EXCLUSIVE: Warren Ellis Brings "Genius Storytelling" to Dynamite's "James Bond 007"
Lisa Hanawalt’s illustrated review of Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-bait World War I drama War Horse has a lot in common with Pablo Picasso’s immortal masterpiece Guernica. They’re both an example of their artists at the peak of their powers. They’re both an artistic response to a traumatizing early 20th-century military conflict. They both prominently feature horses. And they both contain, like, subliminal messages of skulls and shit. Three of those four statements are true — to find out which, read the review.
I don’t mind the jokes at my expense. I’m used to it. Seth and Joe [Matt] have teased me about paying for sex for years. I’m used to it.
—Chester Brown tells Tom Spurgeon that people can crack all the jokes they want about him and his patron-of-prostitution memoir Paying For It. I guess it stands to reason: “Gets emotional about things” isn’t high on a list of ways to describe Chester Brown, if that book is any indication. What’s more interesting to me is that Brown’s fellow Drawn and Quarterly-published Canadian cartoonists Joe Matt and Seth are the tough customers who hazed Brown into developing this hardened exterior. It’s a dog-eat-dog world up there.
In all seriousness, please read Spurgeon’s excellent interview with Brown, which largely eschews discussion of the book’s central topic/argument and focuses on the impeccable craft with which that topic/argument was deployed. And check out Spurgeon’s entire run of Holiday Interviews, featuring creators ranging from Colleen Coover to Stephen Bissette to Art Spiegelman to Jeff Parker to Jeff Smith, plus critics, journalists, activists and more. His comics-related New Year’s resolutions are worth considering as well.
I suppose it’s the mark of a good film that months after it’s release you’ll find any excuse to post any tangentially comics-related fanart thereof on the comics blog you work for. By that standard, Nicholas Winding Refn’s Ryan Gosling vehicle (rimshot) Drive is a pretty good film. And Miklós Felvidéki’s Drive-themed cover version of Jazzy John Romita Sr.’s famous “Spider-Man No More!” image over on the always delightful Covered blog is a pretty good piece of fanart. Still, given that the Driver’s jacket had a scorpion on the back in the film, I’m sure one Mac Gargan is pretty p.o.’d that Spidey’s biting his style…
Be a real hero and check out the remake next to the original at Covered, then visit Felvidéki’s website.
Most people would settle for being a death-defying stock-market genius and leave it at that, but noooooo, not Annie Koyama. She had to go and form Koyama Press, creating a home for acclaimed cartoonists like Michael DeForge and Dustin Harbin, and racking up Joe Shuster Awards for Outstanding Comic Book Publisher and, via the comics duo Tin Can Forest, Outstanding Comic Book Cartoonist. Not one to rest on her laurels, Koyama has provided Robot 6 with an exclusive look at her very strong-seeming 2012 line-up. It features new books from Tin Can Forest, DeForge, and Harbin–including the children’s comic The Playground War, whose cover you’re getting a peek at above–as well as the Koyama Press debuts of Jesse Jacobs (Even the Giants) and Julia Wertz (The Fart Party).
The full press release and the covers for the new Jesse Jacobs and Tin Can Forest books are after the jump.
“You can tell I’m still making sense of it myself.” So says Sammy Harkham of the eighth volume of his landmark anthology series, Kramers Ergot, at one point during our lengthy conversation about the book. And indeed, Harkham’s side conversation is characterized by strategic pauses, halves of sentences that trail off and are abandoned as Harkham retreats, rethinks, and rearticulates. Despite his ebullient cadence – Harkham’s as great a talker as he is a tweeter – it’s quite clear that the amount of thought he put into this comparatively slim and quiet volume of his once-overflowing and raucous art-comics anthology is nearly overpowering.
So is the collection itself. Despite featuring a much smaller roster than previous volumes in the series, and despite a much less “noisy” visual aesthetic than that which has characterized the series since its phone book-sized fourth volume caused a sensation upon its release at the MoCCA Festival in 2003, Kramers Ergot 8 has an intensity that’s tough to shake. Contributors like C.F. (aka Christopher Forgues) and Chris Cilla craft uncomfortable but undeniably erotic sex scenes, which sit next to grim science-fiction parables from Gary Panter and Kevin Huizenga and gruesome horror tragedies by Johnny Ryan and Harkham himself. Fine artists Robert Beatty and Takeshi Murata contribute pieces as visually vibrant as the stories of crime and desire from Gabrielle Bell and the team of Frank Santoro and Dash Shaw are bleak. A cheekily provocative introductory essay from musician Ian Svenonius and a massive selection of racy reprinted Oh, Wicked Wanda! comics from the pages of Penthouse prove perplexing – but it’s a good perplexing, because it forces the reader to consider just how fingernails-on-a-chalkboard effective the rest of the volume is at discomfiting them.
With the book on its way to stores from PictureBox Inc. in a couple of weeks, Harkham took an hour before picking his two older kids up at school to talk about this very personal project. We started off talking about our respective babies; fitting, then, that by the end of the interview a fascinating picture emerged of what Harkham wanted Kramers 8 to be that proved every pause along the way was a pregnant one.
Sean T. Collins: Kramers Ergot 8 debuted at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival in December, but your third baby debuted not long before that. That had to be a challenge.
Sammy Harkham: Knowing the baby’s coming, you work knowing that when that baby comes, things are gonna shut down. The book only got finished mid-September, and then the baby came. It was funny, because I drew my comic [for the anthology] when the book was done, basically. I thought, “I’ll do a simple issue of Kramers, I’ll do a story for it, and then I’ll get back to Crickets.” But editing, for me, is like working on my own book, as if it’s fully just me. I’m thinking about it day and night, and it’s hard for me to then think of a story within that if I don’t already have one that I’m working on. So at a certain point I decided I’m not going to be in the book. Then it was clear I needed to be in the book, because I wanted a very particular kind of story in it [laughs]. “I guess I’m gonna have to do it.” It was a flurry of activity August into September, then it was done, then the book was done, and then I was just…breathing, you know? But I felt like, “Oh man, I really should be working right now before the baby comes.” But since the baby came I’ve still been doing stuff. You know what it’s like: a lot of tricky hours, and getting used to weird working habits. You work for five minutes, but you try to make it a good five minutes. You try to break it up. And I try not to lose my temper. I get resentful of the people around me when they’re asking for my help and I’m in the middle of something. [Laughs] If I’m in the middle of writing or drawing something, I wanna finish the thought. So I’ve got to think of those Dalai Lama tweets I read earlier in the day. [Laughs] You’ve got to get into the headspace where you’re malleable in that way, you’re flexible.
But Kramers was late this year. Nadel wanted it in July, but I’ve never been able to deliver that book on time, never. This one was particularly hard because there were so few contributors, so I couldn’t lose anybody without it affecting the whole thing. Whereas in previous issues there are so many people that unless it’s a really big strip – it’s a shame to lose anything, you don’t want to lose anything, but you can. You can lose a one- or two-pager. But with this, if CF is running late, there’s nothing we can do. I told [PictureBox Publisher Dan] Nadel that up front: “I hope to get the book done on time, but if Panter’s not ready, if Christopher’s not ready, if any of these people aren’t ready, we can’t do anything.” [Laughs] We’re at the mercy of them, really.
Adding the RSS feed for Michael DeForge’s blog to your Google Reader this year was a bit like wrapping your mouth around the business end of a firehose. Barely a day went by without DeForge posting some beautifully strange, strangely beautiful new illustration or comics page. And at the rate he was producing work, there was no telling where it would be from — his two minicomics series, the art-world satire/science fiction Open Country and the kids’-comics oddity Kid Mafia; his ongoing bug’s-life black-comedy webcomic Ant Comic; “College Girl by Night,” his gender-bending contribution to the erotic comics anthology he co-edits with Ryan Sands, Thickness; the third issue of his flagship solo anthology series, Lose, from Koyama Press; various previously published works now archived at Jordan Crane’s webcomics portal What Things Do; comic strips and illustrations for magazines like Vice, Maisonneuve, The Comics Journal and The Believer; contributions to anthologies including kus, Smoke Signal, Gang Bang Bong, Root Rot, Sundays, and probably more that I’m forgetting.
But even more astonishing than the sheer volume of his output was its quality. As I wrote in CBR’s Top 100 Comics of 2011 countdown, DeForge published his four best comics last year, and many more thrilling works besides. I focused on that killer quartet of Lose, Open Country, Ant Comic, and “College Girl by Night” for this interview with DeForge, looking back on amazing year and teasing what’s to come in 2012.
Sean T. Collins: Sexy stuff first. I have a few questions about “College Girl by Night,” the story you contributed toThickness. Since you co-created and co-edit the series with Ryan Sands, I’m wondering which came first, the idea for the story, or the idea for the anthology it eventually appeared in? Did wanting to make smut also make you want to create a publication to house it for yourself and others, or vice versa?
Michael DeForge: My idea for the story came way, way later. I think that’s why I wanted to be slotted in the second issue instead of the first – when we decided to do the anthology, I had no idea what I wanted to draw yet. “College Girl By Night” was actually my second story idea, too. My original comic was going to be a homoerotic riff on the movie Class, starring Rob Lowe and Andrew McCarthy. I did all these character designs and had all these plans on how I’d draw their outfits and the prep school the comic would take place in, but everything fell apart when I actually started to plot it out.
“And there came a day, a day unlike any other…” Comics is rife with stories of team-ups and alliances formed to solve problems beyond any one member and advance the common good. Such is the story of Press Gang, one of the most intriguing small-press outlets to emerge in the year gone by. Comprising Portland retailer Jason Leivian’s Floating World Comics imprint, cartoonist and editor Zack Soto’s Study Group Comic Books and Elfworld editor François Vigneault’s publishing house Family Style, Press Gang is described on its website simply as “like-minded publishers/packagers banding together.”
Each of its individual members has taken a forward-thinking approach to the work they put out: Leivian’s excellent store has a bold art/comics “house anthology,” the cheekily titled Diamond Comics; Soto teamed with former Comics Journal editor Milo George (with an assist by Bodega Books publisher Randy Chang) to transform his long-running artcomix anthology Studygroup12 into the promising comics/criticism hybrid Study Group Magazine; and Vigneault rescued Elfworld from languishing on original editor Jeffrey Brown’s to-do list, becoming a pioneer of the seemingly ever-widening crossover between alternative comics and fantasy adventures. Any alliance between these three is worth watching very closely.
So to celebrate Robot 6’s third anniversary, I got in touch with each member of the Press Gang triumvirate to ask about the past, present and future of the Gang and their places in it. The big news here is that Soto’s Study Group Comic Books will be absorbing Chang’s Bodega Books now that Chang has officially closed up shop, and will publish Kazimir Strzepek’s highly acclaimed fantasy saga The Mourning Star from now on. And check out oodles of exclusive preview pages from Elfworld #3 and Study Group’s forthcoming sg12.com webcomics portal, launching Jan. 16. But beyond that, there’s Shonen Jump-style phonebook anthologies, the return of old favorites after long hiatuses and, quite literally, magic…
Sean T. Collins: Beyond the fact that Zack works at Jason’s comic shop, Floating World, I know very very little about the origin of Press Gang. How did the three of you hook up?
Zack Soto: I’ve been friends with both Jason and François for several years now. I know François from tabling at APE over the years, and he moved to Portland in the last year or so. Since then, we’ve become pretty good buddies and talk out our projects with each other quite a bit. Jason I’ve known since he opened Floating World, more or less. I went to check out the shop in its first, extremely tiny, space. We’ve been friends ever since, and I guess a year or more ago I started working there a day or two a week. Last year we co-published Studygroup12 #4. I probably talk with these two guys about my crazy ideas and frustrations, and listen to them talk out their ideas, more than any other people besides my wife.
Press Gang came about initially from François and I talking about our various goals as small publishers. We both basically had the same ideas about strength in numbers and what that could mean. Promotionally, it’s as simple as being able to group together some like-minded publisher/packagers at more or less the same level of the industry and bringing all of our small followings to one point. Logistically, one of the obvious strengths is being able to send one or two people to represent the group at a convention and save money. Another benefit is when we have particular skills like silkscreening or risographing or what have you, we give each other sweet deals in our areas of production expertise.
We’re basically modeling ourselves after the Wu-Tang Clan. I like to flatter myself into thinking I’m the GZA but Jason keeps telling me I’m ODB, so oh well.
Throwing our lot in with “graphic novels” as the focus of the store years ago as opposed to “pop culture,” “superheroes” and associated merchandise seems to have been a winning strategy for this past decade. I don’t know if it was motivated by market insight so much as the fact I am passionate about comics as a medium but have limited personal interest in contemporary pop culture or toys, etc. With an e-book future ahead, I’m not sure if this will continue to pay off.
—Peter Birkemoe, owner of Toronto’s much-beloved comics shop The Beguiling (which is also a thriving original art dealership and co-sponsor of the Toronto Comic Art Festival), on the pros and cons of his store’s approach to the comics medium. I like the way Birkemoe frames his store’s business model as a matter of personal preference rather than a declaration that it’s the One True Path; I like the concise way he describes it, because when the decision was made it wasn’t so much brilliantly simple as riskily simple; and I’m a bit dismayed by his concerns about the digital future, which I’d never really considered as an obstacle for excellent stores like The Beguiling in quite that way before.
The quote comes from Tom Spurgeon’s holiday interview with Birkemoe, which is well worth your time in its entirety, even if only for the image of store manager and longtime blogosphere fixture Christopher Butcher being sent out into the world on various missions like the funnybook James Bond to Birkemoe’s M.
Trimming the tree, hanging the stockings, lighting the menorah, setting up the Nativity scene, watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Scrooged back to back: The holidays are all about tradition. And two of the best comics websites around have holiday traditions of their own.
First up is Inkstuds, the comics interview podcast and radio broadcast hosted by Robin McConnell, and its annual Best of 2011 Critics Roundtable. This year McConnnell is joined by The Comics Journal‘s Tim Hodler, Joe McCulloch (aka Jog the Blog), and Robot 6’s own Matt Seneca for a truly enjoyable and insightful discussion of such titles as Big Questions, Prison Pit, Thickness, Paying For It, and Kramers Ergot 8, among many others. Radio turns out to be a terrific format for each participant, so much so that I was compulsively using every spare moment to finish the podcast — I even opened up my laptop in the passenger seat of my car and played it on the way to the drugstore. Give it a listen.
Meanwhile, Tom Spurgeon of The Comics Reporter has kicked off his much beloved by me Holiday Interview series. His inaugural interview with Art Spiegelman tackles his new book-cum-documentary MetaMaus, his stint as the Grand Prix winner of France’s massive Angoulême comic con, and his take on the legacy of the underground comix movement, while the series’ second interview examines the future of the small-press publisher Sparkplug after the death of its founder Dylan Williams with the company’s new triumvirate of Emily Nilsson, Virginia Paine, and Tom Neely. Spiegelman and Sparkplug are both vital institutions in their own ways, having put their money where their mouths are with respect to the kinds of comics they’d like to see in the world, and Spurgeon makes for a great interlocutor as they articulate their respective visions. Go and read.
Perhaps the most disturbing scene in Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again (also known as DK2; Miller and Varley 2001-2002) is where Batman attacks the corporate leaders of the United States government, giving the word “terrorism” a new meaning. The Anarcho-terrorist superhero’s assault is directed against “the real monsters” (page 53, panel 1), the corrupt powers-that-be that rule behind a virtual president….In “late capitalism”, the virtual transactions of financial speculators determine the entire economy of countries, the “democratic” political system of their governments and, of course, the real life of their citizens. We should ask ourselves if the world we inhabit now is so different from the virtual United States ruled by the computer-generated president Miller imagined.
—The Comics Grid’s Pepo Pérez wonders if Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again was prophetic (in a way Miller himself probably wouldn’t approve of today). Personally, I think it’s a stretch to compare the real America to Batman’s America. I mean, one has a glossy, shiny surface built on human suffering, as citizens participate in a sham democracy treated like a sporting event by blathering talking-head news-media figures, while corporations engaged in criminal conspiracies for which they suffer no lasting legal consequences loot the world with impunity behind the scenes. The other has Batman in it.
You might be accustomed to seeing the comics of Matt Furie and Lisa Hanawalt in avant-garde anthologies like Kramers Ergot and Thickness, or in their solo humor series from Pigeon Press Boy’s Club and I Want You, or in the stylishly sleazy pages of Vice magazine. But now you can share your love of these modern masters of anthropomorphic mayhem with your little ones!
Sandy Bilus of I Love Rob Liefeld notes that McSweeney’s, the literary magazine-slash-publisher with a very comics-friendly track record historically, has officially launched a subscription plan for its new children’s imprint McMullens with books by Furie and Hanawalt. Furie’s The Night Riders chronicles the bike-based adventures of a frog and mouse on a nocturnal journey, while Hanwalt’s Benny’s Brigade follows “the world’s smallest, chattiest, and most gentlemanly walrus” as he attempts to find his way home with the help of two little girls and three brave slugs. Presumably these books will be as beautifully drawn as any of Furie and Hanawalt’s comics, but with far fewer dirty jokes.
The books retail for $17.95 each, but are the launch titles for a McMullens subscription package that will get you eight books for $80 total, including shipping. Not a bad deal at all.
A hearty and heartfelt congratulations to publisher Chris Pitzer on the ninth anniversary of the formation of his fine line of comics, AdHouse Books (and more recently its distribution wing, AdDistro). Pitzer is marking the occasion by telling the stories behind nine of the company’s releases, and the result is a mix insight into the kinds of challenges any small-press comics publisher must face, and the qualities that make this particular small-press comics publisher such a valuable one.
With an output ranging from high-end art books like Paul Pope’s Pulphope and James Jean’s Process Recess to thoughtful graphic novels like Josh Cotter’s Skyscrapers of the Midwest and Adam Hines’s Duncan the Wonder Dog, it’s tough to say exactly what “an AdHouse book” will be like, but with Pitzer’s attention to design and reproduction behind every one, you generally can count on it being gorgeous. And as the stories told by Pitzer about books like Pulpatoon Pilgrimage, Skyscrapers, Duncan and so on indicate, the chances are also good that he’s gone to bat for a largely unknown and unpublished talent. That’s an admirable thing for a publisher to do once, let alone over and over again for nearly a decade.
On Saturday, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il made like untold hundreds of thousands of people in the country he immiserated over the course of his 17-year reign and died. To most of the rest of the world, he was a simultaneously clownish and sinister figure who enriched himself as the apex of a pyramid of Orwellian oppression and deprivation. Yet the spectacle of many of his former subjects abasing themselves with public grief over his passing is already making the meme rounds.
For comics readers, nothing can explain this paradoxical phenomenon better than Guy Delisle’s masterful travelogue Pyongyang, an account of the cartoonist’s time working at a North Korean animation studio. Publisher Drawn and Quarterly has posted a passage from the book that gives a sense of just how pervasive and intrusive a presence the Dear Leader was in the lives of North Koreans, with his face, name, and mostly bogus backstory visible in some way nearly everywhere you looked. Check out the excerpt, then do yourself a favor and make Pyongyang a last-minute stocking stuffer for yourself: It filters the totalitarian politics of North Korea and the controversy surrounding how best to handle it through a uniquely personal lens, and as an introduction to how the country works it’s tough to top.
[KRISTY] VALENTI: I think there is a wolf cycle going on right now in indy comics; there was that werewolf anthology they put out at CCS.
[TOM] NEELY: I haven’t seen it.
VALENTI: I don’t know if it was the whole vampire-werewolf-zombie cycle or —
NEELY: I have no idea. I have specifically avoided reading most comics while working on The Wolf. Except for a few exceptions from friends, but I didn’t want to be influenced by anything contemporary or any external ideas. But I was very conscious of Twilight and all that stuff happening around me. And my mom was always like, “Oh, I think your book is gonna do really well, because everybody’s into werewolves and scary stuff.” And I’m like, “Mom …” And she’s like, “You should market this to the Twilight…” And I was like, “I’m not marketing my semi-pornographic book to teenage girls.”
[Valenti laughs.] That will get me arrested [chuckles].
It’s just a coincidence. It wasn’t any specific attempt to tap into that market, I was just off doing my own werewolf thing in my cave. And apparently there’s other stuff going on too — I didn’t even realize Jason did a werewolf story until somebody told me that the other day. So I haven’t really kept up with anybody [chuckles]. That’s what’s nice about finishing it, is now I’m getting to read all these books that I’ve avoided for the last five years. And someone else brought up that there’s a lot more sex in indy comics right now too. And I was unaware of that as well. Maybe there’s just something in the collective unconscious that’s leading us down that path. But it wasn’t any conscious attempt at being a part of that. I’m largely unaware; I guess there is a lot of it.
—Cartoonist and painter Tom Neely on pop culture and alternative comics’ mutual season of the wolf, in conversation with The Comics Journal‘s Kristy Valenti. He’s right — altcomix really are having a bit of a sexy time right now, and horror has gone hand in hand with that, for whatever reason. It’s interesting to think that even some of the artists responsible for this don’t realize it until they emerge from the trees enough to get a good look at the forest.
Valenti’s life- and career-spanning interview with Neely is a must-read, and not just because of insights like these into Neely’s wordless psycho-sexual-surreal-semiautobiographical graphic novel The Wolf, one of the year’s best comics. It paints a compelling portrait of how a restless and idiosyncratic artist can maintain a balance between pursuing his vision and the need to work with others — peers, publishers, day-job providers — to do so. His revelations about his failure to come to terms with Top Shelf for publishing his breakout book The Blot, the pros and cons of working as an animator for Disney, and his interaction with the alternative-comics scenes in Los Angeles and Portland all make for reading that’s both depressing and instructive. Check it out.
Because then I could have enjoyed two years’ worth of Eleanor Davis’ absurdly proficient “sketches,” comics, illustrations and more instead of having to catch up with them all at once.
Wait. “Having” to catch up with them all at once? Isn’t it more like getting to catch up with them all at once? When it’s someone with Davis’s level of chops we’re talking about, what the hell am I complaining for?
(hat tip: Zack Soto)