Is Noah Van Sciver the finest cartoonist of his generation? It certainly seems like he’s on the path to earn that title, as readers of The Hypo and his contribution to Alternative Comics #4 will attest. Van Sciver further underscores his considerable talent in Deep in the Woods, a two-man anthology published on newspaper. Van Sciver’s original (I’m assuming) fairy tale involves a hapless and poor young maiden who flees her evil stepmother and alcoholic father only to come across a supernatural benefactor in the shape of a floating cow’s head. The temptation to let the story delve into parody or slapstick must have been tremendous, especially during sequences like the one where the girl, Robin, attempts to feed the cow, only to have the stew slop out the back of its head. But Van Sciver plays it deadly straight here, keeping the comedy at a far, buried distance (though not so buried that it’s completely undetectable). Filling his pages with suffocating black ink, often in the form of nefarious tree branches that threaten to engulf the protagonists, Van Sciver has created a decidedly claustrophobic, downbeat fairy tale that is no less magical due to the storytelling craft on display.
Nic Breutzman is someone I’m less familiar with, or rather, I should say I’m not that familiar with his work at all. I like his contribution here though, a somewhat more modern tale involving a poor, meth-taking family, the level-headed young girl that serves as our protagonist, a grandfather who won’t come out of a well and a nefarious creature that lives in a hollow tree. I’m all about stories that place archetypical folk structures and place them in a modern setting and Breutzman does that well enough here that I’m going to keep an eye out for what he does next time.
Sure, everyone gets worked up about turning comics into movies, but what about the other way around? Cartoonists have been attempting to cram great works of literature or art into tiny panels since the birth of Classics Illustrated. But many of these adaptations, despite the noblest of intentions, fall horribly flat or fail to evoke a tenth of the original work’s greatness.
There are exceptions of course; comics that not only manage to capture or add to the spirit of the original work, but in a few cases are the equal or better of the source material. Here then are six such examples. Feel free to include your own nominations in the comments section.
The first volume of March, released this week by Top Shelf Productions,just oozes respectability. Its author and protagonist is a well-known and well-respected figure, no less than a venerated U.S. congressman. It’s about an important subject – race relations – and set in a iconic and turbulent time period – the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. It’s the kind of book that both the comics industry and the mainstream media like to trip over themselves in holding aloft as an example of the sort of general interest, literate work that would not only appeal to a non-comics reading public, but can be shown as an example of how the medium is capable of more than mere spandex fisticuffs.
In other words, I absolutely dreaded having to read the thing.
It’s not that I think that comics only work best only when they recognize their low-gutter, high-slapstick, overwrought melodrama origins or that cartoonists shouldn’t aspire to tackle complex, serious issues. It’s more that these sorts of works – biographical dramas where the central character happens to be caught in the midst of a major historical event – tend to simply not be very good, a few notable exceptions aside. All too often it seems as though the authors make the fatal mistake of assuming the subject matter itself is enough to carry the work forward and neglect to focus on things like crafting sharp dialogue, compelling page compositions or an interesting – or even comprehensible – plot. The end result is a lot of boring books with noble intentions.
Thankfully, that’s not the case with March. While the comic stays well within its basic, Bildungsroman structure, it’s an engaging, well-crafted read nevertheless.
In order to find a home for Mickey Mouse on the comics page, cartoonist Floyd Gottfredson and his cadre of artists had to change things around a bit. The freewheeling, anarchic, carefree, gag-filled attitude of the cartoons was slowly replaced with fast-paced adventures stories, and while Mickey’s basic nature didn’t change much from the cartoons to the newspaper page, he did become tougher, pluckier and wilier. Gottfredson never abandoned the slapstick antics of the cartoons, but instead integrated it into the daily strip. Never the focal point, instead it was one of many elements used to keep readers engaged.
Feeling the need to expand your comics knowledge? Worried that you don’t know Rodolphe Topffer from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? Fearful that you might make a serious gaffe at your next sequential arts cocktail party?
Good news, help is on the way: The Sequential Artists Workshop, or SAW, located in Gainesville, Florida, is holding an online class on the history of comics. Taught by John Ronan, the class will go from the 1750s through the birth of the comic strip in the early 2oth century, with a focus on early humor magazines like Puck and Judge.
The class begins Aug. 27 and will be held live on Tuesdays, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., through Dec. 20. The cost is $99.
Fantagraphics Books announced today at Comic-Con International in San Diego that it will publish the work of Australian cartoonist Simon Hanselmann, best known for his ongoing series of “Megg, Mogg and Owl” strips that he now releases on his blog Girl Mountain.
Titled Megahex, the hardcover will feature than 200 pages of Megg and Mogg comics, including 70 never-before-seen pages. It will debut in summer 2014.
For those that aren’t familiar with Hanselmann’s work, Fantagraphics’ press release aptly sums up its unique appeal:
Megg (a green-skinned witch), Mogg (a black cat), and Owl (an anthropomorphic owl) are a trio of ne’er–do–well roommates cohabiting in a suburban flop house. Megg and Mogg spend most of their time smoking pot and having sex while Owl works various office jobs and usually comes home to find himself the as the butt of every joke. Behind the fart jokes and stoner humor are the depressed and misanthropic lives of these characters. Each possess their own tragedy which weighs on their shoulders, keeping them from escaping the nihilistic pit into which they’ve fallen. Equally funny and melancholic, Hanselmann is able to evoke empathy for his characters, making it easy for readers fall in love with this disdainful bunch. Part Ernest Hemingway, part Johnny Ryan, Megahex will make people laugh, cry, and then take a shower.
“This is literally a teenage dream,” Hanselmann goes on to say. “Fantagraphics has been my favorite/the best comics publisher since forever. I’ve had a Fantagraphics poster hanging over my bed since I was fourteen. My brain is doing confused celebratory cartwheels.”
This is indeed excellent news. As anyone whose read Hanselmann’s comics knows, he’s one of the most interesting cartoonist to come out of the Internet in recent years. While taking the basic template of your average stoner comedy (albeit with some fantasy and funny animal elements), Hanselmann isn’t afraid to take his characters into some very dark (and given their recreational habits, logical) places. It’s emotionally powerful, raw and uncompromising work that also happens to be really funny.
You can read the full press released after the jump, along with a short Q&A I conducted with Hanselmann via email.
Hitting the 30th anniversary of your career in comics is always worth celebrating given the medium’s tendency to chew up and spit talented people out (speaking of which, did you see that Graham Chaffee has a new book out?) That’s doubly true in the case of the Hernandez brothers, as Gilbert and Jaime (and sometimes Mario) have not only been able to stay in the game despite the various radical shifts in the landscape, they’ve been able to produce challenging, thoughtful, emotionally powerful comic consistently over the course of those three decades with nary a drop in quality.
Fantagraphics is celebrating the anniversary with a trio of books the focus squarely on the brothers’ signature title: The Love & Rockets Reader and Love and Rockets: The Covers – both due out later this year – and The Love and Rockets Companion: 30 Years (and Counting) the latter of which, co-edited by Marc Sobel and Kristy Valenti, just came out this past week. It’s an impressively thick tribute to L&R, featuring three lengthy interviews with the cartoonists, a complete list of characters in both Jaime’s Locas series and Gilbert’s Palomar saga, a timeline of the stories, an issue checklist and even a selection of highlights from the letter columns. In short, it’s the perfect scrapbook to some of the best comics ever made.
Sobel is the perfect person to be help shepherd this book: He’s written at length about Love & Rockets for Sequart (and the bulk of those essays will appear in the L&R Reader), and always with insight and intelligence. I talked with Marc over email about the book, how it came together and why it’s important to celebrate and discuss the Hernandez brothers’ work to such a degree. I could have kept the discussion going for days.
How were you initially introduced to Love & Rockets?
As a lifelong comics fan, I was aware of Love & Rockets for years, but I was too young when the series started and then I was just always reading new comics, so I never went back and checked it out. But around 2006, after a few years of writing reviews online, I decided I wanted to school myself in the classics of the medium so I would be a better, more informed writer, and I could enjoy higher quality comics, instead of just always following the latest fads. I decided to start with Love and Rockets because I found someone selling the entire 50 issues of volume 1 on eBay for cheap.
Continuing my ever-ongoing look at new comics from relatively new publishers, here are three books I recently received from the New Jersey-based Hic & Hoc:
The Hic & Hoc Illustrated Journal of Humor, edited by Lauren Barnett & Nathan Bulmer ($10): It’s about time we had a decent humor-themed anthology; we’re long overdue. While none of the contributions contained in this 64-page comic reaches the level of divinely inspired hilarity, there are nevertheless some pretty great contributions from folks like Noah Van Sciver, Bort, Sam Henderson, Grant Snider, Dustin Harbin and Julia Wertz. My favorite is probably a sex comic by Sam Spina in which the participants say the most bizarrely un-sexy things (“I have to tell the rainforest a secret,” “Mash my bean bags”). The stories run from the outrageous to the gentle and observant but it all flows together nicely. Good job everyone. I look forward to the second volume.
Me Likes You Very Much by Lauren Barnett ($14): Here’s a case of a cartoonist finding a unique niche and working the hell out of it. Just about every gag in this 192-page book involves fruit, vegetables and birds being absolutely horrid to each other. (Baby bird: “My tummy hurts.” Mom bird: “That’s because you’re filled with lies.”) Her art style is deliberately crude — (her occasional realistic renderings of animals suggest she does have some genuine artistic talent — which adds to the general absurdity of the gags. For the most part, this stuff is pretty funny, or at least funny enough to make you forgive the occasional weak punchline or just plain odd non sequitur. But while it goes down pretty quickly, I suspect these types of comics work best in small doses, i.e. a minicomic or thrice-weekly webcomic. I’m not sure this chunky book format offers the best sort of presentation for her work. That’s not to say it’s not worth reading. There’s enough funny stuff here that will provide some good chuckles and the occasional guffaw. Perhaps it’s just that I’d like to see her extend her reach a bit beyond the static one-panel gag format the next time she publishes something of this size.
Jim Rugg is an interesting and fun guy to talk to. The Pittsburgh-based cartoonists, whose resume includes such diverse genre work as Street Angel, Adventure Time and the Plain Jane series for DC’s late Minx imprint, is someone who has clearly studied comics -– and certain comic artists specifically -– very closely, and has a genuine fascination and curiosity for what makes the medium work and what doesn’t. If you want to talk comics, he’s the guy to corner at the bar after the convention (be polite and introduce yourself first though, please).
Rugg has a new comic out, a magazine-formatted, one-man anthology of sorts from AdHouse titled Supermag, which features a number of short stories done over the past few years as well some illustrations and other new material. It’s a pretty nifty package.
I chatted with Rugg over email about Supermag, his frequent collaborations with writer Brian Maruca and the podcast he hosts over at Boing Boing, Tell Me Something I Don’t Know. I look forward to the opportunity when I get to talk to him about comics some more.
How did the idea for Supermag come about and how did the initial concept change (if at all) as you started to put it together?
Supermag began as an early- to mid-90s period comic. My plan was to create an Afrodisiac comic using the processes, materials, storytelling vernacular, and style of that era – a comparison would be something like 1963. As we worked on that idea, I struggled to make all the elements work the way I wanted. As I continued to work on it, it morphed into a magazine/comic/art project.
It’s kind of impossible to overstate the influence Kim Thompson had on American comics. As co-publishers of Fantagraphics, he and Gary Groth transformed the way people thought about the medium, both in the pages of The Comics Journal and in the kinds of comics they published. If any one publisher can be regarded as the singular entity (and let me be clear, I’m really wary about staking that sort of claim) that made not just fans but the general public take notice and say, “Oh, hey, comics really are an art form and capable of greatness,” it was these guys.
As you might have heard, Kim Thompson died Wednesday morning after being diagnosed with lung cancer. I thought I’d try to cobble together a few words about Kim’s legacy. (And I hope you don’t mind me calling him by his first name; although we were only casual acquaintances at best, it just feels weird to refer to him in anything but familiar terms.)
This Sunday is Bloomsday, that special time of year when people around the world draw together to celebrate one of the finest works of English literature, Ulysses by James Joyce. Or they try to, anyway.
If you haven’t attempted to read Joyce’s magnum opus before, it can be a little rough going. In honor of the literary holiday, I thought I’d list six Joyce-themed comics you can read on Sunday in addition to (or, if you must, in place of) Ulysses. You wouldn’t think there could possibly be that many Joycean comics available to the casual reader but I assure it’s so. Steady on, stately, plump Buck Mulligan!
1. Boom Boom #2 by David Lasky: Lasky has done enough Joyce-themed comics to fill at least a thick-sized pamphlet if not an actual book (and really, at some point I need to devote a “Collect This Now!” column to those works). But if you’re looking for just one comic to read this Bloomsday, I would strongly recommend starting here, with the second issue of Lasky’s ’90s-era one-man anthology. In Issue 2, Lasky tells various anecdotes about Joyce during his time writing Ulysses, but his method is both inspired and unique. He apes specific, iconic Lee/Kirby comics, especially Fantastic Four #1, imbuing Joyce’s comparatively mundane life with grandeur and heroism. Even after all these years, it’s still a pretty boss idea. Once you’re done with that comic, consider picking up Lasky’s “Ulysses” minicomic adaptation as well.
There’s a growing number of small-press publishers popping up these days, from Koyama Press to Oily Comics and beyond. No doubt that’s in large part due to the increasing number of indie-comics conventions like CAKE and SPX, the relative ease of selling your work online, more and more cartoonists trained in basic printing and business skills thanks to schools like the Center for Cartoon Studies, and perhaps even more affordable printing technologies. (I’m guessing at that last one. OK, I’m guessing at all of these.)
Whatever the reason, we are blessed (or, depending on your viewpoint, cursed) with a plethora of minicomics from new and up-and-coming cartoonists. Here then are some short-ish reviews of minis that came to my doorstep from two relatively new publishers: Yeti Press and Retrofit Comics.
Our Ever Improving Living Room by Kevin Budnik ($20): This is a chunky-sized collection of a series of four-panel journal comics Budnik did while attending college. It’s similar in style and presentation to James Kochalka’s American Elf, although Budnik portrays himself as being a bit more reserved and anxious than Kochalka. It seems like just about everyone and their cat is doing a diary comic of some form these days, and while I can appreciate how the daily rigamarole of that type of comic can improve one’s artistic and storytelling skill, there’s always a danger in discovering that the examined life turns out to be rather dull. While he’s not above highlighting the cute moment or indulging in some unnecessary naval-gazing, Budnik manages to avoid many of the pitfalls of his peers by possessing a self-effacing sense of humor and an appreciation for the minor victories and miseries of life. This is early work, and rough at times, but it shows a good deal of promise and I want to see what he does next.
This book will lead the reader into Onsmith’s funny and outlandish world, full of shady characters and troublesome shenanigans through a mix of never-published stories, favorite gag strips, and mesmerizing prints and illustrations.
No price details or page count has been released but the book is scheduled to arrive in spring 2014. Onsmith will be at the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE) in June and might reveal more information about the book and its contents then.
Hailing from Chicago, Onsmith (a.k.a. Jeremy Smith) should be familiar to the average alt-comix reader, even if they don’t recognize the name, as his work has appeared in such anthologies as StudyGroup, Hotwire Comix, Black Eye, Graphics Classics, Ivan Brunetti’s Anthology of Graphic Fiction and many others. To the best of my knowledge, however, this is the first time any of the artist’s work has been collected.
You can read the full press release below:
LOOK AT THIS:
Comics critics like myself like to talk about living in the “golden age of reprints,” and indeed, it is exciting (and somewhat astonishing) to see classic stories and strips that often were only glimpsed in anthologies or discussed in glowing terms in historical chronicles (Skippy, King Aroo) finally be made available. Works long regarded by fans as stellar – Little Lulu, Captain Easy – now have the ability to reach an audience beyond the handful of collectors that had the time and resources, or simply the obsessive-compulsive capabilities, to track down the musty old newspapers and crumbling funny books.
And yet. And yet the success of these collection projects has often encouraged publishers to seek out work that might not be worthy of such lavish format and attention. Do we really, for instance, need a complete run of Hagar the Horrible or Wizard of Id in hardcover? Do these humorous but rather mediocre and ephemeral strips really deserve that sort of focus?
More to the point, does Bazooka Joe?