Friday, December 10, 2010

Books I Really Liked and Wrote about Twice in

Daniel Clowes's Wilson:
Another tour de force by a cartoonist who never stands still: a post on style and one on drama.

Tim Hensley's Wally Gropius:
What do you say about the cartoon ineffable? I tried here and here. {Ok - This last one was written in 2009, but the collection came out in 2010.}

Charles Burns's X'ed Out:
This comic offers a deep look at Tintin's unconscious by a master psychoanalyst. More commentary is here.

If I had a "Best of" or "Favorites of 2010," these books would be at the top.
---
For other writing by me on the flume in 2010, see here.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Lisa Hanawalt Interview

Lisa Hanawalt's work is funny, smart, innovative, and a lot fun to look at. What follows is an illustrated interview conducted with Lisa via email. Please click on the images to enlarge them; there's so much that's worth looking at closely.

KP: Your comics are very unusual in terms of genre. The two issues of I Want You feature things like “list comics,” mock "how-to” illustrations, funny animal stories that look nothing like traditional funny animal comics, and “illustrations on a theme” comics, like “Worst Sandwiches” or animals with funny hats. This atypical approach makes me curious about your history as a comics reader. Did you read mainstream, alternative, or newspaper comics growing up?

LH: My Dad used to read me the funny pages every Sunday, and our house was full of Far Side and B. Kliban books. I read some alternative comics as a teenager, and I made zines and drew comics with friends, but I never thought of myself as a cartoonist. Maybe that’s why my approach to making comics seems different . . . I grew up loving them, but I’ve been equally influenced by paintings, fiction, comedy, movies, and I’ve had enough distance from the world of traditional comics to not worry if my approach is atypical. When I started making minis, I wasn’t even sure that they were comics -- they were just illustrated lists jumbled together with sketchbook drawings.


KP: Your sense of comedy seems pretty idiosyncratic to me; can you point to an artist or comedian that has had a direct affect on your work?

LH: I think I’m most strongly influenced by Kliban’s absurdist/Dadaist gags, the grotesqueness and awkward timing of Ren & Stimpy, Marbles in My Underpants by Renee French, everything about Tony Millionaire, and David Lynch. I also watched a lot of Steve Martin and David Zucker movies. My family is funny, so that's had a powerful affect; Dad is a consummate punster (he nearly cried with joy when I made my first pun, something to do with “solid dressing”), Mom seems serious at first but she can be a connoisseur of silliness, and my older brother Alex is an obnoxious riot in the best way. I started drawing funny and disturbing things as a kid partly just to get his attention.

KP: When I saw your Boy’s Club strip in a recent issue of The Believer, I first thought a comic by Matt Furie (the creator of Boy’s Club) had mistakenly been attributed to you -- you’re very adept at mimicking his style. Did you copy other cartoonists and illustrators in this very precise way as a part of your learning process?

LH: I’m so happy people were fooled by that! The folks at McSweeney’s were very confused. It was surprisingly difficult to write a Boy’s Club comic and I think I failed at that part -- Matt’s comics are genius in how deceptively simple they are. But I am a pretty good parrot and I used to mimic other artists all the time. I did stuff in the style of Aubrey Beardsley, Ralph Steadman, Tony Millionaire, Phoebe Gloeckner, etc. I think that’s a natural way to learn and find a personal style, even though those copycat drawings embarrass me now.


KP: In many of your comics, especially the He-Horse and She-Moose stories, you seem particularly engaged with fashion and elaborate patterns in a way that I haven't seen outside of ‘60s and ‘70 girls’ comics. What influence has clothing and fashion played in your work?

LH: I think of fashion as extremely fun-to-draw eye candy . . . all those weird stitches, zippers, buckles, and folds, etc. And because I don’t take it too seriously, I like to focus on the most absurd and least functional items; I could draw stupid hats perched on animal heads for eternity. I also like the idea of animals paying so much attention to how they adorn themselves. I don’t think my drawings are the most flattering portrait of the accumulation of clothes; the compositions are cluttered and the patterns clash and vibrate in this anxious, over-caffeinated way.
KP: Are there any young cartoonist who you feel a kinship with, artists whose work shares something in common with yours that you respond to?

LH: This will sound cheesy but I feel kinship with most young cartoonists and artists. Part of what attracted me to Brooklyn was living in close proximity to lots of talented people my age who are working their asses off. It's hard to pick out specific people . . . I feel like my attitude and ambitions are similar to Matt Furie's, but our work is completely different. I relate to people who put a serious effort into drawing really dumb things.

KP: The “comics world” -- both mainstream and alternative -- is often described as a “boy’s club” that’s not always welcoming to women. Are you conscious of this in any way?

LH: I like to pretend it’s a non-issue, but I also think the planet is a boy’s club. Dwelling on it too much would drive me crazy, but I still worry about being pigeonholed and marginalized. A lot of readers found the “Menstruation Terminology” pages to be the most disturbing part of I Want You #1, but I’m really glad I included them. I’m not going to use my comics to pontificate or get overtly political, but I’m interested in illustrating my view as a female frankly in ways that people haven’t seen before.

KP: The kind of work you do, the “gross” aspects of some of your comics -- with your interest in things like abnormal skin conditions -- seems somewhat unusual for female cartoonists. How have readers, both male and female, responded to this aspect of your work?

LH: Just based on my influences, I never thought it was unusual for women to be gross; I’ve been reading Renee French and Phoebe Gloeckner since high school, and later I discovered Julie Doucet, Shary Boyle, Sue Coe, Jenny Saville (the painter), etc. There are so many female artists who focus on grotesque anatomy and sexuality -- it’s strange that that’s still shocking and subversive to most people. I’ve definitely gotten comments like, “You’re funny/gross for a girl,” but judging by the response to my work, I’m pretty funny and gross for a guy too.

KP: Can you trace your interest in drawing things like skin problems and facial deformities to anything in your childhood . . .

LH: I suffered from some gnarly acne at a young age, so maybe that triggered an interest, haha. I think it’s an instinctual thing; we privilege faces and they’re probably the first representational thing we start drawing, so disfiguring them is an obvious way of expressing anxiety and horror. It’s all part of my inveterate focus on morbidity. I draw those things partly just to get them out of my head.

KP: Is that letter from I Want You #2, in which the writer chastises you for the crude and misguided nature of your work, real?

LH: Yes, it’s actually from a dear friend who I’ve known since I was a little kid. I think he believes I’ve morphed into something he’s fundamentally opposed to, but he doesn’t understand that my sense of humor was just as twisted when I was nine years old. I’m ok with people finding my humor too blue or my drawings too disturbing; they’re definitely not for everyone. But questioning my morality is kind of unfair.


KP: People often say that the alternative comics world is not always responsive to humor comics, that readers prefer character-driven fiction. Is this an attitude you’ve seen?

LH: Not really, I mean, I recently heard Michael Kupperman say something to that tune (about the reception to his own work), but I haven’t experienced that attitude first-hand. And I don't think it matters too much. As much as I love the world of alternative comics, I try not to be concerned with how well my work fits into it.


KP: Some of the He-Horse and She-Moose stories are character-driven pieces, driven also by the strong desires and anxieties of the protagonists. And “Saturday Night” (IWY #2) closes with a profound and almost unanswerable question about the relationship between anxiety and happiness . . .

LH: There was actually a long pause between the writing and inking phase of “Saturday Night,” because I was so worried about it being cheesy . . . but it’s certainly genuine. I’m interested in that relationship and how anxiety can feel like such an integral part of a personality that it no longer seems like a problem: “This is just how I am.” So I’ll keep exploring that, at the risk of being too earnest. But I think if I drew myself saying those things (instead of He-Horse) the comic would be unbearable to me.

KP: Your 2008 minicomic, Stay Away From Other People, has a few short pieces that either are, or gesture toward, autobiography. But I Want You doesn’t have any pieces that are quite like these earlier ones. Are you not interested in creating autobiographical or diary-type comics?

LH: Most of the narrative artwork I made until about three years ago was diaristic, and while that felt cathartic, there was also something gross about exposing myself so much. So in I Want You #1, I experimented with making my autobiographical stories a lot more abstract by turning them into funny lists or drawing people as animals. It still feels intensely personal, but now there’s a filter and it’s a more of a secret where these different elements come from . . . I’m not just barfing myself out onto the page anymore. That confessional style really works for some people, though. I love reading juicy diary comics.


KP: When I read and then reread “Extra Egg Room” in I Want You #2, I had a different response each time. At first, it seemed genuinely disturbing -- the idea of all of these birds flying down the horse’s throat looks like a gagging nightmare come to life. But later, it seemed funny and almost magical -- and a chance for you to draw striking and unusual images. I'm wondering what sort of response or responses you have to a story like that, either when you are drawing it or when you reread it: do you see it as disturbing or funny or both?

LH: That story is very personal; it came directly from a sketch I made while flying and feeling totally panicked while also laughing at my own irrationality. I think that’s why it’s impossible for me to separate what’s disturbing from what’s funny about it. He-Horse is terrified . . . but then his speech is overly formal and there are all these cartoon-ish elements that make the phobia seem silly. I consider a story a success if it can result in opposing reactions; I don’t want anything to just hit one note.

KP: You draw in a number of different styles, but tend to reserve your most detailed approached for animal illustrations and animal narratives. Does the story/idea determine the style or vice versa?

LH: Maybe the style is arbitrary, but there’s usually a strong case for it in my mind. “Extra Egg Room” could have been done in watercolors, but with a disturbing narrative like that I’d worry about the emotions being overwrought. Watercolors feel more moody and expressive to me, while the sparse and more precise line art is a method of pulling back and letting the disturbance be more intellectual. I like using watercolors for silly lists and faux how-to’s; they add a bit of warmth where you’d expect the illustrations to be more clinical, maybe. I like how “The Worst Sandwiches” look almost velvety.

KP: In I Want You #1, a few stories use traditional gutters between panels. But none of the stories in #2 do; consecutive panels typically share the same border, so there’s no white space. Is there a particular reason for this? Is there something about the blank space of the gutter that often doesn’t look right to you?

LH: I’m accustomed to seeing the page as one big thing (probably because I come from a painting background), so all those white borders feel unnecessary. But I might use them for something in the future.

KP: The lack of gutters increases the sense of controlled chaos, allowing patterns in one panel to brush up against different patterns in another panel. This seems to be part of your “aesthetic” and sense of humor in some of the stories -- you like a little chaos, such as the car and plane crashes on the covers to I Want You #1 and #2 . . .

LH: That’s an excellent point about the lack of gutters -- if there were white spaces around the panels it would reduce the sense of chaos. I want the artwork to be enveloping to the degree that the page disappears a little bit . . . formal elements like panels create distance from the story and draw attention to the fact that “this is a comic strip.” And it’s true that I like a LOT of controlled chaos in my artwork. I love drawing fights and collisions, and there’s something really sexy in that tension. My favorite thing is in movies or theater, when there’s a perfectly dressed set with tons of carefully positioned props, and then of course at some point everything goes to pieces, all the drawers have been pulled out and emptied onto the floor, and maybe someone has swiped everything off of a tabletop and/or wrecked a cake. That’s the most satisfying thing to watch.

KP: What projects are you working on?

LH: I’ll start drawing I Want You #3 soon, but first I’m taking a short break to mess around with papier mache. I’m a clumsy sculptor, but it’s challenging and kind of fun, and it’s always revitalizing to take a break and make work in a different way. I felt like I was getting into a rut, maybe. I’m actually slated to install a window display next week at Desert Island, (a comics shop in Brooklyn) so I’ll be foisting my hobby on the public! Part of it is literally a piñata, so people will get to bash it to pieces when the installation ends.


KP: How has winning the Ignatz for “Outstanding Comic” at SPX this year changed your life?

LH: It motivates me to move on, make new work, and not lean on that recognition in any way. I mean, I’m incredibly honored. But I Want You is my first published comic and I still feel sort-of freshly hatched … so I can’t linger on it. I feel like I can be so much more outstanding.


Please visit Lisa's website. Please see this review of Lisa's I Want You #1 I wrote last year.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Fans of great writing about music should check out this piece by my pal Scott Saul on Thelonious Monk at the Boston Review. Scott is the author of Freedom Is, Freedom Ain’t: Jazz and the Making of the Sixties and he also writes for The Nation.

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

X'ed Out: Review Notes

[From Hergé: The Calculus Affair]

[From Charles Burns: X’ed Out]

Earlier this month, I sent in my first piece for The Comics Journal, a review of Charles Burns’s X’ed Out. [Note: it's now up at the Journal's website.] When The Journal was only a print publication, reviewers knew that readers, who had to go out of their way to purchase the magazine (in dank ‘n dirty “specialty shops”), would likely be knowledgeable about comics. But because the journal is now online, anyone interested in reading a review of X’ed Out might find mine through google. So past assumptions about who might be reading and what “the general reader” would know, for me at least, are no longer valid.

I find writing reviews a challenge. The format typically requires a focus on summary and evaluation, blending the modes of consumer guide and opinion piece. I wanted to try to write a review that gave “the general reader” what she would expect, yet would offer an interpretation of the work -- I wanted the review to be equal parts analytical argument and “buyer’s guide.” [Special thanks to Anne Mallory for commenting on drafts of the piece.]

What follows are notes I compiled while reading XO, rereading Burns's Black Hole + Tintin volumes, and writing the review; many contain ideas that didn't make it into the review. Since they were typed, I figured I’d post them here . . .

*

What’s so interesting about X’ed Out is the way it builds upon aspects of Burns’s last graphic novel, Black Hole, and comes out of Hergé’s Tintin stories; it’s as if Hergé did an adaption of Black Hole, not so much by reimagining the plot, but by turning its mood and iconography into a kind of psychological ‘adventure’ story. It doesn’t just use the look of Tintin, it acts as a kind of internal reading of the world of Tintin, an analysis of what’s there and what isn’t -- what's x'ed out of Tintin, what's really at the other end of the hole. [And though I based part of my review on this premise, there’s a lot more that could be said about it. I eliminated material on this topic to keep the focus on XO.]

My reading of X’ed Out is informed by Burns's approach in his comic strip Random Access, which runs in the comics section of The Believer. These strips can be narrative or non-narrative, often working on an associational logic; sometimes Burns makes obvious connection between what’s depicted in the panels, and at other times the logic seems arbitrary. In a way, Random Access is a kind of bridge between Black Hole and X’ed Out. And the compositional method of RA plays out on many pages of X’ed Out. RA replicates the ways that Doug (X’ed Out ’s main character) experiences aspects of his life. Images clearly have a power and an attraction that the artist and/or character does not understand -- so the image returns as a kind of haunting -- a search for an explanation of its power that never comes . . .

Doug’s girlfriend Sally, who appears often, is associated with the mother, who is fully absent. Though his mom is mentioned (and perhaps visible in a single photo), she never is seen in the comic. Doug’s father descends into the basement whenever the mother is mentioned (the descent motif). The mother is hidden, a source of fear. “The mother” could be connected to “the breeder,” who looks like Sally and appears in the Nitnit dream world (if that’s what it is). The collective archetypal and horror approaches that Burns takes invite a reading in which “the mother” = “fear of biology” -- “the mother” is the source of the (dead) fetuses and embryos we see throughout the story. In fact, the mother is connected to one of the defining images of the comic: the egg that appears on the front and back covers and throughout the story (and also to the many black holes, “the vagina as absence” -- a primal male fear). The absent mother hovers over the story.

The mother/the female is the origin of life, and all of Doug’s existential problems originate in a disgust for life and food (again, the egg) and therefore the maternal. Also, the egg Burns uses is literally a symbol for Hergé (the mother or father figure in whose creations XO originates): it appears on the cover and in the climactic scene of Hergé’s The Shooting Star.

The book’s focus on Art. Doug’s performance art, Sally’s photographic art, Herge’s art, art exhibitions, the punk band “The Happy Fetus” -- Patti Smith (and Tori Amos cover art allusion?)



Art, eros, and violence: Photo of Sally slitting her arm. - Doug seems attracted and repulsed.

The relationship between Lucas Samara’s art and Burns’s – compare Sally’s altar with Samara’s photographed staged autobiographical environments. (Dark room scenes)

Polaroid scrapbook pages as analogues for comic pages -- and non-narrative aspects of these two grid forms. Discuss the nature memory and visual narrative. Also: Doug’s pill calendar as grid analogue.

XO appears to have a psychological and narrative center: 1970s Doug dreams/hallucinates many of these scenes, especially those with the different versions of the Nitnit characters. So everything emanates from him. Yet, this doesn’t seem right or fully explanatory. The cut-up, non-chronological aspect of the text destabilizes all readings. The center is diffused -- Doug is not really the main character. Doug’s life imitates Nitnit’s dreams, not the other way around.

The grid here is often not connected to order, stability, rationality (what that regular grid typically offers) -- but to sadness and pain -- refer to opening line of comic.

Compare exotic world seen in XO’s ending to scenes through Tintin: holes, ladders, dense groupings of buildings . . .

Black hole and wound panels from Tintin. (TT in America . . .)
Scenes of “flow”: blood, river, and toxic waste – these scenes bring up the question of origin; the source for the waste is never revealed. Also why are there Tintin skulls in the chamber near the toxic waste? River as Styx (underworld -- descent motif). “River flows under me, dragging me down,” Doug says.

The X of X’ed Out: wounds, bandages, scars, X marking the most important spot: Doug’s head. X as repression; blocked out. X marks the treasure on the map, but here the goal is marked out, is inaccessible. X as cartoon symbol for eyes of a dead character; x as poison marker.

Trauma and adolescence -- Black Hole versus Tintin.

Horror archive: blood, skulls, chambers, opening/doors . . .

If some of the scenes are Doug’s dream, then all of the character/objects/actions in the dreams are versions of Doug --Doug as maggot, Doug as black hole, as fetus, dog/animal on raft.
Connect XO with RA, William Burroughs’s “cut-ups,” and Tintin. Poetic lyricism and non-narrative panels transitions.

Inky and Snowy, Burns and Tintin -- also cigarette “burns” as artist’s visual signature pun

Pink blanket in XO and Black Hole -- comfort

Burns’s color use and Herge’s – significance of color in XO as transitions and memories. The lyricism implied by colored panel – content that is disembodied, disconnected in clear ways from a sentient or “camera” p.o.v.

Panels without image content: color, text.

Characters and the “open mouth”: hunger, waiting, passivity.

Opening line: who is the “I”? – this is the constant question – like the disembodied “I” of some lyric poetry.

Character’s names and uncertainty.

Art, connected to sleeping, adventures, and Little Nemo. Tintin and Nemo—different tones.

Burn’s approach to horror vs., say, EC comics.

[use Pop-tart box with '7 cents off' coupon to identify story’s time period]

The Nitnit character has popped up throughout the years, in RA and various illustrations that Burns has done.


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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Missing - APE 2010




Two copies of a large, expensive book (see picture) were stolen from our booth this past Sunday at APE. We know that they were taken from us, Pigeon Press booth #120 (see map below), sometime between 10:00-11:00 am on the morning of October 17. We’re putting this out there in the hope that someone might have seen them being taken from behind our unattended booth or being carried away that morning. If you were an exhibitor in that area of the San Francisco Concourse, please let us know if you noticed anything or might have taken any pictures in that area during that time period. It's unfortunate that this happened and we'd really like to get the books back. If you have any information or might have seen these books this weekend please let us know.

-Pigeon Press


Books missing from Booth #120 shown in red. please let us know if you might have noticed anything that morning between 10:30-11:00 especially if you were an exhibitor in the green area shown.



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Monday, October 11, 2010

Boy's Club #4 & I Want You #2...

...available at APE this weekend, order direct from pigeon-press.com [Nov 2010], or ask your local comics retailer to carry them.

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Comics Criticism, 1970-2010

A few things I read recently and liked:

Rob Clough on Kevin H. Clough gets at what's great about Ganges: the philosophical content, formal imagination and inventiveness, and visual charm.

Sam Lipsyte on Daniel Clowes's Wilson. Lipsyte's a great novelist and carefully engages Clowes's work, especially the dialogue. He avoids the kinds of critical generalizations that flatten a text (and make a reviewer look careless), and instead sees Wilson's complexities and humanity. A very well-written review.

Alan Choate on Crumb's Genesis. There's a lot of ok criticism on the web, but there's little that's this thoughtful and informed.

Tim Seidler and Jon Hazell on Herb Trimpe (a letter published in 1970 in The Incredible Hulk #131). Though they are critical of Trimpe -- an artist I like (his Hulk covers of this era are masterpieces) -- their visual trope-based criticism is eye-opening. The writers clearly don't like what they see, but they back up their opinion in an effective and entertaining way. I just bought 40 1969-1972 Marvel comics, and this letter has me reading them in a new way, paying far more attention to how artists stage aggression, violence, and fight scenes, key features of these comics. You never know where you'll find interesting criticism . . . [click to enlarge]:

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ripped from Tomorrow's Headlines


I scanned this clipping because it reminded me a little of events depicted in Wally Gropius. Some fellow stole a 1.4 million dollar tax refund check--doesn't say how--from a real estate magnate--apparently the 45th wealthiest man alive--then impersonated said magnate to deposit the check at a bank. The funniest part is the suspect listing "smoke shop" as his occupation on the paperwork.
Also in the news, I recently appeared on the radio program Inkstuds. I note this mostly because my coworker Jim Ellwanger created 4 amazing 5-minute medleys from his collection of radio jingles for the breaks. Listen to the battery in my phone die!

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Crumb's Genesis, The Pastoral, and Presence

In a reply to Ng Suat Tong in an ongoing discussion of Crumb’s Genesis, I commented on a panel that I think is particularly successful in ways that get at why Crumb’s adaptation as a whole is compelling -- the pastoral tableaux that opens chapter 2:

I wrote: "Alongside of Adam, Eve, and a few birds and rabbits, God rests against a tree after creation, hands on his knees, eyes closed. I can’t quite explain why, but the decision to show God resting this way is a moving and unexpected choice; God seems strangely human and naturalized, just after his world-creating supernatural powers have been demonstrated. There is a little idealizing at work in this pastoralism of this panel, but it is of a very earth-bound, domestic kind."

Many paintings of Eden in the tradition that Suat refers to focus on Adam and Eve, and those that include God never show him (as far as a I know--which isn’t that far) resting as human characters often do in religious and secular pastoral images.

[Shepherd and Shepherdess: Abraham Bloemaert, 1627]

In the Edenic scene, God is usually positioned above the earth-bound Adam and Eve, floating on a cloud (a cliché Crumb avoids) as he condemns his creations:


[The Expulsion from Paradise: Charles Joseph Natoire, 1740]

In Crumb's very different imagining of the exile, God, feet firmly planted on the ground, stands behind Adam and Eve, without any regal or magical apparatus (clouds, crowns, angels, heavenly effects) to separate him from them:

I like the fact that this resembles a father kicking his misbehaving kids out of the yard.

Even when a heavenly figure is depicted standing (as in Aureliano Milani’s Expulsion of Adam and Eve below), obvious visual cues (halo and color choice) signal that it is outside of the physical reality Adam and Eve inhabit:

As seen above, many representations show Adam and Eve with the fig leaf or positioned to hide their genitals, which Crumb repeatedly exposes, as part of his “literalism” and commitment to the physicality and “presence,” both of God and humans.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Buenaventura Press Gone Out of Business Sale - San Diego Comic Con 2010



Since I already have the booth that I reserved from last year I'll be in San Diego this week at booth #1734 (near Fantagraphics and D&Q, directly across the aisle from Giant Robot.)


Here's what I'll have for sale:


  • All of the BP titles including Comic Art Magazine, Boy's Club by Matt Furie, The Gigantic Robot by Tom Gauld.
  • Some of the few remaining copies of Kramers Ergot 7 which has been unavailable since last year. It will never be reprinted so here’s your chance to grab one before they are gone for good
  • All of that "Other Stuff We Like." Rare and imported goods that we've gathered over the year through our travels and were previously available in the BP Webshop. Minis, foreign anthologoies, artist's books, silkscreened goodness, etc...
  • Warehouse finds including back issues of Comic Art Magazine, and long out of print mini comics...
  • A ton of original artwork and obscure prints from my personal collection by many of our favorite cartoonists.
  • Rare comics and books from my personal collection.
  • Also stop by throughout the weekend for daily blowout sales.


Lisa Hanawalt and Johnny Ryan will both be with us. Come by to get your books signed and to check out their new prints and original drawings!

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28 Recent Clowes Interviews and Features

UPDATED 7.20
In some of the excerpts I have reprinted here, Clowes talks about a few issues that may be of interest to those who have read or written about his recently released graphic novel Wilson.

NPR 7.20.10

San Fransisco Bay Guardian 6.16.10
SFBG You've always had a really strong interest in perversity and human weirdness, and that’s not so central in Wilson. Was that a conscious move away or a permanent move away, or just a change in interests?

DC I think that’s true, you know. I always had a real interest in outsider culture. When I first began doing comics, that kind of thing was so inaccessible. I had a little group of friends who would send me all these weird things. You’d find out about little groups of people who were all linked together by some really odd interest, but they were so segregated. They’d maybe have some little newsletter that they all communicated through, but it felt like the world was filled with these little secret societies. And ever since the Internet has taken hold, it doesn’t feel like that anymore. It feels like the minute anybody hears about any weird little perversion or interest or anything like that, that everybody finds out about it and they know all about it, so it’s sort of lost its interest.

The Guardian (UK)6.13.10

Chicago Tribune 6.8.10
"I wanted the (title) character to feel about things much the way I feel about things," he said. "He's just hopelessly inept at getting it across, the kind of person who doesn't want to be dishonest in any way. He wants people to like him in his worst possible state, and he's gotten so used to that, so used to expecting the world to tag along, he has no sense of what an off-putting creep he's become.

"The thing is, I look for commonality no matter how objectionable a character. Still, it's not reality. Compared with reality, I barely scratch the surface."

Vice 6.1.10
[Wilson] reminded me of myself quite a bit, which wasn’t too hilarious.
Ha. Yeah. I find though that the people who are actually like Wilson are the ones that really do not like the book. I’ve had a few people who say that he’s unbearable. They’re often the people who are sort of insensitive to others and have a lack of awareness of how they come across to people. It’s interesting, it’s like they’re seeing themselves and it’s really painful. People who tend to not be so much like him, at least in his anti-social behavior–they have more sympathy for him.

East Bay Express 6.2.10
"I'm a little surprised at how often the term 'misanthrope' comes up" in discussions of the book, said Clowes, who will be at Diesel (5433 College Ave., Oakland) on Thursday, June 3. "While Wilson holds his fellow man and woman to an impossibly high standard, he seems to have a constant, unfulfilled faith that each person he meets will live up to those ideals." Badmouthing passersby for not admiring his dog, imagining his dying father calling him a miserable slob, "he's like the opposite of a misanthrope in a way: someone with an inherent faith that each human interaction will lead to a satisfying connection despite an overwhelming history of failure and isolation," Clowes said.

LA Times
5.30.10
But in some ways, Wilson shares Clowes' DNA. "I think we have a similar worldview," the author allows. "And his sense of humor — finding humor in the razor's edge between tragedy and comedy — there's a lot of resonance between me and him."

Oakland Tribune 5.25.10
"Wilson has a noble struggle," Clowes says. "He is trying to get something bigger out of his life. He's expecting other people to live up to his vision of how things should be, and they don't."

San Fransisco Chronicle 5.18.10
"Certainly a lot of what he says is me if I had an unfiltered id, if I was able to speak without any self-censorship. Because I tend to be the type who is overly polite and sort of ingratiating to other people," Clowes explains. "As my wife says, I'm Wilson's victim. I look like a good listener, I think, so people are always sitting down at my table, sort of unbidden, and telling me about their years of alcoholism."

National Post 5.14.10
“I kind of realized that it was never going to coalesce into one [style]. I had to use them all, for it to work. That just became clear. [Wilson] had to shift as much as these styles,” he explains. “That’s actually something you can do in comics that you can’t do in any other medium. I don’t think you could make a movie where each scene is in a different style of filmmaking without it seeming really hard to watch. It’s too jarring. But somehow ... people are used to seeing a bunch of different styles on the funny pages.”

Torontoist 5.14.10 [part two]
Torontoist 5.12.10 [part one]
Clowes: Well, I wouldn’t say approaches necessarily. The one example I can think of, in terms of techniques, is making comics that are easier to change around. Certainly when you’re making a film you really have to make every second count because it’s very expensive. Before you make the film you really have to cut away absolutely everything that’s not essential. And the first time I had to do that, I found it at times really painful to lose things that I thought were great. And then later on I realized how useful it was for me to be forced to do that. In comics I was never forced to do that, I could just go on as long as I wanted, nobody was editing me, paper is cheap. And on this book, Wilson, I really took it to heart to chop away everything that was not essential. Not to keep anything I thought was just exposition or just for the sake of being part of a storyline.

Portland Mercury 5.14.10
Well do you want the reader to empathize with Wilson at all?
I've found the people who seem to get the most out of the book are the ones who have to begrudgingly admit that they like him or that they kinda agree with him. And then there are readers who are just utterly resistant to him. Where he's just alienating and not someone they want to throw their lot in with. Right off the bat they're not willing to make that leap. I mean they might find it funny but I don't think they're getting as much out of it as those who are generous enough to find some humanity in the poor fellow.

Do you empathize with him?
I find I do more and more. As I was working on the book I found him endlessly entertaining. He was just such a good character to work with. It was never not fun to see what he would do. It was always sort of a surprise. You could just throw anything at him and he kind of has his own thing, it's not something I'm in control of necessarily, he sort of steers where the jokes would go, and so it was endlessly fun to work with him. I didn't really look at him as good or bad. And after the book was done I could see that there are a few points in this story that are really going to challenge a reader to empathize with this guy. But I find myself defending him more and more. I think he's actually right about a lot of things but perhaps he doesn't say them in a manner that is easily acceptable to the whoever he's talking to. But it doesn't make what he's saying or thinking wrong.

LA Weekly 5.13.10
When you were writing Wilson, did you have a specific range of years that you were working with?
I did have it sort of figured out. I wanted it to be as timeless as possible. I have him using a pay phone in one of the strips. It's really supposed to be 2008 or so, there weren't a lot of pay phones, but it's still plausible. He's certainly the guy who would walk eighty blocks to find a pay phone because he doesn't have a cell phone. It kind of fit his character. It's generally in the 21st century. The ending strips I think are maybe in the future, they're maybe 2014, but it's in the first fifteen, twenty years of the 21st century.

Amazon 30 minute podcast

Mother Jones 5.13.10
MJ: So what are the outsider nerds into now?
DC: I don't think there are any outsiders anymore. It's good for the outsiders; I don't know if it's good for our culture. I think it was good to have this mass culture that we all reacted to in some way. I was thinking the other day that there will never be another form of music that everybody has to respond to—like disco.

Willamette Week 5.12.10
Do you ever get bored with making comics, or is it more fun now than when you were younger?
I have to say, it gets much, much more fun. When I was younger, it was such a struggle to get what I was trying to achieve, I would work and work and work to just get one page right, but then you’ve got to do the next page. I had to do that with Velvet Glove, I had to keep that style going for 150 pages, and that got really tiresome. And I was constantly just going, “That looks horrible!” and feeling terrible about it. In the last 10 years, I like the way the drawing looks, and it feels sort of effortless.

CBC Q podcast 5.6.10

The Star (Toronto) 5.6.10
About Wilson, as a character, it would be kind of hard for readers not to make a connection between you and Wilson himself.
(He takes deep breath) Apparently not. . . (he laughs). He’s certainly written from within, but he’s not at all like me in most ways. I’m not the kind of person who can come up to a person and sit at a table and start talking. Wilson is completely uncensored. He has no self-regulating mechanism. He is like a walking id who does not filter himself to make himself more palatable.
I’m very much the opposite. I’m overly polite and quiet and shy, and sort of more the victim of the Wilsons of the world, often. On the other hand, I kind of admire that. I wish I had a little bit of the Wilson in me. I like that he doesn’t change anything to make himself more lovable. He wants to be loved, but he’s not going to do it on anything but its own merits. The funny thing is I’ve found that the people who seem to respond really negatively to Wilson are the ones who are the closest to him.

The Eye 5.5.10
“I’m like a target for the Wilsons of the world,” says Clowes. “My wife said that he’s my nemesis, because every day I’ll try to get out of the house and I’m always complaining about the guy who sat next to me and started blathering on about god knows what. But in a really profound way, I also really admire that kind of guy. I often feel the same need to [do what Wilson does], and yet I’m this reserved Midwesterner who’s not going to sit down at somebody’s table in an internet café. I can’t even imagine doing that. But I kind of wish I could.”

Gothamist 5.5.10
Why did you decide to draw in different illustrative styles for the different pages?
Well, when I actually sat down to draw this thing, I thought I better come up with a style for this. And I'd drawn different books in different styles, and I thought I'd come upon the perfect style that encompassed all of what needed to be said about this guy, and I just couldn't decide on one. I kept veering really drastically from the most cartoon-simple style, to the most detailed, over-rendered, drawing-every-eyelash kind of style. Ultimately I decided the only way it would work is if I had all of these, and if each strip had its own reality and its own personality that was related to the others, but kind of different in the way it sort of modulates the humor, and deals with the emotions of the story. In some cases I wanted it to just read as a joke, and others I wanted it to seem like a joke but actually it's the furthest thing possible from a joke.

Yeah, I liked how parts of it are very funny, and parts of it are very sad and intense.
It's a difficult line to walk. It's interesting, It involved a lot of changing things around and a lot of editing to it to flow correctly. I wanted it to set up a pattern at first, wherein the you think it's just going to be goofy, unrelated jokes—and sort of halfway through you'd realize there was a reason behind the sequence all along.

Weekly Dig 5.4.10

Express Night Out 5.3.10
» EXPRESS: "Wilson" strikes me as a story that's intrinsic to its form. How important is that to you?
» CLOWES: It's certainly more interesting to do that, because I always feel that if you can explain what you're doing or if you could just as easily write it as a screenplay or a short story, you're probably better off doing that — it's much easier than drawing a comic and much less time consuming. There's got to be a reason you're hunched over a drawing board eight hours a day. But I felt Wilson could only work as a comic character. It'd be very hard to imagine an actor playing him. It's possible that it could work as a weekly sitcom, but something where you're with him for a long time, like a movie, I think it would be unbearable to some degree. In a comic you can go at your own pace, and you can stop if you're feeling [laughs] oppressed.

Washington City Paper 5.3.10
WCP: Wilson’s a fairly unlikable individual—apparently incapable of having a conversation that’s not about him. He actually seems like a sociopath to me (and I see that the book’s back cover describes him that way, too) without any redeeming graces. Why did you create such a consciously unappealing character?
DC: Likable characters are for weak-minded narcissists. I much prefer the Rupert Pupkins and Larry Davids and Scotty Fergusons as my leading men. And I actually kind of like Wilson. He’d be fun to hang out with in short and finite increments.

New York Magazine 5.2.10
{Check this one out for Clowes's comments on his influences in Wilson}

DCist 4.30.10

Time Out New York 4.29.10
What do you think about the fact that you’re always being accused of having misanthropic characters, especially, say, in Ghost World?
I would hope that if you really read the work carefully, that wouldn’t be all you took away from it. Because certainly that’s not my intention. And I often don’t see the parts that people find especially grim and depressing. I usually find whatever I’m doing to be funny. And often I’m surprised when people say, “I was so depressed for two weeks after reading that comic.” Not me. When I work, my wife hears me upstairs laughing at my own stupid jokes. [Laughs

The Phoenix 4.27.10

Also:
The Believer May 2010



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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Crumb's Genesis and Comparisons, Briefly

The fundamental achievement of Crumb’s Genesis for me is that it avoids something that’s central to so many illustrated versions of the bible or representations of biblical scenes: Crumb rarely idealizes his subject matter. He is not creating an inspirational text, a magical text, or a sympathetic mythology -- nor is he mocking the bible. The wonder of Crumb’s Genesis is not the unknowable wonder of God’s ways but of people’s actions as the bible recounts them. If there is reverence in Crumb’s work, it’s for the flesh, for the materiality, both ugly and beautiful (though more often ugly), of biblical characters and the things they do. Crumb’s Genesis, then, despite its use of visual source material from biblical film epics and other religious ‘propaganda’ (even comic books) is in a different genre than these previous adaptations. In an interesting and substantial post, Ng Suat Tong compares Crumb to another tradition of biblical art by invoking Michelangelo, Blake, and others, arguing that, if we look at images from these artists side-by-side, we’ll agree that Crumb gets the worst of it.

Blake and Crumb can make for a valid comparison, but it helps to keep alert to many key differences. For instance, Blake is a mythologizer who uses biblical and non-christian mystical works to create his own counter-metaphysics; he was not an illustrator of the bible in the way that Crumb is here. Crumb is, as he says, treating Genesis as a “straight illustration job.” Very differently from Blake (who created a vast religious system, complete with numerous characters and a poetically realized anti-dogma), Crumb acts as a “straight man” to the bible. He’s not putting in "any jokes," he tells us, for that’s not the straight man’s job (for biblical “jokes,” see Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”); rather he is bringing out and interpreting the carnality, power, beauty, and worldly absurdities that he sees as already present: the bible delivers it own dark comedy and tragedy. I feel a greater sympathy with Crumb’s strategy than I do with, say, Michelangelo’s. In its refusal to idealize, Crumb’s seems more ‘real’ to me. The thickness and gritty texture of Crumb’s line and character designs (thick legs, thick lips, thick fingers) tell a truth about the Book of Genesis obscured by more reverential approaches. (It's almost as if the medium of cartooning is better than painting for this text . . .)

And Crumb's God often looks a lot like Blake's -- it all depends which image you select. Suat uses perhaps the most famous: Blake's The Ancient of Days. But I have selected a detail from his God Judging Adam:

Followed by Crumb's:

They look very similar to me: Intense, stern, white-robed patriarchal males with long flowing white hair and beards, sporting furrowed brows of disapproval as they point and chastise their creations. Equally powerful images by two great cartoonists.

Also, Michelangelo and Blake are not illustrating the same thing in the images Suat uses; I think the figure in Blake's Ancient of Days is his god-like character Urizen, who, in Blake's mythos, represents values often opposed to that of the Christian god; in fact, Urizen embodies some 'satanic' attributes, at least as Blake sees them. These artists have different beliefs and each one’s version of god is really an image of a very different character, though they are close enough visually to make a valid comparison.

On a thread at ComicsComics Noah Berlatsky asks Tim Hodler: “Do you feel that Crumb’s Genesis can in fact stand next to Blake?” I would answer yes, but you have to be clear about the grounds of the comparison. And as the above images show, Blake and Crumb -- at times -- have a similar coarseness to their work that connects them and their methods as it distances them from Michelangelo. But as a mythologist, Blake’s work, like Michelangelo’s, is often more idealized and lyrical than Crumb’s. Perhaps coarsely put, Blake is metaphysical and Crumb is physical; but even this doesn't prevent them from participating in a related tradition of religious iconography.

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Judicial Fumetti and Narrative


The front page of the print edition of today’s New York Times features a fumetti about the Elena Kagan confirmation hearings. The photo comic emphasizes design over chronology, yet it maintains a clear sense of the “story” being told. In other words, while the sequencing of the images has narrative implications, the comic does not follow a time-based ordering: the symmetrical design gives me reason to think that the photos are not shown in the order in which they were taken. It's not really a narrative comic, in the traditional sense -- but it's not non-narrative either . . .

Kagan, as the subject of the hearing, is at the center of the grid, surrounded on every side by a male senator. All of the senators in column one look to the right, as those in column three look to the left; so all face the center column, the one occupied by Kagan (only her face looks toward the reader/viewer). And for balance, the senators above and below her face the opposite direction from each other.
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I would call this a semi-narrative comic because there is a kind of ‘story,’ but one without a plot. The image sequence is a-chronological and there’s no way to tell (from the comic) what the real sequence might have been. Narrative comics typically feature characters who reoccur within the story, but here no one appears more than once (yet Kagan is the implied subject of every panel). Despite this, there’s a continuity of place and time that holds the ‘story’ together.


One of the metaphorical 'narratives' here is about hands as dramatic and emotional signifiers (only one senator's hands are not visible), perhaps another is about gender and power -- Kagan is the smallest main character, and if we know she will get confirmed, then the hearings are really about the performaces of the senators, the larger characters. Appropriately, the comic’s 'punch line' -- the last panel -- is a photo of Senator Al Franken, a former comedian (and we see both hands of a senator only in this last panel).

We are always told that western comics read from left to right, but this kind of ‘news fumetti’ (like some advertising comics) really doesn’t. Of course, you could read it this way, and it would work. I'd guess, however, that most readers would randomly scan across/around the images to get the 'story.' Reading order doesn’t matter and closure between panels seems absent. The 'story is told by the structure of the page -- Kagan surrounded, literally "boxed" in from all sides. The gaps between the frames, then, are non-narrative spaces.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Reading and Why

In a recent post at The Hooded Utilitarian, Ng Suat Tong uses numerous ideas from Walter Benjamin as ways into an insightful discussion of comics criticism. Along with text from Benjamin, the thread features quotations and comments from a number of HU contributors, and me. Most of the writers, myself included, paint a fairly positive picture of their motivations in writing about comics. But such uplifting beliefs seem like only a part of the picture. No doubt, we are often motivated by things like a genuine desire to “express ourselves”, “learn about something by writing about it,” “entertain”, “raise the public discourse,” or “elevate standards.” All worthy goals . . . But

there are many other possible motivations, ones that we -- or speaking for myself, I -- would usually prefer not to think about. What follows below is a post I wrote a few months back (I had posted it once and then deleted it, thinking it too negative . . .).

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When I'm tempted to write a screed against an artist, comic, or graphic novel, one I'll be clever enough (or self-deluded enough) to present as an “objective critique” (though clues to my real motive for writing will inevitably rupture this academic veneer), I try to remember to ask myself: “Why is it that I take this as a personal offense against me?” It’s one thing if the art endorses truly hateful or harmful ideas -- but otherwise, why am I so worked up? Why don’t I say, “This sucks” and move on? Or write a critique that deals with the art in a reasonable way?

But I sometimes think something like the following, which I'll put into words more honest than those I typically allow myself: “I need to set straight those readers and critics who just fail to get it, who foolishly admire X. If they were honest and read X carefully, they would feel just as I do. Must . . . correct . . . wrong . . . ideas. (My hard-drive has a few nasty critiques un-posted, like the first drafts of letters a therapist might suggest you write to your parents but not send . . .)

Sure, plenty of comics and cartoonists stink, and do so aggressively. But that’s life, right? I can enjoy a well-written critique of anything, but when it’s wildly out of proportion to the “offense,” the critic should do the hard work, not of analyzing the comic, but of analyzing his/her motivation: “Why does this make me so pissed off/angry/hurt/unappreciated? What sacred ideas of mine does it threaten? Am I even aware of these feelings or their origin? Do I evade dealing with them by characterizing my motivation in the unassailable terms of “high standards?” All of this, I can attest, is a lot less fun than going off on some cartoonist or comic book, or even another critic.

Perhaps at some level we all write because we want some kind of validation; it’s not simply a need to express ourselves or to direct fellow consumers toward or away from a given “product.” “My attack proves to others and myself that I am one who calls it like I see it -- Like It Is.” (Or: "My praise proves what a nice guy I am.")

(The Hyper-Aggressive Misreading always mistakes the subjective reaction for the objective fact.) And the best way to build yourself up is by tearing someone down, right?

The hyper-aggressive misreading likely stems, not from the critic’s interaction with the text, but from his/her ideas about something more amorphous, some kind of internal conflict triggered by, and then projected onto, the text (which therefore becomes invisible to the critic, obscured by self-deception). So the ostensible “reading” reveals only truths about the unsettled reader, truths that remain to be critiqued.

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