Anna Haifisch is one of our great artist-cartoonists with an impressive portfolio already in her young career. You may know her from The Artist comic strip series that appeared on Vice.com. In this interview, we chat about her latest book, Schappi, published by Fantagraphics. It was a pleasure to review this book recently for The Comics Journal. You can read my review here.
An artist out for a light snack.
So, the goal here was simply to have a pleasant conversation and perhaps scratch the surface a bit on the whole subject of comics as fine art. At this point, I believe there can be little doubt over comics being a true art form, just as entitled as paintings to be displayed in a museum. The fact is that the comics medium fits right in with other established forms and uniquely inhabits the art world space. Comics, as an artwork, can be shown in original form; is easily blown up to cover a wall space; and is tailor-made for any kind of book or digital format. The future is indeed very bright for comics in galleries and museums.
That said, it is a nice treat to be able to discuss this subject with a cartoonist of the caliber of Haifisch, who can lay claim to her own show of her work at a major museum, the MdbK in Leipzig. As Haifisch pointed out during our talk, museums are still coming around to comics. Unless you’re a figure of the magnitude of an R. Crumb or a Chris Ware, cartoonists are still edging their way into the higher strata of the art world. Well, that is steadily changing.
Comicfestival Hamburg, MOM Art Space, 2021
That steady change will quicken each time that cartoonists manage to take control of the narrative. All one needs to do is observe the work that Art Spiegelman has done on behalf of cartoonists, including himself, in making inroads into academic and museum circles. It doesn’t happen overnight but it does happen. In the case of Haifisch, she is making strides in a very natural way. The whole idea of dedicating time and effort on the museum catalog is utterly priceless! We discuss at length Chez Schnabel, the publication that resulted from the art show at MdbK. There’s your key to progress: a book about the artistic process with content made exclusively for the book. Talk about controlling the narrative! It’s quite informative and a delight to read. For example, I had to ask Haifisch about the drawings she did in connection with The Peabody Hotel. Did she go to Memphis and draw the famous ducks on parade? Well, no. As it turns out the idea of creating illustrations about hotel ducks was just too hard to resist and so she used that to add some color to a relatively dry interview with some museum dignitaries discussing Haifisch’s work. And it did the job just fine.
Happiness, Where Are You?
Learn more about Anna Haifisch by visiting her website right here.
Dirty Pictures: How an Underground Network of Nerds, Feminists, Misfits, Geniuses, Bikers, Potheads, Printers, Intellectuals, and Art School Rebels Revolutionized Art and Invented Comix. by Brian Doherty. Abrams Press. 2022. 448 pp. $30.
Comix! No, not just comics. Comix is the term we use to describe all the work created by independent comics creators (often auteur cartoonists doing both the writing and the drawing) dating back to the Sixties underground up to today. Brian Doherty has had a great time digging into the roots of, and connecting the dots to, this quirky offshoot of the comics medium. First off, I gotta say that Doherty is quite in tune with his subject and cuts to the chase. Perhaps the biggest question that comes up on this topic is What in the hell was R. Crumb thinking? Well, you won’t get far without an open mind on this. Doherty gets to the heart of the matter with a quote from 1972. A reporter for The New York Times asked what Crumb’s intention was in creating some of his most macabre and provocative work. Crumb answered, “I don’t know. I think I was just being a punk.” Then Doherty adds to that the fact that Crumb and his fellow cartoonists were all bucking a highly restrictive system of censorship. Nothing was allowed at the risk of offending anyone! If that sounds familiar, well, it won’t be lost on anyone reading this book. The point is, Crumb was indeed reacting to something, rebelling against something. Did he go too far? Or was it more one guy’s approach, along with a whole slew of other cartoonists, both men and women, with their own fiery takes on society? I think this whole book rests upon the assumption that a reader can walk and chew gum at the same time. In other words, yes, there is a possibility of seriously looking at the most controversial facets of comix without retreating from it. One key aspect to understanding is to look at the motivation to rebel. As Doherty reminds us, the “x” in comix is there for a reason: to distinguish comix from mainstream comics, the all too often watered-down and lame opposition, particularly during the days of the Comics Code.
Once we get something of a handle on Crumb, the rest of comix is a piece of cake! Well, maybe not. But that’s basically the arc we’re following: the great warriors, led by Crumb, out to raise hell; then, the reaction to all this ruckus, which included anyone offended by the first wave of mayhem; ultimately, a long process of the original “filth” working its way through the rest of the culture; and finally, all the accounts settled and those left standing declared the champions: Crumb, Spiegelman, and so on. Doherty does an impressive job of maintaining the flow of events, logically moving from one place, one publisher, one movement, after another. For those old enough to remember some of this history, it rings very true. Doherty has written the kind of book that many of us knew was possible. It involves keeping an eye on the key players and examining their aspirations and actual activities. Again, it’s impossible to avoid both Crumb and Spiegelman, both very aware of the fact they had reputations to either maintain or enhance. And then, of course, you had all sorts of other activity brewing, not the least of which was the feminist contingent led by Trina Robbins and her crew at Wimmen’s Comix. Robbins and her women cartoonists were determined to fight fire with fire.
Like any great art movement, comix is the story of the artists who led the way as well as of those to have taken up the mantle. What sustains the character and spirit of comix today harkens back to the highly charged independent streak of the original underground. You can’t have comix, or anything that resembles it, without a healthy embrace of the subversive, the experimental, and the guts to see through the most outrageous expression. It may offend. In fact, it definitely will offend and there will be consequences to pay. But, all in all, we’re far better off when an artist isn’t restricted or afraid to just be a punk, as Crumb summed it up. But art cannot remain in a vacuum or it will die. As Doherty points out, a new wave of artists brought in refinements. Most notably was a finer sense of the literary as demonstrated by Los Bros Hernandez and their ambitious Love and Rockets comics willing to take on richer and subtler literary aspirations. I’ve been a champion of the term, “alternative comics,” as I see it as a very valuable distinction. It’s nice to see Doherty using it here. He points out that pivotal break with the past as the underground ruckus rebellion gave way to a more cerebral alternative vibe. Indeed, it was to be a new and significant development to the still unfolding world of indie comics, a world that has given shape to the highly personal and strange creature we know today as the “graphic novel.” Sure, there are still diehard purists who claim to not understand what is meant by that term outside of being a brazen marketing tool. But people do know what a graphic novel is, or can be, just as they know what is meant by the term, “comix.” And that’s because, believe it not, people can really walk and chew gum at the same time. If they couldn’t, well, we’d really be in a lot more trouble. Doherty’s book is a very welcome addition to our understanding of comix, from its origins up to its current offshoots, offering common sense insight.
DIRTY PICTURES is available beginning June 14, 2022 and ready for pre-order. Visit Abrams Press.
To say that J. Webster Sharp is a visionary comics artist is a very good place to start. I was immediately intrigued by what I saw of her work on her Instagram and I knew I’d need to take a closer look. Having read the last five of her works in comics, I can confidently say that this is someone who tapped into something special early on and continues to blossom. Jemma’s latest book which I’ve received is Fondant #2, and it is easily her most powerful work. This is in-your-face stuff, delving into deep psychological and sexual issues, and bringing to mind such artists as Phoebe Glockner and Renee French. I applaud what she is doing and would like to share a bit of what I’ve observed.
If I’m really being honest, I am fascinated by Jemma’s daring and inventive play with the theme of feet. I’ve always been interested in feet on various levels, not the least of which is as a subject for art. So, it’s nice to see a fellow artist on the same page. Jemma certainly confronts the foot theme from a wide variety of vantage points, spanning from cadavers to tortured cathartic acts. Like much of what she does, feet are rendered in such a way as if encrypted within a larger psychological landscape–especially with her distinctive pointillist style. If you scan the pages too quickly, you might miss a lot. And, if you linger, it can be a combination of unsettling and satisfying. Yes, it pays to be honest. I do so love feet, particularly depicted in unusual and provocative ways. I’m sure there’s a number of stories behind each of these depictions. I like what I see from this very honest and daring artist.
What is so impressive to me about Jemma’s latest book is how she reached a point where she was ready to just completely let loose. This book is totally wordless and confidently so. There’s no need to explain anything. You simply don’t need any form of text to accompany an image of breasts with teeth instead of nipples. That pretty much speaks for itself. The rest of the book plays with more body horror as well as various other surreal imagery involving exotic animals, bondage and strange lab experiments. It’s all quite unusual, fascinating and thrilling. If you enjoy work of a more adult nature, then this is for you. Obviously, this is highly charged work that is unafraid to be, at times, more dark and challenging. But it’s not simply shock value that Jemma is after. Like Phoebe Glockner and Renee French, the work of J. Webster Sharp is invested in cultivating mystery and wonder through finely-crafted work. As I suggest, you will be rewarded for taking the time to linger upon a page. You may even find that you like what you see more than you realized.
Our featured cartoon is entitled, “Free of Social Media Tyranny,” and was created in response to a snide comment that Hurricane Nancy received suggesting that she needed to be doing “political cartoons,” when that had nothing to do with what she was up to. So, she didn’t care for the comment. Well, these abrupt and harmful misunderstandings occur all too often on social media, thus the title to this piece!
Rounding out the collection this time around are a couple of intriguing animal-themed works. I hope you enjoy them!
As always, it’s a real treat here at Comics Grinder to present to you work by Hurricane Nancy. And be on the lookout for a collection of Nancy’s work to be published by Fantagraphics. More on that as we get closer to the release date.
Let’s check in with underground comix artist Hurricane Nancy who lately has been experimenting with anthropomorphic images. Her comment on recent activity: “I love when animals take on human character and humans take on animal character and how all try to communicate.” That says it all. These are beautiful pieces. While I’ve had the honor to add color to some of Nancy’s work, we don’t want to lose sight of the glory of black & white. It’s pure comix! We begin with Turtle, which is definitely not your traditional everyday turtle.
Next up, What the Elephant Talks About keeps the groovy vibe rolling.
See My New Hairdo rounds things out with a dazzling stream-of-consciousness tableaux.
The Blame. by Jon Aye. mini-comic. 2021. 22pp. $11.11
This British mini-comic is a low-key rather urbane bit of fun, an excellent showcase for the wry humor of Jon Aye. If you like local color, there is plenty of it in this collection of short works. There’s even one piece that features Matt Hancock, an inept politician on his way to a comeback byway of a role as a UN flunky attempting to scare up business opportunities in Africa, despite the UK’s dismal record in getting vaccines into developing countries. So, in Aye’s Hancock satire, he has the miserable sod sadly lurking about until he perks up by trying out tiresome American slogans on for size.
There’s a hint of the great alt-comics artist Steve Weissman in the work of emerging talent Freddy Funbuns. Okay, stick with me. If you know who Steve Weissman is then you earn extra bonus points and qualify for the coveted place of honor among the true comics cognoscenti. And, if not, that’s why I’m here! My point is that I want to stress that the cartoonist I’m about to share with you has a nice bag of tricks to play with. I don’t always enjoy gross-out comics but I see a method to the madness. In fact, I direct your attention to the Morbidly Beautiful site for a fine example of some other Funbuns comics laced with a hillbilly horror theme.
To say that Freddy Funbuns loves crude humor is putting it mildly. Where does it come from? Well, look around you: from South Park to your latest meme. Some will ignore it or dismiss it. Others will embrace it or at least appreciate it. In the spirit of the hillbilly horror genre, this comic chronicles the misadventures of a loser couple, Darvis, a 38-year-old morbidly obese man-child and his girlfriend, a 51-year-old woman he met on Tinder, known only as “Babe.” Between the two of them, it’s a glorious celebration of bodily functions, ill-advised sex acts, and food porn. It’s definitely not for everyone but this stuff has its fans because when Funbuns sees a red light, he instinctively floors it. For the record, what Funbuns is doing is brilliant whether or not you can stomach too much crude humor. And it’s not relentless either. Funbuns will take a relative pause here and there with more gentle weirdness.
It’s a dog’s life.
One example of a quieter moment has Darvis enjoying the sunshine and contemplating having more freedom while working from home. It allows him time to walk..the plant. Not the dog? No, not the dog who really needs to go outside! This joke could easily make it past any censor from any animated series. Maybe it’s a good example of Funbuns at a more restrained level. Your mileage may vary.
Can’t we all just have a little fun?
Yet another more quiet moment has Darvis and Babe just trying to act normal and have a nice day out. It almost happens. There’s a bit of tacky conversation. Then there’s the anticipation of getting to their fun destination. Finally, there’s the big let-down and time to blame someone for failed plans. We’ve all been there…and it’s very funny.
Amid all the weirdness, there’s the artist plotting his next move. I think the reference to Goya on the cover of Volume Three speaks to this artistic process going on behind the scenes. What will Funbuns do next? Time will tell! The intellect and the heart is in the right place. The crude humor wears thin over the long haul but sometimes you just can’t turn away. And sometimes everything lines up and the whole thing is spot on. Here is to more of those kind of teachable moments.
Hello, dear friends, it is a great pleasure to have Hurricane Nancy (Nancy Burton), a true comics legend, join us here at Comics Grinder with occasional comics art. Now, some say Hurricane Nancy was the very first female underground comix artist and that may very well be true. Burton’s work goes back to the East Village Other, circa 1966. Trailblazer Trina Robbins names Burton as an inspiration to move forward with her wimmen’s comix movement. In fact, Burton was a founding member of Robbins’s all-women comic book series, It Ain’t Me, Babe, which began in 1970.
In order to secure her life’s work is enjoyed by fewer generations, Burton recently donated 65 pieces of her original underground comix art to The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. The donated originals include early unpublished work; her art from the Gentles Tripout strip, which began in the East Village Other in 1966; and 1969’s Busy Boxes from Gothic Blimpworks. Writer Alex Dueben is editing a monograph about Burton set to be published by Fantagraphics, which collects work from throughout her career and includes an expansive interview detailing her life and artistic output. Dueben connected Burton and Associate Curator Caitlin McGurk, at Ohio State, after Burton expressed a desire for the material to be preserved.
“The Big Mermaid Wakes Up”
In more recent years, Nancy Burton has returned to creating artwork. It is an honor that Comics Grinder has been chosen as a venue to feature Hurricane Nancy! We begin with the artwork at the very top, Terrible Toys Totem Pole. We also have the first installment to an on-going comic strip, Making Changes, this one is entitled, “The Big Mermaid Wakes Up.”
Be sure to visit Hurricane Nancy at her website right here.
To learn more about the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum and view the collections, visit cartoons.osu.edu.
Sharon Rudahl was at the forefront of underground comix as a founder of Wimmen’s Comix, the first on-going comic drawn exclusively by women, beginning in the 1970s. Since then, she has created a range of fascinating underground comix including Crystal Night, which was reprinted in full in Dan Nadel’s Art In Time collection. Rudahl has created two graphic novels, A Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman and A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson: Ballad of an American. Read my review here. It is a pleasure to get a chance to share this conversation with you.
Ballad of an American: A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson
I began our talk by mentioning that Sharon marched with Martin Luther King Jr. as a teenager. I said that it appears that she has always been an activist. To that Sharon said that she’s found herself speaking out as often as possible. In fact, Sharon began her career as a cartoonist with anti-Vietnam War underground newspapers. She’s been active ever since and has participated in numerous publications and exhibitions in dozens of countries over the last 50 years. Always a fighter, she proved to be just the right person to take on a graphic biography of another social justice warrior, Emma Goldman.