Category Archives: Comics Journalism

Review: ‘The Phantom Zone and Other Stories: Comics and Prose by José Alaniz’

The Phantom Zone and Other Stories: Comics and Prose by José Alaniz

The Phantom Zone and Other Stories: Comics and Prose by José Alaniz. By José Alaniz. San Diego: Amatl Comix, an SDSU Press imprint, 2020. 128 pp. $18.99.

The college newspaper has a long tradition as an incubator of exciting talent. The Daily Texan, at the University of Texas, is a prime example, home to such notable alumni as Berkeley Breathed, Chris Ware, and Shannon Wheeler. Jose Alaniz’s The Phantom Zone first appeared as a comic strip in UT’s Daily Texan in 1992-1993. Now, imagine a book that not only collects some of the best work Alaniz did at UT but also provides a look at later work, including comics and scholarship. That is what you’ll find in The Phantom Zone and Other Stories: Comics and Prose by José Alaniz.

The Phantom Zone, circa 1992

This book is a very special treat on many levels. For those of you interested in the process of creating comics, and storytelling in general, this book is invaluable. As for me, I’m compelled to share this with you for a number of reasons. First, I feel a great connection to Alaniz simply for the fact that we’re both Mexican-American. We’re also of the same vintage but, more than just being part of the Gen X crowd, I had my own comic strip, Danny, running in The Daily Cougar, at the University of Houston in the late-80s. In my case, one of my characters was ripped off by another cartoonist and appeared in The Houston Post for a while. And then life moved on. I’d always been heavy into liberal arts, ever mindful of an uncertain future, but always faithful to my art. I made the big move to Seattle in the early-90s seeking a receptive creative home base. And so did Alaniz! Fast forward all these many years, and Alaniz found himself befriended by many of the same cartoonists in the community I was a part of. Small world! I have to say all this because Alaniz speaks to these similar building blocks. It’s also a big world too because I’ve never met Alaniz. Now, I hope that can be corrected. This book has proven to be such an awesome introduction!

The Phantom Zone, circa 1998

If José Alaniz had never kept up with creating comics, he would still have much to be proud of and satisfied with. Today, Alaniz is a professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Washington. Mr. Alaniz is the author of  Komiks: Comic Art in Russia as well as Death, Disability, and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond. Both titles break new ground in comics scholarship from two very distinct approaches. Alaniz spent a good bit of time in Moscow and concluded that the Russian culture did not have much of any connection to comics so he investigated. Alaniz also found it intriguing how mainstream superhero comics explore issues of disability, death and dying and that led to him writing on that. Along the way, Alaniz probably missed creating comics on an ongoing basis. Once you’ve experienced the constant pace of creating a daily comic strip, at a significant level, it never leaves your system entirely. You have this compulsion to express yourself on a regular basis. The act of regularly creating comics gets under your skin. It is very intimate and intense. And it can metamorphosize into all sorts of other forms of self-expression: prose writing, including fiction and journalism, and engaging with other media as well. You are an exhibitionist, liable to walk around naked down the street if given half a chance. But the comics medium is a very specific thing and it has a way of calling back those who have participated at deep level just like a certain mistress may hold sway over a past lover.

Old Edinburg, Dead and Gone!

The Phantom Zone is an intriguing title for a comic strip. It seems to harken back to a good 0ld-fashioned adventure comic strips by such greats as Milton Caniff. Add to it the fact that Alaniz is playing with issues of youth, identity and culture, and it’s easy to try to draw some comparisons to the, by then, well established alternative comics scene of the time. Love and Rockets, the comic book series, and leading alt-comics title, by the Hernandez brothers: Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario, would undoubtedly have been known by Alaniz. It is asking a lot of any young person to try to live up to such giants as Milton Caniff and the Hernandez brothers but many an aspiring cartoonist is compelled to give it a go. Once you’re in the thick of doing a regular comic strip, all bets are off. An overriding worldview kicks in and guides the cartoonist. Comics can be a great equalizer since it cuts deep, ignores any fuzzy boundaries between high and low culture. Suddenly, Archie Comics and Popeye must be given their due, honored and respected. Academics traditionally would thumb their nose at the likes of Jughead and Brutus and dismiss these clowns as “drivel.” And, of course, they’d use such an arcane term to add to the sting. But a true cartoonist, someone actually writing and drawing in pursuit of something artful, they know the true value of such legendary characters. And so Alaniz bravely entered the fray. Soon, he had something brewing, riding upon the shoulders of too many other cartoonists to mention. It is fascinating to read the early college efforts and then compare that to later work revisiting the same characters.

Plastic People

From that experience, it was onward to further exploration in creating comics. Pivotal in this process, as Alaniz shares, is his taking part in monthly informal get-togethers with various cartoonists at a local Seattle cafe. Prior to the pandemic, each gathering was an opportunity for cartoonists to draw up comics that were then collected and printed into an ongoing anthology known as, Dune. I’ve often been invited but I never attended, mostly because it conflicted with my job. But I’ve had countless interactions with most of these cartoonists. As many of them can attest, I’ve been at the forefront of many comics events which they happily participated in. Some of the most notable cartoonists from this scene include: Max Clotfelter, Marc J. Palm, David Lasky, Greg Stump, Seth Goodkind, Jim Woodring, Eroyn Franklin and Megan Kelso. Again, I can’t stress enough how valuable this book can be to anyone interested in the comics medium. It all began for Alaniz with a youthful creative impulse and just look where it took him. Overall, The Phantom Zone comic strip does a decent job with carving out something in the auto-bio tradition. What is truly most compelling is the life that José Alaniz carved out for himself.

The Phantom Zone comic strip

Amatl Comix is an ongoing series that compiles the best in Latinx comics presented by San Diego State University Press.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Journalism, Comics Reviews, Comics Scholarship

Comics Spotlight: James Lloyd 

The bits and pieces that make up the texture of everyday life.

James Lloyd is a fellow cartoonist who I consider a friend. Oh, but it’s been many years since I can say that I’ve seen Mr. Lloyd in person. James Lloyd is from Vancouver, BC. I’m from Seattle. So, we do need to properly meet up one of these days. Here’s a James Lloyd comic that was slated to debut at this year’s annual Vancouver Comic Arts Festival (VanCAF), which had to become a virtual event this year. It’s entitled, Black Sunday, and is a beautiful work full of local color, all the bits and pieces that add up to the texture of everyday life. But keep with it as this comic unfolds into a look back at the Fall of Saigon. Yes, that’s the Black Sunday that’s being referred to here. Keep going and you’ll discover a story of searching for family roots and confronting the gentrified Little Saigon in Vancouver. Lloyd makes a comparison between the South Vietnamese forced out of their homeland in 1975 and the more recent squeeze that the Vancouver South Vietnamese business community has experienced from developers.  How often can one be pushed out after doing everything to play by the rules?

From the Fall of Saigon to the gentrified Little Saigon.

James Lloyd is an excellent artist and he is not someone to sit on his hands and is ready to offer up praise and support to a colleague. Praise and support means everything within the comics community which is made up of a lot of loners who would love nothing more than to go back to their drawing board. Well, let’s hope we can all do our part to keep shedding some light on remarkable labors of love.

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Review: The Comics Journal #303

The Comics Journal #303

This is a very meta thing to be doing but here’s a review of a magazine that features reviews. Dating back to 1977, in its heyday, The Comics Journal was a monthly source of comics news and reviews, a trailblazer for the burgeoning field of comics journalism and criticism. It has always maintained a certain quirky attitude, consisting of a mix of features and topped off by a expansive soul-searching interview a la Playboy magazine. It mainly attracts those who consider themselves comics aficionados. In 2013, it ceased its print version, staying online, but now it makes its return to print with Issue 303. TCJ returns this month with new editors RJ Casey and Kristy Valenti.

Now, I go pretty far back. I have fond memories of picking up this magazine at Tower Records back in the day (circa 1995), usually with a recent release from Sub Pop Records. I also fondly recall a special dynamic, or synergy, at play between the magazine and its online counterpart that led many of us to the forums section that let you interact with subgroups within subgroups of people in the comics community. This was long before Facebook or social media as we know it today. I think the monthly magazine, as we knew it back then, is still sorely missed. Towards the end of its print run, it came out less often and each issue covered a big theme and came out in different sizes. The consistency of a monthly had been lost. I think, in a perfect world, this latest return to print would do well to go back to that monthly format. Alas, with this latest #303, we’re seeing the start of a twice-a-year format. You might argue that TCJ is simply working with today’s print reality and is offering up a taste to a new generation of what is possible.

The showcase item in this issue is, of course, TCJ founder Gary Groth’s interview with a legendary firebrand, the satirist and children’s book author, Tomi Ungerer. For those of you unaware of Mr. Ungerer’s impressive career, I highly recommend that you read this interview and, before or afterward, check out the 2013 documentary, “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough,” directed by Brad Bernstein. The title is one of Ungerer’s sayings, along with “Don’t Hope, Cope” and “Expect The Unexpected.” I interviewed the documentary’s director and its writer and the fact that Ungerer is a true force of nature was the overriding theme. So, it makes perfect sense for someone as outspoken as Groth to sit down and talk it out with someone as outspoken as Ungerer! It’s a match made in heaven.

From Ben Passmore’s story in Now: The New Comics Anthology #3, published by Fantagraphics

Among the various features to be found here, you’ll find them under such titles as “From the Trenches” and “Fair Warning.” For example, under the former is a think piece by cartoonist Ben Passmore, who shares his insights on the alt-comics scene from an African American perspective. And, under the latter, you will find an interview by RJ Casey with emerging comics talent, Fifi Martinez. The thing to always remember about TCJ is that its focus is a serious look at comics as an art form. That leaves little room, if any, for superhero comics, per se. What you’ll mostly find here is a focus on the independent artist-cartoonist. It does a heart good to see cartoonists like Passmore and Martinez provided with a platform.

Ultimately, TCJ remains what it’s always been, a valuable resource that is most appreciated by those who take the comics medium seriously. It’s a niche audience but a fiercely loyal one. In the new more fragmented world we live in, it’s all about niches. That is actually a very positive thing. And niches are supposed to attract outside readers too, right? You can only calculate so much as to how strong a presence you can make on today’s newsstands. For some special readership out there, it will be a great treat to see TCJ on a shelf. Newsstands aren’t going away anytime soon from such places as Barnes & Noble, specialty shops, comic book shops, and even airports. TCJ might just want to make a real push into these venues and see how it goes. I asked about TCJ at my local B&N as well as the Pike Place Market newsstand, one of the granddaddies of newsstands. Neither place had ever heard of TCJ or had any plans to carry it. I asked around a couple of nearby comics shops. They heard of it but were not carrying it. This is TCJ’s return to print, right? Let’s see it out there in the real world.

The reality is that creating any kind of magazine, digital or print, is a big challenge. Everyone in the comics community is rooting for TCJ to make as big of an impact as it can. Those of us already in the choir, can keep singing its praises and wish it well. You can find your copy of TCJ #303 by visiting the Fantagraphics store right here.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Comics, Comics History, Comics Journalism, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Gary Groth, Independent Comics, The Comics Journal, Tomi Ungerer

Comics Industry Review: The MNT monthly comics newsletter

The MNT monthly comics newsletter

The MNT is making a monthly comics newsletter and I’m excited to tell you about it. This is a special place to keep up with the comics industry put together by some of the leading talent in comics journalism. For as little as a one dollar pledge on Patreon, you can read this highly informative and entertaining monthly magazine along with monthly news reports.

As a happy warrior myself, both as a comics creator and freelance writer, I am thrilled to see this particular comics vision realized. The MNT is made up of folks I’ve kept up with over the years. It’s smart of them to band together in this unique format. The team: News co-editor Christian Hoffer is a writer and editor who can currently be found writing extensively at ComicBook.com. News co-editor Vernieda Vergara is a freelance writer and manga critic. Her work can be found at Book Riot and Women Write About Comics. Features co-editor Steve Morris has written for a number of websites, including CBR, ComicsAlliance, and is a former Managing Editor for The Beat. Features co-editor Megan Purdy is a freelance writer and editor, and the publisher of Women Write About Comics and Bleating Heart Press. The Process editor and social media manager Kirsten Thompson is a freelance writer and editor who has contributed to The Frisky, Teen Vogue, Femsplain, Women Write About Comics on topics such as feminism, pop culture, and LGBTQIA issues.

The MNT kicked off its first issue in February, 2017. That first issue included: guest essayist Rosie Knight on her experiences within the direct market pointing out the distribution system’s pros and failings; Steve Morris interviews retailer Ariell Johnson about her first year in the industry and her plans for Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse; Megan Purdy reviews Adam Rapp and Mike Cavallaro’s Decelerate Blue; analysis on Donald Trump’s unexpected impact on comics; analysis on Marvel and DC’s recent changes in price and digital strategy; and a tribute to the career of John Watkiss.

The MNT team has created a highly consistent publication. And that is saying quite a lot. This is a seasoned group of committed comics journalists who dig deep and know how to deliver professional and compelling content. Each monthly edition features news, interviews, reviews, and guest essays written by some of the best critics and creators in the business. The MNT mid-month News Report delivers breaking news and bite-sized features. Your Patreon subscription goes directly into the pockets of MNT guest essays and staff, ensuring that the MNT can continue to break news and offer critical industry commentary. I’ve become hooked and consider the MNT a reliable source for superior comics commentary and journalism. You will too. Go visit them and see for yourself right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Journalism, Comics News, Patreon, The MNT

Tom Spurgeon Takes The Comics Reporter to Higher Level

Tom-Spurgeon-The-Comics-Reporter

Tom Spurgeon is one of our cherished chroniclers of the comics scene. The Comics Reporter is one of the go-to places for all things comics. There’s only a handful of us out there and I’m very happy to call him a friend and colleague. Right now is an exciting time for him, and all of us in the comics industry, as he takes things to a higher level. In August, he will launch a PDF monthly version of his daily blog which will showcase in depth exploration of the contemporary comics scene. This new magazine will be available to those who join his Patreon portal to help sustain all the good things he does at The Comics Reporter. Be sure to visit The Comics Reporter and become one of Tom’s Pateron patrons, for as little as $2 per month, right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Journalism, Journalism, news, Pateron, The Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon

Review: ‘Truth is Fragmentary: Travelogues & Diaries’ by Gabrielle Bell

Truth-Fragmentary-Gabrielle-Bell-comics

“Truth is Fragmentary” is the name of Gabrielle Bell’s latest comics memoir collection and it says it all. Think about it. Truth is indeed fragmentary. You can point out honest, even blunt, bits of truth all you want. People will process it however they choose. Some will deny what you said. Some will misunderstand. Some will have never even come close to getting it. Maybe a few will completely see it your way. It’s a carnival we live in. Thankfully, we have astute and witty observers like Gabrielle Bell. If you’re new to her work, or if you happen to enjoy sly humor, then this is the book for you.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Journalism, Gabrielle Bell, Travel, Travelogue, Uncivilized Books

Henry Chamberlain’s Campaign To Support A Comics Reviewer and Creator

From Henry Chamberlain's "Ballard Comics"

From Henry Chamberlain’s “Ballard Comics”

I am heading out to Comic-Con International in San Diego this year and this is the year that we take things to a new level. With your support, we can do some exciting new things here at Comics Grinder and beyond. You can check out the new campaign, “Support A Comics Reviewer and Creator,” over at GoFundMe right here.

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Filed under Comic-Con, Comic-Con International, Comic-Con International: San Diego, Comics, Comics Grinder, Comics Journalism, Crowdfunding, Geek Culture, Geeks, George Clayton Johnson, GoFundMe, Henry Chamberlain, Interviews, Jim Woodring, Mark Z. Danielewski, Media, Nerd Culture, Nerds, San Diego Comic-Con

Review: THE CARTOON PICAYUNE #5, Edited by Josh Kramer

The-Cartoon-Picayune-Josh-Kramer

“The Cartoon Picayune” has hit its stride with its latest issue and is poised to become a leading voice in comics journalism. These things take time and I’m sure that has not been lost on its editor, Josh Kramer. He began by himself, covering local stories in Vermont and New Hampshire. And now he has contributors from around the world. This is a unique anthology that lives up to spirit of what used to be called literary journalism. And we have reached a point now that finds comics journalism to be more readily accepted and understood. It is a subset of comics that has been steadily developing over the years and The Cartoon Picayune can be relied upon to add to this tradition. Issue Five features two full length stories and two brief stories, each exploring the theme of work.

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Filed under Anthologies, Comics, Comics Journalism, Comics Reviews, Comixology, Comixology Submit, Journalism, The Cartoon Picayune

BALLARD COMICS: Drawing Ballard in 24 Hours, #3

Ballard-comics-Henry-Chamberlain-003

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October 13, 2013 · 3:44 pm

TORONTO COMIC ARTS FESTIVAL: MATT BORS, SARAH GLIDDEN, JOSH NEUFELD, AND RUTU MODAN, MAY 11

Toronto-Comic-Arts-Festival-2013For those who appreciate comics journalism, this is the perfect panel to catch while at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this weekend, May 11-12.

You’ve got quite a lineup: Matt Bors, Sarah Glidden, Josh Neufeld, and Rutu Modan.

Details Follow From The Ad Astra Comics site (I’ve added helpful links):

Incredible Talent to Discuss Political Comics at #TCAF 2013

Posted on May 5, 2013 by NMGUINILING

Hey Y’all – It’s official. I will be moderating a panel of incredible artists on at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) – this next weekend. The panel is a presentation and discussion on Political Comics, and features Matt Bors, Josh Neufeld, Sarah Glidden, and Rutu Modan. Here are the deets:

Political Comics Panel
Saturday, May 11
at the Marriott Hotel
90 Bloor St. East
(Around the corner from the Toronto Reference Library)
5pm – 6pm

Let’s Meet the Panelists!

Matt Bors

Matt Bors

MATT BORS is a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist and editor based in Portland, OR. He was a 2012 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for his political cartoons, which appear regularly in The Sacramento Bee, Portland Mercury, Pittsburgh City Paper, and on Daily Kos.

In the summer of 2010, Bors traveled to Afghanistan to draw comics and serves as the comics journalism editor for Cartoon Movement where he is currently editing a project on reconstruction efforts in Haiti.

In 2012, Bors was the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award for his editorial cartooning. His first graphic novel, War Is Boring, a collaboration with journalist David Axe, was published in 2010. His latest book is a collection of cartoons and essays title Life Begins At Incorporation. You can find more of his work at mattbors.com.

Sarah Glidden

Sarah Glidden

SARAH GLIDDEN’s first full-length book, a graphic-memoir was How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, based on a Birthright trip she took and was published in 2010 by DC Vertigo.

She is currently working on her second book, a work of graphic journalism following reporters into Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon and Syria. Her short pieces of graphic journalism have been published on Cartoon Movement, Ha’aretz, and the Jewish Quarterly. You can find more of her work at sarahglidden.com.

Josh Neufeld

Josh Neufeld

JOSH NEUFELD is a comics journalist known for his graphic narratives of political and social upheaval, told through the voices of witnesses. He is the writer/artist of the best-selling non-fiction graphic novel A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge (Pantheon). In addition, he is the illustrator of the best-selling graphic non-fiction book The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media (W.W. Norton). He is currently a 2013 Knight-Wallace fellow in journalism at the University of Michigan. Neufeld is a Xeric Award winner, and his work has been nominated for a number of other awards, including the Eisner and the Harvey. Usually based in Brooklyn, N.Y., he currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with his wife and daughter. You can find more of his work at joshcomix.com.

Rutu Modan

Rutu Modan

RUTU MODAN was born in Tel-Aviv in 1966 and is now one of Israel’s best known cartoonists. She graduated from art school in 1992 and quickly established herself drawing strips for Israeli daily newspapers. In 1994 she was offered to job of editing an Israeli edition of MAD magazine with her classmate, Yirmi Pinkus, featuring reprints of US material supplemented with local originated material. The magazine shut down after 14 issues, but undeterred, Rutu and Yirmi founded Actus Tragicus in 1995, an internationally acclaimed collective and independent publishing house for alternative comic artists, including Batia Kolton, Mira Friedmann and Itzik Rennert. Rutu has worked as an illustrator for magazines and books in Israel and abroad, and has taught comics courses in Israel. She currently lives in Sheffield, England. You can find more of Rutu Modan’s work at her column at The New York Times and you can view her portfolio at Helfin Reps.

Modan’s newest work, The Property, is debuting from Drawn & Quarterly at TCAF this year.

For more information about TCAF 2013 – including a full list of all the kick-ass artists coming to town – head on over to http://www.TorontoComics.com

See you this weekend!

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Filed under Comics, Comics Journalism, Josh Neufeld, Journalism, Matt Bors, Political Cartoons, politics, Rutu Modan, Sarah Glidden, TCAF, Toronto Comic Arts Festival