Desmond Reed has gone deep into cartoonland and delivered one very groovy book of comics goodness. Reed’s loopy characters literally dance upon the page. It’s a combination of whipsmart humor and design that will charm readers of all ages. There’s always room for another work in comics about a group of young people in a band, everything from Beatles comics to Josie and the Pussycats. But leave it to an ambitious indie cartoonist like Desmond Reed to take this genre into left field and high gear. The band of merry makers put the pow, buzz and boom into their music.
Just a kid with big dreams!
The artwork explodes upon the page in an amazingly smooth and natural way that you’d think Desmond Reed always drew this way. His previous book is something completely different, a shaggy dog homage to underground comix with heavy crosshatching and gross out humor. In comparison, his latest book is clean and crisp in execution and utterly charming in its sophisticated whimsy. It makes me think that it requires a good deal of planning ahead in order to get this precise look. It is after the artist has been toiling away, maybe not having the most fun, that the end result provides such a joyful reading experience.
Life in the big city.
The stories in this book revolve around a group of bohemian friends who have formed a band, the Cola Pop Creemees: Ralph Jonathan, Wallace T.J., Henrietta Susan, Gil Christopher and Mona Gertrude! The reader gets to see them struggle under authority figures and find their unique voices. Then the fun continues with various separate stories on each character. Maybe you’ve caught their misadventures on Instagram (@desmondtreed) and you’ve wondered if there might be a book collection. Well, there is and the first batch is sold out with plans for more in the near future. These comics are just too good to not give a proper shout out right now. Stay tuned for further developments by following Desmond Reed on Instagram (@desmondtreed)!
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.
MAD Magazine, as we used to know it, is gone. However, what we still have is to be treasured. Due to a number of factors, it just became unsustainable to maintain the magazine. So, the idea now is to keep to a pared-down schedule that showcases various work from the past. It leaves room for some exceptions too like the amazing new cover art by visionary cartoonist Jim Woodring for the current issue. I just got my copy in the mail as part of my subscription. You can too by visiting MAD Magazine.
Alfred E. Neuman is the fictitious mascot and cover boy of MAD. Alfred’s first appearance was on a 1954 MAD paperback collection and on the actual magazine starting with Mad #21 (March 1955). Woodring pays homage to Alfred and all things MAD by having Alfred in the role of Zoltan the fortune teller. The fortune is a wry reference to MAD’s legendary fold-in back cover gags: “The Secret to Longevity is Not Folding In.” And, most fitting of all, is a 100th happy birthday wish to one of MAD’s greatest cartoonists: Al Jaffee, a regular contributor to the magazine for 65 years, the longest run ever, including his trademark feature, the Mad Fold-in.
Back in December of last year, Jim Woodring let his friends on social media know just what he thought about getting to do a MAD Magazine cover:
“If anyone in a position to know had told me when I was a boy that I would one day do a cover for MAD magazine I would have died of self-satisfaction right on the spot. Issue #19, due out March 2021 from DC comics.”
Each issue of MAD is thoughtfully curated following a theme. The theme for this current issue is The Future:
MAD #19 – MAD PREDICTS THE FUTURE
Gaze into the wonders of tomorrow, courtesy of yesterday’s MAD! It’s our far-flung future issue, in which we look back at the shape of things to come, including parodies of time traveling sci-fi flicks “Back to the Future” and “A.I. Artificial Intelligence.” Plus, MAD examines prognosticators like astrology, palm reading, and, just for good measure, a little MAD E.S.P with birthday boy Al Jaffee for his 100th year on this planet, and some new outta this world art by Tom Richmond! We predict there will be a new Fold-In by Johnny Sampson too! Materializing in stores APR. 13th!
Get your copy by visiting MAD Magazine right here.
I have interviewed Steve Lafler and I’m letting that sink in. The man is a walking encyclopedia of experiences and knowledge. I do hope we can chat again sometime. For a first interview, we covered a lot of ground. I was intrigued and delighted and I’m sure you will be too with this most provocative cartoonist.
Steve Lafler is a very cool cat–and, as promised, we’re about to take a deep dive into all things Lafler. Long before Zoom interviews, I’ve been taking notes and chatting with a good many talented folks. I think we cartoonists, at least a certain subgroup, are compelled to express ourselves in numerous ways. You’ll find, for instance, that comics and journalism have been entwined since the American colonies. In Mr. Lafler’s case, he has devoted a lot of energy in two directions, the love of comics and the love of music. In my interview, I try to focus on how Lafler has lovingly included music, especially jazz, into his comics.
1956: Sweet Sweet Little Ramona is Lafler’s latest title and we enjoy talking about it. The subtext is pretty much in the forefront: our main character, Ramon, seems to be most happy when he gets to be Ramona. Or, if not most happy, then it’s definitely a sweet joy to dress up and be a woman for the night. That said, the comics pretty much speak for themselves. Lafler, himself, has provided a few clues over the years that he enjoys indulging in some gender-bending dressing up. One must follow their muse! I think, with 1956: Sweet Sweet Little Ramona, Lafler beautifully expresses that most basic and primal human need to be true to one’s self.
John T. Reynolds is a writer and actor, who draws comics and writes for television including The President Show on Comedy Central and “six pants-busting years” on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on CBS. You can find his comics at A Fistful of Babies. We cover a lot in this conversation and there was definitely more we could have chatted about! For this one, I focused on the art of comedy and I think it was a good glue to keep things together.
Craig Ferguson, at the top of his game.
This is a conversation about understanding comedy. Now, to begin with, does comedy need to be understood? Wasn’t E.B. White who said that comedy was like a frog? Once you begin to dissect it, it’s dead, right? Comedy writer Scott Dikkers refers to that in his book, How to Write Funny, and concludes it’s a small price to pay in order to learn comedy! Indeed, that is what this interview is all about: understanding comedy. We run a class act here at Comics Grinder so I opened by interview referring back to a book that Reynolds mentioned in a comedy writing class I took that he was leading. Reynolds referred to a recent collection of writer workshop essays by George Saunders and commented that it’s interesting to note that the mechanics of creative writing considered to be at the highest levels are just as relevant to the mechanics of comedy writing for the general public. Ah, so we began on a classy high note. There was nowhere else to go but down from there–or so it seemed. Because, in fact, the point here is that there’s an art to everything, even a seemingly goofy show like The President Show, about one of the goofiest creatures to ever roam the earth.
Anthony Atamanuik mercilessly channels Donald Trump on The President Show.
Reynolds trained with the Upright Citizens Brigade. It’s from there that he teamed up with Aubrey Plaza and other comedic talent. My connection to all this is a course that Reynolds leads, The Writers Room at Laughing Buddha Comedy in New York. I did an open mic a while back, pre-Covid, and I recently took his course, Late Night Writers Room available via Zoom, among an array of awesome comedy workshop courses. We discuss that and many other things, including Mr. Reynold’s own cartooning adventures that you can find at A Fistful of Babies.
cartoon by John T. Reynolds
And here is some more data in a different configuration via the UCBT site: John wrote and performed on the Peabody Award-winning The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on CBS for six years before the host quit. Now John writes full time for DreamWorks Television. He has been in many shows at the UCBT in both NY and LA, most notably in ASSSSCAT, Reuben Williams: As Seen On TV, as Joe Eszterhas in Showgirls: The Best Movie Ever Made and on Harold Night. He has also performed in many roles on television, radio and film and has written for many other TV shows like MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch and Comedy Central’s little seen, but greatly loved, Window Seat.
The latest dumpster fire no one can take their eyes off of.
As you will find, the world of late night comedy writing is all about topical humor. You can create masterful “evergreen” pieces, that are timeless and have their place. But you also have to keep on your toes and be hip to whatever the latest thing has gone viral and is the latest dumpster fire no one can take their eyes off of.
Mise-en-Scène or Depth of Field technique in CITIZEN KANE
Like any visual medium, as in painting and cinema, there are particular ways of seeing that are useful, even essential, when studying the mechanics of comics. Mise-en-Scène or Depth of Field is a fascinating aspect to comics that occurs more often than you might think. Sometimes it’s done more formally and explicitly and sometimes not so much. But, when done right, it can be very striking and truly enhance the comics experience. First, consider the picture plane, an impression of space, like the imaginary wall separating the audience and overlooking the space on the stage. Then think of foreground, middle ground, and background. We are considering everything. The term, Mise-en-Scène, in French, literally means “put into the scene” but I like to also emphasize it refers to making the most of the three planes depicted in a scene.
From work-in-progress by Henry Chamberlain
You are looking at a scene, in a painting, or a film, or in comics, from the close range, mid-range, and way in the back range. What you might place in these three planes can significantly move your narrative forward. A reliable trope would be to set up your scene to include past, present, and future: cast the middle as present tense for the main character, with the past set in the back; and the future set up front. That’s what I ended up doing with the above image after noodling around for a while. But it can be anything you like, anything that makes for an interesting composition.
You can call this process, “The Three Plane Method.” That comes to mind. Or you can use the term used in theater and cinema, Mise-en-Scène. In film and photography, think of this as playing with Depth of Field. In the end, you’re exploring what this technique can do for you as you compose a frame or a scene. If you want some truly riveting examples, take a closer look at how images are stacked upon each other in layered scenes in Citizen Cane to create mesmerizing montages. Some are stable landscape type moments and others are dazzling scenes which have the camera rolling for one long dizzying shot like the one that begins outside during a gloomy snow storm and snakes its way into a cozy cabin.
from The Leaning Girl from the The Obscure Cities series by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters.
The best comics tend to be, at least for me, thoughtfully composed. While comics has its own language and techniques unique to its medium, it does manage to borrow from other mediums–and make it its own. That said, it was interesting to go about finding a decent example in comics of true Mise-en-Scène. I think my initial impulse is proven because it wasn’t easy to just stumble upon something. Paul Pope? Nada. Blutch? Nada again. David Mazzucchelli? Frank Quitely? No and no again. You can’t ignore the fact that comics is a sequential art. In general, comics is mostly invested in a steady flow of a concise combination of words and pictures. Those visionary auteur cartoonists will, on occasion, create panels or whole pages with bravura artwork but these are usually some attempt at detailed exteriors or interiors to establish time and place. Not necessarily work making the most of all three planes. The long and the short of it is that a lot of comics involves people speaking to each other or going from one place to another and not much else. Many exceptions exist and hurray for them. I finally found the above excellent example to share with you from The Leaning Girl from The Obscure Cities series by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters.
I ask that you keep going on this journey with me. I have been carving this niche for years and I feel like I’ve got it at quite a cozy level with just the right content and pacing. That said, it’s time for another thoughtful interview. For my video interviews, I add here a few notes and observations. Traditional journalism, like hard news reportage, will take an interview and create a concise summation. Some magazines are known for their long sprawling interviews where everything is transcribed. Of course, we also have a long tradition of various talk show formats, some thoughtful and some that are so casual as to blur right in with a dance segment on Tik Tok. Hey, I have nothing against fun and entertainment and I’ll engage in that when it makes sense. But, for interviews, I take them seriously, prepare for them, take off my Joe Cool hat and don’t engage in any dancing. Although, in a metaphorical sense, a good interview is sort of like a dance. The person conducting the interview leads while the person who is the subject of the interview goes about picking up one cue after another and making something out of it.
A bus driver finds solace through the suspension of disbelief.
Anyway, I say all this because it’s particularly relevant to this interview. Essentially, this is an interview about interviews: how to conduct one, what it means, what you attempt to get out of it. I interviewed Julia Wald about her new book, The Suspension of Disbelief (review), an illustrated collection of interviews she conducted about life and work during Covid-19. In the course of the interview, we ended up talking about what it means when you’re working at a restaurant during a world-wide pandemic and suddenly it’s like all the lights are out and then, just as suddenly, you are out of a job, your source of income. We discuss who might have stepped in to help and who didn’t.
A disadvantaged man finds hope through knowledge.
And, finally, once an artistic and talented person is inspired to create a book about Covid-19, what responsibility, if any, does she have to the vulnerable people she has interviewed? Well, part of the answer goes back to the dance. If the dance partners have established a sense of trust, then there’s a very good chance that something worthwhile will result that everyone can be proud of. We focus in a bit on American journalist Studs Terkel (1912-2008), the icon of what came to be known as “literary journalism.” Terkel was most active from the 1950s to 1990s, creating his seminal collection of interviews, Working, in 1974. He was part of that old-fashioned gumshoe journalist/creative tradition: loyal to his readers and listeners, to his Chicago, and to the art and craft of journalism. Julia says that Terkel inspired her on her Covid-19 project and it shows and, ultimately, it demonstrates that she did right by all who she interviewed. Julia did it the right way, the old-fashioned way that involves hard work and integrity. It’s the best way. And it’s what inspires me to keep going on this journey.
It seems ages ago that I posted a drawing early last year about the developing “new normal” living conditions during this pandemic. Well, as much as things have changed with vaccines on the way, we still have a journey ahead of us. Perhaps it’s safe to say we’re at the halfway point, or better. Let us hope so! For now, we keep doing all the safe things we’ve been doing and, when it’s our turn, we get vaccinated. 2021 is now here. Let’s all make the most of it as best we can.
Gipi is one of the great cartoonists. His approach is to treat the page in a heroic fashion, as both canvas and stage, employing a variety of techniques and styles. In one work, he will typically shift from loose sketchbook line drawings to haunting panoramic watercolor panels. We see this kind of work in the States but we see even more of this in Europe. Gipi is part of that Italian breed of cartoonist who sings for his supper through fierce and daring visual storytelling. I was rifling through a stack of books and papers just the other day and Gipi’s The Innocents nearly hit me on the head. I took that as a sign. It is a story about lost youth and their comeuppance. That title was part of an amazing Ignatz collection published by Fantagraphics. A title that is currently on my radar is One Story, also published by Fantagraphics and one of the most ambitious works by Gipi that I’ve come across.
Gipi commands the page like a canvas or a stage.
Any artist, or magician worth his salt, is a master of illusion. Any given number of strokes of ink or paint on the page may seem marginal or of undetermined worth–and sometimes they don’t seem to quite add up! There are times when no one notices any of these potentially perceived mistakes or accidents that require further reflection. Or the culmination of all these marks does add up without much doubt but it still doesn’t seem to meet some fickle taste. Only a determined, persistent and consistent effort will ultimately win the day and that is what Gipi does. He’s the one who is constantly drawing. He is a cartoonist who unmistakably acts like any other artist, whatever the medium. And, in the process of all that problem-solving, a universe emerges. In the end, he can make it look easy. Ideally, and in general, you want all the elements on the page, even the splotches and rough gestures, to simply read as part of the narrative. Each mark belongs on the page. Gipi has the temperament and the confidence to pull that off.
Gipi, cartoonist as visionary artist.
Going hand in hand with a heroic attitude to mark-making is the actual script to which Gipi runs with as if his very life depends upon it. These sort of stories are the ones that need plenty of room to run, as they are larger-than-life stories about life! The reader can ease up on applying cold logic and allow the tale to cast its spell. For most readers, this will not be a problem at all. We begin in the present. Gipi charms the reader with his overwhelming sense of weltschmerz. Gipi shows us that the older you are, the less you can acknowledge your age when facing the mirror. An aging beauty can only see through a vintage lens. Cut to our main character, a former fiery rebel who is not aging into the perfect Lothario he intended to be.
Just drive off in a Maserati.
Next, our aging rebel finds a kindred spirit and they drive off in a Masareti. Remember, the plot is going to keep shifting. So, our main character is one Silvano Landi. It turns out that Mr. Landi is under heavy medication in a psych ward. He is drifting in and out of recollections, all very lucid and vibrant as hell. What Silvano sees, we see. A team of professionals are determined to keep Landi nicely sedated with increasing amounts of Bituprozan, in keeping with their standards, in order to address his “Schizophrenia with Monomaniacal Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviors.”
“A bare tree. Why?”
The team is both impressed and bewildered by a series of drawings Landi has done of a service station and a tree. They admit the work is dazzling but it is also so clearly out of the norm, and most disturbing. God help any artist at the mercy of psych bureaucrats! As for Landi’s request to go outside, well, the team won’t tolerate that at all. Silvano Landi is a famous writer, after all. He must get the most careful and strict of treatment.
Navigating a psych ward.
The story now takes a determined turn. We move over to Landi’s great-grandfather, Mauro, and the trenches of World War I. From here on out, we alternate between Landi, Mauro and all points beyond. As you’ve come to appreciate from this writing, this is all pure Gipi! Ah, and this is where the plot thickens as we venture off into geopolitics and so much more. It is absolutely not my intention to go over every plot point but, instead, to give you a good generous taste.
A tree grows at the end of the world.
My goal in a post like this, as always, is to provide you with a guided tour, part of my exploration of the most provocative and challenging works in comics. I happen to relish expressing myself in well-chosen words and this exceptional work inspires that effort. Keep in mind, Gipi is not exactly alone but he’s also definitely among the very best auteur cartoonists. If you had only one cartoonist to read, Gipi will win you over on many levels. None the least is, again, that deliciously melancholic sense of raw and jaded sophistication–and exhausted experience.