02/15/2018

Sam Ombiri on Noel Freibert’s Old Ground!

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Sam Ombiri here: What’s so special about comics? If someone asked me that, I’d point directly to Old Ground by Noel Freibert. Among my vague, imaginary mental list of favorite comics right now, Old Ground is up there; seriously. Everything seems to be in place in the book, and for me it couldn’t be more perfect. This is a comic that can’t be described in a way that would do it justice, as lazy as I might sound in saying that. Some scenes cause me to laugh a certain kind of laughter. It’s kind of a nervous laughter, but not necessarily out of being too frightened or weirded out to respond “properly”.

It feels like Noel draws the way he does so he can simultaneously restrict himself, and through that free himself to go to certain places with his comics that wouldn’t be accessible to him (or anyone else for that matter) otherwise.

This might be what accounts of my nervous laughter – some of the gags presented perhaps lack of a point of reference. The comic is a real shock to the system because the drawings and the story are virtuosic. The comic is simultaneously cute, frightening, menacing, intensely dramatic, intensely goofy, and so on and so on. Somehow Noel made all these shifts register really well, and every moment resonates with the moment before, surprisingly harmoniously for such a chaotic book. He lingers in moments so that the events can properly register. He isn’t in any rush to show us his cooler-looking drawings. I say this because a lot of times comics fall flat for me in their refusal to be comics. The drawings might be labored over, but the sequence of events or images have no pulse whatsoever, so to speak. Not so with Old Ground, not by a long shot.

When the comic is focused on the two people buried in the grave, it goes on and on because it needs to, and then as the comic progresses Noel uses this established rhythm of the two people in the grave, and plays with it. He doesn’t  just play with it – he confronts it. This comic doesn’t feel like Noel did it at a distance, with vague suggestions that aren’t a part of him. At least that was the feeling I was getting from reading the book. Noel is committed to displaying this vague feeling he has and pursuing it to the end (or no end). That’s what makes it such a compelling read – and the results are evident there in the book.

In the story, one of the corpses in the grave claims to be 5, and the other claims to be 8 (but I suppose if they’ve been able to talk for as many years as they’ve been buried, maybe they’re even older). As one of the corpses – called Silver Spoon – put it, the worms maybe have eaten Cliffie’s (the other corpse) memory. The way Silver Spoon says it seems to be alluding to this only happening to Cliffie. The age seems to be more connected with the age when they died than the length of time they’ve been thinking. Although at the end of the story even this is questionable.

What would they be thinking about? How frogs were believed to be able to consume evil spirits, and how this means they can eat anything? They talk about how they’re dead and what that means to them. Silver Spoon suggests that Cliffie’s parents deserved to die in the fire in which they perished (for no reason whatsoever!)

Meanwhile, we’re also entertained by two wacky people whose goal is to demolish the graveyard. One is called Renaldo and is a very likeable character. I felt bad with how he was kind of forced into this situation by his boss, who is such a hilarious character. The story at a certain point turns into Silver Spoon trying to convince Cliffie that Renaldo and his boss aren’t his parents.

The interaction between the corpses reminded me of Jim Bored’s adventures in Powr Mastrs 3. The way the characters’ imaginations take shape, which is symbolically realized through each of the books’ creators’ efforts (Noel for Old Ground and CF for Powr Mastrs), are of the same nature. The pacing of it is based off of boredom, so it’s a good excuse for imagination to suddenly take vivid shapes.

I mean, there’s also a good amount of differences, like how it’s a dialogue in Old Ground, as opposed to a monologue in Powr Mastrs, or how instead of someone who is still alive but forgetting, it’s two dead people remembering (albeit not with much luck). I guess Jim Bored is also about remembering, but I think what Noel was saying with the comic partly is: dead people are not only forgotten by others – they’re also forgotten by themselves. So their goal of remembering is quite different from what Jim Bored’s goal was (which seemed to be self preservation and survival).

If you haven’t read Old Ground it’s probably in your best interest to do so. The ending of the story is an especially good one, with so many great moments leading up to it. The characters are excellent, and the sequences have done more than just simply blow me away; they’ve really astounded me. The lines Noel draws really bend to his mysterious whims. The drawings suggest they’re based off of simplicity, but it’s a trick. When I begin reading the comic I’m lured in and at the same time Noel is bent on driving me through this story, which has these sudden bursts of hyperkinetic movements.

When motion is conveyed it’s a real marvel to read. – Sam Ombiri

Read more about Old Ground (Koyama Press, 2017) HERE, and get a copy of the comic HERE.

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Collected from the thousands of pages of material that Frank has left scattered all over the digital landscape, these 4 PDF collections contain Frank’s best writing on comics and comics making from the past decade. Theory and process, reviews and discoveries, journeys both physical and spiritual.

Check out the “Best of Frank Santoro” PDF collections, available HERE!

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Joanie and Jordie – 2-14-2018 – by Caleb Orecchio

02/08/2018

Sam Ombiri on Nick Drnaso’s Beverly – plus other comics and news!

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Sam Ombiri here: With Beverly, Nick Drnaso is clearly not making a story just to flex his muscles or impress us. Although there’s no mistake about it – this book is really impressive. However, all this – the complexity of the stories and the characters that are drawn mysteriously, in a sparse way – felt like it was done out of the necessity of being loyal to the ideas that Drnaso wanted to convey.

Often in the book there’s a sense that Drnaso doesn’t let us look at the real problem that his characters seem to be vaguely aware of, instead blaming other red herrings, no matter how extreme they can end up being (like in the end of “Lil’ King”, which was easily my favorite story). Or for example, in the first story towards the end when a character named Tim walks into Rich’s office, Rich is upset, and we don’t ever find out the reason (at least as far as I know). I think the reason would make for a very unsatisfactory reading, and would really simplify things in a bad way.

a page from Beverly by Nick Drnaso

In “Virgin Mary”, Mary’s face is only shown at the beginning, and for the rest of the story it’s hidden. “Virgin Mary” is narrated like one of those crime investigation specials that air on TV, and this element kind of builds on something in an earlier story. In the second story, which is titled “The Saddest Story Never Told”, a character named Cara (who was subtly introduced in the first story) is watching an “advance copy” of a new Sitcom that is being test marketed. She is watching it with her mother, and the comic just becomes us watching the sitcom. Thankfully, it is not a gimmick that Nick Drnaso is implementing in an exploitative manner. That is to say, it’s beautifully mundane, but Drnaso isn’t just flexing his avant garde muscles at the expense of the story – he executes it with great simplicity. Because a TV is square and panels can be square, Drnaso just changes the size of the panels to match the TV, and the panel size remains consistent for the duration of the tape.

The sitcom is really uninteresting and that’s what’s so great. It reveals a lot about the way Drnaso tells his stories. He isn’t rushing to brag about how cynical he can be, by being ironic and bashing how uninteresting the TV show is. Rather, he makes it interesting, but not too interesting, and I’m just speaking about the sitcom itself. Nevermind how Cara’s mother is desperately trying to project a more optimistic future for her and her children through this tape. The sitcom is actually engrossing! Drnaso somehow simultaneously conveys how uninteresting this sitcom is and makes it interesting. There’s actually an aspect to the way he draws that distantly seems to be uninteresting, but it’s not, in fact. It’s far from uninteresting.

So later on in “Virgin Mary”, the way the story is narrated (again, like a crime investigation special) feels like a heightened reality, something that the TV show’s suburban dwellers usually watch, which ends up contributing to the way they see reality. That then becomes the story we are reading, both from the way it’s narrated and what’s happening in the story itself (innocent people are blamed for a kidnapping). To me, viewing the story this way automatically can be attributed to how in “The Saddest Story Never Told” there was a very little to indicate the difference between what was TV and what was real life. The only information I got, really, was that when it was TV sound was coming out of the panel instead of just being in the panel. “Virgin Mary” is such an amazing point in the book – it’s like a big cry being let out. And that’s just one part among six great stories.

Nick Drnaso gives a very specific amount of detail, and the stories move along rather rapidly – my eyes automatically go from panel to panel, as the story is so clearly laid out. It might even be my hundredth time reading the story, but it keeps me engaged every time. I can jump into any section, and it’s just as easy for me to recapture the essence of each moment as when I read it the first time. It’s clear that Beverly was made to be enjoyable to read, and the success of the comic is, for lack of a better term, almost severe. It’s strengths are obvious when you read it, so I don’t need to go on praising it. You don’t have to believe the stories in the book, because the book believes them for you. – Sam Ombiri

Get a copy of Beverly by Nick Drnaso HERE. Congratulations to Nick for winning the New Talent prize at the 2018 Angoulême International Comics Festival for the French edition of Beverly! Keep an eye out for Nick’s new book Sabrina, coming from Drawn & Quarterly in May.

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News of Note

  • Shannon Wright drew the first Google Doodle of February, kicking off Black History Month with a celebration of Carter G. Woodson. Read about it HERE.
  • Beyond the Longbox profiles Ronald Wimberly, who talks about the origins of his works, his thought process, and upcoming projects – HERE.
  • There’s an interview with Robb Armstrong (creator of the comic strip JumpStart, one of the most widely-syndicated strips by an African-American author ever) on The Sentinel. Read it HERE.
  • Check out this interesting article about the Peanuts character Franklin – it covers the backstory of his introduction to the strip by Charles Schulz, and his continuing history.

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Joanie and Jordie – 2-8-2018 – by Caleb Orecchio

02/01/2018

Bryce Davidson shares the work of Honore Daumier, and Chris Diaz has 3 new photo reports for us!

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Work by Honore Daumier

Bryce Davidson here: What’s up with cartoons? Caricatures perhaps might be more accurate. Simplified, amplified, and elegant, is it just good drawing? Nice shapes and lines? No, there’s something more. Most of us who read comics and appreciate the form will understand what I am referring to. Why do we spend so much time looking at these distorted images when we could look at a real person with actual facial expressions? Why does that twisted grin of a Chuck Jones character seem to portray more emotion and depth than any actor in Hollywood? It’s a tough question. For one thing it seems that the exaggeration of a cartoon help consolidate and refine the emotions and actions of character. It’s like boiling down syrup – only the essential, the truth, remains.

Honore Daumier

This brings me to the artist whom I want to focus on, one who everyone should know, especially within the current political climate – Honore Daumier, the quintessential political cartoonist. Coupling the revolutionary political climate of 17th century France and the burning hate of the bourgeoisie, “He revealed, as a true visionary, the faults endemic to the system that transcended the cast of political players” (Erlanger).

The venom this guy spits in his drawings is insane. The introduction to Daumier: Politicians goes on to explain:

The overfed, somnolent, or sneering deputies in Daumier’s picture are physically and morally hideous. Here is an art that denounces not only individuals, but underlying attitudes. Daumier brings to the pitiless light of day monsters serving as puppets for monied interests, electoral fraud, and the inextricable links between money and power.

I shouldn’t even have to mention how relevant it all is. If you’re looking for an artist who defined the sneer and critique of political caricature, look no further. I could rattle on about artists who are still producing work that rips this guy. His stuff is that universal. The characters are timeless, truly human, no smoke and mirrors. It’s really something that only a cartoon can do. Following are some more scans from the previously mentioned book, Daumier: Politicians by Philippe Erlanger. It can be purchased HERE if you’re interested in learning more. – Bryce Davidson

Works Cited:

Erlanger (Author), Philippe. “Introduction.” Daumier: Politicians, Alpine Fine Arts Collection, 1992.

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Jaime Hernandez at The Last Bookstore in old downtown Los Angeles – photo by Chris Diaz

Chris Diaz was busy attending comics events in the last few months! He shares photos from Jaime Hernandez’s Dec. 11th 2017 chat with Jordan Crane HERE, Charles Forsman at Comix Experience on Dec. 6th 2017 HERE, and Tom Gauld at a few places in Nov. 2017 while he was on tour for his new comic Baking With Kafka HERE. As always, comics fandom thanks you Chris!

Tom Gauld at Pegasus Books in Berkeley

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Collected from the thousands of pages of material that Frank has left scattered all over the digital landscape, these 4 PDF collections contain Frank’s best writing on comics and comics making from the past decade. Theory and process, reviews and discoveries, journeys both physical and spiritual.

Check out the “Best of Frank Santoro” PDF collections, available HERE!

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Joanie and Jordie – 2-1-2018 – by Caleb Orecchio

01/25/2018

Sam Ombiri on Coco Moodysson’s Never Goodnight – plus other news and comics!

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Sam Ombiri here: I’ve been reading a splendid comic called Never Goodnight by Coco Moodysson. I found out about this fantastic book through Coco’s husband, Lukas Moodysson. Lukas Moodysson is my favorite living movie director as it stands right now. His movies have received praise from Ingmar Bergman as well as Harmony Korine, and those two directors really speak to the sensibility of Lukas. Those are two filmmakers he admires, and from my understanding this admiration was independent of the praise he receives from those two directors. He made a great adaptation of Coco’s Never Goodnight entitled We Are The Best.

I just don’t know where to start with this book. This comic is one of the most fun autobio comics I’ve ever read. The drawings are spectacular, it’s great that she was able to summon enough of this creative energy for every panel, and deliver consistently. Her drawings are like candy that don’t lose their sweetness when eaten too much. The drawings are simultaneously so expressive, but all done with that line that Sammy Harkham always talks about, where every drawing has the same weight to it and it doesn’t deviate.

It’s easy to  see why this book has the cult following it has. The storytelling is so clear, and I can see that the whole was considered, as opposed to some parts. The jokes in this book are really funny. The jokes don’t even seem like jokes, or funny observations made by a distant person reminiscing. Which is not to say that there’d be anything wrong if that, were it the case – in fact it’s commonly the case with autobio, or even non-autobio work (although people say all work is ultimately autobio). I guess this just speaks to the nature of life, but it’s really interesting how Coco’s comics don’t have that reminiscing attitude, despite that being what she’s doing throughout the whole work(reminiscing I mean).

It’s a really curious thing that when I read the comic it just feels like I’m watching life unfolding, and all the fun moments and funny moments unfolding with it. There is of course clear, concise timing in the way Coco leads us through the story, but I don’t feel the least bit, shall we say, “manipulated”. There are those moments in the book where it’s so cute I want to hurl, but I’m still completely sold. For example, where Coco talks about how she bought dog food and hid it under her pillow in case she ever got a dog, (this was after they went around begging for money to buy a guitar and instead just splurged on a bunch of snacks). I don’t know what to blame though: is it because Coco was such a likeable character to follow? Did I relate to it somehow? Are the drawings so charming that it’s disarming my suspicion?

It definitely seems earned because this specific brand of sentimentality doesn’t pop up until the 78th page, and the comic hasn’t demanded as much of an emotional response to be reciprocated to the work up until that point. It’s become the trend in some comics that the author just demand that the reader reciprocate an emotional response, just because they’re being courageous in expressing themselves in comics. I can’t speak for every case, but people making comics should realize that you can’t and shouldn’t blame the reader. If what you’re doing is independent of the reader, that’s a different story. You can’t just mumble some words and expect someone to read your mind and guess the rest of the sentence. You are responsible for making the sentence.

Part of what’s enjoyable (and at times it can be detrimental to me) is the ambiguity in experiencing and then re-experiencing work. This is with all art forms, though, and I really hesitate to say it’s especially so with comics because of how it’s words and images that you’re looking at. You’re also looking at the line work, you’re looking at the design. Makers should consider all this and perhaps accept this when making work and not let their vain guise of “how courageous they are for expressing themselves” be where the value of the work is derived. Coco’s book made me think of this because of how good it is. I didn’t feel cheated for reciprocating the emotional response Coco called for.

I feel that I should mention that it was surprisingly easy to separate the movie from the book whenever they would intersect. This goes deeper than them being different mediums, or what couldn’t be in the movie due to Lukas and Coco’s difference in sensibility. Even when I’m reading the exact same scene play out in the book that was in the movie, they seem so separate and this book is so distinguished that I don’t even think about the movie.

There’s an aspect to this book that I have no idea how to approach. I don’t know how comics are perceived in Sweden. It seems that there they have a tighter relationship with the literary world, maybe? I really don’t know. Anyway, there’s a panel in the book where Coco just coldly mentions how a friend’s friend killed himself with a guitar chord.

I’m rather puzzled at the intention of this. From what I understand, she was doing some work behind the scenes with Lukas’ films, and they made some kind of comic together (which someone should translate!) so I can’t help but to think there’s this lyrical element to her including this in the comic, something that’s similar to the lyricism in Lukas’ movies.

In contrast to this, though, there’s a sequence where the girls run out and there’s a homeless person with a syringe stuck in his arm, and he’s just there as a gag to convey how loud the girls are being about a bunch of nonsense, and yelling “We Are the Best!” It’s like he’s just there to be annoyed, but there’s a whole cute aspect to this. It’s funny because of how certain elements that were in the book were taken out of the movie, probably because of how it would evoke a completely different feeling, and completely change the atmosphere.

The sensibility of Never Goodnight feels a lot like a YA book, but introduces bleaker elements than those found in the adaptation made by Lukas (whom people sometimes liken to a more trustworthy incarnation of Lars Von Trier and who is associated with “the New Extremity” movement).

It’s just really funny how I don’t know what to make of this. Not that the comic is any less fun to read as a result, it only makes it more interesting to read. In a lot of ways, and obviously this comes as no surprise, there’s a lot of match up in terms of sensibility between Lukas and Coco. Maybe it’s because of how Lukas described his creative process as different from Coco’s that I anticipated a bigger difference. For example, Coco will say things like there’s not enough brown, or whichever color. This is strange because her comic are done in black and white! I feel that however many accolades I can try to give this book would be a futile attempt at describing how great this book is. It’s just such a wonderful book! – Sam Ombiri

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Other News

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Collected from the thousands of pages of material that Frank has left scattered all over the digital landscape, these 4 PDF collections contain Frank’s best writing on comics and comics making from the past decade. Theory and process, reviews and discoveries, journeys both physical and spiritual.

Check out the “Best of Frank Santoro” PDF collections, available HERE!

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Joanie and Jordie – 1-25-2018 – by Caleb Orecchio

01/11/2018

Sam Ombiri here with thoughts on DNA Failure: British Weapon Comics by Leon Sadler, Jonathan Chandler, and Stefan Sadler

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Sam Ombiri here: DNA Failure: British Weapon Comics is Leon Sadler making comics with Jonathan Chandler and Stefan Sadler. The deal is Leon’s comics are really good, Jon’s comics are really good, and Stefan’s comics are really good, and together they compliment each other’s energy, better than ever. They all have this playful reverence for storytelling in comics that exist for existence’s sake. Or a “sake” not spoken of yet. This sensibility that’s really attractive doesn’t deviate from their enthusiasm for the story. Far from it – it only serves to take their stories to higher heights.

As I’m reading this, I’m wondering what corner of a human’s mind can possibly have the capacity to make this stuff up? I’m not thinking of just the especially surreal events in the comic. I’m also thinking, for example, of how quickly these guys can ascribe a character’s role purely from their facial features. This is a wonder. As I read I’m really savoring each moment. This book is so much fun.

What’s astounding is the complete lack of cynicism, which I know stems from sincerity, and it’s just what they do, but I can’t help but commend their lack of cynicism.

It’s hard to talk about this comic, about this stuff, partly because I’m guilty of this too in my own comics. What is it I’m guilty of? There’s this one corner of webcomics – you see it in a lot of deviant art pages…probably the easiest place to find stuff like this is if you go to the Bad Webcomics wiki – and it feels like this is the stuff these guys are into. I’ll try to explain more clearly. (I’m not sure about Jon and Stefan, but I’ve read Leon has an intensely visceral reaction to things because there’s too much emotion in them.)

This comic and what I’m trying to get at partly reminds me of what Jessica Ciocci of Paperrad said about amateur work:

“When you see amateur work, you see the mistakes a professional would try and cover up – like when a person’s homemade Web site has a JPEG scaled up incorrectly. That’s the kind of stuff we like. It’s acknowledging that there are these unspoken rules about how you are supposed to do something – and when you break that rule you are acknowledging that the rule exists.”

I think the inclination for most people is to pat themselves on the back instead of pushing further when they realize this rule exists. They try to outsmart the inherent perceived stupidity, instead of just engaging with this stuff as it is (if they don’t just flat out turn it into a punchline). It’s what puts Paperrad above Everything Is terrible (as cool as they are).

It’s that same thing that is so great about people like Leon, Jon, and Stefan. I can’t help but think about how Dash Shaw was once talking about how for the most part, in the west at least, whenever people approach limited animation, it’s rarely without cynicism. Take those Adult Swim cartoons like Perfect Hair Forever or 12 OzMouse, in contrast to this community on YouTube which used to use programs like Pencil or the Corel software that would come with their Wacom tablets, to make wolf animations. Animations without cynicism. People like Tribble of Doom or Fluffylovey.

What I’m saying is that with DNA Failure the success is three tier. Tier 1 is the lack of cynicism towards this zone of comics, Tier 2 is pushing enthusiasm – as in, they don’t feel compelled to contextualize this stuff just to prove that they’re smart.

People (myself included) don’t always believe in the potency of this stuff. They don’t think it is independent of our recognition of it. I mean, sometimes it can be good to give it contextualization, but I don’t think it helps in cases where the potency of the work that one might be re-appropriating (at least for this bad webcomic stuff) is purely based on your recognition of it. It reveals this masked cynicism and masked vanity, or maybe arrogance is a better word. So then it’s not Tier 2 – it’s more like you’re in tier -2.

DNA Failure reaches Tier 3, which is a complete mystery to me. I just don’t know – it’s not even three tier success now, it’s like a 2,000,000 tier success.

There are many places comics can go if you open your eyes – DNA Failure opened mine. The comics in here are really fantastic. That’s another thing; when people (like me) re-appropriate this stuff, if it’s comics, they (by they, I mean we) tend to completely both forget and dismiss the comics aspect of it. We forget that it’s a comic with a story of some sort, and they (again, me included) maybe even forget that it’s a lot of fun to draw. Although when I say “fun” I don’t mean to say that you always have to draw with a bunch of wild strokes.

(CF’s impression of Jack Kirby crosshatching)

It doesn’t have to be fun but it certainly can be, especially when we’re talking about this zone of comics. The impulse to draw these types of comics commonly comes, after all, from having fun. (I’m using “fun” for lack of a better word, though not at the complete lack of it. I’m also thinking about how CF said that the spirit of cartooning is “just go ahead and draw.”)

However, all the fun is taken out of it when it becomes a contest to see whose work is superior because of how “smart” it is. When I see this type of re-appropriation done (again, myself included), so much of it is this masked cynicism propelled by pretension.

DNA Failure is amazing for so many reasons, number one because it doesn’t have any of that. There are really terrific moments in these comics and really great sequences, and instead of these guys patting themselves on the back, they just reach higher and higher and it’s really cool to see. I was very sad when I ran out of pages to read. – Sam Ombiri

Read more about the comic HERE.

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Frank Santoro and Simon Hanselmann, CAB 2013 – photo by Chris Anthony Diaz, colored by Graham Willcox

International Students: The Winter Semester of thee Santoro Correspondence Course for Comic Book Makers starts January 16th 2018! 8 weeks – 500 bux – coaching for as long as you need. The course is hard, but Frank will push your comics making practice to a new level, getting you to think about timing and color in new ways. His experience and ideas have influenced the likes of Connor Willumsen, Michael DeForge, and Simon Hanselmann (quote “I consider Frank Santoro to be my L. Ron Hubbard”) among many others. Dig into something new in the new year!

Full details and how to apply can be found HERE.

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Joanie and Jordie – 1-11-2018 – by Caleb Orecchio

 

12/07/2017

Bryce Davidson here with a look at “The Illustrated Salaryman In Japan” and infographic comics.

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Bryce Davidson here: Comics are a diverse medium. It’s one of its many perks. Words and images right? The stage on which comics perform varies drastically within them. Most modern mainstream comics ape a cinematic feel. Mainly dialogue driven stories (usually a lack of exposition or prose) with consistent art and setting, which uses framing, light and angles to alter mood or tone. An obvious choice, very accessible to most people, and usually effective.

In contrast, many older and independent comics use more consistent angles and shots, with more exposition and a lenient use of cartooning symbols, I.E. sound effects, accent lines, and cartoonish exaggeration to alter tone, and mood. This method, while being exclusively “comics”, also can feel dated or difficult to read for many modern readers. I often hear people complaining about too much exposition (I never seemed to mind it too much).

There is a third method, which is the one I wanted to focus on for this article: Infographics.

Up until recently (honestly, Brandon Graham [and Dan Zettwoch – editor] are probably the best current examples) info graphics never really got the treatment they deserve. These comics are completely exposition driven – if there is a word balloon it’s usually a single word to accent the drawing or sound effects. You can cram a tremendous amount of story into an incredibly small page count. This differs from cinematic comics a lot. It is incredibly clear story telling with little to intemperate. On the flip side it is rigid and not very juicy storytelling.

This brings me to an interesting book I found a few years back at a library book sale. Titled Illustrated Salaryman in Japan, it is part of a series of book which were commissioned by the Japanese Travel Bureau in the 80’s to market to business people as pocket guides to Japan. The volumes cover most topics of modern day life but this one in particular is about the salaryman culture of 1980’s Japan.

It has no credited artist as far as I can tell and all info online credits it to the Japanese Travel Bureau. Despite this, it’s a pretty interesting book. While being incredibly in depth and accurate, it also seems to Lampoon the lifestyle it is promoting pretty hard.

Its funny! It’s partially due to text and translation but in a large part to the drawings. Really clean cartoony stuff, and definitely comics. The drawings themselves are classic manga. The coloring reminds me of a technique that Frank talks about in the Comics Workbook Handbook: Black and white with one selective color. Another popular manga look.

It’s a very funny read, and while not necessarily what we think of when we think of comics, I think that this style can easily be argued to be part of the sequential narrative umbrella. I think now, especially with meme based comics, we’ll be seeing a big return of high exposition, static storytelling. – Bryce

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Sally Ingraham here with a roundup of other interesting links and news of note.

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The Winter Semester of thee Santoro Correspondence Course for Comic Book Makers starts January 18th 2018! 8 weeks – 500 bux – coaching for as long as you need. The course is hard, but Frank will push your comics making practice to a new level, getting you to think about timing and color in new ways. Makes a great holiday gift for yourself – or for a loved one who is interested in comics. Apply by midnight (EST) on Dec. 25th and get $100 off the course price.

Full details and how to apply can be found HERE!

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Joanie and Jordie – 12-7-2017 – by Caleb Orecchio

Lyn Hejinian and Open Comics

by Jackie Kirby

I.      INTRODUCTION, or an Apology to Charles Olson

OPEN COMICS

(dynamic (plural (contradictory

vs.

CLOSURE

(Or what Charles Olson called “The NON-Projective,” those comics which print bred and which is pretty much what we have had, in English & American, and have still got, despite the work of Frankie: it led “the alt”, over a half-century ago now, to see it (DC’s, Marvel’s) in the light of “the Egotistical Sublime”; and it persists, at this latter day, as what you might call the private-soul-at-any-public-wall)

II.      OPEN SUPERMAN, an introduction to Language Poetry and open form in poetry and comics

“A moment yellow, just as four years later, when my father returned home from the war, the moment of greeting him, as he stood at the bottom of the stairs, younger, thinner than when he had left, was purple—though moments are no longer so colored. Somewhere, in the background, rooms share a pattern of small roses. Pretty is as pretty does. In certain families, the meaning of necessity is at one with the sentiment of pre-necessity. The better things were gathered in a pen. The windows were narrowed by white gauze curtains which were never loosened. Here I refer to irrelevance, that rigidity which never intrudes. Hence, repetitions, free from all ambition.”

This opens the first section of Lyn Hejinian’s My Life (1980), “A pause, a rose, something on paper.” Hejinian is a founding member of the Language school of poetry, whose work emphasizes theory-based writing, finding it’s foundations in poststructuralism as well as earlier avant-garde movements such as Russian Futurism. In its original composition, My Life comprised thirty-seven prose paragraphs, each comprised of thirty-seven lines. Each section dealt with a year of Hejinian’s life (She was thirty-seven, as you may have guessed). My Life serves as an excellent example of Hejinian’s notion of an “open text,” which she writes about most notably in “The Rejection of Closure.” The open text, in short, invites active participation from the reader, and provides a space where author and reader may meet as equals, collaborating in the production of meaning. A “text,” of course, may be used to describe all sorts of cultural productions. In this article, I wish to examine Hejinian’s poetics of an open text, and their use in the comics medium, while pushing towards an aesthetic of open comics.

Henjinian’s theory of the open text promotes a poetics where the author willingly relinquishes her authority over the reader, and instead sees the two as equals in a collaborative project of producing a text-as-meaningful. The open text recognizes the incompleteness of all texts, and the impossibility of achieving closure. She distinguishes this from a “closed text,” which already knows and contains (or at least claims to know and contain) everything. The closed text requires no work from the reader; it already knows everything so it needs only to impart knowledge. It is static, as it has no connection outside itself—it is complete within and need not change. Though the perfectly closed text is “unimaginable” to Hejinian, she remarks that if it could exist, “it would be insufferable.” The open text, on the other hand, does not claim to know anything, it is curiosity. It generates knowledge rather than imparting it. It is desire for knowledge, not knowledge itself. In its generation of knowledge, the open text produces new meanings each time it is read, even by the same reader. This plurality of possible meaning is what makes the text “open.” The openness of a text corresponds directly to its capacity to provide a dynamic plurality of possible meanings.

Novelist & Literary critic Umberto Eco analyzes early Superman comics as examples of a closed text in an essay translated into English as “The Myth of Superman” (1972).

Hejinian gives no examples of closed texts in her essay, but in a later introduction notes:

“The coercive, epiphanic mode in some contemporary lyric poetry can serve as a negative model, with its smug pretension to uni­versality and its tendency to cast the poet as guardian to Truth. And detective fiction can serve as a positive model, presenting an ultimately stable, calm and calming (and fundamentally unepiphanic) vision of the world. In either case, however pleasurable its effects, closure is a fiction, one of the amenities that falsehood and fantasy provide.”

Additionally, in a lecture on the subject, she mentions Superman comics along with detective fiction as “positive examples.” This reference to Superman is primarily taken from Umberto Eco’s analysis of early Superman comics in The Role of the Reader.(1979). This is perfect, then, for our purposes as makers of comics. Comics have already been inaugurated and validated within this theory of literature, setting precedent to continue the analysis.

Understanding the aesthetic merits of an open text is perhaps made easier by looking at Hejinian’s work in tandem with sociologist Wolfgang Iser’s phenomenological approach to reading (1972). Iser views the meaning and totality of a literary object to be a virtual, dynamic and contradictory thing. Its gestalt, or the perceived unity and oneness from a configuration of parts, does not exist in the text itself, nor in the mind of the reader, but in the co-operation of the two: the act of reading itself. The text is a set of raw materials provided by the author. In a text, information is presented in the form of discretely separated units (in comics, panels; in prose, sentences; in verse, lines) juxtaposed in a pattern according to the author’s artistic desires. Iser writes, “The sentences are ‘component parts’ insofar as they make statement, claims, or observations, or convey information, and so establish various perspectives of the text. But they remain only ‘component parts’—they are not the sum total of the text itself.” These sentences are building blocks of a not-yet-existing meaning, which will be produced through the act of reading the text. Through the reading process, the reader assembles the “component parts” into a coherent whole. In comics, we can think of this as the way a reader navigates through panels to produce meaning. The reader’s imagination and memory give shape to the interaction of distinct parts “foreshadowed” by the sequence and structure of panels. The information present in the material comic is processed through the reader’s imagination and experience, the result being the production of the comic-as-meaningful.

If I may make an analogy: consider the comic an unopened box of Ikea furniture. The author has provided the parts needed to construct the furniture she has in mind, and has provided a set of instructions on their assemblage as well. However, once bought, the customer has no obligation to follow the instructions. Her assemblage of the furniture is affected by her knowledges and imagination. She is limited only in the material she has with which to construct. It is her own decision to follow the instructions or not. Regardless, her finished product will inevitably be different from that of any other customer who bought the same piece.

In this way, the comic’s gestalt is not created solely by the author, as she only provides panels and data, nor is it entirely produced by the reader, as she must use the material provided by the author to realize the text. It is a dynamic relationship between material (the author’s work) and aesthetic (the reader’s realization) productions of meaning.

The open text is dynamic, and interactive, as reading is most pleasurable when it is active, and incites the imagination. In “opening” a text, the author has at her disposal several tools: literary, technical, aesthetic etc. The open text’s dynamism, as opposed to the closed text’s stasis, is what incites pleasure and plurality of meaning in the reader and the gestalt respectively. Hejinian and Iser provide examples of these in their poetry and criticism. The primary techniques I will describe here, as well as providing examples from My Life, and Hejinian and Iser’s critical analyses, finally examining the use of each technique in the making of comics.

III.      OMISSION, it’s about what you’re not seeing

A major aspect in reading pleasure for both Hejinian and Iser is the use of intentional omission by the author. If a text is built out of discrete, intact units, then the author may place gaps between each unit (not literal, physical gaps—or maybe—but informational gaps). Each unit both presents data and foreshadows a future meaning. It creates a sense of anticipation in the reader. The following units then either realize the previously foreshadowed meaning or don’t. This non/realization then forces the reader to look retrospectively at the previous unit, its foreshadowed meaning now changed with the advent of new units of data. For example, take the opening sentences of Sam D’Allesandro’s short story “Electrical Type of Thing” (as collected in The Zombie Pit (1989): ““There’s more to a relationship than acquisition.” Scott was busy trying to talk me out of something.”

  1. “There’s more to a relationship than acquisition.” This sentence presents a statement on relationships which foreshadows a further statement on relationships. Anticipation: If there is more than acquisition, what is it? But further, the sentence is surrounded by quotation marks. It is a spoken statement, and the quotation marks incite further anticipation: who is speaking, and to whom?
  2. Scott was busy trying to talk me out of something. This sentence relieves the reader’s anticipation of the nature of the speaker (Scott) and the one being spoken to (me). Retrospectively, the phrase previously read is now a phrase coming out of Scott’s mouth. However, it does not realize any of the anticipated statements on the nature of relationships, other than its literal enactment of a relationship between Scott and the narrator. In fact, it adds more anticipation, a “something” is mentioned. Scott’s previous statement is now read as an attempt to talk the narrator out of “something,” presumably having to do with a relationship. However, the nature of that “something” remains dubious.

D’Allesandro, a brilliant writer, uses multiple layers of anticipation and retrospection in only two sentences, setting the stage for a reader to actively engage with his work. I chose this passage to showcase how even in a seemingly linearly structured prose passage, a talented author makes use of omission and the anticipation/retrospection process. Turning back to Hejinian’s poetry, however, we may see what results when the enactment of this process is brought to the foreground of a text’s aesthetics.

D’Allesandro omits bits of data in between his sentences (in the passage we have read), but the relationship between each subsequent sentence is relatively apparent. In My Life, contrastingly, Hejinian’s sentences have almost no immediate correlation. A passage from “A pause, a rose, something on paper” reads:

“I was in a room with the particulars of which a later nostalgia might be formed, an indulged childhood. They are sitting in wicker chairs, the legs of which have sunk into the ground, so that each is sitting slightly tilted and their postures make adjustment for that.”

In an initial reading, one may try to link these sentences as describing a single scene, however the disconnect of the verb tenses (“I was” and “They are”) discredit that connection. Therefor the onus is entirely on the reader to “complete” the text. The “I” and “they” are connected by juxtaposition and repetition of the sentences’ opening structure (Pronoun verb), but the reader must decide exactly how they are connected. Hejinian writes:

“The reader (and I can also say the writer) must overlap the end stop, the period, and cover the distance to the next sentence. […] Meanwhile, what stays in the gaps, so to speak, remains crucial and informative. Part of the reading occurs as the recovery of that information (looking behind) and the discovery of newly structured ideas (stepping forward).”

Therefore, the amount of work a reader must do to “overlap the end stop” and produce meaning from the text increases as the gaps of information between subsequent units increases. A greater burden of work for the reader corresponds to a larger capacity for meanings in a text. By intentionally omitting large amounts of data from unit to unit, an author opens her text up to a multiplicity of meaning.

Let us look for similar examples in comics. Taking a four-panel strip from Lynda Barry’s Ernie Pook’s Comeek (1979-2003), I will break down the first two panels as I did D’Allesandro’s prose.

Barry, Ernie Pook’s Comeek (1979-2003)

  1. (Ignoring the title and by-line) Caption: An opossum, says Freddie, has 50 teeth and 13 nipples. My aunt says ‘For the love of God I’m trying to eat.’ Image: A boy sits holding a cup, sitting in front of cabinets. The text informs us of a conversation going on, one speaker is established: Freddie, and then two more, as the phrase “my aunt” introduces not only the “aunt” character, but a speaker as well. It also establishes a relationship between the speaker and their aunt. A conflict is set up between Freddie and the speaker’s aunt. The pictured boy the reader assumes is Freddie, though that is not explicitly stated, and only through juxtaposition of the caption, which highlights Freddie’s action (speaking) and the image of a single boy is the reader led to think the boy pictured is the Freddie in question (unless, of course, they are familiar with the strip and its cast). The image of Freddie sitting with a glass in hand in front of cabinets combined with the speaker’s aunt’s exclamatory “I’m trying to eat” imply the setting of a meal around a kitchen table. This information is again not textually explicit, and adds to the anticipatory nature of the panel. Anticipation: Freddie’s relationship to both the speaker and their aunt are unknown. The setting is implied but not stated, and may be realized as something else. Additionally, conflict has been set up, and its continuation and resolution are now anticipated.
  2. Caption: My aunt is his mother. She says the correct word is ‘teats’ and they must never be mentioned at the table. Marlys says “13 teats sounds unlucky.” Image: a girl sits holding a spoon in one hand and holding up the other with her fingers spread. She is in front of cabinets, a sink, and what is possibly a dishwasher. The opening sentence relieves the anticipation of relationality. Retrospectively, we understand Freddie to be the speaker’s cousin. In the following sentence the aunt’s speech locates them “at the table.” This, in addition to the image of a girl holding a spoon and sitting in front of a sink, confirms the reader’s anticipated setting. The aunt’s declaration sets up for a possible end to the conflict, were a new character not introduced immediately after. Marlys, whose relationship with the other three at the table is unknown, does exactly what the aunt had just prohibited. The image of the girl is then assumed to be Marlys, as a) she has just been introduced and her actions along with the aunt’s are the focus of the caption and b) it is clearly an image of a child and not an aunt/mother. The two images of children eating are, in their juxtaposition and relation to the captions, which place all actors in the same location, seen as both sitting at the same table. Anticipation: Marlys’ relation to the other actors is in question, and her blunt remark implies she has a close familiarity with the rest of those at the table, who we know to be related. Marlys’ statement heightens the conflict previously set up, and new complications must be worked out before its resolution.

Barry’s formal style requires a more simplistic, linear execution, but even in two relatively unassuming panels, we see the process of anticipation and retrospection used in a variety of ways. It is also worth noting that because I am equating the prosodic sentence with the comic panel, a degree of slippage occurs. Each of the panels above includes multiple sentences, and were I to parse them one by one it would reveal even more subtle layers of activity within the text. Most notably, though, in dissecting these panels, the notion of juxtaposition becomes increasingly complex, and the reader is required to do much more work in producing meaning from juxtaposed images and words (e.g. identifying Freddie and Marlys, locating them at a kitchen table together). Spatial placement and juxtaposition are among the most essential elements of comic making. Fortunately for my purpose, they are also critical to Hejinian’s theories of openness.

IV.      SPATIAL PLACEMENT/JUXTAPOSITION, or a brief look at the page

In “The Rejection of Closure,” Hejinian notes the openness of poetry where “words and lines are distributed irregularly on a page,” something she calls “field work.”  Field work, for Hejinian, is a prime example of poetry where “the order of reading is not imposed in advance,” the reader must use her own faculties of imagination and connection building to improvise a method for reading the text. She uses as example Robert Grenier’s Cambridge M’Ass (1979), which presents for her a “mind’s eye view of Cambridge, Mass. and environs.”

Grenier, Cambridge M’Ass (1979)

(Reproduction of Cambridge M’Ass, high resolution version here)

Grenier’s piece clearly subverts the traditional English reading process. Looking at Cambridge M’Ass, the reader quickly realizes it is impossible to read the poem line by line, left to right and downwards. She may choose to approximate this as much as possible, but the boxed units discourage it, they present themselves as discrete and separate. The physical size of the piece enforces this as well. The first block the reader is confronted with will be different depending on where and how one is reading/viewing it and the physical size and shape of the reader. The work, then, brings immediately to light the process of reading itself, and asks its reader to make an active choice from the very beginning of her reading.

This is an element shared by both poetry and comics—the reader’s initial visual impression of the page is an essential element of her reading. When reading a piece of pure prose, each page looks more-or-less identical, and the placement of text on a page rarely informs the reader of anything. In a comic or poem, however, the layout of the page and the page seen at a glance in its entirety imparts immediate data to the reader. Consider, for instance, the thumbnails from M Norbese Phillips’ Zong! and Ikeda Ryoko’s Oniisama e… and the immediate information received from them as opposed to an average page from a novel, which may only imply certain publishing and marketing demographic information based on the typeset.

M. Norbese Phillips, Zong! (2008) | Ikeda Ryoko, Onisama e… (1991)

My Life is a book of prose poems though, and I do not mean to discount its merit as a brilliantly spatialized literary work. The imposition of prose into poetry, which has been dominated primarily by verse until the last century or so, and still dominates the popular notion of what “poetry” is, is a radical visual act. The compression of “the line” into “the paragraph” imparts both contradictory feelings of contraction and freedom as well as cuing the reader to adapt her reading method to fit the poem’s form—something nearly all well-crafted poems do.

“A pause, a rose, something on paper” is written as a single paragraph, taking up the entire page, with no indentations. The text is so densely packed together that the reader is confronted with a massive amount of information at once, and must improvise a method of reading to comprehend the work. The text is democratized on the page, no one word is given more significance than any other by the form, and in fact every word is entirely reliant on its surrounding words to attain meaning. The compression of the poem into a single paragraph also allows the reader to draw more connections between words and phrases. While in a poem with shorter lines and multiple line breaks the referential action of the language is primarily vertical, in Hejinian’s work the motion is both horizontal and vertical. Returning to my epigraph, “A pause, a rose…” begins with this sentence:

“A moment yellow, just as four years later, when my father returned home from the war, the moment of greeting him, as he stood at the bottom of the stairs, younger, thinner than when he had left, was purple—though moments are no longer so colored.”

Reading “a moment yellow” at the top, the reader’s eye is immediately drawn not horizontally to the next word, but vertically to “the moment of greeting him” below, before moving back to “just as four years later” and continuing horizontally from there. The repetition of “moment” in “though moments are no longer so colored” is notably separate from the two, earlier, “colored” “moments,” not only in its literal description but in its placement on the page. The third “moment,” then, breaks the reader’s anticipation of what a “moment” is, and forces her to reassess the earlier “moments”, now knowing their colors (yellow and purple) are no longer present. The “moment” is opened to the reader: what has colored the previous moments and why are they no longer colored? Are questions she must ask herself as she reads.

Looking this way at a page from Alyssa Berg’s “No Man is an Island” (2017), yellow is again a prominent element of the part—but this isn’t particularly relevant, what’s relevant is Berg’s use of space with regards to multiple trajectories of reading.

Berg, No Man is an Island (2017)

Immediately, Berg’s spatial presentation allows the reader to forego a traditional reading method. Though the text in the top panel technically precedes the second, the black outlined “you say” in the middle of the page is the most immediately legible phrase, due to its placement and the boldness of black outlines against yellow. Conversely, the text in the top panel is produced through negative space, printing blue around the space where the text should be. A reader may choose to move up and read these, willed by the perceived obligatory nature of reading top to bottom. Even then, though, the eyes move up, and to reach the top of the page one must pass, even if only half-perceived, the yellow text, “when I look somewhere else.”

Two green shapes fill the top left corner of the page, the traditional starting point for reading. The first, smaller shape, points downwards, while the second, larger one points right to the first (spatially) text on the page. The greenness of these shapes incites notions of plant life, and their form could be considered that of a leaf. Similarly outlined green shapes pull the readers eyes down on the right half of the page, arranged in a way that could be considered a tree. Blue repeats itself at the bottom, pushing right. The bold black human shapes which foreground the page’s imagery pulls along with the blue, down and left, onto the next page. Because the reader’s velocity has multiple trajectories, pulling her eyes up down across and back, and it is up to her to decide how to read the page, the page must also re-connect with the reader and cue her to move forward.

As the reader moves her eyes across the page, the process of anticipation and retrospection becomes incredibly dynamic and complex. Because Berg has opened space for the reader to make her own decisions regarding the text’s production, the order in which each unit elicits anticipation/retrospection will be different for each reader and upon each reading.  

V.      REPETITION, repetition

Repetition, an integral aspect of comics, holds a similar place within Hejinian’s open poetics. Repetition, Hejinian argues, while traditionally understood as a tool for unification, in her own work is used to challenge “our inclinations to isolate, identify, and limit the burden of meaning given to an event (the sentence or line).” Through repetition, the difference between seemingly identical words and phrases is emphasized, and their reliance on relationships to other words, phrases, and emphases becomes clear. Repetition is used not only in single words (as seen previously with “moment”) but in syntactical composition of phrases. In a later section of the poem, Hejinian writes: “The better things were gathered in a pen. The windows were narrowed by white gauze curtains which were never loosened.” Here, there is repetition of construction: subject—were—verb—prepositional phrase in the first to phrases and additional phrase in the second sentence “which were never loosened,” which breaks the form while still repeating the use of “were.” This draws connections between the subjects (“the better things,” “the windows,” and “white gauze curtains”), which in isolation would seem entirely different, but the reader is forced to connect them in her mind, and justify that connection with her own imagination. The prepositional phrases begin with “in” and “by.” “In” is locational while “by” gives accountability to the “white gauze curtains,” which are the only thing in these phrases with any agency. The placement of accountability on the “white gauze curtains” in the second sentence makes the reader reassess the earlier sentence, noticing the lack of any agent who gathers “the better things.” Here, repetition points towards omission and draws new connections and distinctions.

In comics, the author’s ability to repeat certain aspects of each unit is increased immensely and brought to the forefront of the creative process. As the spectrum of visual representation and abstraction is opened, so are elements of visual composition that can be repeated or changed. On the most basic level, the contrast of image and word is heightened when one of the two is repeated. In this page from Michael Deforge’s Lose #4 (2012), the images’ similarity is made apparent, while the movement of the text stands out in contrast (visually, the two have been markedly separated as well). The motion of the text propels the repeated images through time, while the stasis of the images’ repetition pulls counter to that motion, producing a sense of anxiety, boredom, or impatience.

Deforge, Lose #4 (2012)

Repetition of words force the reader to retrospectively re-evaluate the previous uses of said word, as well as its relationship to the image it corresponds with. In “Pretty Smart” (2015), Andy Burkholder emulates a stream of consciousness by carefully repeating words, which build upon each other becoming intermixed phrases. The evolution of these phrases is through the literal repetition of them, and through repeating, language changes, in the tradition of Gertrude Stein. Burkholder’s images present an extremely short timeframe in contrast with the amount of words on the page. Forcing the mass of repetition into a small temporal space speeds up the progression of language. The words begin to overlap, even as they are physically separated, as the movement, the most notable change, is not the water dropping, or the phrases evolving, but the repetition of the words themselves.

Burkholder, Pretty Smart (2015)

VI.      GOOD-BYE, vain wishes

Hopefully, by unpacking the literary and aesthetic techniques of some of Language Poetry, and revealing its use in the comics medium, I have shown how the “open text” is not limited to writing with only words—in fact it requires the author to see the words as more than words. By taking a phenomenological approach to authorship and reception, new connections can be made across mediums, and new approaches to authorship can be developed. Simply because comics have historically been a medium for incredibly closed works (situational comedies, superheroes, detectives, westerns, war, romance etc) does not mean they lack potential for openness. The power of a technology to close knowledge is equal to its power to open.

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Jackie Kirby is a poet and comics maker living in New York City. A recent graduate from The New School with a BA in Cultural Studies, she has been making comics and writing poetry seriously for three years. Check out work by Jackie on her website, and follow her on Instagram. Read Jackie’s Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency Report for more thoughts on comics and poetry, and her article on Meter, Geometry and Comic Form.

11/09/2017

Sam Ombiri with thoughts on Yuichi Yokoyama’s Garden, and Bryce Davidson with info on Grass Green, and South African comics!

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Sam Ombiri here: At first I struggled to read Garden more than any other Yuichi Yokoyama book. At one point, maybe out of frustration, I began just reading the images. In Garden, Yokoyama isn’t putting much effort into the emotional build up of his characters, or making their expressions stack up – unlike in World Map Room, where the enjoyment of the words, and what the characters say, is more immediate. The interactions in World Map Room culminate into something larger, something which pushes the rest of the book, and which is key to understanding what structure that the characters will enter next. In Garden, there is no guide, whereas in World Map Room we had Enterprise – and at the very beginning, those mysterious workers who were going across the river. In Garden there is no one to tell the characters what’s going on.

After all, the whole book is about trespassing – how then can you have a guide? I like how the characters have no motivation beyond curiosity, and that their trespassing is presented purely as function. It makes their quest all the more unspecific, and therefore their run-ins unspecific. The inherent philosophical tone in their inquiry toward a foreign structure or force affecting them really resonates with me as a reader, and says a lot without saying anything directly, about the nature of the lives we live. It asks questions that are at the back of our minds, ones that don’t form.

We can’t always, if ever, present all the attributes of being a human to every second in a story. We have to make concessions, because certain things will strike us automatically, and we like that for many reasons. One reason is that it makes it easier to make and read comics. It’s strange for Yokoyama to try to erase the typical feelings humans possess, and only surrender to certain ones, but, especially in comics we always do this – it always happens. Yokoyama’s concessions with portrayal aren’t concessions at all – he’s directing all his efforts to erase what we’d typically see as a concession, if we were to look. It’s important to note that he’s doing this purposefully, turning what we’d see as a concession into a primary function! (I feel this could make his readers distrustful of his work.)

Yokoyama isn’t demanding a huge amount of reaction from doing this – it’s only because he’s interested in doing his work this way that it turns out this way. I think it was Derik Badman who said that World Map Room is basically Yokoyama in a rut. I think that’s a false assessment, just based on the way Yokoyama works.

The strip with the copier in New Engineering tells it all – he has run out of ideas from the very beginning, and is creating a new function for the way we draw. It’s judging Yokoyama by the wrong criteria, because he doesn’t engage, as far as I know, with thrilling or entertaining the reader – which is not to say that he does or doesn’t. We as the readers are the ones who react to it. “Why would you be so selective with what emotions are put on display?!” we ask him.

While Yokoyama isn’t exactly portraying the characters in a humanistic way, or rather is aiming to disconnect from a humanistic take on the characters (but even to this Yokoyama has to make concessions to his own goal, by making his characters inquisitive at times, as mild as it may be, and a microscopic amount of sentimentality shows up every now and then) he’s still presenting humans. They may not be attached to a specific culture – they are only the specific species of human. Even if the story is told from what he imagines to be the perspective of birds, animals don’t, as far as I know, have a real point of reference for our behavior. His goal is well realized here in Garden, again with no guide and with no one except the other characters to ask questions, the answer often being silence – since they’re trespassers.

For those who haven’t read Garden I urge you to read it, not for what I’ve said above – but you have to visit these structures in Garden. Some of the most spectacular stuff is in there. It’s one of the easiest comics I’ve read, and continues to be. Just read the images, and if you feel lost just read what the characters are saying – their words are there simply to help you read the image. You’re traveling with them. – Sam Ombiri

Get a copy of Garden (PictureBox, 2011) HERE.

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Bryce Davidson here with thoughts on Afri-comics, Grass Green, and tiger men.

Before I start I want to introduce myself to the CW readers out there, as this is my first post. I am a cartoonist and illustrator from Boston. I have released multiple comics and anthologies showcasing my work, most of which can be found at my website. I am also a Santoro Correspondence Course alumni and had recently met Frank for the first time in person at SPX this past August. He was nice enough to ask if I wanted to write for the blog so here I am! Also thanks to Sally and the rest of the CW crew for having me.

I had very little in mind when starting this article. Most of this was found doing research into the South African comic book market, which had interested me after I had seen images of what I would later know as Afri-comics – all South African comics in the style of popular American titles that were produced from 1976-1978 – on the website, southafricancomicbooks.blogspot.com, which, as far as I can tell is a very extensive, constantly updated, database of South African comics. Most of these appear to be reprints and imports of famous American comics like Superman, Batman, etc. You can look for yourself if you want. The site is credited to George van der Riet, of whom I can’t find much on.

The Afri-comics I was finding on there seemed at first to be knockoffs of famous EC titles, re-branded to a South African market, with examples such as, “The Vault of Horror” being replaced by “The Witch Doctor’s Cave”, with really good art. The art was good enough to compete with most of the EC guys, and I thought some of the characters were nice too, Tiger Ingwe especially. While most of these titles had clear American analogues, the aforementioned EC rips and their most popular title, Mighty Man, a blatant Superman knock off. Tiger Ingwe on the other hand seemed kind of his own thing. Half-man, half-tiger, all action. It was a pretty straight-forward title – he went around going on Conan-esque adventures in the jungles of South Africa. Battling tribes, saving people, you get the idea. Still it was nice to see that quality work in a market I otherwise knew very little about.

With this peaking my interest I did a little more research into the topic. Pretty much, up until the time that Afri-comics debuted, South Africa was saturated with “Photo Story Magazines.” Serial magazines which used photography and actors to tell stories in a comic format with word balloons and all. They were cheap and quick to produce and very popular. Other than reprints or imports of American comics, there was no official South African-made comics. New and existing artwork of high quality, paving the way for country’s comic scene! Who was making these? Who was this unknown pioneer from Apartheid era South Africa who was producing close to Wally Wood level work? Unfortunately, as it turns out that’s not quite the case. There was a reason it was such a superior EC knock off… It may have been drawn by them. While there are no creator credits listed in the books themselves, according to Nick Wood’s article, “Soweto’s Super Man: ‘Mighty Man’ and the mid-70s in South Africa”:

That funding for the comic had come from a group of Republican Americans, including the media magnate John McGoff – and was developed by Richard Manville, a New York marketing consultant with clients in South Africa. Manville had sold the idea to J. Van Zyl Alberts in South Africa, who ran the pro-government newsweekly ‘To The Point’. Manville had developed the stories with a team of free-lance cartoonists, which apparently included Joe Orlando.

Crazy capitalists pushing republican propaganda to South Africa in the form of Joe Orlando comics? Joe Orlando, for those unfamiliar, is one of the best members of the EC gang. IMHO his story, Judgment Day (1953), which focuses on race politics, still holds up as one of the best sci-fi comics ever. Hands down. The article continues:

[Orlando] had said: ‘there were certain guidelines…Like not screwing around with the government.’ Orlando had wanted the comic to include one-page outlines of heroes for black readers to identify with, such as the slain leader of the anti- Portuguese struggle in West Africa’s Guinea-Bissau, Amilcar Cabral. Not surprisingly, this idea was turned down and extra short strips run were instead about African folk stories such as ‘Anansi Plays Dead’ and black soccer players in local leagues.

Come to think of it the laws that Mighty Man, “The Human Law Enforcing Dynamo” was enforcing were in fact apartheid laws. Tiger Ingwe on the other hand, whose stories focused on straight action/adventure themes, doesn’t suffer quite as bad; but you can see how awkward it is to have what should be a purely black African character, acting like they are cut out of a Buck Rogers strip.

Well it’s a pretty big bummer without a doubt. My hopes of finding the South African Jim Davis were crushed, so I shifted my focus over to Richard “Grass” Green – notable for being the first black participant in the American underground comix scene of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. While his professional work is few and far between, mostly working for Charlatan comics, his fanzine work, most notably Xal-Kor: The Human Cat is great, crazy, trippy, interesting Afro-futurist stuff.

Part Kirby, part Ditko, but definitely it’s own thing, Xal-Kor offers a slightly gentler super-hero experience then we are used to. It is defiantly worth reading if you are able to track down the issues. One thing I couldn’t help thinking though is how similar the design was for both Tiger Ingwe and Xal-Kor. Both were obviously tiger men, not exactly a new concept, yet the way they were both depicted in their beastliness was shockingly similar.

I noticed the distinction because the other beast hybrid characters I can think of (mostly Japanese) are King from Tekken, Guin from Guin Saga, Tiger Mask, all completely replace the head with the animals’. Xal-Kor and Ingwe don’t do that. Instead the creators chose to retain many of the human features, most notably the noses and mouths. It is a neat choice and seems to push the man/beast metaphor further than purely replacing parts. I can’t say if Grass Green had ever seen Tiger Ingwe or would have known anything about it, but it stands out as a nice little design connection within comic book history. Overall it seems to me that the beast/man motif seems to play nice with a lot of the themes within both the political agendas being pushed into the Afri-comics and the Afro-futurist, civil rights message which rings throughout Xal-Kor. Both works grappling with the burdens of the world through the medium of comics.

You can read more about Grass Green and see more of his work HERE.

(Bibliography – Wood, Nick. “Soweto’s Super Man: ‘Mighty Man’ and the mid-70s in South Africa.” South African Comic Books, 2011, southafricancomicbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/sowetos-super-man-mighty-man-and-mid.html.)

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Suzy and Cecil – 11-9-2017 – by Sally Ingraham

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Joanie and Jordie – 11-9-2017 – by Caleb Orecchio

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Cozytown – 11-9-2017 – by Juan Fernandez

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A Comics Id is Tenderness: Notes on Cartoon Crossroads 2017

by Adam Griffiths

The first book I purchased on the expo floor at this year’s Cartoon Crossroads Columbus was Kyle Baker’s.

Earlier this year, I had seen Baker speak at the Schomburg Center in New York about his book, Nat Turner to a roomful of kids. At the time, I had been struck by his ability to communicate; his engagement with the audience seemed intrinsically connected to his unabashed and explicitly mercantile use of language. Odd, how this seemed to captivate both his panel members and the audience, young and old.

The persona of the salesman is an American motif – a motif that, under our current political climate, is being reduced to prideless status by the huckster in the Oval Office. When exactly did Americans need to believe that a good businessman’s success is dependent upon rhetorical violence and winner-take-all bullishness? I chose the term ‘A Comics Id is Tenderness’ for this write-up because Baker’s work revisited me several times during this expo. Over the course of the week, it became more and more clear to me that Baker has been a creator who has deftly championed the stories he feels are important to him alongside of his commercial work, who has kindly informed peers of his intentions, who brushes from shoulder the allegedly unforgivable concept of sacrificing creativity for financial gain.

More on this later. To the lectures!

(Editor: What follows are Adam’s notes and thoughts on the lectures and talks he attended in the two days of CXC programming held on the OSU campus (9-28/9-29), and the two days of the CXC expo which was held at the Columbus Metropolitan Library (9-30/10-1.)

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Dan Gearino on Research Methodology Applied to Comics-Making History 

(Thursday, Sept. 28th 2017, at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum)

Gearino’s new book, which he spoke about

Notes from the talk

Dan Gearino on Phil Seuling: Phil Seuling is regarded as a pioneer of comics fandom during the late 60’s and early 70’s – first when serving as organizer of the annual New York Comic Art Convention and then with his Sea Gate Distributors Company, which laid the groundwork for the direct market system of distributing comics.

Did Seuling’s arrest on March 11th, 1973 lead to the creation of the direct market as we know it today? Seemed so, but when Gearino went investigating, he found that the arrest, for ‘distribution of obscene material’, was nowhere near as simple as he thought. While fellow early comics distributors and champions of comics such as Jim Hanley sincerely believed that Seuling’s aggravation with censors was the spark for his history-making wholesale business venture, Seuling’s former business partner Jonnie Luvas could vouch for Seuling’s motivations more clearly.

Luvas sketch

The tricky part here was that Luvas, less a comics fan and more a business ingenue, had moved on from comics. To find this person who could truly vouch for Seuling’s acumen in business, Gearino had to ‘go outside of existing source records,’ and penetrate several outlying personal networks of non-comics lovers. Luvas (yes, Johnny Thunder is named for her) was a key figure in Seuling’s business life who understood that Seuling was actually seeking to escape his passionless teaching gigs.

The importance and meaning of this investigation has to do with progressive incarnations of the comics business. Before the direct market, Gearino explains, comics were sold indiscriminately as mass market objects; this was how comics ended up as a part of mainstream culture. You could find them anywhere – on newsstands, in grocery stores, dime shops. By the late sixties, however, this business model was crumbling, and store owners were clearing gluts of low-cost, low-selling comics from their retail spaces.

Seuling’s creation of the direct market paved the way for the comics specialty shops of the 1970’s and 80’s. These specialty shops saved comics as we know them, as they could not only sell new comics being made, but also the comics of yesteryear. Comics hoarding found its reward in this new market. Back issues and loyal accumulations of forgotten works could be pulled out of obscurity.

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Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum Highlights

Tales from the Vault: 40 Years / 40 Stories, curated by Jenny Robb and Caitlin McGurk

Comics history is both creativity and industry, here illustrated by selections of original works and artifacts.

“Creepy” was the first word that came to mind when regarding this bathing suit from 1950, scribbled on by cartoonists such as Ernie Bushmiller, Milton Caniff, Alfred Androla, Otto Soglow, Ham Fisher and others. The museum has six of these bathing suits, and they were drawn on by these superstar artists at a promotional party for a waterproof ink pen. Life magazine photographed the party and later, deciding the images were not family-oriented enough, declined to publish them.

Roe v. Wade Comics
Comics has a documented history in its deployment for use in the political arena. Here, we see two causes with inverse agendas using comics as propaganda. You can read either of these comics in full at http://www.ep.tc/junior/

Who Killed Junior? 1973
This comic, published by the organization Right to Life (the largest pro-life organization in the country, now called The National Right to Life), illustrates the abortion procedure from the viewpoint of a destroyed fetus.

Abortion Eve, 1973
By “Chin Lyvley” (Lyn Chevli) and “Joyce Sutton” (Joyce Farmer)
The hazards of promoting abortion in America in any way are evident here in the authors’ use of psuedonyms. The women both worked as birth control counselors at The Free Clinic in Laguna Beach, California. Under the heading of their company, Nanny Goat Productions, they published this comic which provides arguments for the legality of abortion, and also personal accounts from a diverse array of women about their abortion experiences.

I Know! Let’s Drop Taxes Completely and Let Our Kids Worry About ‘Em! 1985
Jim Kammerud for Norfolk Daily Press / Times Herald

Drop Taxes Completely “Jim Kammerud Collection”

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Handwritten Notes from Talk and Teach Presentation: Kevin Huizenga on Depicting Time in Comics Form

(Thursday, Sept. 28th 2017, at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum)

Kevin Huizenga

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SÕL-CON LUNCH BREAK AND TALK-BACK
Kat Fajardo, Vicko Alvarez, Lisa Sheperd, Jiba Molei Anderson

(Friday, Sept. 29th 2017, in Hal Hall, on the OSU campus)

(Editor: Sol-Con is another comics festival that happens on the OSU campus simultaneously, allowing folks to move seamlessly from CXC events to Sol-Con events, as Adam did here and there. On Sat./Sun. the Sol-Con guests and exhibitors joined the CXC expo at the library.)

Aldama, child and mother in front of stage

“What is your favorite thing about comics?” was one of the questions asked by the large group of children attending SÕL-CON this year, which, in my year of absence had transformed into an intensive of workshops and instructionals on drawing and storytelling for youth. “My favorite thing,” said moderator Frederick Aldama, “is seeing the younger generations take up making comics.”

A real standout during this talk was Chicago-based Tejana Vicko Alvarez, who couldn’t stress enough that the kids present recognize that their taking part in SÕL-CON probably meant that each and every kid there was interested in a life pursuit doing what they loved. “I tried to find a career [in a 9-5 job] and got bored of it real quick,” she says, and then admits, “the one thing I enjoyed I was told not to do. It was smartest decision I ever made to come back to art.” She continued, it helps that “I had a really pushy friend,” who encouraged her to follow her calling in comics.

“How many of y’all have heard that art is gonna make you money?” Vicko asked the audience. All of the kids raised their hands. “How many of you like art?” All hands raised. At this point, Jiba Molei Anderson, who was watching the talk, joined the panelists onstage. “If I ignore something I love, my mental focus is gonna go out of whack, right?” Alvarez declared. The children agreed with her.

“We are all here for the love,” Anderson says. “Even when we’re frustrated we’re not gonna quit. Creative people, to survive we really need to create…that hamster wheel never shuts down.”

“But tethering that to real life is always a challenge to me,” said Lisa Sheperd.

Lisa Sheperd notebook drawing

Lisa Sheperd talked about how doing this expo was moving her back towards comics. “Seeing that spark in you guys’ eyes reminded me of the spark I once had [when I was getting started]. That’s a great thing that doesn’t happen everyday! I’m putting my work out again because SÕL-CON encouraged me… Don’t let it slide by and let life get in the way.”

CXC organizer Caitlin McGurk at SÕL-CON opening reception, introducing the show

More Quotes from SÕL-CON Panel

“What don’t you like about comics?” was a question from a boy who remained behind with his mother after the other children left for workshops.

– “I don’t like posers in art trying to tell me how to create,” said Jiba.

-“I don’t like what I see when people not from my community try to tell my story,” Vicko Alvarez said.“What do you see when you see Latinas in the media?” she asked the audience. “Sexy hot mammas!” A woman called out. “Most Latina women look like my mom,” Alvarez continued, and “if you don’t tell your story, somebody else will, and they’ll base it off of stereotype.”

-“Mainstream comics look to what we’re doing right here, right now. The problem is, there are not enough people of color working at DC at Marvel,” Jiba Andersen says. “the people here in this room today? Creators of color? We make our own. We do it this way because you have a community that has felt so maligned for so long… They [the mainstream] see what we’ve been doing, we’re here and we’ve been here. The problem is that the push-back can’t be handled. They know that we can talk to people who cannot listen through our art.”

-Vicko: “[In the mainstream, instead of being inclusive,] …people put out tragedy porn and that’s not changing a thing.”

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Chris Ware and Caitlin McGurk

Spotlight on Chris Ware

(Friday, Sept. 29th 2017, at the Wexner Center, on the OSU campus)

Analyzing the brain in motion

A near religious silence had fallen over everyone walking out of the Chris Ware dialogue at the Wexner Center. A masterful storyteller and illustrator, Ware’s talents have been visibly leading the illustration world, in the name of comics, for some time now. His discussion with Caitlin McGurk signaled that he remains unrelenting.

As I was listening I realized that Chris Ware’s humorous import is indeed a formula, but that he definitely showed up at this discussion, and probably shows up at every discussion, trying to give away that formula, which is great. Any artist worth her/his salt is always acting within a spirit of generosity. Perhaps Ware is so incurably sad because of how bad he himself believes he is at communicating; a suitable contradiction for a person who has donated their life to creating works of art.


The Chris Ware formula (or, American humor in a nutshell)

1) Declarative sentence.
2) Rebuttal of declaration (typically more complex and cruel than it needs to be, so, funny.)
3) Agreement with his own previous rebuttal finally, because self-rejection is an un-frightening, redundant horror that should make you smile warmly.

So then what Ware does is he puts the formula to work. The guise here begins with Ware saying:

1) “Comics are an art of memory.”

2) But then, because everyone in the room including Ware is, y’know, kind of old, we then have to have a discussion about how terrible we all are at remembering things. Of course we have to bring this up, because in order to remember what we were just (just!) speaking about, we have to introduce dissonance tension to our brains through aural communication with other humans. We are becoming ridiculously complex here in the service of Ware’s humor:

“When you become a cartoonist, you begin to lose track of your language.”

We as an audience, are becoming redundant in order to allow Ware to mirror the brain’s experience of memory for us. Where did Ware get the concept of “comics as an art of memory?” Why in fact, Ware states, rather meekly, he got it from a paper that his stagemate, Caitlin McGurk wrote!

The room warms to Ware as the surprised McGurk, suddenly joyful, becomes flustered and confused, flushed and slightly embarrassed. Ware has delivered his sweet, sweet punchline. It’s almost too saccharine, nearly syrupy!

Ware brings up grid cells, saying, ‘if we remember a house, it exists physically in our brain.’

3) The agreement that Ware has set us up for here is that we’ve been having a discussion about McGurk, not Ware, since we began, and that we will now remember, “Comics are an art of memory,” in all its redundant, charitable, pitiable human glory. Too clean!

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Was Herriman spoofing the political magazines of his day?

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CXC Award ceremony

(Friday, Sept. 29th 2017, at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum)

Jeff Smith, Kyle Baker, Howard Cruse, Jenny Robb

(Editor: Kyle Baker was awarded the CXC Master Cartoonist Award, and Howard Cruse won the CXC Transformative Work award.)

Revelations from the award ceremony:

Tom Spurgeon praises Kyle Baker as a “Leticious learner.”

After thanking Howard Cruse for his “Masterful work,” Tom Spurgeon asks Cruse to think about getting Stuck Rubber Baby back into print. ‘Oh my goodness, it is a shit-ton of work to re-release a treasured, nearly forgotten book,’ I scribbled. Then it dawned on me: Stuck Rubber Baby isn’t merely a political story about the Civil Rights Movement. It’s a teen mood sugar fiction that affects a whole country.”

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Kyle Baker and Connor Willumsen

The Other Mainstream: Indy Creators on Non-Indy Books
Jeff Smith, Peter Bagge, Kyle Baker, and Connor Willumsen

(Saturday, Sept. 30th 2017, at the Columbus Metropolitan Library)

In this dialogue, we are revisiting Kyle Baker again. What’s unfortunate in this particular discussion is that there is no visible female contribution. However, what ended up happening was that Kyle Baker – long known for his trademark crankiness – opened up to the audience in a way that is (apologies, meme) unexpected.

Peter Bagge: “Spiderman (Bagge’s creation → Spider-Man, Startling Stories: The Megalomaniacal Spider-Man – a reinterpretation of the SP origin story) was the best-selling comic I had ever made and the worst-selling Spiderman Comic ever.”

Kyle Baker laughs at Peter Bagge’s comment, then goes on to say: Robert Morales, when developing the script for the series “Captain America: Truth,” has used the term ‘drugs’ throughout the entire story. The story details a fictional declassified experiment in which African Americans are the precursor experiment to the secret project that creates Captain America. “We gave the manuscript and art to the publishers and they loved it, but they wanted to replace the term ‘drugs’ with ‘serum,’ so essentially the term “drugs” in Morales’ story came to stand less for something like the Tuskegee experiment and more for the alleged HIV conspiracy.”

Baker then described how he revisited some of these themes from this book in Leticia Lerner, Superman’s Babysitter, a short comic he completed in 1999 for the DC Elseworlds 80-Page Giant #1.

I’m going to revisit Kyle Baker’s work again at length here, to describe, I guess, what sort of happens with modern commercial illustrators in regards to their relationship with their employers. Baker is willingly immersed in comics mythology – it has replaced any previous myths imbued in him in concern to civilization – everything from religion to gender. Somehow, this deep engagement has made him an indispensable employee within a mainstream corporate media outlet. It may seem that Baker retains a sort of power through publishing these stories that are really important to him and to his progression as a drawer. However, the full picture we don’t get from Baker when he is telling us about these industrial anomalies – these stories he most cares about – is that he’s also completing an insane amount of commissioned work as he gets the access to publish these stories that mean the most to him.

Sketches of Kyle Baker and Connor Willumsen

To end here, I want to include some quotes by Connor Willumsen, a fresh cartoonist whose work I think represents the next wave of comics, which is COMICS LITERATURE.

“You can never predict what people are gonna respect or not.”

“With Witchlands, I tried to do it like uh, how these comics are invented?”

“I always found out about these rules [about how to draw and depict certain characters] the hard way.”

What was so calming about when Connor spoke of his experience in mainstream comics contemporaneously was that the industry-men sitting next to him quivered at hearing of Connor’s creative travails. Connor’s a young man, no children to take care of, no family to support; his focus remains on the mythology and drawing practice, not on salary. What luxury had those seasoned professionals grown to actually? Who cares? It was nice to see those older industry men loosen up – they all asked Connor if they could take a look at his books later. I don’t know who planned this discussion, or if anyone could foresee that this type of generational showdown might occur, but we were there to witness it.

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Howard Cruse, Emil Ferris, Mimi Pond, Derf Backderf: Quotes from Comic Memoir Discussion

(Saturday, Sept. 30th 2017, at the Columbus Metropolitan Library)

Below are a few quotes from this discussion, in which Emil Ferris, creator of My Favorite Things is Monsters, comes to the realization that these comics people are in fact, her people.

Emil Ferris

“You can’t be afraid to make yourself look like an asshole” -Derf Backderf

“That guy who wrote Stuck Rubber Baby is a different guy than who I am today. The guy who wrote that book exists within the soft glow of goodwill.” -Howard Cruse

“I could see the danger of getting stuck in a place like that.” – Mimi Pond, on writing about being a waitress in Over Easy and The Customer is Always Wrong.

“Fine art was a pile of bricks accompanied by a long explanation… I finally came to the fact that this story was going to be a graphic novel.” – Mimi Pond

“When I first encountered Lynda Barry,’s work, I recognized an artist who goes to a place in her head that I’ve seen before in my own head.” – Emil Ferris

A question that came up was:
‘Is the persistence of memoir comics a novelty of identity politics these days?’

“All those labels are out the window. If it’s good comics, we want it.”
-Derf Backderf

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Quotes from SÕL-CON Panel Three: Creators of Color & Industry
Moderated by Crystal Gonzalez, J.M Hunter, Carlos Perez, Albert Morales, Andres Vera, and Verzelle James

(Sunday, Oct. 1st 2017, at the Columbus Metropolitan Library)

from Verzelle James’ Edventure Guide

“You have to be proactive about finding your market.”

“They ask for diversity, and then they say,’uh, it’s a little too diverse.” – Carlos Perez

“Respect is key. If you write a story without research, it’s all that you don’t know that gets left out.” -Michael Bendis, cited.

When I saw Verzelle James’ comics earlier in the week at SOL-CON, I knew I had to have them. They were/are the best of what comics has to offer – symbology applied, in varied textures of ink, to the surface of a perfectly managed black and white newsprint surface. Seeing his work and getting to speak with him was like diving into a longbox, finding a floppy comic you like, and as you flip through it, the author sidles up and says, “Want me to sign that?”

Only eight pages of comics here from 1991.


James only had about four comics to sell, some reprints of pin-ups, and all of them were over a decade old. These were his passion projects. During this panel, James discussed how much commercial illustration work he had done. I realized, looking over his books, that whatever had happened to spur these floppies into being was something that he wished to revisit. How had he gotten this work into this conference? How do works of such creative fervor flame up again and manage to find their way into the eye-range of another creator? After the panel, James asked me how I felt about the discussion. “Insight from people in the industry is priceless,” I said. He didn’t seem to have a problem with that answer.

Reasonably though, what does success really look like for people of color in the comics industry? I could bring up a few artists, one or two writers, sure! But progress, in and of itself, can masquerade too.

I think that if Cartoon Crossroad Columbus is to continue upping the stakes for gender, age, and race inclusivity in comics, then something must be done about the SÕL-CON/CXC partnership. This year, the connection between the events became ever more evident, with Caitlin McGurk and Jenny Robb doing as much equal time as they could between both conferences, and SÕL-CON participants being flagrantly present at CXC events. The best innovation is how exhibitors from both cons are mixed in together during the expo and lectures that take place at the library during the weekend. This year, SÕL-CON took the step of educating youth about drawing, and CXC took the step of giving Kat Fajardo the emerging talent award. The first year of this conference, I remember running from one side of campus to another in order to get the most out of both cons. This year, I definitely did not have to do as much running, but I’m wondering if the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum couldn’t stand to create some dedicated programming to incubate talent outside of the OSU student body that will engage at a community and studio capacity with their collection and resources.

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Emil Ferris Spotlight

(Sunday, Oct. 1st 2017, at the Columbus Metropolitan Library)

First, if you don’t know about Emil Ferris’ My Favorite Things is Monsters, read this article so I don’t have to re-explain the miracle that this book is.

Emil Ferris interviewed by Amy Chalmers

Second, I have never read My Favorite Thing is Monsters. It was a book that came out to much acclaim this year, and it wasn’t until I saw Ferris herself, and most significantly, heard her speak that I now feel the impulse to go and get the book.

It took Emil Ferris six years to write My Favorite Thing is Monsters. What sold me about the book is what Ferris means by Chicago. “The west is nothing like everywhere else in the world. Everywhere else, the wealth you have is in the older people in your life,” she says.

Ferris means ‘old’ Chicago. In her own words, Ferris states that ‘there were all of these older actors and actresses from the silent film era, Georgette Leblanc types who were living alongside survivors of the Holocaust. It was a deeply haunted population…I realized I had access to all of these stories.”

“As I was drawing forth my smaller self [working on the book], love kept being the thing that kept me going…I realized that I wanted my kid to see me kick some ass, and we have to give our daughters badassery.”

“There’s some gender cruelty in monsters.”

[on drawing] “The line creates secret unknown things to people from the heart of the creator.”

“I began to see that each page I did had a taste. One page had a taste of rosemary and mint. Another tasted of syphillis, though I have never had syphillis…that’s what synthesia does.” [this seems to be said in regard to the fact that Ferris contracted West Nile Virus and was paralyzed from the waist-down. During her rehabilitation, she began writing MFTIS.]

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Going to close on Kyle Baker’s work. The best reason to visit a conference like Cartoon Crossroads Columbus is that you get encounters with current and historical works about modern life that aren’t going to be seen elsewhere, all in one room. There is a cornucopia of independent comics creators from all walks of life here and let’s face it: The fine art world doesn’t accommodate unknown milestone creations from the world of comics, and the mainstream world of comics doesn’t accommodate emergent comics that might be unquantifiable within the canon of superbabes, superheroes, blood, guts, and uberships. It’s an in-between world where the sentiment of western middle-class expression is never treated condescendingly as ankle-browed nostalgia or visual brik-a-brak – a place where a commercial illustrator like Baker can let loose creatively, outside of his industrial obligations and have an audience, where an unconventional illustrator like Mimi Pond can fictionalize her own biography as a waitress without interpretational friction – a place where an established editorial cartoonist like Signe Wilkenson can introduce a new audience to her work within the appropriate context of its historical footnotes.

It’s intellectual even when it’s pretending to be dumb. It’s philosophical even when it’s aping the pleasures of brain-vacancy. It’s irreverent without portending the inherent complacency of ‘fine.’

It’s comics, and it is the most central American art.

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Adam Griffiths is a comics artist from Takoma Park, MD. Catch his ongoing comic – American CRYOHERE.

Rowhouse Residency Report: Andrew White

Andrew White is a cartoonist based in Washington, D.C. He was one of Frank Santoro’s first students, served as an editor of the Comics Workbook Magazine, and has continued to be a cornerstone of the Comics Workbook community for years. He joined us in Pittsburgh for a Rowhouse Residency in July 2017. Here are his thoughts about visiting the city and his Rowhouse Residency experience.

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Andrew making comics poolside in Pittsburgh

 

I visited Pittsburgh for just under two weeks in July. It was the first time in years my schedule allowed me to focus on comics full-time, and I was anthropologically curious to see if I was disciplined enough to work on comics for 8+ hours each day. I was also interested to get a sense of how the Residency is functioning and evolving just around a year after its creation. While I was there I worked on the following projects:

  • All There Is – A set of critical essays and drawings on Kevin Huizenga’s Ganges: The River at Night
  • The Life You Save May Be Your Own – An adaptation of a Flannery O’Connor short story by the same name.
  • Drowned River – A long work completed before arriving in Pittsburgh, for which Frank offered comprehensive and incisive feedback.
  • An untitled series of large format drawings. Maybe these will be incorporated into a comic eventually. I’m not sure.
  • Two untitled stories, both still at early stages. I drew pages for one and took notes for the other.

I think other reports do a good job of describing what it’s like to participate in the Residency. So instead I’ll indulge myself with a less linear list of thoughts that occurred to me while visiting Pittsburgh.

Building Institutions – I took the second iteration of Frank’s comics correspondence course in the spring of 2012. I know Connor Willumsen also took the course at that time, but I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember who else was in the Class of 2012. Frank, you should publish a list of who has taken the class when! It would be interesting to see.

Anyways, I mention the course because it was nice to see where Frank has landed as an educator, a community organizer, an institution-builder, and a creator almost exactly five years after I first got to know him and perhaps ten years after I started following his work. Having watched Frank move from occasional lectures and teaching positions, to his correspondence course, and now to the residency led me to think about the way institutions are built up and broken down in comics. It’s an interesting and regularly discussed topic, particularly when a publisher or store or school is shut down.

Many publishers in comics exist largely through the willpower and dedication of a single person. This can be sad – Picturebox, Highwater, Buenaventura, and many others did not last beyond their founder’s involvement in the company. Of course, the flipside of this flimsy infrastructure is that barriers to entry are relatively low. Even if those publishers are gone, they had a real and significant impact. The books they printed still exist, even if they might be hard to find. Many of the artists they supported are still working. The same is true for schools – if CCS or SAW or Frank stopped teaching tomorrow, students would still retain the impact of their education.

All this is just to say that while I certainly lament the occasional deaths of publisher or other institutions, I think we’re sometimes more eager to wring our hands about finances or distribution (important things!) than to celebrate the impact of these institutions and think about how that impact will carry forward after they’re gone.

[A quick tangent: Frank and I talked about departed publishers a bit. He made the interesting point that some of the work published by a place like Sparkplug isn’t necessarily that good, because Dylan Williams was so committed to supporting cartoonists early in their careers. But do we remember these early projects for their flaws, or for being a significant step in the career of important creators? What are the benefits and drawbacks, artistically and financially, of publishers waiting until a cartoonist is completely ‘ready’ before publishing their work?]

But it is also important to build something that might last beyond your personal involvement. I would say Frank has started to do this. People like Sally Ingraham and Juan Fernandez now have significant involvement in the Comics Workbook project, the Comics Workbook site offers a venue for many writers, and the yearly Comics Workbook composition contest continues to offer a platform to recognize new voices.

What lessons do the evolution of Comics Workbook and the Residency offer? Build slowly, accumulate staying power over time, stay flexible so you can respond organically to a changing world. Frank can be impulsive in his decision-making sometimes, but this allows him to react organically and shift his plans if needed. He can change course based on feedback or on his own sense of what has become important.

Another lesson: Don’t grow too quickly, and stay accessible. Frank’s correspondence course is still the same price it was in 2011. Obviously the course won’t be for everyone but I think Frank does a good job of being transparent about what he’s offering.

So where exactly does the residency stand now? It’s been running for just over a year and has accepted nearly 20 residents. Some residents aren’t very familiar with Frank and his approach, so they essentially get to take his correspondence course in person as a significant part of their residency. Others come with projects in progress and are seeking feedback on these specific works. Frank aims to check in with residents for a few hours each day at least, but also makes clear that he needs to spend time on his own work.

On that note, Frank has maintained his productivity as a cartoonist – I’d even say the past year has been especially productive – which helps residents see what the life of a working cartoonist is like. This also makes me happy as a fan of his work. Sally Ingraham manages the logistics of the residency (schedules, etc.) and also instructs residents at times, given her experience as an educator. Frank and Sally both say the residency is going well, though they’ll be taking several weeks off from hosting residents this fall as convention season begins.

In terms of the wider Comics Workbook project, Frank plans to continue working with graduates of his course and other cartoonists to offer Comics Workbook workshops at conventions like SPX and CXC, as he did for the first time in 2016. Comics Workbook isn’t producing any regular publications at the moment (though copies of Comics Workbook Magazine and Zona are still available from Copacetic Comics). I don’t think it’s my place to speak for him in depth, but like many of us Frank is reassessing his plans and his priorities after the US election last November. One of his conclusions is to try consolidating his efforts, focusing on doing a few things well and maybe stepping back from others. These plans are still very much in progress, so I’m curious to see how things develop.

I’m jumping around a bit, but I think it’s important that these detials exist in writing rather than just in people’s heads. I want some record of where the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency stood in summer 2017 to exist.

That’s another downside of comics’ flimsy institutions – they can be difficult to document. I think about Gary Groth’s efforts to secure one comprehensive interview with important creators in their twilight years; an admirable project but one that should at this point be extended to younger generations and beyond cartoonists. Did anyone conduct a comprehensive, career-spanning interview with Dylan Williams or Alvin Buenaventura before their untimely deaths, for instance? I could be wrong but I don’t think I’ve seen one. Let’s try to get this stuff recorded before it becomes an urgent need. That’s an effort we can all contribute to.

One of the projects worked on while at the Rowhouse Residency

Format Fever – I came to Pittsburgh with a few comics recently completed. I was proud of this work but unsure when/if/how to have it published. Sometimes I don’t want to make the decision of whether something is good enough to publish; I’ve thought before that I’d just like someone to just tell me what to do with a comic once I’ve finished making it. This is of course unrealistic, and an easy way out besides.

Frank has always been interested in formats, and talking about format with him led me to two insights. On one hand, there are no easy solutions to these questions. Each of Frank’s past comics has been presented in a different format, and he’s at a moment with his current project where he isn’t sure exactly what publishing approach will serve it best. Since each project is different, answering that question doesn’t get easier. On the other hand, there are solutions to be found. Some formats or publishing venues really do suit a project better than others, and in ways that might not be immediately self-evident. Thinking critically about this can yield results – I left the Residency with more concrete plans about how to publish and present my future work.

“Painting” with markers on tracing paper

Studying and Experimenting – As a cartoonist I’m often focused on Getting Things Done; I’m usually drawing for a project rather than drawing just to draw. This is useful, but it also leads to unnecessary frustration when I’m not productive. It also leads important activities like reading, planning, and experimenting with new approaches to feel less ‘valuable’ than they actually are. With so many more hours to fill than normal in Pittsburgh, I allowed myself time to read books and comics, copy images from comics or art books, and do some journaling to reflect on my progress. I do these things from time to time on my own, but they’re not a consistent part of my practice. It was nice to be reminded how valuable and pleasant these activities can be. I’ll try to do them more often going forward.

Frank also led me through a few exercises that he’s developed in the time since I took his correspondence course. Part of what I appreciate about Frank’s perspective on comics is that he’s willing to stake out territory confidently. This is provocative in the best sense of the word. By this I mean that I don’t have to imitate Frank’s approach for him to be a helpful influence – doing the opposite of what he recommends, subverting his techniques, or ignoring his advice entirely all lead me to do different things and think about my work differently.

Yearly Cycles – In my eagerness to get work done, I also sometimes jump from one project to the next without enough consideration. I don’t think I’m alone in this and I don’t think it’s always the wrong approach. But sometimes it is. Frank has talked in interviews about how the painter Francesco Clemente would sit around for days, smoking and doing nothing – but then produce huge amounts of work in sudden bursts of activity. I don’t smoke and I don’t necessarily have entire days to devote to the difficult work of thinking, but the general principle still applies.

It was interesting to listen to Frank talk about past stages of his career, current projects, and future plans. He likes to reflect on what he has done before – especially, I’m sure, for the benefit of residents – and apply this perspective to upcoming decisions. In conversations along these lines, Frank encouraged me to make key choices about my work in three months or six months rather than today or tomorrow.

We talked about planning projects in terms of yearly cycles. Frank argued that a year is the minimum amount of time needed to complete a longform work, in part due to the time needed to build momentum and uncover a fruitful approach. He talked about throwing out roughly a third of the pages completed for his current project, a ratio that happens to hold true for my most recent long comic as well.

I also spent part of my residency working alongside Ian Densford, who takes another approach to planning very different from my own. Ian is working on a long project for which he has made several key decisions – format, length, approach, etc. – in advance. He’s doing careful research and I don’t believe he throws out many completed pages. None of this is uncommon, I think, and Ian seems to also have left himself space to make many decisions about individual pages and sequences over the course of his project. It’s just interesting to think about the different ways people construct their creative lives.

One of Andrew’s first comics, found at Copacetic Comics

 

Copacetic Comics, Longboxes, and Legacies – Bill Boichel of Copacetic Comics was the first retailer to buy my comics and has been among the greatest and most consistent supporters of my work. I’m far from the only person for whom this is true. Bill’s longevity also speaks to his abilities as a retailer; he has kept his doors open for more than double the length of other stores without ever sacrificing his support for great work. He has also made compelling abstract comics for decades. Plus Bill has an excellent critical eye; just the descriptions of my comics on his site are among the most insightful reviews I’ve ever received.

This was my first time visiting Pittsburgh and therefore my first visiting Copacetic. If you’ve never been, it’s worth a visit. At first you’ll see just a careful selection of newer releases, but hidden treasures abound. In just a few hours, I found several Ignatz books I hadn’t seen in years; one of Raina Telgemeier’s original Smile minicomics (left with Sally Ingraham, given her interest in the underdocumented, undervalued history of female cartoonists); nearly all issues of Julie Doucet’s Dirty Plotte; a huge stack of Kramers Ergot 1; and much more that I’m forgetting.

Perhaps most exciting for me, however, was discovering a copy of Kevin Huizenga’s Supermonster 11 (1999). I’ve been a fan of Huizenga’s for a while, and it seemed precipitous that I’d see an issue of Supermonster in person for the first time while writing about his work. A nice moment.

This was also another reminder that Bill has been supporting good cartoonists for years and years (he says that, given its appearance in multiple formats, the Gloriana story in Supermonster/Or Else/a Gloriana hardcover is among Copacetic’s best selling comics). Plus it’s just fun to see a skilled cartoonist’s early works. However, this was also a resonant moment because I found Supermonster not long after pulling a copy of Black Pillars 2, one of my own earliest works, out of a nearby longbox.

There was something very compelling about this for me – the idea that in Bill’s dusty longboxes, comics by you and me and Kevin Huizenga and someone who only made one comic ever are equally valued and equally likely to be discovered. Many of the Xeroxed minis in Bill’s catalogue are bagged and boarded, treated with just as much care as any other comic. It was rewarding to see the work treated with the respect it deserves. It was encouraging to imagine that someone might discover my comics at Copacetic almost 20 years in the future. It somehow made my goal of continuing to made good work in 20 years (and 30 years, and 40) more tangible. More achievable.

That seems like a good note on which to conclude. I had a good time in Pittsburgh and I did my best to work hard. The Residency is an interesting project at an interesting stage in its development. I look forward to watching it grow.

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Check out Andrew White‘s work HERE. His most recent comic is N, available for preorder and debuting at SPX 2017. The anthology he edited with Madeleine Witt – Warmer – will also be available at SPX 2017. Be sure to check out Andrew’s writing on comics – some of his essays and reviews are listed HERE. Follow Andrew on Instagram.