"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
Incanto (2006), pages 11 and 12. Frank Santoro.
One of the main problems all visual art has to deal with (comics very much included) is the fact that it’s completely impossible to create an artistic representation of the world that matches the fullness of visual experience we get by simply keeping our eyes open in daily life. Instead, art becomes a lens through which we focus on particular details of the visual world at the expense of others, a process of selective simplifications. The cartoon drawing that nearly all comics art engages in to some extent or another is a form in which art’s move out of reality toward a place of greater simplicity is put right on display. Cartooning is basically a rigorous form of abstraction, in which the world’s every shape and form is put through the funnel of an individual drawing style, coming out the other end as a readable system of pared down two-dimensional symbols.
Put simply, cartooning is a type of figurative drawing, a way to approach the making of representative marks. However, it’s interesting to note that cartooning’s process differs from the basic idea behind figurative drawing fairly significantly. More or less, drawing is an attempt to create a convincing facsimile of the real world, to approximate it by creating a sense of visual reality even if complete duplication is impossible. Cartooning, on the other hand, is more often about creating something solidly other than what surrounds us. The best cartoonists are the best stylists, less concerned with the realism of their work and more with its internal logic, making shapes and lines that have more to do with stylistic consistency than the look of reality. Cartooning jettisons fidelity to the way things really are for a uniformity of appearance: under the brushes of the best, it’s always apparent that everything, from clouds to cars to clothes to characters, have come from the same unmistakable hand.
This week on Thursday’s Jazz Alternatives [on New York radio station WKCR] there was an interview with a member of the New York Jazz Initiative, an organization that holds workshops in New York area high schools to get kids interested in jazz. The idea is to have them play with professional musicians, and in doing so create a new audience for the music. Their plan is “to educate and inspire the next generation of performers and listeners.”
During the interview there was a lot of talk about how the golden age of jazz has passed and now schools are churning out jazz musicians with nowhere to play. There are more players than listeners, really, so a new audience for the music has to be created lest it become “museum music.”
I couldn’t help but think about comics while I was listening to the interview. This might be a new “golden age” of comics but what if the audience just dries up in the next decade or so? Jazz was dominant on the radio and in nightclubs in 1960, but by 1970 jazz musicians were running out of places to play. I thought, “What’s going to happen when all the comics shops close?” That won’t happen, you say? Well, they said that about record shops, too, and now they are just about all gone.
–Cartoonist and critic Frank Santoro, writing on the future of comics for The Comics Journal. Santoro is writing as a partisan of independent/small press/alternative/art comics published by entities other than large corporations, and as such I wonder if his concern is a valid one. From Peter Laird shutting down the Xeric grants for self-published comics to DC going same-day digital for its entire line, the assumption made by people all across comics is that the replacement of print by digital is a difference in degree, but what if it’s a difference in kind?
Comic strips | After outsourcing all editorial, production, sales, marketing and distribution functions for its 150 comics and other features to Universal Uclick earlier this year, United Media closed the doors on its Madison Avenue office in New York on Friday. [Comic Riffs]
Comic Books | A copy of Detective Comics #27 owned by multimillionaire hotel heir Ben Novack Jr., who was murdered in 2009, could go up for auction and end up paying to defend his widow Narcy Novack. Narcy is facing charges that she had the comic fan and his mother murdered, plundered his bank accounts, then tried to pin the crimes on her own daughter. Narcy’s daughter, May Abad, has persuaded a Broward County judge to hold off on the auction and give her at least 14 days to find suitable storage and insurance for Novack’s massive collection. [Miami Herald]
In his latest post at The Comics Journal, Frank Santoro engages in a little bit of compositional analysis, explaining how an artist determines where the eye will fall, and what are the static and dynamic areas of the page, using a page from a Tintin comic, King Otokar’s Sceptre, to demonstrate the ideas in action. In this case, the components of the drawn comic line up so neatly with Santoro’s diagram that it’s hard to believe Herge wasn’t doing it deliberately.
I’m usually suspicious of after-the-fact dissections, because it’s easy to look at a completed work and see things the artist may not have put in deliberately. But Santoro says that Herge was probably aware of the technique, but that for some artists it just comes naturally, like playing music by ear. And just as the artist may use it unconsciously, the reader probably isn’t aware of it, observing only that some pages are more attractive or compelling than others. It’s useful to be reminded that such swift impressions are often born of painstaking planning. Sometimes you have to work hard to make it look easy.
Over at ComicsAlliance, Laura Hudson has a real treat for those of you who like your superhero comics with an alternative twist: 50-plus pages of sketches, thumbnails, pencils, inks, color studies and more from the Strange Tales II hardcover, which debuted this week. Click on over and get a glimpse at the creative process behind contributions from Kate Beaton, Jeffrey Brown, Ivan Brunetti, Farel Dalrymple, Rafael Grampa, Dean Haspiel, Jaime Hernandez, Paul Hornschemeier, Benjamin Marra, Edu Medeiros, Harvey Pekar, Frank Santoro, and Paul Vella. That’s hella Strange!
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.
Wow: Cold Heat cartoonist and Comics Comics blogger Frank Santoro went to Los Angeles, and all he got was this wondrous photo of him and a gaggle of the greatest alternative comics creators on the West Coast. From left to right, you’re looking at Johnny Ryan (Prison Pit, Angry Youth Comix), Jaime Hernandez (Love and Rockets), Ron Regé Jr. (Yeast Hoist, Against Pain), Jordan Crane (Uptight, What Things Do), Sammy Harkham (Crickets, Kramers Ergot), and Santoro. I haven’t seen this kind of star power packed into one picture since Crumb, Ware, Clowes, Tomine, and Buenaventura straddled the cliffs of France like comic-book colossi.
Politics | Warren Ellis joins the list of creators who want nothing to do with Heavy Ink after Travis Corcoran’s inflammatory remarks. At The Daily Cartoonist, Ted Rall pushes back on the outrage, saying, “If I only bought from companies and individuals whose political beliefs I agreed with, I wouldn’t be buying much.” [Warren Ellis, The Daily Cartoonist]
Conventions | Now there’s even more of Fan Expo Canada to love: The self-proclaimed “largest combined gaming, horror, comic, science fiction and anime event in the country” is expanding from three to four days, Aug. 25-28, 2011. [Convention Scene]
Manga | A Chinese artist named Xiao Bai is this year’s winner of the Japanese government’s International Manga Award. The prizewinning entry, Si loin et si proche (So near and so far), was published in Belgium last year. [Monsters and Critics]
The great cartoonist and critic Frank Santoro is once again tackling grid-pattern panel layouts, and this time he’s talking about arguably the most famous nine-panel grids of all: Those used by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in their stone-classic superhero dissection Watchmen. Here’s a sample that includes an insight about the art in that book that had never occurred to me before:
Get ready for some serious comics wonkery: Cold Heat cartoonist Frank Santoro (he of those bitchin’ Strange Tales II Silver Surfer pages) is talkin’ grids — specifically, the grid panel layouts most frequently used in North American comics. Frank’s argument is that the common six-panel grid is a great framework for pacing the flow of images but “loses the center” of the page, to which your eye would naturally be drawn, since there’s basically nothing there but a gutter. Three- or nine-panel grids, on the other hand, have a big ol’ box smack dab in the center, which gives the page extra power on an almost unconscious level. Santoro goes on to discuss some tricks artists have used to create a “center” for a page that uses a two/four/six/eight-panel grid, even though the grid itself gets in the way. It’s an eye-opening post if you’ve ever made comics, that’s for sure — read the whole thing.
Our own Sean T. Collins interviewed Cold Heat creator Frank Santoro about his story in the upcoming sequel to Marvel’s Strange Tales anthology for Marvel.com, and with it came the above artwork. As you can see, Santoro did an airbrushed Silver Surfer story, which is included in the book’s first issue, due in shops Oct. 6.
On Friday, publisher Alvin Buenaventura announced he had shut down his imprint Buenaventura Press as of this past January, due to a single knockout legal/financial blow. Publicly available details are few, in keeping with the private way the move has been handled for the past six months. But comics creators and critics en masse are mourning BP’s demise and reading the tea leaves as to where its publisher, artists, and entire brand of comics will land.
Robot 6 reached out to several of the artists published by Buenaventura, as well as a few of his fellow publishers, for their reaction:
Working with Alvin over the years has been really amazing. He has introduced me to a lot of magical and influential artists and hooked me up with tons of inspiring and perverted books. His place has awesome shit scattered all over- mountains of crazy books, toys, memorabilia, gigantic figures, artwork- it’s like a bomb went off. Now that he’ll be taking a break from the business we’ll finally have more time to play Rock Band and trip out on weird TV shows.
–Matt Furie, writer/artist, Boy’s Club
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!
Move over, Bono and the Edge: Now this is the musical Spider-Man I’m interested in! Cold Heat cartoonist Frank Santoro and retailer Bill Boichel of Pittsburgh’s Copacetic Comics bring our attention to a pair of posts on the blog of free-form radio station WFMU, in which the secrets of the groovy background music from 1967-1970 Spider-Man animated series are revealed at long last. Here’s part one, here’s part two.
Everyone knows the famous “Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can” theme music, but the jazzy, freaky tunes that soundtracked Spidey’s fight scenes and swings through the city have always been a bit of a mystery. WFMU’s Kliph Nesteroff tracked them down to an English stock-music library, which is where shows ranging from Doctor Who to Dallas bought them and used them as well. Nesteroff put together an awesomely long podcast comparing the music as heard in the episodes themselves to the crystal-clear original recordings. At the speed of light, they’ve arrived just in time to make your Monday a lot more fun-sounding.
As 2009 draws to a close we’re practically awash in Best Comics of the Year and/or Decade lists. But when it comes to breaking down the books that made a difference this decade, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and a pair of sites have developed novel approaches to the traditional decade-ender.
First up is Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter. This year he’s aiming his annual Holiday Interview Series squarely at “emblematic” books from 2000-2009 — “by which we mean favorite, representative or just plain great” — by hosting discussions with a series of critics, each one focusing on one particular book. So far he’s tackled Mat Brinkman’s monster-mash Multiforce with writer/artist/critic/bon vivant Frank Santoro, and Craig Thompson’s rapturous romance ‘n’ religion memoir Blankets with me. Further installments will roll out on (I believe) a daily basis until the New Year. If you’re the sort of person who loves to really dig into what makes a great graphic novel tick, these are for you.
Next we have Marvel’s Ben Morse, DC’s Rickey Purdin, and CBR’s own Kiel Phegley, who collectively park their online presence at The Cool Kids Table. In their ongoing look back entitled “Our Comics Decade,” the trio take a look at one comic per year that impacted their view of the medium. So far they’ve covered 2000, 2001, and 2002, and recounted their experiences with books ranging from Scott Lobdell’s Uncanny X-Men to Jeffrey Brown’s Clumsy. Personal and aesthetic history have a tendency to mix and match in unexpected and interesting ways, and it’s fascinating to watch these guys spill the beans on how it happened in their lives in such a methodical way.
So go, click the links and curl up with (a good post on) a good book…