autobiography Archives | Robot 6 | The Comics Culture Blog

In ‘We Can Fix It,’ comic book science improves on the memoir

We Can Fix It coverIt’s 2013, and headlines reading “Comics aren’t just for kids anymore”  have been cliched for about 25 years. Art Spiegelman’s Maus is a classic, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is widely read and widely taught. The late Harvey Pekar’s name is, if not a household name, as close to one as those of most prose authors get in America. Thanks to Joe Sacco and Alison Bechdel and Jeffrey Brown and John Porcellino and Joe Matt and Chester Brown and dozens of other cartoonists, journalism, autobiography and memoir are successful, respected, even  commonplace genres for the graphic novel, which, it’s worth highlighting, is a term that exists now.

In fact, autobiographical graphic novels are so mainstream that Jess Fink’s We Can Fix It reads like an outlier — a subversive, transgressive reversion to the good old bad days of comics. Her new memoir, with its fictive premise, is differentiated from most in the genre by the prominent inclusion of elements from the medium’s trashy superhero and humor past. Its protagonist wears a skin-tight bodysuit, she travels through time in a big, goofy time machine that goes ZIPPITY ZAP, and there’s a sixth-grade lunch period’s worth of scatalogical humor.

Despite the embrace of the low-brow aspects of comics history — We Can Fix It looks and  reads like an autobiographical comic book, not an autobiographical graphic novel — Fink’s new work ultimately ends up in the same thoughtful, dramatic, epiphany-having place that the slicker, more obviously literature-focused comics works do. This is a very funny comic book that is functions as an effective piss-take on the autobio genre while, remarkably enough, simultaneously being one hell of an autobiography.

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Comics A.M. | Stan Lee talks comics and The Stan Lee Story

Stan Lee

Creators | Ahead of the premiere of the documentary With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story, the 89-year-old Lee discusses the big-screen success of his co-creations, the fairy-tale appeal of superheroes, his favorite character (he doesn’t have one), and a time when he was embarrassed to admit he wrote comic books: “Oh well, in the beginning, comics were the lowest rung on the cultural totem pole. I’d go to a party and people would say ‘What do you do?’ ‘Um, uh, I’m a writer’ and I’d try to walk away. And the guy would follow. ‘What do you write?’ ‘Oh, er, stories for kids.’ Well finally he’d pin me down and I’d say, ‘Okay, I write comic books’ — and boy, he couldn’t get away fast enough. Now, though, I walk into a party and someone sees me and they say, ‘Sorry, excuse me a minute, President Obama, I have to go over and say hello to Stan Lee.’ Well, okay. Slight exaggeration on my part.” [The Star-Ledger]

Conventions | The Calgary Sun previews this weekend’s Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo. [Calgary Sun]

Conventions | Jimmy Jay wonders whether Comic-Con International in San Diego could expand to two weekends, like the Coachella Music Fest. [ComicConMen]

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Guy Delisle on the cult of Kim Jong-il

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.

Gabrielle Bell and the incredible disappearing award-nominated webcomic

Cartoonist Gabrielle Bell spent the entire month of July posting one diary comic per day on her blog. They were very good. People, including us, got excited about them. They were even nominated for the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Webcomic.

And then they were gone.

Some time after the 31st and final strip was posted, Bell removed all but that last comic. It was a move she’d promised to make from the beginning, but it still came as a surprise given all the attention and acclaim paid to the project. Why’d did the Lucky and Cecil and Jordan in New York: Stories author send those 30 strips down the memory hole? In an interview with Bell at CBR, Alex Dueben asked her:

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SDCC ’11 | Brian Ralph’s San Diego Comic-Con diary

I’ll admit it, it’s a bit of a shock to see a Brian Ralph comic that isn’t about some deceptively adorable character adventuring their way through an impeccably rendered rubble-strewn environment. Then again, is surviving the San Diego Comic-Con really all that different? The Daybreak cartoonist and alumnus of the influential Fort Thunder collective is chronicling his experience at Comic-Con International 2011 in diary comics form for The Comics Journal all week long. Day one’s a doozy, a journey from misery to triumph and back to misery in the space of a few panels. Look out for the cameo appearance from Drawn and Quarterly’s staff supercouple Peggy Burns and Tom Devlin, who emerge as a sort of obscenity-spewing Statler & Waldorf.

SDCC ’11 | Guy Delisle, D&Q travel to Jerusalem

No sooner does The Comics Reporter’s Tom Spurgeon return from hiatus (welcome back, Tom!) than he breaks news of an exciting, and potentially controversial, new comic from Drawn & Quarterly: Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, the latest in cartoonist Guy Delisle’s series of graphic memoirs-slash-travelogues. Why controversial, you ask? Because Delisle’s travelogues have all chronicled everyday life under infamously repressive regimes — North Korea in Pyongyang, China in Shenzhen, and “Myanmar” in Burma Chronicles. I have a feeling that many people won’t feel super comfortable with Israel keeping that sort of company. On the other hand, the book takes place in part during the three-week Gaza War that resulted in a 1100-plus-to-13 Palestinian-to-Israeli death ratio, so perhaps even Israel supporters could concede that the war-is-hell harshness of this conflict is in keeping with Delisle’s past efforts.

The book is due in Spring 2012, with an initial first printing of 30,000 copies. Click the link for more details, including what publisher and editor-in-chief Chris Oliveros has to say about the project.

Spend the month with Gabrielle Bell

Well, make that “Gabrielle Bell’s diary.” Actually, make it “Gabrielle Bell’s diary comics.” The Lucky cartoonist has taken on the challenge of posting a diary comic every day for the month of July — and not just a loosely-sketched strip three or four panels, mind you, but a full-fledged page drawn in her customary splotch-driven style. It’s actually a big month for Bell: Besides the diary project, she has an art show with cartoonist Lizz Hickey opening up at Brooklyn’s Desert Island comic shop on July 14, and a collection of her acclaimed San Diego Diary strips bowing next week from Uncivilized Books. Which events, I’m sure, will provide further fuel for the diary project. Down the recursive rabbit hole we go!

Quote of the day | Sammy Harkham on Chester Brown’s big…dilemma

its a strange thing when the most visually exciting sequence in a chester brown book are of his dick being inspected. not bad, mind you. I think chester brown has a big dick. he keeps saying it’s six inches, but girls keep saying “ow”, so he’s measuring wrong.

–Via Twitter, Sammy Harkham, editor of Kramers Ergot and author of Crickets, asks the hard questions (sorry) about Chester Brown’s new memoir about his life as a patron of prostitutes, Paying For It. I’m enjoying Fear Itself and Flashpoint just fine, but as far as summer buzz books go, they sure don’t spark conversations like this.

On a more serious tip (sorry!), Harkham also echoes an observation I myself had about the book. I won’t spoil it lest I call down the wrath of Drawn & Quarterly (although Harkham does spill the beans in his tweet, so be warned, I guess?), but by far the most interesting aspect of his relationship with prostitutes, one that pretty much turns everything else in the book on its ear, is crammed into the final few pages and barely dealt with at all. “To me, that’s where the book should start,” says Harkham. “That’s a book.”

Have you read it? What did you think?

Secret scars of the Greatest Generation: Carol Tyler on You’ll Never Know

from You'll Never Know, Book Two: Collateral Damage by Carol Tyler

from You'll Never Know, Book Two: Collateral Damage by Carol Tyler

Because World War II is generally regarded as “the Good War”; because, even in the face of the firebombing of Tokyo and Dresden, the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the alliance with, and subsequent awarding of Eastern Europe to, the rapacious, murderous regime of Josef Stalin, it’s still pretty clearly a good thing that the side that won, won; because it marked the ascension of America as the free world’s undisputed superpower; because, Pearl Harbor and internment camps aside, it wasn’t fought on American soil. Because of all that, it’s easy to forget that it was the most massively, horrifically violent rupture of civilization in all of human history, and that like less favorably viewed conflicts such as World War I, Vietnam and Iraq, any such blow to the world’s societal and moral fabric is going to have devastating consequences for decades or more to come.

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The Jewish women of comics get graphic

Everyone knows the central role that Jewish writers and artists have played in the history of comics, from Siegel and Shuster to Lee and Kirby to Eisner to Spiegelman to Bendis. But what of the female members of the tribe? That’s the question at the heart of “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women,” a traveling art exhibit curated by Michael Kaminer and Sarah Lightman. Following a stint in San Francisco, the show re-opens this coming Thursday, February 17, at the Koffler Gallery Off-Site at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. Focusing on the role that Jewish women have played in the development of the autobiographical comic — arguably the genre responsible for the medium’s new-found respectability over the past three decades — it boasts contributions from Miss Lasko-Gross (that’s her grabber of an image above) Vanessa Davis, Sarah Glidden, Miriam Katin, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Diane Noomin, Trina Robbins, Ariel Schrag, Lauren Weinstein, and many more. I know a person named “Sean T. Collins” is dubiously qualified to use Yiddish, but I could plotz over seeing original art from that line-up.

Click here to see the Koffler Centre’s impressive suite of events revolving around the exhibit, and click here for the Graphic Details blog.

(via The Beguiling’s Chris Butcher)

The revolution will be live-streamed: Domatille Collardey and Sarah Glidden’s “Egypt from 5,000 Miles Away”

If you were like me, the Egyptian Revolution that unfolded over the past several weeks and culminated (for the moment) in President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster on Friday was a complicated thing to know how to react to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not like Glenn Beck prophesying the coming Luthor/Braniac-style Communist/Islamist team-up against the West, nor am I even a more run-of-the-mill conservative commentator rumbling ominously about the power of the Muslim Brotherhood. And my feelings upon seeing untold millions of ordinary, unarmed people weather the attacks of government goons quads and kick out a man who’s looted and tortured them and their country for decades (in part at America’s behest) with nonviolent protest was unalloyed joy.

But how to express that joy? Should I, even? After all, I know no more about the real political situation inside Egypt than any of the overnight experts who suddenly popped up to opine on the talk shows and cable news nets. My information was coming primarily from Al Jazeera English’s invaluable live-streaming broadcast on its website and from the Twitter streams of international and native Egyptian reporters on the ground, and from the relative oasis of calm analysis that was MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and its dialogues between host Maddow and correspondent Richard Engel. Was that enough?

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Gabrielle Bell’s bedbug battle concludes

A couple weeks ago we linked you to “Nocturnal Guests,” Lucky cartoonist Gabrielle Bell’s comical chronicle of her on-again off-again struggle to rid her apartment of multiple bedbug infestations. Today she’s posted the final chapter, and it’s a dreamy, DDT-laced doozy.

Bell says that from here on out, she’ll be posting comics biweekly rather than weekly, but they’ll be twice as long. We’ll be tuning in.

Binky Brown Meets the Blogosphere: Underground comix pioneer Justin Green’s new website

"Expressive Markings" by Justin Green

"Expressive Markings" by Justin Green

Great catch by Jeet Heer of Comics Comics: Underground comics legend Justin Green has launched a blog, with three comics up so far and counting. Green is credited with more or less inventing the autobiographical comic — a staple of alternative comics ever since — with Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary, his exceptionally and hilariously frank 1972 comic chronicling his adolescent battles with sexuality, Catholicism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I first saw his work back in the ’90s, when his Justin Green’s Musical Legends strips graced the pages of Tower Records’ late, lamented Pulse! magazine. (You might also know him as cartoonist Carol Tyler’s on-again, off-again husband from her own autobiographical comic series, You’ll Never Know.) Whatever he’s selling on this thing, I’m buying.

(via our own Chris Mautner)

Gabrielle Bell vs. bedbugs

Cartoonist Gabrielle Bell is a Robot 6 favorite, and her latest strip is as good an example as any of why. Currently being serialized on her website, “Nocturnal Guests” tells the story of Bell’s years-long on-again, off-again battle with bedbugs, the nasty little pests that are every New Yorker’s nightmare. Here’s part one and here’s part two; stay tuned for the remaining two chapters, and try not to start impulsively scratching your legs as you read.

Creating Special Exits kicked Joyce Farmer’s ass

At least that’s my takeaway from Alex Dueben’s excellent interview with Farmer for Comic Book Resources — and given the book’s extremely intimate subject matter of the cartoonist caring for her aging parents as their health declined leading up to their deaths, I’m not surprised.

CBR News: What was it like putting together a graphic novel for the first time? You’ve made many comics in the past, but a project this large is something else.

Joyce Farmer: First of all, I didn’t know what I was getting into. Second, I didn’t really know how to write something like this. I don’t consider myself a writer. It was overwhelming, and because it was overwhelming, it took me thirteen years. I would work and get to a certain point and then get overwhelmed both by the problem of putting my parents on paper and by the problem of a book. Then I wouldn’t work for as much as a year and then I’d beat myself up that I’d figured out this wonderful book and should get going before somebody else thought of it or it wouldn’t be of interest. Because the book is set in a certain number of years, named years in the book, I couldn’t let it go on forever, although I nearly did.

It was overwhelming. I think these younger people who do graphic memoirs seem to use a lot of paper and ink to say very little and it takes them quite awhile [to say it]. I’m not saying what they say is not worthwhile, I’m just saying that they’re not as condensed as I intended to be. It was way more work than I ever thought. Every time I’d get the book to a certain point, like the first drawing, somebody would suggest something that would be so obviously needed, I would have to go through the whole book and fix it. Then later when I’m inking, the same type of thing happened.

The first thirty-five pages I threw away after they were inked. I started completely over.

Dang. Special Exits ranked #29 on CBR’s countdown of the Top 100 Comics of 2010, and as I said in my write-up, it made me cry. Please do check it out, and read the whole interview, too.

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