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Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes
by Carl Barks
Fantagraphics Books, 240 pages, $24.99.
Is Barks overrated? Is he really the comics master that people claim he is or was it simply that most of his contemporaries — especially where Disney comics were concerned — were so dull in comparison? Did the mystique surrounding Barks — the fact that he worked anonymously for so long — stoke his legend? In praising Barks, are we merely praising the surface elements of his work and ignoring whether his stories are stand up to the sort of strong critical scrutiny? Does mere nostalgia drive the bulk of our interest in his work? As one person put it on Twitter: “Is the worship of Barks just another case of comics culture’s elevation of craft over everything?”
I really don’t think so. Certainly it’s easy to get lost in the surface elements of Barks’ comics — the simple, clean lines, the skilled detail in depicting other cultures and lost civilizations, the slapstick humor. I suppose to some extent there might be a few people who come to Barks expecting to have their molecules re-arranged and will walk away sorely disappointed and wondering what all the fuss was about.
If you were to list the five most important cartoonists in the history of comics, the chances are good Robert Crumb would be on the list. If you were to list the five most important editor/publishers in the history of comics, the chances are good Gary Groth of Fantagraphics would be on that list. For a lot of people, they’d each be at the top. So if you are a comics reader and you can think of a better way to spend your afternoon than reading a 13,000 word interview with Crumb by Groth for The Comics Journal, then please, become my personal planner, because your life must be freaking awesome.
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]
On the same day that Fantagraphics announced The Complete Zap Comix, the publisher revealed it will bring yet another treasure trove of groundbreaking comics back to the stands. At its panel at Comic-Con International and in an interview with The Comics Reporter’s Tom Spurgeon, Fantagraphics announced it had acquired the rights to publish the EC Comics library from the representatives of its late publisher, William M. Gaines.
Known for pushing comics’ boundaries of formal innovation and craft as well as raw content before anti-comics hysteria and the creation of the Comics Code helped stifle the publisher in the mid-’50s, EC has generally been reprinted in formats that center on its (in)famous horror, crime, science fiction, and war anthology series, such as Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear, Crime SuspenStories, Weird Science, Weird Fantasy, Two-Fisted Tales, and Frontline Combat. What sets the Fantagraphics reprint project apart is that individual creators’ work will be culled from the series in which it appeared and presented in a series of black-and-white solo spotlight volumes. The first four books announced will collect war stories written by Harvey Kurtzman (Corpse on the Imjin and Other Stories, featuring art by Kurtzman, Gene Colan, Russ Heath, and Joe Kubert), suspense stories by Wally Wood (Came the Dawn and Other Stories), horror stories by written by Al Feldstein and illustrated by Jack Davis, and science fiction stories by Al Williamson.
Click on over to The Comics Reporter for more details, including an interview with editor and co-publisher Gary Groth.
…so I’m not even going to try. Instead I’m just going to link you to Alex Dueben’s thusly titled interview with Fantagraphics Co-Publisher and The Comics Journal Editor Gary Groth over on the CBR mothership, in which the trailblazing alternative-comics publisher and critic tackles a wide variety of the biz’s big topics. Here are a few choice nuggets:
On Fantagraphics shifting to digital:
To one degree or another, all of our books can be read on a screen.
We’re cognizant of that and we’re certainly moving in that direction. I think what the future is going to hold is that books are going to be on multiple platforms, in digital and in print. I don’t think one is going to necessarily overshadow the other. They can be available in various formats. We’ve been literally working on the digital formats for the last year, just working out all the bugs and talking to the various platforms. I’m sure by this time next year, a lot of our books, if not the majority of them, are going to be available digitally.
“It wasn’t possible for a man like Stan Lee to come up with new things — or old things for that matter. Stan Lee wasn’t a guy that read or that told stories. Stan Lee was a guy that knew where the papers were or who was coming to visit that day. Stan Lee is essentially an office worker, OK? I’m essentially something else: I’m a storyteller.”
“On The Fantastic Four, I’d tell him what I was going to do, what the story was going to be, and I’d bring it in — that’s all.”
“I created Spider-Man. We decided to give it to Steve Ditko. I drew the first Spider-Man cover. I created the character. I created the costume. I created all those books, but I couldn’t do them all.”
If you listen closely, you can still hear comics’ collective jaw dropping upon reading the above quotes, and many more like them besides, from Jack Kirby’s bombshell 1990 interview in The Comics Journal, conducted by editor and publisher Gary Groth. And now that the Journal has posted the interview online in its entirety, jaws will likely drop all over again.
It’s a fascinating document. Here you have the King of Comics himself, angry and exhausted from years of feuding with Marvel over credit and access to his original art, feeling personally slighted by the company’s other guiding light and figurehead Stan Lee, lashing out with the kind of bombast usually reserved for his spectacularly cosmic comics. In the course of recounting his career (with a little help from his wife Roz), Kirby basically takes sole credit for the creation of the entire Marvel Universe, from the Fantastic Four to Thor to the Hulk to the Avengers to even Spider-Man, relegating Lee to the role of an office boy and credit thief whose only contribution to most of the comics for which the pair shared billing was slapping his name on them and collecting checks.
Kirby’s boldest claims here have proven tough for even his most ardent defenders to swallow — and indeed he goes much further here in asserting sole authorship of the Lee/Kirby co-creations than he ever had in the past — but what his recollections may lack in historical accuracy they gain in evincing the passion he still felt for the work, the degree to which Marvel and Lee’s treatment of him hurt, and, as always, the astonishing imaginative power with which he infused every character he touched. Read the whole thing.
Broadway | Michael Cohl and Jeremiah Harris, producers of the troubled Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, talk candidly about the $70-million musical — or “$65 plus plus,” as Cohl says — as it shuts down for more than three weeks for a sweeping overhaul. Will the production, plagued by delays, technical mishaps, injuries and negative reviews, hurt their reputation? “It might,” Cohl concedes. “It’s a matter of the respect of those whose opinions I care about. Most will recognize that Jere and I stepped in dog poo and are trying to clean it up and pull off a miracle. We might not.”
In related news, Christopher Tierney, the actor who was seriously injured on Dec. 20 after plummeting 30 feet during a performance, will rejoin rehearsals on Monday. [Bloomberg, The Hollywood Reporter]
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 TCJ.com 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.)
Over on the CBR mothership, Shaun Manning interviews Fantagraphics co-publisher Gary Groth about his upcoming reprints of the Mickey Mouse comic strips by artist Floyd Gottfredson, kicking off with Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, vol. 1: The Race to Death Valley in May. With his trademark blend of erudition and bluntness, Groth details the nuts and bolts of the whole project: The reason Mickey Mouse’s comic strip was an action-adventure serial to begin with, Mickey’s surprisingly feisty personality, the basics on the first few storylines being collected, the essays and other supplemental materials being included in the package, the eventual inclusion of racist material and other items of potential controversy, how big the books will be, and even a bit about Fantagraphics’ parallel plan to release the complete Carl Barks Disney Ducks comics. But I’m sure Groth wouldn’t mind if I said that the real star attraction for the piece are the actual Gottfredson strips used to illustrate it. Simply put, my jaw literally dropped once I opened up these action-packed images, so impressed was I by their power and grace. And since most of Gottfredson’s work has been reprinted rarely, if that, chances are you’ll be bowled over too. Click on over and check them out for yourself.
In what is sure to be one of the most acclaimed comics events of 2011, Fantagraphics has announced that they will be publishing a definitive collection of Carl Barks’ seminal run of Donald Duck comic stories. In an exclusive interview with Robot 6, Fantagraphics co-publisher Gary Groth revealed that the company – which announced their plans to publish Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse comics last summer – had acquired the rights to reprint Barks’ work from Disney and that the first volume will be released in fall of this year. The comics will be published in hardcover volumes, with two volumes coming out every year, at a price of about $25 per volume.
Although the stories will be printed in chronological order, the first volume, “Lost in the Andes,” will cover the beginning of Barks’ “peak” period, circa about 1948. The second volume, “Only a Poor Old Man,” will cover roughly the years 1952-54 and feature the first Uncle Scrooge story. Later volumes will fill in the missing gaps, including his earlier work, in a process somewhat similar to Fantagraphics’ publication of George Herriman’s “Krazy Kat.”
For those who aren’t familiar with the name, the Barks library has been one of the great missing links in a time that many have dubbed the “golden age of reprints.” Acclaimed around the globe for his rich storytelling and characterization, as well as excellent craftsmanship, Barks has long been regarded as one of the great cartoonists of the 20th century, equal to luminaries like Charles Schulz, Robert Crumb and Harvey Kurtzman. He’s been one of the few major American cartoonists whose work has, up till now, not been collected in a comprehensive, manner respectful of his talent (at least not in North America), however, so this announcement comes as extremely good news for any who read and love good comics, let alone are familiar with Barks’ work.
Fantagraphics will release an official announcement about the project tomorrow. In the meantime, click on the link to read our exclusive interview with Gary Groth:
“5 years, 20 volumes, 72 artists, and 2,352 pages of comics.” Strictly by the numbers — taken from the Editor’s Notes that kick off Mome Vol. 20: Fall 2010, on sale this month — Fantagraphics’ signature anthology is a force to be reckoned with. Launched in 2005 with the intention of providing a regular home for new work by promising young cartoonists like Gabrielle Bell, Jeffrey Brown, Anders Nilsen, Paul Hornschemeier, and Sophie Crumb, it rapidly evolved into something else, something arguably more: a showcase for alternative comics of nearly every style and stripe. During its five-year history, Mome‘s diverse accomplishments have included publishing work from European greats like David B. and Lewis Trondheim, serializing Tim Hensley’s acclaimed graphic novel Wally Gropius, reintroducing Al Columbia to the comics scene prior to the release of his landmark Pim & Francie, giving Dash Shaw yet another forum for his experimental take on science fiction, providing an unlikely venue for underground legend Gilbert Shelton, showcasing up-and-comers like Jon Vermilyea and Nate Neal…and, like all anthologies, starting a good deal of debate over which contributors were any good at all. With its like-clockwork quarterly schedule, Mome is a go-to destination for finding out what’s going on at comics’ cutting edge.
Presiding over all this has been editor Eric Reynolds, who inherited full control of the anthology from original co-editor and co-publisher Gary Groth. When last I spoke to Reynolds about Mome in October of 2007, he was prepping Vol. 10, which sported a new look, new work from Columbia, and the second half of a story by altcomix titan Jim Woodring. Three years and ten issues later, the series has gotten a full-on makeover from designer Adam Grano, and is in the midst of some of its most challenging work ever from Shaw, Josh Simmons, Derek Van Gieson and more. What has changed, what has remained constant, and what lies in store? Reynolds spoke with Robot 6 about all this and more in a fifth-anniversary interview.
If I’d ask you five years ago to describe what Mome Vol. 20 would look like, what would you have said?
I would’ve said there’s no way this thing’s going to last 20 issues. Really, I’m sure I would have had no other answer.
He’s one of the godfathers of alternative comics now, but Gary Groth was once a fanboy like any other. Well, that’s not quite true, as the future Fantagraphics publisher was always a lot more enterprising than most. The illustration above of Groth in the home of Nick Fury artist Jim Steranko comes from Groth’s Fantastic Fanzine #11, available for perusal and full download at Comic Attack. The issue dates back to 1970 and chock full of juicy Steranko interviews, Dave Cockrum illustrations, and drawings of shirtless barbarians of both genders. We’re a long way from Ghost World, but you’ve gotta start somewhere!
“I had an anus-clenching moment when I read Ken [Parille]’s parodic ‘Where are your standards?’ paragraph without knowing it was parody and thought, ‘My God, [Parille and Comics Journal contributor Noah Berlatsky are] both idiots!’ You can imagine my relief when Ken revealed that it was a joke! I thought I’d created some sort of critical purgatory that I would wander around in forever in an intellectual torpor, and the only way out would be to extinguish the site. My only solace was that I might bump into Harold Bloom and we’d sit down and commiserate.”
—Comics Journal editor and Fantagraphics co-publisher Gary Groth, expressing his dismay that he can no longer tell actual posts on the Journal’s website from parodies thereof.
Fantagraphics co-founder and co-publisher Gary Groth can be scary enough even when he isn’t wielding a loaded firearm. (Don’t believe me? Then witness the savage critical beatdown he just doled out to Comics Journal contributor Noah Berlatsky. Ouch.) But in one of comics’ grander and weirder traditions, Groth and his fellow Fanta folks traipse out into the Washington State wilderness every year with enough guns to make a Tea Party jealous and open fire at whatever office detritus had the misfortune of catching their eye. Check out designer Adam Grano’s “Shootin’ Day” flickr set to witness a variety of Fantagraphics and Comics Journal employees and creators opening fire at everything from one of those good-luck cat statues to a Nagel print.
Before there were LJ communities, before there was DeviantArt, heck, before there was an internet, there were fanzines. And before Gary Groth was the editor of The Comics Journal, he was the editor of Fantastic Fanzine, a project he began when he was 13. At Comic Attack, Ken Meyer, Jr., reproduces all of issue 12 of FF, together with commentary on many of the creators. And if that whets your appetite, check out the earlier issue he blogged about last fall.