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.
‘Good Eggs’ by Hurricane Nancy. Color by Henry Chamberlain.
Hurricane Nancy shares with us a little tribute to those folks we can rely upon and who bring a ray of sunshine into our lives. Here’s her piece, Good Eggs. Nancy’s work is done in her own iconic black-and-white style. That’s just the way a lot of underground artists worked; and it is still created that way today by artists who prefer to keep to ink and paper and not use color. But Nancy has given me permission to add color to her work if I choose to. So, here’s another contribution with my added color.
Nancy’s work goes back to the East Village Other, circa 1966. Trailblazer Trina Robbins names Nancy as an inspiration to move forward with her Wimmen’s Comix movement. In fact, Nancy was a founding member of Robbin’s all-women comic book series, It Ain’t Me, Babe, which began in 1970. Sixty-five pieces of Nancy’s cartoon art are in The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University. Nancy currently produces cartoons influenced by the oddities of current life and more. Visit her at hurricanenancy.com.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year for many indie comics fans making their way to Short Run Comix & Arts Festival in Seattle. This Saturday it’s the place to be to meet up with old friends, survey recent comix offerings and nab some items making their debut, like Brandon Lehmann’s WOMP WOMP #3. Are you already a Brandon Lehmann fan, or have you been waiting for a friendly nudge? Well, here goes. Let’s take a peek at this new title, a fine example of what you can find at Short Run.
WOMP WOMP #3 is Brandon Lehman’s new 28-page full color book debuting at Short Run.
What happens in the pages of WOMP WOMP stays in WOMP WOMP. All the more reason to seek it out. Seriously, these kind of books don’t read themselves. But if this book could, it would have hilarious tales to tell like the first story in this collection, “The Time Machine.” Yeah, you read that right. Lehmann goes on an all-out time travel trope bender to give the reader masterfully crafted satire. Lehmann keeps perfecting what he does to the point of it being just a sheer joy to read. I think he’s developed a highly original universe of deadpan humor that, like Frankenstein’s monster, is a beast moving under its own power. Ah, but don’t aim a pitchfork at this guy. Read. Enjoy. I think Lehmann is having a great time with his work and that’s a reward onto itself. And yet, it’s not too much to ask for more. With each year, more fans emerge, more ideas take shape for more comics. I see that Lehmann has some amazing prints of stand-alone art to sell along with his comics. I hope to maybe even see some animation down the road. Whatever he does, it’s finely-crafted and worth your attention.
Page excerpt from “The Time Machine”
So, in closing, I say, “Womp! Womp!” to all of you! “Womp! Womp!” Say it out loud. Fascinating how it instantly amuses. Well, it sounds like that sound you hear on game shows when the contestant gives the wrong answer, right? It’s a funny and weird sound and, hey, it can be a quick tonic for so much that we have to put up with in life. It sure is. I’m not gonna lie! I’m not gonna lie! Oh, how I hate that phrase. Have you ever heard anything more vacuous and phoney?! Well, . . . of course, you have! We put up with so much. All the wretched counter-intuitive contortions we must endure. And for what? As a sign that we’re a team player and totally and utterly sane? No, it’s madness, I tell you. Sheer and total bonkers. So, yeah, you make some time for yourself. A little (or a lot!) of ME time and yell it out proudly, scream it out unabashedly, “Womp! Womp!”
Silver: Of Treasures and Thieves, Book I is out as of October 25, 2022, published by Abrams. It is a deluxe hardcover edition and quite the immersive treat for anyone who loves a good yarn, especially one that takes much of the good stuff from pulp fiction and gives it a good tweak, a veritable mashup of adventure lore and vampire gore.
The meta pulp universe of Silver.
There’s no doubt that Stephan Franck has created something very special with Silver, a graphic novel set in a pulp noir universe of misfits, criminals and, of course, vampires. During our interview, I drive home the theme that much of the charm of this story is the journey and in the telling. This is absolutely an adrenaline-fueled adventure tale while also simply being a dazzling and mesmerizing play of words and images. The beauty of it all is that Franck has created a set of characters that you can really root for while, at the same time, is playing with tropes and just having fun. You can care about the characters or you can just curl up with a cup of hot cocoa and enjoy the style.
Stephan Franck at the drawing board.
Part of the pitch to this book is a comparison to the vibe you get from Bram Stoker’s Dracula or the original Ocean’s Eleven. These are two very different animals but, at the end of the day, we’re talking about a high level of entertainment, be it high or low art or a mashup of the two. Bram Stoker’s Dracula has never gone out of print since it was first published in April 1897. It was a bestseller in its day and is regarded as high art literature. Ocean’s Eleven was a big hit when it first appeared in movie theaters in 1960. It is an American heist film directed by Lewis Milestone and made the stars of the movie famous as the Rat Pack. It is one of those movies with a high level of irony that seemed to want it both ways: not to be taken seriously and yet leave you guessing. In a word, it was all about atmosphere. Take these two entertainments and roll them up into a fine paste and you’ve got yourself a gooey and frothy mix of the sinister and the ambiguous. Just the sort of clay to play with when looking to create the next pop culture mashup.
Think about pop culture in the last few decades, starting with, say, the treatment of Batman by Frank Miller, in The Dark Knight trilogy. There’s one of your finest examples of what has come to be accepted as working in an “elevated genre.” That’s the whole point. As Franck states, the idea is to “tell the most universal stories in the weirdest way possible.” And that’s what Silver is all about. You’ve got soldier of fortune types at odds with vampires. What could go wrong, right? Except for a roller coaster of a story for your delight.
Be sure to keep up with Stephan Franck here and here. And seek out SILVER, published by Abrams.
I hope you enjoy this video podcast. And, as always, a LIKE, SUBSCRIBE and/or COMMENT is always appreciated.
Public Domain (#5) writer/artist Chip Zdarsky Image Comics (19 Oct 2022 issue) $3.99
Chip Zdarsky is an exemplary, stupendous, and extraordinary comics creator, someone I’ve admired since his groundbreaking work with Matt Fraction on Sex Criminals. But, before I embarrass myself any further, let the following video create the right mood. Maybe you are already a fan but, if you’re new, let Chip Zdarsky speak for himself:
Okay, so, Sex Criminals was written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky. For Public Domain, Zdarsky is both the writer and artist. And that fact alone is worth the price of admission. We get full-on Chip Zdarsky, filled with whipsmart humor. People still use “whipsmart,” don’t they? Anyway, this is a love letter to the comic book from somebody who really gets it, and has seen it all from working on many of the biggest comic book franchises. Zdarsky knows where the bodies are buried or, in other words, how corporate comics are made. And, well, that’s not always to the satisfaction of comics purists or to anyone who appreciates a well-thought-out story. That’s the theme here: the little guy (Jack Kirby or Bill Finger, etc.) going against the suits who take the lion’s share of the profits and exploit the work created by the likes of a Kirby or a Finger. The little guys vs. the suits. And that’s not to say that little guys can’t be physically big and/or wear actual suits.
From #4: Let’s make some comics!
Issue Five is a great jumping on point as the stage is set for the old true blue creator of the iconic (and movie franchise) comic book character, The Domain, to get his chance to create his own new stories and own the rights to them. Syd Dallas never really cared about the business side to comics and allowed his employer, Singular media, to rob him blind. That all changed when a perfect storm of circumstances led to a legal fight. Now, suddenly, Syd Dallas is leading his own comic book company featuring the new adventures of The Domain. This is a far-fetched adventure even for Syd but his sons, both at loose ends, force him to find the will and the grit to give it a go. Add to the mix a young aspiring writer, Tanya, who used to work for Syd’s less than scrupulous creative partner, Jerry Jaspers.
From #4: Enter Tanya!
In this latest issue, it’s up to Syd to get on with creating comics. Along with his two wayward sons, Miles (the ex-reporter with a bad temper and gambling addiction) and David (the tattoo artist with the shit-eating grin). Some of the best moments involve Miles and David and are seemingly nothing moments of apprehension and ennui. One favorite line from the new issue: “S’all good, man. Just a bunch of unemployed people pretending to not be unemployed.”
From #4: We love comics!
All in all, the banter and social commentary adds up to a delicious dark satire on the less than innocent comics industry. But who among us is innocent, right? Ah, well, now that’s the frame of mind to be in for this snarky, yet heart-felt, tale. Getting back to the issue of creating quality work, it all comes back to it being well-thought-out work and that’s where Zdarsky has got you covered. He actually writes! Maybe that’s his big secret: to actually write with integrity and, heck, you just might create something worth reading. Who knew?
Public Domain is published by Image Comics. Issue Five comes out 19 October 2022. If I did any rating, I’d give this one 10/10.
Follow the link and you can see all the nominees for this year’s Small Press Expo, along with links to purchase. I believe this is the first time that links have been provided for direct purchase! Scroll below for a list of this year’s winners.
– Outstanding Comic: “I See A Knight” by Xulia Vicente (Shortbox). Since childhood, Olivia has been able to see a headless knight invisible to everyone else- is it an omen, a ghost, or something much more real?
Good Boy! magazine
– Outstanding Anthology: “Good Boy Magazine” #1, edited by Michael Sweater and Benji Nate (Silver Sprocket). This 112-page collection features the tagline “Read comics or go to hell.” That says it all!
– Outstanding Artist:Reimena Yee for “Alexander, The Servant, & The Water of Life,” a retelling of the life/legend of Alexander the Great. Yee is also the creator of numerous other comics, including the Eisner & McDuffie-nominated “The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya,” “Séance Tea Party,” and the upcoming “My Aunt is a Monster.”
– Outstanding Collection: “Mr. Boop” by Alec Robbins (Silver Sprocket). This is the complete collection of the absurdist and romantic tale of author Alec Robbins being in love with his wife Betty Boop, the 1930s cartoon superstar, presented in a beautiful, deluxe package.
No One Else
– Outstanding Graphic Novel: “No One Else” by R. Kikuo Johnson (Fantagraphics). Johnson’s long-awaited second graphic novel follows Charlene, Brandon, and Robbie as they learn to navigate life day to day with their plans, fears, and desires after a death throws their life into turmoil.
Pee Pee Poo Poo #69
– Outstanding Minicomic: “Pee Pee Poo Poo” #69 by Caroline Cash (self-published). A throwback to ’60s underground comics with a zesty title to boot.
Ride or Die
– Outstanding Online Comic: “Ride or Die” by Mars Heyward features demon cars, street racing, fumbling romance and revenge, and is described as “Christine meets Ghost Rider meets Fast and Furious but gayer!”
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr
– Outstanding Series:“The Many Deaths of Laila Starr” by Ram V & Filipe Andrade with Inês Amaro and AndWorld Design (BOOM! Studios), a five-issue mini-series exploring the fine line between living and dying through the lens of magical realism.
The Lover of Everyone in the World
– Outstanding Story: ‘The Lover of Everyone in the World’ by Beatrix Urkowitz (Parsifal Press). Originally drawn for Popula, ‘The Lover’ joins three other stories about being loved by everyone, and no one, in Urkowitz’s first graphic novella of the same name. The collection was possible thanks to a generous grant from Koyama Provides.
Djeliya by Juni Ba
– Promising New Talent:Juni Ba. A cartoonist from Senegal and France, Ba’s recent work includes the anthology series “Monkey Meat” (Image Comics) and “Djeliya” (TKO Studios), which tells the tale of Prince Mansour and his royal storyteller Awa, as they journey to reach the mysterious Wizard Soumaoro, who guards a fearsome power that he once used to destroy the world.
Krazy Kat’s Ignatz, namesake for the SPX Ignatz Award
Small Press Expo returns next year during the weekend of September 9 and 10, 2023.
ANGELS by Hurricane Nancy. Color by Henry Chamberlain.
Hurricane Nancy offers us a meditation on the angels in our lives. I asked Nancy what she meant and she said: “There are wonderful people in life who help and encourage, when one is down. They love to see one creating and expanding their ideas and viewpoints. I call these dear people ANGELS.”
Noah Van Sciver is one of our great cartoonists. He’s been at his drawing table for as long as he can remember–and that has resulted in some very impressive work. It takes a lot to gain any traction in the world of comics and illustration. Van Sciver is one of the brave and persistent souls.
It is my pleasure to share this interview with Noah Van Sciver. We chat about his two new books, Joseph Smith and the Mormons (see Comics Grinder review here) and As a Cartoonist (see Comics Grinder review here). I think some applause and cheers are in order every chance we can get. Along the way, we end up talking about a great deal of Van Sciver’s career as a cartoonist. A lot of dots get connected. So, I hope you’ll tune in and feel free to leave a comment or like over at ye ole YouTubes.
As a Cartoonist. Noah Van Sciver. Fantagraphics. 2022. 104 pp. $19.99
One thing you need to get straight is that a bona fide cartoonist, in the truest sense of the word, is someone with a certain way of moving about in the world. I’m a cartoonist, so I should know. Just about every word I write is somehow connected to the fact that I’m one of those people. Word choice is everything. Well, maybe it’s more like every line of thought but it can get right down to the granular level. It’s absolutely a way of life, and that’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. It is what it is–and those among us who are part of this tribe, made up of so many groups and subgroups, understand that this unique ability to write and draw comes at a price. No one is born with this ability, although some people are definitely more predisposed to creating comics than others. Sorry, but it’s a skill that demands a number of factors to fall into place if you intend to reach a certain level of excellence. You don’t see a short person agonizing over the fact that they will never be an all-star basketball player. And, yes, I know about Spud Webb, but he’s the exception to the rule. Anyway, most people don’t give a hoot about whether or not they will ever create comics of any form, let alone win awards and accolades for their effort. This is the story about someone who really cares about all those things having to do with becoming a masterful cartoonist. We’re talking about Noah Van Sciver. And he’d be the first to tell you that being a cartoonist is no walk in the park–and yet, there isn’t anything he’d rather be more.
This book is about all the peculiar things about being a cartoonist. That’s really what it all boils down to. Being a cartoonist is peculiar. That, in and of itself, is a burden and yet it is also alluring. Essentially, it’s something special that envelopes the person seeking to master it. Just like any other creative endeavor, like starting up a band. Noah Van Sciver’s story is one of struggle, persistence, and ultimate accomplishment. This book, a collection of short works in comics, adds up to a portrait of the artist, perhaps his best set of portrait pieces to date. This is, you could say, an anthology all by one creator. In the world of indie comics, cartoonists are always scrambling to jump on board and join the latest collective effort, a way to promote each other and get one’s work out into the world. It’s all about getting people to read your work. A lot of Van Sciver’s auto-bio comics are about this ongoing pursuit of readers: courting them, wanting them, wondering where they are. For all the anti-social behavior that a cartoonist may engage in, at the end of the day, it’s all about the readers. Maybe the cartoonist isn’t exactly looking to spend too much time with any particular reader, but it’s nice to know that they’re still around.
Van Sciver wins over his readers without playing up to them. Far from it. In fact, he’s more than happy to speak the unvarnished truth byway of his social satire. He has a way of evoking authenticity. A real cartoonist, especially someone like Van Sciver who uses his own life for material, is always striving to be real and avoid any false notes. So, Van Sciver’s best work comes across as totally unfiltered. Of course, it’s a balance of artifice and reality. But a reader still ends up getting caught up in the moment as when Van Sciver is juggling an interview with a prominent reporter and his uncouth brother who has just crashed upon the scene. In this specific moment, a big event at an art museum featuring Van Sciver’s work, the hierarchy is easily hijacked. No sooner has Van Sciver begun to talk to the reporter than he’s put off by her obvious remarks. He even sympathizes with his train wreck of a sibling, if only for a moment.
In another more complex scene, Van Sciver is a visiting artist on campus and must find a way to tolerate those less fortunate but still quite annoying. A relatively young man, actually thirty and not so young, who loves to wear a top hat and read teen girl manga, is prime fodder for Van Sciver’s wrath. The guy in the top hat, it turns out, is easily triggered by what he sees as Van Sciver’s micro-agressions. Nevermind that Top Hat has a lot of arrested development to deal with. Now, Top Hat’s focus is to get Van Sciver into trouble by reporting him to a school administrator. There’s no winning for Van Sciver when he’s called in to explain himself. Later, he tries to turn the other cheek and be positive. But, ultimately, Van Sciver is right back to being underwhelmed by life on campus.
A wonderful companion piece to this collection is the 2018 graphic memoir, One Dirty Tree, looking back on a childhood with eight other siblings in a less than ideal situation. This is a closer look at a ramshackle upbringing: living in squalor, an abusive and irresponsible father who is a Mormon zealot, and a young man with a very uncertain future–a young life miraculously held together by dreams of some day becoming a famous cartoonist! By force of will and determination, Noah Van Sciver turned his dreams into a reality beginning with his series of collected comics, Blammo. That would lead to his early masterpiece, his first graphic novel, 2012’s The Hypo. And, most recently, 2022’s Joseph Smith and the Mormons. This new book, As a Cartoonist, comes full circle with a collection of short works that feature comics from Blammo, among other sources.
In 1980, Woody Allen made Stardust Memories. He had already made two of his masterworks, Annie Hall and Manhattan, and he seemed to be at a crossroads: keep making funny movies or make more serious films. Perhaps there was a bit of a struggle. Just see Interiors. Anyway, a certain Woody Allen universe had been created and he was pretty much set and would go on to create a wonderful body of work. Van Sciver pays homage to that creative turning point in a moment in the book where he recreates Allen asking space aliens for advice. It’s a perfect opportunity for Van Sciver to insert himself and provide another take on the absurdity of it all.
Van Sciver is now at a point where he can look back and see significant milestones, including Fante Bukowski, which alone would thrill any cartoonist to call their own, and which Van Sciver can say confidently he brought into this world. Having recently become a father, Van Sciver honors his son, Remy, with a dedication and the final comic in the book. I think it’s safe to say that Noah Van Sciver is on the right path.
Pulp Power: The Shadow, Doc Savage and the Art of the Street and Smith Universe. Neil McGinness. Abrams. New York. 2022. Fully illustrated, hardcover. 352pp. $58.50
Walter Gibson was the writer behind the masked hero, The Shadow. Writing under the pen name, Maxwell Grant, he developed a character that seemed to emerge on its own, out of the confluence of pop culture media, circa 1930: pulp fiction and radio. The character was a strange mix of mystery and daring, part of something bigger, and a sign of things to come. The strangeness begins with the eerie voice warning that it sees all: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” followed by a shrill cackle. Such an otherworldly introduction to adventure was like mana from heaven for the millions of beleaguered radio listeners across the country confronting the dire reality of the Great Depression. Stranger still, at that point, there was only the weird voice to introduce the mystery hour–but the voice had become the star! Overnight, people wanted more. Who is The Shadow? Where do I get The Shadow magazine? This would lead to perhaps the greatest scramble ever to flesh out a popular character that did not yet exist!
“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”
The Shadow went on to become the leading product of the famous Fiction Factory, founded by Francis Street, a bookkeeper, and Francis Smith, an aspiring writer in the 1850s. Street and Smith bought the New York Dispatch, a newspaper focused on news, and turned it into the New York Weekly (1858–1910), a newspaper focused on fiction, the foundation of what was to become the Street and Smith publishing empire. It was when this publishing house decided to step into creating radio shows that The Shadow emerged out of the ether. Pulp Power covers this phenomenal enterprise providing the reader with an in depth look at the origins of America’s first pop culture icons: The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Avenger, Justice Inc., the trailblazers that would inspire Batman, Superman, The Fantastic Four, even the whole ball of wax at Marvel and DC Comics. Thanks to this generously illustrated book, with engaging writing by Neil McGinness, the original glory days of American pop culture come to life for the reader in this unique collection showcasing dazzling covers from pulp fiction, comics and movies, along with assorted ephemera.
The Shadow magazine
Getting back to The Shadow, if there is just one character to represent the exuberant creative force at play in the early years, it has got to be this strange, yet beloved, fellow. It’s fascinating to consider how much this character is so much of its time, and defies being easily bounced around various media until it finally settles into what works. Ultimately, a lot is working; it’s just a matter of doing justice to the material. You won’t be seeing a major motion picture anytime soon, until maybe you do. What you can count on is The Shadow thriving in prose and in audio. Perhaps that’s simply because The Shadow is so much a creature of the night, a mysterious force not to be observed too closely. He also has his specificity. He’s a New Yorker, and don’t you forget it. Thankfully, Neil McGinness does take a close look for the sake of better understanding the attraction. Essentially, it comes down to quality storytelling, which can’t be faked; it involves so many factors coming into place; and runs best with one determined author.
The Shadow comics
The Shadow’s original author, Walter Gibson, followed a tried and true formula, a five-point plan that never failed: a main crime; a problem arising from the main crime; a secondary crime that serves to complicate matters; an attempted third crime to thwart the investigation which is foiled by the hero; and the climax which reveals the villain, the trick, the true nature of the crime. It is a ticket to endless variations and served Gibson well as he went on to write nearly 300 Shadow novels. Not only that, Gibson was sensitive to literary refinements. In fact, The Shadow is closely based upon Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This is a hero but a dark hero. A crime fighter as grim and merciless as the worst criminal. This is a complicated character shrouded under layer upon layer of ambiguity. . .while, at the same time, just a fun thrill.
Orson Welles portrait by Irving Penn, for Vogue, 1945
The Shadow radio show ran for 17 years, from 1937 to 1954. Orson Welles, then only 22 years-old, served as the first voice of the character in 1937. Welles was quite busy with his own Mercury Theater and would do the show with no rehearsals. He just did it and he proved to be one of the best of the actors to take on the role. This was around the time that Welles was at his hottest: a year later, he would make history with his War of the Worlds broadcast of 1938. It’s a nice touch to see included here in this book a photo of Welles at the height of his success, a portrait by Irving Penn, for Vogue in 1945. It’s a masterwork of a photograph, complete with all of Penn’s still life magic–and a fitting companion piece to the magic and mystery that is The Shadow.