The Comics Journal
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.
Let’s give all credit to IDW for their sense of timing. I’m so psyched up in advance of this Saturday’s return of Doctor Who to my television screen that this Wednesday’s release of Doctor Who Annual 2011 (IDW, $7.99) seems like the ideal way to prepare myself. If I had $15, I’d happily spend more than half of it on that particular anthology. The rest would go towards closing out the current incarnation of the DCU, as I’d be grabbing both Action Comics #904 and Batman: Gates of Gotham #5 (Both DC, $2.99).
I’ll admit it, it’s a bit of a shock to see a Brian Ralph comic that isn’t about some deceptively adorable character adventuring their way through an impeccably rendered rubble-strewn environment. Then again, is surviving the San Diego Comic-Con really all that different? The Daybreak cartoonist and alumnus of the influential Fort Thunder collective is chronicling his experience at Comic-Con International 2011 in diary comics form for The Comics Journal all week long. Day one’s a doozy, a journey from misery to triumph and back to misery in the space of a few panels. Look out for the cameo appearance from Drawn and Quarterly’s staff supercouple Peggy Burns and Tom Devlin, who emerge as a sort of obscenity-spewing Statler & Waldorf.
But the main impediment to Dave Sim’s literary reputation is Dave Sim himself. His regressive social and political views and obnoxious rhetoric have created a public persona that’s eclipsed his artistic achievement in the comics world much more completely than it would have in the larger, less insular artistic world — where, for example, plenty of people call John Updike a chauvinist but not even his bitterest detractors question his mastery as a prose stylist, where Karlheinz Stockhausen’s ill-advised statement about 9/11 being a work of art didn’t get him ejected from the first rank of postwar composers, and artists like Wagner and Pound are still secure in their respective pantheons despite having endorsed ideas that are, to put it charitably, pretty well discredited.
But Sim’s controversial ideas are not peripheral to his work; he ultimately makes them its central message and purpose. Wagner never actually wrote any operas about the villainy of the Jews, nor Pound cantos praising the wise and just rule of Franco, but Sim incorporated his screeds about women and the tenets of his one-man religion into the text of his novel, so that even a reader determined to ignore all the apocryphal gossipy bullshit accumulated around the artist and concentrate on the work itself is finally forced to confront the fact that the man has some bizarre ideas and an abrasive way of expressing them.
–Tim Kreider, in his must-read introduction to a longer essay on Dave Sim’s seminal (in more ways than one) independent comic Cerebus from The Comics Journal #301. (I made this exact point, complete with the Wagner example, a few years back.) It’s one thing to be an artist with odious ideas unrelated or tangential to your art; it’s quite another to make them your art’s main attraction. Kudos to Kreider for drawing the distinction so clearly.
Welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading? This week our special guest is Robert Stanley Martin.
Robert writes for his blog Pol Culture, and is a contributing writer to The Hooded Utilitarian. He is a past contributor to The Comics Journal, and his essays on R. Crumb’s The Book of Genesis Illustrated and Eddie Campbell’s Alec: The Years Have Pants are featured in the soon-to-be-released The Comics Journal #301.
To see what Robert and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click on through …
“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.
Part one-crazy-night comedy of errors, part Curb Your Enthusiasm-style comedy of discomfort, part heartwarming second-chance romance, part cartooning master class, Daniel Clowes’s new book Mister Wonderful packs a lot of delights in between its long covers. The book began life as a weekly strip in The New York Times Magazine‘s “Funny Pages” section before Clowes reformatted, edited, and expanded it for its new incarnation from his frequent publisher Pantheon. Now the misadventures of Marshall, a middle-aged divorcé with a penchant for second-guessing pretty much every word out of his own mouth, and his fateful blind date can sit comfortably on your bookshelf instead of lying in your recycling bin after the weekend’s over. And the added bonus to any new Clowes comic, of course, is new Clowes interviews.
Over on the CBR mothership, Clowes spoke with Alex Dueben, who elicited from the cartoonist a provocative take on the much-lamented demise of the alternative comic-book series (a la Clowes’s own Eightball):
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.)
Broadway | A fourth actor was injured Monday night during a performance of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the $65-million musical that’s been plagued by delays and technical mishaps. Aerialist Christopher Tierney, who serves as a stunt double for Spider-Man and the villains Meeks and Kraven, fell about 30 feet when the cable to his harness snapped during the closing minutes of the show. Some equipment reportedly dropped into the audience as well. The performance was put on hold and then canceled as an ambulance arrived at the Foxwoods Theatre to take Tierney to Bellevue Hospital. Tierney is in stable condition, but no further information has been released. [BroadwayWorld, The Associated Press, CNN]
Publishing | Fantagraphics has laid off Dirk Deppey,The Comics Journal‘s online editor, former managing editor, and longtime writer of the Journalista! blog. His final day is Wednesday: “No regrets: The last ten years have kicked ass. I’ve done great things and meet interesting people, and was paid it. How great is that?” [Twitter]
“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.
One of the biggest pieces of news coming out of this year’s Comic-Con was the announcement by Fantagraphics that they would start reprinting Floyd Gottfredson’s seminal Mickey Mouse comic strips.
But that book is at least a year away. What ever shall we read in the months between now and then? Thankfully, Gary Groth, Kim Thompson and company have the answer, via their lengthy fall/winter catalog, which I’ve taken the liberty of breaking down into bite-sized chunks for the hoi-polloi to peruse. No doubt some of these titles you’re probably well aware of and already expecting. But hopefully there’s one or two surprises in the list.
Welcome once again to What Are You Reading? Our guest this week is Van Jensen, writer of Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer and Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer and the Great Puppet Theater. To see what Van and the rest of the Robot 6 crew are reading, click below.
Welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading. Our guest this week is none other than acclaimed cartoonist and co-founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies, James Sturm. Sturm, the author of such books as The Revival and The Golem’s Mighty Swing, has a new book coming out next month from Drawn & Quarterly entitled Market Day, and you definitely want to check it out, it’s a lulu.
In the meantime though, let’s simply check out what Sturm and the rest of the R6 crew is currently reading.
I haven’t done this in awhile, so let’s highlight some of the more interesting posts from the past week or so — or at least what was intersting to me:
• The folks at the Hooded Utilitarian recently wrapped up a lengthy roundtable discussion on Dan Clowes’ Ghost World.
• Tom Spurgeon continues his great holiday interview series with notable critics about the great comics of the closing decade. In backwards order: Kristy Valenti on Little Nemo: So Many Splendid Sundays; Bart Beaty on Persepolis; Frank Santoro on Multiforce and our own Sean Collins on Blankets.
• Tucker Stone examines the brouhaha surrounding the announcement of Marvel’s Girl’s Comics series and wonders what lies behind it: “When the Big Two companies make a fuss about something, and that fuss can in any way be perceived as a movement towards correcting a problem, the initial responses are certain to contain a healthy slice of contempt.”
A contrarian’s contrarian known for writing pieces like an Art Spiegelman takedown titled “In the Shadow of No Talent,” Noah Berlatsky is the sort of writer whom people who’ve never read The Comics Journal but know of its fearsome reputation might conjure up as the notoriously cranky comics mag’s critical platonic ideal. In that light, the longtime Journal contributor and current Journal blogger’s essay on everything that’s wrong with the Journal‘s new web presence might be the Comics Journaliest thing ever written.
Writing at his usual blog platform The Hooded Utilitarian — which is now hosted at the Journal‘s site, TCJ.com — Berlatsky rattles off a laundry list of problems with the recently relaunched site. Gaudy ads, WordPress clutter, an “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to organizing its bloggers and their very different approaches and beats, “read more” jump-cuts that interrupt every single post mid-sentence, launching in beta, lack of promotion, frequent outages, and the already-infamous posting and yanking of TCJ #300′s content are among the many targets that draw Berlatsky’s fire.
More Journal and TCJ.com contributors chime in in the comment thread,
such as as well as blogger Derik Badman, who notes the site’s user-unfriendly headline-only RSS feed, which is undetectable to some browsers.
Though Journal publisher and guiding light Gary Groth continues to dismiss the comics blogosphere even as he admits he doesn’t follow it all that closely, the problems with his publication’s entry into the digital era make me wonder if we’ve reached a “physician, heal thyself” moment.
What the heck happened to The Comics Journal #300? Stuffed to the gills with a murderers’ row of comics creators in cross-generational conversation (from Matt Fraction & Denny O’Neil to Art Spiegelman & Kevin Huizenga), this anniversary spectacular became a swan song of sorts when a letter to subscribers revealed that it would be the venerable comics-criticism publication’s final journal-format issue — henceforth switching to a more online-focused model with semiannual book-format print editions.
So the the news that the whole thing had been posted online was met with much rejoicing… but the subsequent news that the whole thing had been yanked back behind the subscriber wall per the orders of co-publisher and editor Gary Groth was met with much head-scratching. Was this the result of an internal debate over the utility of free-content-as-marketing-device, as web editor and Journalista! blogger Dirk Deppey seemed to imply the next day? Was it a really lousy way to debut the Journal‘s impending web-based iteration, as frequent Journal contributor and future Journal blogger Noah Berlatsky lamented? Or was it a reaction to retailers upset that the product they’d shortly be trying to sell had been made available for free with no advance warning, as Johanna Draper Carlson surmised?
Well, if you had Carlson in your office pool, get ready to collect: Today on Journalista!, Deppey revealed that retailer complaints were indeed the reason for the issue’s Internet vanishing act.
“We pulled TCJ #300 offline largely due to retailer concerns over not having been given adequate warning about said plans before ordering the issue,” Deppey writes. “It was a fair point, and one that we hadn’t properly considered.” Deppey goes on to say that the issue will be back online for all in December after retailers have a proper chance to sell the print version, and that all future issues will be available online for free as planned.
So yeah, rough start for the Journal‘s bold new era. Still, it’s clear a lot of people really want to read the issue — not the worst problem in the world to have, no?