Thirty-six questions. Six answers. One random number generator. Welcome to Robot Roulette, where creators roll the virtual dice and answer our questions about their lives, careers, interests and more.
Now let’s get to it …
Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days (2009), page 23. Al Columbia.
Of course, no matter how realistically drawn or meticulously framed they get, no comics can even come close to accurately depicting reality; or even approximating it, really. When the human eye takes in the work of comics’ great photorealists — Alex Raymond, Neal Adams, Alex Ross — the message it sends to the brain speaks of a certain closeness to the look of the real, but the first thing it tells us is always that we’re looking at a drawing. This is why comics seem somehow lacking whenever they position themselves in competition with film: what that medium depicts is reality, stripped of a third dimension and re-presented at a later date. Comics, which can never escape their fundamental identity as works produced by human hands, are a medium of approximation, forever suggesting the existence of their content, never crossing the line into literal reproduction of anything that’s actually happened in the real world.
One of the more notable news stories of the week was the announcement by Mome editor (and Fantagraphics co-publisher) Eric Reynolds that the quarterly anthology would come to an end with the release of the 22nd volume later this year.
The series has had a rather remarkable and distinguished run since its inception in 2005. In addition to featuring work by such notable cartoonists like Jim Woodring and Gilbert Hernandez, it’s served as a publishing venue to highlight the work of up and coming artists like Laura Park, Tom Kaczynski and Sara Edward-Corbett, as well as introduce American readers to work by notable European creators like Emile Bravo and Sergio Ponchione.
As a memorial of sorts for the anthology’s oncoming demise, I thought I’d attempt to put together a quick list of my own favorite stories from Mome. This was a tough list to put together actually, and there are a number of names I feel a bit guilty for leaving off, but I’m sure you all can duly chastise me for my omissions in the comments section.
It’s one of comics’ greatest mysteries, and Inkstuds interviewer extraordinaire Robin McConnell just solved it. And the answer involves…’90s indie-rock icons Sebadoh?
McConnell covers a lot of incredibly fascinating ground in his astonishingly candid and in-depth interview with cartoonist Al Columbia — do not say “tl;dl” to the two-hour podcast — but he also cuts right to the chase, asking the mercurial artist what, exactly, happened to the artwork he created for Watchmen demigod Alan Moore’s great lost comic Big Numbers #4. As you might recall from our post on Columbia’s one-time mentor Bill Sienkiewicz’s recent words on the subject, Big Numbers was intended to be Moore’s magnum opus.
It is perhaps the greatest comic never published. Intended to be a 12-issue miniseries ambitious and complex enough to make Watchmen look like Wizard of Id on an off day, Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz’s Big Numbers was a Joycean look at life in a small English town as a big-box retailer prepared to set up shop. But this grand fiction-as-fractal-geometry experiment only managed to produce two published issues in 1990 before hitting a massive delay during work on issue #3, losing Sienkiewicz, moving from Moore’s Mad Love publishing imprint to Kevin Eastman’s Tundra, tapping Sienkiewicz’s then-teenaged assistant (and current reclusive Pim & Francie creator and alt-horror superstar) Al Columbia to take over, losing Columbia and all the pages he’d completed, and finally shuddering to a halt.
[Al Columbia:] My dad, for some reason, didn’t have the sense that a child shouldn’t see horror movies. He took me to see a lot of horror movies when I was a kid, or I’d get to see them on TV or HBO. He didn’t seem to have that filter: “Oh yeah, maybe he shouldn’t watch that. It could be disturbing.” So I was exposed to a lot of very disturbing images at a young age, which later in life came back in a strange way to haunt me, which I would never have expected.
[Nicole Rudick:] In what way did they haunt you?
Intrusive thoughts of a violent nature haunted me, made me pretty sick, actually, for a few years. I couldn’t get them out of my head.
Images from those films?
I believe they had to have been, or the movies had to have influenced something. They were unwanted images. They weren’t fantasies but constant terrifyingly violent images or ideas piercing into my everyday life. I’d be watching TV and the next thing you know the newscaster . . . I would imagine, without warning, something bad happening to the people on TV or to somebody I knew. I couldn’t really look at someone without them immediately becoming dismembered or in some way murdered in my head.
Does that still happen?
No, not anymore. But it happened for a good three-year period, about three or four years ago, where I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t work on anything. I almost couldn’t function properly in everyday life. I never knew when it would happen. Not only were they scary images, but there was a spiritual quality to it that made me feel like something was in jeopardy, something wasn’t right with me.
–from Nicole Rudick’s astonishingly candid interview with Pim & Francie author Al Columbia for Comics Comics. Columbia goes on to recount the mental-health treatment he received for these visions, and for out-and-out hallucinations, all of which he says are exacerbated by the solitary act of drawing. This goes a long way toward explaining both Columbia’s maddening-to-his-fans lack of output, and to the chilling power of Pim & Francie — my favorite comic of 2009 — which of all the comics I’ve ever read is the one with “a spiritual quality to it that made me feel like something was in jeopardy, something wasn’t quite right.”
Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days
by Al Columbia
Fantagraphics, 240 pages, $28.99
Can an art book have a narrative? What I mean by that is, can book purportedly made up of a series of unrelated images — or at least, images that don’t ipso facto follow a traditional narrative path — produce one anyway, even if it’s unintentional?
That’s one of the questions I asked while reading Pim & Francie, Al Columbia’s latest (and it should be noted, first ever) book. It’s more a collection of unfinished work and ephemera than an outright comic, but it many ways it remains Columbia’s most disturbing material yet.
Before Halloween I posted a list of “Six Deeply Creepy Alt-Horror Cartoonists” as part of Robot 666′s week-long reign of terror. Well, these avatars of alternative comics’ dark side have been up to some interesting things lately. Feast your eyes on the latest enterprises of our strange sextet:
The Squirrel Machine‘s Hans Rickheit is selling original pages from his darkly erotic, Xeric-winning graphic novel Chloe. If you’re in the original art market you can buy them straight from the artist himself here; if you’d just like to take a gander at the book itself, you can buy it here. (And I recommend you do so.)
If fans of mercurial cartoonist Al Columbia have learned anything over the course of his sporadic but storied career, it’s “get it while it’s hot.” He’s got talent to burn, but he burned out on Alan Moore’s Big Numbers, his groundbreaking work in Zero Zero and The Biologic Show has never been collected, and he kind of disappeared from the scene for a decade or so, infamously scrapping much of his own work before it could see the light of day. But after the recent release of his stunning art-comics-detritus collection Pim & Francie and signings at SPX and the Fantagraphics Bookstore, all is forgiven, right?
Let’s hope so, because it seems Columbia’s once again becoming an elusive commodity. First Columbia’s signing at Brooklyn’s Desert Island last Friday was canceled. Then, fellow artist Ashley Wood blogged that Columbia’s planned installment of the Sparrow art-book series from IDW has been canceled as well.
But all is not lost: Pim & Francie is out and is awesome, Providence’s Ada Books was still touting Columbia’s scheduled December 11th appearance there yesterday afternoon, and as Robot 6 has noted, Floating World is selling a jaw-dropping print by Columbia titled “Toyland.” (Thanks to Tom Spurgeon for the reminder.) Frankly, as long as the man produces work that looks like that, who cares what else he does (or doesn’t do)?
What do you think of when you think of horror comics? Vintage EC shockers, black-clad Vertigo occult titles, weird and wild manga, modern-day success stories like 30 Days of Night and Hack/Slash, or the mother of all zombie comics The Walking Dead? For my money, the most reliably disturbing and disquieting work in the genre over recent years has come from artists who produce what you’d consider to be “alternative comics.” These alt-horror cartoonists may not even think of themselves as horror-comics creators at all, eschewing as most of them do the rhythms and staples of conventional horror fiction. But by deploying altcomix’ usual emphasis on tone and emotional effect in service of dark and macabre imagery, their comics haunt me all the more.
So for my contribution to Robot 666′s daily horror-centric lists this week, I’m singing the praises of six talented alt-horror cartoonists. I could have listed quite a few more, mind you–some real giants of the field, including Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, Charles Burns, Jim Woodring, and Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell have done tremendous work in this area. But for me right now, these were the six who demanded the spotlight.
Perhaps it’s because we tend to think of it as a very narrowly defined genre with certain expectations and limitations, but generally when we hear the term “horror comics” we tend to think of Tales From the Crypt or The Walking Dead and not so much anything from the art comix crowd.
And yet I hope it’s no slam against Al Feldstein or Robert Kirkman if I say that within the indie scene a number of talented cartoonists have produced some brilliant and truly terrifying work. Josh Simmons, for example, has been steadily building an impressive repertoire of horror-based work with books like House. Certainly Hans Rickheit’s surreal/grotestque The Squirrel Machine falls more easily under the “horror” label than just about any other.
But there’s one alt/indie cartoonist whose work stands head and shoulders above everyone else in the “ye gods, that’s frightening department.” Although he hasn’t produced (or at least published) a huge body of work, what has been released over the past fifteen years has been of such stellar, nightmarish quality as to astound readers lucky enough to stumble on it and influence a number of artists. I’m speaking of Al Columbia.
(Note: Disturbing images and swear words lurk below the jump. You’ve been warned.)
Hey cats and kittens! Are you as excited for the upcoming release of Al Columbia’s Pim and Francie book from Fantagraphics as I am? Sure you are! Until then, however, you’ll just have to tide yourselves over with this stunning painting Columbia did titled “Toyland.” A printed version of the work can be found in the latest copy of Diamond Comics.