Tag Archives: graphic novels

Guest Review: ‘Alay-Oop’ by William Gropper

Alay-Oop by William Gropper

A Forgotten Comics Master: William Gropper

Guest Review by Paul Buhle

Alay-Oop by William Gropper, introduction by James Sturm, published by New York Review Books, 209 pages, $24.95.

A growing interest in the origins of comic art—a subject that could direct the reader toward cave paintings but more logically offers twentieth century precursors—has prompted the return of long-forgotten names like Lynd Ward and Frans Masereel, and just as naturally, reprints of their work. These notables and others peaking before the Second World War favored wood-cuts over drawing on paper, and also favored an art form now  known familiarly as the “wordless novel.” It’s a fascinating memory corner, full of  biting social criticism, but so different from the famed agitational cartoons, or for that matter, mural art of the New Deal period, that any common ground is little understood. Reader, meet William Gropper.

We can say many useful things about Gropper the artist, but for our purposes, there is every reason to start with Alay-Oop. It is a simple tale of a trapeze artist so muscular that she may not be beautiful in any classic sense, but she is admirably limber, a skilled and daring performer.  She is wooed by an older and rich, plump opera singer, with throngs of fans of his own.  He takes her out (with her own acrobat-partner in tow), romances her and persuades her to marry. A few pages of her dreaming, heavily erotic in symbolism, shows us that she is willing, and her swain promises her the skies. Her rather handsome fellow acrobat is, then, left out in the cold. Soon, she has beloved children but a troubled marriage. She finds her way, she reaches her way through her acrobatic skills, to her own version of a happy ending. This is a memorable Strong Woman Story, and may (as the introduction suggests) reflect the strength of Gropper’s own real life mother character, when his father, an autodidact intellectual, let the family down.

A May-December romance. Will it last?

Now, back to the Gropper famous in his own milieu. Communists and Popular Front sympathizers,  together numbering into the high hundreds of thousands from the mid-depression to the beginning of the Cold War, would recognize Gropper’s work in a minute. His famed and ferocious “Bank Night” drawing, with the fat capitalist landlord reaching into the slums for grotesque profits, alone memorably identifies both the artist’s skills and his temperament. Personal testimony: Recovering from a day at a pre-induction  Army physical in 1966, I was driven by famed Yale University peacenik Staughton Lynd out to stay the night with a Jewish chicken farmer. There, on the kitchen wall, was a famed Gropper print, with ugly Senators, most likely Dixiecrats, at a US Congress hearing, yawning with unembarrassed tedium at the social crisis of the Depression. That was the first Gropper that I ever saw.

Alay-Oop  evidently comes from a different place if definitely not a different artist.  Gropper himself had actually attended a radical art school, with giants like Masses magazine artists like Stuart Davis and Dada /Surrealist avant-gardist Man Ray. Instructor Robert Henri personally escorted young Gropper to the 1913 Armory Show that introduced modernism to the backward US intelligentsia. The young man had the talent and connections to make it as an illustrator in a grand era for newspaper illustrators—but was bounced from a commercial staff job as too radical.

You could say that he found a place for himself, an eager audience intense if not commercially helpful, at the Liberator and New Masses, two beautiful magazines that attached themselves to “the New Russia” without quite being overwhelmed by politics. By the early years of the Depression, Gropper’s work was overwhelmingly agitational, with the Daily Worker its largest outlet. Alay-Oop may be the first suggestion that his heart belonged elsewhere, at least in part.

What inspired him to comic art? Belgian Frans Masereel was so famous in Europe that leading novelists wrote introductions to his classic woodcut works. Back in the US, Lynd Ward’s  mordant God’s Man sold wildly, far beyond the art crowd that seemed the intended audience. Hugely popular funny pages artist Milt Gross published what some regard as the actual earliest comics novel, He Done Her Wrong (1930), a satire on the  soap opera-like American adventure novel.  Alay-Oop appeared in that same year, but can only be described as a genre of its own. If it has successors, they come generations later.

James Sturm, who wrote the Introduction to the volume under review but co-founded the Center for  Cartoon Studies in Vermont, suggests we are not likely to find out. In his style, Gropper was not austere like Masereel or Ward, nor satirical like Gross. He was aiming for something else, and that may be a reason why the book got lost so quickly and easily. Gropper himself moved toward a very different and unique high point of his artistic career: the opportunities opened by the New Deal. Muralist for the Works Progress Administration, popular book illustrator, artist of a folk-lore map of the USA (with little figures representing various traditions), Gropper the erstwhile revolutionary was “discovering America” in his own terms, and good at it. He had also become, for the moment, also a considerable painter, mostly of the social themes around him, and remembered from his impoverished youth.

Much of the remainder of Gropper’s life seems to have devoted rather less to leftwing causes, and rather more to painting, but also to making a living as an architectural artist, where he achieved a certain distinction. After the Second World War, with its  artistic high points of sympathy for the Russians and anti-fascism generally,  his opportunities but perhaps his political eagerness as well, were seriously restrained. His grandson is quoted in  the introduction as saying that grandpa was not all that political—which is about what an old man would tell a kid in the 1950s. All this  nevertheless suggests that  Alay-Oop reaches out toward something elusive,  but that is hardly a criticism of any artistic creation.

The book is certainly successful in itself,  with a line of drawing, as Sturm suggests, so fresh and fluid that  it looks like “the ink is still wet” (p.10). We also hear from his grandson that Gropper, drawn to vaudeville and the circus, admired performers as more honest and more fully human than politicians. Perhaps we need no further guide. Anyone can search through Google Images and admire the breadth of Gropper’s work. It would be good to have an anthology that gives us a sense of them.

Paul Buhle, co-editor of the Encyclopedia of the American Left,  has produced a dozen comics.

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Review: ANDY: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ANDY WARHOL by Typex

ANDY: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ANDY WARHOL by Typex

The cartoonist Typex presents a comics biography of the artist Andy Warhol that is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. If you thought you knew Andy Warhol, then read Andy: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol, published by SelfMadeHero, an imprint of Abrams. This is quite an ambitious and fascinating biography, a work of art in and of itself. Typex delivers such a detail-rich account in this 562-page book and leaves you wanting more! He does this by keeping to a crisp and finely-tuned and organized narrative. We go from one period of time to the next, evoking the quotidian while distilling the essential. In the process, the reader is treated to a behind-the-scenes look at Andy Warhol’s personal and professional life.

Andy Warhol meets Edie Sedgwick

An inquisitive cartoonist like Typex is not one to be easily satisfied with a standard comics biography, especially for such a towering figure in art and pop culture as Mr. Andy Warhol. Love him or hate him, Warhol has left a significant mark on the culture and, if not for never fully recovering from a murder attempt and a botched up gallbladder operation, he would have remained active that much longer. He would have found a way. That is what this book is all about: finding your way even when you might seem, like Andy Warhol, to be the most unlikely person to do so.

Typex is most interested in subverting any Warhol hagiography and bringing Warhol down to a human scale. Perhaps influenced by the books he chose for reference material, Typex often tamps down Warhol’s reputation in favor of depictions of him munching on Hershey chocolate bars and lusting over young men. No doubt, Warhol was a highly idiosyncratic individual but he was nobody’s fool and a workhorse. Scant mention is given in Typex’s book to Warhol’s contributions to art history. Typex acknowledges Warhol’s commentary of consumer culture but rather reluctantly. Very little is said about Warhol’s landmark use of serial imagery or his revolutionary use of silkscreens. Warhol made art history, after all. That is a major accomplishment and it sort of gets a bit lost in this otherwise marvelous book. You can say this book is not where you go for art history lessons, per se. This is a book decidedly about a scene or a set of scenes. Then again, it’s what’s happening in those scenes where you find the most interesting art.

Adding to the level of interest Typex has for his subject is how he’s presents his work. He has full page and two-page spreads to evoke the energy and mayhem of various moments. And, for much of the book, he keeps to a nicely packed grid format, nine panels per page. He goes that extra mile by anyone’s standards with including a program guide of notable players from each time period. In fact, Typex is just as concerned with the characters surrounding Warhol than simply Warhol himself. That could account for the somewhat slim analysis of Warhol’s actual career and work. You have to find a way to balance it all out and properly address Edie Sedgwick, The Velvet Underground, Valerie Solanas, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the countless followers all in search of their own fifteen minutes of fame. It is Valerie Solana who ultimately stands out among the pack with her unhinged grasp for fame and attempt on Warhol’s life. And it is Basquiat who breathes new life into Warhol just as the two of them are nearing the end.

Warhol was driven and he also had a lot of help from his evolving network of colleagues, mentors, and a myriad of aspiring artists, dreamers, and party people. The Andy Warhol phenomenon did not happen overnight nor did it exist without various setbacks. Andy Warhol was neither god nor monster. It all comes back to the fact he was driven. He had the skill, the intellect, and the resources to actually make art history and, despite any naysayers, that’s exactly what he did. Typex explores this ambition as he sees fit while also demystifying the man and his times. Overall, this is quite a fascinating read to be added to other notable books on one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century. In the end, I believe Andy Warhol would have approved of this book.

Cartoonist Typex

Typex is a Dutch illustrator and graphic novelist. A graduate of the Amsterdam College for the Arts, his work appears in many nationwide newspapers and magazines. He has illustrated numerous children’s books and has published some of his own. His graphic novel biography, Andy: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol, is published by SelfMadeHero, an imprint of Abrams. He lives in Amsterdam.

French Comics Association

You can see Typex this weekend if you’re in the D.C. area and this event happens to fit into what you’re doing. Typex will be there as part of the invited guests touring with the French Comics Association. The FCA will be taking part in this weekend’s American Library Association Conference. Okay, if that makes sense, then congratulations, you are a true Typex fan and well above average in every way.

The French Comics Association brings together many of the major publishers of French comics, including Dargaud, Casterman, Delcourt, Dupuis, Gallimard BD, Glénat, Le Lombard, Rue de Sèvres, and Soleil. As part of its mission to promote Franco-Belgian comics in the United States and worldwide, the association aims to promote comics translated into English, to support the U.S. publishing industry, and to stimulate cultural exchanges on the basis of literature and visual narratives.

The French Comics Association is supported by the Centre National du Livre, the Bureau International de l’Édition Française, the Syndicat National de l’Édition and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the U.S.

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Review: JEREMIAH by Cathy G. Johnson

JEREMIAH by Cathy G. Johnson

Wonderful things often take place in the world of alt-comics. I’m talking about when a bigger publisher lends a hand to help a smaller publisher. A case in point is the graphic novel, Jeremiah, which joins AdHouse Books in promoting and distributing and One Percent Press in publishing this remarkable work. There are quite a few gems out there among indie comics and Cathy G. Johnson proves that wonders never cease. Johnson’s work has a beauty that looks effortless and pure. In the span of 160 pages, she mesmerizes the reader with her gentle yet powerful watercolor comics.

“You are not a child.”

This is the story of Jeremiah, a young man who seems to be a blank slate with no past or future, just a country boy out in the middle of nowhere. Jeremiah may seem pretty simple and, in a lot of ways, he is. But he also has his own set of complex desires. Johnson masterfully rolls out a narrative pared down to its essentials while brimming with ambiguity and mystery. Just what is the relationship between Catie and Jeremiah? Perhaps a handyman can help sort through an accumulation of despair and confusion.

A boy’s desire may consume him.

Johnson conveys emotion in her artwork in a very direct and economical way. She can evoke years of longing and melancholy with just the right amount of lines and wash. Poor Jeremiah. He’s still just a boy and his mounting desire may consume him if he doesn’t free himself. Johnson practices the subtle art of restraint in telling his story; and, in the end, it all comes out when Johnson is ready to release the floodgate.

Lost among the corn fields.

For more details, be sure to visit Cathy G. Johnson right here.

 

 

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Comics Grinder Video Review Recap: The Otaku Box and Current Hot Titles including Little Bird, The Wrong Earth, and Invisible Kingdom

A recap of current cool stuff, posted 13 March 2019

When people find out that I’m a cartoonist and especially that I write about comics and pop culture, the first question that is asked is, What do you recommend? Here are some answers. Over the weekend, as I escaped the heat, I decided to make a dent in my already unwieldy stack of review material. In the video below, we take a look at The Otaku Box, a new crate box service focusing on anime and manga plus a recap on some current hot comics titles: Invisible Kingdom, Little Bird, Captain America, Man and Superman, and The Wrong Earth.

I hope you enjoy this video and I invite you to like, comment, and subscribe to my evolving YouTube channel. I feel pretty good about it and any additional motivation from you folks is always appreciated. I will continue to add videos as time permits.

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Review: LAWNS by Alex Nall

LAWNS by Alex Nall

Lawns, by Alex Nall, published by Kilgore Books, is a small graphic novel that, to my reading, is essentially a parable about the consequences of turning someone into a scapegoat. No one likes Roger. Neighbors condemn him for his unkempt lawn and for his unleashed dog. It seems like a manageable problem but definitely not in this small town. Roger is the town’s Boo Radley. Nall has put together a narrative that follows the election of the town’s mayor. Chuck is running undisputed. However, Carl, a disgruntled and unsavory sort, has mounted a write-in campaign for himself. Oddly enough, Carl makes a few good points but he’s pathetically unqualified. Poor Roger falls somewhere in the middle as a convenient distraction. Overall, I think the story would have been better off had Roger, already having inspired the town’s ire, had been the sole issue in the town’s election. That said, this is an ambitious undertaking and Nall deserves credit.

Page excerpt from LAWNS

A hallmark of many a work of alt-comics is that it is all done by hand and basically retains an organic vibe. Nall is certainly aware of that and appears to revel in it. My only quibble is that the drawing, at times, falls short on clarity and consistency. I’m not saying the rendering needs to be worked over in some elaborate way. If you take a look at Charles Forsman’s Hobo Mom, this is quite a compelling short graphic novel, only 62 pages, done in a relatively simple style. Nall seems to want to vary how he depicts the main character, Roger, but the way he goes about it has the potential to lose the reader. And, towards the end, there are some scenes that are a bit rushed. This is not to say that Nall should ever consider losing his expressive line. I do prefer a more sketchy line than one that is way too polished. Sometimes, you just go where you need to go as a cartoonist and let your expressive line evolve as you evolve. I am certainly curious to see what Mr. Nall does next since he’s clearly hungry for a challenge and he’s a capable cartoonist.

Lawns is a 108-page trade paperback, b&w, published by Kilgore Books.

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Review: I WAS THEIR AMERICAN DREAM by Malaka Gharib

I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib

I juggle a lot of things. I read a lot of comics, I work on my own comics, and sometimes I’ll get into a zone as I read a comic and not even think of the intended readership. I kid you not, I will read comics that are probably most likely meant for a younger reader and think nothing of it as it fully resonates with me as an adult. That is the case with the current book on my radar, I Was Their American Dream, a graphic memoir by Malaka Gharib, published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House. This is a delightful read that falls neatly into an all ages category. I sincerely believe that an adult would enjoy this book just as much as a middle school student. With a sincere approach, this graphic memoir will bring to mind Persepolis but it is absolutely on its own quirky wavelength.

This is an immigrant’s story. And I don’t think we will ever have enough of these kind of stories as each is different and unique in its own way. In an ideal world, I think we would all tell our stories of growing up in some sort of graphic memoir. That said, a book like this does not write itself either. Ms. Gharib presents a wonderfully easygoing narrative that makes it all look easy: very conversational prose with an inviting simple and direct drawing style.

Page excerpt from I Was Their American Dream

We are invited to join Gharib in a tale that takes us to the Philippines (mom’s side of family), to Egypt (dad’s side of family), and then makes it way to California. But our journey has only begun. Malaka Gharib comes of age as a mixed race child in a strange land–but things don’t have to be so strange with a little bit of heart, courage, and a wonderful sense of humor. This absolutely speaks to me as a mixed race person. In my case: Anglo on my dad’s side; Mexican on my mom’s side. Gharib has so much to say that anyone can relate to. For example, Gharib brings up the classic question people like to ask someone of mixed race: “What Are You?” It is a question that depends so much on context and tone. It can come from legitimate heart-felt curiosity. It can also be perceived as adding up to an insult or slight. “What Are You?” Indeed. Now, there’s quite a loaded question.

Given the overall tone to this book, how Ms. Gharib is writing with an intended younger readership, I think it’s still valid to say this is fun for any age. As, I’m sure Gharib would agree, there’s something about the quirky content that fits in so well with alternative comics. It’s no surprise to me to find here in her book that Gharib shares numerous happy memories of being involved in the alt-comics/zine scene. That activity has led to Gharib becoming an artist and journalist at NPR. She is the founder of The Runcible Spoon food zine and the cofounder of the D.C. Art Book Fair. That DIY/indie community gets in your blood and can guide, encourage, and inform an artist’s work for a lifetime. It can result in compelling work like this book!

Page excerpt from I Was Their American Dream

I Was Their American Dream is a 160-page trade paperback, fully illustrated, published by Clarkson Potter and available as of April 30, 2019. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Penguin Random House here.

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Review: THE BOOK OF WEIRDO, published by Last Gasp Books

The Book of Weirdo

Yes, Virginia, We Do Have Alternative Comics!

With all due respect to any comics scholars who might in the least have any problem with the term, “alternative comics,” let me direct you to a close reading of a new book that covers this very subject and then some, The Book of Weirdo, edited by Jon B. Cooke, and published by Last Gasp Books. Now, if I’d been a precocious and enterprising enough youngster, I might have very well have hopped on the Weirdo bandwagon early on and had my own comics appear within their pages but it was a little bit before my time. That said, what sprung, or solidified, from that time of production (1981 – 1993) is what has been, and continues to be and always will be, known as alternative comics. Alternative to what? Well, obviously, an alternative to the typical mainstream superhero genre just as underground comix was an alternative in the sixties and Harvey Kurtzman’s MAD magazine was an alternative in the early fifties. Today, to simply say, “alternative comics,” remains incredibly useful in navigating the vast comics landscape. Think of it as the distinction between a fine artist (indie cartoonist) and an illustrator (business-oriented/corporate). An artist can travel to both worlds but, don’t forget, that means there are two distinct worlds. Alright then, now let’s take a deep dive into the pages of The Book of Weirdo.

Peter Bagge

What first comes to mind about this book is the familiar format of a yearbook or an in depth documentary. The idea here is to collect and document and interview as much as possible. Cooke has extended interviews with all the major players including founder and editor Robert Crumb and his successor, Peter Bagge. Cooke also has profiles and interviews with just about everyone who ever contributed to the magazine with such notable figures as Dennis Eichhorn, Frank Stack, Pat Moriarity, and Michael Dougan. In fact, I am quite familiar with Mr. Cooke’s methods as I did get to contribute some comics to another of his projects, a tribute to Will Eisner for Comic Book Artist back in 2005. So, what you end up getting in one of these Jon B. Cooke tributes is a treasure trove of observations and a storehouse of information. That all proves essential as we track the journey of Weirdo from San Francisco to Seattle. Once Peter Bagge took over as editor, he took operations up to Seattle, which resulted in some extraordinary comics cross-polination that continues to reverberate to this very day. It has contributed to a hotbed of alt-comics activity in Seattle that connects everything from Fantagraphics to the Dune cartoonist gatherings to the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival.

Alternative Comics – The Seattle Connection

Ironically, given all the time and effort that Mr. Cooke has put into this tribute, he doesn’t always get the most fully cooperative interview subjects, with his main subject, Robert Crumb often proving to be the most contrarian person to interview. But that’s what everyone loves about Crumb, right? He’s not an easy person to pigeonhole. He’s not smooth as silk with slick answers. The beauty of what Cooke does is to keep asking questions and remain open to the answers. That brings me back to the notion of more fully understanding what alternative comics are about. I bring this subject up a lot and I find that, ultimately, alternative comics are alive and well and they emerged from what underground comix set in motion. This is clearly something that fascinates Cooke too and he goes about unpacking the subject as much as he can in this book. For example, he poses the question to Crumb. He asks, “Do you see Weirdo as having helped to launch the alternative comics that came after it?” To which Crumb, at first put off, ends up giving an interesting answer: “I don’t know. Again, it’s a rhetorical question. It’s hard to say whether that would have happened anyway. To me, it was going to happen one way or the other, whether I was there or not, alternative comics was an inevitable thing, y’know? It’s such a part of American culture and comics, and then, all these people who grew up with comics, they were bound to start producing some kind of…And also, as comics lost their importance as a kid’s medium, being replaced by electronic media like TV and video games and all that stuff, it became more of an art medium of self-expression. It was inevitable.”

R. Crumb

So, to be clear, I am telling you that alternative comics are a very real thing. Anyone who is tentative about it is somehow missing the big picture. And, again, I say this with all due respect. Certain folks go into comics and graphic novels these days as more of a stripped-down strategy to succeed in a corporate career. Other folks go into comics and graphic novels solely to explore the possibility of the art form. Those are two very, very, very distinct worlds. And, yes, there is overlap. Some alternative cartoonists manage to crossover to mainstream work. But that certainly doesn’t negate the fact that they come from the alt-comics world. It’s a whole way of looking at comics as art. Now, Weirdo was definitely part of that in its own particular way. At the very same time that Weirdo was active, there was also RAW magazine run by Art Spiegelman and his wife, Françoise Mouly. Here’s where it gets very interesting and sort of funny. Crumb was like Groucho Marx or Woody Allen when it came to preferring straightforward plain speaking. For Crumb, RAW took itself way too seriously. Both Weirdo and RAW were covering similar ground and, in fact, shared some of the same cartoonists. While RAW positioned itself as an art journal, Weirdo was more unabashed and irreverent. A little behind-the-scenes feud was brewing after Spiegelman made some disparaging remark about Weirdo. Crumb had hoped to bring it out into the open and even pursue a mock feud but Speigelman would have nothing to do with it. Whatever their differences, both RAW and Weirdo contributed to the alternative comics scene that continues onward in numerous anthologies, more than at any other time, including Kramers Ergot. While Crumb, himself, might shrug it off, Weirdo can be included as one of the landmarks along the way to today’s alt-comics.

Ron Turner and Last Gasp

The Book of Weirdo is a stunningly beautiful book, an essential guide to understanding the various veins connecting underground comix and today’s burgeoning alternative comics.

The Book of Weirdo: A Retrospective of R. Crumb’s Legendary Humor Comics Anthology, is a beautiful 288-page hardcover, fully illustrated, available as of May 1, 2019, published by Last Gasp Books.

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Movie Review: Avengers: Endgame

It’s Endgame time!

If you’re a Marvel Comics fan, or just about anyone game for some fun entertainment, it is hard to resist heading out to see the latest, and final, Avengers movie as we’ve come to know them. Last? Hey, it isn’t called Endgame for nothing! Now, let’s be honest, the Marvel franchise’s ideal audience, those most susceptible to having a mind-blowing experience from this movie, are way younger than my average reader. It’s kids who most love and most relate to this–as well it should be. Sure, without a heck of a lot of mature and professional adults, there would be no Marvel franchise but, at its heart, this is primarily kid-friendly fare. That said, there’s no shame in being a kid at heart and I definitely found that to be the case last night. What’s more, fueled by the Disney-Marvel powerhouse of pop storytelling, what is essentially magnificent entertainment excess manages to strike enough chords to not only satisfy hard-core fans but also those looking for some humanity with their popcorn. In fact, Marvel has proven time and time again to have a golden touch when it comes to character development.

A new Hulk among the interesting tweaks in new and final Avengers flick.

Without an end, we can’t fully appreciate the whole. With a satisfying and well constructed ending, we can often forgive any shortcomings along the way and we can take a satisfying pause before the next big thing. That’s how it works for regular comic book readers as they follow a certain story arc through a series of issues to its end. And that is what regular moviegoers have come to see ever since the current Marvel Comics franchise has been in existence. This Avengers movie rounds out a ten-year reign for Marvel Comics on the big screen. Never before has a mainstream audience been provided with so much of the narrative, full of all the nerdy and arcane details, that was once the sole domain of the comic book reading experience. Even the relatively obscure animated features based on comics books did not go as deep. All that said, with this Avengers movie, a mass audience gets to experience the bittersweet sting of finality. Yes, it should be no spoiler here, some stuff happens in this movie that is very, very final.

Among the very nerdy but usually quite delightful things you find in this movie that is a staple of comic books is something that subverts your expectations. The best example of that is what happens to The Hulk. It is right in the spirit of Marvel’s traditionally dry humor. The Hulk is no longer the aggressive out-of-control brute we’re so familiar with. Nope, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has been tinkering with his perpetual recipe for disaster and has managed to combine the best of both worlds! Now, he’s turned himself into a hybrid: the enormous strength of The Hulk has morphed with the brilliant mind of Bruce Banner! He’s now a kinder and gentler Hulk who can now discern what is the most efficient way to dispatch of a supervillain without wreaking havoc in his wake each and every time. There’s also a very funny makeover going on with Thor but I will let you find out about that on your own.

Again, the big takeaway here is that all things must come to an end–well, at least, for now. Avengers: Endgame, the fourth and final Avengers superhero movie, is the 22nd movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which launched in 2008 with Iron Man. Those films have now eclipsed $19 billion in worldwide box office. The timing to bring the Avengers leg of the franchise as we’ve known it to a close could not be any better. We’ve had some true heroes here among actors, everyone from Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper to Josh Brolin. Box office records for Avengers: Endgame show a stunning $350 million in North America and $1.2 billion worldwide. It could not have been planned ahead for any better. If all the time and effort involved in getting this franchise right was used for something else, well, the results would likely be just as stunning. You can fill in the blank however you please. A cure for… Or and end to… Now, that’s a mind-blowing proposition.

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2019 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Nominees Announced

 

Alex de Campi

Excitement is in the air as nominees are rejoicing over being part of this year’s Eisner Awards for Comics Excellence. The Eisner is the equivalent to The Oscar in the comics industry. The awards are presented every year at Comic-Con International: San Diego. This year’s ceremony is Friday, July 19, 2019. The official list has just been released and you can see it here or just look down below. A good amount of alternative comics and big publishers made the list with a big lead for Image Comics and D.C. Comics. As noted above, Alex de Campi received multiple nominations, as did Tom King.

Noah Van Sciver

Judges for this year are comics journalist Chris Arrant (Newsarama), academic/author Jared Gardner (Ohio State University), librarian Traci Glass (Multnomah County Library system in Portland, Oregon), retailer Jenn Haines (The Dragon, Guelph and Milton, Ontario, Canada), reviewer Steven Howearth (Pop Culture Maven), and comics creator Jimmie Robinson (CyberZone, Amanda & Gunn, Bomb Girl).

Nate Powell

The official SDCC statement follows:

Image and DC received the most nominations: Image with 19 (plus 11 shared), and DC with 17 (plus 7 shared). Image swept the Best New Series category, with all six nominees (including Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl’s Isola, up for 2 other categories as well). Also strong for Image are Steven Seagle’s Get Naked anthology (3 nominations), Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies (2 nominations), and the Alex de Campi–edited Twisted Romance (2 nominations plus 1 shared). For DC, Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ Mister Miracle is up for 4 nods, Eternity Girl has 2 nominations plus 1 shared, MAD and Exit Stage Left have 2, and Batman is nominated in Best Continuing Series plus several shared categories.

Other  publishers with multiple nominations include IDW (10 plus 2 shared), Lion Forge (10), First Second (9 plus 1 shared), Marvel (7 plus 5 shared), Dark Horse (7 plus 3 shared), BOOM!(5 plus 1 shared), Drawn & Quarterly (5), and Gallery 13 (3 plus 2 shared). Six companies had 3 nominees: Beehive Books, Ohio State University Press, TwoMorrows, VIZ Media, and WEBTOON. Eight companies have 2 nominations each, and another 30 companies or individuals have 1 nomination each.

In addition to Isola, Mister Miracle, and Get Naked, titles with the most nominations include two books from Lion Forge/Magnetic Press, with 3 each: Watersnakes by Tony Sandoval (Best Publication for Teens, Best Writer/Artist, Best Painter) and A Sea of Love by Wilfrid Lupano and Grégory Panaccione (Best U.S. Edition of International Material, Best Painter, and Best Publication Design).

The creator with the most nominations is Tom King with 5: Best Short Story (from DC’s Swamp Thing Winter Special), Best Continuing Series (Batman), Best Limited Series (Mister Miracle), Best Graphic Album­–Reprint (The Vision hardcover), and Best Writer. Two creators have 4 nominations each: Alex de Campi (Best Graphic Album–New: Bad Girls, Best Anthology: Twisted Romance, Best Writer, Best Letterer) and Jeff Lemire (Best Single Issue: Black Hammer: Cthu-Louise, Best Continuing Series: Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Best New Series: Gideon Falls, Best Writer). Creators with 3 nominations are Karl Kerschl (Best New Series, Best Penciller/Inker, Best Cover Artist for Isola), Grégory Panaccione (Best U.S. Edition of International Material, Best Painter, and Best Publication Design for A Sea of Love), and Tony Sandoval (Best Publication for Teens, Best Writer/Artist, Best Painter for Watersnakes).

Eleven individuals are nominated for 2 Eisners: John Allison,  Emily Carroll, Nick Drnaso, Mitch Gerads, Sonny Liew, Carolyn Nowak, Sean Phillips, Nate Powell, Mark Russell, Noah van Sciver, and Jen Wang.

Voting for the awards is held online, and the ballot will be available at www.eisnervote.com. All professionals in the comic book industry are eligible to vote. The deadline for voting is June 14. The results of the voting will be announced in a gala awards ceremony on the evening of Friday, July 19 at a gala awards ceremony at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel. Jackie Estrada is the Eisner Awards Administrator.

Best Short Story

  • “Get Naked in Barcelona,” by Steven T. Seagle and Emei Olivia Burrell, in Get Naked (Image)
  • “The Ghastlygun Tinies,” by Matt Cohen and Marc Palm, in MAD magazine #4 (DC)
  • “Here I Am,” by Shaun Tan, in I Feel Machine (SelfMadeHero)
  • “Life During Interesting Times,” by Mike Dawson (The Nib), https://thenib.com/greatest-generation-interesting-times
  • “Supply Chains,” by Peter and Maria Hoey, in Coin-Op #7 (Coin-Op Books)
  • “The Talk of the Saints,” by Tom King and Jason Fabok, in Swamp Thing Winter Special (DC)

Best Single Issue/One-Shot
  • Beneath the Dead Oak Tree, by Emily Carroll (ShortBox)
  • Black Hammer: Cthu-Louise, by Jeff Lemire and Emi Lenox (Dark Horse)
  • No Better Words, by Carolyn Nowak (Silver Sprocket)
  • Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #310, by Chip Zdarsky (Marvel)
  • The Terrible Elisabeth Dumn Against the Devils In Suits, by Arabson, translated by James Robinson (IHQ Studio/ Image)

Best Continuing Series
  • Batman, by Tom King et al. (DC)
  • Black Hammer: Age of Doom, by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, and Rich Tommaso (Dark Horse)
  • Gasolina, by Sean Mackiewicz and Niko Walter (Skybound/Image)
  • Giant Days, by John Allison, Max Sarin, and Julaa Madrigal (BOOM! Box)
  • The Immortal Hulk, by Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, and Ruy José (Marvel)
  • Runaways, by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka (Marvel)

Best Limited Series
  • Batman: White Knight, by Sean Murphy (DC)
  • Eternity Girl, by Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew (Vertigo/DC)
  • Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, by Mark Russell, Mike Feehan, and Mark Morales (DC)
  • Mister Miracle, by Tom King and Mitch Gerads (DC)
  • X-Men: Grand Design: Second Genesis, by Ed Piskor (Marvel)

Best New Series
  • Bitter Root, by David Walker, Chuck Brown, and Sanford Green (Image)
  • Crowded, by Christopher Sebela, Ro Stein, and Ted Brandt (Image)
  • Gideon Falls, by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino (Image)
  • Isola, by Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl (Image)
  • Man-Eaters, by Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk (Image)
  • Skyward, by Joe Henderson and Lee Garbett (Image)

Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 8)
  • Johnny Boo and the Ice Cream Computer, by James Kochalka (Top Shelf/IDW)
  • Petals, by Gustavo Borges (KaBOOM!)
  • Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths, by Graham Annable (First Second)
  • This Is a Taco! By Andrew Cangelose and Josh Shipley (CubHouse/Lion Forge)
  • Tiger Vs. Nightmare, by Emily Tetri (First Second)

Best Publication for Kids (ages 9–12)
  • Aquicorn Cove, by Katie O’Neill (Oni)
  • Be Prepared, by Vera Brosgol (First Second)
  • The Cardboard Kingdom, by Chad Sell (Knopf/Random House Children’s Books)
  • Crush, by Svetlana Chmakova (JY/Yen Press)
  • The Divided Earth, by Faith Erin Hicks (First Second)

Best Publication for Teens (ages 13–17)
  • All Summer Long, by Hope Larson (Farrar Straus Giroux)
  • Gumballs, by Erin Nations (Top Shelf/IDW)
  • Middlewest, by Skottie Young and Jorge Corona (Image)
  • Norroway, Book 1: The Black Bull of Norroway, by Cat Seaton and Kit Seaton (Image)
  • The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang (First Second)
  • Watersnakes, by Tony Sandoval, translated by Lucas Marangon (Magnetic/Lion Forge)

Best Humor Publication
  • Get Naked, by Steven T. Seagle et al. (Image)
  • Giant Days, by John Allison, Max Sarin, and Julia Madrigal (BOOM! Box)
  • MAD magazine, edited by Bill Morrison (DC)
  • A Perfect Failure: Fanta Bukowski 3, by Noah Van Sciver (Fantagraphics)
  • Woman World, by Aminder Dhaliwal (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Anthology
  • Femme Magnifique: 50 Magnificent Women Who Changed the World, edited by Shelly Bond (Black Crown/IDW)
  • Puerto Rico Strong, edited by Marco Lopez, Desiree Rodriguez, Hazel Newlevant, Derek Ruiz, and Neil Schwartz (Lion Forge)
  • Twisted Romance, edited by Alex de Campi (Image)
  • Where We Live: A Benefit for the Survivors in Las Vegas, edited by Will Dennis, curated by J. H. Williams III and Wendy Wright-Williams (Image)

Best Reality-Based Work
  • All the Answers: A Graphic Memoir, by Michael Kupperman (Gallery 13)
  • All the Sad Songs, by Summer Pierre (Retrofit/Big Planet)
  • Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, by Box Brown (First Second)
  • Monk! by Youssef Daoudi (First Second)
  • One Dirty Tree, by Noah Van Sciver (Uncivilized Books)

Best Graphic Album—New
  • Bad Girls, by Alex de Campi and Victor Santos (Gallery 13)
  • Come Again, by Nate Powell (Top Shelf/IDW)
  • Green Lantern: Earth One Vol. 1, by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman (DC)
  • Homunculus, by Joe Sparrow (ShortBox)
  • My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image)
  • Sabrina, by Nick Drnaso (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Graphic Album—Reprint
  • Berlin, by Jason Lutes (Drawn & Quarterly)
  • Girl Town, by Carolyn Nowak (Top Shelf/IDW)
  • Upgrade Soul, by Ezra Claytan Daniels (Lion Forge)
  • The Vision hardcover, by Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, and Michael Walsh (Marvel)
  • Young Frances, by Hartley Lin (AdHouse Books)

Best Adaptation from Another Medium
  • Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation, adapted by Ari Folman and David Polonsky (Pantheon)
  • “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley, in Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection, adapted by Junji Ito, translated by Jocelyne Allen (VIZ Media)
  • Out in the Open by Jesús Carraso, adapted by Javi Rey, translated by Lawrence Schimel (SelfMadeHero)
  • Speak: The Graphic Novel, by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll (Farrar Straus Giroux)
  • To Build a Fire: Based on Jack London’s Classic Story, by Chabouté (Gallery 13)

Best U.S. Edition of International Material
  • About Betty’s Boobby Vero Cazot and Julie Rocheleau, translated by Edward Gauvin (Archaia/BOOM!)
  • Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, by Pénélope Bagieu (First Second)
  • Herakles Book 1, by Edouard Cour, translated by Jeremy Melloul (Magnetic/Lion Forge)
  • Niourk, by Stefan Wul and Olivier Vatine, translated by Brandon Kander and Diana Schutz (Dark Horse)
  • A Sea of Love, by Wilfrid Lupano and Grégory Panaccione (Magnetic/Lion Forge)

Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia
  • Abara: Complete Deluxe Edition, by Tsutomu Nihei, translated by Sheldon Drzka (VIZ Media)
  • Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction, by Inio Asano, translated by John Werry (VIZ Media)
  • Laid-Back Camp, by Afro, translated by Amber Tamosaitis (Yen Press)
  • My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder, by Nie Jun, translated by Edward Gauvin (Graphic Universe/Lerner)
  • Tokyo Tarareba Girls, by Akiko Higashimura (Kodansha)

Best Archival Collection/Project—Strips
  • Pogo, vol. 5: Out of This World At Home, by Walt Kelly, edited by Mark Evanier and Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics)
  • Sky Masters of the Space Force: The Complete Sunday Strips in Color (1959–1960), by Jack Kirby, Wally Wood et al., edited by Ferran Delgado (Amigo Comics)
  • Star Wars: Classic Newspaper Strips, vol. 3, by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson, edited by Dean Mullaney (Library of American Comics/IDW)
  • The Temple of Silence: Forgotten Words and Worlds of Herbert Crowley, by Justin Duerr (Beehive Books
  • Thimble Theatre and the Pre-Popeye Comics of E. C. Segar, edited by Peter Maresca (Sunday Press)

Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Books
  • Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman Deluxe Edition, edited by Paul Levitz (DC)
  • Bill Sienkiewicz’s Mutants and Moon Knights… And Assassins… Artifact Edition, edited by Scott Dunbier (IDW)
  • Dirty Plotte: The Complete Julie Doucet (Drawn & Quarterly)
  • Madman Quarter Century Shindig, by Mike Allred, edited by Chris Ryall (IDW)
  • Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise Gallery Edition, edited by Joseph Melchior and Bob Chapman (Abstract Studio/Graphitti Designs)
  • Will Eisner’s A Contract with God: Curator’s Collection, edited by John Lind (Kitchen Sink/Dark Horse)

Best Writer
  • Alex de Campi, Bad Girls (Gallery 13); Twisted Romance (Image)
  • Tom King, Batman, Mister Miracle, Heroes in Crisis, Swamp Thing Winter Special (DC)
  • Jeff Lemire, Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Doctor Star & the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows, Quantum Age (Dark Horse); Descender, Gideon Falls, Royal City (Image)
  • Mark Russell, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, Green Lantern/Huckleberry Hound, Lex Luthor/Porky Pig (DC); Lone Ranger (Dynamite)
  • Kelly Thompson, Nancy Drew (Dynamite); Hawkeye, Jessica Jones, Mr. & Mrs. X, Rogue & Gambit, Uncanny X-Men, West Coast Avengers (Marvel)
  • Chip Zdarsky, Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, Marvel Two-in-One (Marvel)

Best Writer/Artist
  • Sophie Campbell, Wet Moon (Oni)
  • Nick Drnaso, Sabrina (Drawn & Quarterly)
  • David Lapham, Lodger (Black Crown/IDW); Stray Bullets (Image)
  • Nate Powell, Come Again (Top Shelf/IDW)
  • Tony Sandoval, Watersnakes (Magnetic/Lion Forge)
  • Jen Wang, The Prince and the Dressmaker (First Second)

Best Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team
  • Matías BergaraCoda (BOOM!)
  • Mitch Gerads, Mister Miracle (DC)
  • Karl Kerschl, Isola (Image)
  • Sonny Liew, Eternity Girl (Vertigo/DC)
  • Sean Phillips, Kill or Be Killed, My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies (Image)
  • Yanick Paquette, Wonder Woman Earth One, vol. 2 (DC)

Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art)
  • Lee Bermejo, Batman: Damned (DC)
  • Carita Lupatelli, Izuna Book 2 (Humanoids)
  • Dustin Nguyen, Descender (Image)
  • Gregory Panaccione, A Sea of Love (Magnetic/Lion Forge)
  • Tony Sandoval, Watersnakes (Magnetic/Lion Forge)

Best Cover Artist (for multiple covers)
  • Jen Bartel, Blackbird (Image); Submerged (Vault)
  • Nick Derington, Mister Miracle (DC)
  • Karl Kerschl, Isola (Image)
  • Joshua Middleton, Batgirl and Aquaman variants (DC)
  • Julian Tedesco, Hawkeye, Life of Captain Marvel (Marvel)

Best Coloring
  • Jordie Bellaire, Batgirl, Batman (DC); The Divided Earth (First Second); Days of Hate, Dead Hand, Head Lopper, Redlands (Image); Shuri, Doctor Strange (Marvel)
  • Tamra Bonvillain, Alien 3 (Dark Horse); Batman, Doom Patrol (DC); Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Multiple Man (Marvel)
  • Nathan Fairbairn, Batman, Batgirl, Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman Earth One, vol. 2 (DC); Die!Die!Die! (Image)
  • Matt Hollingsworth, Batman: White Knight (DC): Seven to Eternity, Wytches (Image)
  • Matt Wilson, Black Cloud, Paper Girls, The Wicked + The Divine (Image); The Mighty Thor, Runaways (Marvel)

Best Lettering
  • David Aja, Seeds (Berger Books/Dark Horse)
  • Jim Campbell, BreathlessCalexit, Gravetrancers, Snap Flash Hustle, Survival FetishThe Wilds (Black Mask); AbbottAlice: Dream to Dream, Black Badge, CluelessCodaFenceFireflyGiant DaysGrass Kings, Lumberjanes: The Infernal CompassLow Road WestSparrowhawk (BOOM); Angelic (Image); Wasted Space (Vault)
  • Alex de Campi, Bad Girls (Gallery 13); Twisted Romance (Image)
  • Jared Fletcher, Batman: Damned (DC); The Gravediggers Union, Moonshine, Paper Girls, Southern Bastards (Image)
  • Todd Klein— Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Neil Gaiman’s A Study in Emerald (Dark Horse); Batman: White Night (DC); Eternity Girl, Books of Magic (Vertigo/DC); The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest (Top Shelf/IDW)

Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism
  • Back Issue, edited by Michael Eury (TwoMorrows)
  • The Columbus Scribbler, edited by Brian Canini, columbusscribbler.com
  • Comicosity, edited by Aaron Long and Matt Santori,  www.comicosity.com
  • LAAB Magazine #0: Dark Matter, edited by Ronald Wimberley and Josh O’Neill (Beehive Books)
  • PanelxPanel magazine, edited by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, panelxpanel.com

Best Comics-Related Book
  • Comic Book Implosion: An Oral History of DC Comics Circa 1978, by Keith Dallas and John Wells (TwoMorrows)
  • Drawn to Purpose: American Women Illustrators and Cartoonists, by Martha H. Kennedy (University Press of Mississippi)
  • The League of Regrettable Sidekicks, by Jon Morris (Quirk Books)
  • Mike Grell: Life Is Drawing Without an Eraser, by Dewey Cassell with Jeff Messer (TwoMorrows)
  • Yoshitaka Amano: The Illustrated Biography—Beyond the Fantasy, by Florent Gorges, translated by Laure Dupont and Annie Gullion (Dark Horse)

Best Academic/Scholarly Work
  • Between Pen and Pixel: Comics, Materiality, and the Book of the Future, by Aaron Kashtan (Ohio State University Press)
  • Breaking the Frames: Populism and Prestige in Comics Studies, by Marc Singer (University of Texas Press)
  • The Goat-Getters: Jack Johnson, the Fight of the Century, and How a Bunch of Raucous Cartoonists Reinvented Comics, by Eddie Campbell (Library of American Comics/IDW/Ohio State University Press)
  • Incorrigibles and Innocents, by Lara Saguisag (Rutgers Univeristy Press)
  • Sweet Little C*nt: The Graphic Work of Julie Doucet, by Anne Elizabeth Moore (Uncivilized Books)

Best Publication Design
  • A Sea of Love, designed by Wilfrid Lupano, Grégory Panaccione, and Mike Kennedy (Magnetic/Lion Forge)
  • The Stan Lee Story Collector’s Edition, designed by Josh Baker (Taschen)
  • The Temple of Silence: Forgotten Worlds of Herbert Crowley, designed by Paul Kepple and Max Vandenberg (Beehive Books)
  • Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise Gallery Edition, designed by Josh Beatman/Brainchild Studios/NYC (Abstract Studio/Graphitti Designs)
  • Will Eisner’s A Contract with God: Curator’s Collection, designed by John Lind (Kitchen Sink/Dark Horse)

Best Digital Comic

Best Webcomic

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Filed under Cartoonists, Comic-Con, Comics, Eisner Awards, San Diego Comic-Con

Interview: Karen Green, the Curator for Comics and Cartoons for the Columbia University Libraries

Karen Green at Butler Library, Columbia University

I was recently in New York and had the pleasure of interviewing Karen Green, the Curator for Comics and Cartoons for the Columbia University Libraries which collect both graphic novels for the circulating collection in the Butler Library stacks and also creator archives in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The interview was a great treat and I share it with you here. Afterwards, I got a chance to go on my own and explore the stacks at Butler Library. The vast collection that Karen Green has helped to put together really lends itself to this sort of intimate hands-on exploration in real time and students in all disciplines are welcome to come explore for themselves. For more information, on Comics in the Columbia Libraries, go right here. I include here some photos of some of my discoveries exploring the stacks.

Butler Library at Columbia University

The Columbia University Libraries collect both graphic novels for the circulating collection in the Butler Library stacks and also creator archives in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library.  The circulating collection launched in 2005, when the libraries held three titles, and by the end of 2015 the collection featured roughly 10,000 titles in over two dozen languages.  The archival collections, which already contained disparate comics holdings, launched in earnest in 2011, with the acquisition of writer Chris Claremont‘s papers.

Remaking the World, at Columbia University, Kempner Gallery

The circulating holdings contain a diverse collection, with mainstream and alternative titles, archival reprints, independent comics, Kickstarter projects, and other content.  These materials have been used in courses from East Asian Languages and Cultures, to English and Comparative Literature, to Narrative Medicine, and have been featured in the American Studies course “The American Graphic Novel.”  Students have used the collection for term papers, senior theses, and M.A. essays.

Out of the Depths (sinking of RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915) by Oscar Edward Cesare, pen and ink on board.

We had a brief and informal chat after Karen provided me with a tour of the comics collection in Butler Library. Back at her office, Karen shared with me a syllabus for an upcoming summer class she will be teaching. The proposed reading list and schedule includes Doctor Fate, with guest speaker Paul Levitz; All the Answers, with guest speaker Michael Kupperman; Bad Girls, with guest speaker Alex De Campi; and Prince of Cats, with guest speaker Ronald Wimberly.

The Suffrage Amendment, Another Dark Alley to go Through! by Kenneth Russell Chamberlain (1891-1984), pen and ink on board.

Lastly, just to demonstrate how easy it is to roll into a tangent when you’re surrounded by such treasures, I couldn’t help but spend some time observing the current show in Kempner Gallery at Butler Library. It is entitled, Remaking the World, and it relates to important issues after World War I. I happen to have rested my eyes on a political cartoon on women’s suffrage in the United States. The cartoonist is Kenneth Russell Chamberlain. Any relation to me? Well, I’m not sure. I don’t think so but I’ll have to see to make sure. Even more uncanny to my possible connection is just how relevant the cartoon is today! We’ve made so much progress but we certainly have great challenges still ahead of us to say the least.

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Please share with us how the Comics and Cartoon collection came about at Columbia. 

KAREN GREEN: It was 2005. I had just rediscovered graphic novels after a 12-year hiatus and was frantically buying graphic novels to feed my fascination with what was going on. I hit up against the wall of a librarian’s salary and thought about how nice it would be to check out these graphic novels from my library. However, at that time, we only had three graphic novels: Maus, Persepolis, and Palestine. We had Maus because every library has Maus. We had Persepolis and Palestine because Edward Said, the great scholar of Orientalism, taught here and those titles were on his reading lists. So, I thought about ways to frame a proposal for graphic novels. I brought together the stakeholders who I thought would be most interested: our American Studies librarian, our Graphic Arts librarian, and our Fine Arts librarian. And I developed a three-fold argument. The first prong was: this is a field, a medium, that is getting increasing academic and critical acceptance. I was able to show them articles from peer-reviewed academic journals along with The New York Times and The New Yorker. The second prong: Columbia has a film school and a film studies program. Already in 2005, the connection between film and comics was pretty strong and obviously only stronger now. It made sense for those students to have access to this raw material. And the third prong was a little bit more sentimental. Columbia’s full name is Columbia University in the City of New York. New York City is where American comics were born. No academic institution in New York was systematically collecting comics in any form. So, I thought that these two New York City institutions, comics and Columbia, could profitably form a partnership and that we could be the place for these things to be collected in. I presented this argument to a group of my colleagues and they agreed and provided some funds. It was a small budget to start with and it’s a lot more now.

Why do you think it took so long for a comics collection to become part of Columbia?

I think, for the most part, in universities, libraries respond to the curriculum. In this case, I was creating a demand for the curriculum. My feeling was that this is an important area. I was getting to know more and more people who were scholars in this field of comics studies. I felt that if I built a collection and it started getting noticed by faculty and grad students, then coursework and research and learning would follow–and that has turned out to be the case.

Having this vast collection, do you see patterns in the graphic novels that you’re looking at?

What’s interesting in the medium is that the big genre in comics is really the same as the big genre in prose which is memoir. I teach a summer course…it used to be called “Comics as Literature,” which I inherited. I don’t teach it as literature since I see comics as a primarily visual medium. I teach it as “How to Read Comics” or “How to Read This Comics Language.” And, I was trying to teach it by genre as a nod to the English Department and, one year, one of my students pointed out that although I had varied subjects (journalism, war stories, social activism), they all turned out to be memoirs! I try now to very consciously make the reading list more diverse so that we have memoir, reportage, fiction, history, and biography.

I think the natural inclination for the creator is to do memoir. So they end up needing to make a concerted effort to break free from that.

Write what you know and what do you know better than yourself!

Even if you’re not writing about yourself, you end up writing about yourself.

Absolutely.

What do you think is the typical young person’s approach to comics?

The course that I teach in the summer is mostly taken by our students in our School of General Studies, which is a school for returning students. They are not required to take as many of the courses as Columbia’s core curriculum. My course serves as a substitute for the foundational great literature course, Literature Humanities. Many of my students have never read comics or don’t know anything more than newspaper comic strips, if that. There’s another course that is taught here every other year, The American Graphic Novel. It is co-taught by one of our tenured faculty, Jeremy Dauber with Paul Levitz, the former president of D.C. Comics. That course gets huge enrollment from all the undergraduate schools and from some grad students. Jeremy and Paul go around on the first day of class and ask their students about their experience with comics. Maybe ten percent are dedicated comics fans. And, from that group, when asked what got them interested, they usually cite Batman: The Animated Series. I get a lot of students who tell me their gateway drug was Calvin and Hobbes. But I don’t get a lot of students who know the medium well and are reading longer more complex stories.

Let me see if I can get this question right. I’m wondering what you think makes for the ideal comics creator. I believe it is often a lone artist-writer.  However, even when you have a writer and artist collaborating, ideally you would have both of them equally immersed in the literary and visual arts. That leads me to the definition of an alternative comics creator. How would you define that role?

Well, that would be anyone who is not working in mainstream superhero stories. What a broad category that is: from Lynda Barry, to Derf, to Ronald Wimberly. The certain notion of mainstream being the Big Two (Marvel and D.C.) with maybe Dark Horse and Image, although those two have creator owned work, to call that the mainstream (doesn’t take into account) the dozens of  other publishers bringing out material, in addition to the Big Two.  Every year, I buy a lot more non-superhero material than superhero material and not because I’m discriminating against it but because there’s a lot of stuff out there from all sorts of publishers, not just dedicated comics publishers. You have traditional publishers like Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Viking. You have academic presses that are publishing graphic novels, not just scholarship on graphic novels. So, I think “alternative” is becoming less of a useful term. I just call everyone “comics creators.” I try not to put them in pigeon holes. You have people like Dean Haspiel who do superhero material and who do their own stuff. You’ve got Kelly Sue DeConnick, who does superhero stuff and her own stuff. Those categories aren’t as useful since the field has become so broad and diverse. They’re just creators.

I don’t mean to digress but I do think it’s a certain mindset. You get someone like a Dean Haspiel and the Big Two want that certain flavor, a very specific way of seeing that comes from an indie cartoonist, that certain way of creating comics that comes from an alternative comics world. Then you consider that MoCCA, and other comics art festivals, are focusing only on alt-comics. 

I agree.

While something like Comic Con in San Diego is primarily about big money, the Big Two, and Hollywood.

But Comic Con in San Diego has a huge small press presence.

That’s true, they’re able to embrace everything.

You take a look at their Eisner Awards and they’re dominated by so-called “alternative” creators. But, take a look at Paul Levitz, “Mr. D.C. Comics,” who has written two graphic novels for Dark Horse and he’s working with two other smaller publishers…and it’s creator-owned stuff. Sonny Liew, Paul’s collaborator on Doctor Fate, he does work for D.C. and he does his own stuff: The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, which won three Eisners. I just think that the alt-comics distinction has gotten so blurry. I think it’s a good thing to have creators dip their toes in different areas.

Well, I love that there’s a lot of gray area.

Yes! I love gray!

What graphic novels are popping up on your radar right now?

That brings me to my summer course and its reading list. For starters, I have Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics right along with How To Read Nancy. We begin with wordless comics: Peter Kuper’s Sticks and Stones; and Eric Drooker’s Flood! I really enjoyed reading Black as Fuck. They’ll be reading that along with Ms. Marvel. Junji Ito’s horror comics are just mind-blowing. Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu brings  takes his horror sensibility over to a story about his cats. Because I love European comics, I’m going to have them read (Dillies & Hautière’s) Abelard. There’s also Michael Kupperman’s All the Answers matched with David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp. I also have Fun Home and possibly My Favorite Thing is Monsters if we have time. We have Bad Girls by Alex De Campi and Victor Santos. There’s also My Friend Dammer and The Fifth Beatle. And I always end with Ronald Wimberly’s Prince of Cats. I try to get as many titles as I can in as many styles, genres and traditions. It can be disconcerting, if you’ve only read American comics to suddenly be reading manga so we go over how to read it and all the visual cues. Let’s see, what else am I reading. I just read David Small’s Home After Dark which I really loved. Black as Fuck, I think the art is beautiful. It’s a story about what the world would be like if only black people had super powers. In the past, we’ve read Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths by Shigeru Mizuki. Watchmen. Dark Knight. Those two because they’re been so influential. We’ve also read early Action Comics, Detective Comics, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man. I kept coming back to Dark Knight because we’re so much living in Frank Miller’s world now where superheroes are concerned. But this year I’m going lighter as I focus on Doctor Fate and Ms. Marvel because I’m ready to get out of the dark.

Yeah, we’ve been in the dark for too long. It runs in cycles.

Nothing against it. The dark books are great to teach but it’s good to mix it up.

We’re in a golden age of acknowledgment of comics and graphic novels. Do you think we’ve reached the ideal level or is there still room to grow with more and more people aware of and talking about graphic novels? 

I think there’s still a lot of room to grow.  There was a tweet the other day about an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles who won’t allow graphic novels in his classroom which led one of his students to bring in her own graphic novels to lend out to her classmates. It’s so strange to me that there are still educators who are resistant to graphic novels. Comics have won national book awards. What it is that still needs to happen for comics to be accepted as part of our cultural landscape I honestly don’t know. Four cartoonists have won MacArthur Genius Awards. What needs to still happen, I just don’t know. But there’s definitely room to grow to achieve as broad an acceptance for comics as there is for film, fiction, and any other other art form.

We will leave it there. Thank you so much, Karen.

You’re very welcome, Henry.

That concludes my interview. I want to thank Karen Green for taking the time and sharing her thoughts on graphic novels in general and in an academic setting. Thanks to Karen, she set things in motion and, with the help from like-minded souls, she continues the good work on behalf of comics, cartoons and graphic novels at Columbia University in the City of New York.

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