The Washington Post is in an awkward spot as one of the objects of disdain for Donald Trump. However, the Trump White House requested copies of “The Post” and 20th Century Fox has obliged. So, despite the bad blood, apparently, the Donald is curious. And, if he should see it, he’ll discover that The Washington Post knows how to handle itself. Compelling stuff but the heavy-duty serious subject matter may bore Big Don. Besides, it won’t work for him if he’s rooting for Tricky Dick Nixon. For the rest of us, this movie about newspapers and freedom of the press is quite compelling.
We don’t really have spoilers to worry about too much. The Washington Post is inextricably linked in history with the Nixon White House, The Pentagon Papers, the paper’s owner and publisher Katharine Graham, and the paper’s executive editor Ben Bradlee. It’s all the peculiar facts that add up to show the courage involved for Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and especially for Graham (Meryl Streep). The tension resides in the nerve-racking decisions leading up to whether or not to publish material the government deems too sensitive for public, and political, consumption. The key word here is “political,” as the information in The Pentagon Papers was a political bombshell–but never put American lives in danger, as the Nixon White House claimed. In fact, it would save lives as it helped to put a stop to the war in Vietnam.
Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee
“The Post” is a perfect companion piece to Alan J. Pakula’s 1976, “All the President’s Men.” Director Steven Spielberg would certainly be mindful of comparisons. But the screenplay, written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, is on a decidedly different track. This is more of a character study and not so much a political thriller. That said, it certainly shares some of the same energy. As much as Hoffman, Redford, and Robards commanded the screen, so too does Streep and Hanks.
June 21, 1971: Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham leave U.S. District Court in Washington.
You can also make a favorable comparison with Adam McKay’s 2015 “The Big Short,” another movie that neatly presents a myriad of facts in an easily digestible form. Both movies are about confronting deception at an outrageous level. In one, the public has been duped into falling victim to Wall Street greed. In the other, the public has been duped into feeding the military industrial complex with the lives of its sons. The Pentagon Papers were, at their core, a study in failure intended for scholars at some future time. To have this study released to the public while the war was raging, was unthinkable. It uncovered deception at a massive scale going from Truman to Nixon. In order to publish, The Washington Post had to be willing to defy the courts’ understanding at the time that this act would amount to treason. To publish was an easy enough task for Bradlee to commit to. But for Graham, it was a gamble that put the very paper at risk of extinction.
Finally, “The Post” is an even closer companion piece to Spielberg’s own 2012 “Lincoln.” This all perfectly dovetails with Spielberg’s films of America at war as well as his biopics of American leaders in crisis. Katharine Graham is the pivotal character going against the status quo and conventional wisdom. Why can’t she just lay down and accept the Nixon White House’s demands, right? Streep gives a memorable performance that tenderly follows Graham’s journey from tentative caretaker of a vulnerable family business to a confident leader at a national, as well as an international level. For Hanks, he takes Bradlee from a man born confident to a man more modest and empathetic. Both must and do rise to the challenge of a White House that perceives the American free press as an enemy of the state. Sound familiar? Do you really think Donald Trump has watched this–as well as processed it?
Seattle cartoonists of all stripes have been gathering at a little cafe for years. It’s been a mix of aspiring, emerging, professional, and enthusiast. Over time, this frenetic energy organized into a group that met once a month. For five years, the group met at Café Racer. They socialized, they drew, and the end result was a bunch of comics that were gathered up and turned into a comic book that was published the following month. That monthly comic book was known by the gallant and nerdy name of DUNE. It was a remarkable undertaking. Sadly, Café Racer recently closed its doors leaving the group without their routine creative outlet. To honor and celebrate their collective activity, there will be an art show of DUNE comics at a pub, The Leary Traveler. The show goes up January 18th and will run for a month.
If you are in Seattle, this is a wonderful opportunity to get a taste of some local cartoonist activity or the underground comix scene, per se. In fact, there is an unusually high concentration of cartoonists in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. That’s a subject far beyond the scope of this post and we’ll pick up on it more and more as we have over the years here at Comics Grinder. Suffice it to say, this art show is one of those special treats not to be missed.
Contributors to DUNE include well established masters of the comics medium (Roberta Gregory), painters and illustrators (John Ohannesian), brilliant young upstarts (Tom Van Deusen), exciting new talents (Gillian Rhodes, Handa, Rachel Scheer), enthused amateurs, and sometimes a non-artist or two who stopped in for beer and bravely decided to join the drawers. Sometimes the artists with the least “polish” end up turning in the pages that are the most clever, funny, and/or emotionally raw.
This show was organized by Push/Pull of Ballard, David Lasky, and Maxx Follis-Goodkind. The show poster is by comix artist Mark Falkey, who has been with DUNE since the first issue. The Leary Traveler is located at 4354 Leary Way NW in Seattle’s ‘Frelard’ neighborhood (the urban sprawl between Fremont and Ballard). The DUNE art show opening, takes place on Thursday, January 18th, from 6 to 9 pm. Expect many artists to be in attendance.
Marvel Legacy #1 ranks at the very top as the best-selling comic book of 2017.
Diamond, the primary distributor of comics and graphic novels, has announced the top-selling books for 2017. It is no surprise to find Marvel and DC Comics in the lead. For regular followers of comics, it is also no surprise to find Image Comics commanding a sizable share with Saga.
DC Entertainment’s top comic book was Dark Nights: Metal #1.
Marvel Legacy #1 ranks at the very top as the best-selling comic book of 2017. Marvel ranked number one with DC Entertainment as number two, in overall comic book sales. DC Entertainment’s top comic book was Dark Nights: Metal #1.
Image Comics took eight of the top ten graphic novel spots, with Saga Volume 7 as the best-selling graphic novel for 2017.
Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ award-winning science fiction epic, Saga from Image Comics, once again dominated the top ten graphic novels chart and solidified Image Comics as the year’s third largest comic book publisher. Image Comics took eight of the top ten graphic novel spots, with Saga Volume 7 as the best-selling graphic novel for 2017.
You know how some comics get you right away? This is one of them. In fact, I’ll say THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF NICK WILSON has provided me with just the spark I need–and inspired me to start my Best of 2018 list. This is for everyone who regularly follows comics as well as anyone who enjoys sly humor.
The aches and pains of post-superhero life.
Amid all the stories out there that are deconstructing the superhero genre, what I find here already is a good dose of that X factor: Nick Wilson, our down-and-out ex-superhero, is a guy we can relate to and we want to like. Nick has not only lost his superpowers but he has lost something even more precious, his zest for life. Thus, our story: maybe he makes a comeback; or maybe he has an epiphany.
It is important to note the impressive writing talent here. The story is by writer/producer Eddie Gorodetsky. His credits include Desert Bus, Mom, Two and a Half Men, Dharma & Greg, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Mike & Molly, Saturday Night Live, SCTV Network 90, and Late Night with David Letterman. And this comic is written by Marc Andreyko, a comic book writer and screenwriter, known for his work on books such as Manhunter for DC Comics, and Torso, a creator-owned true crime series he wrote with Brian Michael Bendis. I sense from this first issue a real love for spinning the mundane foibles of life into compelling entertainment. Yes, indeed, funny stuff can be made of Nick Wilson, the former superstar, who has let himself become a low rent loser.
Despite Nick’s determined slide into mediocrity, there are signs that he seeks redemption. Even lower on the food chain, a permanent bottom feeder, is Nick’s so-called manager. Nick instinctively despises him. While all too prone to lying on the couch with his bong, there seems to be a flicker of hope. Ironically, Nick seems to be a bit more introspective now that all the fame and glory is behind him.
Sounds interesting, no? It’s not easy to really make a superhero character interesting but it works here, both with the writing and the art. Steve Sadowski’s art is masterfully natural, smooth, and funny. And that’s saying a lot. It takes a special skill, and sensitivity, to genuinely convey humor in a superhero comic book, even an ironic anti-superhero comic book. Oh, sure, there are many fine examples but there are only so many of them–and this is one of them. So, definitely, go take a look. We’ll go ahead and give this the highest rating. 10/10.
THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF NICK WILSON #1 is available as of January 17, 2018. For more details, visit Image Comics right here.
Jane is 16 years old and believes that she does not know how to live her life. We can all relate to that–but Jane’s world is far more complicated, set in the distant future where robots are capable of providing human companionship. “The Silver Metal Lover,” the 1981 cult classic science fiction novel by Tanith Lee, was adapted in 1985 into the highly engaging graphic novel by Trina Robbins. It has never been reprinted in any form until now. Drew Ford runs his own imprint at IDW called IT’S ALIVE! and he has a stellar track record for finding gems from the past and giving them a whole new life. A Kickstarter campaign in support of an exciting new edition is reaching its final stages, closing January 5th. Check it out right here.
THE SILVER METAL LOVER by Trina Robbins
This new edition will have a new cover and afterword by Colleen (A DISTANT SOIL) Doran, a new foreword by Gail (BIRDS OF PREY) Simone, and a new intro by Trina Robbins herself. All of this will be printed at 8.5″ x 11, full color, on glossy paper, all tucked inside a beautiful hard cover.
Drew Ford on this very special project:
“This cult classic science fiction romance is an important early example of ‘the graphic novel’ as a storytelling vehicle, telling an intimate story of a young girl’s first love…who just happens to be a robot! We are very honored to shine a light on the brilliant work of the late Tanith Lee. And we are thrilled to be working on our second book with the legendary Trina Robbins! Also, we must send out a huge THANK YOU to Colleen Doran and Gail Simone for coming along for the ride! We hope you will give it a look, and consider making a pledge.”
Many exciting rewards are being offered, including signed copies of the book, exclusive prints from Colleen Doran, sketches by comic book pros, and even original pages of comic book art by Trina Robbins!
This is a book that is sure to please fans of science fiction and comics alike. Visit the campaign right here.
Sometimes you just need a good hook to get you around to seeing a movie. Take 2015’s “The Condo,” a light comedy from Gravitas Ventures that is now available on Video on Demand. There is a lot of good energy here and it begins with leading actor Baron Jay. In fact, check out the interview link below where Jay provides some insights on making it in the industry. This is our gateway. There is something about Jay, his spirit, his humanity–that makes you want to stay with him and see his work.
And right below this is THE CONDO movie trailer:
The premise: Four married guys find themselves with a condo that they turn into a bachelor pad. This may remind some of you of the Billy Wilder classic, “The Apartment.” Well, that was on the mind of Baron Jay and inspired him to commission Bill Marroni to write the script, who directed Jay’s first feature film, “Safe House.” What this movie does best is to showcase a lot of solid emerging talent. It’s a vehicle that serves well everyone involved: Produced by Baron Jay and Michael Joseph for Baron Jay Film Group; directed by horror genre veteran James Cullen Bressack (Bethany); and written by Bill Marroni and Bill Dumas.
Baron Jay and Jackie Moore in THE CONDO
Something like this, if done right, makes the most of the opportunity to experiment. There are some recurring themes that get a chance to be developed. The cast is led by Trae Ireland (#FromJennifer), Jackie Moore (Pernicious), Baron Jay (Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp), Michael Joseph (Restoration), Tracy “Stresh” Mcnulty (Emma’s Chance), Chris Sapone, Aria London, and Johanna Rae (Psychos). Baron Jay commands the screen as a hapless realtor and lover. Trae Ireland is a cocky stand-up comedian with dwindling reasons to laugh. And Jackie Moore is a surprise hit as a sexy man-eater suffering from multiple personality disorder.
Jackie Moore in THE CONDO
So, while rough around the edges, “The Condo” is a fun view. If you are a fan of improv comedy, that’s a helpful way of looking at this: lots of talent trying out different things. Overall, I come back to Baron Jay, the ringmaster for this project. As he advises aspiring actors and filmmakers: if you’re tired of knocking on doors, then create something of your own. For those of you out there with those sort of dreams, this is especially of interest. That said, there is an effortless, even masterful, quality from the lead actors. I look forward to seeing where everyone goes with their movie careers.
King Trump Confronts American Presidents. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.
If someone could use an employee manual, it would certainly be the current occupant to the highest post in the land. Jeremi Suri’s new book guides us through what has become of the American presidency, from its development to its inevitable decline. If Donald Trump were to read it, “The Impossible Presidency” would provide much food for thought.
Suri’s prose has an inviting conversational tone that lifts the reader up. His main argument is that, after a long period of expansion, the job is now collapsing in upon itself. For the first part of the book, we read about the presidents who transformed the office: Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, and the two Roosevelts. The second part of the book follows the fall: JFK and LBJ; Reagan; Clinton and Obama. FDR was the last president to fundamentally remake the job and save the country, and the world, in the process. No one else is going to top that. Furthermore, the job has become so complex that no one person, according to Suri, can ever hope to juggle all the responsibility. Spoiler alert: Suri advocates for a two-person job with a president and a prime minister. Of course, we’ve already established a partnership between president and vice-president since Carter. But that may not be enough.
It is Donald Trump who so neatly underscores Suri’s thesis about the decline of the job that he cannot help but cast a long shadow over the whole book. Suri uses contemporary politico lingo currently associated with Trump. Suri describes past presidents as responding to their “base” and “doubling down” on important issues. More to the point, Suri provides numerous highly relevant examples of how presidents have appealed to the male white voter. This is a fact that each president has wrestled with from the very beginning.
THE IMPOSSIBLE PRESIDENCY by Jeremi Suri
In a work full of evocative and highly informative passages, what Suri does with FDR stands out. Suri weaves a series of recollections by Saul Bellow as a Depression era youth who is galvanized by the reassurances of FDR, the man on the radio, with the funny posh accent, that everyone intently listened to. In the case of FDR, his word was as good as gold. When FDR ordered an increase in the money supply, he answered any criticism over its legitimacy by stating, “How do I know that’s any good? The fact that I think it is, makes it good.” As Suri points out, that kind of common sense meant everything to a struggling boy like Saul Bellow. It was real words backed up by real action.
In a very accessible and compelling style, Suri guides the reader in distinguishing the most consequential American presidents. In this excerpt, you get a taste of Suri’s writing as he compares Lincoln to FDR:
“If Lincoln was the nineteenth-century president, Roosevelt was the twentieth-century American leader.
Lincoln’s presidency anticipated Roosevelt’s. The latter had to contend with the collapse of the American (and world) economy, but they both spent much of their presidencies at war. In retrospect, Roosevelt’s ability to respond creatively to the Great Depression and echo Lincoln’s war performance is truly exceptional. No other president faced the same range of existential challenges. As a consequence, no other president had so many opportunities to change the basic structure of American society, and vast sections of the modern world. Roosevelt turned the darkest of times into the brightest of new hopes. He was not only the first welfare president, but, by 1944, the first global president, influencing more parts of the world than any previous American executive. He pioneered the New Deal and then globalized its reach.”
No less heroic is the way that JFK navigated the Cuban Missile Crisis. In sharp contrast to FDR’s time, Suri points out, the job of president had become so compartmentalized that, even at the height of the crisis, JFK was hamstrung with a schedule crammed with activities of little to no real significance. The office had taken on such a life of its own that it was assumed the president would simply pick how his advisors wanted to strike at Cuba not whether to discuss other options. Of course, we know JFK found another option. But, in the case of Vietnam, the system forced his hand. For LBJ, it was more of the same: another president distracted as well as compelled to great action.
Suri states that gradual and incremental progress is the new template fashioned by Clinton and Obama. But, Suri goes on to say, a sense for bold action must not be lost. For Clinton, it was not responding to the genocide in Rwanda. For Obama, it was not responding to ISIS as the threat emerged. In both cases, each president was conscious of the risk of overextending and held back when they should have acted. As for Trump, Suri seems to see him as more of a warning that we’ve hit rock bottom and now we must plan for what lies ahead. This is an essential book for putting our current state of affairs into proper historical context.
How Much More of King Trump? Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.
The focus of this book is to show how the modern American presidency has evolved into a colossal apparatus. In turn, the role of a modern American president has become virtually unmanageable, too demanding for just one person. Or has it–or is that the crucial problem? To be sure, it is a problem but solving it won’t resolve other government dysfunction. Suri does not delve into what his proposed solution would gain. A team of president and prime minister, as he suggests, would still be at the mercy of a corrupt and compromised Congress. But one step at a time. A post-Trump America, in and of itself, will be a step in the right direction. More and more Americans, even loyal Trump supporters, are coming to see that something is fundamentally wrong with our current chief executive, his election, his entire administration. One American president who Suri does not cover is President Jimmy Carter. Here is a president who valued integrity and did quite a lot of good while in office. Look it up and you’ll see. This book is just the type that inspires you to keep looking up in more ways than one.
“The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America’s Highest Office” is a 368-page hardcover published by Basic Books. You can order this book from Amazon by clicking the image below:
Look in the About section to his website and M. Jacob Alvarez says of himself: “M. Jacob Alvarez is a cartoonist, comedian, and chemical engineer (seriously dude, silly drawings and conspiracy theory jokes don’t pay many bills…)” How true! Well, being a chemical engineer is an astonishingly good place to be if you want to create a graphic novel. Less to worry about or more room to worry about other things–since there’s always something. How about if you’re young and vulnerable? That is exactly the subject matter Alvarez tackles in his new graphic novel, “Chinatown Bus.” It is a heart-felt exploration of hipsterdom–and Alvarez’s irreverence serves him well here.
There’s a certain time in your life when you will not only tolerate, but even revel, in drinking cheap beer from a Solo plastic cup, sold to you at a premium price since you’re in a chic nightclub (which ain’t so chic). There you are under a low ceiling packed in a little sweatbox with a bunch of other scenesters pretending to like a really bad band. So intense! The aim of Alvarez’s 84-page graphic novel is not so much to satirize. More like to bear witness. While not an autobio comic, Alvarez admits in his forward to being very familiar with the struggles of his young characters.
“Chinatown Bus” by M. Jacob Alvarez
Alvarez has a wonderfully energetic and cartoony style that is accessible and inspires empathy with his characters. Lyn is a guy from Philly taking the Chinatown Bus to New York City. He is in a long distance relationship and is sort of feeling stuck. All it takes is a text miscommunication from Kelly, his girlfriend, and Lyn is ready to call it quits. To his credit, Lyn is certain that Kelly has just dumped him. There is a cute passenger he’s been eying and so he decides to confide in her. Jane, flattered to have Lyn open up to her, invites him to hang out with her.
Panel from “Chinatown Bus”
It turns out that Kelly did not really dump Lyn, at least not outright. Alvarez really enjoys setting things up and then lighting the fuse. A fine example is once all three of these characters meet. Jane ends up knocking Kelly out cold. Lyn explodes and unleashes his fury upon Jane. He chastises her. Turn the page and Jane is full-on outraged for being called a drama queen. Three more pages, and we see Lyn’s steady descent, completely alone and deflated.
Page from “Chinatown Bus”
Any reader will enjoy a gritty urban tale about young people trying to find themselves. These characters definitely have their flaws and are prone to hide behind caustic remarks but Alvarez presents it all with a human touch that will resonate with the reader. This is a great example of a cartoonist’s debut graphic novel. Alvarez has successfully followed through on a specific theme and vision.
“Chinatown Bus” is available at multiple comics shops including Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, and Columbus, Ohio. For more details, visit M. Jacob Alvarez right here.
Hillary Chute is a well-regarded authority on comics, the author of a number of impressive titles, including her latest work, “Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere,” published by HarperCollins. Manohla Dargis, one of the chief film critics for The New York Times, recently wrote a review giving the book high praise. Ms. Chute is a professor at Northeastern University and the associate editor of “MetaMaus,” the companion book to Art Spiegelman’s landmark graphic novel, “Maus.” The centerpiece of “MetaMaus” is an interview of Spiegelman conducted by Chute.
In this interview, I ask Ms. Chute if she would share with us some of the background behind “MetaMaus” as it is, in my view, inextricably linked to her new book, “Why Comics?” I note, in my interview, that there is even a moment in a comics introduction to “MetaMaus” where Spiegelman ends up naming the three key subjects he’s always asked about. First on the list, “Why Comics?” And so I pose that question in a series of questions about a book full of answers. And, ultimately, we find ourselves focusing on the auteur, the lone individual, creating a work of comics, just like any other artist. We are talking about comics as an art form.
WHY COMICS? by Hillary Chute
HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: In your new book, “Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere,” you share with the reader what you’ve learned about comics from your vantage point. You have interviewed a number of trailblazers. Let’s start with Art Spiegelman. Would you share with us a little bit about your background and how you came to work with him?
HILLARY CHUTE: Working with Art Spiegelman has been one of the most influential experiences of my life–certainly in terms of learning about comics. I was a graduate student getting a PhD in English at Rutgers University in New Jersey and I got very interested in “Maus.” It became a part of my dissertation. I wrote a dissertation on nonfiction comics that was inspired by “Maus” and had a long chapter on it. One of my students, as I was a graduate teaching assistant, was starting an online comics criticism magazine (Indy Magazine) and he asked me if I’d write something for it about “Maus.” I agreed and, lo and behold, Art Spiegelman read the piece, which was online and had an e-mail attached. He contacted me and invited me to a party at his house in New York City, where I was living.
Meeting Spiegelman was like winning the lottery as, at that point, I had spent years researching the Spiegelman archives, underground comics, and his more obscure works. The party was to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Raw magazine. This was 2005. Raw started in 1980. So, at this party I met Chris Ware, Charles Burns, and Kim Deitch. It was all the more like winning the lottery.
Quite the experience!
Yes, it was quite the experience! Suddenly, I was in a room with a number of people whose work I deeply admired and I never thought I’d have a chance to meet. After the party, Spiegelman and I kept in touch, we regularly talked about comics, and eventually he asked me to work with him on the book project, “MetaMaus,” which was published by Pantheon in 2011. He and I worked on the project together for over five years. So, we became quite close. The core of the book is an interview between Spiegelman and me. What we did, which was so much fun for me, was that we just talked for two years.
We recorded interviews for two years. He never wanted to know the questions in advance. He wanted to keep it conversational. So, I would prepare my questions, go over to his studio, and ask him questions. We would talk for hours and hours. We would then get transcriptions made of our conversations. I edited well over a thousand pages of transcripts into the 250 or so pages that are in “MetaMaus.”
That is just amazing. For me, transcribing just one interview can be a daunting task at times–but to do two years worth of interviews!
Thank God, I wasn’t doing the transcription, just the interviews!
I have started to reread “Maus” byway of just getting a copy of “MetaMaus.” I am really enjoying it. I had wanted to make clear, as you’ve just said, that you are the person conducting the interviews. That is the core of the book–as well as a whole lot of other wonderful things that go along with it too.
Right, there are visuals on every page that we picked out to help illustrate what we were talking about at the time.
Well, it’s genius. The concept is genius. Of course, I haven’t finished it as I’ve only just gotten it. But, what I’ve read so far is just wonderful.
It was a real privilege to be able to work with him on that. I’m so gratified that you’re finding it useful and interesting. It wasn’t like the thirteen years that he spent working on “Maus,” but we spent five to six long hard-working years on that book. One of the things that Art taught me, related to all aspects of producing something and that comes from his being a cartoonist, is the art of condensing–and the art of being economical. I think that’s why it took us so long because we generated the material for that book in a leisurely way-so that we could really be expansive–and then the task was to make it an economical object. He was a great model for that.
“MetaMaus” and “Why Comics” are very naturally intertwined. It was a treat for me to read the comics intro that Art Spiegelman does for “MetaMaus.” He says he’s determined to answer all the questions he keeps being asked. And he begins with, “Why Comics?” There’s the title to your book, right there!
It’s so funny. When Art and I were working on “MetaMaus,” I had in mind that he was, not consciously but on some level, structuring our book–which is “MetaMaus–after “Maus,” which is a series of expansive conversations that he had with his father over years. So, it seemed like a mirrored project. And then I realized recently, since it wasn’t at the top of my consciousness–if you can believe it–that the title of my book borrowed the title from one of the chapters from “MetaMaus,” which Art and I came up with together. So, it showed me how my book, in way, is a reflection of “MetaMaus.” So, it’s like a chain that keeps on going.
The concept of time in comics really gets me, which you discuss at length in your book. I have a quick quote from Art Spiegelman that I’ll bring up to the surface: “In their essence, comics are about time being made manifest spatially, in that you’ve got all these different chunks of time–each box being a different moment of time–and you see them all at once. As a result you’re always, in comics, being made aware of different times inhabiting the same space.” Would you talk a little bit about that?
That, to me, is one of the most powerful things about comics as a medium. I think Scott McCloud put it quite well in his book, “Understanding Comics,” which seems quite schematic to a lot of people but then there’s a moment in that book when he just says, “Time in comics is really weird.” I’ve always loved that moment in his book–because time in comics is really weird. One of the powerful things that a work like “Maus” shows is that range of formal experimentation that comics grammar has at its disposal–with panels, and gutters, and tiers–is incredibly effective for work that is about history, the movement of history, understanding history. The central premise of “Maus” is that the past isn’t really the past. The past is informing and clearly inhabiting the present. The fact that Spiegelman can make this so literal on the page–by collapsing moments of time in addition to just juxtaposing them–I think is incredibly powerful. Because it illustrates that history isn’t always linear and it isn’t always progressive. I think there’s something really incredible about what comics can do with time and space.
BLACK HOLE by Charles Burns
What do you suppose young people might not know about comics?
I think that some people who have grown up reading a lot of comics, like my students–who experience comics in so many ways–I think that they might not have thought about just how difficult and labor-intensive it is to create comics. One of the things I wanted to do with this book was to tell stories about the careers of different important cartoonists in part to show the kind of labor that goes into comics. I mentioned before that “Maus” took thirteen years for Art Spiegelman to complete. Charles Burns took ten years to complete “Black Hole.” Alison Bechdel took seven years to complete “Fun Home.” I learned from working with Art that he did at least a dozen studies for each two-inch high panel in “Maus.” There’s just a huge archive of studies, outtakes, and draft pages. I think that comics can be so pleasurable and gratifying to read that sometimes students aren’t aware of just how much deliberation goes into every tiny flick of the pen.
I know this from my own experience–and my partner, Jennifer–we’re both cartoonists.
I’m preaching to the converted!
GHOST WORLD by Daniel Clowes
It’s very typical for a significant work of comes to take at least five years to complete. I wanted to focus on a portrait of today’s independent cartoonist. I don’t see any way around it–although there are some variations–the work has to all be done by hand to gain the most. You begin to farm out things–everything from the lettering to the borders–and, bit by bit, you lose something of the luster to the work.
I agree with you. I profile one creator, Harvey Pekar, who is an example of successful collaborative work. But I think you put it really well when you say that something is lost when you get too many hands working on the piece. In my thinking, and perhaps it comes from my background in literature and novels, is the intimacy of comics. I think it’s what you get from seeing one person’s vision: seeing the same hand that creates the images as well as the words. You get a real world-building happening on the page when it’s done by one person. I think there’s something unique about comics in that way. People sometimes call them auteurist comics, which I believe you touch upon in your review. When you think about it, the term “auteur” comes from film, the New Wave French cinema and people like Godard. But, even on a Godard film, there are many people working on that film whereas a cartoonist like Dan Clowes, it’s just him through and through, the whole thing. It’s really a purchase on a person’s aesthetic vision.
It’s whatever the cartoonist wants to bring to his work. There really wasn’t a place for me to go to just study comics back in the ’80s or ’90s. What I needed was to devour literature and fine art. I ended up majoring in painting. That’s what I needed–even if what I wanted to do was to go back and focus on comics.
That really resonates for me with many of the people who are profiled in “Why Comics?” Chris Ware went to art school, although he dropped out. Charles Burns majored in Printmaking because one could not major in Comics back then. Alison Bechdel applied to art school but didn’t get in. Justin Green went to art school. So did Aline Kominsky-Crumb. And Dan Clowes. There’s a sense among all these people that they knew all along that they wanted to be cartoonists–but they didn’t have that available to them as an option in art school in the ’80s and ’90s. So they did something approximate–like printmaking. Now, everything has shifted up to where you can get an accredited degree in Comics.
Would you touch upon Raw magazine since so much came out of that: not only Art Spiegelman but Chris Ware, Charles Burns, and so many others.
Raw magazine and Weirdo (edited by Robert Crumb, Peter Bagge, and then Aline Kominsky-Crumb) are in my thinking the two most important alternative publications of the ’80s and ’90s. Really cementing post-underground comics as important alternative culture. I think that Raw’s influence can’t be overstated. Raw set the tone for over thirty years. And the reason, I think, that they were able to do that is because they created that culture for themselves. That relates to my chapter on punk as well as others. When Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly set out to create Raw, they bought a two-thousand-pound secondhand printing press that they had to haul up to their fourth floor walkup in SoHo. It’s the home they still live in, although the printing press is now no longer in their living room.
They did it themselves and that meant complete artistic freedom. It was really a post-underground moment as they weren’t dealing with any editorial strictures, except their own. It also meant that they were trying to distinguish the work in Raw from underground comics by making a magazine with very high production values. It was a way to have people in the art world pay attention to something beautiful that they would want on their shelves…which is a slightly different aesthetic from newsprint and the ephemeral ethic of underground comics. They were taking the powerful do-it-yourself ethic of underground comics but taking it further with a high-end design sense.
“Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth” by Chris Ware
I want to emphasize that each chapter in your book is a category and each is inter-related. So, for example, Chris Ware can figure prominently in more than one chapter. Would you speak to how your organized “Why Comics?”
I have to say that Chris Ware does get the most play since he’s the central figure in two chapters–which felt right to me. I’m an academic by training and I had published three academic books before this new book. The idea was to create a book for a wide audience, which I was keen to do since I think one of the most powerful things about comics is that they’re pitched for a wide audience. Without sacrificing sophistication, I wanted to really not make it boring. I thought that to just have a chronological evolution of comics would be too boring. It would be too academic. It didn’t seem exciting to me. So, I hit upon the idea of themes. Part of the reason I loved structuring the book around themes is that it allowed me to bring in a lot of different kinds of analysis. I could tell the story of a particular cartoonist but I could also sneak in some history of comics. It may not be delivered in a chronological way but I aimed to have coverage and the themes really allowed me to do that.
LOVE AND ROCKETS: NEW STORIES #1, 2016
Let’s turn our attention to the cover art, an original “Love and Rockets” piece by Jaime Hernandez especially made for “Why Comics?” Do you think “Love and Rockets” is still a comic a lot of young people are not aware of or are they actually more aware of it than we may realize?
That’s a really interesting question. I’m so glad you asked about the cover. It makes all the hard work of creating a book worthwhile to have Jaime Hernandez do an original work of art for the cover. He asked me what I was thinking for the cover and I immediately said, “Women.” I think that is what Jaime Hernandez does best. He put four characters from “Love and Rockets” on the cover and I was elated. I think that people of my generation, in their 30s and 40s, absolutely adore “Love and Rockets.” It began in the ’80s. I started buying it in the mid to late ’90s and just fell in love with it. I hope that this book serves to introduce some younger readers to just how fascinating and also just how feminist “Love and Rockets” is. I think, especially in this time that these interesting, fleshed-out, complicated characters fill a gap. It is also important to note that, in 2016, Fantagraphics did a reboot to this comic in a slightly different format.
The cast of Fun Home: Beth Malone, Judy Kuhn, Sydney Lucas, Michael Cerveris, and Emily Skeggs, photographed in New York City. Photograph by Mark Seliger.
I am also compelled to talk about Alison Bechdel. Would you share some thoughts.
Alison and I co-taught a course at the University of Chicago in 2012 on comics and autobiography. It was called “Lines of Transmission: Comics and Autobiography.” It was such a thrilling experience to be in the classroom with her for an entire term. We taught a mix of theory and practice course. Every day we’d have drawing exercises led by Alison and then every day we’d also talk about history and theory of autobiography and how comics comes into that.
I think it’s hard to adequately describe Alison Bechdel’s influence in comics on the 21st century and then also go back to the 20th century and her comic strip, “Dykes to Watch Out For.” So, she’s just been a huge figure in the comics scene for decades. “Fun Home” was a breakout hit in 2006 and it really called people’s attention to comics, for a broad swath of the population–in a way that was almost unthinkable previously, outside of Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” and maybe Chris Ware’s “Jimmy Corrigan,” which came out in 2000. To have “Fun Home” named Book of the Year by Time magazine in 2006 was huge. It got written up in the Village Voice, where I wrote about it. It got write-ups everywhere, in People and Entertainment Weekly. Alison was already well established among the comics cognoscenti but, after “Fun Home,” she became a household name in the entire country and in Europe. It’s been translated into Chinese, among many other languages. It was a phenomenon on the scale of “Maus.” And then to have it become a Broadway musical and win a Tony Award for Best Musical–you can’t get more mainstream than Broadway! It just underlines that the book, as powerful as it is, had added resonance beyond the original content. “Fun Home” was a real inspiration for my book. I open the introduction with an epigraph from Alison Bechdel. She says, “Comics is like learning a new syntax, a new way of ordering ideas.” To me, I think that’s a beautiful description of what comics does.
PERSEPOLIS, the animated movie, 2007
I think we’re making a lot of progress. Most people can name at least three graphic novels: “Maus,” “Persepolis,” “Fun Home.”
“Persepolis” is similar to “Fun Home” in that it was adapted. In this case, to an animated movie. The “Persepolis” animated movie, which was co-directed by Marjane Satrapi, was France’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film to the Academy Awards. That was really groundbreaking as animation had never been entered by France in the category. It didn’t win but it win at Cannes which was a phenomenon in itself.
What do you see in the future for comics?
It will just keep on growing. Now, bear with me, but I think that Bob Dylan winning a Nobel Prize for Literature for his music is actually a sign of the changing times in a way that shows us where comics is going to go. I think there’s so many rubrics now through which comics is understood and the fact that it is routinely and regularly being understood as literature–which isn’t to say a work that references literature–but the fact that it is being understood itself as literary, as complex and as sophisticated as people expect from a literary work, is helping all of us redefine what literature is. It means that comics is going to keep on being in all sorts of different spaces: in bookstores, in museums, passed around among kids, in comic book shops, in college classrooms, in grade school classrooms, in graduate classrooms, it’s everywhere. Comics journalism is a thriving area. You can now open up any top notch news venue and find a work of comics journalism. Joe Sacco published work on the Iraq War in Harpers. That was extraordinary to me. Harpers was a prime venue for artist-reporters during the American Civil War. There will no area where you won’t be able to find comics and that makes me happy.
Give it a few more years and the general public will be ready for a “Love and Rockets” movie.
Yes! That would be some movie. How are they going to condense all those years of the serial into one movie?
I know. Well, thank you, Hillary.
Thank you, Henry! It was an honor for me to have you review the book and to be on this podcast!
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The destiny of Rey, and the Rebel Alliance, hangs in the balance.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has arrived! I saw it last night and I was quite entertained. This was a late night show complete with long line and excitement in the air. I will make a deal with you. I won’t spoil anything that isn’t already in the trailer–this is a movie about finding one’s destiny. You could say that about most movies. And there is the big conflict going on, of course, over what Rey (Daisy Ridley) should do with her life. Should she follow the light or the dark? Well, no one needs to feel obligated to do what they “should” do, right? Therein lies the deeper conflict. By all counts, Rey is, and this is no secret, the last Jedi. Who can help her with this? Ah, that is what this movie is all about and it does a fine job with that premise.
I will tell you that I went into this movie in the spirit of a true Star Wars fan–I was dutifully ready to be amazed. I was not to leave my seat. I was definitely not to check my phone. I was not to smack loudly on any edibles–if I even dared to indulge in cinema snacks. The woman seated next to me did have these plastic-wrapped treats she noisily noshed on and she DID check her phone, which is outrageous. And some people were not riveted to their seats and took bathroom breaks or whatever–more checking of phones? There seemed to be a jittery vibe going on. And that is the biggest challenge the Star Wars franchise has to contend with: can it keep you amazed? The answer is more of a so-so attitude. This Star Wars movie has its share of self-deprecating jokes to lighten the mood–which is fine as that is a staple for these big tent events–but perhaps there was just a tad too much–even if the Disney team is supposed to have perfected the delicately-balanced recipe for mass entertainment.
Star Wars delivers both art and action. Maybe a little more art than action–but that’s okay!
So, how much did Disney spend to buy out George Lucas? Enough to run a space colony on the moon, right? Well, then, we all deserve to be amazed! Again, I come back to the so-so vibe going on. The audience was there because this is an event. The movie was there because this is a huge investment. Writer-director-mastermind Rian Johnson is there to pull off another J.J. Abrams rabbit-out-of-a-hat-trick. This is, in its own way, a noble effort–not be dismissed. Is it possible today to really pull off an old-fashioned trick like this that gets an audience genuinely thrilled? For one thing, the audience has shifted, in its interests and attitude, since the first Star Wars in fundamental ways: less patient, wiser, snarkier–there wasn’t even any snark in 1977! To do the rabbit trick today, you need to scale back and dial down.
Some of the very best moments in this Star Wars movie are when everything goes into radio silence. For a crowd-pleaser, you don’t necessarily want to get too arthouse on the public. This is not “2001: A Space Odyssey,” although, given the wide demographic for Star Wars, you have plenty of wiggle room to enter into artistic mode. Truth to told, everyone hungers for some art with their action. Anyway, there are a number of these moments of radio silence as Rey deals with the profound obstacles on her journey of self-discovery as well as when we get to the nitty gritty conflict between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. And it is beautifully done. I don’t care if some people got it and some chose to munch away on snacks or sneak a look at their phone for the millionth time. The Star Wars franchise, all of these franchises, know that’s part of the game and some will play it well while others will fall short. All in all, the results from this latest Star Wars are well played.
The whole cast delivers the goods, to be sure. For instance, I cannot image this without Adam Driver just as much as I cannot image this without Mark Hamill. Now, these two actors are very different, no doubt. Driver as an actor, we can mostly agree, runs circles around Hamill but Hamill is a special case. He has some acting chops. For this movie, he has all the acting chops he could possibly need. He comes to this role honoring something amounting to a sacred trust. Overall, he is a pleasure to see on the screen as the reluctant and conflicted legend, the great Luke Skywalker. What should he do at this point in his life? What is his greater purpose? He is admirably up to the challenge of this pivotal role. The same can certainly be said of Carrie Fisher. Hamill, ultimately, carries a good bit of this story as he is caught in the destiny triangle between Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley). By the time we’re getting down to these three revealing their true selves, no one is munching or checking their Facebook.