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. here to read the rest of this post...

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! here to read the rest of this post...

28 Recent Clowes Interviews and Features

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
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 cafĂ©. 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

The Believer May 2010 here to read the rest of this post...

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. here to read the rest of this post...

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.
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. here to read the rest of this post...