To see what James and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below …
Libraries | A middle school library in New Brunswick, Canada, has been asked to remove Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim’s Dungeon series for review after the mother of a 12-year-old student complained about the depictions of sex and violence in one of the volumes. The CTV News reporter goes for the easy gasp by showing the scenes in question to a variety of parents, all of whom agree they don’t think the book belongs in a school library, and in this case the mom has a good point: The book received good reviews but is definitely not for kids. [CTV News]
Publishing | John Jackson Miller has been looking at the fine print in old comics — the statement of ownership, which spells out in exact numbers just how many copies were printed, how many were sold, etc. One of the highlights is Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge, which sold more than 1 million copies, making it the top seller of the 1960s. “It’s meaningful, I think, that the best-seller of the 1960s should come from Barks, whose work was originally uncredited and who was known originally to fans as ‘the Good Duck Artist,’” Miller concludes. “Fandom in the 1960s was bringing attention to a lot of people who had previously been unheralded, and Barks is a great example. He changed comics — and now comics were changing.” [The Comichron]
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.
Cartoonist Dustin Harbin posted a tribute comic for the late Sparkplug Comic Books publisher Dylan Williams today, and it’s a fitting tribute indeed.
Harbin’s point is that Williams created a publishing house designed to make the kinds of comics he wanted to see a reality, so that thinking about his death is as much thinking about the presence of comics he brought into the world as it is about the absence of the man himself. And with the welcome news that Sparkplug will be continuing under the auspices of Williams’ wife Emily Nilsson, his friend Tom Neely, and his colleague Virginia Paine, it looks like that aspect of his legacy will continue to be honored.
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]
Legal | Defense testimony began in the Michael George trial Monday after the judge denied a motion by the defense to order an acquittal. George’s daughter Tracie testified that she remembers her father sleeping on the couch in his mother’s house the night in 1990 when his first wife Barbara was shot and killed in their Clinton Township, Michigan, comic store. Another defense witness, Douglas Kenyon, told the jury he saw a “suspicious person” in the store that evening and that Barbara George, who waited on him, seemed nervous. [Detroit Free Press]
Conventions | Last weekend’s Alternative Press Expo inspired Deb Aoki to offer a burst of suggestions on Twitter as to how it could be made better. Heidi MacDonald collected the tweets into a single post, and the commenters add some worthwhile points (including not scheduling it opposite the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, which attracts much of the same audience and is free). [Deb Aoki's Twitter, The Beat]
Awards | Ian Culbard’s adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness won the British Fantasy Award for best comic/graphic novel, presented Saturday by the British Fantasy Society. [The British Fantasy Society]
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly column where we successfully answer the question in the title. Our special guest this week is Janice Headley, events coordinator, publicist and “ambassador of awesome” for Fantagraphics.
To see what Janice and the Robot 6 crew have been reading this week, click the link below.
Around here, we’re big fans of Strangeways, Matt Maxwell’s series of horror-Western graphic novels. Maxwelll’s practically family, having serialized his second book The Thirsty on Robot 6, so it’s exciting that he’s now announced the third volume. Whereas Murder Moon was a werewolf tale and The Thirsty featured vampires, The Land Will Know is all about the ghosts. Maxwell calls it “the campfire ghost story reinvented” and describes it as sort of an EC-inspired anthology, but with a bridge story that ties the individual tales together into a single piece.
He’s started announcing artists for the various stories, but more details will be coming later. Gervasio and Jok (who’ve both worked on Strangeways before) will be drawing the bridge story as well as one of the other tales. Benjamin Dewey (Dark Horse Presents), Tom Neely (The Blot, The Wolf), and Tom Fowler (Venom) will each be doing stories as well. Check out Maxwell’s website for more details, samples of the artists’ work, and future updates.
Comics | David Brothers argues that the problem with Miles Morales is that he is being defined as “the black Spider-Man” rather than simply “Spider-Man”: “Miles Morales is notable for being the first black Spider-Man, particularly in Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, but it isn’t his blackness that makes him special. It’s the fact that he’s not Peter Parker. The fact that he’s half-black, half-Puerto Rican, (and how cool would it be if his dad was a dark skinned Puerto Rican and his mom was light skinned black?!), that it looks like he’s taking part in a lottery to get into a good school in the preview images, and that he’s thirteen years old is just sauce. It’s not the meal. It’s part of the meal, sure, but you do yourself and the character (or rather, the concept, what the character represents, or something, because we do not respect characters ’round these parts) a disservice by boiling him down to “black Spider-Man.” He’s so much more than that, judging by the press run Marvel just went on, that breaking him down to being the black Spider-Man is… it’s garbage, it’s lazy, it’s stupid.” [4thletter!]
Comics | Flashpoint editor Eddie Berganza talks to USA Today about the midpoint of DC’s big summer event series and how it might tie into the September relaunch: “They’re starting to figure out where these 52 are coming from, and it’s staring them right in the face with Flashpoint. A lot of the concepts, a lot of the ideas, they’re cropping up within the pages. You have a book called Frankenstein in the Flashpoint world, and guess what, we’re doing Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE. You’ll see a couple of other background players start showing up that become more important as we go into September.” [USA Today]
Retailing | Borders Group warned investors on Tuesday against buying any more of the company’s stock as it soon could be worthless. If a federal bankruptcy court approves the $215-million opening bid submitted last week, the bookseller would become a subsidiary of the privately held Direct Brands, owner of the Book of the Month Club and Columbia House, meaning stock will no longer be traded. [The Detroit News]
There’s not much I can say by way of an introduction to Tom Neely that the above image can’t do better. Combining the gangly, jaunty character designs of classic comic icons like E.C. Segar’s Popeye and Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse with a take on horror that’s equal parts metal album cover, ’70s horror mag, and sexualized Surrealism, Neely’s comics, paintings, and illustrations wed a high level of craft to intense imagery that often literally tears its characters apart. It’s a style Neely has deployed with surprising versatility since the high-profile release of his self-published graphic novel debut The Blot in 2007; in that time he’s riffed directly on his influences with the Popeye reinterpretation Doppelgänger and the horror-mag cover collection Neely Covers Comics to Give You the Creeps!, adapted the songs of punk mainstays the Melvins in Your Disease Spread Quick, created a series of strip-format comic poems in Brilliantly Ham-fisted, put an alternative spin on the gag comic in the anthology Bound & Gagged, and most famously helped craft an ode to the timeless love affair of hardcore legends Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig in Henry & Glenn Forever. I’ve enjoyed all these comics. But The Wolf, Neely’s new self-published full-length graphic novel, is the leader of the pack.
It’s easy to enjoy (if that’s the right word) The Wolf as a thrilling, chilling onslaught of monsters, bloody combat, and graphic sex — and indeed I do. But beneath the werewolves and zombies and tree-headed monks is a moving exploration of couplehood, as our male and female protagonists deal with the pain of the past and the threats of the present in order to build a (literally) brighter future together. As with The Blot, The Wolf‘s wordlessness emphasizes Neely’s powerful images, with a clever use of single splashes and double-page spreads propelling us through a story that at any moment can toggle between nightmare, wet dream, and peaceful reverie. It’s like life with the volume cranked up.
With The Wolf‘s release party scheduled for this Friday, July 8, at L.A.’s Secret Headquarters (although you can already purchase a copy through Neely’s website), Neely has provided Robot 6 with a selection of preview pages from throughout the book, and took the time to answer a few questions about its origins, influences, style, substance, subtext, sex scene, and more.
Canadian customs has long had a reputation for being quick to seize any comics they find potentially obscene, and Tom Neely learned that the hard way this morning, as Canadian customs officers reportedly confiscated the five copies of the Black Eye anthology that he was bringing with him to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. Ryan Standfest, editor/publisher of Rotland Press + Comic Works, which publishes Black Eye, emailed Neely’s account of the incident to The Comics Journal:
… They took ‘em. I tried to get them to just ship them back to me at home, but they said they were required to send it to Ottawa for review… if they found the material to be ‘obscene’ they would take ‘further action.’ I asked what ‘further action’ meant and he said they would just destroy them. Or there is a chance they might ship them back to me.
Black Eye is an anthology of dark humor, which was funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign; apparently a page by singly named artist Onsmith is what first caught the customs officer’s eye. The book also contains work by Ivan Brunetti, Lilli Carré, and Paul Hornschemeier, among others, and essays by Jeet Heer and other luminaries, and an interview with Al Feldstein … it’s hard to argue that this anthology wouldn’t have redeeming features. Nonetheless, the customs agent wouldn’t let it through, and kept talking about “further action,” which certainly sounds ominous.
Although Neely seems to have been taken by surprise, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund issued an advisory just two months ago about taking comics across international borders.
And this certainly isn’t the first time this has happened. Continue Reading »
Back around Halloween ’09, I whipped up a little list of “six deeply creepy alt-horror cartoonists,” a list of modern masters of the macabre that included The Blot‘s Tom Neely and Ectopiary‘s Hans Rickheit. Now both artists are dealing with something even scarier than their comics: the economy. And both are looking for financial help to keep their projects going.
First up is Hans Rickheit, whose latest graphic novel The Squirrel Machine was published by Fantagraphics, and whose webcomic Ectopiary has had its praises sung by my colleague Brigid Alverson (among many others). Rickheit announced the other day that the business where he worked has closed down, leaving him without a job or income and forcing him to suspend production of Ectopiary indefinitely. “If you’ve ever considered buying any artwork or books,” he writes, “this would really be a very helpful time to do so.” You can buy pages from his Xeric-winning erotic-horror graphic novel Chloe here, pages from his steampunk-by-way-of-David-Cronenberg book The Squirrel Machine here, many of his comics direct from Rickheit himself here, or simply donate what you will here.
How’s this for a Valentine’s Day treat? In the slash-eriffic vein of Tom Neely and Igloo Tornado’s Henry & Glenn Forever — the surprise-hit minicomic that reimagined musclebound hardcore-punk progenitors Henry Rollins (Black Flag) and Glenn Danzig (The Misfits) as a happily cohabitating couple — comes Prison Pit troublemaker Johnny Ryan’s latest strip for Vice magazine, “Mark + Gary Forever.” For the New Wave-impaired, that’s Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh and synthpop icon Gary Numan, united by their shared sense of futuristic weirdness — and now, in Ryan’s comic, L-O-V-E. In a story drawing heavily from their biggest hits, “Whip It” and “Cars” respectively, Mark and Gary have a lovers’ quarrel over Gary’s profligate spending. Will they patch things up? Are they not men? Are “friends” electric? The answers to these questions and more await you at the link — and at the big Henry & Glenn Gang-Bang group art show and book signing at Los Angeles’ La Luz de Jesus Gallery this coming Friday, featuring contributions (some old, some new!) by the whole Igloo Tornado gang, plus Ryan, Jordan Crane, COOP, Kaz, Steven Weissman, Bald Eagles and many more. It’s the only way to live!