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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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).
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)
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)
David Aja, Seeds (Berger Books/Dark Horse)
Jim Campbell, Breathless, Calexit, Gravetrancers,Snap Flash Hustle,Survival Fetish, The Wilds (Black Mask); Abbott, Alice: Dream to Dream, Black Badge,Clueless, Coda, Fence, Firefly, Giant Days, Grass Kings,Lumberjanes: The Infernal Compass, Low Road West, Sparrowhawk (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)
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.
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.
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.
There are many things strange, altogether strange, about this oversized volume. But they are things that Crumb-watchers and devotees of the short but tangled history of the Underground Comix will appreciate and even revere, if “revere”is an accurate and acceptable word. The Book of Weirdo, published by Last Gasp Books, opens a door wide for rethinking comics and comix history.
The trajectory of the rise—but even more, the fall—of the wildly experimental genre continues to rouse debate, not to mention a lot of quiet grousing among former participants, artists, editors and publishers alike. By 1973, when Underground Comix, had barely begun, a widespread legal assault on Head Shops threatened to eliminate the customer base. Censorship somehow avoided, comix moved on to the next obstacles that may best be seen as inscribed in the historical moment.
The great social changes hoped for by the young generation did not take place and were not going to take place in the short run, at least. The comic artists, very much part of their time, joints to long hair, inevitably felt the effects. Working for practically nothing, although owning their own art, many began to wonder whether comix were a career or a dead end. Could the comix movement transform itself into a viable living?
Denis Kitchen had one idea, taking the commercial route with Marvel as publisher of Comix Book, which both paid artists better but also owned what they drew for that issue of the magazine. A sell out or a practical step toward stability? The question went unanswered because the project folded after 5 issues, unable to achieve stability in the mainstream newsstand market. Bill Griffith and Art Spiegelman had a different and more traditionally aesthetic notion, a quarterly Arcade magazine published by Print Mint. A truly beautiful magazine, perhaps the best that the genre ever produced, it also failed, in a counter-culture market where readers were not accustomed to comix appearing on a punctual quarterly schedule rather than the more customary sporadic, lackadaisical pace.
What dramatic step might be next? That was the burning question for many artists and would-be editors, as the movement began to lose its momentum. But it was not the only thought, especially for many who simply continued under deteriorating circumstances. The otherwise persuasive argument offered by Patrick Rosenkranz that Underground Comix was doomed as a genre by 1975, may be true, but it also minimizes the reality that much high quality work appeared during the later half of the 1970s and well into the 1980s.
The series of Anarchy Comix, also Wimmen’s Comix and some dozens new entries of various kinds, lay ahead. Kitchen actually expanded his line of comics with Kitchen Sink, relocated to Princeton, Wisconsin, and among his titles, Gay Comix is a particular stand-out in anyone’s memory of the field changing and growing in content even as it shrunk in size. It was, indeed, shifting toward the more uncertain market of the ill-defined “Alternative Comics.” Also consider that the “classic” strips of the 1920s and 1930s, reprinted in Arcade foreshadowed Kitchen’s own reprinting of past masterworks by Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman and others. Not to mention The Comics Journal, soon emerging as something like the trade publication of the field.
RAW and Weirdo would serve as markers in any narrative of an evolving comic art in the US, en route to the recognition of comics as art, the museum exhibits, award ceremonies, and even the Superhero-swollen ComiCons to follow.
It would be a mistake to avoid entirely what the historians used to call “geographical determinism.” Comics, comic books, had always been centered in Greater New York, never mind some printing locations as far as Racine, Wisconsin. Underground Comix emanated from the Bay Area and had the region’s sensibility stamped upon them, never mind some smaller regional operations. Giving up on Arcade, Art Spiegelman moved Back East. RAW not only emanated from New York but pointed back to New York, in the old literary adage that, culturally speaking, North America is half in the sunshine and half in the shade….that is, everywhere west of the Hudson River.
Much to the credit of co-editor Francois Mouly, RAW encompassed global comic trends, but not only that. Ben Katchor, one of the freshest of the new artists to appear in these pages—himself from a Left Yiddish family background—was to comment later that RAW had shrewdly marketed itself as a lost branch of European art and literature. This would prove decisive in uplifting the genre toward acceptance as an art form, in New York above all.
By vivid contrast. Weirdo was very, very California, published by the Crumbs in Winters, an extended outpost of the Bay Area. The idea of the “outsider,” if already well established in the art world, here unapologetically reached an extreme.
The Book of Weirdo testifies to the vanishing California sensibility as it pays homage to that unique publication in a nonacademic and unpretentious manner that often eludes the burgeoning field of comic art studies at large. Jon B. Cooke is at once a comic fan, editor of an ongoing comics “pro” fanzine (Comic Book Creator), and a gifted writer and designer. He follows, in this work, the tradition of a couple dozen authors, also non-academics in background, who have done admirable work on such subjects as EC Comics and their great artists or writer-artists as Wally Wood,Will Elder and Bernard Krigstein.
That said, The Book of Weirdo is a most unusual work of devotion. Rather than a straightforward narration, it offers extended commentaries by dozens of Weirdo contributors, and several essays—the longest of them unsigned but evidently the work of the editor himself. This is, by intent, a collective project, with Cooke seeking to impose a light hand even if the creation owes to his extraordinarily careful attention to all aspects of the subject.
How much was Weirdo a response to the publication (and phenomenon) of RAW, moving comic art “uptown” toward new and for many, uncomfortable realms of sophistication? This is a question unsettled, destined to be unsettled, among comics historians, not to mention the editors and artists themselves.
What else was weird about Weirdo? As Crumb himself wrote in the first issue, the new effort marked “another new magazine, another MAD imitation, another small time commercial feature with high hopes, obviously doomed to fail.” This is a reference to the number of MAD knock-offs that appeared during the 1950s and 1960s, in some cases lasting decades after Mad Comics turned into MadMagazine in 1955. Several of them even boasted former Mad artists. They were generally, if not without exceptions, dreadful by any reasonable standard, or perhaps just by the high standard of Mad.
From another angle, Weirdo was arguably closer to Humbug, Kurtzman’s third effort after Mad and the slick but doomed Trump, or his last magazine effort, HELP! Humbug and HELP! sought to combine comic pages with fiction, new art by youngsters—including, in HELP!, some of the soon outstanding u.g. comix artists. In the same magazine, “fumetti” or photo-caption combinations appeared, although in Weirdo’s fumettis, Crumb casted himself in the remake of the girlie magazines of the 1930s-40s with humorous shenanigans of dames and the men chasing them. What did this add up to?
Crumb had remarked (to me, in a 1977 interview in Cultural Correspondence) that “artists are always trying to equal the work that impressed them in their childhood and youth. I still feel extremely inadequate when I look at the old Mad comics….” Adding, “there’s a charm in the ‘looseness’ of the culture of our generation, the lackadaisical approach…besides, our parents threw all the old traditions in the garbage can without a second thought and left us to root around for the remnants in the back alleys of the culture….”
That nicely sums up the aim, several years in advance, of the new venture. Even when the artists in RAW seemed to be slumming, or portrayed subjects in assorted outrageous ways, they were still….sophisticated. RAW could not be as raw as Weirdo was, even if it tried.
And there’s more. Recently, one of the most outstanding and cerebral artists—she now teaches at the University of Michigan—observed that the Weirdo artists and editors “were my tribe.” Phoebe Gloekner’s comment makes sense in several different ways. Her work was exceptionally dark, with stories rooted in San Francisco’s post hippie cultural underground of drugs and male predation upon young girls, also of the rage felt by those who did not become part of the city’s notorious Good Life. Along with Dori Sedi, who died at an early age from a lung aliment while contributing steadily to Weirdo, Gloeckner may express best, in her comics there, the anxieties that suffused the magazine’s pages.
The stories of the artists, many of them hardly seen before or after Weirdo, are revealing, touching and plain strange, and in a way, the best argument for the originality of the Book ofWeirdo. Most were young or youngish, a large handful making their entry into the world of comics or moving further along the way. The list is an honor roll: Peter Bagge, Lynda Barry, Charles Burns, Robert Armstong, Terry Boyce, Daniel Clowes, Julie Docet, Drew Friedman, Carol Lay, Steve Lafler, Joe Matt, Gary Panter, Joe Sacco, Carol Tyler, Jim Woodring and Ivan Brunetti, and those are only the artists whose names I recognize!
But it is the occasional anecdote that stands out, for this reviewer. For instance: at one point, Harvey Pekar and Aline Kominsky-Crumb received a curious offer to take over a talk-show slot at Fox’s entertainment network! The whole thing was impossible: Pekar could no more quit his hospital job for a Manhattan gig that could be cancelled at any time than Aline could split her time between New York and Winters. Still, this small non-event points toward an outsiderness that might come inside. (Pekar himself was treated to the award-winning biopic, American Splendor, whose production in Cleveland really did force him to quit his job.) It came inside or rather, comics themselves came inside, with the Pulitzer Prize (and MOMA exhibit) for Art Spiegelman, with glowing if only occasional New York Times reviews for the likes of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, and arguably with the success of superhero characters on the big screens. Comics had become a twenty-first century art form.
Readers of The Book of Weirdo will surely want to discover their own favorite anecdotes, make their own sense of the barrage of details included here. I’m guessing they will be happy to do so.
Paul Buhle has edited more than a dozen nonfiction historical comics. He struggles to understand the 36 year gap between his first effort (Radical America Komiks, 1969, reprinted in 2019) and next (WOBBLIES!, 2005).
Special thanks to Jay Kinney and Ben Katchor for comments on this review.
We all experience bullies in one form or another–you just can’t escape them. Collectively, many of us are dealing with being bullied by the President of the United States. It is a phenomena many of us (I would really like to say ALL of us) hope will never happen again. Donald Trump has been a bully for decades. He was the model for one of pop culture’s most infamous bullies, Biff Tannen, from the Back to the Future franchise. Well, Paul Constant channels Biff Tannen in his script for a very funny and refreshing new comic book, Planet of the Nerds, published by AHOY Comics.
AHOY Comics? you may ask. I know. It’s new and it’s made a lot of promises that it has attached to its name: A is for Abundance. H is for Humor. O is for Originality. And Y is for YES! AHOY founder Hart Seely is a former newspaper man and he’s serious about wanting to provide something substantial to the comic book market. So far, it does look good for AHOY as they have hit the ground running with a nice mix of titles: The Wrong Earth finds a superhero and supervillain trading places; High Heaven gives a chronic complainer his comeuppance; Captain Ginger is an all-out cats-in-outerspace adventure; and Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Terror is sort of a revisit to Tales of the Crypt. Part of the next wave of titles is Planet of the Nerds. All these titles share a really fun format that includes the feature story, a background story, plus a surprise grab bag that can include prose and even poetry.
Chad pummels Alvin Ad Infinitum
Getting back to Planet of the Nerds, this first issue packs a wallop thanks to the upbeat script by Constant as well as the impressive work by the rest of the creative team which includes artist Alan Robinson and colorist Felipe Sobreiro. The opener finds our bully, Chad, center stage as he pummels Alvin, a hapless fellow high school student. Chad is as stereotypical a bully as you’ll ever care to find. And Alvin is as stereotypical a misfit as you’ll ever see. And perhaps therein lies a wonderful opportunity to play with some well-worn tropes. Will Chad just keep whomping on Alvin? Will Alvin just keep being a doormat? It is a pure dichotomy, a Zen-like premise, a perfect paring of yin and yang. Constant breaks things up by having Chad’s two allies, Steve and Drew, act more human than henchmen. And the initial setting for the story is the late ’80s complete with all its excess and naivete. One of the best lines in this first issue is from Jenny, Steve’s girlfriend, who sweetly mocks his naturally meek demeanor: “If a man in a brown van tries to give you candy, just say, ‘No!'” Ah, nostalgic young love! The art by Robinson and the colors by Sobreiro conspire to provide just the right retro look reminiscent of the work of Ed Piskor.
Cover artist David Nakayama
Suffice it to say, everything is set for a rollicking good adventure. It will be no spoiler to say that this is something of a time travel story. AHOY says as much in their promo copy. And there is definitely a Back to the Future vibe going on here. The future in this case is our own era, a time that would leave any kid from the ’80s doing double takes. Chad, the ultimate nerd hater must come face to face with a world where, as we’ve heard so often, the nerds have won. But have they, really? I don’t know that this comic will fully answer that question but you just never know.
Planet of the Nerds #1 is available as of April 17th, published by AHOY Comics. For more details, and how to purchase, go right here.
The brother of Marvel Comics writer Bill Mantlo has turned to GoFundMe for help in continuing to care for his brother at home after a terrible hit-and-run accident. You may recognize the name. Bill Mantlo is the co-creator of Cloak and Dagger and Rocket Raccoon. Bill is also known for his work on two licensed toy properties whose adventures occurred in the Marvel Universe: Micronauts and Rom. It is a shame that with such an impressive lineup, the Mantlo family finds themselves in urgent need but that is unfortunately the case.
Rocket Raccoon #1
Bill Mantlo was an attorney who worked as a public defender. In 1992, he was the victim of a hit-and-run accident and he’s been under care ever since. His brother, embarrassed to seek help is compelled to ask since his own funds have been completely depleted. He owes over $100,000 after having taken on the responsibility of caring for his brother. Please visit the Mantlo family’s GoFundMe page right here.
Meet Trump’s New Fixer: The Attorney General of the United States. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.
Working for Trump is not the first time that Attorney General William Barr has been called upon to clean up a mess. Barr had the very same job of Attorney General under George H.W. Bush where he presided over making the Iran-Contra scandal fade away. Papa Bush, with Barr’s whole-hearted support, pardoned six key people from the Reagan administration who were involved, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.
If Barr saw no problem in absolving players in Iran-Contra, one of the biggest scandals since Watergate, then he certainly has no problem in helping to somehow make the Mueller report go away; clear Trump & Co. of any and all charges; and just perform his role as a smug little henchman doing his master’s bidding.