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Farewell, PictureBox


H Day by Renée French

PictureBox may be the only comic book publisher to win a Grammy Award, as Dan Nadel helped design the packaging for Wilco’s 2004 album A Ghost is Born. What might be more remarkable is that despite such a high-profile achievement, it isn’t likely to be how the small yet innovative comics house will be remembered when it closes at the end of year. Instead, at least in comics circles, PictureBox will be remembered for somehow capturing and releasing a mercurial yet eye-catching merger of music and imagery that manifested as graphic novels, art books and magazines.

For all intents and purposes, PictureBox is Nadel. He’s an accomplished editor, designer, publisher and curator of “visual culture,” as he describes it. “Each project comes from my own tastes and relationships, and are rooted in what I believe in,” he wrote on the PictureBox website. “Since it’s just me running this thing, you’re pretty much seeing me through those books and this site.” Looking through the PictureBox catalog proves that to be true. It’s like walking into the house of the kid down the street who had a collection of comics you never heard of but instantly wished you had. Where did he find these people, these mad geniuses? Maybe if I read everything, I’ll understand.

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Under new management: The Comics Journal revamps, relaunches its website

The Comics Journal, a venerable, influential and controversial mainstay of comics journalism that had developed an air of the walking wounded in recent years, has radically revamped and relaunched its online presence. Its new editors are Dan Nadel and Tim Hodler, best known as the minds behind Comics Comics magazine and, in Nadel’s case, the art-comics publisher PictureBox Inc.

The print version of the Journal will continue to be helmed by founding editor and Fantagraphics co-publisher Gary Groth, acting in a more hands-on capacity as of the forthcoming Issue #301 than he has in years, by the sound of it. Kristy Valenti serves as editorial coordinator. Contributors to the new include Frank Santoro, Jeet Heer, Joe “Jog” McCulloch, Ken Parille, Ryan Holmberg, Rob Clough, Richard Gehr, R.C. Harvey, R. Fiore, Vanessa Davis, Bob Levin, Patrick Rosenkranz, Nicole Rudick, Dash Shaw, Jason T. Miles, Andrew Leland, Naomi Fry, Jesse Pearson, Tom De Haven, Shaenon Garrity, Matt Seneca, Tucker Stone and Hillary Chute. On a Robot 6-related note, my colleague Chris Mautner and I will also be contributing.

A look at the new site reveals a multifaceted approach, with reviews, columns, interviews, lengthy features and essays (the current lead feature is a look at the legacy of, and turmoil surrounding, Frank Frazetta by writer Bob Levin), an events calendar, selected highlights from the magazine’s archives, and more. The biggest news, perhaps, is that Hodler and Nadel plan to have literally the entire 300-issue Comics Journal archive scanned and posted online by the end of this year and made available in its entirety to the print magazine’s subscribers. Click here for Hodler and Nadel’s welcome letter, in which they explain some of the changes and reveal a bit of what’s ahead. (And click here for their farewell letter to Comics Comics.)

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Brandon Graham’s King City to be collected by Tokyopop, maybe? Hopefully?

a King City collection cover idea

a King City collection cover idea

It started out in Tokyopop’s Original English Language, or OEL, line, became one of the most lamented casualties of the publisher’s contraction, and finally found new life as a giant-sized monthly comic at Image. Now Brandon Graham tells Comics Comics’ Frank Santoro that his acclaimed science-fiction series King City may be headed back to where it all began for its eventual collected edition, to which Tokyopop presumably still holds the rights.

Graham tells Santoro that Tokyopop is getting quotes from the printer for a collected King City, ideally to be printed at the size of the Image issues rather than the book’s original digest format. Graham expects the collection to be relatively modest, perhaps with a few layouts and deleted scenes. According to Santoro, Graham’s very understanding of the situation his once and potentially future publisher is in with regards to the collection and potential price points, saying “I just want to see it in print,” regardless of what it costs.

Click the link for the full story, and for Santoro’s thoughts on how collections and the lack thereof can influence readers’ understanding of a cartoonist’s career.

‘You got superheroes in my altcomix!’ ‘You got altcomix in my superheroes!’

Coober Skeber 2 cover by Seth

Coober Skeber 2 cover by Seth

Before Strange Tales, before Bizarro, before those pages in Ultimate Marvel Team-Up that Craig Thompson drew, before the past decade’s worth of alternative comics artists taking a crack at the spandex set, there was Coober Skeber 2. Published by Tom Devlin, who would go on to launch the hugely influential (if never quite financially successful) Highwater Books imprint, this anthology’s so-called “Marvel Benefit Issue” contained a galaxy of altcomix stars both famous (that’s a Seth cover above) and obscure taking on the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe.

The book hit an unsuspecting Comic-Con International in 1997, as the ailing comics giant was cape-deep in bankruptcy. And though the “benefit” angle was dubious, since the book was handed out for free, the impact on readers who’d never seen the likes of future underground legends like Mat Brinkman or Ron Regé Jr. before, let alone working with characters like Spider-Man, was substantial.

The good folks at Comics Comics have posted the story behind the book. Here’s a snippet:

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Help PictureBox fix Thor!

Color Anthony Hopkins Badd!

Color Anthony Hopkins Badd!

Did you see that first still of Thor, Odin, and Loki from Kenneth Branagh’s upcoming Thor movie and think it needed more Kirby Krackle or Walt Simonson Psychedelia? You’re not alone. Dan Nadel, head of the art/comics publisher PictureBox and editor of their house mag Comics Comics, lamented what he perceived to be the costumes’ conservative superhero-movie style, as opposed to Kirby’s “mind-bendingly intricate mythological armor and sets with a nearly psychedelic color palette.” And dammit, he’s gonna do something about it!

Nadel will award the first-ever “Know Prize” to the person who best recolors the image. If you wield Photoshop like Mjolnir, give the Asgardian Royal Family a Rainbow Bridge makeover and send the results to knowprize (at) comicscomicsmag (dot) com (72dpi RGB jpegs only, please) by midnight tomorrow, Wednesday, July 21. The winner will receive a Thor comic hand-selected from the infamous collection of cartoonist Frank Santoro, plus the satisfaction of knowing that he/she be worthy. That deadline’s approaching faster than Ragnarok, so get ye cracking!

Your other quote of the day | Al Columbia on horror and mental illness

from Pim & Francie by Al Columbia

from Pim & Francie by Al Columbia

[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 & Franciemy 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.”

Straight for the shopping | PictureBox fundraiser

Cold Heat print by Jim Rugg

Cold Heat print by Jim Rugg

Want to exchange your money for rad things? Jim Rugg, Dash Shaw, Johnny Ryan and Frank Santoro are but a few of the cartoonists who are willing to take you up on that offer right now on behalf of a fundraiser for Comics Comics, the fine magazine-cum-blog of comics and criticism. Edited by Dan Nadel, Tim Hodler, and Frank Santoro and published by Nadel’s PictureBox Inc., the mag’s in the red, and it needs your help.

You can check out their eBay listings for original art from Rugg, Shaw, Santoro, and even Gasoline Alley‘s Frank King, or drop them a line and commission a portrait of yourself being “erotically violated” by Johnny Ryan. (The portrait’s by Johnny Ryan, not the erotic violation. Not necessarily, I mean.)

And if you’ve never checked out Comics Comics before, you can’t go wrong with the $10 three-issue Comics Comics Fun Pack. Where else can you find serious, stimulating writing on topics like Steve Gerber, Paper Rad, Guy Davis, Dick Ayers, Berserk and the Masters of American Comics exhibit, by everyone from top-notch critics like Tim Hodler, Joe McCulloch, and Jeet Heer to cartoonist-critics like Santoro and Shaw to guest stars like Peter Bagge, Kim Deitch, Brian Chippendale, and Mark Newgarden?

You can also purchase a hand-selected pack of five books from Santoro’s infamous back-issue bin, featuring some of the best indie and mainstream hidden gems of the ’80s, or snag a pair of deluxe art books from Led Zeppelin/Pink Floyd album artists Hipgnosis and the ’70s-tastic West Coast airbrush art scene for $25 total. I’m telling you, it’s tough to go wrong here. But act quickly, because a lot of these offers end within hours!

Do you need to like a character to like the comic he’s in?

from Wilson by Daniel Clowes

from Wilson by Daniel Clowes

“Likable characters are for weak-minded narcissists.” So says Daniel Clowes, the author of the recently released Wilson — and given that the book and its irascible protagonist have proven about as divisive as the Lost finale, his tongue may be only partially in cheek. The titular character in Clowes’s novel is a self-described people person who’s constantly decrying the way culture and technology fragment and divide society, but he does this in the nastiest and most insulting way possible to everyone he knows, leaving him no better off than the IT workers, superhero-blockbuster fans and so on he lambastes. He’s a tough character to like.

But does that mean Wilson is a tough book to like? Isn’t there such a thing as an unlikable character you love to read about nonetheless? Tim Hodler of Comics Comics says no and yes, respectively. In a post on the book, Hodler argues that the response to Wilson, particularly the negative response, has centered far too much on Wilson’s unlikability, ignoring the way other art forms have showcased jerks for centuries to memorable effect:

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Robot 6, Comics Comics, Inkstuds, and the Best of 2009


Are you like LL Cool J in that you can’t live without your radio — but nor can you live without your comics? I know the feeling. That’s why I was so excited to be a part of the annual best-of episode of Inkstuds, the venerable comics podcast hosted by Robin McConnell. My fellow Robot 6-er Chris Mautner and I were joined by Comics Comics’ Tim Hodler to discuss Asterios Polyp, George Sprott, 20th Century Boys, Pluto, You Are There, You’ll Never Know, Multiforce, and The Photographer, and we even found the time to debate whether or not we’re in a comics Golden Age. Give it a listen!

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