top shelf Archives - Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources
On one level, Eric Orchard’s Maddy Kettle: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch is a classic adventure tale about a girl who has to go find the witch who turned her parents into kangaroo rats, in order to undo the spell. The art is reminiscent of children’s fantasy tales, and Maddy meets a fanciful assortment of friends and foes along the way. However, after reading Orchard’s recent tweets about his experiences with mental illness, I realized there are many layers to this story.
I asked Orchard if he would discuss the way his experiences with mental disorders — his mother’s schizophrenia and his own depression and anxiety — have influenced his storytelling.
Brigid Alverson: How has mental illness affected your life?
Eric Orchard: My mother always suffered terribly from schizophrenia, but when my father died, when I was 2, she fell apart. Most of my childhood was my mother struggling to keep herself together. In retrospect it seems like a heroic feat; even though I suffered somewhat, she overcame things that I find astounding. She had reserves of strength and compassion that saw us through. She was battling fears and terrifying visions so that I could have some kind of normal life. Really, there was only so much she could do. What I recall most was the antipsychotics causing her to sleep most of the day. With no siblings or father, I was alone a lot. These were times I started writing and drawing. I had hours to tell elaborate stories and build worlds. I was taught to read very young by an aunt, and that also helped.
Book Expo America is the annual trade show where publishers promote their upcoming books to retailers and librarians. BEA is all about books, but comics and graphic novels are a growing presence. Diamond had a dedicated area, as it has in previous years, several comics publishers had their own booths, and several of the big publishers featured graphic novels alongside their other titles, most notably Hachette, which gave quite a bit of space to Yen Press.
I spent Friday at the show looking at which books the publishers were drawing the most attention to. Here’s a very subjective account of what I saw.
Kid stuff! Children’s and YA graphic novels have been hot for a couple of years, and the news that Raina Telgemeier’s Sisters is getting a 200,000 copy initial print run got a lot of buzz. Of course, the BEA crowd has been on board with her work for a while, and they lined up in droves for her book signing. The same was true of Jeff Kinney, who was signing copies of The Wimpy Kid School Planner at the Abrams booth; the crowd just kept on coming. And the staff at the BOOM! Studios table were hustling as attendees grabbed copies of their Adventure Time and Bravest Warrior collections as well as their third original Peanuts graphic novel, Peanuts: The Beagle Has Landed, which takes Snoopy to the moon.
Passings | Maine cartoonist Jeff Pert, best known for his cartoons and illustrations of lobsters and moose, died Friday on his way to the hospital with chest pains. He was 55. His cartoons adorned souvenir postcards and coffee cups, but he was also an active part of the local comics community in Brunswick, Maine, a regular at Casablanca Comics, and a participant in the Maine Comic Arts Festival. Pert created his first comic when he was in fifth grade and sold copies to local comic shops. “They probably gave us the money and then threw them in the garbage, but we were happy,” said his collaborator (and best friend) Jon Dumont. Pert was known for supporting other artists and even persuaded his local state representative, Maggie Daughtry, to start drawing her own comics: Daughtry knocked on Pert’s door when she was campaigning for office, and, she said, “Within an hour of meeting him, he literally changed my life.” When Daughtry told Pert that she had dreamed of being a cartoonist as a child, he encouraged her to start drawing again, which she did. [Portland Press Herald]
Legal | It looks as if Tunisian cartoonist Jabeur Mejri will not be released from prison any time soon, despite being pardoned by President Moncef Marzouki for charges stemming from his cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. It turns out that the mysterious other criminal case that’s been holding things up is a charge of embezzlement that dates back a few years to when Mejri was working for the Tunisian railways. Neither Mejri’s lawyer nor his family had been aware of the charge, but the judge in the case issued a warrant for Mejri’s continued detention on Jan. 9. His lawyer will submit a bail request, which he hopes will be granted next week. [Independent Online]
Creators | Chris Ware talks about his Building Stories in an interview that was recorded before a live audience in Portland, Oregon. [Oregon Public Broadcasting]
Top Shelf Productions, home to some very successful graphic novels — among them, March and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — has announced it will make its graphic novels available digitally as DRM-free direct downloads. That’s something readers say they want, and it’s a model that Image Comics has already implemented.
Digital readers have been clamoring for this sort of thing on message boards and in comments sections for some time, although it remains to be seen whether the warm feeling of absolute ownership that comes with a DRM-free PDF trumps the convenience of cloud storage, easy syncing and Guided View offered by comiXology. As a matter of fact, Top Shelf’s Chris Ross and comiXology’s John Roberts discussed this very point in July at Comic-Con International and found a surprising amount of common ground.
Conventions | Complaints about comics conventions are apparently the same the world over, as a writer who attended the third annual Mumbai Film and Comic Convention (simply Mumbai Comic Con in its first year) this weekend notes, “Not to seem hypocritical, since we all tend to buy curios and the occasional t-shirt at Comicon every year, but when merchandising stalls (read: t-shirt shops) start outnumbering those which have an actual reason for being at a convention in the first place, we’ve got a problem.” According to DNA India, this year’s event saw the debut of the convention’s mascot, Wonder Bai (at right). [Think Digit]
Digital comics | Microsoft and the Indian publisher Amar Chitra Katha launched a comics app for Windows 8 at Mumbai Film and Comic Convention. “Children these days are drifting away from their Indian mythologies and stories, so this was our attempt to bring these value building stories on a platform familiar to them,” said Vineet Durani of Microsoft’s Windows Phone Business Group. [DNA India]
Congressman John Lewis has been asked in numerous interviews why he chose the graphic novel format for March, his memoir of the civil-rights movement, and his answer is that he and many others involved with that movement had been inspired, in part, by a comic book. And now Top Shelf is publishing that original comic as part of a digital bundle with March — and also releasing a special print edition.
The 1957 comic Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, published by the interfaith peace organization Fellowship of Reconciliation, told the story of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, starting with the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger, and concluding with a section on “The Montgomery Method,” advice for other civil-rights advocates. The comic showed the brutal treatment of black people in the South, but it also preached a message of nonviolent protest, drawing on Mahatma Gandhi as an example to be emulated. It was translated into a number of different languages and circulated around the world.
It was some 50 years later, when Lewis was a member of Congress, that he mentioned the comic to his aide Andrew Aydin, who researched the title (and ultimately wrote his master’s thesis about it); he also co-wrote March with Lewis.
Now Top Shelf and Fellowship of Reconciliation are offering Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story as part of a bundle with the digital edition of March; it is available on comiXology for $9.99, which is the same price as March alone.
And for those who prefer their comics on paper, Top Shelf and the Fellowship of Reconciliation are also publishing a commemorative print edition of the 16-page comic, priced at $5. Top Shelf and comiXology will donate their share of the proceeds to Fellowship of Reconciliation, which continues its nonviolence work to this day.
A New Zealand library’s refusal over the summer to carry Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s Lost Girls has received renewed attention, earning a signal boost from Neil Gaiman and a stern denial from the National Library of New Zealand that it had anything to do with the move.
The story illustrates the strange and unenviable predicament of libraries in countries with censorship laws: If they submit the material for government review in hopes it will be cleared, they risk triggering a ban; however, if they don’t submit a potentially objectionable book, they risk later being found in violation of the law.
Here’s what happened in New Zealand: Over the summer, cartoonist Dylan Horrocks reported he had asked his local library in Auckland to purchase a copy of Lost Girls. The library refused, and he posted its response on his Facebook page:
Thank you for your suggestion to purchase ‘Lost Girls’ by Alan Moore. Due to the depictions contained within this graphic novel we have been advised by the Office of Film and Literature Classification that we may be at risk of prosecution if we made the book available to customers. As a result Auckland Libraries will not be purchasing copies of this title.
As it turns out, Stuff.co.nz reported this week, the library had purchased a copy in 2008, at a patron’s request, but removed it from shelves after concerns were raised about the content.
With just a week until the start of New York Comic Con, Dark Horse has announced its convention-exclusive comic books and merchandise. All items will be available at the publisher’s booth (#1636).
New York Comic Con will be held Oct. 10-13 at the Jacob Javitz Center in Manhattan.
If you love the unique books that Top Shelf publishes, Friday is the last day to take advantage of its once-a-year massive $3 sale. The sale is great for two reasons, you can acquire many of Top Shelf’s new offerings at a 50 percent discount — while also helping the independent publisher to “raise funds to ‘kick start’ a full rollout for next year.”
Some of the Top Shelf offerings to consider in the 50 percent debut category, include:
- March (Book One) by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (which Chris Mautner reviewed in August)
- A Matter of Life by Jeffrey Brown (which I interviewed him about in July)
- God is Disappointed in You by Mark Russell and Shannon Wheeler (the authors also chatted with me in July about it)
There are other books to be had at even less than 50 percent, of course, including:
Digital comics | Jason Snell uses Comic-Con International as an opportunity to take a snapshot of digital comics in “an era of experimentation,” and hones in on Madefire, the convention’s embrace of technology, comiXology and the growing popularity of the digital-first model. “Digital has made us rethink how we fulfill books into the [print] retail market,” Chris Ross, Top Shelf’s director of digital publishing, said during a panel. [TechHive]
Legal | The Attorney-Generals Chambers of Singapore has charged cartoonist Leslie Chew (the pen name of Chew Peng Ee) with contempt of court because of four cartoons posted on his Facebook page Demon-cratic Singapore. A hearing on the charges, which could result in jail time and fines, will be held on Aug. 12. Chew’s attorney M. Ravi said in a phone interview, “Our judiciary is not like fragile flowers to be offended easily by such criticism. We have full faith in the impartiality and independence of our judiciary.” [Bloomberg News]
Jeffrey Brown may have had some fans wondering whether he would be returning to autobiographical comics following his success co-writing the 2012 film Save the Date. But June saw Brown refer to the autobiographical realm with A Matter of Life, a Top Shelf-published examination of three Brown generations: his father, himself and his preschool-age son Oscar. To mark the release of his new book, took some time out to speak with ROBOT 6. Top Shelf is offering a nine-page preview to whet readers’ appetites, so please make sure to check it out after reading the interview.
I particularly enjoyed learning how his autobiographical work is less about catharsis and more about gaining some perspective on the events in his life.
Tim O’Shea: Your wife Jennifer was well aware of the autobiographical nature of much of your work, so she knew going into your marriage that her life would be at least a partially open book that you would share with people. But did she express any concern about featuring your son in your work?
Jeffrey Brown: I think she’s learned to trust my judgement, for the most part. When we first started dating she told me it was on the condition that I didn’t write anything about us. Then she said I could write about us as long as it wasn’t anything personal or about her relationship. Eventually she said I could go ahead and write whatever. With our son she talked to me about being more careful, and I have been, but I think in general I’ve become much more careful about what I’m writing in my autobiographical comics anyway.
Legal | The Malaysian cartoonist Zunar has appealed a court decision upholding his 2010 arrest and detention, claiming police acted in bad faith when they arrested him under the Sedition Act because of his book Cartoon-O-Phobia, which had not yet been released at the time of his arrest. No charges were ever filed, as the police could not identify any actual seditious content in the books. A court ruled in July 2012 that Zunar’s arrest was lawful but ordered the police to return the books they had confiscated and pay him damages. An appellate court will hear the case next week. [The Comics Reporter]
Publishing | Heidi MacDonald takes a look at Marvel’s new graphic novel line, which will launch in October with Warren Ellis and Mike McKone’s Avengers: Endless Wartime. [Publishers Weekly]
Top Shelf Productions will publish a graphic novel by Congressman John Lewis, co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell in August; titled March, it’s the first of three books that chronicle Lewis’ life and involvement in the Civil Rights movement. This first book focuses on his youth in rural Alabama and the start of the Nashville Student Movement.
And as you can see in the image above, the back cover will sport a cover blurb from former U.S. President Bill Clinton. His quote says:
“Congressman John Lewis has been a resounding moral voice in the quest for equality for more than 50 years, and I’m so pleased that he is sharing his memories of the Civil Rights Movement with America’s young leaders. In March, he brings a whole new generation with him across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, from a past of clenched fists into a future of outstretched hands.”
— President Bill Clinton
It’s 2013, and headlines reading “Comics aren’t just for kids anymore” have been cliched for about 25 years. Art Spiegelman’s Maus is a classic, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is widely read and widely taught. The late Harvey Pekar’s name is, if not a household name, as close to one as those of most prose authors get in America. Thanks to Joe Sacco and Alison Bechdel and Jeffrey Brown and John Porcellino and Joe Matt and Chester Brown and dozens of other cartoonists, journalism, autobiography and memoir are successful, respected, even commonplace genres for the graphic novel, which, it’s worth highlighting, is a term that exists now.
In fact, autobiographical graphic novels are so mainstream that Jess Fink’s We Can Fix It reads like an outlier — a subversive, transgressive reversion to the good old bad days of comics. Her new memoir, with its fictive premise, is differentiated from most in the genre by the prominent inclusion of elements from the medium’s trashy superhero and humor past. Its protagonist wears a skin-tight bodysuit, she travels through time in a big, goofy time machine that goes ZIPPITY ZAP, and there’s a sixth-grade lunch period’s worth of scatalogical humor.
Despite the embrace of the low-brow aspects of comics history — We Can Fix It looks and reads like an autobiographical comic book, not an autobiographical graphic novel — Fink’s new work ultimately ends up in the same thoughtful, dramatic, epiphany-having place that the slicker, more obviously literature-focused comics works do. This is a very funny comic book that is functions as an effective piss-take on the autobio genre while, remarkably enough, simultaneously being one hell of an autobiography.