Category Archives: Glenn Head

Glenn Head on Chartwell Manor and Being a Voice for Survivors of Sexual Abuse

Chartwell Manor by Glenn Head

EDITOR’S NOTE: The New York Post headline says it all, Sex Abuse Rituals at NJ Boarding School Exposed — in Cartoons by Survivor. The newspaper does an admirable job of describing the nuances of graphic novels and Glenn Head’s new book, Chartwell Manor. And The New York Post has no qualms about laying it out as it is: “Don’t let that whimsical cover art throw you: Head’s unflinching book recounts his two years at the now-defunct Mendham, NJ, boarding school run by headmaster “Sir” Terence Michael Lynch — a serial sexual abuser who manipulated young boys into “cuddling sessions” after fondling and beating their nude bodies.” The New York Post also provides an outstanding public service by underscoring the fact that survivors of Chartwell Manor still have time to file a suit against the Chartwell administration of aiding and abetting Lynch, and others, in the abuse of children. Time is running out for Chartwell Manor victims to join those who’ve already filed claims against surviving Chartwell administrators accused of letting Lynch — and other accused faculty — cultivate a culture of abuse. The deadline to file is November 30, 2021. Contact Jeff Anderson & Advocates law firm today.

I’ve been writing about comics and creating comics for many years now–and loving it. In the very near future, I hope to have some news about a book of my own. For now, I want to keep my nose to the grindstone and this is one very special reason to do so. This is an interview with master cartoonist Glenn Head. For those of you familiar with comix, especially those chock full of underground comix DNA as I just talked about in my last post, then this will be a welcome treat. Maybe you’ve gotten a chance to check out Head’s new book, Chartwell Manor, about the abuse that Head experienced at the boarding school, but just as important, the aftermath. Well, this interview helps to put things into further context from the standpoint of Glenn’s previous graphic novel, Chicago, as well as his career as a whole.

CHARTWELL MANOR sample page: Parental Denial

The above sample was our starting off point for discussion. I wanted to dig deeper into the things that are left unsaid in comics, the ways that comics can evoke an eerie quality, depict a certain vibe or emotion. Two characters are in conversations but are they speaking to each other or directly past each other? Is it possible they are living two completely separate realities? Maybe they said something to each other that we somehow missed? What we know for sure is there is some major disconnection going on and we’re intrigued to see what happens next.

CHARTWELL MANOR: Sex

The three big glorious milestones of youth: Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Whatever your situation, you will have confronted this one way or another. For the sample I label as “Sex,” we initially see Glen, our main character in Chartwell Manor, lost amid the lurid peep show haunts of some seedy part of NYC. But there’s more to it than first meets the eye. Head has peppered his tableaux with various symbolic icons, like a copy of Charles Bukowski‘s 1975 novel, Factotum, a masterfully vivid evocation of slow-paced, low-life urbanity and alcoholism. This symbolized for Head a moment of truth. Was he going to continue to revel in a Bukowski-like decadent lifestyle–or was he going to seek out something better?

CHARTWELL MANOR: Drugs

For the “Drugs” sample, again, there’s more than might first meet the eye. Yes, it’s definitely psychedelic. But, beyond the drug reference, it symbolizes a pursuit of a free-spirited happiness, something that had been violated and left uneven from Glen’s experience at Chartwell Manor.

CHARTWELL MANOR: Rock ‘n’ Roll

For the “Rock n Roll” sample, this is a recurring motif in the book, The Rolling Stones 1969 album, Through the Past Darkly. It was an album that Glenn got just before he became a student at the notorious boarding school. It was the first time Glenn had heard the album’s hit song, “Jumping Jack Flash.” All too aware of the school’s reputation for unbridled corporal punishment, the lyrics to the song were certainly not lost on young Glenn: “I was ruled with a strap right across my back.”

Chartwell Manor is published by Fantagraphics. Visit Glenn Head here.

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Filed under Comics, Comix, Fantagraphics, Glenn Head, Interviews

One More Look: AVENUE D and SNAKE EYES

Snake Eyes #3 cover

Snake Eyes (1990, 1992, 2001) was a comix anthology (editors: Glenn Head and Kaz) with some of the best comix talent going on at the time. It’s a great place to get a sense of what independent comics are about. It seems like we have subcultures within subcultures in the world of indie comics. Some cartoonists prefer a more soft approach while others need a harder one, and everything in between. So, with that in mind, we’ll explore the pages of Issue 3 of Snake Eyes. We will also take a look at a separate project, that ties in with what I’m talking about, Glenn Head’s Avenue D, from 1986.

Glenn Head’s Snowman in Snake Eyes

In an interview focusing on Snake Eyes, Glenn Head made the distinction between short-form comics and long-form graphic novels. For him, at the time (2001), he seemed to be saying that he found comics to be packed with energy and immediacy, while graphic novels had fallen into more of a form for a slower-paced drama to unfold. I think that is a subject for discussion than can always be added to byway of various comparisons and further refinement of articulating what it means to do comics as opposed to graphic novels. Basically, we know. But it’s always fun to discuss. And, sometimes, I wonder if we’re all on the same page! Seriously, the notion of comics is extremely broad if you include any and all possible forms, literally throwing in the kitchen sink for good measure.

The World of Kaz in Snake Eyes

For me, as I’ve said many times, the truest/purest version of the art of making comics will inevitably come from an auteur cartoonist, alone at their drawing table focused upon their art, which ultimately results in a graphic novel. I think you go through a period of making all sorts of short-form comics leading up to full-on full-length graphic novel work. Some cartoonists will not complete this full cycle–and that’s just the way it goes. Maybe their collected short works would arguably add up to graphic novels. Anyway, comics is an art form. There are a bunch of other comics (typical corporate comics and cartoons, per se) that are, in general, not art, never intended to be art. So, it’s wrong to lump it all together, tie a bow around it, and giddily declare, “Comics are comics!” Because that’s not true and makes no sense, really. It’s just not that simple.

Mark Beyer in Snake Eyes

Now, Snake Eyes is a perfect example, showcasing various talents, and gets down to business. Glenn Head has led the charge with other collections, notably the more recent Hotwire, but we’ll stick with Snake Eyes for the purposes of this article. And I’ll tie it together, as I see fit, with Avenue D as we move along. What I want to say right away is that, with Snake Eyes, I see a correlation with the now defunct (at least for now) Best American Comics series, published by Houghton Mifflin, and formerly edited by Bill Kartalopoulos. I applaud Bill’s spirited work although I do think, at times, he was trying too hard to reinvent the wheel. I think it’s fine to make the case that Raymond Pettibon’s work is so close to comics as to be comics, which I tend to agree with; and it’s also fine to advocate for everyone being welcome to create comics, no matter what skill level, if any at all, which I DO NOT agree with, especially in a showcase of the best work! Overall, I believe Bill did a wonderful job. Now, moving forward, I’ve been wondering if Glenn Head might be just the guy to helm the annual voyage of comics discovery for a while. He’s in a unique position, having gone through the entire process himself many times over, of spotting those individuals engaged in what could rightfully be considered some of the best work being created today. And, if not, hey, I’ll take the gig! I can absolutely do it–but Glenn would be an ideal choice.

David Sandlin’s very relevant, Wasper in White Now, from Snake Eyes

Moving right along, I think, if you closely study a really great anthology of comix, and there are a number of them, going back to RAW and to WEIRDO, what you will appreciate is that there are certain patterns, even certain ground rules, that indie cartoonists will follow, without ever being told to follow them, since your typical indie cartoonist has problems with authority–but not always. And that’s because a savvy cartoonist knows how to shapeshift if called upon to do a professional illustration gig. Not so much the other way around. A professional illustrator who attempts to slum it by cobbling together a mini-comic to show at a comics art festival will be spotted from a mile away. And why is that? It’s because you can’t fake a certain sensibility that involves putting everything you’ve got into it.  So, if your heart is set on making comix, then bring your A game and do it right. It all boils down to an ongoing observation of life and one’s self; drawing a lot of stuff that is purely about yourself that will be synthesized over and over again as you create your own universe.

Avenue D cover

Now, I’ll shift gears to a point or two I can make using Head’s Avenue D. What struck me, after having examined this and that by Head, is that Head steadily carved out certain areas of interest and certain recurring characters and motifs. That’s really what it’s all about: practicing, drawing and distilling until you reach a certain level of fluidity! You get to the point where you can draw hookers with big wigs in your sleep–or whatever else you like! And, I’m sorry, but like it or not, the world of indie comix, or at least the one chock full of underground DNA, is one that takes things to their limits. It can be a slippery slope. If you’re simply out to offend, you most likely will fail. But if you’re persistent as hell, then maybe you’ll succeed on shock value alone–but, then again, your work could just as likely he kicked to the side in favor of more diligent artists.

The Muhammad Ali Story in Avenue D

So, yeah, the main example I want to share with you from Avenue D is the Muhammad Ali story. Now, this is one version, perhaps the earliest version. But not the only one. I think it’s important to note that a serious cartoonist will return to certain subject matter, even the same story, and revisit it, redo it, and create something from it, for as often as it makes sense to pursue it. The same, yet different, more refined, Muhammad Ali story is depicted in Head’s graphic novel, Chicago. The gist of it is that a young and brash Glenn Head is in way over his head when he tries to mess with The Greatest of All Time! The actual content of the Muhammad Ali story is like a bunch of clay that can be molded into something else for as often as the artist pleases.

Bob the Snowman in Avenue D

Classy Gator in Avenue D

I will pretty much wrap it up here for now. As you can see, Head has other starting points he can play with and explore: a strange snow man or an alligator pimp are always handy on a restless sleepless night. The strange snowman is a wretched soul, barely hanging by a thread in an urban nightmare, and you are NOT meant to relate with him, at least not literally. The same goes for the alligator pimp. But these fellas are like long lost friends for some cartoonists when an urge to create strikes.

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Filed under Comics, Comix, Essays, Glenn Head