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Under new management: The Comics Journal revamps, relaunches its website

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 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.)

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Daniel Clowes and Jaime Hernandez on their peers

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:

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Comics A.M. | Tom Ziuko hospitalized, Paolo Rivera’s surgery

Crisis on Infinite Earths #12

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 — — 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]

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Fantagraphics to publish Daniel Clowes-designed collections of Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby

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.

Quote of the day #3 | JMS’s vote of no-confidence in monthly comics?

“…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 speaks on the state of comics and comics journalism

Portrait by Michael Netzer

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.

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Talking Comics with Tim | Jason

Werewolves of Montpellier

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.

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The last word on superhero comics?

from Final Crisis by Doug Mahnke

from Final Crisis by Doug Mahnke

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.

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What comics arguments do you want to hear more often?

Hulk vs. Superman by Mike Deodato Jr.

Hulk vs. Superman by Mike Deodato Jr.

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?

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What comics arguments do you never want to hear again?

42708b62a3Sometimes an interview can be interesting because of the questions the interview subject doesn’t answer. Case in point: Blogger and critic Noah Berlatsky’s interview with The Comics Reporter’s Tom Spurgeon. Pivoting off a recent Savage Critics roundtable on Daniel Clowes’s divisive black-comedy graphic novel Wilson, Berlatksy sets Spurgeon up with a characterization of literary comics of the sort Clowes creates as self-pitying, misanthropic, pessimistic, and tedious. It’s a characterization Spurgeon’s having none of:

[Berlatsky:] …there’s a default stance in certain regions of lit comics land which is basically: “life sucks and people are awful.” Which I think is glib and overdone and tedious, a, and which, b, can be made even more irritating by the fact that the people promulgating it are, you know, fairly successful, and (what with various autobiographical elements thrown in) the result often looks like a lot of self-pity over not very much.

So…I’m wondering how strongly you would push back against that characterization of lit comics in general…and also whether you feel it is or is not ever appropriate to think about a creator’s biography in relation to his or her work in that way.

[Spurgeon:] At this point I wouldn’t push back at all against the stance that says the default mode in lit comics land is basically “life sucks and people are awful” because it’s no longer an argument I take seriously. I don’t think it’s true by any reasonable measure and I’m done with entertaining the notion until someone presents the argument in a much more effective or compelling fashion than what always sounds to me like some angry, lonely, re-written Usenet post from 1997.

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With comics, what makes you say “okay, that’s enough”?

Blackest Night by Ivan Reis and Herogasm by Darick Robertson

Blackest Night by Ivan Reis and Herogasm by Darick Robertson

Green Lantern and Garth Ennis are responsible for very different comics; bloggers Tom Spurgeon and Tim O’Neil are two very different writers. Yet in recent days, both have posted about how they’ve reached their limit with comics about/by the aforementioned individuals — for very different reasons. And they’ve written some thought-provoking things about that tipping point where you decide “You know what? This comic isn’t for me anymore” in the process.

First up is Spurgeon, who in linking to Charles Hatfield’s negative review of Geoff Johns’s Green Lantern-starring opus Blackest Night said he hasn’t even read the series yet, simply because he has no interest in ever reading a comic about Green Lantern again. Says Spurgeon:

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The last Best of 2009 list?


Footnotes in Gaza

I’d say “better late than never,” but in my experience, like Gandalf, The Comics Reporter’s Tom Spurgeon is never late, nor is he early — he posts his Best Comics of 2009 list precisely when he means to. And it’s a good one, divided into sections on reprints, overlooked gems, books about comics, and your basic best books of the year. Joe Sacco’s Footnotes in Gaza, R. Crumb’s The Book of Genesis Illustrated, and Al Columbia’s Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days comprise his top three.

I come away from the list thinking two things. First, from about his #7 choice up to Number One, that’s a pretty brain-crushing line-up of major works; it’s not difficult to picture a stretch of five years not yielding that kind of harvest. I mean, Josh Cotter’s astonishing Driven by Lemons ranks only at #15 — I ranked that book a lot higher on my own list, but that you can make reasonable arguments for that kind of placement given what else is out there speaks to the richness of the field right now.

Second and relatedly, Spurge wraps things up with a few paragraphs on books that didn’t make the cut for whatever reason, one of them being simply not remembering them all. “It’s a fantastic time for an art form when you can just forget about some of its quality works,” he says, and I would agree.

The Fantasy Lantern Draft begins!

Blackest Breakfast by Jeremy Wojchihosky

Blackest Breakfast by Jeremy Wojchihosky

One of my pet theories about superhero comics is that the best of them don’t hesitate to tap into what I call “inner-eight-year-old gold” — those simple, magical ideas that made playing with your Secret Wars or Super Friends action figures so much fun. (I, for one, made Iron Man and Magneto arch-enemies. I mean, c’mon, it’s right there!)

One of my favorite such goldmines is the opposite-number villain, those baddies who share a hero’s basic look and power set but change the color scheme and otherwise stand as a mean-spirited mirror image. That’s why I’ve loved Geoff Johns’s Green Lantern run ever since he introduced the Sinestro Corps, and why that love has only gotten stronger as a whole rainbow of Lanterns has been introduced for Blackest Night and beyond. And like a kid playing with his toys, I can’t help but daydream about which other characters it’d be cool to draft into the War of Light.

Looks like I’m not the only one. Over at his blog The Cool Kids Table, Ben Morse has selected a rainbow of Marvel characters he thinks are fit to wield the various multi-hued Power Rings floating around the DCU right now. If he had his way, you’d have a very different Red Hulk on your hands from the one Jeph Loeb concocted, while Clint Barton would look more like Green Arrow than ever and Storm would be making Love rain o’er everyone. This isn’t the first time he’s done a Lantern Draft, either: Like any DC fan worth his salt, he came up with his own personal picks for the roles currently filled in Blackest Night by Mera, Lex Luthor, Scarecrow, Ganthet, the Flash, the Atom, and Wonder Woman. Click the links to see his full rosters.

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The Comics Reporter & The Cool Kids Table look back on the ’00s

from Blankets by Craig Thompson

from Blankets by Craig Thompson

As 2009 draws to a close we’re practically awash in Best Comics of the Year and/or Decade lists. But when it comes to breaking down the books that made a difference this decade, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and a pair of sites have developed novel approaches to the traditional decade-ender.

First up is Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter. This year he’s aiming his annual Holiday Interview Series squarely at “emblematic” books from 2000-2009 — “by which we mean favorite, representative or just plain great” — by hosting discussions with a series of critics, each one focusing on one particular book. So far he’s tackled Mat Brinkman’s monster-mash Multiforce with writer/artist/critic/bon vivant Frank Santoro, and Craig Thompson’s rapturous romance ‘n’ religion memoir Blankets with me. Further installments will roll out on (I believe) a daily basis until the New Year. If you’re the sort of person who loves to really dig into what makes a great graphic novel tick, these are for you.

Next we have Marvel’s Ben Morse, DC’s Rickey Purdin, and CBR’s own Kiel Phegley, who collectively park their online presence at The Cool Kids Table. In their ongoing look back entitled “Our Comics Decade,” the trio take a look at one comic per year that impacted their view of the medium. So far they’ve covered 2000, 2001, and 2002, and recounted their experiences with books ranging from Scott Lobdell’s Uncanny X-Men to Jeffrey Brown’s Clumsy. Personal and aesthetic history have a tendency to mix and match in unexpected and interesting ways, and it’s fascinating to watch these guys spill the beans on how it happened in their lives in such a methodical way.

So go, click the links and curl up with (a good post on) a good book…

Talking Comics with Tim: Dustin Harbin–the Sequel Interview

Dustin Harbin

Dustin Harbin

A few months back when I interviewed Dustin Harbin regarding this year’s HeroesCon, I made a mental note to follow-up with Harbin in another interview, where we could just discuss his creative projects/process. This interview was conducted via email several weeks back. Late last week, Harbin let me know that while he’s remaining as Creative Director at Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find and Heroes Convention, he will be reducing his hours at the store and has “gone full-time with cartooning”. My thanks to Harbin for another interview, I’m happy to say this one was even more fun than the last.

Tim O’Shea: How much are you paying Tom Spurgeon to pimp your work? Seriously, Spurgeon praises many talented storytellers, but he seems to be your number one fan. Did you buy him a lot of meals when he came to HeroesCon in 2008 or what?

Dustin Harbin: I remember having to argue with Tom just to be able to bring him a water: I tried hard to buy him a drink at the hotel bar, but he was leery of my seductive ways. I think Tom is like a lot of us–he’s a passionate advocate for people he thinks deserve wider recognition. I’m not basing this just on the very VERY kind attention he’s showed my comics so far, but he’s the reason I discovered Richard Thompson’s work, who you’ll agree Tom is an even more vociferous a supporter of. I don’t know what attracted Tom’s good feelings, but I’m incredibly grateful for them.

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