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Derf Backderf spent the first 40 years of his life aiming, and ultimately succeeding, to become one of the top cartoonists in alternative newspapers. However, he then realized that niche industry was failing, and he needed something else; that’s when he found graphic novels.
Since switching his focus from newspaper strips to graphic novels in 2000, Backderf has transformed from a virtual unknown to a curiosity to an international star, with books like Punk Rock & Trailer Parks and his most famous work, My Friend Dahmer. He’s now working on on a graphic novel for Abrams about his time working as a garbageman, as well as a pseudo-sequel to Punk Rock & Trailer Parks that explores his time growing up in the Midwest punk scene.
Backderf’s opinion on comics as a fan and as a professional has changed over the years as he’s witness the decline of the once-thriving alternative weeklies, the rise of graphic novels and the changing face of American comics. I spoke with Backderf about his experiences, his acceptance in Europe, and his own opinions on comics.
Derf Backderf, author of My Friend Dahmer, has a poignant post on his blog marking the 11th anniversary of the end of his cancer treatment:
On that grey day in November when I walked out of the Radiology Department in the basement of University Hospitals for the final time, I was exhausted, sporting several ghastly scars and missing a few chunks of my body, battered and roasted to a crisp, but happy. I’d made it.
Cancer messes with your head. I always thought I’d live to a ripe old age like my grandfather, who lived to 105 (his brother lived to 108!), but my body started to fall apart at age 35 like a Chevy Vega. On that November 18th, I was determined to make the most out of whatever time I had left.
And he did; in the past 11 years he has completed three graphic novels, including the award-winning My Friend Dahmer, published five minicomics, two webcomics and numerous other works, traveled to France and Belgium, won multiple comics awards, and, on a personal note, watched his children grow up and his parents grow old.
Hawkeye, Vol. 1, by Matt Fraction, David Aja and Javier Pulido, and Saga, Vol. 1, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, are among the 35 official selections for the 41st annual Angoulême International Comics Festival, to be held Jan. 30-Feb. 2.
Other titles familiar to North American audiences include: Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller, by Joseph Lambert; Attack on Titan, Vol. 1, by Hajime Isayama; Are You My Mother?, by Alison Bechdel; Goliath, by Tom Gauld; My Friend Dahmer, by Derf; and The Property, by Rudu Modan.
In addition, the French-language editions of Paul Pope’s Battling Boy and Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl are among the nominees for the Sélection Jeunesse (books for young readers), while the eighth volume of Scalped, by Jason Aaron, R.M. Guera, Jason Latour, David Furno, received a nod for Prix Polar (crime). The reprints category also has several books readers should recognize.
The full list can be found on the Angoulême website.
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at the books, comics and what have you that the Robot 6 crew have been perusing of late. Today we welcome our special guest Steven Sanders, artist of such comics as Wolverine and the X-Men, Wolverine, S.W.O.R.D, Our Love is Real, The Five Fists of Science and more. He’s currently using Kickstarter to raise funds for a “Creative Commons art book” called Symbiosis.
“Symbiosis is a world-building art book that tells the story of a woman’s travels through a world where the symbiotic relationship that we have with technology is made much more visceral,” the Kickstarter page reads. “All sources of power are generated by bio-etheric engines, with which the operators share a direct mental link. The story-telling is loose and mostly visual. It will be told with art that uses a variety of media and formats: fully painted, colored line art, black-and-white line art, and comic art. What you do with this story is up to you. Enjoy it on its own merits, or take it and spin it off into any of a million different directions.”
To see what Steven and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below:
Digital comics | Rob Salkowitz, who’s making the rounds to promote his new book Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture, has the best summary yet of the digital comics phenomenon: “Digital doesn’t cannibalize the industry; it grows it by encouraging fandom.” (Robot 6 contributor J. Caleb Mozzocco reviewed Salkowitz’s book this week.) [Flip the Media]
Creators | Christos Gage may have created a new genre, “geezer noir,” with his graphic novel Sunset, the tale of an old soldier and former hitman who sets off after his old boss when he fears his ex-wife and child are in peril: “‘He’s got this craggy face and you see his life written in the lines of his face, and black and white makes that so much more powerful,’ the writer says. He credits artist Jorge Lucas for giving him all the facial expressions that stand in for a lot of talking: ‘He was never going to have interior monologues. I don’t think he overanalyzes what he does all that much.'” [USA Today]
Thursday may have started a bit slow in the news department, but it sure ended with a huge bang. Here’s a roundup of announcements that hit today from Comic-Con International in San Diego:
• Neil Gaiman announced via video that he will write a new Sandman miniseries that will detail what happened to Morpheus to allow him to be so easily captured in The Sandman #1. J.H. Williams III will provide the art. “It was a story that we discussed telling for Sandman‘s 20th anniversary,” Gaiman said, “but the time got away from us. And now, with Sandman‘s 25th anniversary year coming up, I’m delighted, and nervous, that that story is finally going to be told.” The series will be published by Vertigo sometime next year.
• Legendary will also publish the Majestic Files by J. Michael Straczynski, which will feature art by Geoff Shaw and Matt Banning.
• Terry Moore will write a Strangers in Paradise prose novel to coincide with the comic’s 20th anniversary next year. He also plans to do an all-ages comic after Rachel Rising finishes in 30-40 issues.
Dinopopolous (Blank Slate) Nick Edwards‘ Dinopopolous is the story of Nigel, a 13-year-old who loves comics, videogames and heavy metal and who solves mysteries with is best friend Brian, who is a talking dinosaur.
You have probably already decided that this is a comic book you would like to read, and I concur with your decision: This is a comic you will like reading.
When an archaeologist on the trail of the Miracle Bird of Ndundoo goes missing, Nigel and Brian are given a pre-pre-pre-historic artifact and tasked with finding the bird before Julian and His Evil League of Lizards, humanoid lizards that dress a little like the saiyans from Dragon Ball Z, and reminded me of the Tyrannos from DinoSaucers. And Brian reminded me a bit of a mount from the old Dino Riders toy line, wearing a saddle with guns mounted on it and all. And, tonally and visually, the entire book reminds me a bit of Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time, all of which are farily positive associations in my mind.
The story itself is extremely straightforward. Our heroes find the trail, follow it, come into conflict with Julian and his League and then find the bird on the 25th and penultimate page of the book, which ends with a splash page reading “The End” in the middle of an explosion, while Nigel throws up some devil’s horns.
Welcome to Food or Comics?, where every week we talk about what comics we’d buy at our local comic shop based on certain spending limits — $15 and $30 — as well as what we’d get if we had extra money or a gift card to spend on a “Splurge” item.
It had to happen; I’m so uninspired by this week’s offerings, I’d skip the $15 altogether and go straight for the $30 option, which I’d spend on the Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis Premiere Edition Vol. 1 HC (Marvel, $24.99); I ended up skipping out on the single issues after #3 because of the price, but I enjoyed it enough that I’d happily pick up the collection.
If I were looking to splurge even more than that, there’s also the Spider-Man: Spider-Island Companion HC (Marvel, $39.99), which gives me a chance to catch up on the peripheral titles from the recent event; I picked up the Spider-Girl series, but missed out on the well-reviewed Cloak and Dagger and other books.
You know who is getting a lot of my money this week? Abrams, that’s who: I’m going two for two on their releases this week.
If I had $15, I’d keep it all-ages, with their Explorer: Mystery Box anthology, edited by Kazu Kibuishi, who was also responsible for the Flight anthologies, so you know the talent lineup will be stellar. At $10.95, the paperback edition won’t break the bank, and it’s a good deal for 128 pages of full-color comics. That leaves just enough for issue #5 of Roger Langridge’s Snarked ($3.99).
If I had $30, I’d put Snarked back on the shelf and pick up another Abrams book with a more adult subject: My Friend Dahmer ($17.95 for the paperback). Derf Backderf went to school with Jeffrey Dahmer; one grew up to be a cartoonist, one became a serial killer. I’m always interested in how people evolve, and by all accounts, Backder’s story of the young Dahmer is fascinating.
Splurge: A big pile of manga! This is Viz’s big release week for comics stores, and they have a lot of worthy titles: Vol. 19 of Naoki Urasawa’s outstanding 20th Century Boys, vol. 6 of the lovely pseudo-historical shoujo drama The Story of Saiunkoku ($9.99), vol. 9 of the I-want-to-be-a-mangaka drama Bakuman ($9.99), and the first volume of a new series about a sassy girl in a new school, The Devil and Her Love Song ($9.99). There are some weeks when I can barely figure out how to spend any money at all, but between Abrams and Viz and BOOM!, this week really does bring an embarrassment of riches.