An interview with cartoonist, novelist, teacher, and renaissance woman Lynda Barry
Lynda Barry — cartoonist, novelist, playwright, teacher, environmental activist, and all-around renaissance woman — is revitalising the genre of the instructional manual. “Do you wish you could write?” Barry asked readers with 2008’s What It Is, and then proceeded to elucidate and exemplify the creative process with a torrent of comic strips, prose, and collage that burst the boundaries of the conventional “how-to” book.
In both What It Is and her ever-popular workshops on “Writing the Unthinkable,” Barry promotes a fertile territory of ideas and memories that she calls “the image world.” Her books, whether fictional or instructional, brim with evidence of this realm. They overflow with Proustian “unexpected memories” called forth at the mention of an old telephone number, with perfectly sensible nonsense recited by five-year-old children, with eldritch creatures lurking in the folds of a tissue or a stain in the ceiling, and with the exploits and musings of her comic strip characters.
These denizens of Barry’s imagination populate her most recent book, Picture This, a follow-up and complement to What It Is. Here, the leads of her Ernie Pook comic strip, irrepressible Marlys and introspective Arna, join forces with the Near-Sighted Monkey and the Meditating Monkey, new Barry creations who share the Pook girls’ temperaments. With this menagerie in tow, the author acts as tour guide through the image world. “Why do we stop drawing?” she asks. “Why do we start?” Picture This stands as a generous, colourful, freewheeling response to those questions.
Two years ago, I interviewed Barry for this blog. During this year’s Toronto International Festival of Authors, we sat down again for more conversation about the power of words and pictures.
Sean Rogers You place a high value on the connection between the hands and the brain. Reading your stuff has convinced me to start writing everything in longhand — and it works!
Lynda Barry [Longhand] is like the original digital device. It does work, and it also does something to memory. Since we spoke, I’ve gotten even more fascinated with the relationship between the hands and the brain. It takes us out of this idea of art as being, “Do I like it, do I don’t,” and turns it into, “Do I like having white blood cells or not?” I do. I look at it as a health issue. I start to look at the research they’re doing about neurogenesis, about what gives us more neurons — who doesn’t want more of those? (more…)
I admire how restless Jeff Lemire seems to be. Look at the career trajectory the Toronto cartoonist has charted for himself, look at how urgently he’s laid down every penline and brushstroke — you get the sense that this guy needs to tell stories. In 2007, following a Xeric Foundation grant and a self-published debut, Lemire released Tales From the Farm, a coming-of-age story that finds parallels between hockey, fatherhood, and superheroes. Another two volumes followed in what became his Essex County trilogy, each growing in ambition. Upon their completion (Top Shelf published all three as one massive collection last year), Essex County had become a multi-generational family chronicle that pieced together the lonely lives of kind-hearted brutes, pensive boys, and determined women.
Lemire’s cartooning is expressive without calling attention to itself, pointing instead toward the importance of plot, setting, and character. After Essex County, he created The Nobody, a loose adaptation of The Invisible Man that leavens Wells’s masterpiece of misanthropy with the addition of a sympathetic narrator (a teenaged girl). Vertigo, one of comics’ big-name genre-fiction imprints, released The Nobody, and is also publishing Lemire’s monthly title Sweet Tooth. The series, featuring an antlered boy “hybrid” and his grim survivalist companion, is something of a post-apocalyptic take on the cartoonist’s concerns with small towns and family units, and the allegiances formed and broken within. To discuss his rapidly expanding body of work, Lemire graciously set aside some time to chat on the phone with me. (more…)
You may have noticed, decorating the pages of the December issue of The Walrus, a series of little drawings called “Schematic Diagrams for Proposed Objects.” These colourful chunks were chipped away from the alternate reality that Canadian artist Marc Bell has been building for the past decade and more: a populous, overwhelming place where “everything has feet,” even the least detail demands annotation (“brown sock means I’m working in Quebec”), Philip Guston‘s self-caricature comes into inexplicable conflict with ex-Ontario premier Ernie Eves, and imaginary corporations peddle such necessities as gravy, tarps, stone, and adhesives. It’s a place I’ve written about before, and which Bell’s new book, Hot Potatoe, exhaustively maps out, often aided by cheeky, Nabokovian text pieces. The artist was gracious enough to exchange a few emails with me about his intricately detailed universe.
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Hot Potatoe features drawings, mixed media constructions, comics, watercolour, and other work. What sort of thought processes do each of these forms require? For instance, how do you compose a comics page versus a drawing?
A common thread through all of my work seems to be a stacking of information and imagery, and me trying to arrange it all somehow. But there are specific differences: the mixed media pieces require a lot less planning than how I would go about drawing comics, for example. When I am creating mixed media things, I like to start out with a big mess (scraps, doodles, random bits of paper) and refine it over time. There is a lot of layering and do-overs. Perfect for someone like me who has difficulty with decisions. The downside is that it is sometimes hard to cover up the bits and pieces that I like, but which may not contribute to the overall composition of the thing.
The other side of the coin is comics, which take more planning. I draw those in pencil first. That’s when most of the redoing happens, all the erasing and do-overs…Fans of cartoons often enjoy a pristine comics page that looks effortless. Mine never seem to escape a certain kind of tortured look, however. I push very hard with my pencil and it looks like I might be trying to dig through to the other side of the paper and escape.
The watercoloured drawings are created in much the same way I create a page of comics. But these days I am using nicer paper.
I don’t work on as much collaboration as I used to, but I think collaboration has really helped me try to use some of the same tactics in creating my own work. Often I am consciously trying to interfere with my own natural way of working in an attempt to create a compelling image — sort of imitating what happens when one draws with another person, trying to get at an unexpected result. Throwing a wrench in the works. Also, my own work has that “piled on” look that some collaborative work has. Figures will have multiple faces/views, a cubist look or something like that.
How does the approach differ when you’re compiling and editing a book like Nog A Dod, which is more about the work of your peers, as opposed to when you’re putting together something like Hot Potatoe, which is all you?
Well, I had more distance from the material used to put together Nog A Dod (since it was by other people), and that was very helpful in order to edit it. Nog A Dod was pretty exciting to put together because the material had been produced originally in small-time, self-published booklets, so I was happy to bring it to a bigger audience. When compiling Hot Potatoe, I became a little tired of the material because it was all “me, me, me,” but I had to remind myself that most of it had only appeared as art on the wall, and most people probably had not seen it before. My general tendency is still to cram a lot of stuff in, and certainly both Nog A Dod and Hot Potatoe are pretty full.
I wonder what you have to say about what attracts you to (1) prog rock, and (2) E.C. Segar. What kind of play, if any, do those influences have in your work?
(1) I loved prog as a teenager—it was my way out of heavy metal (I thought it was smarter), but I don’t know if it was a good way out. I don’t have as much patience for it now, but I have been trying to listen to Van Der Graaf Generator to see what that is all about. My love of prog has been replaced with things like Can and The Fall, which you could certainly link to prog in some ways. Looking at my work now, however, you might be able to see my prog roots in there.
(2) Segar is the opposite of prog, much more groovy and looser. As important as it was to stop listening to the whole five parts of Supper’s Ready by Genesis every day (as great as all of them are), it was also important to look at Segar and things like Betty Boop to see where somebody like [Robert] Crumb came from. Segar is the perfect cartoonist. Vaudeville comics at their finest.
Do you think of the figures in your drawings and constructions as characters in the same way that you do the characters in your comics? Like, is the “Balsam Adhesives” guy someone who could interact on the page with a Petey or a Paul or a Pootie, or is he just a satisfying collection of compositional elements?
I don’t think “Balsam Adhesives” guy could interact with a Petey or a Paul or a Pootie unless he was simplified a bit. It wouldn’t be impossible, but it would take some work to distill him down to his more bare essentials. In “There Is No Escape!”, the story starring Petey, there are illusions and representations of some of the “non-comics” stuff, but it was a challenge to distill some of these things down into comics-land. While my comics are very busy, they do need to have a bit of simplicity to make them “move”. A good example of this would be Basil Wolverton‘s comics versus his crazy, detailed illustrations. You would expect his comics to look as detailed as those stand-alone drawings, but they don’t, and if they did, they wouldn’t “move” like they do.
The paper cup with the “Lime Ricky” logo is conspicuous among your constructions for being, unlike the ones advertising Gravy World or Canadian Aztec, from a restaurant chain that actually exists. Any fond memories of Lime Rickey’s restaurants?
You know, I don’t recall this restaurant. Did the staff dress in green? I bet they did! I was mainly familiar with the soda fountain drink of the same name on the menu of Mel’s Tea Room in Sackville, NB.
I’m curious about your connections to your hometown’s artistic history. Are there any London, Ontario artists whose work you feel a kinship with? I’m wondering in particular about Greg Curnoe’s collages.
I think it was Jason Mclean, another London-born artist, who showed me those Curnoe collages with bus transfers and things. It led us both to using those in our work as a reference point to our hometown. We would glue them to the outside of letters we mailed to each other. Curnoe and co. were very stubborn about being from London and working in London, a real regionalist viewpoint. In much the same way that The Hairy Who and other Chicago artists rejected what was going on in New York at the time they started, Curnoe and co. didn’t feel they should have to go to the big city (Toronto) to get respect. It is a different world now, with this internet and “globalization” or whatever you want to call it, and I don’t know if that point of view could really truly exist anymore. You would have to work really hard to maintain that kind of bubble.
You have lived and worked all across Canada, but a specific sense of place, even if it’s only alluded to, is still present in much of your work. How important is where you’re living to what you’re working on?
I might have done all right as a stubborn London artist, not sure, but I found I had to get out and be stubborn all over the place (ho ho). A good chunk (almost all) of Hot Potatoe was created in Vancouver. I was there for eight years and it was a good place to get a lot done. I appreciate that you get that “sense of place” from the work: I am not sure how it is communicated, but I am happy it is. I don’t know if you have seen Curnoe’s map of North America with the U.S. missing (Canada is joined to Mexico), but I cannot claim the same sort of differences with the United States in my work, as most of my successes are tied to the U.S. My stuff does not have the “message” it seems to take to be understood that well in Canada. I think Canada is very overwhelmed by academia in art, to a point where [the art] will probably change a bit or possibly already has [because of that pressure]. I like to work in opposition to SOMETHING, so it’s okay if this academic “art that is good for you” sticks around a bit longer.
Happy Halloween, once again, one and all! This year I ask that we consider some choice old horror anthologies, in whose pages lurk all sorts of scares and shocks. The horror tradition in comics has long been dominated by a model developed by the EC comics company in the 1950s, whose titles like Tales from the Crypt featured cornball “hosts” (the Cryptkeeper and his ilk), pun-filled narration, surprise twist endings (the werewolf was his brother!), wide-eyed bigfoot cartooning, and endless! exclamation! points! I admire EC and its murderer’s row of artists as much as the next comics reader, but our attentions now turn to those collections that worry the boundaries of the EC-style anthology, or pounce outside of them altogether.
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In 1962, late in his career, kiddie comics master John Stanley briefly turned his hand to the horror genre. The indispensable Stanley Stories blog has lately been posting his strips from Ghost Stories and Tales from the Tomb in their entirety. The typically incisive commentary over there covers much of what I would want to say about these, frankly, kind-of-insane comics, so I urge you to click through.
I’d like to emphasize, though, just how much Stanley got away with, thanks to working under the aegis of Dell Comics, the innocuous, kids-only publisher of titles like Donald Duck, Little Lulu, and Fairy Tale Parade — atypical fare for the gore-and-guts set. Dell’s spotless G-rated record allowed it to publish beyond the censorial eye of the Comics Code Authority, who in the mid-’50s had neutered or foreclosed upon bloodthirsty troublemakers like EC and its imitators. Stanley’s first stabs at horror were allowed to revel in threats of dismemberment, ghastly suicide, child-killing monsters, parents devoured by malevolent forces, and a scissors-wielding grandma who wants to knit you.
These ghost stories are another order of spooky altogether, the kind that confounds expectation, logic, and often comprehension. Stanley’s uncredited collaborators stiffly delineate these dreamlike tales, and though the results are sometimes crude, they are always very far from inept. Underlying every panel and every page is Stanley’s visual sophistication, which grants even the most wooden or unpracticed renditions the stark and primal quality of nightmare.
When we break through the muddle of the story to those final, gigantic panels, the effect is authentically startling, if absurd. We come forcibly out of the tale as though we’re waking up in a cold sweat, breathless, puzzled as to what our fevered brains have conjured up. Like, the psychiatrist’s head is a quilt?
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Six issues of Skull appeared between 1970 and 1972. Gary Arlington, proprietor of the renowned San Francisco Comic Book Company, came up with the bare bones idea for a horror anthology in the EC tradition; artist Greg Irons fleshed it out, and underground comics had another addition to its onslaught of horror books. Most of Skull featured the grim crosshatching grotesquerie of Irons and Jack Jackson, as well as the first UG work from the smooth and heavy metal-friendly pen of Richard Corben, among others. Some less out-and-out examples of the genre formed part of the scene, too, though I’m less familiar with them, having only caught the barest glimpses of Slow Death, or Insect Fear or, most tantalisingly, the gruesome cute brut of Rory Hayes’s Bogeyman (send in your unwanted copies c/o The Walrus).
Skull is worth singling out if only because it distinguished itself, late in the series, by taking EC’s literary aspirations and turning them inside out. So where EC’s go-to pulp auteur was the square and kind of respectable Ray Bradbury, the Skull crew gave over two entire issues to groovy, eldritch H.P. Lovecraft adaptations. True, the influence of Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos in literary horror has been as pervasive and maybe pernicious as EC’s in comics. At the time of the undergrounds, though, horror comics had as yet been been unmolested by the man’s tentacles, so an infusion of the Old Ones into the genre could at least boast the virtue of novelty. And at best, transposing Lovecraft to this setting helped connect with the UG’s flair for depicting goings-on in extremis (hence Michael Smith’s flesh-melting psychedelic freak-out in “Cool Air”). The gleeful, de trop stylings of many of the artists match well with Lovecraft’s squelching purple prose (“a nightmare caked and clotted with bloody shreds of alien flesh and hair, embraced by a malignant retinue of sleeping bats”).
In Skull‘s final issue, the full-length “A Gothic Tale,” Irons and Corben — the twin poles of slick and dirty UG professionalism — took turns illustrating writer Tom Veitch’s centuries-spanning Lovecraftian story of mad science, gross monstrosity, and weird old religion. It’s a fine capstone to an interesting series, one of those fully conceived, self-contained little packages of which the underground was sometimes impressively capable.
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In the 1980s, having helped redefine monster comics as part of the all-star Swamp Thing team (who, if you’re wondering, had nothing to do with the film), artist Steve Bissette had yet further services to perform in his favoured genre. Determined to continue setting an example for seriousness in horror comics, rather than uphold the cheesy old punch-pulling norm, Bissette cofounded and edited a series called Taboo. The books were thick tomes rather than floppy pamphlets, whose bold conception was on occasion actually matched by the capabilities of their contributors. Taboo‘s publication history is fascinating and convoluted and depressing, tied as it is to the various industry implosions of the time. The result of this tortuous past is that the series is a record of projects interrupted, delayed, or left unfinished. Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s Jack the Ripper saga From Hell concluded elsewhere, for instance, as did both the Moore-written porno epic Lost Girls and Jeff Nicholson’s Through the Habitrails, a sort of anti-Dilbert.
But the real one that got away was Throat Sprockets, an amalgam of not-quite-vampires and not-quite-snuff-films from Video Watchdog mastermind Tim Lucas. He completed the tale in prose novel form, but it’s forever to be regretted that his working relationship with initial artist Mike Hoffman fell through. Hoffman’s angular photorealism evinced a real feel for the sharpness and seediness of well-worn film prints, and Lucas proved remarkably adept at splicing and manipulating the language of comics.
Beyond this impressive array of halting serials, an above-average number of Taboo‘s highlights arrived in isolated contributions. There were some very pretty stand-alone stories from neo-pre-Raphaelite Michael Zulli, including a jaw-dropper written by Neil Gaiman’s then-five-year-old daughter (Gaiman and Zulli’s take on Sweeney Todd is another Taboo-fostered project that screeched to a skidding stop). Chester Brown wrung an unsettling amount of pathos out of funny animals falling prey to the food chain. Al Columbia, standard-bearer of modern-day horror comics, contributed some vivid, frenzied outpourings. What continues to haunt me, though, are a handful of candidates for career-best work from underground legend S. Clay Wilson: his graphic and sweaty and desperate “This is Dynamite” in particular strikes me as truly taboo, so relentlessly did his penlines scratch away at deep human ugliness.
We could’ve used another couple dozen volumes of horror comics under Bissette’s stewardship, especially as the years have worn on and the talent pool has gotten deeper and darker, allowing for an easier skimming off of the dross. Imagine a thick regular instalment of something like Taboo, where Renee French‘s soft-penciled parables of death and deformity, or Josh Simmons’s claustrophobic wrongness, or Columbia’s cartoon apocalypses, all rub scabby shoulders. Ah well, such dreams are for Halloweens yet to come.
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Finally, in subject matter worlds away from this post: Saturday’s spate of IFOA XXX events includes my interview with Seth, whom I’ve gone on about before, and R.O. Blechman, whose far-reaching career making perfect little drawings should provide much to talk about. Details are here. Toronto readers, I’ll see you at noon in Harbourfront’s Brigantine Room.
Four-Colour Words returns from a Toronto International Film Festival–induced hiatus — if you can, catch up with Face and Trash Humpers, both of them brassy, unabashed image-making of the first rank — to examine a few important comics that have resurfaced lately. Newspaper pages have shrunk and pamphlets have retrenched to the point of insignificance during the years since these works were published. With slim-to-no chance of them reappearing in their original contexts, these comics have instead been scanned, compiled and stitched into book spines. What does it mean for them to revive now? In what new contexts do readers experience these strips thanks to this moment in publishing history? Read on, and we’ll discover the answers together.
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Bringing Up Father by George McManus (NBM Publishing)
Missouri-born cartoonist George McManus created his comic strip Bringing Up Father in 1912 and drew it until his death over forty years later. Like many early strips, its premise is uncomplicated: Maggie and Jiggs are new money; she scrabbles to gain higher ground in society, while he prefers the company of reg’lar fellers and the common comforts of their old life. The comic’s iconic images involve Jiggs, a grinning oaf in dickey and spats, sneaking away for a drink by some ingenious method, followed by Maggie, a horse-faced harridan, discovering his relapses and laying into him with a rolling pin or racks of fine china.
Reading through hundreds of these strips at once — some dashed off, many of them repetitive — reminds us that McManus was among the first cartoonists to confront the rigours of the newspaper schedule. In much the same way that Griffith and Sennett and Feuillade had to iron out efficient methods of telling stories in feature and serial films, he and his cohort (Bud Fisher, Sidney Smith) had to normalize a comics “language” that spoke intelligibly to a wide readership.
NBM’s reprint, which compiles the dailies from Bringing Up Father’s first two years — a bygone time when Maggie hurled more insults than objects — is one of three books in the publisher’s series Forever Nuts: Classic Screwball Strips. I haven’t read the others, but imagine they afford the same pleasures. First there’s the novelty of seeing old comedic “takes” played without the scare quotes: hats pop off heads in surprise, stars burst forth from banged-up brows, and exasperated folks flop flat on their backs. Next we sense the rhythms of daily life in a bygone era. Bringing Up Father reveals what the upwardly mobile wore, how they drank beer (warm, out of buckets), and how World War I affected the pattern of their daily lives.
McManus would go on to become one of his field’s finest draughtsmen, his linework so accomplished that framed pictures in the background of certain scenes acted out on their own. His early penmanship was spidery and pliable, although the presence and stillness that he imparted to figures in space was a constant throughout his career. The strips seen here are almost a century old, but still look as clean and crisp and classy as a fresh hundred-dollar bill — and seem just as ready to do hard (but happy) duty at the corner tavern.
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Melvin Monster Volume One by John Stanley (Drawn and Quarterly)
Like many big mid-century cartoonists — Kirby, Barks, Kurtzman — John Stanley’s comic books were so quintessentially comic booky that it’s strange to imagine them, and slightly odd to encounter them, in any other format. Melvin Monster Volume One, the first in a series of texts devoted to Stanley’s late career, compiles a mere three issues from his short run on the title, preserving the quick and compact experience of the original comics. (The next volume in the series, collecting some of Stanley’s work with Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy, has just arrived on stands.) Drawn and Quarterly’s repackaging also nudges the material into the more traditional territory of children’s picture books, where Stanley’s sensibilities seem perfectly at home.
As with some of Stanley’s other humour comics, Melvin Monster indulges in the sort of light-hearted fright-mongering that kids adore. The stories in this collection describe a rotund, green-skinned misfit who is terrible at being a monster. Melvin wants to go to school, hates playing with his pet alligator, and dares to call his elders “kind-looking,” much to the chagrin of his Mummy and Baddy. He fits in no better in the land of “human beans,” where his nicest qualities only throw humankind’s monstrous behaviour into ugly relief. All the while, Stanley relates Melvin’s adventures in his instantly identifiable fashion, filling them with misunderstandings, silly running jokes, and quick reversals of fortune scored with cries of “Yow!”
From Stanley’s career-defining work with the licenced Little Lulu character to “Jigger,” an odd little contribution to the new, eye-opening TOON Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics, the cartoonist’s tales move along with such pleasing economy that it sometimes seems less likely his stories were ever consciously created than that they already just existed somehow. Melvin Monster, one of the few titles to which he provided both art and script, urges us to reconsider his capability with images too.
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The Complete Jack Survives by Jerry Moriarty (Buenaventura Press)
This slim, almost inexhaustible book expands upon an earlier collection of strips that mainly ran in Raw magazine in the early 1980s. In palimpsests of muted and monochromatic strokes, or bursts of uncomplicated colour, Moriarty plays with surface and depth, with solid forms and what lies beneath them, in a way that replicates the realities of everyday life. His titular everyman exists, alternately passive and resistant, in the face of the mundane, impersonal malevolence that visits us all. Jack’s TV gets poor reception, cars knock over his trash, he wakes from a nap with “both arms asleep”: we’ve been there.
As much as we identify with Jack, we might admire him even more. He confronts tests and mysteries and hardships with no bitterness or resentment; there’s only a brief frisson of chagrin, followed by something resembling grace. “Jack is the better me,” Moriarty writes in one of his terse, revealing notes. “Jack is an average man wanting to be average.” (In reality, Jack has much of the artist’s father in him, which accounts for how fiercely personal this work can feel. A couple of canvases picturing Moriarty and Jack regarding each other, reprinted in the final pages here, are plain haunting.) Jack Survives is most lifelike not in its outward qualities, in how accurately it mimics what we see, but rather in Moriarty’s ability to convey the fleeting, hazy impressions that float beneath our perceptions. With its shadows of repeated actions and too-familiar locales haunted by memories of past visits, there’s so much to read into Jack Survives because Moriarty has painted all of our lives in there, somewhere behind that scribble or beneath that cloudy mass of ink.
Jack survives, sure enough — usually outfitted in fedora and tie, always looking vaguely like someone we either know or used to know — although it’s an open question whether his persistence reveals a triumph over struggle or the simple marking of time.
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In his new novel, Inherent Vice, released last week and reportedly self-promoted here (though I have my doubts), there’s a part where Thomas Pynchon has a character say, “I am aware of the Freak Brothers’ dictum that dope will get you through times of no money better than vice versa….” Later, another says, “Listen, I came up in Temecula, which is Krazy Kat Kountry, where you always root for Ignatz and not Offisa Pup.” Now, I haven’t finished the book just yet, but still I got to thinking about Pynchon and comics. (more…)
Imagine a book publisher had released a retrospective on “The Graphic Novel” in 1976, or that a cinema hosted a look back at France’s nouvelle vague in 1957, or that a gallery exhibit somewhere spotlighted American Abstract Expressionism in, say, 1946. The experience would have been not unlike reading Abstract Comics: The Anthology today. We would see the same stirrings of activity, the same preliminary exercises duly attempted, much to mull over, and some select moments of clarity—but the premise would remain tantalisingly incipient. (more…)
Martin Vaughn-James passed away on July 3. In the histories of comics in Canada and comics as book-length narratives he played an important and often neglected role. His importance stems not just from the fact that he was a Canadian cartoonist when so few others were out there, or that he created long-form cartoon books when no graphic novel designation yet existed in book stores or libraries. Vaughn-James was also, and remains, a significant figure in comics history because his work was singular, literate, experimental, and often unsurpassably good. (more…)
David Mazzucchelli’s worn an astonishing number of hats over the past quarter century. He achieved fame in the ’80s as the last great superhero comics artist, though the stories he worked on stripped the heroes of their costumes, rooting them realistically in urban milieux, among everyday people. He abandoned fame and comics at the end of the me decade, learned printing techniques, played music. Emerging once more in 1991, he debuted Rubber Blanket, a self-published, handsomely produced magazine meant to showcase his new comics work, which had become surprisingly experimental and promiscuous in approach. He began taking on work from the New Yorker and the Village Voice, and travelled to Japan to create manga for the huge Kodansha publishing house. His slick, smart adaptation of Paul Auster’s City of Glass, co-authored with Paul Karasik, appeared in 1994, and coincided with the end of Rubber Blanket. Since then, he’s been teaching comics, producing a couple pages here and there for the beleaguered market of comic book anthologies—and, we’d heard whispered, he’d been toiling away on his magnum opus. So now here it is, his first large-scale solo project, Asterios Polyp, and we have to rethink Mazzucchelli all over again. (more…)
This month, the summer reading issue of The Walrus boasts an eye-catching cover by the Dutch cartoonist Joost Swarte. His crisp style and high-concept approach help to razor his illustrations into our consciousness before we even know what we’re seeing. Feel like you’ve come across his work before? Odds are either you have, in the pages of The New Yorker, or you’re actually thinking of Hergé, the creator of Tintin. Both of those traditions—old-timey children’s comics, sophisticated yuks—play important roles in Swarte’s practice. Whether in his architecture or his illustration, his comics or his stained glass, the artist applies early 20th century styles to our modern world, resulting in an ironic distance that allows him to poke our self-satisfied notions of progress in the ribs—repeatedly, if never especially hard. (more…)
Marc Bell’s Illustrated Cartoon Videos is a comic book that doesn’t exist. Don’t look for it. Don’t ask for it by name. Forget you ever heard about it. If it did exist, though, it would be just what the title says, a pictorial playing-out of songs good bad and indifferent, the imagery trucking on by in Bell’s busy, bigfoot style. I can’t say such a book exists, though, because litigious record company suits would get all up in arms—as the cover to Illustrated Cartoon Videos might warn us, or brag, this whole deal is very, riotously “unauthorized!” (more…)
Fumbling around on the internet recently, I came across some scans of Yoshiharu Tsuge’s 1968 story “Nejishiki” (translated in the Comics Journal 250 as “Screw-Style”). I have a great fondness for the short story form in comics, and I love seeing anything translated from the Japanese avant garde comics magazine Garo, so I thought I’d highlight the story’s existence here. (A quick note, though, to point out that, unlike the other two Tsuge stories published in English, this one is still in print. So you should probably buy that thick and lovely issue of the Comics Journal, even if only to direct some money toward the folks who went to the trouble of importing the story in the first place.)
We have so few western authorities on manga, god bless ’em, that they can only begin to map out the traditions and history of Japanese comics for us; thankfully, “Nejishiki” is one of the landmarks they’ve flagged. The June 1968 issue of Garo, they tell us, was given over entirely to Yoshiharu Tsuge. (more…)