…Hernandez’s comics are in many ways an antidote to all the things that drive comics fans nuts despite their seeming appetite for wallowing in such things for weeks, months, years on end. Sexism in comics is always worth fighting because sexism is pernicious and harmful and thus worth calling into question every time it’s encountered, but for many adult fans part of the solution really is to put down the terrible comic that enrages you and buy something like Love & Rockets: New Stories #4 for its fragile, sympathetic portraits of a wide range of human experiences.
There’s a sense one gets when issues involving lousy or ugly or offensive comics are discussed on the comics Internet that the superhero genre is the extent of the comics experience. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good in the sense that for most of the North American comics market, superheroes are if not the only game in town then at least the Super Bowl compared to the Pee-Wee League games being played by other kinds of comics, so the numbers necessitate a serious engagement with the genre’s problems and the problems of its publishers. And if you treat superhero comics as paramount, then your critiques of its practices gain in urgency, an urgency that’s probably required if those critiques are to be heard and responded to.
Humorist Michael Kupperman is the kind of storyteller that prompts a (long thought dead) legendary writer to reveal he’s undead. Such is the offered backstory on Kupperman’s new book, Mark Twain’s Autobiography 1910-2010, described by Fantagraphics as follows: “From WWI to the Great Depression, WWII to Woodstock, and through the present, Twain details his careers as an ad man, astronaut, hypnotist, Yeti hunter, porn star, drifter, grifter and more, rubbing shoulders and having never-before-told adventures with many major figures of the 20th Century.” After covering his new collection of writing and illustrations, Kupperman discusses the upcoming series of live performances (set to start tomorrow with his solo appearance, but future installments will often be in conjunction with Kate Beaton)—and how performing his work helps him gain a sense of his material. Once you’ve read the interview, be sure to peruse the publisher’s 32-page book preview and Kupperman’s reading of the Ant I Am Telling You portion of the 160-page book.
Tim O’Shea: Have you heard what Mark Twain thinks of what you did with the manuscript he gave you, or do you expect never to hear from him again?
Michael Kupperman: Actually I’ve been hearing from him a lot. I thought that one meeting would be it, but since then he keeps reappearing, asking for help dealing with today’s publishing industry. He’s written a new novel called Prairie Rumpus, which I feel is dated in its use of slang and locale. Meanwhile I’ve got a lot of interest in my novel The Fart Vampires, a lotta heat building up.
Tom Spurgeon almost died this summer. That’s why we all had to learn to live without his nigh indispensable comics news and criticism site, The Comics Reporter, during its lengthy hiatus in July. And that’s why he wrote “All of These Things That Have Made Us,” a powerful reflection on a life lived in comics on the occasion of nearly losing it that is now available to read, and re-read and re-read, at his site.
In a juxtapositional fashion true to the art form, Tom jumps back and forth from an account of his medical ordeal,one that carried with it “a Shooter-era Marvel market share sized mortality rate” and briefly left him in a coma, to musings on comics — the industry, the art form, the community, and his place in all of the above. This technique makes for a very funny essay at times: Only Tom would spend time on what could well have been his deathbed trying to figure out what the heck is up with the Green Lantern movie and “The New 52,” or note as his life flashes before his eyes that all the people in comics complaining about how hard they work should basically STFU because based on his own experience it’s the easiest damn job in the world.
But it’s also a deeply moving piece, as Tom thinks about the safety and comfort the welcoming, forgiving (to a fault) comics community has given him. “Comics is the place where I’m the least scared,” he says. Later he grapples with the fact that despite years of immersion, the strange, sprawling, small, young art form still remains a mystery to him in many ways: “I’m not even sure I know how to read comics yet.”
Tom says that his road back to health will literally be lifelong, so while a speedy recovery is not in the cards, please join me in wishing him a thorough and life-affirming one. Not to be greedy or anything, but we can’t afford to lose the chance to read more pieces like this. It’s funny and sad, full of legit insight into how comics work today (including that terrific section on DC) and harrowing glimpses of what it’s like to go to the hospital believing you won’t be coming out. It’s incredible, maybe the best piece of writing on comics I’ve ever read. Go read it yourself.
My sincere thoughts on how to promote the presence of women in comics:
Pay them. No, seriously. Pay them with money.
–Octopus Pie cartoonist Meredith Gran argues that money talks when it comes to women comics creators. “It’s not a question of awareness,” she goes on to say, “It’s a question of who’s getting paid,” because even a modicum of financial security enhances confidence and enables artists to create more and better work on their own terms. Gran also points out that her prescription for supporting men cartoonists is identical. “Paying people to work” does indeed seem like a pretty solid plan, and it reminds me of the utility of Tom Spurgeon’s “Rooney Rule” idea for publishers, which would put many more non-male and non-white creators in a position to secure paying jobs.
It’s enormous, it’s equal parts entertaining and overwhelming, and it’s stuffed with references to Ferro Lad, Forbush Man, and Elfen Lied so nerdy that they’re actually inaudible to normal human ears. No, it’s not the San Diego Comic-Con…well, okay, it is the San Diego Comic-Con, but it’s also Tom Spurgeon’s annual guide to the San Diego Comic-Con for his site The Comics Reporter.
This year’s edition features fully 157 tips and tricks of the trade for getting the most out of nerddom’s Big Dance. From basic advice on hotels, transportation, and meals; to hard-earned wisdom on what kind of supplies to bring with you on the con floor and where to seek relief once you’ve used up either those supplies or your own sanity; to idiosyncratic recommendations like saving on vacation money by adding a trip to Vegas on either side of your San Diego stay, or “Tip #121: When In Doubt, Attend A Panel Featuring Sergio Aragones” — it’s a must-read for anyone planning on going to CCI2011. But it’s also a must-read for those of us who aren’t going, but wish they were.
I miss my San Diego years terribly, and Tom’s annual guide conjures up the sights, sounds, sensations, and smells of the show so perfectly in its borderline-insane sprawl and splendor that each time I read it it’s all I can do to stop myself from booking the flight and requesting days off from my day job for next year right then and there.
[I've] pretty much been given free rein on Captain America and Daredevil and all the stuff I’ve written for [Marvel] to do whatever I do because they like what I do. Still, I know what I’m doing. I know the superhero comic has to have a fight in it. I know there has to be a bad guy. I know that at the end of the day, the problem will not be solved by talking about it but will be solved by two people punching each other in the face. Although I have gotten away with letting the bad guys win a lot of the time, which is more true, I think.
David Milch said, when he created Deadwood, that part of Deadwood was wanting to exorcise — I think he worked on Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, and he thought it was bullshit that every week they were solving crimes when in the real world people were always getting away with it. He wanted to do something about crime the way crime really is, where crime is corruption and crime is behind everything. It’s much more about what’s really going on in our country right now, where Bill Clinton deregulates the media and now we have seven companies that basically own America. Sometimes when I’m writing a superhero story I wonder if they really have to punch each other in the face. Is that really going to solve anything? I feel the same way sometimes when I watch episodes of Law & Order. I’m like, “Yeah, right. You found the sex offender and now everything is fine.” TV is big on closure, but I think closure is horseshit in real life. I’m still haunted by stuff I did in my teen years when I think about it too much.
There’s a lot to chew on and pick apart and mull over in Tom Spurgeon’s long, fascinating interview with writer Ed Brubaker on the occasion of the launch of the next installment of his and Sean Phillips’s crime comic Criminal this week, but this is the passage that jumped out to me. I’ve often said that the core idea behind superhero stories is “extraordinary individuals solving problems through violence”; now that I think about it, what sets Brubaker’s Captain America and many of his other superhero comics apart is that the violence committed by their extraordinary individuals tends not to solve much of anything.
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.)
In the year spanning Fall 2009 and Fall 2010, the Grand Old Men and Women of Comics unleashed what strikes me as an all but unprecedented onslaught of major graphic novels. Joe Sacco and Footnotes in Gaza. Robert Crumb and The Book of Genesis Illustrated. Gilbert Hernandez and High Soft Lisp. Daniel Clowes and Wilson. Jim Woodring and Weathercraft. Kim Deitch and The Search for Smilin’ Ed. Chris Ware and The ACME Novelty Library #20: Lint. Lynda Barry and Picture This. Charles Burns and X’d Out. Joyce Farmer and Special Exits. Seth and Palookaville #20. Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez and Love and Rockets: New Stories #3. Stretching from the underground comix era of the mid-to-late ’60s all the way through the great alternative-comics wave that first crested in the early ’90s, the O.G.s arrived en masse to show the whippersnappers how it’s done.
Unsurprisingly, the creators themselves seem aware of this, too. In the interviews with Daniel Clowes and Jaime Hernandez that closed out his excellent annual Holiday Interview Series, Tom Spurgeon got the two comics legends to talk a bit about their peers. In addition to talking about how the cancellation by their creators of Los Bros Hernandez’ Love and Rockets Vol. 1 and Peter Bagge’s Neat Stuff and Hate spurred him to continue his own Eightball series beyond the point where it was a practical mode of delivery for his comics, Clowes addressed the recent wave of major comics from his generation very specifically:
Creators | Artist Alan Kupperberg shares word that colorist Tom Ziuko has been hospitalized as he fights acute kidney failure and other health conditions. “The good news is that the doctors seem to have finally stumbled on a series of treatments and therapies that have Tom seeing some light at the end of the tunnel,” Kupperberg said in a message to Daniel Best. “The bad news is that Tom, uninsured and unable to work since the beginning of December, is in a tough financial bind.” Kupperberg is accepting donations via his PayPal account — email@example.com — and adds, “I will pass 100% (plus) along to Tom.”
Ziuko worked in DC Comics’ production department before going freelance, and colored comics like Crisis on Infinite Earths, Batman, Action Comics and History of the DC Universe, to name a few. Todd Klein remembers their time together at DC. [20th Century Danny Boy]
Creators | Artist Paolo Rivera suffered a broken cheekbone after intervening in a domestic dispute. “The good news is I’m all right and—most importantly—my vision is intact,” he wrote on his blog. “… I had surgery on Monday and have been taking it very, very easy since. All things considered, I was very lucky. My eye looks horrendous—the white of the eye is blood red—but I can still see (thank goodness) and should make a full recovery. I also have a pretty rad haircut right now due to surgery… it kinda looks like the one I had circa 1995.” [The Self-Absorbing Man]
The Comics Reporter’s Tom Spurgeon breaks the welcome news that Barnaby, the classic comic strip by Harold and the Purple Crayon writer/artist Crockett Johnson, will be collected by Fantagraphics beginning in April 2012. Designed by Wilson and Ghost World cartoonist Daniel Clowes, the collections will include the strip’s entire ten-year run from 1942-1952, including the strips created by Jack Morley and Ted Ferro after Johnson assumed a story-consultant role on the comic.
Long beloved by the comics cognoscenti, Barnaby tells the tale of young Barnaby Baxter and his cigar-chomping fairy godfather, Mr. O’Malley. As Spurgeon notes, old collections like the one pictured above have been hard to come by, making the strip one of the last great gets available in this, the Golden Age of Comics Reprints — which Fantagraphics arguably kicked off with its similar, Seth-designed Complete Peanuts collections. Barnaby joins Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse and George Herriman’s Krazy Kat dailies on the list of eagerly awaited archival reprint projects headed our way from the publisher over the next several years. (As an aside, my suspicion is that Johnson’s fine line, the whimsy of the material, the rounded and jolly character designs, and even the typeset lettering will all find a receptive audience in the webcomics age.)
Click here to read Spurgeon’s thorough report on the announcement and the strip itself.
“…Straczynski basically indicates that the future is stand-alone works and short runs, which strikes me as a terrible vote of no-confidence in terms of such a company’s — an industry’s! — bread and butter. If JMS doesn’t want to write continuing series, doesn’t that suggest that fans might want to reconsider reading them?”
–The Comics Reporter’s Tom Spurgeon, analyzing the ramifications of J. Michael Straczynski’s decision to depart his runs on Superman and Wonder Woman for the original graphic novel series Superman: Earth One and similarly formatted projects. “I think that’s where the business is going,” JMS said in his statement; will it go there faster now that one of its most high-profile writers has made the switch?
Tom Spurgeon has been covering comics and the comics industry since the early ’90s, but really emerged as a prominent voice about comics in 2004 with the launch of his website The Comics Reporter. After years of steadily growing into online journalism, in 2010 Spurgeon won the Eisner Award for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism. He’s authored, or co-authored, several books about comics, including Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book and the overlooked Romita Legacy. He also wrote a a syndicated comic strip from 1999 to 2002 called Wildwood.
I turned to Tom for this interview as a chance for readers to get another side of someone who’s seen and covered a lot in comics, and frankly to ask him from one journalist to another what I should pay attention to more. So whether you’re reader, reporter, creator or suit, I recommend you read on for Spurgeon’s take on where we stand, where we fall, and how we can pick ourselves up again.
Chris Arrant: When you meet people, what do you tell them you do for a living?
Tom Spurgeon: Astronaut!
I tell them I’m a writer. Is that a dumb answer? Everybody’s got to do something. The comics part only comes up if people ask me what I write about, at which point I tell them one of my areas of interest is comics. It was a lot harder in the mid-’90s trying to describe what I did for a living in that people were much less familiar with comics beyond newspaper strips and superhero books. We used to get calls at The Comics Journal from people pitching us stand-up comedian articles. My friends back home have an easier time wrapping their mind around what I do now, with multiple entry points and greater coverage of the field.
Hopefully, if you’ve been reading Robot 6 for any substantial amount of time, you’re familiar with the work of Jason. In this email interview, we discuss his latest work released from Fantagraphics, Werewolves of Montpellier (a book aptly summed up by the publisher as “a lycanthropic thriller, a romantic comedy, and an existential drama — basically, your typical Jason book”), as well as some ideas shared in his blog, cats without dogs. My thanks to Jason for the interview (and for reminding me why I love Hal Hartley films) and to Robot 6′s Sean T. Collins as well as Fantagraphics Jacq Cohen for helping to make this interview feasible.
Tim O’Shea: Cinema clearly informs your work, does your appreciation of film date back to your childhood-or when and how did it begin?
Jason: I read comics as a kid, and books like the Hardy Boys, but I think what made the biggest impression on me were movies. In the 70s there was just one Norwegian channel and every Monday night they showed a feature film. I would watch every one of those. And I still remember a lot of them, sometimes better than some movie I saw last year.
O’Shea: In the comments section of your blog, you wrote: ” I like movies, non-musicals, where the characters do a dance or sing a song. Like Rio Bravo, Buffalo 66, Bande à part or Simple Men. It’s something that doesn’t work in comics.” If you don’t think it works in comics, I’m curious why did you have Audrey sing Moon River (a scene that I thought worked, by the way)?
Jason: It’s just four panels of her singing, and I guess it sort of works. But take the dance sequence in Simple Men (Hal Hartley’s 1992 film) as an example. I don’t think that could be recreated in a comic. You don’t get into the music and start tapping your feet like you would in a movie.
Last week, Tom Spurgeon took a page from Monty Python and said he’d like to have an argument: “What are all these superhero comics really saying?” Given the genre’s domination of both the Direct Market and the comics internet, Spurgeon said he wanted to see a more in-depth discussion of what the heck is going on in these weird and wild comics, particularly regarding their heroes’ behavior and any potential larger message beyond “superheroes are awesome.”
In response, I proposed an argument of my own: “Why do superheroes dominate the online conversation the way they do?” In light of how many comics commentators and critics clearly read a wide variety of comics, or at least have been known to from time to time, I’m perplexed by why The Rise of Arsenal gets so much more airtime than Art in Time or 20th Century Boys.
When you think about it, it only makes sense: Because the comics conversation is so dominated by old arguments, it can be tough to make room for new ones. That’s the thesis of a new post by The Comics Reporter’s Tom Spurgeon listing “Three Arguments We Could Be Having.” After we here at Robot 6 pivoted off Spurgeon’s interview with Noah Berlatsky to list the comics arguments we’d prefer never to hear again, Spurge is returning the favor by suggesting three he thinks we’d be better off having in their place: “1) Does reprinting archival comics have a moral component?; 2) Why are so many Direct Market shops still female unfriendly?; 3) What are all these superhero comics really saying?”
In other words, while the current golden age of reprints is a boon to all fans of the medium, what do its practitioners owe the creators of the comics they’re reprinting in terms of not just royalties, but also the best possible packaging and analysis of the material? Everyone’s got horror stories about some creepy store where the wares or employees make it a “shop at your own risk” situation for women and girls — why has that not translated to industry-wide action on those affronted consumers’ behalf? Should superhero comics be expected to have more of a message than “superheroes are awesome,” and if that is the message you go with, shouldn’t that be reflected across the board instead of occasionally having them indulge in really nasty behavior or suffer jarringly grim setbacks to get across the importance of a particular storyline?