RM Rhodes presents commentary on The Adventures of Dieter Lumpen by Jorge Zentner and Ruben Pellejero
Jargon is awesome. Comics has a lot of it. One of the more interesting terms is the artistic technique of spotting black areas. This is often shortened to “spotted blacks”. That is, determining what areas of a given page and/or panel should be inked in before color is applied. It’s one of many artistic techniques one can pick up while making comics. To date, I haven’t picked it up.
But I know what to look for, which means I can appreciate it when I see it. There’s an entire group of arguments whose style relies heavily on spotted blacks, if you want to look for examples. The most obvious is Hugo Pratt, whose Corto Maltese series is a masterwork of the style. Milo Manara, who worked with Pratt, has a much more elegant line, but the blacks give his linework its characteristic solidity. Frank Miller was inspired by Pratt and even named an island in Dark Knight Returns after Corto Maltese.
The Adventures of Dieter Lumpen is the best series of stories I’ve read in Heavy Metal, by far. I was very excited when IDW announced that they were printing a collection, including material never printed in English before. For the record, that’s three short stories – Time Bomb, His Master’s Voice, and A Question of Skin – and the long story The Reaper’s Price. All of the other stories were printed in Heavy Metal between 1987 and 1990.
One story – Games of Chance – was only printed in black and white in Heavy Metal and is printed in color in the collection. Reading that story in black and white helped me see how good Pellejero’s spotted blacks are. He relies very heavily on shadow and profile to add drama.
Heavy Metal issue #113, Fall 1987 – Page 67 The Adventures of Dieter Lumpen: A Game of Chance by Zentner and Pellejero
After the initial batch of short stories, there are three longer ones. The short stories are clearly written to be serialized in anthologies – the staple serialization format in European comics markets. The longer stories could be printed in standalone albums, which drives the tone and complexity of the series. The shorts are wrapped around a single location or idea and the longer ones have much more complex themes because they have room to breathe and stretch out.
Pellejero uses color and a confident line to build on top of a very solid foundation. The real appeal of the series are the settings. The premise is that shortly after the war, a German named Dieter Lumpen gets a job as a chauffeur and the first page of the first story finds him being chased through an Istanbul market by a man with a gun. From there, he travels to the Agean, Haifa, India, Sri Lanka, Paris, Manaus, Tunisia and the Caribbean.
The appeal of these destinations is Pellejero’s ability to render them almost like a documentary film maker, matter of fact about amazing sights, which adds verisimilitude. The amount of detail on each page means that every time you return to a page, you notice something new. And the stories are very rereadable.
To be sure, these are the adventures of a white European wandering through the wreckage of a post-war world. The nationality of the main character isn’t really brought up, and the backstory is never explored. He was clearly old enough to serve in the war and somehow managed to walk away without any physical injuries. He’s now wandering the back corners of the non-white portion of the world, somehow miraculously encountering the only white people in the area. It’s a world that’s right on the cusp of post-colonialism and the tensions are on the page.
Heavy Metal issue #129, November 1990 – Page 22 Dieter Lumpen: Enemies in Common by Ruben and Zentner
Not everyone is ready to stop fighting – Lumpen finds himself caught up in revolutionary actions in Palestine, India and Tunisia. In almost every story, he (or a companion) are looking for something. And, almost inevitably, there is some kind of violence along the way. In every case, Lumpen is a reluctant hero, mostly running away from confrontation whenever possible.
Even the most peaceful story, Caribbean, has some violence. We find Lumpen living in relative obscurity in the Caribbean (duh), only to have his peace shattered by the arrival of a film crew. He agrees to act as the lead actor in the pirate movie they are there to shoot.
The entire process of making a film is wonderfully compressed into two pages. In Heavy Metal, these were printed as a two page spread. In the collection, they are back-to-back, which somewhat ruins the effect.
Heavy Metal issue #121, July 1989 – Pages 34&35 Caribe: Dieter Lumpen by Ruben and Zentner
It’s easily the best story in the collection. It’s the second of the longer stories and it is very much about a man giving away a chance at fame. As a mediation on celebrity and stardom, it’s very effective. There is a mix of action and pensiveness through the whole series and this story rests on the search for a quiet place to grow old in peace.
The Reaper’s Price, the final story in the collection, is a real beast. It’s longer than any of the other stories and is a distinct departure from the rest of the series. Most obviously, every other story is about a specific place. This one features Lumpen travelling to multiple locations. It’s also presented in such a way that leaves the reader unclear if the story is real or some kind of dream.
There are elements that could be described as supernatural or mystical throughout the series, and at least one of the shorts is a ghost story. But all of those genre elements were grounded in a distinctly real narrative. This story contains a number of deeply allegorical elements. And the art style changes to suit the situation, making it the most complex story in the collection artistically and conceptually.
If you want a solid comic from a pair of European masters, The Adventures of Dieter Lumpen is highly recommended.
Heavy Metal issue #123, November 1989 – Page 90 Dieter Lumpen: Istanbul by Ruben and Zentner
Heavy Metal issue #121, July 1989 – Page 24 Caribe: Dieter Lumpen by Ruben and Zentner
Heavy Metal issue #118, Winter 1989 – Page 88 Dieter Lumpen by Ruben and Zentner
Heavy Metal issue #110, Winter 1987 – Page 76 The Adventures of Dieter Lumpen: The Bad Guy by Ruben and Zentner
Heavy Metal issue #129, November 1990 – Page 18 Dieter Lumpen: Enemies in Common by Ruben and Zentner
Sally here with new comics coming from Glynnis Fawkes, and Vanesa R. Del Rey and Jordie Bellaire – plus work from Gabrielle Bell, Keiler Roberts, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, and more!
Image Comics officially announced a new ongoing series called Redlands – it is made by “Eisner award-winning Jordie Bellaire (PRETTY DEADLY, Vision, Batman) and critically-acclaimed Vanesa R. del Rey (ZERO, Scarlet Witch, Constantine)“, and will come out in August. It’s going to be “witchy”, dark, and a “sick, weird love letter to Stephen King, Florida and Riot Grrrls everywhere but ultimately, hate mail for everything else,” according to Jordie Bellaire. More from the announcement HERE.
Earlier this month Vanesa and Jordie spoke to Entertainment about the series, a story that Jordie has been developing for years and one that Vanesa was immediately attracted to. Witches in Florida – what could be weirder and more wonderful? Jordie first had the idea in college, but shelved it for a number of years:
“I’m glad I waited because as each year passed, I grew as a person and the story changed as I became angrier and more passionate about things that were important to me. One day it clicked as I wondered what could change the things that upset me: What about the archetype female figure, the witch, could she change things? Witches taking over a town and assuming roles of actual influence really frightened me. And as the world has changed so much since November 2016, I find myself getting even darker with the material, and in a horrible way it makes even more sense now. The idea of corruption and monsters in places of power seems more believable than ever… Regarding art, I just knew Vanesa would be a great fit for this book. She has a relentless and visceral style that really gets under your skin and stays there.“
The setting is perfect, as Jordie grew up there and Vanesa currently lives in Florida. As Vanesa says:
“Florida is the exemplification of juxtaposition. It is a place where death and decay live together with growth and bloom. Where the young and old come to have fun in the sun. I wanted to work on something that was closer to home, someplace I could relate to better. I’ve been living in South Florida for over a decade now and I still don’t know it well. I want this project to be a chance for me to understand a little more, and a chance to bring readers into this strange world.“
Impatient, tired, ancient witches who are sick of the patriarchy decide to take over the local government and make some real changes – I can’t wait for this comic! Read more about it HERE.
Rosemary Valero-O’Connell spoke to Vice Money about being one of the few incredibly lucky cartoonists who can currently support herself by drawing comics. She lives cheaply in Minneapolis with a mess of roommates, mixes an almost un-manageable amount of freelance work with a full-time comics project she is working on with Mariko Tamaki (Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me), and realizes that she is living the dream – and that it may not last forever. The terrors and joys of the artist’s life. Watch the short video HERE. Check out more of Rosemary’s work on her website and via her Patreon.
Stuff and Nonsense
There’s a great article in TheGlobe and Mail about Annie Koyama‘s journey to becoming one the world’s most celebrated comics publishers – check it out.
Austin English is someone who makes these images that look like they were done by someone else. There’s clear intention (and this intention shows) that his images and words are working together, despite being somewhat independent of each other. Austin’s characters typically waddle clumsily, bounce, and skip through the narrative as it progresses. Gary Panter describes Austin’s work as “Tragic Polish puppet plays.” It reminds me of how Yokoyama views his characters as models and not really as real people – maybe their interactions are real, but they are limited in the things they can express, and everything they express is only expressed in these specific ways. Gary Panter also describes Austin’s drawings as sculptures, so it makes sense that there’s a kind of split from the words. The words, to some degree, pander to the clumsiness of Austin’s character’s movements, but they feel like they are doing they’re own thing. Before they submit to the predetermined purpose in the work, it feels like two different people, with different things to bring to the project, collaborated.
Now with Spider Monkey, perhaps as a result of Jesse McManus working from Austin’s script (or rather Jesse feels the obligation to work with the script) we end up with a work where the words and images are completely working together. Austin said that it was purely Jesse’s book, and he wrote it as something Jesse would draw. To my surprise, as I was reading it, I found that it didn’t feel that way. Maybe Jesse drew it like it was one of Austin’s comics. Also, Austin does not stay doing the same things very much, so this shift doesn’t feel like a sharp turn for him – with an artist like Jesse there couldn’t have been a more perfect path to be taken.
Austin says to be only writing is “significantly easier”, but it’s clear he didn’t do this collaboration because it was easier – he just found that it was. It ends up being organic. He doesn’t do too much to compensate for only writing. He doesn’t set out to “Wow” people, like with Disgusting Room (although make no mistake, I was wowed by Spider Monkey). Austin just does what he does best, approaching this book not as if it isn’t a special occasion – he just dresses up casually.
Additionally, we get special guest Jesse McManus to do fantastic, fantastic artwork. Jesse is every reason this book is as exciting as it is to read. It’s like we have been given a clearer, but appropriately disjointed fun-house lens to look at what Austin typically portrays in his work. The gags turn into a repulsive, uncomfortable demise, which the characters encounter with laughter and with the laid back attitude of business as usual, but for us the audience it reads not so much that way. With Austin’s artwork it would feel increasingly horrific and grotesque, but Jesse adds a way more whimsical charm to what’s happening, as opposed to a total nightmare.
I’m all for nightmares, but it feels easier to consume Austin’s more difficult work in what feels like an event. Austin describes difficult work as vegetables – you need to eat them to be healthy. So Jesse, like a parent telling a toddler “Here comes the airplane!” gets us excited to eat our vegetables. – Sam Ombiri
Ben Passmore talks to Geek Soul Brother about his current projects, and his comic Your Black Friend – HERE.
Marvel is canceling Ta-Nehisi Coates and Yona Harvey’s Black Panther & The Crew after only two issues, bringing an abrupt end to “the only mainstream comic book featuring a majority-black team of heroes” – pretty uncool. More details via i09 HERE.
Be sure to follow Adam Griffiths’ ongoing webcomic American Cryo – HERE.
Over on The Comics Beat Philippe Leblanc has conducted a series of interviews with comics makers who are attending TCAF. It’s a great list of folks – including Shee Phon, Iona Fox, Alabaster Pizzo, Tyler Landry, and others. Philippe identifies a few distinguishing characteristics of each maker’s work, the scene they’re a part of, or their target audience, and breaks it down with them. It’s great to see The Beat focusing this attention on makers outside of mainstream comics. This series documents an interesting moment in the community, and I appreciate the effort Philippe Leblanc has put into educating himself about the scene.
I noticed in the interview with Shee Phon that Philippe found her work through last summer’s Comics Workbook Composition Competition, where Shee Phon won 2nd place for her comic I know it’s not about me, but I don’t want to die. It’s worth noting how many makers find a broader audience for their work through this competition, or in fact are “forced” to complete their first comic. And so the community keeps on growing, thanks to the stewardship of folks like Frank Santoro – and Philippe Leblanc, and of course Heidi MacDonald (editor extraordinaire of The Comics Beat!)
Ann Telnaes delivered a speech to the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom recently, and the Washington Post shared a version of it. Ann is a Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist, and the current worldwide threats to her colleagues weighs on her mind. In theory, she and her American fellows are protected by the First Amendment, but some days she doesn’t feel very safe.
“I’ve always felt in the United States that an editorial cartoonist is the bastard child of journalism. This is because most editors see us only as comic relief, less than the serious, legitimate opinion writer. In reality, the only difference is that we use images and satire to express a point of view. And specifically because of the visual language we use, cartoonists will always be first in the line of fire when controversial subjects are being debated and free speech is threatened. Editorial cartoonists are a barometer for all our free speech rights; a silenced cartoonist is an indicator of an unhealthy environment for freedom of expression in any given society. If we want to protect free speech and the free press, we must vigorously protect the editorial cartoonist.” – Ann Telnaes
Here in Pittsburgh, PA, The ToonSeum is directing new focus towards comics education – check out the I Can Draw! Generosity fundraiser. The funds raised during this campaign will go directly to developing and running educational programming for kids and teens interested in making comics. Executive Directer John F. Kelly has rounded up some truly amazing donation rewards which must be seen to be believed. Pittsburgh is becoming a hub for comics education, and those of us at ground zero know how important this is to strengthening the community and ensuring it’s growth and staying power. I’ll be personally involved in this new direction for The ToonSeum, helping to teach and channel fresh energy and talent straight into the heart of things.
If you can donate to the fundraiser, thank you! If you can share the campaign, thank you! You can do both HERE.
Found In the Button Box
Chris Gavaler reviews Eleanor Davis’ You & a Bike & a Road (Koyama Press, 2017) for PopMatters – HERE.
Hope Nicholson, who wrote the recently published The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen (a sort of history/small encyclopedia of notable women in the comics community) has a guest post on Nerdophiles that features 5 Female Publishers Who Changed Comics.
Hyperallergic reviews Miror Miror II, the second anthology collection from 2dcloud, edited by Sean T. Collins and Julia Gfrörer, calling it “a porn stash you’d find in the cupboard of a medieval demon” which is about what I would have expected – read more HERE.
Cara Gormally has a comic on Mutha Magazine about making a baby with IVF – check it out.
Madeleine Witt has a new comic on Guernica called Under the Water. It’s about baptism, rising seas, and the end of the world. Read it HERE. She and Andrew White are editing an anthology about “the end of the world” together – debuting at SPX this year. You can see a sampling of the contributors to the anthology HERE.
“In this current moment of xenophobia in our country, reading this story is a powerful reminder of how little support remains for families seeking refuge—if they are not in fact barred at the border. Alekseyeva’s book is published by the indie Microcosm, and its lovingly hand-drawn style reminds me of xeroxed zines passed hand-to-hand, the kind of micropublication the press was founded to distribute. But the intimacy of the art accomplishes the ambitions of a multilayered, generation-spanning graphic novel. This is a book to read now and a creator to watch into the future.“
Check out the Conosaurus, created by Stephanie Zuppo (cartoonist and publisher of The Ladybroad Ledger) and John Wojtkielewicz (developer). The Conosaurus is a database intended to help creators manage their comics convention schedules.
“Currently, Conosaurus is focused on indie and mainstream comic conventions, zine fairs, and independent publishing festivals. We will expand to other convention types to meet the demand of the community. This is just the beginning!“
On The Comics Journal R. C. Harvey shines the light on an interview he conducted in 1996 with Playboy comics editor Michelle Urry. The piece is a fascinating look at the history of gag comics, their adventures in Playboy magazine (comics were officially discontinued in 2016), and the fascinating career of Michelle Urry herself. Check it out – you’ll need a nice chunk of time to really dig into it, but the article/interview is worth the effort.
“What if Kal El had been found by the Warriors instead of the Kents? The deadliest girl alive accidentally joins a super violent street gang. Are the Bleeders the family Jesse never had, or is Jesse the child they never wanted? What? Free snacks at the gang tryout party! Also, SCANDAL – one of the Bleeders is a spy!“
Keep an eye on this new project by Mitra Farmand and her sister Maryam – Childhood Memories of the Iran/Iraq War. They are telling their own story, and are also looking for submissions from other folks about their experiences during the Iran/Iraq war.
Sam Ombiri shares thoughts on Sammy Harkham’s Crickets #6 – plus other comics-related news!
Sam Ombiri here: What a fantastic issue of Sammy Harkham’s Crickets we got (#6)! I have to begin with how we got wonderful drawings from Harkham. Of course there are many comics drawn this way and many not, and I really don’t think about these differences so much, unless I’ve heard the author specifically bringing up the motivations for drawing the way they do. With Harkham’s drawings feeling somewhat rigid, it then becomes hard to penetrate the abstractions being offered – more so because they seem unlikely with this type of drawing. Actually it is really great that they aren’t so obvious to discern, even after “being discovered”, which is a testament to their strength.
Harkham says (in Comic Book Decalogue Episode #5, 2015), “The kind of storytelling I’m interested in is making things really stacked and dense so that one thing is going on with dialogue, one thing’s going on visually, and one thing’s going on in the background.” He adds, laughing, “Just to push the anxiety level.”
Abstractions are being offered to you. I think this is what is referred to by Harkham as dematerialization of drama; which I believe was first said by William Oldham in conjunction to Harkham’s work. Harkham says, regarding Somersaulting (which appears in his collected stories Everything Together, PictureBox 2012), “Any sort of plops is sort of the creative counterweight for the more quiet, calmer, open, sort of more contemplative sequences to still make it a comic.” – Comic Book Decalogue Episode #5
I think Harkham is still applying that principle to Blood of the Virgin (Crickets #6), but in a different way, thankfully. He’s advancing this new trick he found. What I really like is that Harkham didn’t just want to deal with another medium by making comics. He looks at comics like it’s the best medium, and the things that excite him about other mediums only furthers his enthusiasm for the comics medium. If I may make a contrived comparison, and this comparison isn’t completely parallel to Harkham, Leos Carax is a director who maybe wants to be a musician, so as a result his movies have scenes like this:
Leos Carax says his first movie was called Boy Meets Girl, but all his of movies can be called “boy meets girl” and it’s often the same movie, featuring one guy in love with two women, with the exception of Holy Motors. Likewise, Sammy says his stories are all about denial (a similar denial is exemplified by Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer!)
Harkham said in the past that he doesn’t want things to be expressive and moments to hold value over others. I think Harkham must see something similar in Brian Chippendale’s Ninja, where every panel has the same intensity. Or it’s like how Robert Bresson says he wants his actors to be like a virtuoso in portraying their afflictions. Of course other directors do this too – I only bring up Bresson because for me he has exhibited the most success with this mode of approaching expressiveness – in the way that I think Harkham is talking about.
Harkham once said that he has a distaste for when sadness is conveyed just by showing a character crying. Harkham’s connection between comics and film has more to do with Emir Kusturica, but I’m going to speak more about intention and methods. Recently, someone brought up the duck motif – they told me they’re excited to see what Harkham will do with it. Personally I think we already saw. It has happened, it’s already an active force in the story. The ambient quality of the duck is what we’ll get. I hesitate to call it a symbol. I feel personally that if I attempt to say what it is, I’ll sully it.
I was thinking a lot about how Andrei Tarkovsky said, “Bresson attempts in his films not to be symbolic; he tries to create a form as inexhaustible as nature, life itself. Of course this doesn’t always work. In fact, there are episodes in his films that are extremely symbolic and, therefore, limited – symbolic and not poetic.” (from an interview with Tarkovsky on A Bittersweet Life.) Tarkovsky then continues to say, “An obvious but banal example of this is the rabbit hunt in Mouchette.” I feel like if I rewatch Mouchette, Tarkovsky has officially ruined the scene for me, but you know, I’m only saying that as a joke, as Tarkovsky and Bresson kind of have this whole detached philosophy to the perception of their work.
Harkham’s primary concern seems to be to entertain – it’s just the way that symbol works that’s similar. When the duck motif was brought to my attention it felt somewhat ruined. Now, with what Tarkovsky said in relation to Bresson’s rabbit scene, Bresson’s intentions were rather different for this scene – but there’s still something of a consensus. Tarkovsky refers to this as a moral influence between artists, without which art cannot exist.
Harkham said, regarding Somersaulting and I’d imagine his work even now, “I realize that when you are directly influenced by someone, it’s not that you want to see something and copy it, it’s that you see someone, it’s a shortcut for a place you wanna go, so I knew the tone for that story and seeing Hopper’s work, in the flesh, just got me that much closer as a way to get there. Realizing that composition and a certain kind of composed quality, really measured quality, could go a long way towards that. So I think the story if I had never seen that show, the story would’ve probably resembled that in a lot of ways, but I probably would’ve taken more of a windy path to get there.“
Tarkovsky also said this one thing which is very similar to what Harkham said: “Just like everybody else who strives for simplicity and depth, I can’t help but identify with what he has achieved in this field. But on the other hand, even if Bresson would never have existed, we would have eventually come across this notion of a lapidary style, simplicity and depth.”
It’s a very similar idea in my mind, that these artists with different goals, who operate on different principles, can end up at the same place with the same goals. Or it can even be like Krzysztof Kieslowski says – “People in different places and for different reasons think of the same thing I tried to talk about – things that connect people. I think this feeling, this music, all these notes already exist, scattered somewhere, waiting for the person who’ll put them in order. The fact that two different people at different times, in different places, from different social strata, can put these notes together in the same way seems to be a sign of what connects people.” (from Cinema Lesson in Blue)
In The Blood of the Virgin, the story’s progression isn’t hindered by this other unnamed will to cause Seymour more afflictions slowly revealing itself. Seymour’s running out of places to go. We know he’ll end up face down just like it shows in the cover – the way it all turns out is worse than what I imagined. Especially for how believable it is.
Harkham says, “I don’t really strive for realism, but more for specificity.” The order of the tragedy isn’t what’s being relied on really, and it’s not the order that makes it compelling, but it does leave everything grounded. Harkham says that the way he sees it is, “Plot is just a coat hanger to hang ideas and jokes and emotions on to.” The moment where Joy just up and says movies are cheesy – in this moment when Seymour is trying really hard to reach the destination of this major quest he’s been on – has to join the ranks of that which he greatly reveres as important. As a reader at that point, I hadn’t really realized how much of his vision is being denied to him – it had already started. All I could think was “Uh-oh”. It’s these small micro losses that tell you clearly that everything’s coming apart. For some reason I thought that Seymour’s life would maybe get better, despite his struggles.
Harkham says, “I realized that what he (Edward Hopper) was doing with his paintings was something that I was really interested in – with a lot of the architectural drawings, and the interior a certain tone that you get out of the everyday objects and everyday spaces, trying to find the divine or the ambiguous – and he kind of does that so well, so it’s a visual touch point for that story I was working on, and I saw the show and there are a couple of exact echoes of the paintings in that story.“
Leos Carax compares cinema unfavorably to dreams, as in dreams you need to invent the way the way people move. Harkham says, “Cartooning is knowing how to use the sickeningly stupid blunt emotion of each panel and build something emotionally complex of it.“
Like designing someone’s car to signify what kind of person it is that drives it, or how Harkham says he likes how in The Swimmer, “It makes sense that the whole time the main character is in his swimsuit.” That the imagery is in complete conjunction with what’s going on with the story, and for one reason or another that’s what he’s aiming for. That the work dictates what’s gonna be in it.
“What I liked about comics as a teenager is the same thing I liked about punk rock and what I liked about gory horror movies: It just felt completely trashy and disgusting and stupid. You’d be embarrassed to read a comic on the bus – you still would. But I like that. It’s embracing that surface quality, not trying to make your work look smart at all, and then surprising the reader that this is a little bit richer, more layered, that there’s a lot more going on.”
I think what Harkham is saying is similar to how Funny Games lingers on people’s radar as just some fun horror movie to watch – but there’s really a ton of things to unpack there, so then he likes that spot. I’m not so fond of this idea of creating this spectacle of finding a dense story in an underestimated medium. I’m glad that Harkham doesn’t count on this spectacle, as it feels like a cheap trick. I feel similarly about something that Austin English said about how The Disgusting Room was made – he has in his mind come up with this idea that people who’ll read The Disgusting Room will think it’s a newspaper or something, but then be surprised with this imaginative comic (which it is). After hearing that, however, whatever enjoyment I got out of The Disgusting Room went up in flames, because what about the rest of us, where we already know how great comics can be? Or even to an extent I hear Patrick Kyle say he wants to make comics that can only be made as a comic – does that enhance the work being made though?
There’s a great essay by Connor Willumsen at the end of this issue of Crickets that talks about these things better than I can, about how what the soundtrack of a movie would be, or the sound design, or a prop, is something you think differently, but not too differently from comics. What the soundtrack is, is similar to the way an author can linger on, let’s say, the gestures of a character, and really slowing things down, to the most minuscule degree. It’s more acceptable, as a medium, to do that, so in turn that might be what a recurring element in a movie might otherwise do. I’m thinking of how it may all be about lingering elements within a work.
In Holy Motors a segment of this song plays before the character Mr. Oscar assumes a new identity. In some movies the soundtrack is something else entirely though. The best version of this coming to fruition that I can think of is in Blue from the Three Colors Trilogy – both movies kind of end with a musical number, though I have to insist that the song at the end of Blue is more appropriate than Holy Motors‘ within the story.
Connor doesn’t hone in on a cut and paste principle – that’s just easily applied – but the way I remember it, if memory serves (it often doesn’t serve me well), he just says that this is a principle that a maker or a reader can think of in conjunction with what the author might be doing that might otherwise remain obscure. – Sam Ombiri
Sally here – check out this incredible compilation of stock footage from Marvel and DC studios in the 1970’s – you can watch it below. There are lots of wow-inducing moments, but I especially enjoyed a brief glimpse into the beginning of Trevor Von Eeden‘s career – see him at 17 years of age showing some newly drawn pages to an editor at DC Comics – watch for him at minute 8:44! (via The Comics Journal)
Keep an eye out for The Encyclopedia of Black Comics, coming this September from Fulcrum Publishing and Professor Sheena C. Howard (Eisner-award winning author of Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation). According to her call for writers (which went out last August) she expects the book to include entries on at least “150 Black people in the comics industry who have published significant work in the United States or done notable work in the comics field, being included in the volume (including editors, publishers, illustrators, artists, creators, etc).” You can pre-order the book on Amazon.
Anthologies and episodic publishing arrived in Western Europe at more or less the same time, which makes sense. When you have four partial stories, it’s easier to bundle them together in a common publication and tell customers that the next installments will be available in a week or a month. And it’s less risky to convince a reader that has already bought the first part of a story to buy the next part than it is to convince a reader to buy a story they’ve never seen.
My point is that the anthology has been around for ages. It’s a very old, very versatile, very robust format. And that’s what makes the format interesting.
First, let’s talk terms. An anthology is a collection of short works. In this context, the works are comics, sequential art, visual narrative, comics-adjacent storytelling, informatics and some other lumpy labels for stuff that tells a story with pictures. The meaning of “short” varies greatly. Half and full page stories are common. As are stories that last dozens of pages.
Notice that there’s no requirement about whether the stories have to be complete. Nor is there one about whether the anthology is standalone. It is very common for anthologies to be released periodically over a pre-advertised schedule (usually weekly or monthly or some multiple thereof). And is also common for stories to be told episodically over the course of multiple sequential installments.
An anthology that met that criteria would then be an episodic periodical. But that term also fits the description of most magazines and publications – many of which are, in their own way, anthologies. If nothing else, precision of terminology will keep you from getting ripped off.
This highlights one of the most intriguing aspects of the anthology format – the flexibility. Everyone and his brother has put together an anthology, but there is always the comfort in knowing that anyone can put one together. It’s an easy choice for what to do with random bits and bobs that don’t fit anywhere else. It’s also a great way to spread the risk inherent in publication around a bit. The more people in an anthology, the more people have a vested interest in its success.
There are a huge number of decisions available to make: page size, page count, color vs b&w, binding, theme, creators, compensation, funding, printing, advertising, distribution. There is never a good reason to make an anthology, but every comics creator should try to organize one at least once in their life – it’s a very practical lesson in logistics, organization, motivation, and frustration.
The student of the anthology has a lot of examples to look to for inspiration.
Through the 1920s, there was a series of art journals and publications put out by various art groups in Europe: de Stilj, Dada, Cannibale, Le Couer, Cabaret Voltaire. Due to modern advances in printing technology, it is easier to self-publish zines with better production values. But it’s also interesting to note that the impulse to run an amateur publication of random stuff is perfectly normal.
There’s a certain amount of debate regarding how and when the cartooning tradition in Western Europe became the comics tradition of Western Europe. Some point to the broadsheets of the 17 century that introduced the twin concepts of anthologies and episodic storytelling as a precursor to modern sequential art. But it’s more likely that comics as we know them grew up during the 19th Century. And anthologies were an important part of that maturation.
The default format for professional episodic periodicals in American comics has been monthly comics of a set page length that may or may not have additional stories. Professional Franco-Belgian comics have been dominated by the weekly anthology format, featuring strips of half or full page in length. These were later collected into albums of 48 pages in length – which is how most English speakers have encountered this material. (If you’re wondering what was probably collected like this, flip through any album and look for a horizontal white gutter cutting straight across the book at the half-page mark.)
Probably the most famous anthology from this tradition in the English speaking market is Heavy Metal. It started as a monthly anthology that contained a mix of episodic and stand-alone stories. It sort of still does most of that. In the mid-80s, Heavy Metal shifted format and centered their publication around a single complete story with a variety of shorter stories as supplements. This influenced later anthologies and we can see that Island, for example, followed the same general model.
It is convenient to be able to read the more well-known stories in a mass market edition. However, it is also valuable to observe the original print runs of anthologies where- and when-ever possible. Reading material in the context that it was originally presented to the market in is very valuable. First and foremost, examining primary sources acknowledges the effort that was put into the anthology in the first place. Additionally, it highlights the kinds of commercial advertisements from the period printed next to the original material. Sometimes the juxtaposition is startling.
It also provides a sense of the flow of the reader through the book. Arguably, the order that the stories are presented in is important because it shapes the mood of the reader from cover to cover. Knowing that a story beat in a completely different story occurred directly before this story may have changed how this one was perceived.
Reading an issue of an anthology is like eating a club sandwich. There are a lot of different distinguishable flavors, but the combination is distinct. And that’s the whole point of producing an anthology.
RM Rhodes lives and works in Washington, D.C. His current project is a weekly online anthology called The Rumor published on the Comics Workbook tumblr – see issues of it HERE. Check out more of his comics at Louis Deux.
Sally here to close the week, joined by some of the cornerstones, gatekeepers, and “keepers of the flame” of the comics community – Lucy Caswell, Caitlin McGurk, Karen Berger, Dash Shaw, Frank Santoro, and more!
From the April 25th 2017 screening of Dash Shaw’s film My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, at the Row House Cinema in Pittsburgh, PA
Some weeks you get to meet and hang out with your heroes. Here in Pittsburgh we were lucky enough to not only get a screening of Dash Shaw’s new film My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, but Dash himself came to town for a few days. He and Frank Santoro, who created the main exterior background paintings for the film, were interviewed onstage before a special screening at the Row House Cinema, and then there was a meet and greet after the film (photos from the event are above).
I had been eagerly anticipating seeing the film, and it exceeded all my expectations. It’s beautiful and funny, with characters that I immediately identified with. I plan to see it in the theater several more times before it leaves town, and will be harassing all my friends into going as well.
It was cool to hear Dash talk about this type of animation and storytelling, dig into his inspirations and plans for future projects, and hear Frank’s take on being part – for a unique moment – of an animation “studio”.
Most of the comics community in Pittsburgh came out for the special screening. This support of Dash and Frank was well deserved, of course – but I was even more excited that one of my comics students – a 9 year old boy – was in the audience as well. I heard afterward how much he liked the film and how thrilled he was to see the creators in real life. I can only hope that he will be inspired to keep making his own work and really invest his energy in the things he’s passionate about. Maybe he’ll be the next torchbearer. Who knows?
It’s an interesting moment in the timeline of comics history, and Dash’s film, and Frank’s school, and the Pittsburgh scene, and my 9-year old student are all part of that moment. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
In the meantime, go see My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea – go meet your heroes – go make your comics.
Lucy Caswell (photo by Tim Johnson)
In other news (and following a theme here, in a way), Columbus Alive celebrates the 40th anniversary of of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum with a nice feature piece. They spoke to Lucy Caswell, founding curator of the museum, about the collection’s origins.
“…Caniff himself dubbed [Lucy Caswell] “the keeper of the flame.”
“It’s hard to go back, in a way, because people think about cartoons and comics in a very different way than they did 40 years ago,” Caswell said when asked to recall those early years, when clarity and stability were in short supply. “We were outliers. When I started, I did what all good researchers would do and tried to find out what similar people had done in similar circumstances, but I found that there were no similar circumstances. We were trying to make something new, different. But I believed it was important, and there were administrators on campus who also felt it was important. Funding was always competitive, and they — the administrators in the School of Journalism and in University Libraries — had to convince higher-ups this was something to pay for.”
“We were very fortunate that Milton Caniff … lived until 1988 and was a wonderful advocate for us. I can’t emphasize how important that was,” she added.“
“Caitlin’s agility in teaching across a wide range of courses demonstrates her adaptability and resourcefulness in bringing the unique resources of the BICLM collections to life for many faculty and students, and for others in the local community. Her outreach role has brought increasing national attention to the resources of the BICLM and to their potential for enriching curricula and deepening community engagement, and for enhancing the creativity of students and community members themselves. “
I am as much a fan of the work Caitlin does for the comics community as I am of any of my favorite cartoonists – so thanks Caitlin, and good luck as you continue!
“Jenny Zervakis is one of the great unsung creators of 1990’s DIY comics. Her zine Strange Growths was gentle and sincere at a time when most alt-comics were loud and sarcastic. They were poetic and allusive, delving into the heart of the human experience, and they were one of my biggest influences as a cartoonist.“
John P. is currently selling old and rare copies of his own work in order to fund the printing of this book – check it out HERE.
You can see work from some of the Strange Growth issues and hear another glowing opinion from Kevin Bramer over on Optical Sloth.
Karen Berger, editor extraordinaire, is starting her own imprint – Berger Books – under the banner of Dark Horse Comics.
“As founder and head of DC Entertainment’s Vertigo imprint, Karen Berger brought ambitious, outré series like “Sandman” and “Preacher” to mass audiences, helped prove that comics weren’t limited to superhero adventures and kickstarted the careers of writers like Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore.“
Karen was at DC for 30 years – she left in 2013, but is now returning – to the sound of trumpets and general fanfare. Considering that she likes “weird shit“, and that part of her incentive for returning to comics stems from the need she sees for an artistic response to the Trump election, I can only imagine her line of graphic novels are going to be exciting!
“In the next few months, Berger Books will announce its first titles. “I think I’ve been known for not publishing expected stuff,” Ms. Berger said, “and I think people will see that the first few books I’m publishing are not expected.” Among the first batch of titles, she hints, are “a near-future eco-fiction love story, a psychological crime horror thriller, a personal tale of race and identity, (and) an unseen side of a notorious legendary figure.” “
The Wall Street Journal has the rest of the details – HERE.
Sally here with the Kugali database, work from Adam Griffiths and Lawrence “Raw Dog” Hubbard, and your daily dose of comic strips by Comics Workbook creators!
I recently discovered Kugali, a curated database of African comics, games, and animation. The three Nigerian founders – Ziki Nelson, Tolu Olowofoyeku, and Maculay Alvarez – spoke to Konbini recently about why they started the site and their continuing plans for it. Ziki speaking here:
“My relationship with comics was love at first sight. I started with Spiderman and for over two decades it’s been non-stop. However, at some point I realized that the vast majority of comics consistently overlooked or simply ignored the African experience. At first this was disappointing. I felt like this thing that I loved so much didn’t care about me or my culture.
I reached out to my co-founders, both of whom had gone through similar experiences, and our goal was simple: find out if there are any African comics and see if they were any good. Not not only did we discover dozens of amazing comics, we also found awesome video games, cartoons and many other cool projects. The only problem I had with this revelation was the whole discovery process. So, we decided to aggregate all of this awesome content so people could discover the best African content.“
The Kugali blog is an excellent place to start exploring – check it out HERE. The official database can be found HERE. The guys also have a YouTube channel and a Podcast, so take some time to really dig into the comics of Africa and the African diaspora with them!
In his weekly roundup of comics-related stuff on VICE, Nick Gazin spoke to Lawrence “Raw Dog” Hubbard, co-creator of the Real Deal comics (with H. P. McElwee, who passed away in 1998). Lawrence has been working on the comic since 1990, and Fantagraphics recently collected the 7 issues.
“VICE: What’s it like to have this hardcover collection of your comics after all these decades?
Lawrence “Raw Dog” Hubbard: “What’s it like?” It’s a feeling of euphoria, of validation. Thinking of all of the hard work, hours of drawing and creating Real Dealand wondering, Does anybody give a shit about this?
All of the times me and H.P. McElwee took Real Deal directly to the people, the fans, they loved it! But at the same time when we went before the gatekeepers of the industry—publishers, distributors, shop owners—they said, “No! Why don’t you come up with a new superhero?” The best way to look at this is to never give up! If you love something and have a passion for it, stick with it! And whatever happens will happen! And thanks to Fantagraphics, the word about Real Deal will get out to gobs of comic fans who never heard of it before.“