work" fashion and could be seen in the context of other harassment/seizure incidents involving prominent journalists. Eknaligoda was also well known at the time for writing a series of articles and opinion pieces critical of the eventual election winners. There was some hope in the beginning that Eknaligoda would be released after the election, that this was merely taking the writer off of the board in terms of his ability to foment certain opinions -- Eknaligoda had himself been briefly detained a half-year earlier -- but the length of time involved in his disappearance has dampened those hopes. His status was part of a recent series of protests in Colombo. There was also a call for artists not to attend the country's book festival.
The BBC News site has a lovely slideshow up featuring the missing man and his family's plight. Although I believe that most people think it's his more current prose writing that may have led to his disappearance, Eknaligoda was an evocative cartoonist and many of his politically-focused efforts are a part of that series of images.
* not comics: it probably has come to the point that Warners maybe not buying ad time for their Green Lantern movie will be interpreted in some corners as a lack of confidence in that movie. None of this matters if people like the movie and fill seats; none of the positive word-of-mouth would matter in the opposite case.
* so Marvel is letting retailers have an extra day to sell this week's "Death Of A Fantastic Four Member" issue of Fantastic Four; ComicsPro members will apparently have a forthcoming fantasy book to sell from the publisher an extra day early as well. I guess that's to be expected, although there's every chance that early-day sales will be routinely abused and I think that it's better for the kind of thing not to be offered at all than what should be a way to aid standard sales end up routinely exploited as a sales gimmick. As far as the Fantastic Four thing itself, it's still kind of creepy to see that kind of plot point gain sales traction so far above and beyond whether or not the comic is good, and for the comic itself to be bagged, although clearly these are promotional ploys that work. It seems to me they've done a decent job building suspense on this plot point and the market is in such an ossified state it's hard to imagine many other ways for a title to make the kind of jump in sales that has a chance to stick around for a while.
* the failure of Thor: The Mighty Avenger to find a foothold in today's crowded marketplace has apparently snuffedCaptain America: The Fighting Avenger in the planning stages, with a one-shot to squeak out in place of an ongoing series.
* the retailer and industry advocate Brian Hibbs follows up on Patton Oswalt's recent public musings on the widespread availability of geek items.
* finally, I would imagine that after Tucson and the absolute minefield responses to those shootings entailed, this nation's editorial cartoonists are that much more psyched than usual to have a story with little to no real-world consequence, like Keith Olbermann's departure from MSBNC, fall into their laps.
While I still hold there's a relative lack of ingenuity and skillful execution in this particular arena overall, given the incredible talents involved and the proportional dominance of the superhero comic book over the last 50 years, that doesn't mean we lack for compelling fight scenes in the capes and costume genre. Not at all. In fact, I think they come in places both obvious and obscure.
1. Superman Vs. Mongul, "For The Man Who Has Everything," Superman Annual #11, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons, 1985.
This fight scene is maybe best known for the reintroduction of Superman's sometimes goofily-portrayed heat vision power into something terrifying, alien and devastating to encounter, but I would argue the primary virtues it has as a fight are 1) a sense of place -- the weird, pre-Crisis Fortrude of Solitude as drawn by one of the more idiosyncratic designers out there -- and 2) its role as a logical extension of the the issue's main plot, Mongul's sneak attack on Superman via the psychic suggestion of a life outcome not involving his home planet of Krypton blowing up. That seemed like a shitty thing to do, particularly by the walk-through-the-front-door morality of most superhero comics. The fight scene that followed carried with it the white-hot audience expectation that its perpetrator should pay for being such a dick. It also subliminally underlined for readers why they should prefer watching Superman beat someone up as opposed to watching him agonize over a hospital visit or how things are going at work. I liked it, too.
2. New Look Avengers Vs. Attuma, Avengers #26-27, Stan Lee and Don Heck, 1966.
Only one person mentioned this in an e-mail to me, and I wish I could remember who it was because it's an astute choice and not exactly an obvious one. Attuma was one of Marvel's better "screaming brute" super-villains of that period, but despite his relative minor-league status he was in story terms clearly all by himself more powerful than the Avengers' famously weak line-up of Captain America, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. The fight scenes throughout this story not only take advantage of that fact, they allow that the goal of such fighting may be to tire or survive an opponent rather than vanquish them, and mix it up several times in terms of environment and different levels of engagement. It's a mini-symphony of short, discordant fight scenes. Marvel had this great advantage in the 1960s through the 1980s that they could show their heroes legitimately weak without having to negotiate the hurt feelings of fans whose identity was wrapped up in the super-effectiveness of Wolverine or whomever, and I think it's a disadvantage for them that they can't really do that anymore.
3. The Thing Vs. The Silver Surfer, "When Strikes The Silver Surfer," Fantastic Four #55, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott, 1966.
Jack Kirby was of course very good with fight scenes, from the craziness of his Captain America work to his strict attention to power levels and the underlying meaning of such fights that were a significant element of the New Gods saga. A lot of Kirby's 1960s fight scenes in Marvel comics were a blast to read, no doubt. It's hard to go wrong with Captain America vs. Batroc as Kirby drew it, or the Thing Vs. Hulk Vs. The Fantastic Four vs. The Avengers tussle that spread out over a couple of issues, or the Reed Richards/Sue Storm wedding all-star fightapalooza or the recurring Thing vs. Doctor Doom battles where the Thing sold forever the concept of really hating that Dr. Doom guy and being kind of a rage-filled tough guy himself. My favorite, though, is Fantastic Four #55. Writers about professional wrestling frequently lament the days when you can build 20 matches out of a single, inconsequential snub one guy to the next, the days where you didn't have to explain everything in an elaborate, compelling back story. This is the superhero equivalent of that desire for simplicity, as the Thing fights the Silver Surfer (in between fleeing him) for basically hanging out with his girlfriend. It's a fight almost for the sake of a fight, and the miniature dramas within that battle, the retreats and presses forwards, are skillfully executed. It's a beautiful comic, too, as great as Kirby's work every looked panel to panel. A gas. Of the five scenes mentioned here, this is the one that comes closest to being the answer to my original question, an extended fight scene that stands by itself in the way that the best Hong Kong action film fight scenes do. Every panel is desktop background worthy; every narrative beat is perfect and funny and endearing. And then they stop fighting.
4. Boot Angel Vs. Kalamity, "Ti-Girls Adventures Number 34," Love & Rockets: New Stories #2, Jaime Hernandez, 2009.
Like the Avengers issues described above, the fight scenes that are sprinkled throughout Jaime Hernandez's recent "Ti-Girls" story are more of the constantly being-rolled-out variety than there being one show-stopper around which the others cohere (everyone vs. Penny Century comes close, though). That said, I enjoy just a smidgeon more the fight between our rookie heroine Boot Angel and the mountainous Kalamity, even though the whole thing is about seven panels long. The sudden reverse in the fight, some of which is depicted above, proves not only stridently heroic, it's hilarious, it's elegantly executed (as is everything Jaime Hernandez draws) and it reveals character on both ends.
5. Two From Scott McCloud: Red Basher Vs. Captain Maximum, Destroy!!, Scott McCloud, 1986; Zot and Jenny Weaver Vs. Some Political Functionary Whose Name I Can't Even Remember, Zot! #10, 1985.
The first of these comics, Scott McCloud's oversized fight-scene-as-comic Destroy!!, is an obvious choice but I think on retrospect a necessary one because in some ways it mirrors my original query. By sending up these specific cliches of the American superhero comic book, McCloud presaged the bugnuts violence of the Image Comics era; by meticulously mapping out how the fight would progress, working in a great deal of commentary about specific cliches and then drawing the whole magilla with as much meticulous detail and as many borrowed Japanese action-effects as he was able, McCloud showed up other fight scenes by better artists and ostensibly more devoted writers as somewhat dull and ordinary, without the courage of their own convictions. I can't ever think about the loopy issue-long fight between the two Destroy!! characters without thinking of the end of McCloud's first run on the series Zot! a year earlier. That series throughout its lifetime was in many ways a much grander, more elaborate dissection of the superhero genre -- a product of the same critical mind that gave us Destroy!!, for sure. Issue #10's fight scene between protagonists Jenny and Zot! and the nasty, not-very-flamboyant usurper of a planetary government starts out glorious but in its course becomes basically a full-grown adult slapping two teen-aged children around. It's depressing more than it's ever a release, despite multiple nods in that direction. McCloud seems to be saying in that comic book that it's the meaning that the fight confers rather than the fight itself that counts. The encounter is broadcast worldwide; Zot's ultimate response is to turn off the feed.
The top comics-related news stories from January 15 to January 21, 2011:
1. The trial of Mohammed Geele begins. Geele was the 29-year-old Somali man shot and arrested on January 1, 2010 by Danish police after breaking into the home of Danish Cartoons artist Kurt Westergaard and brandishing weapons. The week's trial included Westergaard's testimony, during which in reaction to Geele's claim that he was only trying to scare the septuagenarian cartoonist, called the defendant a liar.
2. Former Idaho middle school teacher Steven Kutzner sentenced for owning cartoon imagery that showed underage people in sexual acts, perhaps to avoid further prosecution over photographs of same.
3. The Comic Code had its last two contributing members, Archie and DC, pull their support from the long-standing program in favor of alternate strategies in terms of communicating the relative kid-safety content of their books to potential readers: a hugely iconic story without a lot of traction in terms of how companies operate in the here and now.
Winner Of The Week
Dick Locher, retiring from strip production after an honorable run on Dick Tracy.
Loser Of The Week
Heavy Ink retailer Travis Corcoran, who had his firearms license suspended by local authorities and surrendered his guns and ammunition in a subsequent action, all for comments made on his blog about the Tucson shootings.
Quote Of The Week
"My name is Annah Billips, and as you can see, I'm currently in my panties. This is because I'm a tease." -- Gingerbread Girl, page three. (not very newsworthy, but it made me laugh)
today's cover is from the great comic book series Four-Color
I'm particularly interested in where this might send the Fund in terms of fighting the laws that made this possible, and whether or not similar laws are already entrenched in other states or possible to one day be so entrenched. Because I have a copy of "Joe Blow." I suppose a secondary consideration is whether or not believe that Kutzner's legal strategy was harmful and if it sets a precedent for future accused people in similar situations.
Brownstein responded earlier today.
Like Handley before him, Kutzner's plead conviction doesn't set a binding legal precedent, but the concern that it sets a cultural precedent that invites more prosecution of its kind is increased.
Kutzner and Handley were both Federal prosecutions arising from the PROTECT Act, which was written in part to criminalize the possession of "obscene" depictions of minors, and has, in practice, morphed into an attempt to prohibit the possession of any sexual depiction that involves minors, even if no actual children are depicted and the image is entirely imaginary. These cases aren't really about laws being entrenched in specific localities, they're more about the enforcement of a really bad Federal law and a presumption of obscenity that isn't tried by a jury.
In terms of where this sends the Fund, well, it keeps us focused on keeping watch on developments in cases of this kind, increasing our education burden, and, hopefully, being the first call for the next case where a comics fan finds him or herself on the receiving end of a search warrant because they ordered some manga that law enforcement finds questionable.
In this specific case, it's hard to say what might have been done differently. The facts indicate that Kutzner may have downloaded actual child pornography, which he then wiped from him computer using special erasing software. While press accounts have focused on the cartoon images he possessed, it appears the actual concerns of law enforcement arose from sexual images involving actual children. Obviously, we don't condone or defend real child pornography, period.
One disturbing aspect of the prosecution, however, was the government's emphasis on punishing Kutzner for his sexual psychology, as reflected in the plea agreement. If Kutzner did in fact violate the law, he should be punished for what he did, not for what he was thinking. That is not the government's business, and it is a dangerous, slippery slope.
This is a trend that isn't going away, in the States or internationally. It's something we're prepared to address if we are called to defend a case involving comics. No one should go to jail for owning comics. Art is art, and needs to be defended as such, even if it does make us uncomfortable.
My thanks to Charles Brownstein for such a quick reply, and this site's continued best wishes in their work.
Your Danish Cartoons Hangover Update: More On The Geele Trial
* a couple of noteworthy details from yesterday's dramatic testimony in the trial of accused terrorist Mohammed Geele. First is that Kurt Westergaard apparently had to be calmed down by the judge when he made his accusations about the man that broke into his home last January 1. The second is the suggest that Geele prepared himself for a martyrdom's death before heading over to the Danish Cartoons cartoonist's house. Also, as much Westergaard's then-visiting granddaughter has come up in press coverage, this is the first I've heard that Geele is the father of four.
* here's the best update I could find on the men being held in a plot over the holidays to shoot up the Jyllands-Posten building where the cartoons were originally assembled for publication. At least one wife is dismayed and distraught, which is perfectly understandable. A lot of detention being extended, too.
* for what it's worth, Jesus and Mowon "Best Comic of Any Medium" in this year's Riffy Awards, run by Michael Cavna at his Comic Riffs blog.
* the "Jihad Jane in Ireland" portion of Colleen LaRose's legal troubles grinds on.
* finally, Jacob Mchangama argues that the actions of the Organization Of The Islamic Conference during the Danish Cartoons Controversy should serve as an instructive model when evaluating the group's responses to various issues that have come up since.
Happy 90th Birthday To The World’s Greatest Yachting Cartoonist
The fortunes of editorial cartoonists, comic book cartoonists, newspaper strip cartoonists, cartoonists working in animation and webcomics cartoonists may rise and fall with the general economy, shifts in the entertainment industry, and the whims of any number of capricious readerships, but part of me thinks the overall field has to be doing okay if there's a man out there who's legitimately described as a "yachting cartoonist." Yachting Monthlysalutes the 90th birthday of just such a man, Yachting Cartoonist Mike Peyton, whose career includes multiple by-lined placements of work into yachting magazines, a series of successful postcards, multiple books and a biography. That's an awesome, charmingly peculiar and very sweet article about Yachting Cartoonist Peyton's birthday party, too. At one point it abandons the normal means of journalistic inquiry and enters right into its subject's mind; at another we get poetry:
"Over the sighing and leafless poplar trees, ragged cloud blew northwards behind the southerly tempest forming a halo around the moon."
We should be grateful for a field of artistic endeavor that constantly reveals itself to be a little bit bigger than we imagine, and the fascinating people that inhabit these largely unexplored creative domains.
The Forgotten Comic Book Hook For Those Breathless Movie Casting News Stories—Creator Paydays
It just occurred to me this morning that there was an actual comics hook to the otherwise not-really-comics-at-all news that actress Anne Hathaway will be playing Catwoman and actor Tom Hardy will be playing Bane in Christopher Nolan's third Batman movie. Judging from what is public knowledge about royalty checks issued to people (like Len Wein) for the first two films' use of the supporting characters (like Lucius Fox), the selection of the Bane character for one of the new film's baddies would seem to mean an eventual payday for his creators -- a not-always-reliable public-sourced encyclopedia tells me that's writers Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench; artist Graham Nolan -- that would not be coming their way if the filmmakers had decided to make the character Hugo Strange (who is a Bill Finger/Bob Kane character) or some new dude named "Dr. Steroid" or something. Actually, I don't 100 percent know this to be true, and I'm slightly worried in that this wasn't an element of the few mainstream comics-focused stories about the casting I checked, but it stands to figure. If I'm right, good for those creators, they deserve as many payouts as is possible for them to receive, and the fact that this was done in the execution of the earlier movies seemed to me an undeniably good thing.
* our favorite mainstream prose books imprint First Second announces its fifth anniversary publishing schedule, for 2011. Congratulations to the publisher, congratulations to Team First Second, congratulations to their creators, and I'll have way more commentary about the books themselves in the next "Bundled" column.
* speaking of books coming out this year, Craig Thompson's long-anticipated Habibi has a publishing date: September 20.
* J. Caleb Mozzocco shares some thoughts about Justice League: Cry For Justice. Cry For Justice is one of those comics that you look back on 20 years later and go "whoa" because it's so odd, grotesque and kind of compulsively entertaining for its weirdness, except its particular brand of strangeness is so potent you realize what you're holding in your hand immediately, not just years later.
* the cartoonist and artist Dean Haspiel writes an open letter to his fellow creators. The takeaway seems to be to give greater consideration to owning your own property giving the tectonic shift in the publishing landscape right now, which I'd consider pretty good advice.
* I'd never thought that anyone would have a hard time reading Legion Of Super-Heroes as a kid because of their being too complicated, as back in the late '70s/early '80s resurgence the oblique narrative strategies made up pretty much the best thing about the title. I frequently had no idea what was going on in some of the early Giffen relaunch comics, but that's what I liked best about it. Not ever reader is me or my friends, thank God.
Former Idaho Schoolteacher Steven Kutzner Receives Sentence
Jacob Sullum at Reasonhas the best initial write-up on news that former Idaho Middle School teacher Steven Kutzner was sentenced on Tuesday to 15 months in federal prison and three years of follow-up supervision based on possessing obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children. Kutzner pleaded guilty in October. Kutzner's case is best known because the images for which he was arrested and charged featured characters from the animated show The Simpsons -- the fact that he also had other images featuring real-life young people that may or may not have been underage was ruled relevant to sentencing. He could have received a maximum sentence of 10 years. The sentenced man took the deal in part to avoid the minimum five-year sentence that might have come with a charge of receiving such images.
This is extremely discouraging news and slightly baffling to me. I bet I know maybe 200 people on my Facebook friends list that own the satirical Robert Crumb story "Joe Blow," a story that seems to me could be determined as actionable pornography under these same laws. Heck, as I write this I'm twenty feet away from a DVD of the first season of the British television show Shameless, which also seems to me to depict people younger than 18 engaged in sexual acts as befits its dramatic purview. This sentencing just seems awful to me, someone put in a jail for a violation in proximity to another violation, the original violation the idea of something rather than the thing itself.
The Never-Ending, Four-Color Festival: News On Cons, Shows, Events
By Tom Spurgeon
* so there's a convention in India next month: profile here, site here. Three reasons that's a big story: 1) it shows again just how generally pervasive the convention model has become, 2) India is a potentially huge and fertile market for comics, with great homegrown talent, a giant, literate audience, and a veneration for cartooning based on the effectiveness and ubiquity of its editorial cartoonists, 3) it give comics people from all over the world a reason to maybe visit New Delhi.
* I believe that I've already mentioned the Conundrum Press contingent having a big presence at the forthcoming TCAF in some random news update, but it's probably more appropriate to place it here. Publishers and presences like that are the difference between just another comics show and more of an industry event.
* submissions for tables at SPX have opened up; hopefully they're not already gone.
* in case you missed it, Sarah Morean has a video up here announcing the second Minneapolis Indie Xpo, which will be held in the city of my mother's childhood on November 5-6. They're doing a kind of half-curated, half-not-curated set-up, which she explained in a letter that went out to potential exhibitors. I want to run the content of that letter here because whether or not to curate their shows is the big issue in small press circles.
The Minneapolis Indie Xpo is currently seeking curators for its 2011 show! We need ten enthusiastic volunteer curators to help us grow and improve in our second year. This opportunity is open to Minnesota residents only.
The purpose of curation at MIX is to a) bring new exhibitors to the show b) generate fresh interest in the show c) encourage a sense of ownership of the show among members of our local comics community.
It's important to me that Minnesota cartoonists have the chance to exhibit with friends and cartoonists they admire at MIX. I'm hopeful that this little experiment will work out and that MIX will continue to be partially curated for many years. Please consider applying!
The curator position is largely self-directed and low-stress. A curator will be responsible for filling three tables at MIX, relying on their own existing contacts within the comics community to bring in outside cartoonists. Curators will have access to password-protected online forms where they will direct their selected cartoonists to sign up for exhibitor space at MIX. The cost for these tables and the general first-come-first-served tables will be equal. Curators will have six months to fill those three tables, after which time they will be released to the director and distributed to wait listed cartoonists.
The benefit of being a curator is having the ability to speak confidently about the show to other cartoonists as an official representative of the festival and to offer favorite cartoonists a spot at the show even after the regular tables are filled and we are ostensibly "sold out."
Curator applications are due on February 25, 2011, by 11:59pm. Curators will be announced before we begin to accept exhibitor applications in March. Please write with any questions.
* TCAF updates are coming fast and furious. Okay, they're coming at a modest speed, actually, but they're certainly coming. I think Chris Ware being a big-time guest is new. That's good news. Ware is a great con guest, as I recall, even if he doesn't do a bunch of them; he's kind of like Art Spiegelman that way. It also looks like Conundrum Press will have a slew of creators on hand, and several debut works.
* finally, check out the list of heavy hitting guests at the BILBOLBUL event in early March (click through the graphic below to go to the site). That's at least five or six of the twenty-five cartoonists we assemble to fight the invading alien cartoonists. I'd love to have money to attend a couple of the arts-focused European shows.
Your Danish Cartoons Hangover Update: Kurt Westergaard Testifies
Danish Cartoons Cartoonist Kurt Westergaard testfied today against the 29-year-old Somali man that entered his house using an axe on January 1, 2010. The entry caused the grandfather to hit a panic room and phone police, who arrived within minute and eventually shot and arrested the defendant, accusing him of a variety of charges that could lead to lifetime imprisonment. Westergaard told the court the defendant was lying by way of his stance that he was forcing himself into Westergaard's home while all weaponed up in order merely to scare him. A verdict is expected in early February, several sources suggesting that a guilty verdict in such cases usually reduces the lifetime term to 16 years.
Dick Locher’s Retirement And The Story That Wasn’t The Story
A million sites out there are carrying news that Dick Locher, the one-time assistant to Chester Gould who returned to Dick Tracy in the early 1980s and began a well-regarded, quarter-century run, has decided to retire from the daily strip grind. Locher's an effective political cartoonist and will continue to do those for Tribune Media Services, but being released from the strip will give him more time for family and outside artistic pursuits. In a time where cartoonists have a hard time getting employment in the first place, there's something that brings a smile to one's face about anyone deciding to retire, a job well-done, a gigantic stack of comics as a legacy that can't be taken away.
Artist Joe Staton and writer Mike Curtis will take over Dick Tracy starting in March. I'm happy for Staton, a longtime comic-book veteran who created page upon page of compelling work at a time it seems to me that the entire industry and collective readership leaned against his signature style. It makes perfect sense to me that Staton admires Gould's signature work as some of the PR indicates he does; Staton has a vibrant line that should be a lot of fun to see on those comics pages that continue to take the feature. Speaking of papers that continue to publish Dick Tracy, the thing that occurred to me this morning as I thought about the story is that it would have been a hell of a thing if Locher's departure had ended the series, coming as it would have a few days after Brenda Starr filed her last story and some months after Little Orphan Annie and Daddy Warbucks were reunited a final time (although come to think of it, I don't think they were). I take it that the numbers are different for the yellow-raincoat wearing detective than they are/were for some of the other legacy strips that have either hung it up or are thinking about it, but seeing as that is where I bet a lot of people went when they heard about Locher saying goodbye, I wouldn't be surprised if the legacy strips as we know them really are essentially on the cusp of a radical shift from almost always a good idea to much more of an arguable one.
Go, Read: Sean Collins On Dirk Deppey’s Legacy At TCJ.com
I imagine this Sean Collins article about Dirk Deppey was a very difficult article to write, as critical articles are generally difficult and become exponentially more so when you know and occasionally work with the people involved. I know that it's hard for me to write about The Comics Journal because of my past there. On the one hand I'm probably over-sympathetic to the work-related travails involved. On the other, I don't all the way trust myself not to become that ex-fraternity chapter president who winds up on the housing board two years after graduation, the guy that starts every sentence with "I know how you guys really do things..." So I'm grateful for someone else stepping up to take a critical look at what is a compelling set of issues. Collins admits his gratitude for the former editor's professional solicitousness and does not in any way wish to deny Deppey his walk-out through the audience receiving high-fives, but still manages to dig into what he felt the seminal comics blogger did in regards to a cultural implement (TCJ, TCJ.com) that's still important to a lot of folks and would seem to have a greater, more significant place than it has right now in the comics world it helped create. I hope Sean doesn't get too much grief for the piece, and that while we're all waiting for more information about the publication's new direction people will engage the ideas in his post in the spirit they're offered.
* DC Comics has delayed its relaunched Batwoman comic until April. The stop-and-start release schedule on that series through its JH Williams period is pretty baffling to me, both in the "I can't quite follow its history" way and the "I'm not sure why they keep doing that" way. It's one of those things that if it doesn't suffer more in the marketplace for these moves, that's probably on the marketplace. I don't mean that as a shot at any creators; creators should take all the time they need to make stuff they want and can afford to. It's just weird to see this kind of scheduling flounce-about in the modern marketplace -- as opposed to the option-light market of 1974, say.
* missed it: you know, I just realized I mentioned a Ruben Bolling comic praised by Roger Ebert but I didn't link to the actual comic. Here is that comic. In this post, Bolling wonders out loud if there's something special about everyone praising this particular strip.
* over at First Second's on-line empire Gina Gagliano writes up a list of magical teenagers in comic books. Weren't the Legion of Superheroes pretty much the first group of characters in this particular comics canon? They're not technically very magical, though. I'm also surprised not to see Leave It To Chance, although I'm of that age of comics person that always thinks in terms of books from the late 1990s.
* not comics: Frank Santoro's art show tonight previewed.
* the Fantagraphics co-publisher Kim Thompson talks about editing the great Lorenzo Mattotti's Stigamata for North American release. That is a beautiful-looking book. Thompson says Mattotti is working on something humongous that we may have to wait to see. I like looking at everything Mattotti does.
* finally, for your bookmarking and reading pleasure, here's Hooded Utilitarian's list of best pieces of comics criticism from 2010. Here's Johanna Draper Carlson talking about participating as a judge. Perhaps best of all is Tim Hodler's spare-no-one piece at Comics Comics on his thoughts regarding his votes and those of others'.
Chris Sparks And Richard Thompson Announce Team Cul De Sac
Go here for the announcement as worded by Richard Thompson on his fine blog. This is a fund-raising effort for Parkinson's research, and involves using Thompson's Cul De Sac characters by any artist that wants a shot at them in just about any way imaginable, all for a book project that will be sold to raise money for the cause. Thompson's announcement that he has Parkinson's Disease in the summer of 2009 stunned the professional community, and he's talked about the diagnosis and subsequent treatment with his usual charm and class ever since.
* it may something not-so-complimentary about this site that such a broad list of manga coming out in 2011 feels more like publishing news than a friendly reminder, but as it's good news it's hard to work too much up in terms of withering contempt. Taniguchi! Maruo! Tezuka!
* I can't remember if I already knew about this or not, but a short Skeleton Key story from Andi Watson sometime this year is news worth repeating. That's a charming series, and individual comics from it wouldn't be out of place if you put them in the same stack as the fruits of the explosion of idiosyncratic genre material that came out last year, series like Orc Stain and King City.
* your and my favorite Latvian cartoonists are back, this time in mini-comics form. It's amazing that we live in a world where it's possible to buy Latvian comics three or four times a year and it doesn't feel like this strange or impossible thing. Just a dozen years ago these were the kind of books that would show up in a John Lent column in The Comics Journal, and you'd half-wonder if they really existed.
* so Pogo this Fall? I think I've noted this before, but it says something to the state of comics reprints right now that there are only a few complaints out there to be found about this much-delayed Fantagrpahics' series.
* I hadn't known about this at all, and wouldn't still if it weren't for catching a random Facebook posting, Apparently Hippy Comix has just solicited a collection from Snatch through Diamond. If you believe the primary value of the underground comix was in smash taboos, or even that an important step taken by underground comix is that the participating artists felt comfortable working blue, this would seem to be a collection for you.
* hard not to look forward to Vertical's translated version later this year of this Tezuka work.
* here's a profile of a cute-looking wrestling strip that is debuting in the classic British kids mag The Dandy.
* finally, as many folks expected when he started team-writing with Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen will take over Uncanny X-Men. He seems well suited to writing books in Marvel's line, and congratulations to him on the gig.
While this column deals in formal publishing news, forthcoming publications are also tracked in the Crystal Ball section of this site. We're, um, still working on that part of the site.
Your Danish Cartoons Hangover Update: Mohammed Geele On Trial
The 29-year-old Somali man shot and arrested by police after breaking into Danish Cartoons Cartoonist Kurt Westergaard's home with an axe and a knife on January 1, 2010 will admit to the the breaking and entering but seek to convince the court that he only wished to share the most notorious of the 2005 caricaturists of Muhammad in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper. That man's sure-to-be highly publicized trial began earlier today in an Aarhus Appeals Court after a district courtroom was deemed too small for the reporters and other onlookers on hand. Mohammed Geele is charged with attempted terrorism, attempted murder, attacking a police officer and illegal arms possession. He faces life in prison
Geele's lawyer Niels Strauss told the court his client cops to the illegal arms possession and a breaking and entering charge (not entered, as far as I know.)
Cartoonist Westergaard will face his would-be attacker in court. He is expected to tell from his own viewpoint what has been widely reported as his being home alone with a five-year-old granddaughter at the time of Geele's forced entry, and the septuagenarian's retreat into a converted panic room to phone police, who arrived minutes after his distress call. Also expected to be part of the trial is an examination of Geele's ties to the al-Shebab Islamist insurgent movement prominent in parts of Somalia.
The cartoons from Westergaard and others published in September 2005 continue to make news, with a plot to murder staff at Jyllands-Posten foiled by authorities in late December 2010. The Geele trial should last a little more than a week and a verdict is expected before Valentine's Day.
Missing Cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda A Focus Of Sri Lankan Protests
Peaceful protests in Colombo yesterday by a journalists' association members and opposition political party members threw the spotlight on Sri Lanka's dubious reputation as a place where journalists are at risk. The events upon which the protests focused included a 2009 assault on a television station, the murder of a prominent newspaper editor, also in 2009, and the disappearance of columnist and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda two days before an important election following a campaign in which he had been a vocal critic of the eventual winners.
The one-year anniversary of Ekneligoda's assumed capture will take place in the next few days. The Ekneligoda case has led to charges that the police department in charge was not putting as much energy into finding the cartoonist as loved ones and concerned citizenry might hope, and an increasing sense of dread as to his final fate, including a comparison of this long-term disappearance to an earlier, more abruptly-concluded seizure and release. The charges against local police have gained some national momentum and attention when federal officials including President Mahinda Rajapaksa have vowed to see justice done in such cases.
“I’ve Never Lived In A Democracy And I’m 51 Years Old.”
Squirreled away in reports on the political turmoil in Tunisia are a few mentions of cartoonist and caricaturist Lofti Ben Sassi, an outspoken critic of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and an employee of state-run newspaper La Presse. In addition to supplying the above quote, which has been pulled out by a couple of articles as one typical of the wave of feelings being experienced by citizens of that mostly genteel and placid-seeming country, Ben Sassi was also part of a journalistic uprising at La Presse where the longtime, state-supporting managing editor was driven out in favor of an editorial committee of which he was a part. Ben Sassi was the one who greeted that editor when he came into work despite warnings about the new situation, one of the few newspaper cartoonists in history to essentially fire his editor.
MA Police Suspend Firearms License Of On-Line Retailer Corcoran
Robot 6 has their usual sterling write-up here about this article from regional Boston media about the police in the community of Arlington (about five, ten minutes northwest of Boston proper) suspending the firearms license of Heavy Ink comics retailer Travis J.I. Corcoran and seizing what they called a "large amount" of weaponry and ammunition from his possession. Both moves were made pending the outcome of an investigation into statements made by Corcoran after the shooting of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others on January 8 in Tucson. The main statement in question was "one down 534 to go" in reference to her membership in the House Of Representatives. As tracked by on-line comics media -- including at Comics Alliance, where apparently the police encountered the story -- Corcoran has thus far qualified rather than backed down from the statement.
Corcoran has not been charged with a crime. He surrendered his weapons and ammunition, apparently at his home, soon after the suspension. He could face revocation of the firearms license, which will remain suspended until the investigation's outcome.
CR interviewed Corcoran back in 2008; he describes his business set-up in some detail there, and although there's an unfortunate marines/rifleman reference in there, there's really nothing revelatory in retrospect as to mindset or attitude. It's a pretty good way to get a grasp on what his business has been trying to do, and the fact that it's survived the current economic weakness should be noted. Corcoran also operates the specialty DVD rental site SmartFlix. As I recall, there was some debate between the two of us over what was on the record and what was meant as background material, although my memory is that this was settled amicably. A blog here is no longer accessible although its Technorati listing may suggest it was recently on-line. A twitter account here hasn't been employed for about a week. In many of these places Corcoran describes himself as an "anarchocapitalist," explained in wikipedia form here.
In the initial burst of controversy, creators Dwayne McDuffie, Craig Rousseau, Warren Ellis, Gail Simone, Paul Cornell, and Nick Spencer all expressed some level of dismay over Cocoran's statements and I believe in some form or another most of them and perhaps others urged their readers to shop elsewhere -- Ellis is the most entertaining of those to read, here. As I mentioned before, I did see at least one artist that posted the same sentiment although it can't be found now, and there are other gun-owner comics people out there for sure. While it seems to me pretty open and shut -- you make an aggressive statement on-line about the attempted murder of congresspeople and their staffs you may be investigated and held to the strictures of such an investigation including license suspension and forfeiture of arms -- this is a story worth noting and following.
* if you can, please consider helping out comics historian Blake Bell with his efforts in compiling quality copies of non-Martin Goodman comics stories from the great Bill Everett. Everett is owed a significant debt by all of modern comics for his key role in creating foundational aspects of the superhero stories that have come to dominate the field, and all of his work is very expressive. I know I want to see a good book from Bell collecting Everett's work, if not two such books.
* not comics: I wouldn't pay too much attention to the substance of this post -- people say stuff about movies all of the time, and even Star Wars had lousy advance word -- but that anyone cares enough to seize on this kind of thing as actual news shows you how important a successful Green Lantern movie is to Warners. It's hard on a certain level to imagine anyone screwing up "space cop with magic ring," but the confluence of events surrounding the success of Iron Man (audiences liking Robert Downey Jr. and rooting for him to succeed; being the first movie after a summer of mostly moribund sequels with a "3" in the title) don't apply here. (I suspect there may also be some conflict between making the film's theme more concretely about fear and communicating said theme through a second-hand, now-familiar version of Iron Man's "charming man-child grows up" undercurrent, but that's only a suspicion.) I thought all of this worth mentioning because while I don't think it ever likely, the current Armageddon scenario of comics publishing, the one that drunk people talk about in hotel bars at conventions, starts with a massive loss of faith in the IP development aspects of a big company's comic book line combined with an intractably shrinking publishing market. A lot of people really want this movie to hit, maybe more people and more wishing than usual.
* I can't tell if this review is by someone named Nathan Wilson or if the book is about someone named Nathan Wilson.
* the esteemed Paul Gravett repeatedly kidney punches a film reviewer for his lack of rudimentary comics knowledge, and the lack of application in acquiring some. Sounds like a good book, though.
* "I guess that my big worry is that we'll see more are more books that make sense on a commercial level, that make sense in a marketing presentation, and I'll find myself squeezed out of comics because I just simply won't find anything I want to read." More here.
* finally, how did the Challengers Of The Unknown afford this ridiculous headquarters? They saved on costumes, sure, but come on. It may say something about our mid-century orientation towards money and public efforts that this kind of thing passed muster and probably wouldn't with a kid now. Also: this stuff is make-believe.
This Isn’t A Library: Notable Releases To The Comics Direct Market
Here are the books that make an impression on me staring at this week's no-doubt largely accurate list of books shipping from Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. to comic book and hobby shops across North America.
I might not buy all of the works listed here. I might not buy any. You never know. I'd sure look at the following, though.
OCT100016 BPRD PLAGUE OF FROGS HC VOL 01 $34.99
Reformatting this particular, recent, rich source of genre comics makes more sense than usual, as there's just a ton of material there. The only strike against it is that I think it works so well as serial comics and as inexpensive trades that I wonder if it can work even half as well in a third format.
OCT100063 MYSPACE DARK HORSE PRESENTS TP VOL 06 $19.99 SEP100254 STARMAN OMNIBUS HC VOL 06 $49.99
Two final collections of comic-book efforts that seem a long time ago now, and one really is: the initial burst of on-line comics from Dark Horse through collapsed and still somehow collapsing social network/entertainment hub MySpace, a bright light of 1990s play-with-formula superhero comics in its last sustained charge right up until the end.
JUL100771 SECRET HISTORY BOOK 14 (MR) $5.95 OCT100767 CYCLOPS #2 (MR) $3.95
Two French album series in serial American comic book form. My love for Secret History's daffy formula of rigorous self-reference, killer art, and loopy historical footnoting should be well-known by now. Cyclops is a science fiction effort from the Killer team about privatized soldiers that film their adventures for public consumption; it clips right along, although it's not as atmospheric as I prefer my science fiction. It seem as if it's performed on sets.
NOV100552 INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #500 $4.99
If, like me, you only occasionally dip into the superhero comics for a sense of what's going on and how that going on is being executed, this is one of the comics that says "buy me." Writer Matt Fraction usually does a nice job when allowed to relax into more pages.
NOV100985 SMURFS GN VOL 04 SMURFETTE $5.99 NOV100986 SMURFS HC VOL 04 SMURFETTE $10.99 NOV101012 ASTERIX TP VOL 01 ASTERIX THE GAUL $9.95
More Smurfs and another go-round with Asterix. The Smurfs material is hitting with some families I know, even if it's published at a digest size that strains the eye muscles of bedtime story-reading daddies.
NOV100860 BOYS #50 (MR) $3.99
Yeah, I would have lost a bet on this one making it to #50. It's not that I doubt the skill of its creators or that there's an audience for this kind of super-nasty satirical mayhem, but it's the kind of approach that usually leads to burnout somewhere between issues #20 and #30.
OCT101182 DOROHEDORO GN VOL 03 (MR) $12.99
The best translated manga series with a book out this week.
AUG100879 DENIS KITCHEN CHIPBOARD SKETCHBOOK HC (MR) $19.95 NOV100830 MICKEY MOUSE #304 $3.99
Two from Boom!, the first from its tentative group of alt-comics titles, the second its reconfiguring of its Disney comics to include more classic material.
NOV100903 MY NEW YORK DIARY GN (NEW PTG) $16.95
If you don't have this, you need this -- a seminal and extremely entertaining alt-comics work.
The full list of this week's releases, including some titles with multiple cover variations and a long, impressive list of toys and other stuff that isn't comics, can be found here. Despite this official list there's no guarantee a comic will show up in the stores as promised, or in all of the stores as opposed to just a few. Also, stores choose what they carry and don't carry so your shop may not carry a specific publication. There are a lot of comics out there.
To find your local comic book store, check this list; and for one I can personally recommend because I've shopped there, albeit a while back, try this.
The above titles are listed with their Diamond order code in the first field, which may assist you in finding comics at your shop or having them order something for you they don't have in-stock. Ordering through a direct market shop can be a frustrating experience, so if you have a direct line to something -- you know another shop has it, you know a bookstore has it -- I'd urge you to consider all of your options.
If I failed to list your comic, that's on me. I apologize.
Ideas In Bullet Form: Comics Manifesto, Publishing Failures Manifest
* here's an honest to goodness comics manifesto, the kind of which I might have actually debated sitting over an omelet at Beth's Cafe at 4 o'clock in the morning in the winter of 1995 until someone told me to stop it. At this point in my life, I'd rather finish this Red Riding series from Netflix or take another shot at Boswell than debate anything, but don't let my old age stop your fun. The gist of it seems to be that the graphic novel's true impact was to obliterate rather than calcify all standard definitions of what a comic can be, and that the true organizing principle of the field should be the unfettered exploration and ambition that comes with the demolition of these tendentious shackles. Or something like that. It's kind of fun to read, anyway, and it's pretty well-illustrated.
* James Russell Ament presents some received wisdom from Seth Godin in the form of a list of mistakes that big publishers make, which isn't comics-focused at all but has all sorts of obvious -- albeit debatable -- lessons for comics makers big, small, and peripheral.
A Trio Of Comics-Related Persons That Passed Over The Holidays
* Mike Lynch notes the passing of Pennsylvania newspaper man William T. Keough at the age of 74. Keough was currently the editor of Gag Recap, a magazine aimed at gag cartoonists, and was the editor of a number of similar publications including Cartoon Opportunities. Gag Recap was a small (less than 15 pages a month), hand-crafted publication of over 50 years standing. Lynch notes that the publication may be for sale.
Keough was a Boston native He most recently made his home in Chalfont, Pennsylvania, directly north of Philadelphia. He worked on various Midwestern publications before moving east: first to Long Island, then to New Jersey, finally to Pennsylvania. He was for a time a prominent columnist in Philadelphia's long-running newspaper, the Philadelphia Bulletin. He started his own company after leaving the newspaper industry, and may have sidled into the cartoonist-related publications after a stint working for the vocational newsletter Andrews News Litigation Reports.
* The hobby business analysis and news site ICv2.com reported the death of comics retailer Carl Tupper on December 29th. Tupper and wife Linda founded Book Swap Incorporated in 1979; the comics part of the store soon became its focus and the establishment was named BSI Comics, where it served comics fans in Metairie, Lousiana, a community attached to New Orleans and only 10 minutes by car away from its downtown. He sold the store after Hurricane Katrin but apparently remained involved with its operation.
* a titan of the European writers-about-comics community, Yves Marie Labé died on December 31 at the relatively young age of 56. The cause of death was cardiac arrest. Ensconced at Le Monde in the arts section and able to turn that powerful spotlight on a range of creators and the continent's most important comics-related news stories for more than two decades, Labé was a co-founder and a past president of the model comics critics and journalists group l'Association des Critiques et journalistes de Bande Dessinée. A tribute including a cartoon from fellow Le Monde institution Plantu and a number of colleagues and those covered appeared in the January 7 edition of the publication. He was honored with a ceremony in Paris organized by ACBD that same day. Both articles I've read on Labé's passing made note of his flamboyant personality and general charisma in addition to his journalistic achievements. He had apparently suffered some health setbacks earlier in 2010 from which he was slowly recovering.
Go, Read: Nick Gillespie On Steve Benson’s Post-Tucson Cartoons
* in a move designed to make it easier for a Thor series to catch some readers when the movie come out, if that's an end result, Marvel announced that what was a bunch of books of relatively equal standing will now have a Mighty Thor pretty-much flagship: Matt Fraction writing, Olivier Coipel drawing. With readership being what it is, I kind of wish this was a strategy across the lines, both to allow for easy recommendations from shop owners and partly to facilitate small-account comics sales in all the places that lack them. Pipe dream, though, and probably not even a good idea.
* Brecht Evens' Night Animalspreviewed. Whoa, pretty.
* not comics: I'm not a gamer, but I enjoyed this chart of role-playing game choices. I like how it suggests incremental differences between the various games. I always thought that hobby did itself a slight disservice by focusing so much on design and very little on play in terms of how its coverage media is aligned.
* there's more interest than usual in the serial comic book Superman #707, as it's the first issue after the poorly-received "Grounded" storyline and the highly-publicized move by the writer J. Michael Straczynski from the title's full writing and scripting duties. Timothy Callahan reviews here. Chris Sims digs into it here. Graeme McMillan chimes in here.
* the writer and cartoonist Matt Seneca writes at length about genre and character.
* it looks like Dave Sim and Steve Bissette have ended their epic conversation, if like me you've been waiting to dive in. Sim and Bissette are legendary talkers -- Sim's even a top 5 faxer -- so I'm greatly looking forward to taking the whole thing in.
* the writer Sean T. Collins presents the first part of his Destructor story with (I believe) Matt Wiegle Prison Break. I can't remember if this is brand new or if this is a representation of the best Destructor story, but either way it has my attention.
* I found this article about British links to that plot fascinating and sort of scary. I never want to read "Mumbai-style" to describe anything cartoons-related ever again. For that matter, that's a depressing turn of phrase to describe anything, and kind of a mean thing to do to Mumbai.
* I missed this related sports story from over the holidays, which indicates how thoroughly this specific construction of terrorist activity has reached into all kinds of international relationship equations.
* this article suggests that the reason Jyllands-Posten remains a target and Politiken, a publication right next door that also published the images, is no longer as potent a target is because of the outcome of a civil suit settled in 2010 with an apology from the publication aimed at those offended. I'm not sure how much I believe that as I think the attacks on Jyllands-Posten are in part about making a wider, public political point as opposed to righting a wrong, but it's at least a new theory.
* Alan Gardner at Daily Cartoonistunearths some digging that's been done into any Wikileaks-related revelations about the original burst of protests back in 2006. Unsurprisingly, it looks as if there's evidence that the events were manipulated by political agents for greater perceived gain.
* finally this short interview with Suzan Khaled proves interesting for the context she provides and the insight she has into various areas according to her own profile: she's a young Danish-Arab journalist. It's easy to make a darkly humorous joke or 3500 about the "this is all a terrible misunderstanding" take on things, but it's one worth exploring.
Missed It: Your Prix 2011 ActuBD/Conseil Général des Jeunes de Charente
This happened while we were in interview mode, and deserve its own post: the nominee slate for the 2011 Prix d'ActuBD/Conseil Général des Jeunes de Charente. This is the award -- now in its third year -- where a jury of student leaders picks the winner for a comic aimed at an audience of 12- to 15-year-olds. This year's nominees are:
* Blacksad Vol. 4, by Guarnido And Canalès (Dargaud)
* Ernest & Rebecca Vol. 3, by Guillaume Bianco And Antonello Dalena (Lombard)
* Freak's Squeele Vol. 3, by Florent Maudoux (Ankama)
* Le Royaume Vol. 2, by Benoit Feroumont (Dupuis)
* Zombillénium Vol. 1, by Arthur De Pins (Dupuis)
The winner will be announced the Saturday of Angouleme, after which the jury members will explain their choice on a radio show. That would be like the greatest day in my 12-year-old life.
I'd love to see some kind of award for kids comics voted on by kids in the US at one of the major awards programs, if only for the spectacle of the kids getting crushed on a message board somewhere for the "insult" of claiming a book like Blacksad for their age group.
* here's how to submit work to the divisional awards given out by the National Cartoonists Society during the Reubens ceremony over Memorial Day weekend. I don't see why you wouldn't want to submit work if you're inclined and qualify. It may not be first graph of your obituary material, but it's in there.
* I'm just now catching up to this report, that says that the Child's Play charity manned by Team Penny Arcade raised over $2 million in 2010. That's great.
* missed it: Sarah Morean would like a word with you about MIX 2011, if you're willing to spare it. The show will be November 5-6 this year. It's the curatorial aspect of the show that she wants to bring to your attention, here, and is likely going to be the most-discussed aspect of the show heading into its second year.
* not comics: no injuries reported on the Kampung Boy musical. I read something in a New Yorker that intrigued about the Spider-Man show, incidentally. I had forgotten this, but Lion King was sort of a disaster during previews, too, and it came together at the very end. That explains some of this producing team's stubbornness.
* Marvel.com runs an interview with recently-promoted Senior Editor Nick Lowe. I always like the aspirational aspects communicated through those kinds of interviews.
* this is sort of a stretch, but Michael Chabon's post here about returning to hip-hop using his return to comics as an example touches on an idea that I find fascinating, the notion that people that have intermittent or even largely vacant relationships with comics are as important to comics' long-term development as an art form as the people that buy every comic book they can and know about dozens more.
* not comics: the kickstarter fundraising effort on behalf of a film about Jeffrey Jones has a lot of catching up to do. I'd love to see the finished result, but I literally have no money budgeted for this kind of thing right now. Many of you might, though, which is why I'm mentioning it here.
* finally, a tribute to retailer Stan Reed. Longtime retailers that serve you well are definitely on that same chart of under-appreciated things in life, with music teachers and coaches.
The cartoonist Guy Delisle notes that Ruppert & Mulot have posted a click-able version of their multi-cartoonist spooled-out narrative La Maison Close (aka The Brothel) for your pleasure. This was an exhibition at Angouleme in 2009 and later a book from Delcourt, and features a bunch of male and female cartoonist in an interactive and frequently humor-generating setting. If it's still not ringing a bell, Matthias Wivel wrote about it at length here.
1. God-man (Tom the Dancing Bug)
2. Hercules (Marvel version)
4. Monkey King (from American Born Chinese)
5. The Eyeball Kid
1. William M. Gaines (in the title role of "What If God Was One of Us?" from MAD #347)
2. Tarim... or is it Terim? ("Cerebus")
3. The Great Pumpkin ("Peanuts")
4. (tie) Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury
5. Mr. Mxyzptlk
1. Gary Larson's God (the one who wins the game show)
2. Foolbert Sturgeon's Jesus
3. Chester Brown's Jesus
4. Chris Ware's God
5. R. Crumb's God
2. Jack Chick's God
4. Chuck Jones via Bugs Bunny
1. Jehovah (R. Crumb's Book of Genesis Ilustrated)
2. Skuld (Ah, My Goddess)
3. Thrunk (Cerebus CHURCH & STATE v.1)
4. Rock God (Creepy #32; collab. among Frank Frazetta, Harlan Ellison, & Neal Adams)
5. Loki (Thor)
topic suggested by Don MacPherson; I couldn't remember if MacPherson had give the sample gods list used on Friday or if I had, so I just excised it and made a new one. Sorry, Don!
Quote Of The Week
"Today I have offended many with my emotional, partisan and inappropriate remarks, broadcast on CNN, regarding the horror of this day. As Congresswoman Giffords battles for her life let us join in prayer for her, for the dead and for the injured. Reflecting on the moment, I know my remarks would have disappointed Congresswoman Giffords, a public servant who is admired for her nonpartisan, gracious and intelligent approach to public discourse." -- David Fitzsimmons
today's cover is from the great comic book series Four-Color
Great get by Heidi MacDonald at The Beat in the form of a casual but directed Q&A with new Marvel Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso. Among the hinted-at positives: the new man in charge at Marvel seems to have a large measure of respect for the challenges ahead; he openly talks in terms of successful projects outside of just the mega-hit series, which I think will be a key for Marvel in helping revitalize their marketplace; he sees his job partly in terms targeting, recruiting and developing new talent while not riding roughshod over them, which sounds to me like a credible way of approaching a portion of his duties. We won't know until Alonso has the job for a while how his particular personality, his management style, and his taste all come to bear on the line. For instance, it seems to me on a cursory look back that the characters during Joe Quesada's reign for which Quesada himself didn't necessarily have a personal feel tended to suffer a bit to perhaps a more significant degree than in other Editor-In-Chief runs; how Alonso's own likes and dislikes will manifest themselves -- or if they will -- remains to be seen.
A few days ago Sean T. Collins analyzed Alonso's editorial moves at Marvel, the impact of having Tom Brevoort still involved seemingly more directly in editing several of their comics endeavors, and how Marvel sees Alonso's accomplishments to predict how Marvel might move forward under his leadership. It's a nuanced piece in a way, in that Collins seems to suggest that Alonso's approach might work for the Marvel line right now by injecting a looser, anything-goes element into the line that might develop into new ways of doing those comics, and how the timing might be right for that now and might not have been right for even a more modest version of this to be facilitated through Alonso in his former position at the company. Fun piece.
My guess is that Alonso's reception comes down to how fans feel about Marvel. If you feel the company lacks momentum and verve right now and that this is because they've stepped away from the strategies behind of big, sometimes shocking, but committed-to events that energized the line, you might be skeptical that Alonso is the right person to restore such strategies to the power they had at their recent prime. If you feel a lack of momentum and/or verve exists at Marvel and that this is because the last round of innovations and character re-imaginings has naturally played itself out and those need to be made possible up and down the line again, Alonso may have you intrigued. If you feel like things are going great, you might not put too much stock in anyone above the writing credit. You may hold any of the above positions and feel that Tom Brevoort's hands-on involvement is a bigger key, period. And if you believe Marvel is simply subject to market forces that are resistant to any kind of editorial wrangling, you probably stopped reading this post a while ago.
Missed It: Ratier Report 2010 Indicates French-Language Market Still Publishing BD Albums Like Mad
Mon Francais aspire testicules, so there's a good chance I get some of my off-the-cuff commentary wrong, but the publication of the "Ratier Report" -- a concise sales analysis with tons of bonuses assembled by the Association des Critiques et Journalistes de Bande Dessinee and its Secretary-General Gilles Ratier -- has come and gone, and it looks like that more albums than ever were published in the French-language market in 2010. The report notes a five and a half percent gain to just over 5100 titles overall in the graphic novel category (which I believe includes art books featuring comics makers) in 2010 with a nearly six percent gain in new titles overall. Books brought in from other countries and translated placed ahead of those gains, percentage-wise; the number of new, original works showed only an incremental increase from 2009. In terms of category, humor saw the biggest gain. In terms of individual best-sellers, the over 200,000 sales club was dominated by familiar names as has been the tradition in recent years: your Thorgal, your Largo Winch, your Lucky Luke, your Blake et Mortimer. The report seems to consider those books' showing a salutary thing without an Asterix-sized property hitting the market this year. They cite the Twilight adaptation and the Naruto series among their translated books of sales import.
You can download the whole thing here. It's a blast through which to pick one's way. The French-language market does bear some similarity to our own, in terms of the concentration of production with a few big companies and the growing importance to some publishers of a swelling network of comics shows for direct sales. There are severe limits to those comparisons, though, and the mere existence of such up-front information should be one indicator that the French-language market functions differently. There is a dark side to their mostly good news. While their numbers might indicate continued success when looking at comics as a bottom-line business, and it's worth noting that comics' place in the overall French-language, book-buying landscape is a huge difference between that market and the U.S. market, the trend towards more and more comics in the marketplace may exacerbate what many feel is an increasingly hostile atmosphere for work even a little bit outside of the mainstream to find any purchase at all on shelves before the next group of titles slams into the existing ones and makes yesterday's books yesterday's news. It should make one wonder about the continued viability of smaller publishers over there, vital contributors to comics as an art form worldwide, It may also call into question the nature of those books' readership, whether or not there's a significant generational component regarding the sales leaders, an audience that may or may not stick around.
Missed It: Michael Cavna On Nate Beeler, Jeff Danziger Tucson Cartoons
After looking around the wider Internet for editorial cartoons that stood out from the pack in the recent, horrific shooting in Tucson, a couple of which I've already pulled out for mention, I settled on two that were the subject of multiple blog posts and articles: a cartoon showing a pile of bodies being best by vultures labeled as partisans by Nate Beeler; a more immediate to the tragedy cartoon of a man shooting from the middle of a teapot by Jeff Danziger. The Beeler cartoon touches on the issues of partisan reaction to the shooting and pushes the boundaries of what many people are willing to accept in terms of a visual depiction in a newspaper or on-line: even the nine-year-old shot and killed is clearly depicted in Beeler's art. The Danziger cartoon touches on the issue of partisan reaction by, well, opening itself up to accusations of being a strong, partisan reaction; it also touches on the issue of timeliness with editorial cartoons, in that it might be suggested that mounting evidence about the shooter pushes a tea party connection into the realm of political construction as opposed to evidential. It certainly is a hard image to find at this point.
Cartoon Of Namibian President Sets Off Fierce Journalistic/Government Debate
I'm not certain that I'm able to track all of the facts, but it seems that a cartoon in Namibia's The Namibian by Dudley Viall depicting that country's president Hifikepunye Pohamba as "a cold, uncaring and insensitive person" led to that country's prime minister Nahas Angula to object, all in the context of a government ban on advertising in the publication. This has put what has become an international political issue (Turkey, South Africa) on the table: the treatment of politicians by cartoonists and what influence should be employed by said politicians in response. I thought the issues as staked out in The Namibian by their political writer Gwen Lister were pretty much on target, although there's a ton of stuff I could be missing.
* it's great to see Universal trying to entice newspapers into picking up Cul-De-Sac. You usually don't see that kind of effort on a strip which has its unremarkable but comfortable client base, but perhaps they suspect there's a higher ceiling for Thompson's strip than it currently has. I certainly hope some papers try it out. There's a point at which with serial entertainment -- TV and comic strips, primarily -- where you just have to back something and wait for the audience to catch up to it; you can't rely on one-week tryouts and surveys or overnight ratings.
* not comics: I don't have a good grasp of the prose book industry or bookstore retail, but when I read all of these articles about Borders' ongoing shudder and collapse I'm trying to envision what kind of books buyer might depend on that particular retailer. I've never shopped in one in a big city -- I bought an iced tea in one off of North Clark in Chicago because I misread a movie time at a Landmark cinema, and I'm pretty sure I also bought a Sun-Times and read it -- but I used to shop in one all the damn time when I lived in Millersville, Pennsylvania. I must have spent hundreds of dollars there, on discounted books and new ones, on magazines and coffee (although not really so much coffee). I bought Charles Portis there for the first time, and Lorenzo Mattotti, and Robert Penn Warren. So I wonder where people in towns like that will go for books, even though I suspect they've largely already moved on -- hence the problem. I know it's hard for people that live in some of our nation's great cities to think about these things mattering, how a Romano's Macaroni Grill is a serious upgrade on an Olive Garden and how this can matter when you don't live in zip code with a surfeit of kick-ass storefront, family-owned Italian restaurants, but they do for a huge cross-section of the country, and I worry that comics reading and maybe even reading generally is taking some sort of a hit.
* not comics: I kept running across movie news on comics site yesterday afternoon. Okay, I'll play along. Here's that guy that romanced Rebecca Hall in the first of that trio of UK serial killer movies, dressed up as Spider-Man; here's that guy who was the only actor to evince a pulse in those rotten Fantastic Four movies as Captain America; here's a story that indicates Shane Black might do a live-action Death Note. I like that Death Note comic, and enjoyed the live-action movie I saw; it's really cinematic and fun.
* finally, this is very, very funny. When I worked at the Comics Journal, we used to have people that weren't us call stores and ask for titles, but it was usually when someone claimed to be an indie-friendly store when we suspected they weren't -- less in the service of a story than for our own satisfaction the next time we yelled at them. At any rate, the "secret shopper" aspect of the new ship-early program seems to me the least compelling aspect of that program. It might have been a big deal 20 years ago when there was intense competition in various metropolitan regions in a still-growing market, but now it seems to me that if retailers use this program to cheat, it's real end-of-the-world stuff going on. If the retailers in this market want to press a minor advantage over a program of obvious long-term benefit, we're all screwed.
The Never-Ending, Four-Color Festival: Cons, Shows & Major Events
By Tom Spurgeon
* TCAF sends out its first big press release, which I almost missed not being on the list. The PR talks about the basic set-up of the show and includes TCAF's first round of guest announcements. Chester Brown is one of the best cartoonists alive, so that's great news he's a headlining guest. I expect several more such announcements. I think they're going to have a big, big year.
* I also almost missed this notice because I register as press now, but the Comic-Con registration for pros that have previously attended is open now. You should have received an e-mail with a code on it if this is you. One thing worth noting is that the number of guests they can accommodate for professionals is going to depend on overall attendance, so you want to take care of this immediately, I'd think.
* the Arizona Comic Con was last weekend. Excuse me: the Amazing Arizona Comic Con -- like Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the adjective is part of the actual name. I didn't see a whole bunch of comics site coverage of the event, but I did catch the occasional blog post like this one from creator Mat Nastos.
* I don't know if Fan Expo Canada is a comics show, really, or why on earth anyone in 2011 is sending out text-driven press releases without a link to that same material on their own site, but they want you to know they're adding a fourth day.
* I don't have a whole lot of con-related news to post this week, but I have been thinking about what shows I'll be able to attend this year... and it's sort of amazing how many at least pretty-good shows there are out there to attend. With an unlimited budget I could probably go to 21 such shows a year, and it's not like I'm a convention nut or anything. I'm considering a WonderCon/MoCCA Festival/Stumptown three-shows-in-two-weeks jaunt, followed by TCAF, followed by San Diego, followed by SPX followed by BCGF (yet to be announced). But I may also skip the April trip and SPX and BCGF entirely. Even my expanded list leaves off the possibility of doing any of the great international shows, like the imminent Angouleme and the increasingly awesome-sounding Fumetto. Or the reinvigorated, inside-the-city-walls Lucca. My schedule also has me skipping Chicago, which would be a shame as a) I love Chicago in that way that those of us lucky to live there at some point miss it, and b) I think the sophomore edition of C2E2 is the big story of the year on the "business of cons" beat. I miss Seattle, too, and regret I won't be able to go to Emerald City Comicon this year because of a prior commitment. And who doesn't love Heroes Con? I've never even been to APE. While I love reporting on conventions, and find them generally useful places to a certain kind of business, I'm enough in the middle of nowhere that there are financial concerns, so some tough decisions are involved. I imagine a lot of folks out there feel the same way. It's nice to have that problem, though, too many shows. There was a time from which I still wear clothes that there were almost no shows at all.
NYT: Archie Goes Same-Day Digital At A Price Less Than Print Edition On A Number Of Key Comic Books
That snapping-into-place noise you heard off in the distance yesterday was Archie's decision to go same-day digital with six of their comics offerings starting in April, which means that at the same time you might be purchasing paper copies of Archie, Archie & Friends, Betty, Veronica, Betty and Veronica and Jughead, you could also be downloading a digital copy of said books for a reduced price on your tablet-sized digital reading device. Or more likely you'd be doing one or the other. It looks like -- I haven't checked -- they took that bit of news to the New York Times first, because you would, too. Robot 6 has an initial burst of analysis here, while CBR talks to Jon Goldwater here.
I don't have much to say about this as it pertains to the actual move -- Goldwater cites a boost in international sales, which makes sense -- as I think the long-term is very different than the short-term here. It does, however, constitute a bold move in an overall marketplace where comic book companies are moving towards this very same place -- some say inevitably -- in much more torpid, even scatter-shot way. It could be logically argued that Archie is less dependent on super-savvy mega-consumers than mainstream comics are, and are thus less likely to lose a fan of the material in one arena to another. A key for me is how emboldened and energized Goldwater seems by the move. I would imagine that companies making this move are going to experience a form of relief that they don't have to mull over these impossible-to-answer questions and can just get to the business of maximizing their profits on all platforms.
Zunar: “The Hottest Place[s] In Hell Are Reserved For Those Who Remain Neutral At Critical Times”
A few items have popped up in the news feed featuring the Malaysian political cartoonist Zunar, who's struggling to keep his career together and express himself freely in the face of intimidation and legal pressure from his government.
* it looks like earlier today Zunar was featured at some sort of issues talk (finding the exact meaning for the words used to describe the meeting takes you into malware land pretty quickly) hosted by Malaysian Digest. A rough transcript via a twitter feed is up here, and although only 40 percent of it is in English Zunar's forthright explanation for the current course of his career and his attitude towards the harassment he's faced comes through loud and clear.
* here's an article in Malaysian Digest from earlier this month where Zunar was asked to comment on reports that local cartoonists were making works critical of government officials -- an astonishing thing if you step back and think about it. Zunar's response is measured, forthright and well-reasoned.
As will be the case for the immediate future, every time we write about Zunar we urge readers to maybe check out his store and consider purchasing something from it. Zunar's local business partners have been dissuaded from working with him, and it stands to reason he could use international purchases whenever they come his way.
* the media analysis site Newsbuster.org notes that Darrin Bell of Candorville made a funny, appropriate summary statement regarding the cultural nadir reached that is a morning show anchor declaring that Lindsay Lohan had a better 2010 than any year enjoyed by Gandhi. Just reading about it makes me want to stay in bed for the entire year, too.
* the commenting crew over at Daily Cartoonistdiscusses the Heavy Ink/Tucson shooting thing, a short chat that features a potent Ted Rall/Scott Kurtz team-up. I never quite understood the hypocrite claim or why anyone would get upset about that, in this case applied to people that want to boycott the on-line retailer but don't as fully wish to boycott other bad corporate agents or the U.S. involvement in political actions that lead to death and torture. It's a bad standard, and it's hard for me to think of anyone who isn't a hypocrite in that way, except maybe guys that pick up guns and shoot people at grocery stores as the logical, end result of their belief systems.
* Floating World Comics has posted its top comics for the year 2010. They suggest it might be an antidote for other lists of its type. I'm not sure about that, but it did make me wish that Floating World was one of my local comics shops.
* not comics: this is a reasonably strong off-the-cuff (in style, I mean) analysis of the potential fade of the superhero film after 2011. I'm not sure I totally agree with the premise: it seems to me that at two or three per year, and only one of maybe six or seven needing to be successful for someone to stay interested, you could have superhero films for a half-dozen years yet. I think you could also argue that this wave of films doesn't totally die until a Batman film under-performs. But certainly the performance of those kinds of films over the next 24 months are going to be a lot of fun to watch, whether or not the movies are may indicated if we're still watching three or four attempts a year in 2016. The emerging generation could be game-changers in terms of entertainment media regardless of genre, too. We'll all see.
* the decline in reputation for Watchmen is a really fascinating thing to me, and I'll continue to track it. Not sure I have much to say about it, though. I didn't understand it when people called it the greatest work, and I don't understand when people mock it or call it not a great work.
* I agree with Jeet Heer that this isn't an ideal format for Sugar & Spike but I am so completely divorced from the type of consumer that would buy $50 hardcover comics reprints of anything, period, that I don't feel confident going as far as to suggest -- as I think this criticism does -- that that there's no audience for this material presented that way, or that a better audience might be had by skipping this endeavor entirely. I believe the reason that the material isn't outsourced, which would be wonderful, is that DC has invested in doing a lot of stuff in-house that other companies might send to specialists. I think it would take an in-house revolution for a different general strategy to emerge, and even a massive restructuring of the company didn't really change things that much within the publishing arena, at least as far as I can tell. In the meantime, I just hope this means they're going to try and do things with this material now, although I realize there's no guarantee that it won't be one and done. I still think given the inability to snap my fingers and change that company's culture that I prefer this stuff out on someone's desk than back in a closet somewhere.
According to an e-mail received by CR that looks as if it was first sent out today, written to look as if it came from Diamond Vice President Of Purchasing Bill Schanes (although it may have been sent from a different person's account) and cc'ed to a half-dozen Diamond Executives, Diamond Book Distributors confirmed they put their Borders account on hold last week when the reeling retail book giant suspended payment to a number of suppliers including Diamond. The body of that e-mail read:
This email is to confirm reports in the news that Borders is suspending payments to its suppliers, including Diamond. As a result, we have made the difficult decision to stop shipping them and put their account on hold, as of last week, until such time as they are able to resume payment.
DBD is actively seeking a resolution to this issue and will work with Borders to get shipments moving again provided that we can craft a solution that proves to be in the best interests of both DBD and our publishers.
If you have any additional questions or concerns, please feel free to drop me an email or give me a call.
DBD represents a number of good-sized comics publishing houses to the book trade, including Image, IDW, Dark Horse and Oni. It's unknown how much business Borders represents in the overall graphic novel landscape or to each publisher, and certainly the slow decline of the bookseller's fortunes has likely changed some of those numbers in dramatic fashion from their peak to the present day. A list of DBD's publishers is here.
Drawn & Quarterly Acquires Kate Beaton Collection Hark! A Vagrant For Hardcover Release In Fall 2011
CR has learned that publisher Drawn & Quarterly will publish for the North American market a collection of cartoonist Kate Beaton's work in hardcover form in the Fall 2011 season. The formal announcement was made today by Chris Oliveros -- the Acquiring Editor, Editor-In-Chief and Publisher at the Montreal-based comics company.
The book will apparently share the name of Beaton's massively popular web site and primary comics outlet, Hark! A Vagrant, which according to D+Q receives 1.2 million monthly hits from 500,000 unique visitors. Beaton's vivid, comedic portrayals frequently draw from history, literary authors past and present as well as their memorable characters. She's published cartoons in the New Yorker, the National Post and Harpers. She's really, really funny.
I believe the cartoonist currently lives and works in New York City.
The comics industry is a much more jaded place than it was a quarter-century ago when readers in almost religious fashion sifted through new work in what seemed like a constant pursuit of new talent. That Beaton has hit in today's crowded marketplace with comics fans both traditional and new, fans hardcore and casual, as significantly and completely as she has, I think speaks to her special, obvious and widely appealing talent. I believe this is a major get for D+Q, and should prove to be a big move among many to come in Beaton's career. I want the book now, and I want copies to give to other people.
Beaton's representative Seth Fishman has sold UK rights to the book to Jonathan Cape, and will further represent the work to international markets. D+Q's bookstore distributors are FSG in the US and Raincoast in Canada.
* profiles of Shawn Kerri and Jaime Hernandez are the headline features in the punk comics issue of Maximum Rocknroll, out this month. That's slightly off the beaten path, I guess, or a lot off the beaten path, depending on where you've situated yourself. Kerri would have made a great flip-cover feature to a Pete Millar front-cover on an issue of The Comics Journal.
* the cartoonist Doug TenNapel has launched a webcomic, Ratfist.
* Craig Thompson informs his blog readers that a publishing date for Habibi will be announced this month and that he has two projects in mind for a follow-up to that massive project.
* I can usually pick up on one or two mainstream comics publishing news stories by ego-searching the term "comics reporter" and seeing what the Digital Spy crew is turning over stick to rock. Phil Jimenez has apparently signed an exclusive with DC, and will be put to work on the Legion Of Super-Heroes characters. That seems to me like a solid move to make, although I still think it would be awesome if they turned over the Legion to fans and outside creators via a copyright free pass or whatever they're called, and then published the best results on a non-exclusive basis. Wouldn't that be fun?
* meanwhile, the character of Skaar -- Hulk's space-alien son, whose motto I believe is "I'm closely related to the strongest one there is!" -- takes over the Savage Land, in a new comic. I thought the Savage Land had been destroyed, actually, but I don't get to that section of the store as much as I'd like. I laughed when the article said Skaar's adventures will include meeting up with prominent Savage Land character including Ka-Zar and Shanna, as I think that's pretty much one big-toothed cat short of all the prominent Savage Land characters.
* in mainstream comics news I didn't get by following a near-random link from a vanity search, the talented Simon Gane will be doing a short arc on the Northlanders comic. That should be fun to look at it.
I can't find this anywhere else and I'd take any report from ActuaBD.com about the French publisher L'Association with a grain of salt considering what I recall as some past hostility between principals at the news clearinghouse site and at the publisher, but I think they're saying here that L'Association's small group of employees briefly took over the office Monday in protest of coming personnel reductions...? It doesn't sound to me like a big deal -- I know there's a tendency to see any news of this kind as a "gotcha!" and I don't intend that at all -- but it's sort of an interesting one if true and the employees making a collective statement like that, expressing a desire to work on a solution and for more transparency in the process, would exist in stark contrast to the kind of personnel reduction you tend to see in the U.S. I'm also sorry to have not paid more attention to the revolutionary, influential publisher's 20th anniversary.
This is the kind of article that almost always gets an immediate update, by the way, so you might check back.
I haven't seen a ton of material about the forthcoming Angouleme Festival outside of the usual awards that are named leading up to the worldwide comics event and a few of my friends declaring with a significant amount of glee and anticipation that they get to go this year. This article at the French-language news clearinghouse ActuaBD.com is tough to read -- not so much for the language but for the breathless style of writing employed -- and I usually get an e-mail from Bart Beaty and a half-dozen others making fun of me every time I try to write about European comics or events in even the broadest ways, but 1) I hadn't seen the official poster yet from Baru and 2) it looks like there will be at least one cool-sounding exhibit derived from the festival president's love for early rock and roll. If I'm reading that correctly -- also, looking at the video -- that exhibit will feature album covers for acts of that period drawn by modern cartoonists, which even if "rock and roll" is a phrase that makes you roll your eyes or your interest in that musical sub-genre starts in '71, '81 or '91, sounds like it could lead to some cool imagery. I also like the poster. As for the graffiti Mt. Rushmore there, I know that's Hergé (second from left) and suspect that's Hugo Pratt (far right); I think the third guy could be René Goscinny and the first guy escapes me. (Update: it's apparently Franquin; thank you, Rich Johnston.)
I know that most of the commentary on available sales numbers are focusing on end-of-year figures for 2010, and I'm going to get there, I swear. At the same time, I don't want to lose sight of the month-in, month-out numbers that include the December 2010 results recently posted on-line. So I hope you'll bear with me.
In that spirit, the comics business news and analysis site ICv2.com has offered up their usual array of lists, estimates and analysis regarding the performance of comic books and graphic novels in the Direct Market of comic and hobby shops, this time for December 2010.
I think Miller has it just right with his monthly analysis summary and how he expresses it: sales were up overall but were really depressed at the top. The top-selling serial comic, Batman: The Dark Knight #1, sold right around 90,000 copies. At the same time, there are still pretty strong sales for comics way down the chart relative to what we've seen in past years, and across the board the market's acceptance of multiple price points makes the charts that depend on dollars made less scary than those that depend on units sold.
So while all the news isn't bad, particularly if you look at five- and ten-year trend, I would suggest the figures may be uniquely troubling going into a winter where there could be successive months of strange, slightly depressed business for stores. It's a well-worn but I think still-true statement to point out that the market is oriented towards making a few hits that drive the rest of the market. That mechanism seems hobbled. In fact, my hunch is that gains in lower-selling titles won't continue if there aren't higher-selling serial comics at the top of the chart to ameliorate what might be comics that outright lose money according to the way these comics are produced.
What else? It seems like Marvel's serial comics are down, with yet another Wolverine book launching with fewer than 60,000 copies in the market place and only being able to snag two of the top ten positions. That may put a lot of pressure on their next line-wide event to not just boost sales across the board to boost them past a certain point where the titles themselves are reinvigorated. It would be nice if the biggest companies were able to muster correctives in terms of structural issues and not just hope various titles catch fire, but the direct market in many ways is defined by that disconnect.
Heck of a DM sales performance by the latest Fables trade, by the way. I'm still not certain why that line is treated in such an odd way by its parent company, but I know I'm not alone in wondering after that. Then again, I'm not sure I understand decisions made within that line, either. As I've said before, Bill Willingham strikes me as the kind of writer that has three or four ideas simmering at any one time, and I'm surprised that one of them isn't another big-ass series of the Fables type being attempted by Vertigo.
The cartoonist Ulli Lust has won this year's Prix Artémisia for her book from Çà et Là, Trop n'est pas assez. That awards program, now in its fourth year, focuses on work from female creators. Lust and her autobiographically-informed story of two teenage Austrians traveling abroad in the 1980s have also won an audience award at this year's Erlangen festival and is included on the official selections list going into the forthcoming Angouleme Festival. Past winners of the award are Joanna Schipper, Tanxxx and the team of Lisa Mandel and Laureline Mattiussi. Cartoonist Lust maintains a fine-looking web site here. Check out that illustration section.
* yesterday's post linking to Bhob Stewart talking about Jack Kirby's Jack Ruby comic in Esquire fairly skipped over this killer jpeg of a chart of late 1960s comics critics' opinions on various comics. This is interesting to stare at even if you're not enough of a nerd to recognize every critic that made the list (like I did) in that a lot of comics readers have read a lot of these comics. Plus it's nice to know that the superhero fan/alt comics fan split predated The Comics Journal by at least eight years.
* I'm not sure what's funnier in this post about recent Cul-De-Sac strips from cartoonist Richard Thompson: the pride with which he proclaims his satisfaction at drawing a contrabassoon, or the photo he provides as proof.
* Ben Towle writes about simplification and recognition with color.
* the Blog@Newsarama talks about potential creative teams for DC's Captain Marvel character. It'd be nice to have those characters fully submersed into DC's efforts to reach kids with some of their comic books, as opposed to grim and gritty versions sprinkled throughout the mainstream DC universe. That always gets creepy with such familiar kids' comics characters.
* finally, Richard Cook walks down memory lane, albeit a peculiar path that leads right to the Marvel swimsuit specials of the 1990s. I remember spotlighting Marvel's matter-of-fact use of two gay characters as models and working like mad for like 36 hours trying to find language that wouldn't potentially offend someone who would think I was making fun of Marvel or those characters. I also remember I had been reading comics for 20 years and I hadn't heard of the second gay character they used (a supporting character from a minor super-team used in that era's Incredible Hulk comics).
A Few Notes On The Fantagraphics Carl Barks Duck Comics Announcement
So due to a confluence of how sources uncovered the story and the timing of the Robot 6 blogiversary, the biggest publishing news in quite some time ran on a Sunday in very early January, a date so odd and little-observed as a potential fount for publishing event announcements that even many of us that follow comics as part of our jobs were a day late on picking it up. Great story, though: Fantagraphics has acquired the rights to reprint the works of the great Carl Barks starting in Fall 2011. These will be hardcover volumes, 200 pages or so, in color, archival and support material added to the comics presented, at a price point of $25 (which means that a standard bookseller discount or an on-line bookseller discount will put this material at less than $20). This is stupendous news no matter when it's announced, but I think it's also fair to say that it's not just another "Oh boy! More great comics!" story. We live in such an amazing time for comics publishing that it's easy to let yet another announcement about another pile of amazing funnybook material flash by. Maybe we shouldn't always let that happen.
This announcement is different, I think, in a few ways.
1) This is primarily a republishing project, not an archival one.Fantagraphics is employing a strategy they've used on their Krazy Kat series to schedule their Barks books in a way that puts some of the best-regarded material out there and into people's hands as the series launches rather than when chronologically permissible. They're starting with Lost In The Andes!, which as Barks' favorite, an early highlight of his work with the ducks, and as a story with which people are generally familiar (they know about the square eggs, anyway) seems to have a spiritual and logical claim to be first at bat. With the second, they go straight into the Uncle Scrooge material. Fantagraphics seems to be betting on the material connecting with people on its merits, above and beyond the historical or collectors' interest in these comics. This isn't a bad gamble considering how good these comics are.
2) As a republishing project, they have a chance to provide effective production rather than historically reminiscent production, and a very good cartoonist gets a regular freelance gig for a while. A minor couple of points, I know. While I'm not the guy to point out which kinds of coloring techniques work with old comics and which ones don't, it seems to me that in a lot of comics archival projects how the material is reproduced becomes a huge issue, particularly in the way the colors survive whatever process is employed. Focusing on republishing the material with the original color comics as guides sidesteps that issue a bit. I don't know how well it will work, but notorious grouch and publisher Gary Groth felt strongly enough about the re-coloring to report positively on what's come through the pipeline so far, and he's not the kind of guy that would put himself out there as a show of support he didn't feel was earned. I'm also happy true comics warrior Rich Tommaso has a first-class craft gig in a field that doesn't really offer up a whole lot of them.
3) The publishing news story isn't where this stands in the history of Barks reprints, but where it stands in the history of the comics marketplace. I ran across a few articles on the announcement that insisted on placing Fantagraphics' forthcoming series in a continuity with past archival reprints of this material. Those efforts were great things, too, don't get me wrong. As a young comics reader I first encountered Carl Barks in one of the many comic books in which his work was reprinted, and as a one-time full-time employee of a comic book company with an easily accessible library, I'm among those that got to read the vast majority of Barks' output in crisp, snappy-looking editions. I cherish both experiences.
However, I would suggest what's key about this project isn't whether or not this material has ever been reprinted before, or even that's it's simply being reprinted again, but that Fantagraphics' effort will mark the first time maybe since these comics' original publication that the material will hit the marketplace in a popular, accessible, dependable form. In other words: the Barks ducks comics were originally published at a time when most devoted readers of such material read comic books; they were subsequently published in random comics and in archival editions that reached different hardcore comics audiences; they're now going to be published where most devoted readers for such material engage with comics in the form of competitively priced books with spines. This also represents a chance for the Barks books to be purchased by libraries where they can enjoy a longer life passing between many hands. Because of their dependence on hand-selling, mail-order and an active backlist, boutique publishers like Fantagraphics do a generally fine job of keeping material in print for years and years, while some bigger publishers might not. With a 15-year publishing window, if the material finds an audience there could be two generations or more that enjoy these comics this way. It even makes a digital release at some point more likely, I bet. We're getting Carl Barks back as a regular, season-to-season market presence, and I couldn't be happier.
4) There is a host of material to discover here. It would stand to reason that with fifteen 200-or-so page books in the series, Fantagraphics is bound to reprint material that most people either haven't seen at all, or haven't seen in quite some time. I think that Barks' particular blend of strong character work, satire through observation, and killer pacing might potentially be appreciated for its own thing in an era where a lot of popular comics have moved away from those values. I also think there are many people that misapprehend the parameters of Barks' contributions, too, favoring memories of the longer adventure stories to a significant extent over the sublime ten-pagers. In fact, as we saw when on Kim Thompson's insistence the Donald Duck comics (#9) were placed on the Comics Journal top 100 list of the 20th Century ahead of the Uncle Scrooge material (#20), it's unclear whether even smart fans know what kind of comic Barks was doing for which title and what was specifically good about them. I'm looking forward to reading this material and to apprehending it, not just owning it and having it on the shelf.
5) The deal says a lot that's good about comics publishing right now. It's hard not to see the acquisition of this license -- and the Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse material before it -- as a vote of confidence in Fantagraphics' effectiveness and skill with some of their other licensed books, particularly the Peanuts series. In an industry that frequently staggers towards the most crass, chummy and short-term-advantage partnerships, it's nice to see that past performance and quality matters when publishers like Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Boom! Studios, Top Shelf and NBM sign projects based on previous successes. I'm not in a place to say that this deal definitively reveals something about Disney's relationship to Marvel -- the notion being that it reveals they're more interested in Marvel as a intellectual property farm than as a publisher -- but it does suggest that Disney sees the value in specific publishing partnerships for specific sorts of projects. In other words, I think these kinds of deals are good news for both of the partners in them, as opposed to a more rigid general policy that stresses a kind of corporate parochialism.
6) This move should further stabilize Fantagraphics. Publishing art comics will never be a way to make buckets and buckets of cash, even with lucrative partnerships. This is doubly true of Fantagraphics, which, unlike newer publishers, has to endure the occasional growing pain that comes with having established itself two or three seismic market shifts ago. As far as I can tell, no one at my former employer got a significant bank-account boost when the Peanuts books began to hit. It seems to me instead that that series gave the publisher some ballast, especially in terms of where they might be without that success grounding their monthly operations and making possible some of their deliciously odder efforts. While they've admirably pursued a variety of projects that probably scraped to make their money back -- I mean, my goodness, they publish Joe Daly -- they've also done a pretty good job with some comics projects that have a devoted, outside-of-comics relationship. With Prince Valiant and their work with Bill Mauldin, Fantagraphics may be slightly past the era in which these books might have automatically sold to a huge number of greatest-generation consumers that otherwise wouldn't look at a comic, and with the Barks books it may be necessary to inculcate audiences as to what makes those comics worth reading above and beyond the consumption of other Disney cartoon and even comics efforts, but one reason these are first-class projects to which we pay attention is because a potential audience is there, even that relatively modest one.
7) Don't look now, but Fantagraphics just put something on the schedule for its 50th year. At 30 volumes released very six months or so, the Barks series will apparently last some 15 years. As 2011 is the publisher's 35th in existence, I think that means that final volume will come in the year of the alt-publisher's half-century birthday. I have no idea what will happen to the company or the industry -- heck, the world! -- between now and then. Co-publishers Gary Groth and Kim Thompson, if they're still working then by choice or by fate, will be pushing 70. I just thought it worth mentioning. The nastiness of comics' re-establishing itself as a medium for all people rather than just a few readers that earned the right to be here through close study and/or devotion to the One True Genre, when combined with the immortal-seeming aspects of the medium's iconic characters has strangely diminished the achievements of its institutions not plugged into the widest possible public zeitgeist. I remember when one publisher hung it up after an astonishing 20-year and more run, people I know not a fan of their work quickly branded that company a failure. Even those deluded souls would have to admit that any publisher with a chance of surviving a half-century has done something worth noting, ten times that for essentially starting out behind a teenager's closed door, a kid hammering away on a typewriter where you had to count the spaces each line would take up so the margins could be made to match. 50 years. It kind of blows me away, anyway.
According to this post at First Second's blog, a pair of awards announced yesterday in conjunction with the ALA's midwinter conference went to comics work: their own Resistance, from Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis, which was named a Sydney Taylor Silver Medal Book, and Amulet Books' Hereville, by Barry Deutsch, which won the 2011 gold medal in the Older Readers Category, the first graphic novel to receive that designation. The Sydney Taylor Book Award honors "new books for children and teens that exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience," and is named after All-Of-A-Kind Family author Sydney Taylor. The recipients will receive their awards in Montreal this June.
This Isn’t A Library: New And Notable Releases To The Comics Direct Market
Here are the books that make an impression on me staring at this week's no-doubt largely accurate list of books shipping from Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. to comic book and hobby shops across North America.
I might not buy all of the works listed here. I might not buy any. You never know. I'd sure look at the following, though.
NOV100025 BPRD HELL ON EARTH GODS #1 PT 1 GUY DAVIS CVR $3.50 NOV100024 BPRD HELL ON EARTH GODS #1 RYAN SOOK CVR $3.50
The Mike Mignola-verse juggernaut continues. Both those covers are bound to be attractive, although I'm not sure they're an extra $3.50 attractive. Not a publishing move aimed at me, though, obviously.
NOV101133 DODGEM LOGIC MAGAZINE #6 (MR) $7.00
It's such a light weak of material at the comics store that I would imagine it's a good time to check out Alan Moore's magazine effort.
NOV100170 KNIGHT & SQUIRE #4 $2.99
I'm not going to say there's a hitch in the general function of the comics market, but I will say there always seems to be one or two superhero comic books coming out where I think, "It will be fun to read those two years from now when I can buy them for $1 each at my comic book shop. Just sayin'.
NOV100623 CASANOVA GULA #1 (MR) $3.99
This is I believe Marvel's reprinting of the second half of existing Casanova comics, in full color and with lettering.
NOV100546 THOR MIGHTY AVENGER #8 $2.99
Is the last one? I can't remember. Yes, it is. I guess there's still the FCBD offering that would technically be the last one for now. In case you forgot, this was the Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee romantic sitcom-style Thor comic book that was squeezed off the stands. One day this will be remembered by two completely different sets of comics fans as "Do you remember when Roger/Chris did that weird Thor comic?"
The full list of this week's releases, including some titles with multiple cover variations and a long, impressive list of toys and other stuff that isn't comics, can be found here. Despite this official list there's no guarantee a comic will show up in the stores as promised, or in all of the stores as opposed to just a few. Also, stores choose what they carry and don't carry so your shop may not carry a specific publication. There are a lot of comics out there.
To find your local comic book store, check this list; and for one I can personally recommend because I've shopped there, albeit a while back, try this.
The above titles are listed with their Diamond order code in the first field, which may assist you in finding comics at your shop or having them order something for you they don't have in-stock. Ordering through a direct market shop can be a frustrating experience, so if you have a direct line to something -- you know another shop has it, you know a bookstore has it -- I'd urge you to consider all of your options.
If I failed to list your comic, that's on me. I apologize.
I only want to drive notice towards one story today, but I think it's a compelling one: the prosecutors in the case against Pakistani Canadian Tahawwur Hussain Rana have postponed the trial for three months, agreeing to a request by the defense attorneys. I'm not sure I ascertained the exact reason for the request, but I have to assume there's a lot here for the attorneys to process.
This is a compelling case because Rana was indicted on charges of helping David Coleman Headley. The thing is, Headley has since confessed to not only plotting against the Danish Cartoons publishing newspaper Jyllands-Posten and generally bouncing around Europe with a hard-on for doing harm to those that doodled Muhammed, but also for doing some advance scouting on behalf of the shootings in Mumbai back in 2008. So Rana's trial becomes an interesting exercise in 1) some evidence that came to light during Rana's cooperation with authorities that chips away at Rana's presumed innocence, 2) the fascinating notion that when the person you're accused of helping kind of goes for an upgrade in terms of the evilness accomplished with your alleged help, your case therefore becomes that much more serious. It's like being arrested for giving a hit-and-run driver a ride away from the scene of a crime and then discovering that the driver had you on speed trial, and then finding out there were multiple bodies in the driver's trunk.
Rana has maintained his innocence, and has received the support of some folks within his Chicago community (he also has ties with Toronto and New York). An additionally interesting side issue is that Headley's confessions have developed political weight -- he sort of indicted Pakistani intelligence officers in some of the work he was doing. Legal matters like Rana's can feel the pressure of political interest, particularly the kind of interested that may have already resulted in policy and diplomatic action. I wonder how much if any of that pressure might be felt in this trial.
My thanks to everyone that participated in this year's CR Holiday Interview series. Comics is stuffed full of articulate, smart people, and it's been a blast to tap into that for a few weeks as a change of pace from CR's standard approach. I hope those of you that read the series found new comics to read, new issues to think about and new people to pay attention to. I am deeply appreciative of your time.
Here in one place are links to all the interviews. I'd be very happy if anyone out there linked to this post as a way of throwing some attention on the series as a whole, or used the link as an opportunity to provide any feedback that comes to mind. I'm thankful for all of you that linked to individual pieces along the way.
As always, there were a few people with whom I missed connections and on whose interviews I got sidetracked in the course of getting the series out there. I hope to send out apology e-mails to those people in the next day or so, but let me say publicly that I'm sorry, there was nothing personal about it, it was all on me not doing my job as well as I can and I hope I can make it up to you in the days and weeks ahead.
Next year's series should be 15 interviews long and run December 18 to January 1, a tighter window to reflect comics' expanded activity over the holiday period. Between this series and that one, I hope to renew this site's devotion to weekly Sunday interviews and occasional chats with news makers. I hope everyone has a great 2011 and I'm looking forward to digging into all of comics' various worlds in the year ahead.
* apparently CBR is doing a series of interviews with former Marvel Editor-In-Chief and current Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada about his time in that office starting here. I'll wait to comment until the end -- if I remember to, which is the problem with multi-part interviews -- but I thought some of you might want to follow those as they're posted.
* so if I'm reading this stuff correctly an on-line retailer made some douche-baggy comments about the shooting of that congresswoman and a number of others in Arizona, and then it looks like that he and maybe some of his customers attempted to defend the comments as a coherent, acceptable world-view instead of the kind of thing the drunk kid that gets beat up a lot at parties says from the backseat of your car as you're driving him home one night. It might be worth pointing out I saw at least one name-known artist saying the exact same thing on Facebook before I guess thinking better of it -- it's gone now -- but digging in on that position is what seems sort of crazy to me.
* the retailer Mike Sterling makes a common-sense point at the top of this column that obscuring the title on one comic among many sharing that name is kind of a terrible idea. I agree. I also think simply having that many titles is a long-term worry, but at least be clear with what you're publishing in the short-term.
* not comics: apparently that new TV show Stare At Summer Glau is about superheroes! It doesn't sound very good, but Heroes and that live-action The Incredibles thing have certainly set one low-ass bar. Are you seriously trying to tell me that a Wonder Woman TV show couldn't somehow be more appealing than that line-up of humps?
* not comics: Kathleen David reviews the Broadway show related to comics where only the scenery chewed by Nathan Lane is harmed.
Editor's Note: My favorite cartoonist. Most of the material discussed here was collected this year into Angels And Magpies, the latest edition of the paperback-collection series of Love And Rockets. Please forgive the adjustment in art and if the Internet has moved past any of the following links. -- Tom Spurgeon
Jaime Hernandez is a widely-acknowledged legend of alternative comics and deserves every last bit of attention and approbation that comes his way. He has been applying his formidable reservoir of craft skill towards the creation of great comics for more than three decades now. Among his most famous major works are The Death Of Speedy, Wig Wam Bam and Chester Square, collections of material from one of the ten best comic book series of all time, the first volume of Love And Rockets. Hernandez is also a long-acknowledged master of the comics short story: "Tear It Up, Terry Downe," "Spring 1982" and "Izzy In Mexico" among them. His are the only comics about which my friends and I leave each other phone messages and e-mails discussing plot points that sound like we're gossiping about real people. They're real to us.
Hernandez' two interlocking tales in this year's Love and Rockets: New Stories #3, "Love Bunglers" and "Browntown," provided 2010's most powerful 1-2-3 punch and may just be the greatest comics in Hernandez' long and distinguished career. As the critic Jeet Heer points out, that means they're among the best in comics history. "Browntown" in particular carries all of the weight and emotional laceration of past Jaime work, executed with a refined, stunning precision that tells in some 30 pages a tale that hits like 300 pages of plot and thematic development. I'm honored to close this year's holiday interview series with the amazing Jaime Hernandez. -- Tom Spurgeon
TOM SPURGEON: The comics you published this year, the Love and Rockets work, came in the third issue of the new annual format. Do you miss the comic books at all? Do you miss that format?
JAIME HERNANDEZ: Yeah. Yeah, I do. I kind of miss a comic hopefully coming out regularly. Even if it was like three or four months apart, it seemed regular: having an issue there, and going through that one, and then the next one pretty soon after that.
SPURGEON: Has switching formats had an effect on the way you work? One of your peers told me -- a cartoonist that hasn't yet cut ties with pamphlet comics-making -- that he dreaded one day having to do that much work before seeing it published in print. He thought it was a boon to more regularly publish just in terms of the psychological toll that comes with making comics.
HERNANDEZ: Yeah. [slight pause] I've learned a lot. [laughs] A lot of it is frustrating: working towards one big deadline instead of a lot of little ones. It's changing the way I'm putting the work down. I miss the freedom of screwing up. If I screwed up in one issue, I could fix it in the next. Now since people have to wait a year for the next work, it's like I can't make any mistakes. I can't leave anything out because I can't fill it in right away.
SPURGEON: Do you run the risk of tightening up, or being more precious about your work than you want to be?
HERNANDEZ: Yeah, yeah. I'm afraid to put stuff down. I'm afraid to put ink down. In order to get it out for San Diego, which is usually our goal, I'm going to be busting my ass for these next few months trying to finish, even when I gave myself a head start last year. Because most of it is still in pencil stage -- light pencils, because I'm afraid I'm going to change it. Things like that. I used to slap it down, you know, and then see what came next. Now it's like I'm real cautious, so the work backs up and I'm there hurrying every day to meet that deadline. [laughs]
SPURGEON: One thing that you can do with this format that might not have been achievable in a shorter comic publication is that you have these two lengthy stories, "The Love Bunglers" and "Browntown," and one accompanies the other. "Love Bunglers" is split into two parts around "Browntown," and reading "Browntown" changes how we read that second half of "Love Bunglers." How did they become two different stories? They do complement each other and can be read as one longer piece, but they're not presented that way except by proximity. How did you develop this way of approaching those two works?
HERNANDEZ: At first it was going to be two separate stories. Period. I thought the Maggie romance stuff, the modern-day stuff, was a little weak only in that she's been falling in love since the first issue. [laughter] Even if I try to make it fresh and everything, I know it's still Maggie falling in love again. Again. Oh boy. What do we have this time? So I kind of used the other story to strengthen it, linking them together even if it was just within conversation. And also, I hate to say it, but I do think about it being collected now. I didn't use to. I didn't use to care. Now I picture that one of these days it will be a 120 page "graphic novel" and it will all be cohesive and blah blah blah.
SPURGEON: Will you collect it the same way, with "Love Bunglers" split around "Browntown"?
HERNANDEZ: Yeah, I will do that the same way. Partly, in a way, the new one I'm working on is connected as well. That's difficult because I'm trying to keep "Browntown" its own thing. I was really happy with it as a single piece and I got a lot of good response from that. I didn't want to screw it up with something else. Intruding. [laughs] So I'm being really careful with that. That's another reason I'm racking my brains doing this second one. It's almost like I have to live up to that last issue.
SPURGEON: Were you pleased with the response? My memory is that a bunch of readers were immediately taken with the issue, "Browntown" in particular. I assume some of that got back to you. There's so much work out there these days it's difficult for one story to make an impression, and yet I thought that one really did.
HERNANDEZ: Yeah, I was really pleased. I guess I was pleased because it was one of those stories that kind of just fell into place by itself. Where I was watching it happen. [laughs] I remember writing, putting stuff down on the page, and going, "Oh my God, this has three meanings. That's wonderful!" [Spurgeon laughs] "It's all more than just a single scene. It all kind of fits." I was really happy with that, putting that together, and then seeing that it was successful for other readers, readers that were very nice to it? [laughs] That was the payoff. Like "Oh, boy. I did good."
SPURGEON: The precision of the story I thought remarkable because, as you say, you can watch multiple themes and narratives playing themselves out at once, all with this graceful economy that makes it feel effortlessly paced. Is there a place where that story started for you, something you wanted to see, or was it all of the issues and the characters and the sense of place at once, more of an overall feel? Where did this one begin?
HERNANDEZ: Actually, it was a story that was stuck in my head since way back in the seventh issue of the original Love and Rockets. It was one panel in the story "Locas" where Speedy is telling his friends about his sister and kind of talks about Maggie as well. He says, "Then she moved away for three years. And then she came back and she was 13; she was a teenager." That always stuck with me, I thought, "What are the missing years in Maggie's life? What happened those three years?"
One is that it was kind of a desert town. So that helped simplify it. "They've got nothing to do. That's wonderful." Nothing happened during that time, but everything did. In one of the same panels in that story, these two women are talking about I think Maggie being put to work at the garage. And one lady says, "Well, I raised six kids, too." So there are six siblings in Maggie's family. Later, as the series progressed, I made up five. And I went back and read that issue one day and went, "Oops!" [Spurgeon laughs] "Oh my God! The sixth one!"
In Ghost Of Hoppers I have all the family together, Maggie's at a family reunion thing, and the brothers and sisters are talking. I have Maggie's youngest brother saying Calvin ran away at 16. He was a criminal, kind of. I made up that brother that wasn't around because I didn't write him. [laughter] I made him up right there, and in the back of my head since then I kept thinking about her long lost brother, and I started thinking about those three missing years. It just all came together. I think that's why it fell into place, because I had it in the back of my head for so long.
SPURGEON: You talked about this place where nothing happens, where nothing is open and nothing is going on. Was that a place with which you were familiar, that place where the town feels deserted and you're left to your own devices? I was struck by the setting of "Browntown" as compared to some of the other places you've depicted over the years.
HERNANDEZ: A lot of it was imagined. I know these smaller California towns that are in the middle of nowhere and are kind of dead towns that I've driven through before. I've never lived there before, but I know the feel of these desert towns... where everything's brown, you know? [laughs] And then visiting cousins I didn't know when I was little. "Why are we at this place?" They lived in kind of desolate areas. It was mostly imagined. I thought about some place where nothing goes on.
Gilbert and me always ask each other, "So, what do you got in the new issue? What's coming up?" And I go, "Well, I got this one story about Maggie, blah blah blah..." and I called it "Maggie in Palomar." I kind of aimed it that way, where I'm like, "Oh, boy. A place where nothing happened." It gives them room to do everything, because there's nothing there. There's no backdrop. Nothing to get in the way of their adventures, their life. That's kind of how that story was able to have so much, yet from nothing. [laughs]
SPURGEON: I wanted to ask you about some of your craft choices. One piece about those comics made a big deal of a panel that also struck me, where the kids are at a movie while the parents are talking out some issues. The older kids are able to focus on the screen -- Esther's crying -- and yet Calvin isn't watching the movie, a reflection of all that he has going on in his life. It's something relatively subtle that some might not even catch on a first glance. Are those things you expect your readers to pick up on, or is it something that you think people may only sense in some indirect way? These can be such small, precise moments.
HERNANDEZ: It's something I hope they'll pick up on, but if they don't, that's okay because they know what's going on anyway. They know that these kids are kind of bummed out because it's over, they're not going to have their daddy anymore. Or Mommy and Daddy are fighting, something as simple as that. I thought Calvin had more to think about, so I had to give him an introspective look. More pissed off than sad. Or sad and pissed off at the same time. So he had to have something going on more than the rest of them. I thought, "Well, he's looking the other way." [laughs] They're looking one way, he's looking the other way.
If people don't pick up on it, that's okay, but it is intentional and it's something that's important to me. It's kind of like I leave it up to the reader. I give it to them, if they draw a different conclusion, that's fine, too, as long as we all end up in the same place.
SPURGEON:Frank Santoro wrote a short essay about how you were constructing pages and using grids in those stories. I don't want to rehash everything he wrote, but one thing that was striking to me was the way that the rhythm of the story changed when you employed three panels across a page to replace a previous use of two. Is that something you do intentionally, control the narrative flow through page structure?
HERNANDEZ: It's also because I never put captions of "Later..." Things like that. Sometimes I know people have gotten mixed up. "Oh, wait a minute. This isn't the same scene."
SPURGEON: So the shifts are a way to indicate a transition.
HERNANDEZ: Yeah. And it's also like I give Ray's moments, they're captions, they're his thoughts, and they're done in a six-panel grid. The regular story, the flow goes to eight. I decided to give Calvin six without captions. I don't know. It's just subtle changes but I kind of do it to keep me interested. [laughter] And maybe to help break up the story. "Okay, now it's Ray's turn."
SPURGEON: There's a throwaway line in Santoro's essay, and I'm certain I'm going to mischaracterize it slightly, but I think he was suggesting that in the sequence with Maggie and Reno in the car you made Maggie a touch less visually compelling so that the reader might focus more on the dialogue and on Reno than constantly looking at Maggie. Is that something you would do, make something less interesting if it better served the story?
HERNANDEZ: I guess some of that might be unconscious. If all of the sudden the Frogmouth walks in in a skimpy outfit, it's obvious where your eye will go. Whether you like women like that or not. Yeah, I guess I might keep it normal so that you can stay on the subject; you're not interrupted. I don't know.
It's also my love -- which isn't that easy to draw -- of people not doing anything. [laughs] Just talking. How many angles can I give them? The original idea for "The Love Bunglers" was Maggie and Ray's date from the minute he picks her up to the end of the night. It was all going to be done in real time; it was going to be a conversation through the whole thing. You were going to find things out through the conversation. I still kept some of that in, but done in real time it was like, "Oh my God, they're going to be at dinner for five pages?" [Spurgeon laughs] "How many times do I have to draw Maggie that same size compared to the table? I have to draw every glass where it is on the table?" I knew that would drive me mad after a while. So I broke it up. And also by the time I was writing it, I went, "Well, maybe they really don't have that much to say." [laughter] They were going to even talk about how they spent their Christmas. It was a My Dinner With Andre kind of thing. Drawing nothing is hard for a long time, you know?
SPURGEON: Speaking of degree of difficulty issues, "Browntown" deals in straight-forward fashion with serial child sex abuse. There is a lot of bad art made about devastating issues like that. How wary were you having that be part of your story? How do you treat subject matter like that so it doesn't get reduced to talking about an issue. Is it a focus on an individual character? Were you worried that it might be taken the wrong way or otherwise capsize the story?
HERNANDEZ: The one thing I was worried about I asked Gilbert's advice on because he does this stuff every issue. [laughter] He's a pro.
I was a little scared to do it. I wondered if all the pedophiles were going to be my fans. I was scared of that, because I've been removed from that stuff for a long time. My stuff has mellowed out a lot compared to Gilbert's. Every once in a while I want to break free, and that's how this came about. But I was a little scared. "Are we going to get in trouble?" Because I don't remember when we used to get in trouble what it was that got us into trouble. So yeah, I was a little worried about that.
As far as putting it in the story, I treated it like I treated all the other stuff. It's life, and I try to think about what they think about between the times, between the raping. Some people live with that. So the raping takes ten minutes and they've got a week in-between until the next one. Life goes on. I try to treat it that way. What does the kid do? He's not sitting in his room for a week. He has to go to school, whether he wants to or not. No matter what's going on. He's not telling his parents, because he'll get in trouble. I think of all that stuff. It's just trying to imagine what happens between the terror -- if it's an ongoing thing that nobody's talking about.
SPURGEON: One thing that struck me and I think other readers is that you made explicit the moment where Calvin becomes violent with his attacker, which is not something we're used to seeing from you. I wonder why you chose to depict that moment in dramatic, forceful fashion.
HERNANDEZ: I had to think about it, first. Like, okay, first of all I need the kid to have the rest of his life in trouble. I needed some kind of really, really violent... something life-altering that aside from the rape showed that he was on his way to self-destruction. I thought, "Well, usually I let the bad guys get away because that's life." You know? [laughs] "This time, I guess I won't let them get away." I even asked myself if I was getting old and conservative, the "crime does not pay" thing? I thought about that a lot. I also hadn't had one in a while -- that scene earned its place. I don't know, it was something I thought about. I don't usually think too much about that stuff. [laughter]
SPURGEON: Both of #3's stories turn on secrets and people withholding information. Maggie tells her mother the secret of the father's infidelity, and yet she's also keeping information from Ray in "Love Bunglers." The big reveal of the latter story is a secret, too, in a sense -- an astonishing one. I wondered what you thought of these situations. I wondered what your attitude was towards all of these secrets.
HERNANDEZ: Just thinking about my life, my family, my mom was never big on badmouthing family and talking about the evil parts. The history. Only once in a while would we hear about that she had a terrible father, blah blah blah. I would always hear from my cousins, the stories their moms told them, my mom's sisters. And they weren't afraid to tell anything. It was like, "Our family was craaazy!" Drama!
Not a month ago I was talking to my mom and she told me this lifelong secret about her mom. And I was like, "Whaaat? I never heard this one." I look at my brother and he says, "I never heard it, either." That's how some families are. You don't talk about things, even if maybe you did you'd feel better. I grew up in a family where if you opened your mouth, you'd get spanked. Things like that when I was little. Just thinking about it, I saw a lot of good junk to throw at Maggie and her family.
SPURGEON: The art book this year from Abrams, Todd Hignite's The Art Of Jaime Hernandez: The Secrets Of Life And Death. Do you feel like that's your book, or is that Todd's book that just happens to be about you?
HERNANDEZ: First of all, I couldn't believe he wanted to do it. Partly because the "art of" is my Love and Rockets career. Other than sketchbooks maybe. And also I was intimidated. I've said this a million times, but usually I can hide behind my characters and here it was with my name big on the cover. [laughs] Of course I was flattered. I try to make it clear that it is Todd's book. Yeah, it's about me and all the pictures are about me and it's me talking in the book. But he went to a lot of work to put this thing out. He was really into it. When people approach me and go, "Hey, great book!" I'm like, "Well, thanks. But here's the guy who wrote it. This is his book."
SPURGEON: There was a lot of illustration work in there I hadn't seen. In general, is there any way to characterize how doing illustration work might have had an effect on your development as an artist, a cartoonist?
HERNANDEZ: It's a whole separate thing. It's work for hire, and work for hire is not personal. I do take it personally when they edit me into the ground. [laughs] I hate that part. What they want from me is not me, really. I try to keep it separate but I try to give them a good visual because I don't want to put my name on it if it's not. [laughs] But no, it's not personal, it's work for hire. It's like if someone sent me a Spider-Man script and I drew it. As much fun as I'd try to put into it, it's still not mine.
SPURGEON: We talked earlier about your moving from a comic book format to a book format. One of the big issues this year is comics moving into the digital realm, and I wondered if you had any perspective on that at all. One thing I thought about when I considered asking you this question is that your work has been collected so many times that it's almost fitting that there's another collection out there to be had of your work.
SPURGEON: At the same time, you and your brothers are such print guys. I wondered if you had any opinion on digital becoming the way people read comics?
HERNANDEZ: I guess if you still allow me to do it the way I've always done it, and this digital thing helps me reach the people I want to reach? Then it's fine. I've gotten to the point where I've stopped arguing about how I'm going to be printed, because I'm not going to argue with the market. [laughs] We went annually because of the market. I can't argue with it if it's going to help me get it out there and sell books. Thirty years ago I would be laughing at myself right now.
SPURGEON: You were more forceful about those issues back then?
HERNANDEZ: No, I just had nothing to lose then. I wasn't responsible for anybody but myself. I thought, "I'm going to do comics and see where it goes." Now I have to think of the bigger picture.
* various beautiful Jaime images from the period in general examination; photo is by Whit Spurgeon
* not comics: it seems to me the takeaway from news of the proposed Wonder Woman TV show being on shaky ground is that it's not necessarily the fault of the Wonder Woman property but a sign of the fading fortunes and diminished ambitions of network television. I maintain that the core of the Wonder Woman idea is a pretty strong one with a lot of narrative possibilities, especially if you aren't precious with the details.
* the editorial cartoonist David Fitzsimmons was accessed by news organizations covering that horrible grocery store shooting of an Arizona congresswoman and those with the misfortune of standing near her as a way of taking the temperature of that region's political climate.
* not comics: I thought Patton Oswalt's much-discussed essay on the decline of classic geek culture and what to do now was fun to read, although it was more entertainingly written and effective as a bearer of a few interesting ideas than it was a cohesive, forceful statement. I think the biggest change in the general enterprise Oswalt dissects may be less the mainstream/out-of-mainstream shift or the structural things that he identifies and more our increasing inability to project a certain kind of stature onto these eddies of culture, our ability to prop up the illusion that these things matter in a significant way beyond (or because of) our interest in them and whatever their unique, intrinsic qualities might be. The responses -- including my own -- likely reveal more about those making them than the subject matter does.
By any measure employed, Daniel Clowes is one of the best, most significant cartoonists working today. Through collections like Ghost World, David Boring and Ice Haven, Clowes became a figure of importance in helping to garner widespread acceptance of comics work aimed at a literate, adult audience. Works like Pussey! and Orgy Bound remind that he may also be its best living practitioner of filthy, blunt satire. Clowes' series Eightball, from which those books sprung, remains one of the foundational alternative comic book titles years after its most recent issue. He has published with Fantagraphics and Pantheon, through the New York Times Magazine and in Cracked.
In 2010, the cartoonist, designer (the forthcoming Barnaby series) and screenwriter (Ghost World, Art School Confidential) unleashed Wilson, a savagely hilarious story of a monstrously hard-to-deal-with man seeking human contact, told in single-page units in a dizzying array of styles. It was a critical darling in wider comics reading circles and something of a Rorschach test for hardcore comics fans who read a variety of insults, hidden motivations and outright storytelling miscalculations into its pages. Wilson was a grand debut in the original graphic novel arena for Clowes, and the sturdy volume from publisher Drawn and Quarterly is one of a tiny handful in serious consideration for book of the year. I very much appreciate his time, and anxiously await the imminent re-release for bookstore audiences of his Mister Wonderful and The Death-Ray. -- Tom Spurgeon
TOM SPURGEON: Let me ask you something that Peggy Burns pointed out to me: this is an incredibly busy period for you, isn't it? You have multiple books coming out in addition to a number of other writing and design projects. Earlier in 2010 you even drew a pair of New Yorker covers.
DANIEL CLOWES: I haven't done any New Yorker covers recently. I've had to turn them down for a while. Six months or so ago, we bought a house, a new house, and I went into that panic mode where I was saying "yes" to everything that came along. "Yeah, yeah, that sounds great!" [Spurgeon laughs] "Let's get that going." There were a couple of things already in the pipeline like the Mister Wonderful book. I knew I wanted to do a Death-Ray book sometime soon. All of the sudden all that stuff came together, and now I somehow find myself doing five or six major projects all at once.
SPURGEON: Is there any part of you that prefers to have a bunch of stuff to do at once?
CLOWES: I like to have two or three things at the most. It's a little much. Every week I alternate; I pretend I'm not doing something for that week. And then go to the next thing and then shift back a week after that.
SPURGEON:Wilson... Wilson is a book. That cover stock is like armor plating.
CLOWES: Yeah, I decided that was the way to go. There's no sense in being sort of embarrassed that it's a book. I think that's how we're all feeling on some level. "We're doing this prehistoric item; let's pretend that it's just a stop-gap until we can figure out how to do it on the iPad" or whatever. That's not what I wanted to do. I wanted to say, "This is it. This is the book." I had to have this huge book that could only exist like this as a book.
SPURGEON: There's always some guy on a message board, every time you do something that's not a comic, that asks, "Does this mean that there's no more Eightball?" I assume that the series is completely done?
CLOWES: I think as what it was, it's certainly done. I can't say that I would never do another comic and call it Eightball. I say there's actually a very high probability that I would do that some day. Kind of for old time's sake, or something. Or just to kind of rethink what a comic book means at some point. But right now it sure doesn't feel like the thing to do. After David Boring I really should have stopped doing comic books. It made no sense to do Ice Haven and The Death-Ray as comic books. I was just so married to that format for so long, that I couldn't have the first iterations of those work in anything but a comic book. In retrospect that seems crazy. To this day I can't explain to people who aren't enmeshed in the world of comics what The Death-Ray is. They're like, "I have your book Eightball."
SPURGEON: [laughs] Right.
CLOWES: "No, that was a comic book, and it was a story that appeared..." It's just so nonsensical to anybody once you kind of step back and see it through the eyes of someone who's not initiated in all this stuff. It seems quite crazy to do it that way.
SPURGEON: Did that make the transition easier, that you were almost not doing comics?
CLOWES: [laughs] Yeah, I really wasn't doing comics. I just couldn't let it die. "I created Eightball." You don't want to let that go. I know we all felt when the Hernandez Brothers quit Love and Rockets the first time, it was like, "How can you do that? That's the flagship title of alternative comics. You can't just walk away from that." When Pete [Bagge] left... I'm still mad at him for stopping Neat Stuff, you know, thenHate. There was that sense of, "That's not a great idea. Don't stop your great title." I was very uncomfortable with letting it go and moving away from Eightball. At a certain point it seemed like an affectation, really, to do it as a comic book, as a pamphlet comic. There's no real reason to do that other than to show your allegiance to your childhood love of that particular form.
SPURGEON: There are so many of you guys that worked in that format; did you accrue any advantages working in that form, turning your comics over to an audience that frequently? And are there differences now? Jaime Hernandez says he thinks he works differently these days, that he might even be tighter than when he worked in this more disposable, frequently-published format.
CLOWES: I never had that thing where I felt like, "Okay, I've gotta get it out." Kim Thompson used to always make up these crazy deadlines."We've gotta have it for APE." [Spurgeon laughs] You'd kill yourself and you'd get it done for APE and you'd show up and 12 people would buy it. "So I drew this panel really shitty just so I could sell it to these 12 guys at APE... why did I do that?" At a certain point, I stopped worrying about the deadline. I would tell Kim, "It's done when it's done." It would come out three months after I finished it. So that wasn't a big thing for me.
I think getting it out kind of frequently, doing the comics every, whatever it was, four or five months when I was younger, that was really helpful. You were working in such a vacuum back then. We had almost like a slow motion Internet at the time. We'd get our comics out, and then we'd start to get mail. We'd write back to everybody who wrote us letters. We had these kind of networks of fans. I'd get together with the Hernandez Brothers or Pete or somebody and we'd know all the fans each of us had, and we'd be jealous if one of us had a fan that the other guy didn't have. [laughter] Every once in a while I'll meet one of those old guys, they'll come up to me at a signing and go, "I used to write you letters in 1989. My name is so-and-so." And I always remember them. Because back then, you were reading every word they wrote to you. That was the only thing you were getting, the only response at all.
SPURGEON: I may not characterize this totally accurately, but I read somewhere that the single-page approach you used with Wilson was in part to facilitate your editing it, being able to self-edit?
CLOWES: It was very good for that.
SPURGEON: Was that out of a desire that because you're doing this longer work, you wanted to have that capability? You don't work with an editor in a more formal sense.
CLOWES: Never. Nobody every reads it before it goes to press, really. Well, with Wilson it was almost like editing was part of the process. I started out, actually, drawing a whole bunch of strips that didn't necessarily have a through-line to them, have a plot. They were just about this guy: he's sort of plodding through his week. A story started to emerge from that. And so I wound up kind of editing out all this stuff that didn't conform to that story. It kind of began with editing. And then as I was working on it, I had more and more material. It's a very elliptical story, there are a lot of missing moments you're left to imagine. I had all that stuff. I had something in mind what was happening. But unless I really loved the moment, or really felt strongly about each page, I would chop it out. I wanted to trust the audience to fill that in. That was really what was drawing me to this story. I wanted to be very, very simple on a certain level, but I wanted it to have a certain depth to it that I thought could only be created if the reader is filling in part of it for himself.
SPURGEON: Were you as ruthless eliminating material within the strips? The individual pages strike me as very precise: there doesn't seem to me to be anything wasted.
CLOWES: I was very, very ruthless. I like editing. Writing the movies, you always hear that writers are very touchy about having their lines edited. And I just love it when people chop out everything. I'd love to be able to write a script that's like 71 pages. Pared down to nothing. That's when it really feels like something. With Wilson, I felt like I got it down to where there was nothing that I could bear to chop after I got it down to those 72 pages.
SPURGEON: When you talked about people not seeing a comic until it's done, I imagine that brings with it some anxiety about how it might be received. In one of the interviews you did this year, you said something to the effect that a worst-case scenario was that people would think Wilson was funny but empty: a trifle.
CLOWES: As I was working on it, that's probably what I would have thought as sort of the most likely bad result of the book. [laughs] I thought there were going to be certain people that will find this funny. I can tell from the people that stumble through the studio and read a strip here or there if it's working. I have to trust my own instincts that I'm not so deranged that I can't sense whether something is working or not. I have to assume that there's going to be a few people like me out there that will respond to it the way I'm responding. Beyond that, I try not to think about that too much. I try not to worry about it. I worry about it when it's at the printer. That's when I start to worry.
SPURGEON: Your worst-case scenario also suggests the bottom-line confidence you have in your ability to tell a joke, to be funny. How confident are you as a cartoonist to be able to nail that aspect of it, the gag work?
CLOWES: I think I sort of understand the mechanics of it. There are subtle tricks that you pick up over the years. You learn mostly to do things that won't kill the joke. You learn to not do things that would kill the joke.
SPURGEON: Is there a specific something that springs to mind, maybe something that beginning cartoonists do?
CLOWES: The obvious thing is to never have any kind of response to a joke, unless that is the joke itself, the character's response. The famous example is the comic strip Sally Forth, which I think is now drawn by somebody else, but back in the old days she would deliver some wry observation about the foibles of man and she had this little smirk on her face in the last panel. It was so off-putting and killed every ounce of alleged humor in the strip. I thought that was Cartooning 101 right there, that you would not ever want to do that. But the guy who drew that did that for years and years. You don't want to have Wilson laughing at his own joke, aware of what he's doing, unless really that's what you're pinpointing as a joke. That can be funny in and of itself, that the character is so unaware that they're responding to strip as it happens.
SPURGEON: Do you think people believe that kind of thing to be a visual flourish?
CLOWES: I think they think it's selling it. It's like a little oomph. "I want you to get that she's a little cooler than these other characters."
SPURGEON: I asked a few people if they had questions for you, and one question sifted its way through to the surface in all of the responses. It's kind of a blunt question. [Clowes laughs] There was talk when the book came out -- and I suspect this may have been more true of the comics community than among the readers more likely to pick up your work in a bookstore -- that people kind of fundamentally found the character of Wilson unappealing, and that this was somehow a failure of the book that you didn't get them "on board" with this guy.
CLOWES: Actually, I didn't read much of the comics stuff because I knew it would not be a productive way to spend my time. I got that from friends. Not good friends, but acquaintances. People didn't like the character and didn't understand why you'd want to read a book about an unlikable character. I don't even know how to respond to that. [laughs]
SPURGEON: I actually thought the character was appealing in a lot of ways.
CLOWES: My intent in the beginning was to create this character that was a bull in a china shop, that had all these dramatic possibilities because of his out-sized personality. I certainly by the end of the book ended up won over by him. He had certainly warmed up by the end of the book. It didn't even occur to me that that would be the response, really. I felt like I'd had much more obnoxious characters in the past that nobody had ever commented on in that way. [Spurgeon laughs] I always figure any character that's funny, that's not going to be an issue. But apparently that's not true. I don't know.
SPURGEON: Do you think your comics work best when you can dig in and focus on a single character like Wilson?
CLOWES: I don't know that I think it works best. It's something I like to do. I always think you can tell a lot about the way people grew up and the way they kind of feel about themselves by looking at their comics. You look at the Hernandez Brothers' comics and every panel is filled with people. Those guys grew up with a big family in a small house and they were around each other all of the time. Their view of the world is a crowded world. I grew up much more isolated. I think you look at my comics and you can see panel after panel of the back of a guy's head staring off into a city. That's kind of how I felt growing up, walking around Chicago by myself as a kid. I think having that solitary character fits into that.
SPURGEON: You grew up in the decade of the bombed-out American city, where you could walk around places like Denver, Indianapolis, St. Louis -- St. Louis may still be like that, I don't know -- where right at the center of the city was street after street of no one being there except for the people you might step over.
CLOWES: I tell people I used to go to downtown Chicago on a Sunday when everything was closed. You could walk in the middle of Michigan Avenue, take a piss on State Street and nobody would notice you. It was a total ghost town. We used to go downtown when I was in high school and shoot movies in the middle of Michigan Avenue and a cab would come by every five minutes and give us a wave.
SPURGEON: So you enjoyed that.
CLOWES: Yeah. It's not even a matter of enjoyed or disliked. It's just that's part of my visual DNA, that '70s American city, that sense that the world was going to hell [laughs] -- that Taxi Driver feeling of urban America in the '70s. Crime rates were through the roof. Movies like Death Wish had a real visceral power at the time. It felt like it was going crazy. I remember when that movie Escape From New York came out, we all thought, "Yeah, this will happen some day." There was no way Manhattan was ever going to be nice again.
SPURGEON: You live in a nicer place now, I believe, and Chicago is much more lovable than it used to be. Does that have an effect on how you approach setting?
CLOWES: Certainly Wilson's world is the world of Oakland, around where I live. But I think I tend to be attracted to the elements that remind me of my childhood. The thing I like about Oakland is that kind of looks like Chicago in the '70s. A sort of uncrowded version of Chicago. Oakland is such a great microcosm of a city. You go to New York and you could find yourself on a block with 20 unbelievable Art Deco buildings, where you look up and you can't believe the architecture, one after another, and you can't even absorb it. Whereas Oakland has one fancy Art Deco building. [laughter] You can really apprehend that. I've been in the building many, many times. I sort of know all about it. If there were ten of them, I probably wouldn't care about any of them. It'd be too much.
SPURGEON: I sat down for about 20 minutes today and tried to figure out some cool questions to ask about the stylistic shifts in Wilson, and I failed. I felt bad even trying to formulate the questions, because it's not something I totally noticed on my initial reading the book.
CLOWES: I was sort of hoping that people didn't notice it, in a way. [laughs]
SPURGEON: That's my question, then. How did you want people to process those differences page to page? Did you even want them to perceive them? Maybe not perceive them but feel them?
CLOWES: I wanted you to read each strip as if it were a new experience, in a way. I was approaching each strip sort of with a clean slate. You do a story all in one style, and your brain starts to use these neural pathways that become very familiar. You find yourself doing these short cuts. You start turning into Gil Kane, where you're drawing the same guy lying on his back over and over. [laughter] You know Gil Kane wasn't quite aware how many times he drew those things over and over and over again.
I was really trying to start anew with each strip, to give each page its own presence, its own moment, its own sort of dignity. I would hope the reader kind of picked up on that. There are many formal things that are absolutely consistent throughout the book. There's no narration. It's all word balloons. It's all Wilson talking to himself. Six or seven panels to a page, the same tier height and all that stuff. I hoped it would have a certain comfortable familiarity from page to page, but also have its own presence in that way that we all, when we remember our lives, we remember ourselves in these different but familiar ways.
SPURGEON: Do you think that it gave the book a kind of energy, that even if you're not picking up on the specific stylistic shifts that it keeps the reader actively engaged by making them constantly adjust to the changes?
CLOWES: When you flip through the book, at least for me -- as the least impartial reader there could possibly be -- when I flip through the book I'm always sort of cheered up by the surprise of the way the styles pop up on you as you look through the pages. If it were the same style over and over I think there'd be something dead about it. My original idea of the book was that I was going to do this whole fake thing, that this was a weekly comic strip and these were the existing 75 episodes and that the missing plot elements were the ones you couldn't find printed copies of. The missing places in the narrative were a joke about bad archiving. [pause] I can't remember how that relates to what I was saying. [laughter]
SPURGEON: Are you comfortable that some people have paired this work with Mister Wonderful, and was that work a presence when you were making this one? There are a number of surface similarities.
CLOWES: They are very similar. I did Mister Wonderful in a certain way, and when I was done had that thought of, "What if I had done it this other way?" -- and then followed through with that. That's the kind of thing that keeps me going as an artist, to go with those things, where you think, "Well, I could have done it that way, and maybe that would have been more interesting and let's see how it goes." Mister Wonderful is a very different kind of character -- he's a similar character, but it's a different way of telling that character. You're completely trapped in his head in that story. You're not really even able to apprehend the outside world much, because he's blocking you from it with his inner monologue. Wilson is exactly the opposite. He all external. He's talking. He's not thinking. You see him acting. To approach these two sort of similar creatures from these two distinct vantage points is really interesting. They do very much go together.
SPURGEON: Are there other works you'd pair off that way, where a past work was a road not taken on another past work?
CLOWES: I would say that the Ghost World comic versus the movie was an example of that. There were certain tangents in the comic. I thought, "What if I turned here and took it on this other tangent just sort of implied in the comic?" That's really where the movie kind of got its initial oomph, its first thrust of being a new thing.
SPURGEON: Do you have that desire to play around with Wilson now, in terms of its movie iteration?
CLOWES: I don't know that I'm going to keep bouncing the ball until the bounces are only a millimeter high. I sort of feel like I did enough with that kind of a thing, that I got it out of my system. Whereas clearly after Mister Wonderful I didn't get that out of my system at all. I liked the idea at that point, "I'm going to do a middle-aged character, sort of a version of myself and my friends, in a kind of a real-life situation." And I kind of thought that would be the one time I would do that. I wound up finding I had a whole lot more to do with it.
SPURGEON: There was kind of a formal book tour with Wilson. I know you got out there, and went to TCAF.
CLOWES: Yeah, yeah. Peggy kicked me out on the road.
SPURGEON: What was that like? That has to be different than the old days.
CLOWES: [laughs] It was very different from the Hateball tour [1993, with Peter Bagge]. Show up in some small town and the comic shop owner would take us to his house and we'd sleep on his floor and wake up in the middle of the night while his friends were eating pizza two feet away from us. Those were the good old days.
SPURGEON: You said something interesting about current convention culture, that this might represent an unhealthy wallow [Clowes laughs] in terms of doing things you might not want to spend several days on end doing. Is that a fair assessment of where you were coming from?
CLOWES: You used to go to San Diego Comic-Con and it was the nerd crowd. It was all comics guys and sci-fi guys and guys who liked bad old TV shows that nobody remembered. It had this sort of quaintness about it [laughs] where it seemed harmless and amusing. It was for people that seemed sort of damaged, that needed this kind of a weekend to go look through back-issue boxes. I include myself among their number. Now when it's like cute actresses talking about the comic-con, there's something so unhealthy about it. [laughter] It seems wrong. "You don't need this, why are you going?" It doesn't seem sincere, in some ways. I think I'm going this year. Last time I vowed I would not only never ever step into the con again but in the city of San Diego again.
The thing I missed about the old Con -- any old con -- is that you'd go and you'd be one of 25 guests, and you'd find yourself at a dinner with Adam West, Steve Leialoha and guys you had nothing in common with at all. Then by Sunday you're like, "Hey, Adam" talking to Adam West in the elevator. Or just some totally random guy that turned out to be a nice guy. And then the next year it's like you've forgotten them all over again, like you don't know them anymore. There was something great about that, to be sort of forced together. Butch Patrick, I remember. You're sitting in a parking lot and you think there's so many things you wanted to ask him and there he is. Now you go to the Con and you hang out with the same people you'd hang out with anywhere else. It's like going to New York. Just because you're going to New York, you're not going to hang out with Mayor Bloomberg.
SPURGEON: Can you describe what your general approach to designing something like that might be?
CLOWES: Those characters are way too boring, so I'm going to make them really cool and airbrush them and stuff, muted tones. It's going to look really, really cool. [laughter]
SPURGEON: I should probably have a better way of pointing out that you are just kidding. In general, though, how much of you gets in there?
CLOWES: Obviously Crockett has such a strict, Germanic design sense there's not a lot of leeway. I don't want the book to look like I designed it. To do that with Barnaby would be a failure. I think that works with some old strips and old cartoonists. But for Crockett Johnson you just cannot inflict your own style onto that stuff or it will ruin it. I need to sort of hone in on what he's already done and probably just modify some designs that he's already put into place. I have not really sat down to figure it out, but I have kind of a vision of what it will look like. It will not be complicated, that's all I can say. I will try to make it simple and appealing.
SPURGEON: One more thing I wanted to ask you about. You published a major work this year; a lot of guys in sort of your generation of cartoonists had major works out this year.
SPURGEON: Do you have a sense of being a part of this wider group of cartoonists?
CLOWES: I would hope. I sort of feel like it's those great guys and then there's me. [Spurgeon laughs]
I'm never surprised. I wasn't surprised when X'ed Out turned out to be great. When the new ACME is great, you just presume that's going to be the case at this point. That's hardly fair for an artist to have that on his shoulders. Yeah, it was interesting to have all that stuff kind of come out all at once. And next year, Chester Brown's thing.
SPURGEON: Is there a competitive streak that reveals itself in terms of you and your peers?
CLOWES: There used to be when we were younger. And in a good way. I think we were all just trying to show each other what we could do. "He did that; I can do that, too." I certainly don't feel it any more at all. I just feel a deep appreciation for the stuff and I love that it exists. I try not to take it for granted, the fact that it's out there in the world and it very easily could not be. These guys can all decide to do something else, or could have decided that a long time ago. To have more new stuff that makes life better, I don't want to feel anything but utterly appreciative of it.
* photo of the cartoonist supplied by Peggy Burns
* the Wilson cover image
* a pair of small Wilson panels
* six larger Wilson moments; the last two in particular show the radical stylistic shifts that Clowes employs in the book
* from Mister Wonderful
* another small Wilson panel
* the Barnaby cast
* Chris Ware, Charles Burns and Daniel Clowes in Portugal several years back (from Eric Reynolds)
* that strong Wilson promotional image (below)
If you've ever covered a political campaign or a sports team or a school board, one of those entities that commands the attention of multiple journalistic enterprises, you've likely become familiar with that one writer against whom others check their own thoughts, someone thorough and blessed with day-to-day experience covering the more peculiar corners of a shared enterprise. In comics, that person is Brigid Alverson. Whenever in 2010 I found myself reading a news article or a blog posting and encountered a rigorous A to B to C construction and all bases covered, 85 percent of the time the byline was Alverson's.
I've wanted to talk to Brigid Alverson since meeting her at a New York convention in 2008. Her workload seems as heavy as the other writers interviewed in this series -- like them, Alverson seems to publish all the time -- but her overall profile is split between more sites than I would think possible for anyone to maintain, especially on a part-time basis. That fractured marketplace for writing about comics is its own story, and I'm glad to have this interview represent that recent and ongoing development. I indulged myself in what follows by asking about all sorts of comics stories about which I have yet to form much of an opinion. Hey, you'd do it, too. Alverson's answers are unsurprisingly deliberate and well-considered. I am greatly appreciative she took time away from an awe-inspiring weekly workload to answer all that I lobbed her way. If anyone out there needs a writer to do the job, beginning to end, I recommend you get Brigid Alverson. -- Tom Spurgeon
TOM SPURGEON: Brigid, I apologize for giving you such a potentially tedious question to start, but I was wondering if you could simply outline your current comics writing -- for whom and for what and on what frequency. I tend to follow you and follow the outlets for whom you work, and I'm not certain that I've ever connected all the dots. It feels like you're doing a lot of writing. Are you doing a lot of writing?
BRIGID ALVERSON: I am doing a lot of writing. I write MangaBlog every weekday morning, and I'm a daily blogger at Robot 6. I am the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, which is part of the School Library Journal web site -- there are nine writers for this blog, but I sort of organize it and write at least one post a week. I also have two other blogs, Paperless Comics, a webcomics blog that I don't update as much as I should, and Artifacts and Talismans, a non-comics blog in which I write about all the interesting junk I have collected, mainly to answer the question "Why haven't you thrown that away."
I also contribute pretty regularly to Publishers Weekly Comics Week (PWCW). I love working with Calvin Reid and Heidi MacDonald, who are the first editors to ever offer me money to write about comics. I review books and contribute the occasional interview or think piece for Graphic Novel Reporter. I sometimes write news articles and also provide convention coverage for Comic Book Resources, which as the parent site for Robot 6 also picks up some of my blog posts.
Because of my connection with School Library Journal, I occasionally write for their newsletter SLJTeen, and I have pieces in the works for the print magazine and some of their other web spin-offs as well.
SPURGEON: To follow up, and since one of the topics with which I wanted to engage the holiday interview series subjects is jobs, where does your writing about comics fit into your overall vocational landscape? Do you consider it a part of what you do, the main thing you do, a sideline, a diversion, a hobby...? How might your personal orientation towards your work be seen in the writing of yours we get to read?
BRIGID ALVERSON: It's a part of what I do. I have a very demanding day job, and that keeps me busy during the work day from Monday through Thursday. That leaves me Friday through Sunday, plus mornings and evenings, to write. Of course, I do a lot of other things, but I guess I think of writing as a second job. Basically, I live in two universes; there's my day job, family, and friends, and then there's my comics work and comics friends, and the two very seldom overlap. Most people don't even have one life they enjoy this much -- I'm extraordinarily lucky to have two.
In terms of my personal orientation, blogging may have started as a hobby for me, but having been both a book editor and a newspaper journalist before that, my orientation is pretty professional. That means adhering to the traditional journalistic values of fairness and accuracy, as well as not always taking things at face value. If something strikes me as incomplete or inconsistent, I pick up the phone or send an e-mail. I don't have as deep a knowledge of the comics world as many writers, and I don't pretend to be an expert, but I'm curious and a quick study.
SPURGEON: How do you define your role at Robot 6? Where do you think you fit in with the general thrust of what it is they do? Do you ever feel the odd man out? Is there another writer with whose work on the site you feel a particular sympathy or sense of partnership?
ALVERSON: I'm the new kid on the block, and I'm still sort of awed that they let me in. One of the great things about Robot 6 is that the writers there have such broad tastes. When I came on board, I warned them that I wasn't going to write much about superheroes, and they were fine with that. I think the others really have that beat covered, and I tag along, learning as I go. But that leaves me a huge swath of comics to write about -- manga, kids' comics, literary stuff, reprints of historical material, newspaper comics. I focus more on those things, but the others write about them too, so I never feel like the odd man out.
I think Chris Mautner comes closest to my sensibilities in some ways, as he is the most enthusiastic about manga. He and Michael May write reviews the way I hope to write reviews someday, in terms of both style and depth. And as someone who does a lot of interviews, I look up to Tim O'Shea, who always seems to know the right questions to ask.
SPURGEON: Before I ask after a couple of specific stories you covered, let me try this: I think it's been clear that there's been a greater amount than usual of self-reflection from the various press people covering comics this year. Your statements on the matter -- I'm thinking of the comments kicked up by Brian Bendis' critical take on the comics press -- were informed by your outside journalistic pursuits and to my eye a kind of lacerating practicality about how coverage and press and criticism work. Let me ask you this, though. What could the commentary and coverage class do better in comics? Where could we use the most work? And is there something you think media people and organization covering comics already do particularly well?
ALVERSON: I think the low-hanging fruit gets well picked over: We all make sure the press releases get run, we review the week's new comics (especially superheroes, but manga and serious graphic novels get well covered, too), and we do the creator and editor interviews. These are all things that can be done with a minimum of research, which is not the same as a minimum of effort -- writing reviews is hard, and I put a lot of thought into interview questions. But the first step has been taken care of: The materials were provided, the creator was made available. Essentially, we are adjuncts to the corporate PR machine, but we are fortunate to have a lot of writers in the comics blogosphere who can spin those raw materials into excellent writing and criticism.
When big news breaks, everyone gets the story out there quickly and a couple of us usually get to the people at the heart of it to do some interviews and flesh out the details. What is harder is getting beyond the happyspeak to the nuts and bolts of what this means, who will get hurt, what does the fine print in the contract really say. Comics publishers are private companies and it usually is in their best interests not to talk. They don't ever want to tell you hard numbers, for instance, unless they are bragging about something, and even then, it's not like you can audit them.
I would like to see more enterprise stories, where rather than simply reacting to an event, the writer looks for a pattern, finds the hidden truth behind the numbers, or simply digs deep into a particular topic. Here's a really simple example: Whenever anyone releases some new digital thing, such as an iPhone app, everyone reprints the press release but very few people actually download the app and try it out. I recently got a press release about a comic being offered for free through iTunes, but when I went to download it, the download didn't work. I tried it on several platforms, over a couple of days, and it never worked. I e-mailed the publisher and got no answer. I never ran the press release, but lots of people did. That's the sort of basic research that bloggers need to do more often.
I also wish someone could pierce the veil a bit more often and get us real sales numbers. Several webcomics people have done that with regard to their own work, and it always makes interesting reading.
Finally, I think that the smaller independent publishers get short shrift, especially when it comes to convention coverage. Instead of everyone writing about the same DC and Marvel panels, I'd love to see more coverage of the smaller publishers and the up-and-coming creators. We do better with reviews and creator interviews, but it's still uneven, and we rarely see business stories about small publishers.
SPURGEON: As one of the busier writers about comics with I think wide-ranging interests when it comes to the material, how much of your time working with comics is spent reading comics? For that matter, how much of your reading comics is driven by your artistic appetites and how much by practical work considerations? Does your relationship to a work change if you've been assigned to read it?
ALVERSON: I probably spend about equal amounts of time reading comics and writing about them, but it's distributed unevenly. I do most of my writing in the morning, before work, or in the evening, before bed, but I do most of my reading on weekends, when I can find blocks of uninterrupted time. I can't write a review without reading a comic at least twice, sometimes more, so that right there is a lot of reading.
Most of my reading is driven by what interests me. For most of the venues I write for, I can pick and choose what I want to review and who I want to talk to. Of course, if an editor asks me to cover a particular comic or creator, I'm happy to do so -- I seldom turn down paying work, and I often find that assignments like that expose me to something I didn't realize I would like. I also read a lot of books that I will probably never write about, just to have the background and context I need to approach the medium intelligently.
Some people find that a hobby becomes like work, and therefore less fun, once they get paid for it. That has not been the case with me and comics. Reading is how I relax -- I don't have the patience to watch movies or TV -- and I still look forward to the moment in my day when I can set down whatever I was doing and bury my nose in a book.
SPURGEON: I want to ask you about some of the individual stories you've covered, but given the variety of perspectives you enjoy, I wonder if you could paint a picture of the year just past. What was 2010 like in your estimation, as a year for comics? And to follow up on that, was there anything that came across your path -- a news story, an un- or under-covered development, a creator, an innovation -- that you think will have an impact down the line bigger than its impact this year.
ALVERSON: Wow, not too broad a question, is it? [Spurgeon laughs] I think 2010 was a good year for comics, but as I look back in preparation for my best-of-the-year list, not a great year. For me -- and this refers to my tastes alone -- there were a lot of good comics but only a few great comics.
One area that I thought grew a lot stronger was children's comics. It's a field that is growing fast in both quantity and quality, and a number of the best books of the year are children's books. First Second stands out in this regard, of course, and their books are much loved by adult comics fans -- and some of their titles straddle the youth and adult markets quite effectively. But I'd like to single out Lerner Books, mostly markets to schools and libraries. Until recently, I thought of their line as being fairly stodgy, but in the past two years they have been publishing really original books, both translations of French works (The ElseWhere Chronicles, Nola's Worlds) and new work by English-language creators (the Pet Shop Private Eye series being a stellar example). Kids Can Press has only been publishing graphic novels for two years, but they have made a quantum leap in quality, from simple to quite sophisticated, in that short time.
In terms of webcomics, I think we are seeing a bit of movement from the free-comics-on-the-web model to other media, and I suspect we'll see more of that next year. It's very hard to make a living in webcomics, and it's very hard to make a major commitment of time and energy in something that is bringing in only a trickle of money. So creators are putting their work in the iTunes store and making it available via Kindle, Nook, and other formats. You have the dual advantage of being able to show your work in a storefront that people are going to anyway, and of distributing your work via a medium in which people expect to pay for content (as opposed to the web, where everything must be free). This is a mini-trend so far, but I expect it to accelerate in the coming year.
A related trend is the movement of certain creators to publishers who actually edit their work and work with them, as opposed to simply collecting their previously published webcomics. To see what a difference this makes, compare the original webcomic of Barry Deutsch's Hereville> with the finished print volume published by Abrams. The print edition is a much more mature work, due in part to Deutsch's growth as an artist but, I suspect, also thanks to the fact that there was another pair of eyes on the project. As a former editor myself, I know how much a good editor can improve a work, no matter how strong it is when it arrives at the publisher. What this means is that we have a new generation of creators who have proved themselves outside the publishing infrastructure who are now entering that infrastructure and producing much stronger work as a result.
At the beginning of the year, I noted in a column that the manga world seemed to be shaking out into winners and losers, but I'm less convinced of that now than six months ago. We lost two publishers this year, CMX and Go! Comi, whose books were beloved by bloggers and critics but for various reasons weren't selling all that well. However, several smaller publishers (Digital Manga, Vertical) are doing quite well and seem to be stronger than ever. Viz and Tokyopop continue to be the big boys, and Viz has jumped into the digital scene with their own app, but Yen is giving them a run for their money. Del Rey vanished and reappeared as Kodansha Comics; they got off to a rocky start but their starting lineup looks good.
In terms of developments that flew under the radar, I think the Japanese company Animate's launch of a line of yaoi manga for the Kindle didn't get as much attention as it deserved. Japanese publishers are planning to enter the English-language e-book market in a big way; Itochu just launched a web app and there are several more in the works. This may become an important channel for non-mainstream manga in the near future.
SPURGEON: I apologize for the breadth of the question, but I feel like you're one of the few industry news people with overlapping perspectives and I wanted to see that unpacked a bit. Let me throw a few follow-ups your way. First: can you talk for a bit about one or two of the comics you thought were great this year? What makes a comic great as opposed to merely good? Is there something that tends to connect great works in comics in your mind?
ALVERSON: A great comic crosses over a boundary in my brain so that I'm not just reading it, I'm experiencing it on some deeper level. Hereville was the best example of that, and I feel like a broken record because I talk about it a lot, but it really was the standout comic for me. It has to do with the way that the creator, Barry Deutsch, creates a world and very quickly draws you into it, so you are getting inside the characters' heads. There's a scene in there where the main character, who is 11, is solving a math problem, and as I read it, I was solving it in the same way. Many of the sequences were like that. It's as if I hallucinated this book rather than just reading it.
Yuichi Yokoyama's Travel did the same thing in a different way. Reading it was like engaging in a conversation with the creator, or solving a series of puzzles with him at my elbow, egging me on. I actually didn't like the visual style of that book very much, but it engaged me in a way that few others do.
To me, the hallmark of a great book is that I can find something new or appreciate it at a deeper level every time I reread it.
SPURGEON: I was interested that the top news stories you listed were almost entirely publishing news stories. That's a classic way of looking at the industry. How do you negotiate the difference between publishing news and facilitating someone else's publicity needs?
ALVERSON: I like covering publishing as an industry because I like standing off to the side and observing how things work. I want to see the wires and the levers and the man behind the curtain -- everything that goes into creating the experience.
I view press releases the same way I did when I was writing for the newspaper. They are starting points, not completed stories, and I try to read them critically, looking for what is not said as well as what's there, and staying alert for questions they raise. One of the things I like about CBR and Robot 6 is that they encourage this sort of journalistic thinking.
That said, the publicity cycle is an essential part of any news-gathering organization. That's how you get access -- the marketing people are eager to connect you with creators and send you review copies. And the fact that someone has a new book coming out or has just achieved some sort of a milestone is also a news hook that will get your editor to approve the story and your readers to read it. In that respect, both sides have a sort of symbiotic relationship.
Most of the marketing people I have worked with have been extremely professional. Not only do they respond quickly to my queries and move heaven and earth to get me what I ask for, they also understand that life is a crap shoot, and I may ask embarrassing questions or pan their book. Unlike a lot of people, I have never had a publisher threaten to refuse access because of something I have written. Maybe I'm not pushing hard enough, but I like to think it's because I'm fair to all sides, and because the marketing people are too professional to pull that kind of crap.
SPURGEON: There's a great deal of agreement that digital generally was a big story for 2010, but there's not a lot of certainty as to why. Do you think the important things that happened in that arena in 2010 are more the programs being put into place, like the kindle programs you describe, the technology that's appeared, or this slow waking-up to the idea that digital will be a primary home for comics moving forward? When does this phase of the story end, to your mind -- is it when Marvel and DC are all in, day-and-date? Is it when the smaller publishers catch up; is it a certain dollar amount?
This was the year everything changed because this was the year we got the killer app for digital comics, the iPad. The Kindle is black and white (and the resolution, at least of the early versions, was too poor to render comics legible), and the iPhone/iPod Touch is too small. I do think the Kindle and the color Nook have a lot of potential going forward, but the iPad was what got us thinking in terms of reading comics on a personal screen. I think we will reach the end of the first phase later this month, when Dark Horse becomes the last major publisher to establish a digital presence.
SPURGEON: You've done a lot of incremental coverage of digital moves, company by company, announcement by announcement. What segments of the market, or even individual actors, do you think are setting the pace for digital distribution of comics work? What concrete thing would you most like to see happen in the next six months in terms of the overall development of that market?
ALVERSON: Right now, all the action is in the iTunes segment, and ComiXology and iVerse have consistently led the pack. I think iVerse was the first publisher to put comics out as individual iPhone apps, and comiXology was the first multi-comics reader. They saw what was coming and were ready to jump onto the iPad on launch day. ComiXology has been particularly aggressive, not only in making new moves in the market but also in promoting themselves behind the scenes to writers like me.
As I said above, the iPad is the killer app, but that doesn't mean that iTunes is the best marketplace, at least not in its current form. What we need now is a fully developed infrastructure for buying and selling -- and finding -- digital comics. Right now, there is no way to index comics across different apps, so you don't know what's coming out this week or whether a particular comic is available on comiXology's app or just the Marvel app. There is no way for casual consumers who aren't tied in to the comics world to find a comic that they aren't already looking for -- I'm a big believer in serendipity as a marketing tool. There are other tweaks and adjustments that will happen -- we are just starting to see graphic novels marketed digitally, and I think prices are still too high -- but the one piece that is still missing is some sort of universal index or search machine that makes comics visible across all platforms and apps. Without that, comics shopping is going to be a hit-or-miss affair.
SPURGEON: Do you agree with those that think the Japanese publishers have been somewhat effective in going after scanlators? Can you point to a company or even individual creators whose policies line up with what you think is an ideal approach in terms of that specific outcome?
ALVERSON: The campaign against scanlators has not worked. Onemanga.com and MangaFox are back to posting new chapters of licensed series every week. In a way, that's not a terrible thing. Yes, it is copyright infringement, but the publishers may have concluded, privately, that a lot of the people reading those sites wouldn't be buying their manga anyway; from reading the comments, it looks to me like the biggest users are young teens, who don't have much money, and readers who are outside the U.S. and can't get manga in their country. In a tough economy, you have to choose your battles.
If I were a manga publisher, I'd be more worried about the manga apps for iPhone and iPad that scoop manga from those sites. People pay for those, so they are more likely to be revenue that the publishers could be capturing. Viz has a very nice iPad app, but I think their books are overpriced. Yen is working on one but it isn't out yet. So right now the scanners are eating their lunch. That's where the money is, and I don't understand why they aren't demanding that the bootleg apps be removed from the iTunes store.
The most promising sign I see on the Japanese side is a move toward making older manga available at a very low cost. At the ICv2 Digital Conference at NYCC, Masaki Shimizu from Bitway said that they are pricing their mobile comics at 25 cents for 20 pages. Ken Akamatsu just put all of Love Hina online -- in Japanese -- for free, and Kodansha and Shueisha, two of the biggest publishers in Japan, are working with him. I think that could be a model that could work well over here, too.
SPURGEON: With a rise in the publishing of comics for children, and that a lot of this is taking place within mainstream prose publishing halls, do you worry about censorship issues rearing their heads at all? Because when comics are being sold to kids, not everyone agrees on what that should mean.
ALVERSON: So far, everyone has been pretty sensible about this. Publishers who produce comics for children pretty much know what the boundaries are. The problems have mostly come up with Japanese manga, which weren't written for American kids and sometimes mix in content that is less accepted here -- or are really adult comics but look like kid stuff.
Every now and then, someone finds something objectionable in a comic in a library or school and demands that it be removed. Public libraries usually have collection policies and are able to defend their books. And these are all isolated incidents -- I think overall, enough librarians, educators, and parents realize the value of comics and graphic novels, and publishers are responsible enough about what they produce, that we aren't going to see any mass movements pushing self-censorship like we did in the 1950s.
SPURGEON: How deep is the commitment to children's comics that you describe, do you think? More than just the gains, do you think these programs are entrenched now, or is there still an element of novelty and fashion, a kind of "trying out" of comics for that market? Are those programs going to be the same size or bigger five years from now, in your opinion?
ALVERSON: Publishing is a business, and one with pretty thin margins. Publishers will stay committed to children's comics for as long as they feel they can sell them at a profit, and their graphic novel programs will expand or contract accordingly.
That said, I think children's graphic novels are pretty well established as a medium. Scholastic knows how to make money selling graphic novels, and Raina Telgemeier's Smile seemed to catch on beyond the boundaries of traditional graphic novel readers this year. Abrams hit the jackpot with Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and I'm sure Hereville is selling briskly; they and First Second are doing well in the high end of the market, the stuff adults love because it's well done and beautifully produced. And of course Françoise Mouly has done incredible work getting educators and librarians excited about graphic novels for early readers.
The puzzle remains how to get the books to the kids. The chain bookstores don't seem to be promoting graphic novels as a medium in their children's departments, and the direct market doesn't cater to kids at all, for the most part. The kids are willing to buy -- I have heard that graphic novels sell like hotcakes at Scholastic's book fairs -- but you have to put the comics in front of them.
ALVERSON: I don't think I would still be doing this if it weren't for the people. They are amazing, and I really feel fortunate to have fallen in with such a great bunch of folks. I think the fact that we all have this love of comics in common makes it easy to connect with people, plus people who are secure enough to admit to a slightly embarrassing enthusiasm like comics are probably pretty well adjusted. I know there is this terrible stereotype of the obsessive fanboy, but that has not been my experience at all. I find comics folks to be friendly, accepting, and wicked funny.
I couldn't begin to pick favorites, but I will say that there is a group of us here in the Boston area who get together from time to time for lunch or dinner and some serious comics talk, and it's always a good time: Robin Brenner, Kate Dacey, Melinda Beasi, and J. Dee Dupuy (until she up and moved to Singapore -- come back, Dee!). We often travel and room with our other Good Comics for Kids colleagues, Eva Volin and Snow Wildsmith, for conventions, and that exponentially increases the amount of fun I have on those trips.
SPURGEON:You had a great line about the Molly Norris "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" fiasco. You said, "The Internet has a short memory -- I had already forgotten about 'Everybody Draw Mohammed Day' -- but murderous psychopaths generally don't." How difficult a story was that for you in which to sort out where you stood and how you felt? It seemed like you were cognizant of this swirl of arguments and opinions on all sides. Do you think people were too easy on Norris' initial choice?
ALVERSON: It was a very difficult story, because I could see both sides so clearly. My first instinct is to come down on the side of free speech, but I couldn't get away from the fact that what she was doing was profoundly offensive to many people, and that speech has consequences.
I myself had a brief experience with someone I found threatening when I was I college -- a violent cokehead who started hanging around me. For a couple of days, until the authorities hauled him away, I knew what it was like not to feel safe no matter where I went. For that reason, Molly's story really struck a chord with me. Yes, she was impulsive and thoughtless, but now she is going to have this threat hanging over her head for at least a good long while, and that's too bad.
SPURGEON: I take it from your convention writing that your attitudes towards these shows has changed over your time attending them. Why are conventions so popular now? As a dedicated newsperson, are they really effective ways to communicate publishing news and other information? How would you see them change?
ALVERSON: Conventions are popular because it's a rare opportunity to get together with people who share your interests and maybe meet some of your heroes. I don't get to talk much about comics in my everyday life, so it's great to go to cons and see people that I already know from the internet, and geek out about comics all day with them.
In terms of communication, they have evolved a bit. Nowadays, it seems like a lot of the big news is broken just before the cons -- there is always a flood of press releases the week before. And yes, they are valuable to me as a newsperson, but mainly because it's an opportunity to connect in person with editors, marketing people, and creators.
Of course, there is news that breaks in panels, and I love sitting in the front row with all the other bloggers and Tweeting new title announcements as they come out. But the panels I really enjoy, although they are harder to write up, are the creator spotlights where the creator just sits and answers questions from their fans for an hour. That's the sort of experience that you really can't duplicate any other way.
SPURGEON: You've also done some sales analysis, or at least blogged about sales analysis, in the direct market. How invested are you personally in the survival of the Direct Market? Do you think we're in for a rough winter for the hobby and comics shops, as some analysts have suggested?
ALVERSON: I am not heavily invested in the Direct Market in the sense of having a comic store that I visit regularly -- I'm not one of the Wednesday crowd. We do have a lot of good comics stores here in the Boston area, and I always enjoy visiting them, but it's an effort -- I have to go out of my way. I do have to mention that I am friendly with Matt Lehman, the owner of Comicopia, and knowing him has opened my eyes to the sort of deep knowledge and good service that lure people to stores like his -- and Matt is always a step or two ahead of the game.
It's hard to say what is going to happen to the direct market. It has been a tough couple of years for comics stores, due in part to the economy, but the potential is also there for the audience to grow, and if you have a bigger audience, you increase the demand for the sort of products one can only find in a specialty store. So while retailers are certainly justified in feeling threatened by digital comics, it could be their salvation as well.
For that to work, comics stores have to be a compelling destination for someone. I think the social aspect is huge for a lot of superhero readers -- it's like going to a convention every Wednesday -- but there's also plenty of money to be made in being the kind of store that kids drag their parents to.
ALVERSON: Yes, it's actually pretty simple. Kodansha used to license their manga to Del Rey, which would pay a fee up front for the licenses and then pay translators, editors, and production people to produce the books. They paid out a lot up front and hopefully made it back, plus a profit, when the books sold.
Now it works the other way around. Kodansha keeps the licenses and publishes the books under their own name, but they are hiring a Random House subsidiary to do the editorial work. (Random House is Del Rey's parent company.) So instead of Random House paying Kodansha, Kodansha is paying Random House -- and taking on the risks and rewards themselves -- while Random House gets a guaranteed but limited payment. It's a lot like the difference between royalties and work for hire.
SPURGEON: Right. Hey, before we go, I was wondering: what comic that you own or maybe just enjoy would we be most surprised to see sitting our shelf -- or stored away inside your reader?
ALVERSON: I'd love to trot out my collection of interesting and obscure comics -- my British annuals from the 1960s, the underground comics I had to hide away when my kids were born, my copy of The Crab with the Golden Claws in Esperanto -- but I think people would be most surprised to know I own a copy of How To Draw Comics the Marvel Way, which I picked up while I was editing art instruction books for Watson-Guptill in the 1980s. I quit reading superheroes in about 1987, so this is one of the few remnants I have of that bygone era.
* photo of Alverson supplied by the writer
* part of the logo for MangaBlog
* Robot 6 logo
* comic book journalism, not comics industry journalism
* reading comics
* thinking about Father Time
* a Nola's Worlds cover
* from Hereville
* from Travel
* art used in support of the Pocket God app
* a comiXology logo
* from Love Hina
* from the hit book Smile
* Stu Hample's work
* cons are crazy now
* Kodansha logo
* the surprising thing lurking in Alverson's bookshelf
* icon of Alverson used at Good Comics For Kids (below)
The educator and cartoonist James Sturm is another of my favorite people in comics. He's the co-founder of The Center For Cartoon Studies, the author of 2010's fine book Market Day and one of the driving forces behind the publication of Denys Wortman's New York. If there were a tree chart of 2010 comics events and underlying issues with lines drawn to the cartoonists engaged in some element of said issues, Sturm would appear on it looking like a marionette with tangled strings.
Not that there's ever a bad time to talk to James Sturm, and not that he'd ever take time from the questions put to him to mention it, but information on CCS' annual fund-raising drive can be found here. A film critic once wrote of a prolific director that beyond the quality of the works that resulted the director's career seemed to represent a logical way to organize one's life around art. James Sturm and his career make similar, and I'd suggest aspirational, sense. I'm grateful he found the time for this chat. -- Tom Spurgeon
TOM SPURGEON: James, I was wondering if I could start off by inquiring about the state of CCS. You're several years in, and the U.S. is in a period of general economic distress. Is the institution where you hoped it would be at this point? Have you exceeded your expectations in any specific ways?
JAMES STURM: CCS welcomed its sixth class in the fall and I'm exceptionally pleased where CCS is at right now. I'm glad CCS got rolling before the economic downturn. We had a good head of steam before things went south and as result it didn't seem like it hurt us in the ways that it did for more established schools that have much larger infrastructure expenses.
In terms of expectations, when I started down this road I didn't know for instance that Steve Bissette was living in Vermont and how great a teacher he would become. He really committed to this whole thing working in ways too numerous to mention. The fact that Jason Lutes would move to Vermont from Seattle and be such an exceptional teacher is also still astounding to me. I've been continually blown away by Alec Longstreth as well -- what an incredible addition he has been to the faculty. The quality of our faculty and students is really what makes this place hum.
SPURGEON: Tell me more about Alec. Of the three people you just mentioned, he's the least known. Where did you find him, and what specifically does he bring to the table as a faculty member?
STURM: Originally Alec did some summer workshops for us. We've been doing these summer workshops for kids 16 and over, starting the summer before we even started our regular curriculum. He did that, he was also a fellow for a year. We have a fellows program that a lot of people don't know about. Alec was a fellow, Chris Wright... Robyn Chapman was the first. The Belgian cartoonist Max de Radiguès.
Alec brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm into the classroom. Plus he's so organized and smart that I wouldn't hesitate having him teach any class CCS offers. Cartooning is in his DNA and he's really serious about figuring out how to keep cartooning at the center of his life. His commitment is incredibly inspiring.
SPURGEON: Have you been doing this long enough that you're seeing any differences between your newest class and your first?
STURM: Each class is very different and I hesitate to draw conclusions as to why that is. I think CCS attracts somebody that really wants to be challenged, is more mature than the average student you'd find at a larger art and design college and is making a deliberate choice to hole up in White River Junction for a few years.
SPURGEON: Is there a different orientation towards digital material even in that short time, perhaps?
STURM: The students are certainly more out front in that regard than most of the faculty. We've had cartoonists like Kate Beaton and Meredith Gran come through as visiting artists. What makes their comics work is they are first and foremost good cartoonists. It seems important to me that the delivery system, while important to understand, should never be emphasized at the expense of working on hard work of trying to become a good cartoonist.
SPURGEON: Do you think you're perceived differently now for having years under your belt?
STURM: I'm not acutely aware of how we were perceived so unsure how to answer this one. We are not a start-up any more. We are financially stable and have gotten into a great groove in terms of curriculum. I hope more people are perceiving us -- it makes finding talented students and fundraising easier!
One thing I think is changing is that I don't see CCS being described as James Sturm's school any longer. And that makes me kind of glad. It's a small school, but it's a decently-sized enterprise. At this point I'm not even the most integral member of the team in some ways. You could more than make a good argument for Michelle Ollie being the most critical person here. The faculty I've mentioned, the students, there are just a lot of voices and people involved. It's weird to even think of it as being my school. It's much bigger than that, and I'm so glad. I'm proud to be play a part in the whole thing, a vital part, but to call it my school is a disservice almost in a lot of ways.
SPURGEON: In an ongoing conversation with Dave Sim he's presently putting on-line, Steve Bissette talked about the students with whom he's working adapting to the realities of the modern marketplace, and seems to be saying that it's on them to find a way to keep creating in the avenues that exist through which to create and potentially find reward. You've talked in the past about not wanting to burden artists that are learning to create and that are learning and applying skills with vocational issues; do you agree that this is what an artist confronts once they leave school, that these are unique challenges right now, or no?
STURM: I agree with what Steve says here -- or at least your paraphrase.
SPURGEON: We should probably make that super-clear.
STURM: I think early on, when a cartoonist is still finding their sea legs it is important that they don't worry to much about vocational concerns, it takes focus, energy, and pleasure away from their work. I think any art school would be remiss if they didn't tackle these topics head on and CCS brings in publishers, agents, editors, and visiting artists that talk about a host of professional issues. CCS's curriculum is designed to help students transition from working in a structured environment to working independently. That said, most every student, whatever their vocation, is in for a serious transition when they leave school.
SPURGEON: I don't think I could characterize how much of starting CCS was as a corrective to what you experienced as a comics-curriculum educator up until that time, but do you think its existence has had a system-wide effect on how people approach the idea of pursuing schoolwork related to comics. Tom Hart and Leela Corman announced their intention to start a school in Florida, for instance. How do you feel about other institutions -- or other programs at bigger institutions -- with at least overlapping goals potentially springing up or simply moving to potentially react to what you've done?
STURM: I think its too early to say what effect CCS may have. It seems to me that things here in WRJ worked out because of a unique fusion of talent, location and timing. I couldn't replicate this again if I tried. I'm a fan of Tom Hart and what he is trying to do. He's a special teacher and I hope the best for his attempt to get a school up-and-running. I love the model of having a small, intense, independent, workshop-oriented programs peppered throughout the country is a good one. These big art and design schools, while they have their advantages, can also lose focus on their students.
SPURGEON: Are you happy with the way Market Day was received? It seems like the book hit a lot of people in a personal way, that they related to the situation and the emotional toll exacted on someone at the mercy of the market in an almost raw fashion. There's an underlying intelligence to the body of your work that I think of when I think of your books, and I wondered how you felt about the emotional impact of the stories you tell. Is that part of your intention?
STURM: I was happy with how Market Day was received. I would think most creators want their stories to have an emotional impact.
SPURGEON: When you're dealing with a story like Market Day that has an emotional component that hits a lot of people hard, where it gets really dark and personal there for a while -- when you're working on the book, are you aware of that emotional aspect as its own thing? Is that something you try to consciously enhance while creating the work or is that just something that comes out in the course of you trying to tell a specific story?
STURM:Market Day was certainly a more personal work than other things I've done in a way, and I wanted to be as true and honest to the impulses and feelings that inspired me to make the book. So I'm not deliberately trying to wring out excessive sentiment. Things can take a seriously maudlin turn if you're preoccupied with that. I thought I'd tell the story, and if some of that emotional resonance kind of seeped through the panels, I'm happy about that. If it didn't, it probably wouldn't stick to anybody's ribs.
SPURGEON: The obvious question to ask of Market Day -- it's almost certainly something about which I asked you earlier this year -- concerns the vocational aspects of the work and the fact that it was published in the midst of this massive, worldwide recession. Market Day also arrived during a significant period of transition for most arts fields related to the ongoing growth in digital media equivalents and the increased use of the Internet as a distribution method. Was too much made of those confluences, do you think? Was that just an easy set of questions to ask?
STURM: I think perhaps one of the reasons that the book maybe got as much play as it did was because of the timing of the economic downturn. I wasn't thinking those things when I did it. Every artist is in a perpetual recession. [laughter] There might be a few more opportunities when the economy is good, but let's face it, most people striving to do idiosyncratic or personal work, most of that stuff doesn't have a niche in the marketplace, and if it finds one, it can be very precarious.
SPURGEON: One thing that might have been different for you about Market Day is the way you promoted it. You attended at least Comic-Con International in the course of promoting this book, and likely some other shows. We've seen a surge in shows across the spectrum, these public meet-ups, and I wonder if you had any insight having been around as long as you have --
STURM: -- that's the nice way of saying "You're getting old."
SPURGEON: Now that you're old, James, [Sturm laughs] do you have any insight as to why cons -- personal meet-ups, personal marketplaces -- have become so popular?
STURM: I'm in the midst of reading Middlemarch right now, and the young artist goes off to Rome for inspiration and fellowship. I think it's true throughout the ages. In most of these places there are some older cartoonists, but there are a lot of younger cartoonists going to find that fellowship. I think these are places where you feel you're not alone, and you're not adrift and there is a community out there. I know some people hate that word, community, but I think it does help to feel like you're a little part of something, that you're not just totally wasting your life [laughter] filling in these little boxes. Which is easy to feel, it really is.
SPURGEON: Do you feel common cause with other cartoonists?
STURM: I definitely do. Even in Market Day, Mendleman's camaraderie with the other artisans, that was an important thing for me to write about. I definitely do. You're committing your life to this thing. I've created a little bubble here in White River where in some ways it feels like this is a normal thing to do. But by and large it's an odd choice. It's really easy to feel out of sorts. I think that what you can get from other people, that inspiration and fellowship, you can't underestimate that. Another way of saying it is that if you're jogging with three or four other people, you go a little further. You're not willing to stop at the first pang. The other people pick you up and keep you going. They challenge you. I think that's the same thing in some ways with cartooning. I remember in the early '90s when Eightball and ACME were coming out, it seemed like both of those guys were pushing one another further and further. I remember going on a tour with Seth in Europe in 2001 or 2002 and seeing these beautiful drawings he was doing in people's sketchbooks, and going home at night and thinking, "I gotta raise my game here. I have to figure out what I'm doing so I don't embarrass myself the rest of the tour." I think that's good. I see it here at the school. The students want to step up because they see what everyone else is putting into it.
SPURGEON: Do you identify with your same-age peers in the field? The reason I ask is because this was kind of a staggering year for that alt-comics Generation One class. You mentioned Dan and Chris, they had excellent works out this year, you had a major book out this year, Megan...
SPURGEON: I agree. It seems like that whole group that we think of as those rising late '80s/early '90s cartoonists had quality work out. Do you think there's a reason that that group of cartoonists is still so prolific and active? Is it an accident of marketplace?
STURM: Well, I don't think it's an accident. [laughs] I don't know. Some of those people you mention, I feel intimate with them, just through their work, because I've been reading it since their first public offering. Others are actually close friends. There's a certain level of prejudice. I'm not very objective dealing with their work. There are people that are younger than I am whose work I like -- Vanessa Davis -- whose work I'm kind of blown away by. But there is something... I don't know. There's something extra-special when you have that kind of intimate relationship with somebody and their work. It doesn't make their work any better, but in terms of reading, it feels a little bit like reading through a family album.
SPURGEON: One big story this year is that comics may have reached a tipping pint in terms of the inevitability of digital media. Everyone's in a different place digitally, from all in to still resisting, but the shift seems like it's ongoing and powerful. What interest do you have as an artist in seeing your work available through those channels?
STURM: It depends on the kind of work. Something like Market Day, I cringed when I thought of a reviewer just reading a PDF of the book. So much of that book was texture, the way it was printed, the design of it. It was important that if that book was to be considered, it would be considered as a book. But there are other projects that could be as easily read on an iPad, I suppose. Like you said, it seems inevitable that this will be the primary reading device of comics eventually. I guess it depends on a project by project basis and what the intent of the artist is.
SPURGEON: What about you as an artist? Do you foresee a point at which you start taking the iPad into account the same way you take into account the printing and the paper and the cover stock? When does the James Sturm webcomic launch?
STURM: I'm working on a project now that will lend itself to that kind of distribution. I have no problem with that. At all. When Kate Beaton was at the school, and showing her work, someone asked her what made her an on-line cartoonist and she said, "My work appears on-line." In terms of her approach, or the way she draws or the way she comes up with her ideas, she's no different that Jules Feiffer doing his strip. I'm sure there will be cartoonists who really think through that format in a way that feels novel and distinct, comics that couldn't work in print. I look forward to that when it happens. But nothing to me says I have to change the way I approach my work because of an iPad. In some ways, the way I work -- very discrete page units, my layouts are pretty straight-forward -- kind of lend themselves to that anyway. A few years ago we got a few kindles in the school library. We have an iPad at the school library and we brought the kindles in and we talked to the students about that. No one was that interested in formatting anything for the kindle. You don't want to hook your carriage up to that format horse; if everyone structured for the kindle, what would happen with the iPad. Maybe there will be a default format that will accommodate what people do. But this has been happening for a while. I remember when I was art directing at The Stranger, Charles Burns would send in his Big Baby comics. The way he had formatted it was in these half-page units that would work for the newpaper and then he would stack them for his pages. Chris Ware did that, too, with his newspaper work. He had an eye on the book later down the line.
SPURGEON: It's very matter-of-fact; it doesn't seem like they were cooking something up, or working out of a theory, but making choices according to the options placed in front of them.
STURM: It's a very labor-intensive process. If you can share work in process and find another outlet for it and build an audience and make a few extra dollars and rethink some formats and make some decisions based on that, that seems like a smart way to go to me.
SPURGEON: I imagine I'm catching you three or four weeks removed from the launch of Denys Wortman's New York and all the publicity that goes with something like that. I really liked that book. And I have a sense of how long it took you to get it into print. Was that a gratifying experience to finally get that book out there where people could read it?
STURM: It was really gratifying. I was thrilled, and I was thrilled for Denys Wortman's son. We had this big opening at the museum. Stan Mack was on the panel with Jules Feiffer and myself, a historian named Joshua Brown; it was such a celebration to see it there. It's a cliché to say that was a "labor of love," but it really was. I was taken with the work. I felt like there was an opportunity to share it with a bigger audience. I think this is one of the really most satisfying parts of being a director of an institution. You can put that in quotes if you want. [laughter] It allows me to knock on doors and instead of just being a cartoonist playing an angle I'm a director of an institute. I'm a little more trustworthy to other institutions or something.
We'll be sending the announcement out in a couple of weeks, but Vermont is about to become the very first state to have a cartoonist laureate. That's a really exciting thing, to pull together different constituencies to make this happen. Down the road, I'm sure there will be a national cartoonist laureate as well. Setting this up, if I didn't have the legitimacy of CCS behind me, it would be much more difficult.
SPURGEON: You lived with that book for some time; you were the only person seeing it.
SPURGEON: You and the other people working on it. Was there anything about finally getting other eyes to rest on it that surprised you? One of the profiles, probably the one in the Times, featured someone talking about what it was like to see that work when it was originally serialized, and that kind of blew me away based on my own relationship to the work having just read it. What's it like to put it into other people's hands?
STURM: We had a dedicated room called the Wortman room where the work was in stacks, categorized, and Brandon and I would meet and make selections and decided the shape of the book. Throughout the process I was bringing visiting artists into the room or when I was in San Diego or out and about I would bring pages to show publishers or people to stir up some interest. It never ceased to amaze me, this reaction when people saw the work. I showed it to you in San Diego.
SPURGEON: Yes, you did.
STURM: And it was like, "Wow." [Spurgeon laughs] He was drawing New York and he did capture the vitality of New York. But if the guy had lived in Rome or L.A. we would still have that wow because he had that kind of facility and commitment to drawing, this almost not quite finished but incredibly accomplished feel to it. It's amazing. It's also sobering as an artist to realize someone of that caliber can be almost totally forgotten. [laughter] So in that sense, it's a little poignant, too.
* James Sturm (photo by Whit Spurgeon)
* Alec Longstreth (photo by me)
* Seth's depiction of the school
* Joseph Lambert's depiction of the school
* the emotionally heavy content of Market Day
* like our economy, so is that of Market Day
* these guys could be heading to MoCCA Festival
* Market Day is a book, not a PDF
* Denys Wortman's New York
* two examples of Wortman's work
* a portion of a page from Market Day
* a Wimbledon Green prequel coming out later this year from Seth? Are you kidding me? Really good news.
* speaking of anticipated works, when I saw this photo, I wondered if Craig Thompson hand-delivered all of this art. Then I realized it's all digital at this point, and it's not like they haven't been making reproducible copies of original art for delivery for decades now. Still: potentially enjoyable Fall of 2011.
* the retailer advocacy group ComicsPRO has nominated a slew of industry folks for its Industry Appreciation Award. For the industry award proper: Steve Geppi, Denis Kitchen, Stan Lee, Bill Schanes, Bob Wayne. For the memorial version: Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Julius Schwartz, Phil Seuling. My guess would be Wayne and Sueling, but I'm a terrible guesser. Bios and more information through the link.
* not comics: wow, this is really depressing. My love for reading was nourished on family trips to Chicago in the 1970s, joining my parents while they hit that great city's downtown bookstores. This included one or two idiosyncratic ones within walking distance of the Drake right there on Michigan Avenue (or maybe as far away as Rush Street; my memories conflict). Heck, Marshall Field's even had a pretty good book section. It's hard to believe that there will be no more bookshelves to be walked between by the various customers and tourists working that famous stretch of American retail enterprise.
* Comic-Con International has named another round of guests: Sergio Aragonés, Ed Benes, Anina Bennett, Chester Brown, Ernie Chan, Seymour Chwast, Dick DeBartolo, Tony DeZuniga, Eric Drooker, Mark Evanier, Joyce Farmer, Paul Guinan, Joëlle Jones, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Richard A. and Patricia Lupoff, Patrick McDonnell, Grant Morrison, Alex Niño, Steranko, Cameron Stewart and Dave Stewart. That's an intriguing list.
* the cartoonist, writer and arts advocate Gerry Alanguilan pens one of the most thorough personal year-in-review reports I've ever seen. It's good to hear someone out there had a great 2010.
* Alan Gardner at Daily Cartoonist has been blogging up a storm in the new year. Here's a few of his latest: a Beetle Bailey men's apparel and accessories collection profiled; an interview about Tintinunearthed; a post about self-publishing your own collections discussed.
* this weekend sees the first North American comics show of the year of any size or import: the Arizona Comic Con. I think a sizable show in Arizona during the cold months could conceivably have a lot of appeal for a lot of comics people, and certainly that's an underrated region in terms of number of comics fans.
* finally, I don't really have anything to say about this that I didn't express last time. I don't really have problems with the strength and provocative nature of the reaction as expressed, either -- in fact, this sort of reaction from a creator in that group seems more appropriate to me than the random fans reacting a tenth as strongly on those creators' collective behalf did. I disagree strongly with the substance of the reaction expressed here, but I can sympathize with its formulation.
When I left Fantagraphics in early 1999 after four and a half years on the job, I spent a month in an otherwise empty Indiana lake house staring at the horizon followed by five weeks leisurely moving couch to couch following horse racing's Triple Crown as best as my tiny bankroll allowed. Emerging on the other side, I was still exhausted, beat up and burnt out.
Until his late December layoff, Dirk Deppey worked for Fantagraphics for more than a decade. He spent much of that time on a project -- the ground-breaking comics news link-blog ¡Journalista! -- with a deadline looming five days a week. I am grateful beyond words that the one-time print Comics Journal editor, whose accomplishments in that particular gig included an honest-to-goodness Shôjo manga issue and managing to place many of today's top writers about comics into print for the first time, agreed to talk to me about his long, strange trip through comics industry news' migration into on-line media. You'll find him every bit as cogent and forthright in our conversation below as he was on his best days of blogging. I have no idea how he manages it.
I wish Dirk every last bit of luck on his future projects, and was relieved to hear in what follows that he'll take some time getting to them. -- Tom Spurgeon
DIRK DEPPEY: I didn't see it coming at all. You have to understand: for the most part, I've done the last four years of ¡Journalista! in something of a void, with few comments or reactions. So I've never been too sure about the website's relative popularity. The reaction came as a complete surprise, and was very, very humbling.
SPURGEON: I thought your last post was interesting in a couple of ways. First of all, what made you go with kind of a ¡Journalista! 101 link round-up? Was that to encourage others to pick up on some of the sources you've used in putting together the column?
DEPPEY: I knew that x-amount of people were using the blog to get a quick summary of the morning's news, and didn't want to see them left in a lurch is all.
SPURGEON: The other thing that a lot of people noted is that there was almost no acrimony on your part. I'm not going to ask you if that was genuine, because I know it was, but I wondered if you could talk a bit more about what it is you valued about the whole ¡Journalista!/Fantagraphics experience. What about the kind of work you did most appealed to you? What were your best days?
DEPPEY: Oh, they were pretty much all "best days."
Before my adventures at Fantagraphics, I'd spent a good dozen years in various graphics-related jobs for seemingly half the print sweatshops in Arizona, followed by a two-year stretch running websites for a sporting newspaper that turned out to be the most dysfunctional workplace in which I'd ever set foot -- I'd kind of lost track of what it felt like to have a job that I actually liked.
The amazing thing about Fantagraphics is that the management's default response to anything remotely resembling an interesting idea -- so long as it doesn't involve any real cash expenditure -- is, "Why not? Go do it." Start digitizing all those cassette tapes in the basement and post excerpts online? Start a weblog that eventually eats up all the time I was spending making porn mailers? Yes and yes. "Hey Gary, I know a guy who wants to start a manga line. Can we talk?" It felt a bit like I was making up my job as I went along. It didn't pay for shit, of course, but it was still the coolest gig in the world.
SPURGEON: I don't know that you'll be able to answer this, but you said in your initial announcement that you were surprised that the announcement had been put off as long as it had, which I think led some people to believe that there were financial considerations involved in your departure. Fantagraphics' statement on the matter is that the magazine is going in a new direction. Why were you let go, Dirk? Do you know anything about their future plans?
DEPPEY: Fantagraphics' statement is as much a mystery to me as to anyone else. If there's some grand new editorial strategy afoot at the Journal, nobody bothered to tell me about it.
I'm reasonably sure that they just couldn't afford to keep me on. I mean, the Journal has been losing money for at least eight years. Prior to the rise of the Web, the magazine was pretty much the only place where you could get bullshit-free reportage and commentary on comics as a medium and an industry, and the Direct Market therefore tolerated its presence. The Internet changed that, and rendered The Comics Journal essentially superfluous. The fact that it took Gary as long as it did to finally suspend its publication as a magazine demonstrates his love for the Journal.
Advertising revenues on the website have never brought in enough to support my salary, and, after a year, it's become clear that if TCJ.com was to continue as a functioning entity without bleeding cash left and right, I was going to have to be let go. I mean, it's been obvious to me for months, so it has to have been obvious to Gary as well.
SPURGEON: Dirk, you moved to Seattle after I stopped working at Fantagraphics, and I'm not sure I know that much about your background. Am I right in remembering that you went there for a kind of production/tech job centered around the making of their catalog? How did you end up working on their on-line efforts?
DEPPEY:As I once told Tucker Stone, I basically took the Fantagraphics gig on a whim, after making fun of the TCJ website on its message board. I was hired as Catalog Editor, with initial duties involving the design and production of various mailers and such, mostly for Eros Comix. I'd also discussed Web-related work with Gary Groth, but we hadn't really identified specific duties in that regard.
I quickly discovered that I was the only person at Fantagraphics who knew anything about the Internet. Shortly after I arrived in Seattle, I told then-Comics Journal editor Eric Evans that I knew how to produce and maintain websites and, without another word, he pulled out a sheet of paper containing the admin log-ins and passwords to TCJ.com and told me, "Here you go, it's all yours." [Spurgeon laughs] After redesigning the site and folding its various permutations into a more coherent structure, I flailed around for a few years trying to figure out what to actually do with it, before finally settling on the audio archive and the blog.
SPURGEON: Was there a model for ¡Journalista! in its initial form, such as one of the early media aggregators like Romenesko? What was your initial thinking in putting the column together?
DEPPEY: Actually, there was a model for me in the early days: Shortly after 9/11, a Tennessee law professor named Glenn Reynolds began obsessively blogging the War on Terror, or whatever it was called. He began linking widely, and the people to whom he linked began linking back to him (and each other) as well. Within a year he was at the center of what would eventually become the conservative blogosphere. I suspected that the model could be applied to comics as well, and so I set about doing just that. And it worked like a motherfucker.
Basically, the comics blogosphere is the product of a right-wing plot, is what I'm trying to say.
SPURGEON: [laughs] One of the nice things said about you in December came in the form of a few of the long-time bloggers chiming in to make people remember that you were an essential figure in that early comics blogosphere. What do you remember about the first run of ¡Journalista!, and the context of conversation and blogging about one another in which it took place? Is there anything we're missing today that was good about those days, do you think, in terms of the kind of coverage that was being provided?
DEPPEY: Mostly I remember my surprise at getting away with it. When I started ¡Journalista!, I was working on catalogs and mailers for eight hours a day and doing the blog for four. Within six months, I found myself blogging for eight hours and doing the catalog for four. When I informed Kim Thompson that this was the case, he gave it all of 15 seconds' thought and informed me that henceforth, ¡Journalista! would count as "half time," and that the eight hours I was putting into it therefore made up for the four that I no longer spent doing, you know, the job that I was originally hired to perform.
As for the "good old days," I have an allergic reaction to rose-colored glasses, and they wouldn't do any good anyway. There are more and better writers covering the medium now than at any point in history. I suppose I had a larger role in setting the initial terms of the debate, but that's far less important than the degree to which the comics blogosphere has taken the ball and run with it. Reading about comics is far more entertaining and informative now than it's ever been, even if, like me, you hate seeing ass-kissing and product news passed off as "journalism."
SPURGEON: To take a further step back with that same line of thinking, what do you think changed most in terms of covering a field on-line as you've done it? It seems to me, for example, that the emergence of social media outlets has really changed how people write on-line, and that the companies themselves are generating way more content now, but I'm way more interested in your perspective.
DEPPEY: I don't think that the conversation has changed so much as there's more of it now, and it's more informed. I'm tempted to say that people are far more likely to call bullshit on some of the comics industry's uglier practices now, but that's not exactly true either -- there are simply more voices now, so it sounds louder.
SPURGEON: Your statement that you wanted to get the Comics Journal twitter feed over 1000 followers seemed to come with some regret about maybe neglecting or not making use of those avenues for getting the site over. Is there anything you might do differently in terms of site development if you had to do the whole thing over?
DEPPEY: Nah, I just wanted to get the count up past a thousand for the symbolism of it. Frankly, I'm still getting the hang of social media myself; I use Twitter as my personal link-blogging service, but really don't put in the effort required to build a huge fanbase there. I have a Facebook page as well, but solely to keep track of ten people that I've known for over a decade or two -- I have an ironclad policy of not "friending" anyone outside that small circle.
As for site development, I think that Kristy [Valenti] and Mike [Dean] have done about as good job with TCJ.com as anyone could with the available resources. It's a nice little site. You should visit sometime.
SPURGEON: You were an early proponent for manga within art comics circles, and this year saw the publication of the Moto Hagio collection A Drunken Dream. It's my understanding you helped facilitate that book's publication, first by introducing Matt Thorn and Gary Groth, and then again by showcasing Hagio's work for American audience during your run on the print Journal. Was that a good experience, seeing that work finally published, seeing it received so well? How satisfied are you generally with the state of translated manga, and where would you ideally see it go in the next two, three years?
DEPPEY: Holding a copy of A Drunken Dream in my hands was satisfying, no question, but there's so much more to do.
I first got into manga thanks to two things. The first was Ai Yazawa's Paradise Kiss and subsequently Nana, two of the best comics I've ever read in my life. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Yazawa's comics are the closest I've ever come to reading a Pedro Almodóvar film on paper. They're trashy, emotionally resonant stories that leave you with the feeling of life being lived. She's like the Gilbert Hernandez of Japan.
The other was a small handful of scanlation sites -- Mangascreener, Kotonoha, Lililicious, a few others that I'm doubtlessly forgetting -- that gave me access to the sort of manga that I'd hoped existed, but weren't appealing enough to teenagers to be a good fit in the then-developing bookstore explosion. To this day, the amount of absolutely gripping comics that can only be found in the English language on those sites is positively heartbreaking. Virtually all of the recommendations that I made to Gary Groth and Matt Thorn when we were brainstorming the manga line via e-mail were comics I was only aware even existed because of these scanlators, and there's so much brilliant work yet to be licensed that it beggars belief.
SPURGEON: You were also early in on on-line comics, which is a field I'm not sure I understand and certainly hasn't developed in any of the 18 ways predicted for it five or more years ago. Was this a good year for that field? Was it a better year for those comics that have sprung up as a distinct culture around or a better one for digital initiatives for print comics publishers? Do you remain bullish on that publishing platform?
DEPPEY: I'll be damned if I know. With the nascent emergence of tablet computing, we're really talking about two completely different scenes, and it's anyone's guess how it's all going to work itself out. At this point, anyone who says they can tell you otherwise is lying.
For the Web-based comics scene, I don't think 2010 was a spectacular year so much as a year to keep building and exploring. With pamphlet comics essentially dead unless you've got Batman, Wolverine or a bunch of fucking zombies on the cover, webcomics have become almost the default place for serialization for most cartoonists not being subsidized by a publisher, and 2010 was more of the same -- not so much retrenchment at this point as further trenchwork. Does that make sense?
DEPPEY: With the exception of a few group sites like Act-I-Vate, it's all a bunch of creator-driven works scattered around the Web, so it's really hard to get a handle on how the scene's doing in the aggregate... at least for me, anyway. Gary Tyrrell and Xaviar Xerexes are the people you really need to talk to here.
As for tablet computing, I think we're still waiting for the technology to go mass-market. Right now, tablets are still too expensive to be more than a "creative class" affectation. This year's Consumer Electronics Show is about to get underway in Las Vegas as I write this, and I'll be interested in seeing what gets debuted there. Everyone's expecting an explosion of iPad killer wannabes, and if even a few of them get a foothold, I think we'll see a race to bring prices down without sacrificing too much in the way of capability. Once the price point drops down to $200 or thereabouts -- once these things become competitive with videogame consoles and the like -- then the potential to infiltrate the marketplace in a big way will be there. Until then, all this talk of tablet-oriented comics replacing floppies is just that: talk.
SPURGEON: Dirk, it seems to me there came a point with the second go-round at ¡Journalista! where you really kind of hunkered down and focused on your link-blogging. There weren't as many personal jeremiads or as much essay writing. Is that a fair assessment, do you think? If so, was there a reason behind that shift: for instance that's where you thought your work time was best spent, covering the explosion of news and criticism out there?
DEPPEY: It had less to do with some grand dedication to link-blogging, and more with having simply run out of things to say. There are only so many times you can keep repeating the same seven opinions on various facets of the industry before you start worrying about boring the audience.
Okay, there's a bit more to it than that. When I originally began writing for the blog, it was with the understanding that I was representing The Comics Journal on the Web, and that this meant something specific: that I was supposed to be the person who pointed out that much of the rhetoric being thrown around the comics industry was essentially glad-handing, bullshit boosterism, and that this was actually harmful to the industry insofar as it helped people to ignore things that would ultimately harm the business of comics. I still think that was the right approach -- especially in the early days of the blog, when there were few other dissenting voices -- but about two years into my second run on ¡Journalista!, I finally got sick of arguing all the time. It started to feel like I was just posturing for public attention, and that realization effectively killed any desire to keep being so shouty and belligerent. I began to have nightmares in which I'd turned into Keith Olbermann or Bill O'Reilly or some other pompous ass. I just lost the heart for it.
SPURGEON: Is there an ideal follow-up job out there for you? Do you think you'll keep writing about comics?
DEPPEY: Having spent the last ten years obsessed with comics from a critic's and/or journalist's perspective, I really haven't given much thought to what comes next. My first order of business is taking a month or two off and see what strikes my fancy. At the moment, it really feels like I'm done with industry commentary. That could change, I suppose -- maybe after eight years of writing about comics, either online or in print, I just need some time away from the subject.
Actually, it's kind of funny: Shortly after I first signed on with Fantagraphics, you came up to Seattle and a bunch of us went out to lunch. During the course of the meal, you asked me how long I intended to work for Kim and Gary, and after thinking about it for a moment, I replied "For as long as I can afford to keep doing so." You called that a good answer, but in hindsight I think it was the wrong answer. I did just about everything for the Journal that I wanted to do. I think the correct answer was, "When I'm done." I'm done now.
* Dirk Deppey bearing arms
* Deppey's most remarkable contribution to The Comics Journal: issue #269
* TCJ logo
* the older logo for Deppey's column
* Moto Hagio at CCI 2010
* A Drunken Dream
* from Paradise Kiss
* from Achewood, an on-line strip Deppey frequently championed
* from Nana
* the newer logo for Deppey's column (below)
* missed it: Dylan Horrocks takes time out from theorizing and making the lectures to draw someone a cute robot.
* if you make it past the first blowhard, here are links to a number of concise industry reactions to Axel Alonso being named Editor-In-Chief at Marvel. Erik Larsen's is the first critical commentary I've seen. I haven't looked into it myself, but it seems to me that looking at Alonso's track record with titles he edited at Marvel would be a fair line of inquiry, albeit one fraught with complexity and in need of nuanced analysis. I hope someone with their face pressed against the mainstream comics windshield attempts that article.
* this may be the funniest, oddest thing I've seen all morning.
* another one from Daily Cartoonist: PBS Newshourprofiles KAL's exhibit at the Cartoon Art Museum. In the e-mail sending a lot of us media types to that video, KAL (real name Kevin Kallaugher) mentioned that he'll be doing a 2012 calendar for The Economist. His 2010 and 2011 calendars were a lot of fun.
My first memorable encounter with the upstart comic book publisher BOOM! Studios came at a convention a couple of years ago. In the course of idly looking at the material in their booth, my presence was noted, at which point every single person behind the table walked over and introduced themselves to me: not a common occurrence. I was then gently hustled across the aisle where they had an empty space -- purchased by the publisher or simply adopted, I could not tell you -- where co-founder Ross Richie was just getting done talking to one of my press peers. Richie then turned his full attention towards me like a champion gladiator sizing up his next opponent. In other words, I was doomed.
I don't think I said more than three words in the next ten minutes, and I thought about physically fleeing twice, but I have to admit it was sort of bracing to encounter a company that featured so many actively engaged people up and down the phone tree, young folks and slightly less-young folks falling over themselves to please the person standing in front of them. I've been keeping an eye on them ever since, both for that encounter and as their publishing announcements have merited attention all on their own. BOOM! has thus far defied the odds against new companies finding purchase in the crowded, slightly dysfunctional comic book marketplace. They have worked licenses, genres, creators and styles that other publishers have undervalued and overlooked. They have enjoyed a measure of sales success with alt-comics legend Roger Langridgeand the late-period, property-generating dynamo Stan Lee, and I'm not sure many companies out there could say either, let alone both.
Matt Gagnon (that's him above) is one of a number of mostly young people that have drifted into BOOM!'s Los Angeles orbit since the company started to grow (Gagnon actually went on staff slightly before the growth period); we discuss his move from being hired to edit a specific line of books into an Editor-In-Chief position some months later in the conversation below. Gagnon shifted over from retail, previously working with premier U.S. retailer Meltdown Comics. I got a kick out of the energy with which he answered his questions, and I can't imagine too many people out there that wouldn't want to work for a company that at least aspired to this level of enthusiasm and self-confidence. In a period where majorly successful, massive cross-media giants of comics companies were cutting staffed and freelance positions across the board, BOOM! added them. I greatly appreciate Gagnon's time during a season no longer characterized by holiday downtime. -- Tom Spurgeon
TOM SPURGEON: It seems to me that you become promoted in pairs. In 2008, you were hired to edit the Farscape comics BOOM! was doing and ended up slipping into the Managing Editor position; this year you got a promotion to Editor-In-Chief and now I assume you're taking on new responsibilities with Mark Waid's departure. Let's start there. What are you going to be doing differently with Mark leaving the company; what challenges and opportunities do you see for yourself there?
MATT GAGNON: The last few years have certainly moved fast. When I came to BOOM! there were five people working in the office and we were publishing seven titles a month. Quickly thereafter, we hit a period of seismic growth, and carefully planned where we were headed. To that end, we tried to grow the company gradually without flooding the market with books. We approached each series and program like the company depended on it -- in some cases it did -- and we concentrated on executing everything we said we were going to do.
As the company evolved, the nature of our office operations did as well. Ross and Mark had confidence in me -- which I've always appreciated -- and promoted me as needed. We now have a company that's firmly in the Top Ten comic book publishers in America and a staff of 25 terrific employees, and the challenges and rewards of my position are legion. The comic book industry is as competitive as I've ever seen it right now, and my job is to shepherd our line of comics both in terms of creative and production. That means consistently breaking new talent in an atmosphere where commercial creators are quickly locked up by the Big Two, fighting for space on the shelves every month and launching new series in an environment where there's virtually no room for expansion.
The list of the top 300 comics is like a packed bar... somebody has to be thrown out before they'll let anybody else in. I look around the industry and see a lot amazing things happening -- any number of terrific comics being published, but I also see a lot of room for improvement. I believe there are some very simple things that you can do to set yourself apart. It's really just about being "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger," to steal a line from the noted 21st Century philosopher Daft Punk.
SPURGEON: What have you learned by working with Mark? More generally, are there people at the company from whom you've taken stuff that you apply in your job?
GAGNON: The easy answer is that I'm always learning from everybody in the office and it's also the honest answer! There's a rock-solid team mentality at BOOM!. We're all in this together. I started from scratch in BOOM! editorial; we built this machine together. I've learned a hell of a lot from Mark and Ross, and I soak up anything I can from whoever has something to offer. The whole team is always riffing off one another and I love that each member of the squad brings something unique to the table. Everybody has their own mutant power. [laughs] Part of being a good leader is recognizing an individual's strengths and encouraging them to use those strengths ultimately toward the betterment of the team.
Nobody on my editorial team has ever been assigned a series arbitrarily. I always think about who is the best fit. There's always a perfect man or woman for the job. You know, as I think about it, one of the best places to look for growth and learning is the past. I'm always open to looking at how we've done things previously and admitting where there's room for improvement. I think that's something we're really good about here. Let's not have ego get in the way of improvement.
SPURGEON: Wait, is it an interest in the character or is it skills that one person may have that another may not have? I'm trying to figure out what you're meaning there.
GAGNON: Every project is its own animal. There're some titles, like an original series, where you're starting from scratch and need a stronger editorial hand in development. You start in a vacuum on the homegrown titles and assemble the whole project from scratch -- including the entire creative team. There're some editors that flourish in that space and have a vision in mind for what the project ought to be. Some editors are masters at creating order out of chaos. They don't get rattled. An editor with that personality is a perfect fit on a project that may have multiple partners or licensors.
One of our editors, Christopher Burns, used to work at Disney and has a wealth of knowledge about their characters. So it was a natural fit for him to work in the BOOM Kids! imprint. Sometimes I'll know the personality of a creator we're launching a series with and assign an editor to the series who I know will compliment the creator and work well with them. Or it could be as simple as launching a new series in the crime genre, approaching the editor who reads crime novels and saying, "This is all you."
All of our editors exhibit multiple talents. So it's not really a black and white type of decision at all times. There's usually a few guys or gals that would be good for the job and what it comes down to is who is up in the rotation for a new book. I make sure the distribution of labor is balanced.
SPURGEON: Could you roughly break down what it is you do on an average work day, how you spend your time? We use these titles as if there's a government pamphlet out there describing how each is supposed to function, but in actuality an editor-in-chief at one company is very different than that position might be as another.
GAGNON: How much time do we have? [laughs] I spend about 70% of my day supporting the team and 30% of the day handling whatever individual business I have. What that means is the majority of the day I'm working with the editors on development, creative matters, problem-solving, sending issues to print and operations in general. I still edit Irredeemable and Incorruptible (with assistant editor Shannon Watters, who is a joy and a major talent) and find it hard to give them up. I'm extremely proud of both of these titles and have edited them from day one. These days, it's less about editing individual titles and more about developing the whole line.
On a typical day, I'll be connecting with the design department to approve images, connecting with the publishing division to talk about print deadlines, working with the marketing department on solicits and ads -- you name it. At a publisher of our size, you end up wearing a lot of hats. You have your hand in everything. I love it. There's never a dull moment! We also spend a great deal of time on the higher-level, big-picture stuff that mainly consists of the BOOM! executive team standing around the "war table," figuring out which fleet to deploy where (in a manner of speaking). Also, my Managing Editor, Bryce Carlson, is a critical part of our success. He's got a cool head, flawless execution, and always sees the big picture. Having a lights-out lieutenant makes all the difference in a fast-paced working environment.
And speaking of fast-paced, my favorite time of the day is 4 P.M. Anybody who works with me knows that's when I have what is affectionately known around the office as The Afternoon Brew. I've gotta have a cup of coffee in the afternoon. That's the game-changer. It gives me that Popeye/Spinach moment where I'm re-energized and ready to take on the world. [Tip to BOOM! employees: The best time to ask for a vacation is after four o'clock.]
SPURGEON: I know very little about you other than I was aware you were doing stuff for Meltdown and working on Meathaus and then kind of moved sideways into BOOM! Are you a lifetime comics reader? Is there a point where you realized you wanted to have a relationship to comics that was other than just reading them?
GAGNON: As long as I've been reading I remember reading comics. When I was a young boy I'd go to the library and take home collections of Garfield and Family Circus. These were printed landscape, and collected hundreds of strips. I devoured those things. From there, I picked up a copy of X-Men (by Claremont and Lee) at the grocery store and, as they say, it was all over. Then I started branching out into Batman and other Marvel and DC titles.
I had a cousin who was one of those guys buying a baker's dozen of every Image issue back in the early-nineties boom. Because of him, I ended up reading many of those titles. So, comics have always been a part of my life. I worked part-time at a comic shop when I was 17 and discovered things like Preacher, Sin City, and alternative comics. When I moved to L.A. I was lucky enough to land a gig at Meltdown Comics and that's when I really tapped into the industry -- the business of it all. My time at Meltdown prepared me better than anything else for comic book publishing.
SPURGEON: Was something like your current position something you always had in mind? In fact, is this a position, a kind of work, that you feel like you can do for a while? Are you settled in, Matt?
GAGNON: I'm completely satisfied, yeah. I'm settled in and have logged enough hours that I'm very confident and relaxed. Well, maybe relaxed isn't the best word. [laughter] There has never been a day where I've woken up in the morning and didn't want to come to work. That's the honest-to-God truth. This position suits me and I'm happier than I've ever been. I like to work hard... it's in my blood -- I love a good challenge. I love nailing the 3-point shot at the buzzer, seeing the first issue of a series hit your desk, feeling the "Kirby crackle" in the air when a series is working. Watching the editorial team huddle around an artist's work they've just discovered. It's the thrill of sending that last issue to print at 6 P.M. on a Friday and heading into the weekend with the wind at your back. All of these things and more make the job an absolute pleasure.
If I'm being honest, it's not something I always had in mind for myself, only because it would've seemed like such a far-fetched idea. If you would have asked me five years ago if I'd someday like to be the Editor-in-Chief of a comic book company I would have said, "Uh, yeah, sure." It wouldn't have seemed like a viable career aspiration at the time. Thing is, getting a job at a comic book publisher isn't easy. There's, what, 15-20 practical options in all of America? At most, I had aspirations of getting in at the ground floor of a publisher and working as an editor. Editor-in-Chief? Sure. When I'm 50. [laughs]
SPURGEON: One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is that I don't think I've talked to anyone at the company, at least not on the record. I think people are curious about BOOM!, especially considering some people thought you might not be around at this point. This may seem like a silly question, but can you describe the culture of BOOM!? Are you all working in the same place? Is it a tight-knit bunch? Is there something about the workplace that strikes you as being of Los Angeles in a way that other companies might not be? Are you a young staff? An older staff? A staff that works and socializes together? A workplace that's constantly open, on weekends and into the evenings? If you and I were on a long flight and talking about where we worked, what would you tell me about BOOM!?
GAGNON: These are great questions. Honestly, Tom, I'm so damn proud the team we have here. It's a young bunch. Only about five or six of us in our 30's (including myself, as of a few months ago. Goodbye, twenties!). If I only had one word to describe us it would be "relentless." We won't be stopped. We put in the sweat and long hours to make sure we're putting out quality comics on time. That's the formula for me.
I come from retail, and I know that if you're delivering quality books on schedule, the fans and retailers will support you. And they have. They've been very good to us. When we started out, we had our skeptics. That's natural, especially given the storied history of start-ups in comics. But we all knew that our work would speak for itself and we'd earn good will. We operate in a culture of positivity within the hallowed halls of BOOM!. Something I say often is that there's no time for drama. We've built a team that's comprised of phenomenal individuals and it's one of the things I'm most proud of. Nobody is jaded. Nobody is just going through the motions waiting for their commemorative 10-year watch. Everybody takes pride in their work and cares about what we're doing.
It's hard not to look at what we've done in the last five years -- hell, the last two years for that matter -- and not feel some inspiration. Our sales have doubled every year except last year when they tripled. The fans have obviously really embraced us and I think everybody on the team can feel that we're in the zone right now.
SPURGEON: Can you characterize the sales increases at all? For instance, do you mean you've doubled and then tripled through the Direct Market channels or overall? Kids or adults? Do you think you're selling to new customers or established comics customers? Are you selling to fans of the individual titles and properties or is to comics fans generally. And if it's all of the above, can you identify a key customer base for you, something you think you're particularly good at serving?
GAGNON: Well, we've consistently broadened our footprint in the Direct Market every year. That's our base; we know where our bread is buttered. But the sales increase is an overall publishing initiative. Our Mass Market distribution has been incredibly strong since we partnered with Simon & Schuster in America and HarperCollins Canada. That was a massive game-changer for us. Like all great entrepreneurs, Ross has a knack for outside-the-box thinking and big ideas. His innovation and taste consistently moves the company forward -- and attracted me to BOOM! in the first place!
We're seeing new customers trying out BOOM! titles all the time. It's a combination of the type of material we're publishing and the relative youth of the company. New readers are discovering our stuff every month and I expect that to continue.
It's hard to fit our customer in a box, given how diverse the line is, but I believe we attract a reader that's interested in intelligent genre stories that skew toward the mainstream. And I don't necessarily mean the Direct Market mainstream, even though we do publish superhero stories. The global mainstream -- what you'll find consumed by fans worldwide in video games, movies, television and novels -- are a myriad of genres. We're committed to, and interested in stories of science fiction, action, fantasy, crime, supernatural, the macabre, et al. We're not interested in concentrating on one genre or one "type" of comic and our readers aren't interested in that either.
SPURGEON: I know from the old fable about the coins and the chessboard that line-wide growth in terms of multiples isn't sustainable forever. Do you foresee a glass ceiling, a point at which you'll meet your maximum market saturation? Where can we reasonably expect you to settle in for the long-term? And if you aren't being reasonable about it and are in sky's the limit mode, what do you see as the biggest challenge in transforming the company from a top 10 publisher to a top five publisher?
GAGNON: There's a ceiling, we just can't see it yet. [laughs] But, yeah, being reasonable, we know there's a certain point where sales won't increase by a factor three times the previous calendar year, every year. However, looking to the future, we do foresee a continued increase in sales -- especially knowing what we have planned for 2011 and beyond. We're on a trajectory to reach the top five publishers and I'm confident that we'll do that. There's no slowing down in sight.
I spoke briefly about the top 300 comics earlier and how air-tight it is. We're all fighting for the same Direct Market real estate. It's pretty clear that there's a dollar cap in the direct market. In many cases, a retailer's decision to order more of your titles means that they have less money to spend somewhere else in the catalog. I've dealt with the same dilemma. If discerning buyers are taking a shot on your series you better damn well make sure that you deliver the goods. Again, going back to my old retail roots, that means selling a quality comic book to your customers that is delivered on time.
Would I love more readers for the industry? Of course. But I also think this complex situation breeds better comics. It's pushing everybody to bring their A-game. I'm competitive, but not to a fault. I love the competition and I also respect aspects of what other publishers are doing. That type of back-and-forth keeps you reaching for the stars.
SPURGEON: It's been a big year for digital, and you guys have staked out what seems to me a reasonably progressive, eyes-wide-open digital strategy. With all the noise out there, if you could make people understand one thing about digital comics based on your experience, what might that be?
GAGNON: BOOM!'s Marketing Director, Chip Mosher, has become a vocal presence in the digital conversation. His analysis and research has taught us a lot this year. I'm thrilled that we have somebody as smart as Chip who has jumped into the digital waters with both feet. And I'll steal a word from you, Tom, it's the "noise," the hype surrounding digital that in some ways is clouding the message. Now is not a time for panic. It's a time for ideas and the application of ideas. The only way to find a system that works is through trial and error.
Digital is a way of bringing comics to new readers, so let's figure out how to actually create a demand for digital comics. It's not a "If you build it, they will come" scenario. There's work to be done.
SPURGEON: You've also shown at a lot of the various conventions since starting up; the rise of conventions has been a big story the last few years. What is it that a publisher of your size and standing gets out of the convention experience?
GAGNON: We exhibited at a lot of conventions last year, in fact more than we've ever done before. We felt intuitively like it was a good time to go on tour. After the success of Irredeemable and our Disney/Pixar titles in '09, we thought it would be fun to take the show on the road in 2010.
It gave us an opportunity to interact with fans, get some face time with a lot of our creators, and spread the BOOM! message. It's a community thing. Anytime you can be in a situation as a publisher where you're out there interacting with the comic book community it's a good thing.
Talking to fans one-on-one is awesome. We work in such a bubble for so much of the year it's kind of surprising when you a hit a con. You have this reaction of, "Whoa, people are actually reading this stuff!" [laughs]. It's a great way to meet new creators, too. You never know what kind of opportunities will come out of convention. And, c'mon, who can turn down the nightly Bar Con?
SPURGEON: Let's end this on a note about specific comics. So what's the last great comic that's crossed your desk there in the office, Matt, from BOOM!? A personal favorite, something that has you excited. What was the last great comic you read that wasn't from BOOM!? When a comic like those really works for you, what is it about them that strikes your fancy?
GAGNON: Let's see, sitting on my desk right now is Warriors Three by Bill Willingham (I'm a big Thor fan) and Batman: The Return. Both are unread. I need to find a second to jump into those. My favorite ongoing series right now is Scalped. I get lost in that world when I sit down to read an issue, it's so fully-formed and has powerful stories hiding in every crevice. That Jason Aaron writes a mean comic. Another thing I'm behind on is Kevin Huizenga's comics. In fact, I need to grab the newest Ganges issue at the comic shop.
What I love about comics is finding creators with a unique voice, something you haven't seen or heard before. That's something I get out of both Scalped and Ganges, for instance. There's plenty of others but we could be here all day!
There's a lot of BOOM! books I'm excited about, but I'm going to mention Dracula: The Company Of Monsters because it's a title that blows me away every issue. It's a series that Kurt Busiek created and provided the story for and it's written by a newcomer called Daryl Gregory, who is an award-winning novelist. It's a powerhouse writing team and the series artist, Scott Godlewski, is an exceptional talent. It's one of those books where everything is clicking. It's writing and art working in perfect tandem, neither overpowering the other, which is always a sign of good comics.
* photo of Matt Gagnon provided by the editor
* Mark Wait at CCI 2010; photo by me
* Irredeemable, still edited by Gagnon
* LA's wonderful Meltdown; photo by me
* one of the comics I like from BOOM!
* one of the offshoots of BOOM!'s youthful culture
* one of the comics I will never read from BOOM!
* fruit of the successful Stan Lee partnership
* fruit of the successful Disney/Pixar partnership
* from Dracula: The Company Of Monsters
* another DTCOM panel I thought appropriate to the piece (below)
* I haven't seen many think-pieces on the Fantagraphics announcement they'll be doing the Carl Barks duck comics, so I was pleased to see Graeme McMillan dig into the question why Disney is sending so many of its comics to other comics publishers when they recently purchased Marvel. It's one of those questions where the answer is pretty obvious but the question is worth exploring anyway.
* speaking of launches, TCJ ropes in a bunch of comics analyst super-smarties into an aligned blog, The Panelists. And did you know that there are no good pictures of the Silver Age Superman Revenge Squad on the Internet?
* various comics site bring out their 2010 dead. Speaking of Daily Cartoonist, Alan Gardner wonders out loud at the number of comics already available for consumption on the black-and-white-only specialty device the Kindle.
* go, look: Fantagraphics spotlights a Jeffrey Meyer collage project based on cutting up work by Daniel Clowes.
* a Happy New Year letter from a mainstream comics company executive isn't the place you go for frank, compelling analysis of that company's current state of affairs, but it does afford an opportunity to see the company's collective self-conception of what was successful and what is important to them right at this moment, what they wish to communicate to a certain cross-section of creators and fans.
* reviving letters columns seems to me a strange thing to crow about in a time when many fans are concerned with the number of pages of material they get in a month -- and I mean the perception of the move, as I imagine the page comes out of the many pages of ads they're no longer selling in the print books. I also know that for many young people of previous generations, getting a letter published in a comic book was a big, big deal, and that in some ways it's a value-added experience for what can be a quick in-and-out read. Sean Kleefeld analyzes.
* Chris Butcher muses on sites that cover the comics industry, taking a kind of "well, what do you think they're going to do?" approach to the focus on material in which the most people are interested and suggesting that such sites can claim a place in the market by using coverage of the less popular material as a distinguishing characteristic.
* meanwhile, an update on the book retail corner of Doomapocalyptigeddon, as executives flee Borders and other booksellers press for equal access to any advantage extended the failing company.
I wanted to interview a newer mainstream comics writer this year. It's a fascinating time for that industry in that the status of lower-tier titles has shifted in massive fashion at such companies -- they aren't places where veterans are parked for years on end in the second, third, fourth decade past their initial burst of popularity. Instead, more modest series and mini-series and one-shots seem to play much more like farm teams, a way for companies -- particularly Marvel -- to inculcate new voices into the company's way of doing things, a way to try out new quirks on older and more staid characters, and a way to make bridge scenes between one part of a massive, major storyline to another.
Kelly Sue DeConnick is one such writer at the point in her career where she's beginning to receive those smaller, slightly out-of-spotlight gigs. Two such projects caught my notice in 2010. The first was a one-shot starring the Asgardian warrior woman Sif, the second and current project is the short series Osborn, starring Marvel's most awful father figure. That project shows that DeConnick has been paying attention to the current wave of top-flight mainstream writers but has also drawn on her own inspirations, many of which are described below, in service of a dialogue-centric and character-focused way of making comics that feels to me both four decades old and brand new. She's written the English adaptions for scores of manga volumes; contributed stories to the CBGB series at Boom!, Comic Book Tattoo, Marvel's Enter The Heroic Age and Girl Comics projects; wrote a one-shot starring Rescue/Pepper Potts; and co-wrote the 30 Days Of Night: Eben & Stella series over at IDW. I liked very much how DeConnick confessed to what parts of the process she found difficult, something a lot of writers never talk about. I greatly appreciate her taking the time do this interview during a very busy holiday season.
Kelly Sue DeConnick lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband the writer Matt Fraction and their two children. -- Tom Spurgeon
TOM SPURGEON: I was surprised when preparing for this interview how little I knew about you despite being aware of you for years and years now. I have no idea, for instance, what your background is with comics, when you started reading them and which ones and how important they were to you at any given time. Can you walk me through your comics history? Was there a point at which it occurred to you that comics might be an avenue for something beyond reading and appreciating them?
KELLY SUE DeCONNICK: Sure. I think it's kind of a boring story, so I'll try to be brief, but if there's anything you want to follow up on, feel free.
I grew up in large part on military bases -- my dad was in the air force. We didn't get American television when I was in Germany (from somewhere around age 8 to somewhere around age 12), so I started reading comics. Culturally it was just something a lot of the GIs did -- reading, swapping, collecting comics. The Stars and Stripes bookstore had a long, layered magazine rack that ran the length of one wall and most titles went for 45 cents. You could also pick up a handful for under a buck at base swap meets. I remember comics just being everywhere. It was unremarkable until I got back to the states, off a base, and found that wasn't the norm.
I've told this story before, but this was the 70s and the feminist movement was reorganizing itself. I think Mom thought Wonder Woman was a pro-girl kind of thing. She used to buy those titles for me in particular and dole them out like candy when I finished doing the dishes or whatnot. I'm preeeeetty sure she never actually read one. (My mom, to her credit, never policed my reading. I remember asking for and getting an issue of Vampirella. I also remember thinking she was one of maybe four mothers in the universe who would not make a big deal out of that.)
There was also the Edmonson family; they were the kids whose house I played at after school. Missy was my age, but she had two older brothers who were both big collectors and their basement was like, the most awesome hangout on the planet when you're 10 and not terribly outdoorsy. They had beanbags and walls and walls of comics -- long boxes and what we called digests back then. That's where I got into the old DC Cain and Abel anthologies.
There was also a period when I got infatuated with the DC character Nocturna and tracked down every Batman issue in which she appeared. I was in high school when I found a stack of Tales of the Teen Titans (the Wolfman/Pérez run) at a used bookstore and was briefly obsessed with those. George Pérez is the first artist I remember being blown away by and aware of as a talent beyond the characters I was reading at that moment. His Wonder Woman relaunch was also a Big Deal to me in my, uh, comics-reading arc. I don't think I had that reaction to an artist again until Elaine Dove gave me a copy of Elektra: Assassin and taught me how to pronounce Sienkiewicz.
So, yeah, I started reading comics somewhere around age eight, I think. I don't remember my first comic, though... there's a possibility that it was an Al Green religious thing that my grandfather bought me at a gas station. I'm not sure. I remember being on a road trip and reading that comic, like, 50 times out of sheer boredom. (I also remember cutting it up -- I think I made my own little strips out of it sort of collage-style, but I wouldn't swear to that. I definitely cut it up. That I remember distinctly.)
I hang out with Matt and Brian and Ed and you know these guys have read everything -- and continue to read everything and sometimes I feel... what's the word I want? Uh... like I don't quite qualify, somehow. Does that make sense?
DeCONNICK: Like, I didn't read Image comics in the '90s. All those jokes about pouches? That had to be explained to me. I worked in a video store for a bazillion years, not a comic book store.
But I do remember lying in a hammock on my crappy back porch in my college apartment reading Watchmen when I should have been studying for a final. And Sandman. I remember loving Sandman so much I took notes. I didn't intend to make my own comics -- I don't know why I was taking notes. But I took notes.
I'm sort of babbling here. What was my point? There are huge gaps in my comics knowledge -- I didn't read Marvel comics until I was an adult, for instance. And you know, I've read some Cerebus and some Strangers in Paradise, but I don't feel particularly passionate about either one. Don't misunderstand -- I'm not proud of the gaps in my reading. I'm not bragging about my ignorance, okay? I've never met anyone who reads as many comics as Brian Bendis. And I don't think that fact and the fact that he's the best-selling writer in the industry right now are unrelated.
I guess I'm just confessing that this is a point of insecurity for me. I'm trying to fill in those gaps as quickly as I can.
SPURGEON: There's an adage about working in the arts that says, "you'll use everything you've ever known." I wanted to poke at some of your unique experiences. First, am I right in thinking that the official entry point for working in comics -- well, near comics, anyway -- was the review and advocacy site artbomb?
DeCONNICK: Yes, artbomb was the first time I got paid for anything associated with comics. I think it was $50 per review? $25 maybe? Something like that. I was already a paid writer, but I worked in magazines.
SPURGEON: How do you look back at that experience? How was it formative? Was there something valuable in thinking about comics in the way you have to in order to write about them?
DeCONNICK: Hm. Well, I remember artbomb very fondly and there isn't a week that goes by that I don't wish it were still up and running. I was just talking to Sigrid Ellis of the Fantastic Fangirls site about it the other day, actually.
I don't think that artbomb taught me to read comics critically. It wasn't quite like that. At artbomb, we only wrote about the books we really liked. If a title appeared on the site, it was recommended. The approach I took was to write about each book in a way that helped the reader determine if they would enjoy the book. Blargh. I'm coming off very Oprah here, but I tended to write about how the books made me feel.
There was quite a bit about that gig that factored into why I remember it so fondly (not the least of which were my co-workers), but from a perspective of how That Then affected This Now, I think it gave me permission to embrace comics as an okay thing to take seriously. And you know, when I go back and look at the books that I chose to cover, it's clear who my comics influences are.
Bendis is a friend now, but I was and am a huge fan -- of his dialogue, his humor and his much-lauded ability to craft three-dimensional women in a context that hasn't historically supported doing so. I think I covered all of Brian's books at the time for artbomb. Nicest thing anyone's said to me about Osborn is that the dialogue reminds them of Brian.
I don't meant to suggest that I want to grow up to be Brian Bendis -- or Warren Ellis, or Neil Gaiman, or Steve Niles, or Greg Rucka or anyone else whose praises I sang for artbomb -- I want to write like myself, about the things that interest me. But if you go back and look at what books I covered for artbomb, it's pretty clear who I thought was doing it right.
SPURGEON: I'm not sure that I know too many writers beyond Alan Moore that have articulated how training as an actor has had an effect on their writing. Where might you see that influence -- bits of process, or a way of approaching character, say -- in the way you work?
DeCONNICK: I'm very concerned with character and motivation and less gifted when it comes to working out the intricacies of plot. And, of course, I love books with intricate plots and am never so disappointed as I am with an unsatisfying or predictable plot resolution -- nor am I ever so pleased as I am when I have no idea where a plot is going. Pulp Fiction and Unbreakable are pop films that I will defend to the death because there was a point in each of those films when I gave up figuring out where they were going and just enjoyed the ride. I'll die happy if I can give someone else a similar experience on the page.
I don't know if I've answered your question exactly.
SPURGEON: No, that's perfect. You also worked for a very long time on writing from direct translations for manga series. Looking at Osborn's first issue, is the heavy focus on dialogue due in part to that experience?
DeCONNICK: I suspect that's more a result of the actor training than anything else, but I'm sure they're all related.
SPURGEON: You even work from dialogue first as opposed to structure or visual cues or graphic beats. How does a page form when you work from dialogue first?
DeCONNICK: A looooooot faster than if I try and break things down into panels as I go. [Spurgeon laughs] It took me a while to figure out that that was the best approach for me, and I still forget it sometimes and try to pound it out panel by panel and it's just... torturous. And not very good.
Okay, so, when I get to scripting, I've already got my outline. So I know what the scene is and who's in it. Without sounding too pretentious -- I hope! -- I just kind of let them talk. It's like... well, I was an actor, right, but I was also a professional improv actor for three-plus years. So, it's like improvising a scene -- only I'm playing all the characters. I take down the dialogue and then I go back and look at it. I cut what I don't like. Then I start breaking the scene down into beats the very same way an actor breaks down a script. The big beats? Those are page turns. The smaller ones are panel breaks. More important beats call for bigger panels -- though I never dictate that sort of thing, I only suggest.
Some beats are silent.
SPURGEON: Let me jump back to something you mentioned earlier. Do you think you might have a different take on superhero comics, particularly Marvel comics, for coming at them more as an adult reader? I don't mean to suggest that one type of experience is better than the other -- especially as you were explicit you don't feel that way -- I just wonder if you see things that others might not? Is there something to writing within a milieu, a shared universe, that one never visited as a child?
DeCONNICK: Hm.... It seems like there should be something to that, right? I don't know. I guess I don't have anything to compare it to. I did read DC comics as a kid, but I haven't written for DC, so I don't know if it would feel any different. And it's not as though the entire Marvel universe was foreign to me -- I mean, I didn't know what the Ultimate Nullifier was until Matt signed his exclusive and I started reading Marvel Saga. But I didn't grow up in a cave, so I knew Spider-Man's whole story and the X-Men and the Hulk. All from television, I guess. The '70s and '80s were good to superheroes.
Maybe I'm less precious about it...? I don't know. That seems presumptive.
You know, even working with pre-existing characters, I still try to write stories that are about something more than the personalities involved. I hope I bring a point of view, you know? I would hope that would be the goal no matter what.
Oh, hey -- I remembered something about actor training that is directly relevant to writing comics -- psychological gesture. I thought of you this morning when I was acting out a panel at my desk trying to decide if the gesture I was asking for felt right.
SPURGEON: What is psychological gesture exactly? Can you describe what it is about a certain gesture that you feel is valuable to consider when putting together a script?
DeCONNICK: It's pretty much exactly what you'd think -- it's something the actor does with his or her body to give the audience additional information about what's going on in the character's head. It's a simple enough idea, but it's one of the things that makes acting an art form and not just Pretty People Playing Telling Lies.
So, for instance, my scripts often indicate when characters are making eye contact -- or more importantly, when they're not. People sometimes touch their mouths when they're lying, cover their eyes or foreheads when they're ashamed. I consider it valuable because it adds information that isn't in the dialogue.
SPURGEON: One thing I'm asking all of the participants in this year's series about is their feelings on what they do with comics as a job. Do you enjoy the experience of creating the kind of work you've been doing recently?
DeCONNICK: I do. Very much so. Not every part of the process, but for the parts that make me so very happy -- the rest is worth it.
I like being creative. I like having this thing that I -- at least in part -- made that stands alone from me and sometimes, at the best moments, surprises me.
SPURGEON: If I were someone who had no interest in the results of what you do, are there aspects of what you do that you enjoy that you'd be able to communicate to me? Is it a good gig?
DeCONNICK: Yeah, I think so. You know, comics are a collaborative artform -- which brings us back to the theater, I think. I'm really enjoying that team aspect right now. And it's fun to sort of sit down and try to build a puzzle every day. I try to make all the pieces fit and I try to entertain or just practice being fearless, being vulnerable.
SPURGEON: I think of you as a fiendishly organized person and someone that pays attention to the example that others have provided. Is it more difficult, do you think, to be a freelancing creator in comics today than it was maybe five, ten, fifteen years ago?
DeCONNICK: I suspect that as wonderful as the Internet is, as wonderful and amazing as computers are in general -- and I'm an idiot early adopter on just about everything -- I suspect that we're living and working during a rather unfortunate part of that learning curve.
As much as I like being plugged in to everything, I'm coming to the unpleasant conclusion that I'm both happier and more productive when I'm not in constant Task Manager Mode. And I think it's hard to get away from that these days when people expect an immediate response to emails or whatnot.
For me -- and my husband works differently -- for me, to do my best thinking, to figure stuff out -- whether it's a pitch or a story or a scene, I need quiet first. I need to think about it and then I need to talk about it. And neither of those things is best accomplished in front of a screen.
SPURGEON: When you say you need to talk about, do you mean there are people you use as a sounding board? What of value to the end result do you get back from talking things through?
DeCONNICK: Every story is absolutely perfect when it only lives in my head. I'm confident, I have all kinds of ideas, snippets of dialogue, etc. -- it's like a high almost. And then... I have to start writing it down. And once those ideas meet the real world and I can examine them from even the distance of my eyes to the page... well, that's when it becomes clear that I'm not a genius after all.
In the same way you're never as certain of your position on a subject until you have to defend where you stand or how you discover the holes in your understanding when you try to teach someone else a certain subject, there's nothing like trying to tell your story to a friend to make clear what parts need work. Often they don't even have to say anything, it's obvious where the problems are as soon as you open your mouth. And then sometimes someone will ask a question that you would never have seen coming.
The best person to talk this stuff out with is your editor, I think, but my ideas are easily intimidated so I like to start with a friend.
SPURGEON: What is the most challenging part of the non-creative things that make up your professional life?
DeCONNICK: I'm not sure if this is exactly non-creative, but it's frustrating that the hardest and most time-consuming parts of the job are not the parts you get paid for.
And then more directly to your point, I need to figure out the Internet. I'm a natural talker -- I, uh, what's the phrase? I "overshare." And while I don't want to make myself into a different person, I'm finding that the Internet is becoming a less friendly place than it was, say, ten years ago. I'm trying to figure out how much to share -- about my process, my insecurities, my family, my children -- so that I can still connect with people but not put any of those things or relationships at risk.
There are crazy people on the Internet who will threaten you if they don't like your comic book. It happens. Do I want those people to know where my kids go to school?
SPURGEON: I don't want them to know, either. Outside of what the crazies might project, is there anything that people tend to assume about writing comics that's not true?
DeCONNICK: It's a tired answer, but I don't think people understand that it's really hard work. I mean, I'm writing this to you having pulled an all-nighter and having gotten five pages for my trouble. I mean... it is fun, and it should be fun, but I dunno -- I'm no John Milton, you know? Stories don't pour from my lips fully formed and perfect to be transcribed and Bam! That's it. I have to mess stuff up and fix it and mess it up again and talk to my editors and draw charts and freak out. And every time, something gets through that I know could have been done better because this is serial fiction and the train has to leave the station every 30 days and that's just the way it is. So I try to not take it to personally, pat myself on the back for at least being able to identity what could be improved and move on.
It's hard and it takes a lot of time. Writing the script -- which is still hard -- is, for me anyway, the easiest and least time-consuming part.
SPURGEON: Can you talk about that struggle a bit more? You mentioned earlier how writing something down can make you feel like less of a genius. I think the disappointment that comes moving from the ideal to the real is something with which a lot of creators struggle, especially early on. In your case, it can't be the dominant feeling because otherwise you wouldn't work. How have you personally negotiated your perception of your writing in order to continue working? Is that also a matter of talking things out? For that matter, how do you motivate yourself generally?
DeCONNICK: It's such a thing. It's such a huge thing. I feel like I'm particularly crippled by it, but then, I also feel like I'm god's most special snowflake and no one will understand my pain, so... consider my self-obsession as context, I guess.
There's this book I like -- this book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and he names the thing "resistance." And he says it's evil. Literally, he uses the word "evil." And I had such a shiver of recognition when I read that. 99% of the time I find that word embarrassing, but I really do think it's properly applied in this case. I'm not sure if it's fear-based, or ego-based; perfectionism or cowardice, but it's fucking insidious.
So, how do I get over it? Not very well, honestly. I play different head games, try to trick myself into working.
Matt has a thing that he got from Ed Wood, which is to say, "I'll just have to do better next time." That works sometimes. Sometimes the pressure of deadlines is good enough -- I don't want to let my editors down or put them in a bad position. Sometimes I tell myself that no one will read it so it doesn't really matter anyway. That's a pretty good one.
If I can just get past the self-conscious part to the part where I'm really working -- the when I'm figuring it out -- that part's fun, that part's life-affirming and tingly. It's the bits that bookend it that are where all the hand-wringing and the tummy aches come in.
Add to that resistance fatigue and a fairly ridiculous workload and -- from my perspective, anyway -- its powers multiply exponentially.
SPURGEON: Are you getting a sense at all what people respond to in your work? Has any of the feedback you've received -- public or private, personal or from an outsider -- been particularly inspiring?
DeCONNICK: I got one letter after the CBGB story came out that I found particularly moving, yeah. And there have been two things that other pros have said to me that made me feel like I was on the right track, too. I'd elaborate, but I think that would be the equivalent of re-tweeting a compliment.
SPURGEON: I wondered if as a writer who has worked some of Marvel's slightly-out-of-spotlight gigs you could provide some perspective on Marvel's publishing strategies with books like that.
DeCONNICK: I can maybe hazard a few guesses, but Marvel's strategies are way above my pay grade.
SPURGEON: Only your perspective, of course. The mainstream serial comics market right now is such a calcified market that even under the most benign circumstances it's not likely a book about Sif or Norman Osborn is going to sell gangbusters. That would be wonderful; it's just not likely. This makes me wonder how Marvel sees these kinds of books. Do you get a sense with some of your projects, even into the anthologies, there's, say, a character development aspect to these books -- you're being a caretaker for that character? Do you think Marvel uses these books in part to develop writers?
DeCONNICK: I definitely think developing the writer is a big part of it. I feel like I'm learning the ropes at Marvel and it's win-win for both them and me to have me do so on smaller projects. Their risk is minimized and I'm on something like a journeyman level.
I'm having fun with it, honestly. This might be a thing for me. When I was adapting manga, I always preferred to work on the titles that flew a bit under the radar. I felt like I could do my best work that way, without risking the paralysis that can attend the glow of a thousand spotlights, you know?
DeCONNICK: McKelvie and I did a thing -- a little Black Widow thing -- that went largely unnoticed in one of the Age of Heroes anthologies. But I used it to plant a little seed that I'm picking up on in this Black Widow/Sharon Carter book I'm doing as a one-shot with Greg Tocchini. Nobody needs to have read the former in order to follow the latter, but if you happen to have seen it, it'll be a richer experience. That's the sort of thing that tickles me as a reader and, it turns out, as a writer too.
SPURGEON: Do you think these smaller stories fit in with broader publishing plans, points of emphasis throughout the line? I guess I'm interested if anything other than "we want this book to be as great as possible" gets communicated to you, or if you and others writer make inferences.
DeCONNICK: The Black Widow piece I did with McKelvie -- it was called "Coppélia -- on that book, I was told before I pitched that they needed a piece to take Natasha from Point A to Point B, with regard to the Heroic Age. So I was definitely in on the plan there. Other than that, I haven't been too privy to Big Picture initiatives.
I haven't even been working at Marvel for a year, though -- and I'm not on an ongoing. So writers with a longer tenure or a heavier workload are going to have a dramatically different perspective.
SPURGEON: I liked your take on Sif in the one-off, and I think that it put on display a certain orientation towards character. How do you go about building your version of a character like that, given all the different versions that have come before? There have been some very different versions of that character. Do you sort through these various takes while coming up with one of your own? Do you favor the first version? The most recent version? Does previous work hold much import at all? These seem to me like rather complex and nuanced decisions.
DeCONNICK: Man, I wish I had a good answer to this question. I sincerely don't know. I guess I just write my version...? Does that sound self-obsessed?
DeCONNICK: I don't believe you, but I like it so let's pretend.
Maybe it goes back to the actor thing? With Sif, I thought about how I'd play her. My feeling was that after the ordeal with Loki stealing her skin... and the mythological history of Loki stealing her hair... it just seemed like she couldn't have anything that he couldn't take from her. And it seemed to me that something like that would either drive you mad or piss you off. I wasn't really interested in writing her breakdown, so I wrote about how sometimes you have to get angry to get through.
Anyway, it just made sense to me. What's that line? If the only tool you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail? Something like that. Well, Sif's a warrior. She has a sword. The whole world looks like a fight.
I just... I hated the idea of her clinging to Thor and weeping. Who wants to read that?
SPURGEON: One thing I found intriguing about your first issue of Osborn, you project currently being published, is that you get this character at a moment of personal weakness, on the downside. This isn't exactly the superhero formula, which tends to prefer its bad guys as forceful alpha males in control of everything that are then dashed to the rocks by the good guys. Was it specifically appealing to you to write this character at this story moment? Is there something to be said about the resiliency of evil through a character like Norman Osborn?
DeCONNICK: I know he is evil, but I don't really think of him that way. I guess I think of him as arrogant above all. I dunno. He's like the world's smartest toddler -- self-centered, petulant and power-drunk but also bizarrely creative and funny. And, um, murderous. So I guess my toddler thing falls apart in the light of day, huh?
I don't see Norman as being in crisis... exactly. He's humbled, sure, but just a bit. It's another setback, another injustice for him to rage against. The real challenge for me in this series has been to find something for Norman to grab on to... this issue, the one I'm working on right now, is the faith issue. It's the one about the principles we put before personalities. For Norman... well, he has always been the thing he believes in, you know?
SPURGEON: Sure. Now, a study of principle over personality isn't exactly the first thing that springs to mind when you talk the genre in which you're working. How useful generally do you find the superhero metaphor as a writing tool? Is there something grand and operatic about processing an issue through these super-beings? What is the effect of telling the kind of story you're telling about Sif or Norman Osborn through that genre that you might not get if you told similarly-themed stories about everyday people?
DeCONNICK: "Operatic" is a perfect term for it. I love opera. And Shakespeare. And the Greeks. And Brecht! Fellini. Fosse. Catharsis. It's not that I think there's anything wrong with naturalism or simple stories quietly told, they're just not quite as much fun. For me.
SPURGEON: 2010 was a year with lot to be said for it in terms of the opportunities afforded -- and seized by -- female creators. There were two dozen quality, stand-alone books from women cartoonists, and a bigger spotlight on female creators at Marvel; one of the breakthrough stars of the year was Moto Hagio, a pioneering voice in her specific field.
DeCONNICK: Who's been in the business for some 40 years, right?
SPURGEON: [laughs] Exactly. I know that you feel things keenly, and I wondered if you thought 2010 was a positive year or not overall for creators that are women? What encourages and discourages you? Is it discouraging to even have this discussion, to be asked these questions?
DeCONNICK: I honestly don't know. I don't.
Am I dodging if I say I think we need a couple years worth of perspective before we'll be able to look back and see if 2010 was some kind of turning point?
I don't find the discussion discouraging... but I do find it exhausting. I believe the feminist movement of the 1970s died of neglect somewhere along the way and armies were dismantled before battles were won.
I do feel things keenly and it's hard for me to have this conversation without getting shouty on some level because I feel somewhat betrayed by the failure of that movement. It's fucking 2010 and we couldn't get the Paycheck Fairness Act passed. Two Thousand and Ten. Our girls are cutting themselves and starving themselves and we don't really seem to be all that upset about it. We blame the Paris Hiltons and the Lindsey Lohans when they are guilty of nothing more than being exactly what we told them we would value.
I am veering wildly off track here.
This year I was asked in an interview what I would say to young creators who still think there is a glass ceiling in comics -- the clear implication of the question being that there isn't.
This year I was asked in an interview what I thought the main difference was between "a man writing comics and a woman doing the same."
This year a creator for whom I have tremendous respect, who I consider both a friend and a progressive, said to me that he always assumed that women just didn't want to write superheroes. I was so taken aback by that that for a moment I wondered if he was right. I thought, well hell, maybe I'm just some kind of anomaly. I mean, I know there's something profoundly nerdy about me that I actually want to see Sif get ten minutes alone in a room with Loki -- does it make me masculine, too?
But I keep coming back to the idea that there's nothing innately masculine about heroism. Nothing innately masculine about science fiction. Nor about power fantasies or revenge fantasies or the pulp aesthetic.
Where there might be a kernel of truth to what he said is, I think, in the idea that women --- as much as we can generalize these things -- might not want to write superhero books if they haven't grown up reading them and they might not have grown up reading them if the books didn't hold any appeal for them, if, say, the women therein were not exactly icons of strength and power, but more often, uh, icons of plot manipulation and things-to-hold-hostage. Or superheroes with awesome powers like, oh, invisibility.
Blargh. I'm going to stop. I'm getting screechy and honestly, I don't do myself any professional favors by going off on this stuff, but A) I'm not very good at holding my tongue about this sort of thing and B) I've got a daughter. Every time I speak up at the risk of being disliked or making someone else uncomfortable, I like to think it's maybe one time she won't have to. So fuck it; I'll screech.
SPURGEON: Another broader issue: how concerned are you -- and, if you feel up to characterizing them, your circle of comics acquaintances -- about the economy generally and the comics economy specifically? Is this something that even gets mulled over? Do you have specific worries?
DeCONNICK: Oh, definitely. I think most of us are painfully aware of having missed the boom. We're all scared. Exit strategies are topics of constant conversation. Specific worries? I guess that the mid-list will continue to be cannibalized and what is already kind of a niche market will become even, uh, nichier. The death of the DM. That sort of thing.
SPURGEON: 2010 was also the 20th year of the Creator's Bill Of Rights. Are you comfortable with the rights that you as a creative person have within this industry? Is there anything you'd like to see changed, eventually? You worked with two characters this year, Sif and Norman Osborn, that were at the very least co-created by Jack Kirby -- granted, from myth -- and I believe Steve Ditko, neither of whom receives money from those efforts. Is that something you think about at all?
DeCONNICK: It makes my head spin a bit. I'm not as concerned about straight work-for-hire contracts -- though, I don't know, I probably should be -- as I am about how very few avenues there are for original, creator-owned projects. And there's this mutating definition of "creator-owned" that bothers me as well. It seems to me that if I'm not the one making the final decisions about my book, then I don't really own it.
I mean... I get why it's happening. I don't think publishers are at fault for trying to stay afloat, but still... it's disheartening.
SPURGEON: What are your ambitions, Kelly Sue? Do you think far ahead? Where would you like to be in 10 years with that part of your life, and on what terms would you measure that kind of success?
DeCONNICK: You know, Matt and I get together every six months for an official meeting on the topic of goal setting. We're incorporated and this meeting is very official--we charge our coffee to the business and everything.
We sit down with the same notebook and we make a little chart that's a revision of the one made six months before. We set goals for each of us and for the company for 1 year, 5 years and 10 years. So every six months things get adjusted.
A photocopy of my chart is hanging next to my desk on the door of my bookshelf right now. Under 1 year -- which won't be up until August -- it says "Ongoing" and "New Insurance." The insurance thing is done, so come February when we meet again, I'll replace that one. The ongoing... Well, I'm having a hard time managing the workload I've got with the kids being as little and as mommy-dependent as they are. That's going to get adjusted. It may be the summer or fall before I start pursuing that.
Under 5 years it says "Tripled Income," "Creator-Owned Series" and "Representation."
* photo by Ed Peterson provided by the writer
* an early household presence
* Brian Bendis
* from the Travel Foreman Rescue cover
* page from Osborn #1; art by Emma Rios
* a very actorly sequence from Osborn #2
* panel from the little talked-about Coppélia
* Sif has a sword; art by Ryan Stegman
* problem-solving by Sif
* Norman Osborn speaks
* Sif desires revenge
* a nice two panel sequence from the Rescue one-shot; Andrea Mutti art
* photo by Laurenn McCubbin provided by the writer
Marvel Names Axel Alonso Its New Editor-In-Chief; Joe Quesada To Remain As Chief Creative Officer
This seems to me a nice story as well, good news for the industry generally and that kind of comics-making specifically. I don't know Alonso at all, not even a little bit, but he strikes me as a comics-first guy in a period in comics history where Marvel as a publishing company could use every bit of close attention that comes with having a savvy, comics-first guy in that position. That's not in any way implied commentary on Joe Quesada, I swear. I'm comparing Alonso to other people that might hold that position in this day and age, not to his predecessor. Quesada's run would have to be termed a big success. Moreover, he leaves that historical position I believe still generally well-liked and certainly widely admired, which is sort of astonishing given the decisions that job calls for over time.
I didn't see this before, but Tom Brevoort was apparently promoted to SVP Publishing. He's also an important player in that world of comics, and a talented one, and they're best off keeping him happy and engaged and giving him work to match that talent.
* Marc Mason dropped a mass e-mail over the weekend to say that he would no longer be continuing in his PR duties on behalf of NBM. Stefan Blitz will handle those duties now. Mason's e-mail said that the reason for his departure from that position is that he's going to graduate school. Good luck to him in that endeavor.
* comics numbers guru John Jackson Miller gave comics a late holiday gift right before the New Year's weekend -- updates of best-selling, end-of-year-, Direct Market information for the early 1990s. Discussed here. This could add a lot to our understanding of the time period; for example, in his e-mail, Miller suggests that the Heroes World move may have been caused in part by a sharp drop in Marvel market share.
* Buzz Dixon offers up his choices for ten funniest dailies from the year 2010.
* CBR talks with a Kickstarter co-founder. That's the site that allows comics artists -- and a ton of other folks in a thousand fields -- to raise money for certain tasks, primarily through incentives. I like the basic idea of Kickstarter, and I'm happy for those that have had success with it, but I think in comics it's pointed out more than anything an almost foundational lack of publishing capital out there even for accomplished projects.
* Bill Sienkiewicz on Big Numbers. It's weird that Big Numbers feels less like a tragedy and more like an oddity since time has passed and, I think, that that passed time has been stuffed with equally ambitious and well-executed comics. At the time, stumbling through the tail end of the post-1986 surge of interest, it felt like serious graphic novel crib death.
I think I would hire Andrew Farago for any job out there -- roughly equivalent to his current position at the Cartoon Art Museum or far removed, you name it -- based solely on what it was like to interview him for this series. It was so easy, the answers came back in such a full, furious state, that I nearly forgot that I interviewed him. He's that San Francisco institution's curator/gallery manager, and describes his duties below. The success of comics enterprises rises and falls on the skill and dedication of key employees like Farago, and in a day where jobs in comics are scarce I wanted to interview him about his. Farago's also a comics writer, a cartoonist and fine writer about comics and cartooning. His latest, The Looney Tunes Treasury is one of those perfect gift-item style books for a specific kind of fan, of which Farago is one -- but the prose has enough clarity I had no problem devouring and enjoying the volume.
Farago lives in Berkeley with his wife, the cartoonist and writer Shaenon Garrity. I had fun interviewing him, at least as far as I can remember. -- Tom Spurgeon
TOM SPURGEON: Andrew, one of the underlying themes of this year's series is jobs, and you have one of the more interesting jobs in comics. What's an average day -- or a better-than-average day -- like for you at the Museum? Are there ways that it feels very much like a job and ways that it maybe doesn't?
ANDREW FARAGO: I've been with the Cartoon Art Museum for ten years now, including a little over a year as a volunteer, and for the most part, it's my dream job. On an average day, I've got about a half-hour commute into San Francisco from my home in Berkeley, and I'll spend the day on some combination of correspondence, managing the museum's archives, planning upcoming exhibitions anywhere from three months to three years in advance, public relations, planning events, programming and classes, and dealing with anything unexpected that crops up throughout the day.
Roughly ten weeks out of each year are spent installing new exhibitions, which generally includes matting and framing artwork, writing gallery text, painting the walls, and planning the design and layout of each show. When I'm curating an exhibition, the selection of artwork usually takes place a month or two before our opening date, and a big part of the job is writing, calling and wheedling artists and collectors into sending their work to us on time. We've actually had artists bail out less than two months before an exhibition is scheduled to start, so we've had a few exhibitions that I've had to pull together in just a couple of weeks, and it's my job to make sure that nothing looks like it was assembled in just a couple of weeks.
I'm very fortunate in that I often find myself in situations where I can't believe that I'm getting paid for this. Joining the National Cartoonists Society and meeting about 90 percent of the strip cartoonists I grew up reading in a social context has been incredibly cool. It changes your perspective when you flip through the comics section and realize that you've got good drinking stories about half the artists on the page. I've had dinner with Gahan Wilson, walked around Rockefeller Center with Larry Hama (which would have made 12-year-old me's head explode), toured the offices of Mad Magazine, Marvel Comics and DC Comics, shingled a roof with Jeff Keane, given museum tours to Art Spiegelman and Mo Willems, had tea with Hayao Miyazaki, and went to a Simpsons script read-through in Los Angeles earlier this month thanks to Tom Gammill, whom I met through the NCS. I've honestly given up on ever making a wish list of comic/cartoon things I'd like to do, because I've gotten to do so many amazing things as a result of this job. If I'm hanging out in a pub with Alan Moore and Scooby-Doo next year, I don't think I'll be all that surprised.
On the downside, when you're working for a non-profit that you really believe in, it's easy to find yourself working 50 or more hours a week, tackling extra projects on weekends, and never quite being off-duty. And there's a lot of paperwork, fundraising and grant writing, which balances out the more exciting aspects of the job. My family are the only non-cartoonists in my address book, so I feel like I'm on the clock even when I'm hanging out with friends.
SPURGEON: To build from there a bit, how have you guys done in the current economy? I think of you as a group about which comics may sometimes forget a bit, but I also think of you as one of the better, more established groups. What's the state of the museum?
FARAGO: The state of the museum, almost always, is "hanging in there." We're always fundraising, we're always writing grants, we're always on a tight budget, but somehow we've managed to survive for more than 25 years.
The past three years have been especially tough, with fewer and fewer grants available and less and less money available from those sources, less disposable income in our patrons' pockets, and the loss of our Executive Director, Rod Gilchrist, to cancer in early 2009. There's never a great time to be an arts-related non-profit, and there's been a lot of belt-tightening in that sector in recent years.
Oddly enough, I think we've weathered the bad economy better than a lot of other non-profits and museums because we're so used to running everything on a tight budget with the bare minimum number of full-time staff. Our current Executive Director, Summerlea Kashar, has been with the museum longer than I have, and she and the board of directors are the reason that we're talking about the museum in the present tense.
We're in the midst of our big annual fund drive right now, and that accounts for a pretty major portion of our yearly operating budget. We're looking for straight-up cash donations, people becoming Cartoon Art Museum members, and get involved in other ways, such as volunteering, donating artwork for auctions, sponsoring exhibitions, renting the museum for corporate events or private parties... seriously, just drop me a line and I'll let you know how you can help keep us around for another 25 years. And I'd love to have this job for another 25 years, honestly. Probably longer.
SPURGEON: I got to visit the museum in 2010 for the first time in probably a dozen years, and I had some specific questions about its operation. For one thing, when did you move to ground floor occupancy and -- if it's even something you know -- has that made a difference for the museum? What about the obvious gentrification of the neighborhood surrounding it? The neighborhood was a lot less stabby this time around. Finally, you seem to have what many successful museums have -- a thriving store. Is that the case? How do the store and the events play alongside more traditional fundraising avenues to keep the place afloat?
FARAGO: We made the move to our current location in late 2001, after the rent at our previous location skyrocketed as a result of the dot-com boom. Everything went into storage for about six months, and there was no guarantee that we were ever going to re-open, but we were really fortunate that the space at 655 Mission opened up when it did. (The Ansel Adams Center for Photography, which occupied the space before we did, wasn't able to sustain operations there after sinking a lot of money into renovations there, so we inherited a very nicely designed museum space.)
The growth of the bookstore over the past few years has been a real team effort. As visitors to the museum prior to 2008 will remember, our initial setup involved subletting the bookstore to Foto-Grafix books, run by Jun Ishimuro, who'd run the store for the building's previous tenants, the Ansel Adams Center for Photography. As a result, the store was a kind of funky combination of high-end photography books, old Cartoon Art Museum exhibition catalogs, some books relating to current exhibitions and whatever cool stuff Jun could find at Last Gasp.
When the Foto-Grafix contract came up for renewal, our late Executive Director, Rod Gilchrist, decided that the museum should take over the store and he and the board of directors drew up a plan, found an experienced bookstore manager, Heather Plunkett, and arranged for our current, 100% cartoons and comics shop that we've got now.
Special events and exhibitions drive sales at the store quite a bit. We get a lot of walk-in traffic, having a really sharp street-level storefront, but like every business right now, you've got to do everything possible to keep customers coming back. With us, it's making sure that we've got at least one or two artists coming in every month, and having a full complement of weekend programs to ensure that we'll have repeat visitors.
* Borders starts off the year by giving everyone with an interest in the book market as it currently exists a stomachache.
* one news story that passed by quietly over the weekend is that Lucy Caswell officially left her position as the curator at OSU's Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum on December 31, and -- barring something weird happening I don't know about -- Jenny Robb has taken over. Congratulations to Caswell on a stupendous run and all support to the highly-qualified, well-regarded Robb.
* congratulations to friend of CR David Welsh on his spiffy new home with Manga Curmudgeon. Everyone interested in manga should bookmark that site immediately.
* Graeme McMillan looks at the "Curse Of The Mutants" storyline that took place in the X-Men comics in 2010. It's a really good piece on a not-exactly-rare phenomenon in mainstream comics when a bigger narrative kind of fails to engage in the same way more successful mega-plotlines might hit with readers. It struck me looking at that picture that there are a lot of X-Men characters right now, and this post at CBR confirms my suspicion.
* this takedown of the silly Superman: Grounded storyline focuses on the defensiveness with which it was presented.
* the winter iteration of Comiket set a turnstile attendance record with over a half-million people -- basically four San Diego Cons. I get a little nervous just hearing about a show that big.
* Jog speaks wise, if you're still looking for some kick-back and enjoy the extended holiday season reading. Also, I fully endorse Dan Nadel's notion that Facebook has become a wonderland of wonderful posts and confessionals by a certain generation of older cartoonists.
* I'm always up for a return visit to the Lee/Romita Amazing Spider-Man material. If you ever read those comics again in a sustained way, you'll see how stop-and-start they are -- my hunch is that cut and paste studies of that run flatter it maybe more than devouring a giant tome of that material would -- but when it was locked in it was pretty irresistible entertainment right up through Gerry Conway's run. It was certainly the longest-running, at the very least formidable Marvel comic of that early bunch.
Brian Walker: NY Daily News Drops Beetle Bailey; Requests That Fans Send Protest E-mail
Brian Walker sent out news yesterday morning that perennial newspaper favorite Beetle Bailey was dropped from the New York Daily News:
Beetle Bailey did not appear in the New York Daily News today. We were informed that the paper was cutting costs and that Edward Fay, vice president and director of editorial administration, was the one who made the decision. It makes no sense for the paper to drop one of their most popular features. If you share this opinion, please send a message of protest to:
Hopefully, he will reinstate Beetle if he receives enough response. We would appreciate anything you can do. Thanks.
I know a lot of people from the alt-comics and superhero camps hate on Beetle Bailey, but when I thought about it this morning I can say with a great amount of certainty that it would be in my newspaper if I had one, so I thought I'd share.