Axel-In-Charge: "Secret Wars" Jam Session Talking "A-Force," "Ultimate End" and More
[Editor’s note: Every Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss “The best in comics from the last seven days” — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]
I’ve been interviewing comic creators since late 1999–and I periodically like to read other people’s interviews to see nuances and angles I may be overlooking. One interviewer that always engages my interest and challenges me to reconsider my approach is Robot 6 co-conspirator Chris Mautner. Mautner is widely read and respected because of his talent and because of the myriad publications that offer him a forum.
This week, over at The Comics Journal, Mautner caught up with Operation Margarine’s Katie Skelly. Having interviewed her myself in April, I was eager to see what ground Mautner covered that I had not. He did not disappoint.
Conventions | Brian Howe looks at the rivalry between Comic Book City Con, which debuted two weekends ago in Greensboro, North Carolina, and NC Comicon, which returns Saturday in Durham. The latter, which is now co-owned by artist Tommy Lee Edwards, drew 4,000 attendees last year (its first at the Durham Convention Center), and this year doubled its exhibit space and ramped up its programming. The conflict, which manifested in a flier for Comic Book City Con that one party considers playful but the other calls “bullying,” seems to be rooted in the proximity of the dates and a perceived lack of communication. However, it’s not simply a rivalry between nearby conventions; it’s one between retailers: Durham’s Ultimate Comics organizes NC Comicon, while Greensboro’s Acme Comics operates Comic Book City Con. [Indy Week]
Because it’s apparently never too early to get a jump start on best-of-the-year lists, Amazon.com has rolled out a rundown of the best comics and graphic novels of the year so far, led by Gilbert Hernandez’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story Marble Season (Drawn and Quarterly). Here’s the full Top 10, arranged according to sales:
The editors’ picks for the best of the year so far in each category can be found here.
It’s kind of impossible to overstate the influence Kim Thompson had on American comics. As co-publishers of Fantagraphics, he and Gary Groth transformed the way people thought about the medium, both in the pages of The Comics Journal and in the kinds of comics they published. If any one publisher can be regarded as the singular entity (and let me be clear, I’m really wary about staking that sort of claim) that made not just fans but the general public take notice and say, “Oh, hey, comics really are an art form and capable of greatness,” it was these guys.
As you might have heard, Kim Thompson died Wednesday morning after being diagnosed with lung cancer. I thought I’d try to cobble together a few words about Kim’s legacy. (And I hope you don’t mind me calling him by his first name; although we were only casual acquaintances at best, it just feels weird to refer to him in anything but familiar terms.)
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’s a busy week at the store for me, it seems. If I had $15 this week, I’d pick up Harbinger #0 (Valiant, $3.99), the one-shot revealing the backstory of the surprisingly compelling relaunch/reboot of the 1990s series, as well as the first issues of Fearless Defenders (Marvel, $2.99) and Snapshot (Image, $2.99). The latter, I’ve already read in its Judge Dredd Megazine serialization, but I’m really curious to see if it reads differently in longer chapters; the former, I’m just hopeful for, given the high concept and involvement of Cullen Bunn.
If I had $30, I’d add the reissued 7 Miles A Second HC (Fantagraphics, $19.99) to my pile. I remember reading the original Vertigo version of this in the 1990s, and am definitely curious to see what this recolored edition, with pages restored after being cut from the Vertigo edition, is like.
Splurging, I find myself drawn to IDW’s Doctor Who Omnibus, Vol. 1 ($29.99). I blame the lack of new Doctor Who on the television right now. That month-and-a-bit is far too long to wait …!
Earlier this week I interviewed Gary Groth of Fantagraphics and Greg Urquhart of Alexander Street Press about the latter’s Underground and Independent Comics, Comix and Graphic Novels archive and its inclusion of The Comics Journal.
The folks at Alexander Street Press were kind enough to give me a trial subscription to the archive so I could see what it contains and get a feel for how it works. Here’s what I found.
The archive boasts an impressive collection of hard-to-find comics from the 1960s and ’70s. If you ever wanted to read Amputee Love (and I know I have) or Captain Guts but haven’t had much luck tracking them down, you’ll find this archive to be of great value. There’s also a complete run of the Arcade anthology, a complete run of Cerebus, Bizarre Sex and yes, Cherry Poptart, as well as work by Eddie Campbell, the Hernandez brothers, Peter Bagge, Harvey Pekar and more.
Of course, for many the ability to peruse the entire run of The Comics Journal — special editions included — is a major attraction. What’s nice is the searchable feature where you can type a name, like Howard Chaykin, and get a list of every issue he appears in. Clicking on the link takes you directly to the article, too, which is a nice feature. You can’t search by author however, so if I wanted to, say, read everything by R. Fiore or Bart Beaty, I’d have try searching by title or subject only.
Fantagraphics announced last week it has formed a partnership with Alexander Street Press to include a complete run of The Comics Journal as part of the Underground and Independent Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels online archive. Not knowing much about Alexander or the archive, I contacted Fantagraphics Co-Publisher Gary Groth to get some more information.
Robot 6: For the uninitiated, can you explain what Alexander Street Press is and what purpose they serve in the academic community?
Gary Groth: I’m by no means an expert on Alexander Street Press, but my understanding is that they provide searchable digital databases to academic institutions composed of classics works in a variety of disciplines — such as film, theater, literature, etc. These are provided primarily for scholarly use. I was able to go into some of their databases and poke around and they’re truly remarkable. You can search for subjects, themes, proper names, historic events, key words, etc.
How did this partnership come about? Did they contact you or vice versa?
They approached us.
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.
[KRISTY] VALENTI: I think there is a wolf cycle going on right now in indy comics; there was that werewolf anthology they put out at CCS.
[TOM] NEELY: I haven’t seen it.
VALENTI: I don’t know if it was the whole vampire-werewolf-zombie cycle or —
NEELY: I have no idea. I have specifically avoided reading most comics while working on The Wolf. Except for a few exceptions from friends, but I didn’t want to be influenced by anything contemporary or any external ideas. But I was very conscious of Twilight and all that stuff happening around me. And my mom was always like, “Oh, I think your book is gonna do really well, because everybody’s into werewolves and scary stuff.” And I’m like, “Mom …” And she’s like, “You should market this to the Twilight…” And I was like, “I’m not marketing my semi-pornographic book to teenage girls.”
[Valenti laughs.] That will get me arrested [chuckles].
It’s just a coincidence. It wasn’t any specific attempt to tap into that market, I was just off doing my own werewolf thing in my cave. And apparently there’s other stuff going on too — I didn’t even realize Jason did a werewolf story until somebody told me that the other day. So I haven’t really kept up with anybody [chuckles]. That’s what’s nice about finishing it, is now I’m getting to read all these books that I’ve avoided for the last five years. And someone else brought up that there’s a lot more sex in indy comics right now too. And I was unaware of that as well. Maybe there’s just something in the collective unconscious that’s leading us down that path. But it wasn’t any conscious attempt at being a part of that. I’m largely unaware; I guess there is a lot of it.
—Cartoonist and painter Tom Neely on pop culture and alternative comics’ mutual season of the wolf, in conversation with The Comics Journal‘s Kristy Valenti. He’s right — altcomix really are having a bit of a sexy time right now, and horror has gone hand in hand with that, for whatever reason. It’s interesting to think that even some of the artists responsible for this don’t realize it until they emerge from the trees enough to get a good look at the forest.
Valenti’s life- and career-spanning interview with Neely is a must-read, and not just because of insights like these into Neely’s wordless psycho-sexual-surreal-semiautobiographical graphic novel The Wolf, one of the year’s best comics. It paints a compelling portrait of how a restless and idiosyncratic artist can maintain a balance between pursuing his vision and the need to work with others — peers, publishers, day-job providers — to do so. His revelations about his failure to come to terms with Top Shelf for publishing his breakout book The Blot, the pros and cons of working as an animator for Disney, and his interaction with the alternative-comics scenes in Los Angeles and Portland all make for reading that’s both depressing and instructive. Check it out.
Awards | Stan Lee will receive the Producers Guild of America’s 2012 Vanguard Award recognizing achievement in new media and technology. “Stan Lee’s creative vision and imagination has produced some of the most beloved and visually stunning characters and adventures in history,” Producers Guild Awards co-chairs Paula Wagner and Michael Manheim said in a joint statement. “He not only has created content that will forever be in our culture but continues to make strides in the digital and new media realms, keeping the comic book industry fresh and exciting. Stan’s accomplishments truly encompass the spirit of the Vanguard Award and we are proud to honor him.” George Lucas and John Lasseter are among the award’s previous recipients. [press release]
What if the Image Seven were Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, Chester Brown and so on, instead of dudes who made their bones drawing Spider-Man and Wolverine? The result would probably look a lot like L’Association.
Founded in 1991 by French alternative-comics titans David B., Killoffer, Mattt Konture, Jean-Christophe Menu, Mokeït, Stanislas, and Lewis Trondheim, L’Association was formed as a response to the lack of opportunity for avant-garde comics provided by France’s mainstream comics publishers. But L’Asso quickly became a sales forced to be reckoned with on its own, thanks in large part to its breakout hit, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Over the years, the publisher’s lineup took on “everybody who’s anybody” proportions in the Francophone comics world, with Julie Doucet, Joann Sfar, Blutch, Dupuy & Berberian, Emmanuel Guibert, and Guy Delisle all releasing work through the collective.
But as was the case here in the States with the makers of Spawn, Youngblood, WildC.A.T.s et al, L’Asso became a house divided. A combination of personal rivalries, diverging interests, and outside opportunities elsewhere soon saw the seven founders go their separate ways, leaving Jean-Christophe Menu as the publisher’s head honcho. What happened next — hidden financial records, unexpected layoffs, an employee strike, accusations of alcoholism and paranoia, tumultuous meetings involving hundreds of people, and a team-up between the departed founders to wrest control of their former company away from Menu’s allegedly dictatorial hands — became the stuff of comics legend.
Now the Comics Journal’s Matthias Wivel is telling the story of the L’Asso War — and getting participants on both sides on the record. In part one of his fascinating report, he takes us from the founding of the group to the eve of the company-wide strike in protest of Menu-directed layoffs that rocked Angoulême, France’s biggest comic con. In part two, he chronicles the strike and the resulting legal wranglings and wild-sounding general assembly meetings that eventually led to the co-founders’ return and Menu (and Satrapi)’s departure. Filled with juicy quotes from Menu, Trondheim, David B. and other leading players, the whole sordid saga reads like a movie, or more appropriately a comic, which, thanks to a team of cartoonists led by Trondheim, it’s about to become. Take a break and read the whole thing — it’s one of the most compelling collisions of art, commerce, and clashing cartoonists that comics on either side of the Atlantic has ever seen.
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.
Whatever you end up thinking of it, settling in with a comic book as big as Craig Thompson’s Middle Eastern fantasia Habibi is one of the great pleasures of being a comics reader: “That thing you like doing? Now you’re gonna get to do it for a long, long time.”
For fans of good writing about comics, The Comics Journal‘s roundtable discussion of Habibi affords similar pleasures. Over the course of some 10,000 words, a group of critics and scholars comprising Charles Hatfield, Hayley Campbell, Tom Hart, Katie Haegele, Joe “Jog” McCulloch, and Robot 6’s own Chris Mautner tackle nearly every aspect of Thompson’s remarkably fecund book. Jog’s comprehensive look at Thompson’s mysticism-derived structure for the book — probably the most complex such structure used on this scale by anyone other than Alan Moore — makes the roundtable worth a read all on its own. But I also greatly enjoyed the discussion of the influence of Will Eisner; the potential for race to be a more problematic aspect of the book than religion or culture; the tension between depicting exploitation and being exploitative oneself; the question of whether Thompson leaves room for interpretation or puts everything right there on the page… As with Habibi itself, perhaps it’s best just to dive right in and see where it takes you.
Paying off thirty years of continuity and character development. Delivering shocks, gasps, cheers, and tears in equal measure, seemingly at the author’s whim. Offering a master class in everything from laying out a double-page spread to drawing clothes. Telling a story about beloved characters so emotionally engaging that even their most ardent fans wouldn’t mind if this were the last one ever told. Any way you slice it, Jaime Hernandez’s “The Love Bunglers” — his contribution to the recently released Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 and the conclusion to the already wildly acclaimed “The Love Bunglers”/”Browntown” suite from last year’s issue — is a hell of a comic. But you don’t have to take my word for it.
Dan Nadel, editor of The Comics Journal, has posted his own appreciation, and invited cartoonists Frank Santoro (Storeyville) and Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve) to do the same. (SPOILER WARNINGS in effect at those links, folks.) Nadel (like Jordan Crane on the first part of Jaime’s tale in issue #3 before him) minces no words: “This is not just Jaime’s finest work, but one of the best (at this moment I’d rank it in my top five of all time) works ever created in the medium.” Santoro calls Jaime “the greatest cartoonist of all time,” saying “No art moves me the way the work of Jaime Hernandez moves me.” Tomine talks of picking the issue up at a signing event for Jaime and being so moved by a two-page spread he encountered while randomly flipping through that he actually had to leave.
I posted my review at the beginning of August, after the book had started circulating at cons but long before it hit stores, but weeks and even months later people would still post comments on the review, like they’d been hungrily seeking out anything anyone had written about this remarkable comic. I’ve got a feeling that as more and more critics read this comic, they’ll never go hungry again.
Previously on Lost: Dash Shaw, author of Body World and Bottomless Bellybutton, and Jesse Moynihan, storyboard artist for Adventure Time and author of Forming, teamed up a couple years ago to create an innovatively formatted fold-out comic for an issue of the literary magazine The Believer. Titled “Spiritual Dad,” the strip told a multi-generational story of fathers, sons and significant others struggling to find their destinies via various chemical and/or mystical means … leading one of them to a dreamlike vision of a plane crash, an island, a mysterious bald man on a vision quest, and other events that years later would become the subject matter of a little cultural phenomenon called Lost.
Flash forward to today, when cartoonist and commentator Frank Santoro hid the never-before-digitized comic, hatch-style, at the bottom of his long and compelling interview with Moynihan for The Comics Journal. Read the whole thing and marvel at the dense meta-magic performed by Shaw and Moynihan as they weave Lost into the tapestry of their own tale. Just be sure to dig into that interview, and Moynihan’s gorgeously colored Forming art, as you scroll down toward the comic itself.