TWISTED DARK, published by TPub Comics, has the face of a battered woman as its brand and permanent logo. The story of a woman who wants to be beaten by a man is the flagship story to its TWISTED DARK universe. What to say on this? Where to begin? This logo has been around for many years now. I suspect that a lot of people who have actually bought the comic have not actually read the comic. That would partly explain how this has remained under the radar.
How about #NoAbuseToWomenInComics as a response? I know, some comics fans would cry foul and bring up the old Comics Code Authority. I am not advocating censorship. Hey, I am willing to see what this series attempted to accomplish. The least that I can do is to bring it up here to your attention. The least that TPub Comics can do, moving forward, is place a sticker on such books that states, FOR MATURE READERS. Now, let’s see, I’d say that CREEPY magazine is pretty much the closest work I can compare this to in attempts at offbeat horror–but CREEPY never beat up on women. If you like gritty and grim, that is the audience that Neil Gibson, the creator, writer, and publisher, seeks to attract.
I’m getting quite a late start with this series, which recently ended with Volume 6. I can clearly see from the first volume that this is a collection of depictions of misery. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, similar to The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror, as Mr. Gibson would hope for. That’s unfortunate. I can imagine how he would like to be associated with that but his work falls considerably short. Before I was even aware of the battered woman cover (as it is an extreme close-up) I went into reading this as I would any comic. As I progressed from one story to the next, I kept giving the book the benefit of the doubt. By the end, I found this to be not only dark and twisted–but misguided. Overall, I would say it is very misconceived. It may have been a case of persistence getting the better of good writing and judgement. I don’t enjoy saying this but that’s what I get from this. The solution is to phase out the false start and do a rebrand. There is potential there if corrections are made.
“A Lighter Note” Art by Heru Prasetyo Djalal
Here, you can see for yourself what is in this first volume. Each story involves a tale of dread and despair. There’s the story of a man who regularly asks his dead son for forgiveness for the way he abused him. Not exactly cheery, right? And it goes on from there getting more and more disturbing. There’s one story that begins with the compelling fact that we presently have more people living in slavery around the world than in any other time. I applaud bringing out that fact. The actual story is intriguing, if not depressing. It follows a man in utter poverty who rises to become an Islamic terrorist.
“The Pushman” Art by Jan Wijngaard
Another story about a failed life depicts a young Japanese man with crushed dreams of becoming an architect. Instead, he is a subway “pushman.” His job is to literally push crowds into subway cars to insure efficiency. However, this man, due to his troubled and frustrated existence, abuses the passengers by pushing and punching whoever he can.
“Munchausen’s Little Poxy” Art by Jan Wijngaard
The book rounds out with its final big story, “Munchausen’s Little Poxy.” All stories are written by Neil Gibson. Many of the stories, including this one, are illustrated by Jan Wijngaard. This is the story of Ulara, a troubled young woman facing issues of self-abuse. Ulara comes from a very wealthy family. It would stand to reason that Ulara would have, at some point, gotten the help she needed–with or without vast sums of money. Gibson paints a picture of a poor little rich girl who gets what’s coming to her since all her troubles are schemes to get attention. Her cutting is just a scheme. Her eating disorder is just a scheme. And so on down to her getting beat up by men. No one should feel sorry for Ulara since she deserves her pain. End of story. This is most assuredly not something that Rod Serling would ever have written. But it is a point of pride for Neil Gibson.
Neil Gibson’s overall motivation with his stories, to be generous, is to push limits. But simply pushing limits does not guarantee sound storytelling. His stories lack the perspective required for good horror. I think he has skill and I hope he learns from his mistakes. One of the challenging things about comics is that they take a considerably long time to create, especially at the scrappy indie level. So, it is possible for a misfit concept to power through to completion simply because too much effort has been put into it to abandon it. That certainly happens with the big publishers too but they can afford to cover one misstep after another, year after year. Indie publishers, all publishers, need to think twice about any project they undertake.
TPub Comics describes Twisted Dark as “a series of interconnected psychological thrillers, perfect for fans of twist endings and comics that reveal more on the second reading. Each story stands alone, but the more you read, the more connections you see between the characters.” I’m not here to burst anyone’s bubble. But, fair is fair, a closer look does not favor this work. Some high profile reviewers, and even a celebrity or two, have supported this series–but I seriously doubt they gave it a close reading, if any. Clearly, TPub Comics is persistent and maintains a presence at comic book conventions. If you view the video below, you see Richard Johnston mostly praising TPub and TWISTED DARK for its tenacity. “They challenge you to ignore them!” How about this: Now is the time to look inward. Mr. Gibson, please place stickers on your remaining stock that read FOR MATURE READERS.
So, maybe you should visit TPub Comics and let them know what you think.
THE ELECTRIC STATE, a graphic novel by Simon Stålenhag, soon to be a major motion picture.
China is the new Hollywood. Who knew? Big studio director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger) left Hollywood in favor of China years ago. Indeed, China is the world’s fastest-growing movie market. That said, China is poised to deliver its own blockbuster. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, much depends upon the Russo Brothers. Never heard of them? Well, you’ve definitely heard of the movies they’ve directed for Marvel. You know, some of the ones starring Captain America and the whole merry crew of Avengers. They are currently completing the next installment, “Avengers: Infinity War,” due for release on April 27, 2018.
Abra, Odessa Young, Hari Nef and Suki Waterhouse appear in Assassination Nation by Sam Levinson, an official selection of the Midnight program at the 2018 Sundance Film festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
The Russo brothers have recently joined with Agbo, a production company backed by China’s largest private film company, Huayi Brothers Media Corp. The goal is for Agbo to make its own superhero movies and/or related blockbuster movies. However, just because you could bankroll a successful superhero movie doesn’t mean you have the golden touch. There’s a whole graveyard of clunker superhero movies backed by buckets of money. But Agbo has cherry picked from the best. They also have the writers from the next Avengers movie working on projects. And there have been some very interesting developments.
Directors Joe Russo, left, and brother Anthony Russo at a press event last year at Durham Cathedral in England, a location for their forthcoming ‘Avengers: Infinity War,’ slated for release in April. PHOTO: MIRRORPIX/COURTESY EVERETT COLLECTION
The most exciting project is an adaptation of “The Electric State,” a science-fiction graphic novel the brothers see as having franchise potential, directed by Andy Muschietti, best known for last year’s “It.”
Another exciting prospect, in conjunction with the new independent distributor Neon, is a $10 million buy for distribution rights to “Assassination Nation,” a teen-girl revenge thriller that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
So, China is the New Hollywood? Well, not exactly but definitely on the right track.
GEORGE’S RUN, my graphic novel work-in-progress, is humming along. These sort of hand-made-with-care items take time, especially since I’m doing everything. People who know and understand, they understand. What I dearly wish is, in fact, to get this work not only completed but uploaded, printed, and hard-wired onto as many minds as possible.
Hand-drawn lettering completed on this page.
I can do a number of things. I can start showing this to the world as a webcomic, either here and/or at a separate venue. A show of hands for everyone who supports that move. Okay. I can also self-publish, which is certainly an attractive option. And I can also make just the right love match with that certain publisher I might click with.
Always studying pages as they progress.
Anyway, folks have asked, and I just wanted to provide an update. I hope you like this small batch of teaser images. I also just got a pedicure and it seemed like a perfect opportunity to show that off too. Why not, right?
Always looking at work from different vantage points.
I’ve learned quite a lot from this and I don’t regret one moment. Next year will be the 60th anniversary of the very first episode to be broadcast of “The Twilight Zone,” on October 2, 1959. That was “Where Is Everybody?” That is a very good question to ask as I seek to stoke interest in what should be a very worthwhile project.
“Shake The Lake” is such an audacious work of comics with such an uninhibited and unflinching depiction of frenzied youth–it is truly a hell of a lot of fun and mesmerizing. These are a bunch of out-of-control kids, the sort you’ve seen in numerous teenploitation horror and summer movies. They all, at first, seem to lack any redeeming character but you get hooked into their little nefarious activities and you just can’t look away. But who ever heard of a graphic novel devoted to wakeboarding (think skateboarding on water)? Am I supposed to know about wakeboarding? That level of specificity is part of the subversive fun. You need to check out this wonderfully oddball badass series right here.
Cal in his element. It’s an endless summer, dude!
Of course, wakeboarding is important–especially for those in the wakeboarding scene, which all of these kids are totally into. And some people are fully aware of wakeboarding but to the other extreme like Zeke and Dalton, these two highly obnoxious park rangers hot on the trail of all fun-loving youth. Leave it to them and they will spoil everyone’s fun, particularly anything remotely hedonistic. Hey, it’s the summer and a bunch of young rebels are determined to make their mark. Cal is the lead instigator. He’s already 23, but it is still a life of beautiful teen summers for him and his fellow dreamers. If they could just stir things up at the ole marina, put on a wakeboarding festival to be remembered in their collective old age, then all this arrested development will have been worth it!
Brothers Zach and Machi Block’s script rings true. The Block brothers invest in their ragtag characters a level of integrity that lures you into wanting to know more about this subculture. The artwork by brother and sister team Diego and Andrea Lopez Mata are true to the Block vision bringing out all the crude and raw beauty of this motley crew of wakeboarding fanatics. If you go in not knowing a thing about wakeboarding, after reading this work, you’ll be glad to leave it to the experts and just enjoy the ride. Visit the “Shake The Lake” site right here.
“American Born Chinese” is my favorite non-superhero graphic novel. I’m genuinely surprised that it hasn’t received a movie or TV adaptation yet. I first read it as part of a school assignment in my Freshman Reading class. After reading, we were supposed to make a cereal box based on the book. American Born Chinese is a 2006 graphic novel created by cartoonist Gene Luen Yang. Yang drew from his own past experiences as a Chinese boy living in America as well as Chinese fables he grew up with. In 2007, it won the Michael L. Printz Award. The book is separated into three seemingly unconnected tales.
The first story is about the fabled Monkey King. A character I would later find out is part of a well-known Chinese folklore tale called, “Journey to the West.” This story takes place in Heaven, where Gods, Goddesses, Demons, and Spirits reign supreme. The Monkey King is a powerful, if not stubborn ruler of the Flower Mountain who nobody in Heaven takes seriously, because of his lack of shoes. Despite his mastery of four major heavenly disciplines. In order to prove himself, he orders all his monkey subjects to wear shoes and he meditates. He also learns four major disciplines of invulnerability and bodily form. Of course all this power goes to his head and the creator of the universe has to teach him a valuable lesson. What I like most about this story is how cool it is. Chinese folklore is actually very fascinating. Seeing a monkey flying on a cloud is just as funny as it is awesome.
The second story is about the titular “American Born Chinese” boy, Jin Wang. A Chinese kid who loves Transformers. His experiences include moving to America with his family, trying to fit in, and befriending the only Asian kids in class. This story starts when Jin Wang is a child and ends when he’s a teenager. As any other teenager would, Jin falls for one of the girls in his class. An American girl that Jin becomes desperate to talk to. He even goes so far as to perm his hair to look more American. Eventually his friend convinces him to ask her out and he goes on a date with her. Even when everything seems to be going well, it doesn’t end up lasting very long. Unfortunately, underlying racism keeps Jin from continuing the relationship. What I like most about this story is how relatable it is for anybody who’s ever been a new kid or the only minority in your class. I’m also a big fan of teen drama, so I found Jin’s high school experience to be very interesting.
The third story is about average all American teenager Danny. He’s embarrassed because his Chinese cousin Chin-Kee is coming over for one of his annual visits. Chin-Kee is the ultimate negative Chinese stereotypes. Literally every stereotype is represented here. He has a round face, a queue hairstyle, a servant outfit, literal yellow skin, buck teeth, squinty line eyes, he speaks in thick broken English, he’s academic, he makes funny’s, he eats cats, his travel bags are Chinese take-out boxes, he sings karaoke, he knows Kung Fu, the list goes on. His behavior is so embarrassing that Danny has to change schools every time he visits. What I like most about this story is how absurd it is. It’s done in a sitcom style with a laugh track and everything. The title of this story is actually “Everybody Ruvs Chin-Kee.” This is also the story where everything is revealed and the whole graphic novel is tied together.
Overall, “American Born Chinese” is a cool, relatable, and hilarious graphic novel. The art style is clean and simple in a Chinese art sort of way, with rounded curves and edges. Each story feels like a love letter to Chinese culture. A culture that I’ve come to love ever since I’ve read this story. If nobody adapts “American Born Chinese,” I would be shocked. I’m not Chinese, but I might even try to adapt it myself. The only question is, is whether it more suited for a movie or a TV show. Either way, “American Born Chinese” is a clever graphic novel that anyone will enjoy.
Writer Wilfrid Lupano and artist Paul Cauuet offer up the intricately plotted Old Geezers graphic novel series. You can easily jump into the latest Book 3, “The One Who Got Away,” and enjoy a tale involving family, mystery, and more than a touch of whimsy. It is also a grand ole tale of comeuppance. Could that be for the Old Geezers themselves? Ah, time will tell since this is very much a story about how time can heal some wounds while allowing others to fester.
Antoine and Milsey trying to get along.
If you enjoy quirky humor, especially the sort led by a group of offbeat seniors, then this is the book for you. The Old Geezers are: Antoine, a buttoned-down patrician; Milsey, a old seaman who misses the sea; and Pierrot, a boisterous activist who is lively beyond his years. These guys have chosen different paths but, in the end, each seeks out the other. The one person who helps keep them on track is Sophie, Antoine’s granddaughter. Sophie must look after these guys and, in no small way, look after her little hamlet of Dourdouille. After all, there are sinister forces at play lurking in the shadows.
Pierrot, Fifi, and Baba take a stand!
The most sinister villain in this tale is Garan-Servier Pharmaceuticals. It holds sway over the growth or decline of Dourdouille. And, as Pierrot has found out, Garan-Servier is lobbying the European Union countries to ease up on restrictions on its pesticides. This, in turn, kills millions of bees, wreaking havoc on biodiversity and the environment. The relationship between the pesticide lobby and the EU is an inconvenient truth that, in reality, is all too real. It’s great to see this issue in a graphic novel that both entertains and informs. Readers won’t forget ole Pierrot, in his bee costume, speaking truth to power.
The weight of the world on Sophie’s shoulders.
Paul Cauuet’s light and warm style makes all the characters all the more accessible and compliments Wilfred Lupano’s script. This is a very character-driven tale that is masterfully crafted by this remarkable team. The color by Cauuet and GOM has a uplifting quality to it that rounds out and adds to the story’s pacing. There are a number of twists and turns here and Lupano and Cauuet give themselves the time to explore and to develop. Like a favorite TV show, you can delight in this episodic storytelling. You will want to go back to the previous books as well as await more to come.
“The Old Geezers: Book 3: The One Who Got Away,” is presented by Europe Comics and is available in English thru izneo digital comics right here.
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.
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!
You can listen to the podcast by just clicking the link below:
“Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere,” by Hillary Chute, published by HarperCollins, is a highly informative, accessible, and delightful look at the evolution of comics, with the primary focus on American comics. As the title suggests, what used to be strictly an underground thing has now emerged virtually everywhere. Chute’s goal is to unpack that phenomenon. She goes about it with great enthusiasm and clearly makes a significant contribution to the ongoing writing about comics. This is a must-read for anyone interested in pop culture, comics, and art in general.
Zap Comix #1, 1968
Okay, so comics are everywhere. Who, for instance, are the characters gracing the cover to this book? Chute, a natural teacher, is so glad you asked. She will come right out and tell you who and then explain the interconnections. First of all, this is Maggie and Hopey, lead characters in what is understood by many to be the greatest ongoing comic of them all, “Love and Rockets,” by the Hernandez Brothers. Where did this comic come from? How does it fit in with other comics? Why is this comic significant? Ah, for that matter, you may shout out, “Why Comics?!” Chute is happy to answer all your questions and much more. Well, this comic is part of a second wave of underground comics in the ’80s. And this comic is a response to a lot of things, including a lack of diversity in mainstream comics. But, before that, there was the original wave of underground comics in the Sixties led by R. Crumb and his Zap Comix. And, as many a conversation on the comics convention floor on zines and mini-comics will attest, even today’s superhero comics genre all began as indie comics by two teenagers, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Page excerpt from Art Spiegelman’s MAUS
Chute’s search for patterns in the making of comics leads her to some of the most celebrated trailblazers, notably Art Spiegelman. Chute was the associate editor of “MetaMaus,” the definitive companion to Spiegelman’s “Maus,” and she has a great deal of insight to share. Chute guides the reader from Spiegelman, in his youth in San Francisco to his subsequent work in earnest. It was in 1972 that Justin Green, author of the first autobio comic, “Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary,” invited Spiegelman to contribute to a comics anthology. The only stipulation was that the work had to feature anthropomorphic animal characters. And so began Spiegelman’s first steps toward the work in comics most people are aware of, “Maus.” Chute then follows Spiegelman’s progress as he reaches great heights of creativity. Here below, Chute describes how Spiegelman plays with the fluidity of time:
“Spiegelman creates a physical connection between panels set in the past and panels set in the present, linking them, as in panels in which Art’s cigarette smoke is figured as the smoke coming out of an Auschwitz crematorium chimney directly below it on the page. But in others, he exploits the language of comics–the convention that each panel represents a distinct moment of time–to make two different time periods literally intertwine. We see this in the striking page in which Vladek, Art, and Françoise–herself a character in ‘Maus’–converse in the Catskills during a summer visit to Vladek’s bungalow. On their way to the supermarket in the car, Art changes the topic from his stepmother, Mala, to Auschwitz, asking his father about a prisoner revolt. The last panel of the page, in which Vladek describes its fallout, is its largest: as the family car weaves through dense rural roads, the legs of four Jewish girls hanged in Auschwitz after the revolt–witnessed firsthand by Vladek–suddenly appear dangling from the trees. The 1940s and the ’70s collapse, as Spiegelman shows, wordlessly, how the traumatic past lives on in the present.”
Page excerpt from Marjane Satrapi’s PERSEPOLIS
Much in the same way that the 1951 landmark coming-of-age novel, “The Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger, became the template for aspiring young novelists, so too did “Maus” serve as a guide for cartoonists on the rise. Observe how Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis,” first published in 2000, follows a similar format and technique as Spiegelman’s landmark work. Certainly, Satrapi’s work is wonderfully original. That said, it does follow certain style and content choices first established by leading artists such as Spiegelman. Chute is not making this particular argument but she does lay out the characteristics of what has become accepted in a work by an independent cartoonist: the work is honest, personal, and usually autobiographical; the work is all done by hand, including the borders and lettering, with a less polished finish than mainstream comics; and the work is usually done by one person. In that sense, Satrapi is following in a tradition begun by such artists as Crumb and Spiegelman.
Panel excerpt from Chris Ware’s BUILDING STORIES
Another cartoonist who looms larger in Chute’s book is Chris Ware–and for good reason. The history of American comics is essentially Winsor McCay leading the start and Chris Ware leading the current state of affairs. And it is both of these cartoonists, and so many others in between, who seem to share Ware’s tragicomic point of view of being “well-appointed and feeling lonely.” Cartoonists are something of exotic birds to begin with–whether or not the public notices. But to really make one’s mark in comics, to resonate with critics and fans alike, is quite an achievement. One achieved by such cartoonists as Chris Ware, Charles Burns, and Gary Panter–all of whom would get their big breaks by appearing in Raw magazine, a comics anthology led by Art Spiegelman.
Gary Panter cover for Raw #2.1, 1989
Chute organzies her narrative within categories such as “Why Disaster?” and “Why Sex?” Each chapter category acts as an umbrella that covers a certain facet of comics. In the chapter, “Why Punk?” Chute describes the rise of two friends deeply involved with the punk movement: Matt Groening and Gary Panter, along with other relevant artists like Raymond Pettibon. As for Groening and Panter, they held to their punk ideals while also driven to succeed–“The Simpsons” for Groening; “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” for Panter. Chute makes sure to point out that Bart Simpson–the cartoon character everyone thinks they know–is, in fact, a sly reference (right down to the jaggedy crewcut) to Panter’s underground hero, Jimbo, the antithesis of the mainstream. And, as Chute’s title declares, comics have gone from the underground to everywhere in more ways than one.
Matt Groening holds up Bart Simpson and Gary Panter’s Jimbo
“Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere” is a 464-page hardcover published by HarperCollins. For more details, visit HarperCollins right here.