Sixty years ago this week, sometime during the night as 1952 gave way to 1953, Hank Williams died in the back seat of his baby-blue Cadillac, en route from Tennessee to a New Year’s Day concert he was supposed to play in Canton, Ohio. Some say Hank Williams was the greatest songwriter who ever lived, and you can’t argue that during his brief career he changed country music in profound ways. But this is a comics blog, so I’m here to talk about his connections to comics.
Although Hank sang every song as if it had happened to him personally, he got his ideas from all over, including romance comics. Here’s Hank’s contemporary, DJ and songwriter Merle Kilgore, talking about it:
Storytellers fascinate me, a fact that is hopefully obvious given my affinity for interviewing them. Over the years, I have mined creators for information to varying degrees of success — some folks want to open up, others … not so much.
Chris Wright, writer/artist of Blacklung, showed a willingness to discuss his creative process to an extent I rarely get — and for which I am eternally grateful. Case in point of the quality of his answers, consider this one-sentence excerpt: “I love Tchaikovsky, and Mahler, and Tom Waits, and Leonard Cohen, and Cormac MacCarthy, and Tarkovsky.” All that in one sentence. Blacklung, which was released Nov. 7 by Fantagraphics, was best described by my Robot 6 pal Chris Mautner as “a bloody seafaring tale about a man determined to do what it takes to meet his dead wife in hell.” Wright’s debut graphic novel is part of today’s Fantagraphics Cyber Monday Sale. If you want to get a taste of the novel, Fantagraphics offers a 12-page/4.9 MB Blacklung excerpt for consideration.
Tim O’Shea: This book is dedicated to the late Dylan Williams. Can you talk a little bit about the impact that Williams had on your career?
Chris Wright: I don’t know if it’s so much about “career.” I mean, Dylan was a guy who touched a lot of people, and I was sort of on the periphery of that. I didn’t know him as well as I would have liked, but he saw my stuff around, and offered to put a book of my work out, and that book became Inkweed, which is kind of a menagerie of short stories, and drawings. I’ll always be grateful to him for that book, and for his interest and encouragement in general.
Comics | Johan Palme talks to Nathan Hamelberg of The Betweenship Group about the continuing controversy over a Swedish library’s decision to re-shelve some Tintin comics because of racist caricatures and colonialist attitudes. The books were put back following an uproar, but the move has sparked a larger conversation, and it even has its own hashtag, #tintingate. [The Guardian]
Conventions | Heidi MacDonald and the Publishers Weekly team (including Robot 6 contributor Brigid Alverson) post a comprehensive report on New York Comic Con, including debuts, new-title announcements, and a quick look at logistics. [Publishers Weekly Comics World]
Conventions | Dave Smith looks at one of the most vexing problems of New York Comic Con: the lack of decent wireless access, a situation troubling exhibitors and media alike. [International Business Times]
Ohio State University has announced it will establish the Dylan Williams Collection of small-press and self-published comics in honor of the late creator and publisher of Sparkplug Comics who passed away Sept. 10, 2011. The collection will be part of the university’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. From the announcement:
Beyond his leadership as a small press publisher, Dylan was a constant advocate of under-appreciated artists, and a champion of raising awareness of cartoon art history among his contemporaries. As a friend and disciple of Bill Blackbeard, whose San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection resides here at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, a collection in Dylan’s name also serves as a fitting acknowledgement of that lineage. Though Dylan’s impact on the comics world is irreplaceable, his spirit lives on through the small press publishers that have risen in Sparkplug’s likeness, the artists who have thrived from his influence, and this collection which is intended to represent and support both as he would have done.
The collection will place a special emphasis on handmade works and small-press comics published since 1970, and in-kind donations are welcome. The library’s Caitlin McGurk will be at Small Press Expo this weekend and will participate in a panel on Institution Building and Comics on Saturday afternoon.
Before he passed away last September, Sparkplug Books‘ Dylan Williams was working on three projects–the graphic novel Nurse Nurse, by Katie Skelly; a new issue of Reich by Elijah Brubaker; and The Golem of Gabirol by Olga Volozova. The publisher is using the crowdfunding site IndieGoGo to raise money to publish them.
“These books are of special import not only because they are amazing in themselves, but because they are the last projects on which Sparkplug founder Dylan Williams was working before he died of cancer in September 2011. We are honored to see these through to completion and work with such great talent,” the IndieGoGo page reads.
Publishing | Jennifer de Guzman announced that, after 10 years, she has left her position as editor-in-chief of SLG Publishing: “My decade SLG was, I suspect, like no other decade anyone has spent working anywhere. I had great co-workers and got to work with fantastic creators, all of whom I will miss very much. (Though because this is comics and a community like no other, we will always stay in contact.)” [Possible Impossibilities]
Retailing | Chris Powell, current general manager and chief relationship officer for Texas-based comic chain Lone Star Comics, has accepted the newly created position of executive director of business development for Diamond Comic Distributors. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund board member will start his new position in March. [ICv2]
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.
Austin English has been one of the more unique cartoonists on the indie comic scene over the past decade, someone with a definitive ideas of what comics should be and how best to achieve those goals. You can see it in the childlike grace and artfulness that’s captured in his graphic novel Christina and Charles, as well as in the three issues of Windy Corner Magazine, which he edited. After being a mainstay in the Sparkplug line-up for many years, English is now trying his hand at being a publisher with his new company, Domino Books. The line’s debut comic, Dark Tomato by Sakura Maku, is a surreal tale about an MTA subway driver who has a supernatural encounter of sorts down in the bowels of New York City. It’s available now via the Internet and finer retail outlets.
I talked to Austin over email about his new business venture, the challenges of being a small press publisher and the wisdom he gained from the late Sparkplug owner, Dylan Williams.
So let me start by asking what made you decide to become a publisher. Was this something you were always interested in doing?
I wrote about it when I started Domino and it bears repeating down, given the circumstances: Dylan Williams is the main inspiration for Domino, and not just because he was a publisher too. Dylan advocated for art that he believed in and he thought advocating for art that you liked was important — I think, for him, it was essential to do what you could for artists that moved you.
I share this feeling with Dylan. Art is very important to me — I believe in the work an artist like Sakura Maku does very strongly. I feel this intense obligation to do something with her work so that its shown with the proper dignity and intensity that it deserves.
Cartoonist Dustin Harbin posted a tribute comic for the late Sparkplug Comic Books publisher Dylan Williams today, and it’s a fitting tribute indeed.
Harbin’s point is that Williams created a publishing house designed to make the kinds of comics he wanted to see a reality, so that thinking about his death is as much thinking about the presence of comics he brought into the world as it is about the absence of the man himself. And with the welcome news that Sparkplug will be continuing under the auspices of Williams’ wife Emily Nilsson, his friend Tom Neely, and his colleague Virginia Paine, it looks like that aspect of his legacy will continue to be honored.
Publishing | Emily Nilsson, wife of Sparkplug Books publisher Dylan Williams, said she plans to continue running the publishing company after the death of her husband. “We need your support now as much as ever,” she said in a post on the Sparkplug blog. “We are grieving at the same time as we are trying to keep business afloat, and trying not to overstrain ourselves. We want to publish again soon but that is a step we will consider more once we get through the next few months.” Nilsson, Virginia Paine and Tom Neely will continue to run Sparkplug, with plans to continue online sales and attend conventions like the upcoming MIX in Minneapolis next month and the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival in December. Williams passed away in September due to complications from cancer. [Sparkplug]
Legal | Michael George, the former comics retailer found guilty of murder for the second time, is in the Macomb County (Mich.) jail after his bond was revoked following Tuesday’s verdict. George was found guilty of murdering his first wife Barbara in the back of their comic book store in 1990. “The family’s ecstatic,” said Barbara’s brother Joe Kowynia. “There’s no way a jury is going to get this wrong twice. I feel sorry for my nieces, this is long overdue. Now that this is over, Barb can rest in peace. And we can move on and he can rot in jail.” [Detroit Free Press]
As far as I can recall, it’s the only picture I ever took of him. Now, with Dylan taken from us, far before his time, and long before the many, many people who’s lives he’s touched ever thought they’d have to let him go, I’ve found myself thinking about that photo, about that moment, about how Dylan never got a copy of it, about what he might have been thinking when he brought me over to that wall, wanting me to take his picture. The other side of death is the deep scary mystery that we humans, even after all this time, don’t really know how to truly approach or comprehend, but I need to believe that such a vivid and thoughtful person as Dylan can’t just stop existing. I need to believe that this photo is some kind of message from Dylan from the other side of his life and not an irony. This photo needs to be a victory.
—Theo Ellsworth, author of Sleeper Car, on the photograph of the late Sparkplug Comic Books publisher Dylan Williams you see above. I gasped audibly the first time I saw this picture and read Ellsworth’s post about it — how it was taken at the request of Williams, who’d already battled the cancer that would eventually claim him and was well aware of the challenges he might again have to face. And as I’ve made my way through the tributes and anecdotes and encomiums popping up all around the comics internet, I’ve been moved almost as powerfully time and time again.
Through the tributes of his fellow cartoonists and publishers, a picture of Williams emerges. He was a kind person who provided many friends with empathy they felt they could never properly return. He was an ethical person who ran his publishing business in a way that centered on treating, and paying, his artists fairly. He had an eye for talent, able to spot not just good cartoonists but also the good things about not-so-good cartoonists, both of which he nurtured to make them better. He was a comics die-hard who made contributions to the form in nearly every conceivable way—retailer, distributor, cartoonist, publisher, historian, organizer. And he really, really loved Alex Toth.
Sales charts | Dollar sales of comics sold through Diamond Comic Distributors were up more than 15 percent in August, while graphic novel dollar sales rose by more than 31 percent when compared to the year-ago period. ICv2 puts the gains in perspective, noting that comic sales were down 17 percent in August 2010 and graphic novel sales were down 21 percent. August 2010 also had four ship weeks compared to August 2011′s five. DC Comics topped the August charts with Justice League #1, followed by Flashpoint #5, Fear Itself #5, Flashpoint #4 and Ultimate Comics Fallout #4. Serenity Better Days and Other Stories from Dark Horse was the no. 1 graphic novel for August. John Jackson Miller offers commentary as well as a look at the best-selling comics of this century, a list that will include Justice League #1. [ICv2, Comichron]
Comics | The Centers for Disease Control has awarded a roughly $145,000 contract to Terminus Media to create motion comics to educate young people about HIV. The comics will be offered on “internet-capable platforms” including desktop computers, laptop computers, video gaming systems, wireless phones and tablet computers. [Politico, Via]
Williams became a force within the small press community through his creation of Sparkplug in 2002. A cartoonist himself (best known for his comic book series Reporter), Williams helped many cartoonists who might otherwise have trouble getting published, including folks like Chris Wright, Dave Kiersh, Edie Fake and Jason Shiga. Sparkplug and Williams very quickly became known as one of the more prominent indie comics publishers. As fellow Robot 6er Sean Collins noted, “he had an eye for really sharp writing that you don’t see in other artcomics publishers.”
I never had the opportunity to get to know Williams well, but he always struck me in our brief meetings and conversations as a warm, genial person who cared fiercely about the medium and the cartoonists he championed.
As Tom Spurgeon notes, there may well be outstanding medical bills and other costs Williams’ estate might have to face, so let me encourage everyone to please take a moment to purchase something from the Sparkplug store (I made a few recommendations here the other week). Similarly, a benefit auction enacted to help Williams with his medical costs is still ongoing and will be continued over the coming months.
Everyone at Robot 6 would like to extend our deepest sympathies and condolences go out to Williams’ family members and friends. This is a deeply felt loss and he will be missed for many, many years to come.
The news spread rather rapidly over the comics blogs this week that Dylan Williams, cartoonist and publisher of Sparkplug Comic Books, is seriously ill and in need of financial aid (i.e. please purchase some Sparkplug books).
Though they arguably haven’t always gotten as much attention as PictureBox or Drawn & Quarterly, Sparkplug has been one of the most interesting small press publishers in recent years, releasing challenging, striking work from many new and up and coming cartoonists.
Lots of people are making recommendations on what to get, but if you’re on the fence about purchasing something from the Sparkplug shop, or just plain don’t know what book to buy, I thought I’d add my own two cents with a short run down of some of my own personal favorites.
Portland retailer Jason Leivian of Floating World Comics has announced that his store will be holding a benefit sale for Dylan Williams, the ailing head of independent publisher Sparkplug Comic Books. 100% of the proceeds generated at the store on Monday, August 29 and Tuesday, August 30 will be donated to pay for the medical care of the gravely ill Williams, who has no health insurance.
In addition, Leivian is organizing a benefit art show to raise additional money for Williams’s medical expenses, with a theme of Phillip K. Dick book covers. Leivian says he plans to post the contributing artists’ pieces on a dedicated blog, sell the originals on eBay, and sell prints of the contributions online, at retailers, and at cons like SPX and APE. Full details on this will be available Monday.
And remember, if you don’t live in Portland or aren’t in the market for original art, you can simply stop by Sparkplug’s online store and buy anything you like. (I suggested a few titles to start with the other day.)
The full press release on the benefit sale at Floating World is after the jump.