Let Them Eat Pie; or, And Now We Are Four

Nerdista's Pi Pineapple PieThis blog made its debut four years ago this month — on July 23, 2010 — and it’s still here. Looking back over the past year’s worth of blog posts, I notice a few trends. The blog has retained its focus on children’s literature and comics but has also devoted more time to academia and activism.

Moving on into year 5, I’ll strive to continue to keep the blog both interesting and useful. Thanks for reading!

Leave a Comment

Superman Was a Refugee, Too

… Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

— Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus” (the poem on the Statue of Liberty)

As alleged patriots devise ways to deny the humanity of young Central American refugees seeking asylum in the United States, it’s worth remembering not only Emma Lazarus‘ famous poem, but this PSA from Superman — that all-American refugee from the planet Krypton.

Superman says... "Lend a friendly hand!"

We should judge a country according to how it treats the most vulnerable of its residents — be they citizens or refugees. Though some Americans have reached out to these latest immigrants, others have shouted racist slurs, demanded their deportation, or threatened to kill them.

The United States prides itself on being “a nation of immigrants,” a claim that is (at best) dubious, given that (a) Native Americans have lived here before Europeans arrived and (b) many African “immigrants” were in fact kidnapped and enslaved. However, the noble idea of embracing people from different cultural and national backgrounds is supposed to be part of what defines America. It’s supposed to be a core American value. I’m posting this comic page as a reminder of that (sometimes) shared ethos.


Hat tip to Jonathan Beecher Field for the Superman PSA. The slightly lower-res version he shared (on Facebook) includes, at the bottom: “Published as a public service in cooperation with the National Social Welfare Assembly, coordinating organization for National Health, Welfare, and Recreation Agencies of the U.S.” My source for the above image is Dial B for Blog.

Leave a Comment

Comic-Con 2014: San Diego, July 27

And now, my final daily report from the 2014 Comic-Con!  (Earlier reports: Sat.Fri.Thurs., & Weds.)  Today, Trina Robbins, Paul Pope, Dav Pilkey, Rachel Renée Russell, and some Outlander photos (by special request)!


Chatting with Trina Robbins

Trina Robbins and Philip Nel, at the Fantagraphics table, on Sunday morning

Trina Robbins, Pretty in InkFor this morning’s signing, I was with Trina Robbins, who — I am pleased to report — sold all copies of her latest book, Pretty in Ink.  (I bought a copy myself, on Thursday.)  Had a good chat with her about the memoir she’s writing: Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Comics. We mostly talked about the rock ‘n’ roll part.  In the ’60s in San Francisco, she and her (now ex-) husband knew lots of musicians: Donovan, Mama Cass, David Crosby, & others.  I don’t want to spoil the book by divulging details here, but she’s led an interesting life.  (I knew about some of the comics part, but none of the rock ‘n’ roll part.)  So, look for that book in… I’m guessing… a couple of years or so?


Middle-Grade Readers

Moderator David Mariotte, Rachel Renee Russell, E. J. Altbacker, Brandon Mull, Paul Pope,P. Craig Russell, Pseudonymous Bosch, and Dav Pilkey.

Left to right: Moderator David Mariotte, Rachel Renee Russell (The Dork Diaries), E. J. Altbacker (Shark Wars), Brandon Mull (Sky Raiders), Paul Pope (Battling BoyThe Rise of Aurora West), P. Craig Russell (The Graveyard Book graphic novel), Pseudonymous Bosch (The Secret Series, Bad Magic), and Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants).

I arrived at this session late because, well, it’s impossible to conclude your signing in the exhibit hall at 11 and then suddenly materialize in a panel session also at 11. I walk briskly, but I cannot levitate over the crowds of people. (Maybe if I’d dressed as a costumed superhero,…?)

The moderator asked about using other media in conjunction with the print books. Rachel Renee Russell noted that her main character has a blog. E. J. Altbacker’s series has an app where player would need to know first few books in order to play it successfully.  P. Craig Russell (who adapted The Graveyard Book as a graphic novel) said that “a graphic novel also brings in more readers, and is sometimes as long as the novel itself.”  The two-volume Graveyard Book is one such work. Pseudonymous Bosch said that he wrote his first novel via the postal service — though I didn’t quite understand what he meant. I assume he mailed the manuscript in that way? Or maybe I misheard? (I’ve not read his Secret Series). But, he said “kids now expect a much more interactive experience with their reading material.” When he was a kid, “it would not have occurred to him to write to the author.”

Dav Pilkey, The Adventures of Captain UnderpantsThe moderator ended his questions early, and moved to audience questions.

First questioner (to Dav Pilkey): Captain Underpants Cosplay: wonderful or kinda scary?

Dav Pilkey: Definitely scary.  There’s a motion picture that’s going to be made of Captain Underpants.  I was afriad it would be live action, but it’s going to be animated by DreamWorks Animation.

Most of the rest of the questions were from young readers.

Comic-Con 2014: Middle-grade readers at Middle-Grade Readers panel

Young reader (to Dav Pilkey): Did you have a mean principal?  Did it inspire you?

Dav Pilkey: Mr. Krupps was inspired by a mean principal.  I had a mean principal. He was verbally abusive, and physically abusive. I told my mom about him — though not the physically abusive part.  She used to say “everything happens for a reason.  Maybe something good will come out of it.”  She had no idea….

Paul Pope, Battling BoyAnother young reader: Is it hard to write books for young readers?

Paul Pope: You have to maintain a connection to your innocence. You have to write for yourself as a 12-year-old.

Pseudonymous Bosch: It helps if you stopped maturing at age 12.

Rachel Renée Russell: I’m always worried whether people will like it.

Paul Pope: When I was writing violent scenes, I thought “I’m going to write this for the 12-year-old editor in my head.” No blood, no gore. But I worked it out in my head. There were no rules.

Young reader #3 (to Paul Pope): how did you get the idea for Battling Boy?

Paul: Most of my books were for adults. But my nephews wanted to see my work. I realized that most of the comics I was reading — those comics weren’t written with young people in mind.  I just felt like there weren’t good books for kids of your age group, so they don’t keep having going back to Batman, who is 75 years old, or Spiderman.

Rachel Renée Russell, Dork Diaries 5: Tales from a Not-so-Smart Miss Know-itYoung reader #4 (to Rachel Renee Russell): What inspired you to write the Dork Diaries?

Rachel Renee Russell: My two daughters were so dorky. I felt sorry for them. Kids picked on them. They were bullied. They didn’t get invited to birthday parties. They had a really hard time. But they grew up to be really smart, intelligent young ladies. So, dorks rule!

As the conversation turns to bullying, Brandon Mull says that the bullied are often “good nice people. Good nice people in middle school have a hard time.”

Paul Pope says, “I don’t want to give advice to young people. But you do not want to look back on your teenage years as your best years. You want to look back on those as your worst years.”

Young reader #5: Is Pseudonymous Bosch your real name?

Pseudonymous Bosch: Pseudonymous is an old family name. Bosch, however, I named after my toaster.

Young reader #6: What do you do for fun?

Rachel Renee Russell: I read other middle-grade readers.

Brandon Mull: Narnia turned me into a reader…. Harry Potter taught me that you could write a young protagonist and make it fun for young and old readers.

Paul Pope: I like to read artists’ journals. There’s a very different way you processed your life, then. You weren’t expected to interact via social media…. I like to talk to people.

Adult question #2: When you see fan art or kid art of your characters, I wonder if you could have a conversation about that….

Paul Pope: It’s cool…. There is kind of a rite of passage where you see people dressed as your characters because it means they really love the characters. It’s very humbling…. It’s fun to branch out and maybe not make any money, but reach an audience who has been under-served by comics.

Young reader #7 (to Brandon Mull): When you’re writing books with magic, do you have to worry about maybe magic solving it all?

Brandon Mull: [Laughs] That’s such a good question! You should become a writer! … If the magic can solve everything, then nothing matters…. So, we try to put limits on what the magic can do. Think about the consequences. Sort of like, 100 years ago, a good science fiction writer might think that we’ll have cars.  But a great science fiction writer might think that we’ll have traffic jams.

And… that’s the only panel I attended on Sunday.  Had to catch flights home!


Outlander: Photos

Outlander at Comic-Con

Starz is making a TV show of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.

To promote the new television program, its sponsors had a great big castle with video clips mounted on the sides. One could walk through the edifice, too. (I didn’t.) However, I was asked to post photos; so, I am.

Outlander at Comic-Con

There was even an entire panel devoted to (promoting) the new series. It’s already on YouTube.

Here is another photo showing a front view of the ersatz castle-thingy.

Outlander at Comic-Con

There were also people (employed by the promoters of Outlander) parading through the streets, hollering. Karin took this photo:

Outlander in the streets beyond Comic-Con


Comics!

March: Book One, The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, Moomin and the Golden Tail, Moomin's Desert Island, The Timid Cabbage, Pretty in Ink, Lumberjanes, Rainy Day Recess, Tuki, Smoke Signal


Three final thoughts…

  1. Of the conferences I attend, Comic-Con is the one where I am the most anonymous. The down side, of course, is that my “signings” are, er, rather sparsely attended. The up side (or sides?) is that it’s great to wander about anonymously.  You can easily disappear into the crowd (and the crowds here are huge!). I like being able to disappear.
  2. Should I attend a future Comic-Con, I’d like to chair or participate in a panel, probably on one of the “Comic Arts Conference” sessions (this is the academic wing of Comic-Con), though would be glad to appear in other ways. (This is my second Comic-Con, and both times I was attending as an Eisner nominee.)
  3. I remain open to the idea of cosplay. If I’d had the time, I would have gotten together a Mr. O’Malley costume for this year. Two reasons. First, I think it would be a fun way to promote the Barnaby books. Second, I think it would be hilarious to dress up as a character (O’Malley) whom virtually no one at Comic-Con would recognize. When I spoke of donning the costume of Barnaby’s Fairy Godfather, Eric Reynolds joked, “People would think you were dressed as Seth!” To which I replied: “Yeah, and they’d be asking: Why does Seth now have wings?” (For those unfamiliar with Barnaby or the artist, both wear a 1940s hat and overcoat. O’Malley even wears spats.)
Crockett Johnson's Mr. O'Malley Seth

 


Comic-Con 2014:

Leave a Comment

Comic-Con 2014: San Diego, July 26

Hello, and welcome to today’s tiny sliver of what Comic-Con is like. In each of my day’s reports, I’m giving you but one person’s glimpse into this vast enterprise, the attendance of which tends to be around 50,000 people. If you were here, your focus might be different than mine. Or if you did attend this year’s Comic-Con, I’m sure I saw things that you didn’t — and vice-versa.

I missed the earliest panels I’d planned to attend today because I was still writing up yesterday’s experience. Fortunately, today’s will be more brief….


Berkeley Breathed: The Last Comic-Con Panel!

Berkeley Breathed

To a packed room, Breathed offered a satirical presentation, addressing his correspondence with Bill Watterson, marketing, and his (possibly imagined) film projects. Breathed’s deadpan delivery kept the line between satire and truth deliberately vague, but subtle tonal shifts usually let you know when he was kidding. Usually. It was great, quick, and impossible to summarize.

The Breathed / Watterson Feud

Breathed began by saying (tongue in cheek), “My heart is heavy for my close personal friend Bill Watterson.” And so, he added, “I thought I’d take the opportunity to shoot down the rumors.” He then proceeded to invent the rumors he was going to shoot down, as well as spread some mock-scurrilous rumors about Mr. Watterson himself.

Dear Mr. Watterson

Of the documentary, Looking for Mr. Watterson, Breathed said “They never found him.  They had celebrities, Cathy Guisewite,…” and then he put up this slide which (in case it’s too blurry) is Mother Theresa wearing a Calvin & Hobbes t-shirt.

Mother Theresa (wearing Calvin & Hobbes t-shirt)

Dear Mr. Breathed,...But of course they never found Mr. Watterson himself. Berke Breathed himself was interviewed, and “was stupid enough to mention a few critical letters” that Watterson had written to him. This, Breathed suspects, may be a source of the friction between himself and Watterson. But, he assures us, “I take my business just as seriously as bill does.” And so, he said, he’d like to announce his new Kickstarter project, Dear Mr. Breathed You’re So Fucking Easy to Find! In that film, Breathed promised “to set the record straight,” and added, “I can compete with Bill’s film on every level.”

Bill the Cat, Opus, & Gainsborough's Blue Boy

Breathed showed us glimpses of his film projects, though it wasn’t entirely clear which of these were actual film projects and which were invented for the purpose of Breathed’s talk.  The films included

  • Flawed Dogs.
  • Something About C-Mo, in which a dog learns to read and spell — with Cheetos.

The big difference between Breathed and Watterson (says Breathed) is that Breathed agreed to do some merchandising, but Watterson refused.  Letters sent from Watterson to Breathed included satirical cartoons at the bottom, playfully mocking Breathed.  But, Breathed explains, “I was forced into merchandise with a gun to my head. I gave it all to… — no, I didn’t give it all to charity.”

Because he’s sure Bill Watterson wouldn’t mind, he wanted to share with us “a few selections from his new life.” Breathed stressed, “this isn’t payback.  I just have a few photos, and I don’t think he’d mind me sharing.” One photo is Watterson standing between sexy young women — though it’s clear that Watterson’s face has just been digitally added (it’s from that same black-and-white photo from Watterson’s days as an editorial cartoonist).

Breathed concludes by saying that he will be signing at the IDW booth.

Questions from audience…

Will there be reprints of Academia Waltz?

Berkeley Breathed, The Academia WaltzBreathed replies, “Yes, actually. The contract is on my desk right now.” He doesn’t really think they should be, but IDW really wants to do it.

Another audience member calls out “They [Academia Waltz strips] got me through law school at UT!”

Breathed asks, “Do you think they should be reprinted and sold?”

The same audience member responds, “Well, maybe I’m remembering them better than they were.”

Will there ever be an Opus movie?

The Opus movie, Breathed says, has been held up by Weinstein brothers. “The last note I got from Bob Weinstein said ‘Does the penguin have to talk?’” There was a collective groan from the audience.  So, Breathed said, “Will there ever be a movie? It’s a huge roll of the dice. And I’d need to have more control than I have now.”

Is there anybody right now who you’re reading?

Breathed responded, “I’m not reading the comic pages anymore.” He said, “I got into comics in a backdoor way. I didn’t come at like Bill did.” And in the Q+A Breathed spoke seriously of his admiration for Watterson, who was so dedicated to the craft of making cartoons. Unlike Watterson, “I wanted to make films,” Breathed said. Again underscoring the purity of Watterson’s dedication to his art, Breathed claimed, “Charles Schulz was the richest entertainer — bigger than Spielberg, bigger than George Lucas. Bill Watterson walked away from that kind of money. He’s a hero.  He’s doing it right.”

Questions about other publications, other forthcoming work…

Berkeley Breathed, Bloom County Volume 5Breathed says, “Everything I’ve ever drawn will be published by IDW.”  The Bloom County books did not include all of the Bloom County strips. IDW’s complete collection will include everything, which, Breathed says, is a good thing because those old strips have started to disintegrate. That’s due in part to the way he stored them — under his python’s cage. One thing pythons do a lot, he says, is pee. So, turning to the IDW representative there, he said, “that’s what those stains are. I did tell you that, right?”

He says he would not do Bloom County in the current media landscape. At the time he did it, “Bloom County was fun because I had no competition. You had Johnny Carson, you had Saturday Night Live.  And yes, you had Doonesbury, which was great. But his tone was so lofty, that it [comics] was just waiting for a smart-ass like me.”

So, we won’t see more comics from Breathed, but “I still love movies. Those are my passion. And so that’s where you’ll see me.”

Calvin says, "Come back"

Breathed concludes by saying, “I’d love some more drawings from Bill, with his drawings on the bottom, cutting me to death.”


CBLDF: Banned Comics!

Charles Brownstein, Carol Tilley,  Jeff Smith, Gene Luen Yang

Moderator Charles Brownstein led a discussion on banned books, featuring panelists Carol Tilley, Jeff Smith, and Gene Luen Yang. And, while I don’t know that there was “new” information (to people who follow these discussion), hearing the panelists on this subject was worthwhile, and these sorts of panels are vital for helping to create awareness. Indeed, if such panels aren’t held at every Comic-Con, they should be.

My sense is that the rising number of challenges to Bone may have motivated the timing of this session. As Jeff Smith said of this past year’s Banned Book list, “Fifty Shades of Gray was number 5, and I was number 10.” Smith explained, “Bone has been challenged for a number of years now, but this was just the first time it made the top 10.”

Jeff Smith, Bone Vol. 2 (Scholastic)Why? Smith said, “Bone has been challenged for sexual situations, political viewpoint, racism and violence.” Carol Tilley added, “And smoking.” To which Smith responded, “And smoking. And drinking and gambling. And racism.” Gene Luen Yang asked, “Racism? How do they get racism?” Smith responded, “I don’t know. I don’t get to talk to these people. These comics are almost like Rorschach Tests that say more about the people making the challenge than about reading the books.  I think they see their kid reading the books, and they don’t see what came before or what came after.”

Brownstein noted that “The challenges that occur in comics are along the same lines of those that occur in [non-comic] books.” So, he asked, “Why, when we have freedom of speech?” (Since I live in Kansas, where university employees do not have freedom of speech, I thought, “How nice that Mr. Brownstein lives in a place where there’s freedom of speech. I guess he must not work for a corporation that prohibits freedom of speech either.”) Tilley answered Bronstein’s question: “One of the most frequent reasons for a challenge is this vague reason called ‘inappropriate for age.’” She then paraphrased Dorothy Broderick: “It’s not just conservatives who want to censor materials. The only difference between liberals and conservatives and censorship is what they want to keep their children away from.” This is something I often tell my students when I teach about censorship — as one must do when teaching children’s literature, young adult literature, graphic novels….

Yang weighed in: “I am a parent. I have four kids. I’m really stunned that Bone is on the top 10 list. Because I’m fairly prudish. And I can’t imagine parents who are more prudish than me.” He then explained why freedom of speech is important. “First, there’s an individualism that’s at the root of America, but … reading should happen within the community, within the family.  So there should be material in there that makes people want to have a discussion.  Second, America is a collection of subcultures. And what makes that exist is freedom. So, you have to have a basic respect for freedom. So, those are the things that guide my work as a teacher, as a parent, as a creator.”

Addressing the question of audience, Smith explained, “Bone was not originally intended as a children’s book.” He just wrote it for other comics fans, really. At that time, “there were no kids reading comic books back then, pretty much.” So, “I was writing Bone as a pastiche of funny animal books and Lord of the Rings books.” For this reason, he said, “I certainly didn’t censor myself because I was writing for 30-year-olds.” The audience of Bone transformed it into a book for young people: “Readers turned Bone into a children’s book.  It was not me.” In any case, he says, he still finds it surprising that it would be a target of censors: “We used to joke that Bone could be banned some day because it’s the most squeaky-clean comic.”

Gene Luen Yang, American Born ChineseSpeaking about challenges to his work, Yang began “On the internet, I think people are just mean. When American Born Chinese came out, MySpace — remember MySpace? — chose it as the book of the month. And there was this long discussion of how American Born Chinese was racist and a manifestation of my self-hatred.”  However, these readers missed the point. “The whole point of Cousin Chin-kee was so that I could cut his head off at the end.” Yang also admitted that he abridges his own work when he reads it to his children (he has four): “When I read American Born Chinese to my kids, I only read the Monkey King parts. But my eldest, my son, snuck off and read the whole thing. But that’s OK. Because he can talk about it with me, his dad. You have to be realistic. You can’t police everything that they watch. They’re going to encounter things that are out of their comfort zone.” I found it interesting that he limits his own children’s reading (including self-editing his own work), but also seems OK when they push back against these limits and read things he’s asked them not to. Broadly speaking, it’s a metaphor for parents’ efforts to protect their children from the various danger they will surely face — well-intentioned, even necessary, but also impossible to sustain.

Charles Brownstein: I wasn’t allowed to read comic books when I was growing up, which of course is why I work in them.

Gene Luen Yang: Me too. I wasn’t either!

Underscoring the humility with which he applies rules in his own household, Yang said, “The thing with parenting is from the moment they’re born until the moment they leave your house, there’s just a constant breakdown of authority in your house.  That’s just the way it works.  That’s what they sign up for.”

Back on the subject of freedom of speech, Tilley said, “Even though it may sound a little silly, a 3-year-old and a 93-year-old have the same intellectual rights.” And that’s an excellent point, as is Dorothy Broderick’s point (quoted by Tilley) that “Libraries have something to offend everyone.” Amplifying that idea, Tilley added, “Libraries should have something to offend everyone”


Comic-Con Personified!

Chatting with Scott McCloud & Ivy Ratafia (Scott’s wife) after the “Banned Comics” panel, Ivy noticed a young woman who had made herself an entire dress out of the giant Comic-Con bags you get when you register. (Last year’s — and perhaps other years’ — also had a cape that unfurled down the back. You can see her using some of that fabric, too.) Very creative!

The front:

Comic-Con personified! (front)

 

The back:

Comic-Con personified! (back)


Spotlight on Willie Ito

In case Willie Ito’s name is unfamiliar to you, the conference program offers a useful professional biography:

With nearly 60 years as an animation artist, Comic-Con special guest Willie Ito has done it all. He worked at Disney on Lady and the Tramp‘s spaghetti scene with mentor Iwao Takamoto and on One Froggy Evening and What’s Opera Doc at Warner Bros’ famed Termite Terrace under Chuck Jones’ direction. He went on to The Beany and Cecil Show with Bob Clampett and then Hanna Barbera for the beginnings of The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and many other cartoons. Ito has great stories and experiences to share. After HB he went to Disney Consumer Products and spearheaded implementation of collectibles and licensed products worldwide. He has also designed comic books, comic strips, coloring books, and more. Join animation expert Leslie Combemale of ArtInsights for a spotlight on Willie’s life, including the part of his childhood spent in a Japanese internment camp that inspired his most recent venture, a series of children’s picture books based on the experience.

Leslie Combemale and Willie Ito, a bit choked up over receiving his Inkpot Award

At the very beginning of the panel, a representative from Comic-Con presented Willie Ito with an Inkpot Award, and he was touched by the recognition.

Being at this panel was like listening to a memoir in progress. As I sat there, I kept thinking: Is someone recording this? Willie Ito needs to write his autobiography. And if he doesn’t write it, then someone else should!

Beyond the fact that he worked at pretty much every major animation studio, Ito — who is an American of Japanese — also lived in California during World War II.  I did not manage to transcribe everything he said, but it’s a heck of a story.

Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937 poster)Leslie Combemale began the conversation: “When you were really little, you wanted to work for Disney.” Willie Ito answered, “I grew up in San Francisco in an enclave called Japantown. … On the outskirs of Japantown was a neighborhood theatre.  This was 1939.  We made a habit of going to the movies once, maybe twice, a week.  This was before television.  I used to listen to the radio a lot — Buck Rogers, Lone Ranger, and all those classic shows.”

Ito then recalled seeing the Seven Dwarfs, singing, in color (in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs): “And I said that’s what I want to be!  Not one of the Seven Dwarves, but an animator.”

He also enjoyed comics: “I was a big fan of the Walt Disney Comics & Stories, Looney Tunes [comic books].  I was basically into funny animals.  And along with the comic books, I would get coloring books.  They used to have for a time these books called the Big Little Books, and they were reprints from the newspaper.” He said, “Every Sunday, I would go downstairs, and there was this big, thick, San Francisco Examiner.  I would go straight to the comics.”

Combemale asked, “What was the first thing you remember drawing?” Ito replied, “I remember there was a coloring book, and I remember tracing it, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s even better than Walt Disney!’ Of course, back then, I thought Walt Disney drew it all.”

Ito recalled one morning, going off to the beach, accompanied by his uncle and the woman would become his aunt. They were very focused on each other, and quite happy to let him play on the beach on his own. Later that afternoon, the fog rolled in, and they decided to call it a day. As they approached the city limits, they saw that a checkpoint had been set up. They didn’t know why. Officers were asking for proof that people entering the city of San Francisco actually lived in San Francisco. Finally, Ito recalled, “we got into the city, and then we saw the headlines: WAR! I never knew what war meant.  So, I asked my Uncle ‘What does “war” mean?’ Pearl Harbor had been attacked.”

Executive Order 9066At that point, “rumors immediately started swirling around about what our fate would be.  Finally, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Order 9066.  We were going to be evacuated into internment camps, in 6 months. You couldn’t take everything with you — only what you need.”

Combemale, alluding to Nazi Germany said, “That sounds like somewhere else, at the same time.”

Ito replied, “Mmm-hmm.  My first thought was ‘I can’t take my comic book collection!’” He realized, too, that he would have to leave behind his Dopey bank — that is, a piggy-bank featuring the likeness of Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Another memory from that time: “I remember coming home one day and there were FBI agents there, looking for anything that might be considered contraband.  They were tall, 6-footers.” Ito explains, “One of the crazy things they did was confiscate the lawn-mowers because the Japanese gardeners are going to mow arrows” that would point Japanese pilots towards key targets. He chuckled as he said this — indeed, describing the bigotry he faced, he often chuckled. I was struck by his ability to speak of these events without any apparent malice. I expect that, had this happened to me, I would have been bitter. Perhaps he was bitter at one point, and learned to let go of bitterness?

Describing the internment camps themselves, Ito said, “They put us up in stables.  They didn’t really have time to build barracks.  For the first, early arrivals, we were literally in horse stables.  So, the internees would come, and this was where they stayed.” When they arrived, the internees asked, “Where are the mattresses?”  The guards said, “You see those white bags?” Ito explained that there were “stacks of white bags.” So, the guards said, “Fill them up with hay.” (They were, literally living in stables.)  So, Ito says, “if you had allergies….”

Combemale asked, “How long were you there?” Ito said that they were in the stables for six months before they moved into the barracks. He added, again with wryness (rather than bitterness), “We were considered a security risk to the government, because we could signal to the Japanese ships or something.”

The story was riveting, and would, as I say, make for a great memoir or film. On the experience of being in the camps themselves, Ito said, “The rumor in our communities was ‘What’s going to happen if Japan wins the war or the U.S. wins the war?  We’re just going to be lined up and executed.’” Again, he was able to speak of this calmly, without bitterness towards his captors.

Combemale asked, “Did it keep you sane to be doing drawings while you were there?” Ito didn’t have paper, but they did have Sears catalogues from which they would order what they needed. So, Ito told us, “I would take the expired catalogues, and draw on the margins.” Ever the aspiring animator, Ito made flipbooks in the margins of the Sears catalogue.

To conclude the internment narrative, Ito reports that when he got back to his house after the war, his Dopey bank was still there!

What was really wonderful about this conversation is that Combemale had the judgment to simply let Ito talk, recount his experience. She’s an excellent listener — an ideal quality for an interviewer to have.

What's Opera, Doc?Combemale: You were also in Chuck Jones’s unit on What’s Opera, Doc? You said he was an interesting person to work with.

Willie Ito: I admired him from afar. One time, we were watching a pencil test, and, at the end, I sort of blurted out, “Charles M. Jones, Super-Genius.” And Chuck sort of looked at me like “… hmmmm….”

Ito recalls another moment when he was watching a cartoon with Jones: “I would be watching a Friz Freling cartoon, laughing with tears rolling down my face.  And Chuck Jones would be looking at me, glaring.”

Ito was hired by Walt Disney Productions for the “Lady” unit (i.e., the unit working on Lady and the Tramp).  He “reported to Milt Kahl — one of the 9 Old Men! And Iwao Takamoto was there!” And I didn’t manage to capture the full history of Ito’s working career — at a certain point, I was just listening and not taking notes. (Sorry!)

Ito worked a year at Bob Clampett. He said, “I want you to design all my characters– and they were all puppets.” This was a great opportunity for Ito because “I got to work in design, layout, etc.  So, after that, going to Hanna Barbera, I felt like a veteran. I could do it all!”

A Boy of Heart MountainIto would go on to spend 14 years at Hanna Barbera. At the time he went, he told Chuck Jones that he was going to take that job. Jones advised him against it because it was television, and those studios wouldn’t last. He said that staying at Warner Brothers would provide steady work because they would always be making these cartoon shorts. Yet, Ito recalled, “while I was there [at Hanna Barbera], Warner Bros. closed down!”

The panel did not get to cover as much of Ito’s career, but the focus on his earlier life was riveting. If you’re interested in learning more about it, Ito has a book called A Boy of Heart Mountain, which “educates children about sending an entire group of people to camps, for a while.”


Spotlight on Jeff Smith

Tom Spurgeon & Jeff Smith

As the program says, “Comic-Con special guest Jeff Smith discusses his foray into the world of online comics with his new title TUKI: Save the Humans, as well as the 10th anniversary of Scholastic’s color version of Bone. Moderated by Tom Spurgeon (The Comics Reporter).”

Jeff Smith, Bone Vol. 1 (Scholastic)Tom Spurgeon did a great job of moderating this discussion with Jeff Smith, which began with the announcement of a new edition of Bone Vol. 1, commemorating the tenth anniversary of Scholastic Graphix. It’s a new special edition with, as Smith says, “eight new pages, including the rat creatures’ ode to quiche.  And other drawings from scholastic artists.  It comes out in Spring of 2015.  That’s just the first step of the rollout of things we’re doing next year.”

Tom Spurgeon: Doing the whole series over again?

Jeff Smith: No, just the first volume.

Tom Spurgeon: Do you think in terms of legacy formats at this point?

Jeff Smith: Yes. IDW now wants to do a legacy edition of all nine books. I’m like really? At 100 bucks a pop? Oh, all right. [Laughs.] No, I’m not going to do that.  At first, I thought they wanted me to add a new section to it.  And I thought maybe I could add a scene during winter?  I realized that I couldn’t get my mind back into that space.  And the book was done.  I shouldn’t do any more to it.

(A note on my reporting. I’m capturing the contours of the conversation, but not every last word. So, what you see is as close to a direct quotation as I was able to transcribe, but it’s not the same as, say, reading the transcription of a recorded event.)

Jeff Smith, RASLI liked Smith’s practical approach to what he’s known for. Rather than (as some artists might) chafe under being known primarily for Bone, he said, “Bone is going to be — I’m never going to get out from under that shadow. So, I think I need to enjoy that.  Whereever I go, I’m the Bone guy.  I’m Jeff ‘Bone’ Smith.” And you could see that he does enjoy it. After the panel, for example, he kindly consented to a photo with a fan and her Fone Bone plush doll.  The Cartoon Books booth had plush dolls of all three Bones — as well as his copies of Bone, and newer works, such as RASL, and the first issue of TUKI.

Acknowledging the difference between these three projects, Smith said, “I wanted to get TUKI going while RASL was underway, so that people could see that all three had the same strand of DNA running through them.”  Smith spoke of enjoying drawing TUKI after RASL.

Jeff Smith: I don’t have draw buildings and cars, as in RASL. I can draw streams and mountains, which is much more natural to me.  With Bone, I had an Encylopedia Britannica, a leather-bound set. I did all of Bone with Encyclopedia Britannica.  When I was doing Shazam, I would go to the public library and get books out on New York City. That was the last time I went to the library.

Tom Spurgeon: There’s a moral there, but it’s an uncomfortable one.

He’s also enjoying TUKI because, as he says, “I did want to do humor again.  There was not much humor in my noir [RASL].”

Jeff Smith, page from TUKI

Indulging us comics nerds in the audience, Spurgeon and Smith had a conversation about how Smith designs a page.  How does he know to put those three inset boxes, of varying sizes, at those specific places on the page?  How does he do his layouts?  Smith responded, “I experimented with it, did several versions.”  Presumably, people read the top left panel first (because we read from left to right), but, Smith explained, “I put the flower and the bird up there to keep your eye up there.” The idea is that Tuki is hunting, and he sees the one animal that has strayed from the herd (in the middle panel).

Looking at Tuki, Spurgeon said, “You’re one of our great character designers,” and noted Smith’s many distinct characters — Fone Bone, Thorn, the rat creatures, Gran’ma Ben, Rasl, and now Tuki — who, in Smith’s new graphic novel, is the first human. “What is it you look for in a character?”  Describing Tuki, Smith said, “I worked with him for a while. He’s African, so he’s going to be black. He’s also not human. He’s Homo Erectus,” which (as I understand it) is the phase in evolution just before Homo Sapiens.

Tom Spurgeon: Are you drawing sketches?

Jeff Smith: There are a few pages in my files: What does Tuki look like? They didn’t have clothes, then. So, what do you do? They didn’t wear loincloths. I realized that our ancestors did carry things with them…. So, that allowed me to create something to cover up his junk. [Laughs]

Tom Spurgeon: How precious are you with your tools?

Jeff Smith: [Joking] Excuse me?

Tom Spurgeon: ToolS.

Jeff Smith, Tuki (comic #1)Smith also talked about his research for the character, noting, “Some people think Homo Erectus couldn’t talk, but until Homo Erectus there was no voice box. So… it’s debatable.”  On his artistic style for this work, he noted that “RASL had some kind of Jack Kirby faces,” whereas TUKI “is going to be more Sergio Aragones.”

Tom Spurgeon: How is it to be an influential cartoonist?

Jeff Smith: Well, it’s very flattering. I like it.

Tom Spurgeon: As I recall, you didn’t expect it.

Jeff Smith: No, no one expects it…  I guess, in a way, I feel like it’s kind of a stage you reach.

Smith also talked about, in Bone‘s early issues, hiding the fact that Bone was a fantasy, because he figured that if he was clear that it was, then that would be the end. No one would read it. So, instead, he spent the first third of the book inviting readers to get to know the characters, and like the characters, so that when he revealed that it was fantasy, they’d stick with it. But he eventually had to admit that it was fantasy: “There was a certain point where I couldn’t hide it any more. I had to come out. I had to come out of the closet!” [Laughs]


The Highlight of My Day — and my Comic-Con

After the panel, I introduced myself to Jeff Smith, and we walked down to his booth. I explained that I was the guy who co-wrote that article on Bone and Moby-Dick (for which he kindly supplied images), and that I’m working on Barnaby for Fantagraphics with Eric. He said, “Oh! You’re Phil!” And he said that he really loved the article — that it was great, that we really got it (Bone). This made my day. He went on to say that this article was one reason he agreed to write a foreword for the third Barnaby book — and that he’d just been talking to Eric about this.  This made my day again. And my Comic-Con.

Jeff Smith, from Bone Volume 3

It’s also an example of the unpredictability of what you write. My friend Jennifer Hughes and I wrote this article because we thought it would be fun to co-write an article, and I thought it’d be fun to re-read Moby-Dick, fun to re-read Bone, and I’d always wanted to write something on Bone.  It’s not part of a larger project for either of us.  It was just fun to do.  So.  Thanks, Jennifer!  And thanks, Jeff!

Note: nearly all photos from the Berkeley Breathed event are courtesy of Karin Westman.

Comic-Con 2014:

Leave a Comment

Comic-Con 2014: San Diego, July 25

And… my third report from Comic-Con!  (A little later than I’d planned because I didn’t get back from the Eisners until around 11 that night… and I’ve gotta sleep, too, ya know!)

Strange Currencies

Barnaby Volumes One and Two, at Comic-Con!

While doing my morning “signing” at the Fantagraphics display, I had an interesting conversation with a woman passing by the booth (her name escapes me, though I believe that I have met her before).  We were talking about the crazy-long lines of fans, queueing up to get free goodies or cheap(er) limited-edition items.  I expressed my bafflement at the long line of folks waiting for a free Lego figurine (I assume) on Wednesday evening. She said, yes, they’ll have a limited-edition Lego figurine, and people will then sell that on eBay for $80.  Some people even take pre-orders.  She told me that last year, her son bought a special-edition something (I forget what) for $300, turned around and sold it for $600.

As the half-dozen homeless people I pass on my way to and from Comic-Con remind me, it’s hard to get by in America.  I’m not sure how much these Comic-Con entrepreneurs depend upon this income, and it certainly doesn’t appeal to me as a vocation / avocation. But, well, these folks have found a way to shave off a little from the entertainment industrial complex.  And that’s something, isn’t it?


Program Line Crossing

From the “signing,” it was off to the Eisner panel! Almost. Got held up during a program line crossing. For the panels with masses of people lining up to get in, the lines snake up and down, around the building, and on and on.  So,… when they finally get to enter, that’s a long line of traffic. Comic-Con volunteers act as traffic cops, and ask us to wait while the maddening crowds pass us by.

Program Line Crossing


Will Eisner, Teacher and Mentor

Paul Levitz, Joe Quesada, Batton Lash, Drew Friedman, Mike Carlin

Missed the first ten minutes of this, but what I heard of it was great — lots of anecdotes and insights, expertly moderated by Paul Levitz.  The program’s panel description gives you a good idea of what to expect and (in this case) what the panelists delivered:

For a magic moment, New York City’s School of Visual Arts had Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, and Art Spiegelman all teaching classes on comics. Hear stories about those classes from students Joe Quesada (Marvel Entertainment), Drew Friedman (Heroes of the Comics), Batton Lash (Supernatural Law), Mike Carlin (DC Entertainment), and a surprise guest. Plus a not-to-be missed discussion about Will Eisner’s other educational efforts. Moderated by Paul Levitz, who is writing Will Eisner: Champion of the Graphic Novel for release next year by Abrams ComicArts.

Drew Friedman observed that there should be a book about teaching in that period — when Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, Art Spiegelman were teaching. (I agree!)

Paul Levitz said, “Jack Kirby could start a drawing anywhere. You could say ‘Draw Captain America, but begin with his elbow.’”  Either he or one of the other panelists said it was as if Kirby had the whole thing in his head and could just start anywhere.

Joe Quesada told us “Watching a professional work can be a mind-altering experience.” He also confided, “I did not go to SVA to be a cartoonist.  I went to be an illustrator.  I wanted to be Norman Rockwell.”

The panelists had a lot to say about how what they learned from these great teachers.

Mike Carlin, for example, learned what not to do: “The way Harvey [Kurtzman] did it was 16 drawings of the same thing over and over again. That taught me never to work that way, or to encourage anyone else to work that way.”

Paul Levitz: Let’s talk about Will, and about the business of being an artist.

Drew Friedman: He was very particular about the artist being in charge of his own fate.  … All three of those guys — — were very particular about the artist being in charge…. Will used to say “Always draw the balloons first.”  I never do that.  I always draw them last.

Batton Lash: Will didn’t like bridges between word balloons.  And then, in Harvey’s class, “You know, you could connect these balloons.”

Mike Carlin: Did Will and Harvey ever hang out?

Batton: Once we invited them out, and they came and that was the only time I saw them together — and [they were] bombed.

Mike Carlin recalled these teachers bringing in guest stars, like R. Crumb. And Terry Gilliam.

Will Eisner, Comics and Sequential ArtBatton Lash remembered an incident, when one of the guest-speakers in Will Eisner’s class said that the comics industry was dying. It was 1973, there was an energy crisis, a paper shortage — if you look at comics from that era, they’re printed on cheap tissue paper, etc.  After the guest speaker left, Eisner said, “I’ve seen the comics industry die 3 times already.” And then he launched into a pep talk.  In fact, Lash says, “the last time I saw Will, he was on one of these industry panels, and he said, ‘I’ve seen the industry die 5 times already.’”

Joe Quesada said that he isn’t nostalgic for Comic-Cons of yore. Says it’s a good time to be in comics. Mike Carlin adds, “20 years ago, this is what we wanted. We wanted our work to be taken seriously. And now it is.”

Paul Levitz asks Drew Friedman about his work, his focus on the past — new book is on old cartoonists. Friedman answers: “I just like drawing old Jews.” (Befitting the man who wrote Old Jewish Comedians, Friedman is great with the one-liners.)

Will Eisner, A Contract with God (1978)Paul Levitz observed: “He [Will Eisner] was one of a few artists who had a philosophy about what he was doing.” And “His art was about storytelling. And whatever the media was to do it, he would do it.” In other words, Eisner wouldn’t be intimidated by different technologies.

And, here’s one final exchange between Mike Carlin and Drew Friedman…

Mike Carlin: Contract with God came out when we were in school there. I remember because he brought them in and sold them to us.

Drew Friedman: He gave me mine.


Moving Forward by Looking Back: This Is the Golden Age of Comics Collections

Moving_Forward_title_slide_web

President of IDW Publishing Greg Goldstein organized this panel, featuring Dean Mullaney (representing the IDW imprint Library of American Comics), Scott Dunbier (IDW’s senior editor of special projects), and other publishers who are not part of IDW: Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics, my co-editor on the Barnaby series), Peter Maresca (Sunday Press), Michael Martens (VP of book trade sales at Dark Horse Comics), and Craig Yoe (Yoe Books).  Here is everyone, in the order mentioned above.

Greg Goldstein, Dean Mullaney, Scott Dunbier, Eric Reynolds, Peter Maresca, Michael Martens, and Craig Yoe

After spending 10 minutes introducing people, Greg Goldstein asked the panelists how they got into the reprint business.  People addressed that question, including the benefits of modern technology.  As Dean Mullaney said of using Photoshop (versus how they used to do reprints), “We can do so much more and better work.” Comics were poorly printed, the colors were off-register — and now you can fix this.

Charles M. Schulz, The Complete Peanuts 1950-1952Goldstein noted that Fantagraphics’ decision to publish the Complete Peanuts is a lifetime commitment. Eric Reynolds said that “The idea for the Complete Peanuts had been floating around for a while….. We’d done other reprints — Pogo, Prince Valiant…. And Peanuts was always the holy grail.”  This is what got the ball rolling: “Gary Groth got to interview Schulz for The Comics Journal.  So Gary got to go down to Santa Rosa, to interview him.  After that, they maintained a friendly correspondence.  And Gary asked him.”

Charles M. Schulz, The Complete Peanuts 1953-1954According to Eric, Schulz’s sincere reaction was: “Who would want to read that?” And after that, “he was resistant — because he was a very humble guy.  Anyway, Gary could be persuasive and persistent, and after a short time, Schulz gave his blesssing. He said you have to cut through the red tape, but you can do it. Then, however, Schulz died.  Jeannie Schulz stepped in, said “I’ll help you.  I’ll make this happen.” She said “I’ll push this through,” and the rest is history.

Greg Goldstein asked Michael Martens about “volume fatigue.”  Martens said that you do see the sales dropping off as you get into higher numbers of a volume. But he has seen more acceptance of these projects. In terms of the decision to publish a series, he said, “Internally, a lot of our conversations were: ‘How do we make people want the book? How do we make them want the object?’ Essentially, the book as a fetish object.”

Craig Yoe actually doesn’t want to clean up the old strips. As he said, “I heard some talk this morning about the old comics were poorly printed and off-register. And… you say that like it’s a bad thing? … I like that look.”

Geo. Herriman, Baron Bean

As the discussion unfolded, some of the reprints scrolled by on the PowerPoint, including:

  • Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby Volume One (hurrah!)
  • Walt Kelly’s PogoGustave Verbeek's Upside-Down World
  • Gustave Verbeek’s Upside-Down World
  • George Herriman’s Baron Bean
  • Mad Archives Vol. 1
  • E.C. Segar’s Popeye
  • Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo: So Many Splendid Sundays!

Eric Reynolds noted that “Reprints are very expensive, and the profit margins are often very small — even more so than the first one… It’s all about managing your list.”

Michael Martens spoke of wanting to do a reprint of Lassie strips, and proposal getting shut down. Craig Yoe noted, “We all have our Lassies.”

Goldstein summed it up nicely when he said, “With these reprints, the goal is not to make a lot of money. The goal is not to lose money.”

Great question from audience for Peter Maresca, whose Sunday Press has reprinted Little Nemo in the exact size it was originally printed. Audience member asked: “Where are you supposed to put your books? They don’t fit on any bookshelf.”

Maresca’s answer: “Slide them under the sofa. Bring them out every Sunday, and read them.”


CBLDF: Dr. Wertham’s War on Comics

In a dynamic, well-illustrated presentation, Carol Tilley showed us the most absurd and most damning facts about Fredric Wertham’s anti-comics crusade. Specifically, Wertham faked his facts. He falsified his “evidence,” and twisted the stories of his subjects. In so doing, he not only made flawed arguments but lacked the professional ethics required of a researcher.

She began with a letter to Dr. Wertham from a child — Lynn Crawford of Atlanta, Georgia. Ms. Crawford wrote, “Those children you spoke of were delinquent before they ever read a comic book. I have 25 friends and we all read the same kinds of comic books, and they won’t make us delinquent.”

Wertham Seduction! (slide from Carol Tilley's presentation)

Another slide from Carol Tilley's presentation

Here are some of the comics Wertham didn’t like:

Some comics Wertham didn't like.

Wertham, Tilley told us, made up and misconstrued some of his evidence against comics.  He altered kids’ words or knitted together their words in different ways.  He altered key details about the children, too.

Vivian was 13, not 12. She was African-American. Her report card was excellent. We learn that her mother was actually her stepmother, and had revoked Vivian’s allowance. In fact, her mother confirmed that Vivian was more enthralled by television. In the slide below, Tilley shows some of the bits that Wertham invented — those parts are in red and struck through.

Another slide from Carol Tilley's talk.

A few more interesting facts:

  • Published April 1954, Seduction of the Innocent sold more than 16,000 copies within a few months of its publication.
  • During the period of Wertham, sales of comic books outstripped slaes of children’s books from 5 to 1.
  • In the 1950s there were more people reading comics than people playing video games today.
  • The code, however, led to fewer kids reading comics, fewer comics readers.  It also, of course, made underground comics possible — though, Tilley cautioned, “that’s me, trying to find the silver lining.”
  • Speaking of silver linings, Tilley quoted Carl Barks alleging this: “I believe that the infamous book by Dr. Wertham is what saved comics from senseless horror.” Tilley doesn’t concur, exactly. Nor do I. But it is an interesting (if not entirely persuasive) counter-argument, I suppose.

Anyway, ’twas a panel well-worth attending. If you’re looking for a speaker on this subject, invite Professor Tilley!


LGBT Comics for Young Readers

“We want to break down that line that says ‘gay equals adult.’”

— J.P. [Jade Prince]

P. Kristen Enos (Active Voice, Creatures of Grace), J.P. [Jade Prince] & Dusty Jack (Mahou Shounen Fight!), Grace Ellis (Lumberjanes), Brian Andersen (So Super Duper), Elizabeth Watasin (Charm School), Robert Paul (Little Rainbow Comics), Charles "Zan" Christensen (Northwest Press, The Power Within), Dan Parent (Kevin Keller, Archie Comics)

The panelists (L to R): P. Kristen Enos (Active Voice, Creatures of Grace), J.P. [Jade Prince] & Dusty Jack (Mahou Shounen Fight!), Grace Ellis (Lumberjanes), Brian Andersen (So Super Duper), Elizabeth Watasin (Charm School), Robert Paul (Little Rainbow Comics), Charles “Zan” Christensen (Northwest Press, The Power Within), Dan Parent (Kevin Keller, Archie Comics).

I attended this panel because as an educator, I want to be able to introduce my Children’s Literature students to good LGBT fiction. This panel offered a fantastic resource because, well, to quote from the panel description, “Comics today present an amazing range of stories and characters, including more LGBT stories and characters than ever before. Since comics appeal to young and old alike, how do creators use the medium to present LGBT content and characters for younger audiences? What comics are out there for teens and younger readers? How can parents, librarians, and educators introduce such books to young people?”

J.P. summed up the point of this panel when, addressing the shared subject of writing LGBTQ-friendly comics for young readers she said: “We want to break down that line that says ‘gay equals adult.’”  That’s exactly it.

Mahou Shounen Fight!, Chapter OneJ.P. & Dusty’s Mahou Shounen Fight!  Dusty describes this as “doing a version of the magical girl genre (Sailor Moon) but with boys.” J.P. adds, that they “Started the comic to play with expectations. As it evolved, so did the characters, and none are 100% percent heteroseuxal.” Dusty again: “We wanted to create a story that had a rainbow in terms of representation, in every sense of the word — gender, gender expression, sexuality, race, ethnicity. So young people can see themselves in it, no matter who they are.”

Series is on the web, but issues are also available for purchase.

The LumberjanesGrace Ellis’ Lumberjanes (Boom Comics) is about 5 best-friend female characters, 2 of whom are in a relationship. As she puts it, “It’s a story about friends. It’s a story about bad-ass girls.” In one of the issues, the girls visit the boys camp, the head counselor of which is “a physical manifestation of the patriarchy” — but his point of view is presented as unappealing. The boys at this camp are more into baking cookies and hanging out indoors, and the girls (the Lumberjanes) go out and fight monsters. As Ellis says, “If the Lumberjanes are super bad-ass in a traditionally masculine way, the guys are bad-ass in a traditionally feminine way.”  You can buy it from Boom Comics.

Brian Andersen’s So Super Duper and Rainbow & Diva.  The premise of Andersen’s work is that his protagonists are gay, readers know this, but protagonists do not. Discussing Rainbow & Diva (about a spy duo), he said that instead of super-hetero guy who beats people up, “I wanted a super-flamey gay guy who also beats people up.”

Elizabeth Watasin’s Charm School is one of the only titles at this panel that I actually knew.  I have the first issue of this.  I wondered if it continued, but was busy & never had a chance to follow up on it. What’s it about? Watasin compares Charm School to an Archie comic, explaining that it’s “a very fun love triangle set in Little Salem, with vampires and hot rods and malt shops.”

Robert Paul’s Little Rainbow Comics is about 1st-graders who are more articulate than 1st-graders, but are still children. He invokes Stewie on Family Guy as a point of comparison. Since I’m not much of a Seth McFarland fan, I would invoke Peanuts or Calvin & Hobbes. The comic is on the web and available as a book.

David Kelly, Rainy Day RecessDavid Kelly’s Rainy Day Recess. Kelly himself wasn’t on the panel, but Northwest Press publisher Zan Christensen was. I picked up a copy at the Prism Booth. Here’s a blurb (on the back cover) from Alison Bechdel: “David Kelly captures the solitude and magic of queer childhood with an eerie realness. The detritus of seventies pop culture that generously litters his panels adds deliciously to the bittersweet mood.”  The book collects Kelly’s strips from 1995 to 1998.

Zan Christiansen’s The Power Within started as a 24-hour comic-book-day comic, back in the fall of 2010 with all the gay suicide attempts, and suicides. As Christensen says, “All we could think about is how do we make kids feel better? How do we help them?” You can get the book here.

Dan Parent’s Kevin Keller stories.  Parent, who has has been with Archie comics for 27 years, created Kevin Keller, the first openly gay character in Archie.  Parent talked about George Takei’s celebrity cameo — or, really, storyline in one Kevin Keller narrative.  Takei grew up reading Archie comics when he was in an internment camp.


Pogo: A Celebration of Walt Kelly’s 101st Birthday

Mark Evanier, Carolyn Kelly, Leonard Maltin, Maggie Thompson, Jeff Smith's empty chair, David Silverman, Willie Ito

Moderator Mark Evanier (Groo the Wanderer) said that they had such a good time celebrating Walt Kelly’s 100th birthday last year that they wanted do it again. Indeed, “If they keep letting us do this, we’ll do Walt Kelly’s 102nd birthday, 103rd birthday, 104th birthday… until he comes back.”

Spotting Willie Ito in the audience, Evanier invited him up to join the panel — Ito drew Pogo in Walt’s later years when his health was failing. So, above, you see (left to right): Mark Evanier, Carolyn Kelly (co-editor of the Complete Pogo series and Walt’s daughter), Leonard Maltin (the film critic), Maggie Thompson (Comics Buyer’s Guide), Jeff Smith’s empty chair, David Silverman (The Simpsons), and Ito.

Discussing Pogo‘s influence on him David Silverman said, “I was drawing since I was 4. My father read us Pogo. So, at 5 years old, he’s reading me Pogo. And I’m not really understanding a lot of it.  But I really took to the style of it, and the drawing. It made me want to become a cartoonist.” If his parents had hoped he wouldn’t become a cartoonist, they shouldn’t have read him Pogo.

Jeff Smith arrives!

Mark Evanier, Carolyn Kelly, Leonard Maltin, Maggie Thompson, Jeff Smith, David Silverman, Willie Ito

Willie Ito spoke of working on Pogo:

Walt took ill and was unable to complete his commitment. So, Walt figured that Don Morgan is the only one capable of following through. But then Don came to me, and said I just promised my son Ethan we’re going to go off to the woods for a vacation, and I can’t break his heart. So, can you help me out? So, can you help me out with two weeks of days?

Ito thought he’d have to use a brush, as Walt did — but he didn’t have time to practice with a brush.  So, he used his Pentel pen, instead.  So, Ito continues, “And I thought I did a passable job. And I guess Don was able to pass it off. But a few years later, I learned that Shelby was really annoyed, and said ‘It looks like it was done by some Japanese artist in Japan.’ And I said, ‘Well, she’s half-right.’”

Silverman says he “Learned how to create subtlety of expressions from Kelly.”  At one point, Jeff Smith said he loved “the brushwork when Kelly flubs it” — and he mimed a hasty scribble with his hand here — “and still makes it look good.”

Smith also recalled the first time he saw Kelly’s work: “I encountered Walt Kelly on a playground because some little girl gave me a copy of of [Pogo in] Pandemonium. It was very fantasy-based. When I look back on it, I realize that’s why Bone veers off in that direction. Every time I think I’m getting this comic book game down, and then I look at Pogo and start banging my head….’

Silverman said that “Thanks to Walt Kelly, I always thought ‘Weehawken’ was an exclamation of joy, and not a city in New Jersey… I keep trying to edit the Wikipedia page, and they won’t let me….”

Maggie Thompson told the story of Kelly’s plans for a sci-fi strip that would be satirical.  But the Korean War broke out, and the syndicate said just keep it funny — no other commentary.  So, as a result, this political commentary comes into the Pogo strips instead.

Near the end of the panel, they invited Eric Reynolds up to join them because he had a dummy of the next Pogo volume.

 Eric Reynolds, Carolyn Kelly, Leonard Maltin


Lou Ferrigno

And, just because, here is Lou Ferrigno, who played the Incredible Hulk on the TV series (1978-1982).

Lou Ferrigno


Eisner Awards

Attended my second Eisner Awards because I was again a nominee this year.

And, yes, I also tweeted a little while I was there.

Matthew Inman won “Best Digital Comic” for The Oatmeal.

Faith Erin Hicks won “Best Publication for Kids” for The Adventures of Superhero Girl. She was so moved by having won the award that she teared up a bit as she was thanking people. It was very sweet. I love this book. And, for the record, the other books in this category (well, the ones I know, anyway) are great: Luke Pearson’s Hilda and the Bird Parade, and Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault’s Jane the Fox and Me.

“Best Scholarly/Academic Work” (the category in which I was nominated and lost last year) went to Sheena C. Howard and Ronald L. Jackson II’s Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation, which — incidentally — is the only one of the nominated books that I actually have a copy of. (Yes, I need to get some of the others, I know….)

And… the category we’ve all been waiting for… “Best Archival Collection/Project — Comic Strips”… goes to…

Ah, well.  To be honest, I had no idea how to even weigh the odds (I mean, apart from the fact that Eric Reynolds and I had a 1 in 6 chance for Barnaby — since there were five other nominees). But, as Charlie Brown says (after yet another catastrophically bad season in little league), “Just wait until next year!” No, no — I’m kidding. Truly, it’s nice just to be nominated. Also, I think “two-time Eisner loser” is a funnier accolade. Unless you’re Jaime Hernandez, who after I-have-no-idea-how-many-times of being nominated and losing finally won!!! Which is awesome.

Jaime Hernandez wins Eisner

Gilbert Hernandez won tonight, too.  This is great news!

Gilbert Hernandez wins Eisner for "Untitled" (in Love and Rockets New Stories #6)

Jeff Smith won his 12th Eisner.  OK, it might not be 12th.  It might be more.  (I’m not sure how many Eisners he’s won, but it’s an impressive number!)  This year, he won for RASL.  Also, and I don’t think this can be said often enough: Jeff Smith is such a nice guy. (His success has not gone to his head!)

Jeff Smith wins Eisner Award for RASL


Goodnight, fans everywhere.

Fans camp out at Comic-Con. No, I don't know what special event they're hoping to get in to.

Goodnight, lines. Goodnight, crowds.  Goodnight, fans sleeping on the sidewalk.


Comments (1)

Comic-Con 2014: San Diego, July 24

Welcome to day 2 of my unashamedly idiosyncratic coverage of the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con. Let’s start with a little cosplay, shall we?


Cosplay!

Miss Martian

Captain Hook, Red Queen, & friends

I don't know who this character is. Power Ranger, maybe?

One could spend all day photographing people in their costumes. I didn’t. These (above) are just a few I happened to catch. Instead, I went to panels, such as:


Charles Schulz and Social Commentary in Peanuts

Corry Kanzenberg, Tom Gammill, Art Roche, & Seth Green

This panel featured a presentation by Corry Kanzenberg (at left, curator, Charles M. Schulz Museum). Panel discussion followed with her, and (left to right): moderator Tom Gammill (The Simpsons, Futurama, Seinfeld), Art Roche (content director, Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates), and Seth Green (Robot Chicken, Family Guy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

Peanuts panel: title slide

At the moment the panel begins, Seth Green arrives (right on time!), and — during the brief conversation after the panelists introduce themselves — Green recalls a phone call from Jeannie Schulz (Charles M. Schulz’s widow) after Robot Chicken had done an episode in which they killed off all the Peanuts characters. Green was worried that he’d be in trouble. Instead, Jeannie was phoning to say “that sort of humor was exactly the sort of stuff that Sparky would have liked.” Green was so moved, he says, that he “started crying.”

Then, Corry Kanzenberg’s presentation, in which she shows such strips as this one, in which Linus mistakes snowflakes for nuclear fallout.

Peanuts: "Good grief. I thought it was the fallout!"

Politically, Corry says, Schulz’s politics were “kind of middle of the road.” Indeed, in the case of one strip that mentions school prayer — one of the most controversial Peanuts strips (from, I think, 1963) — Schulz received lots of requests from both sides of the issue, asking to reprint the strip. He denied them all, because he didn’t want to appear to be taking sides.

However, at times, he was willing to take more of a stand — such as, in 1968, when he integrated Peanuts, introducing the character Franklin. He also took a stand in advocating for Title 9, as (a) seen in this strip and (b) suggested by this photo of Schulz and Billie Jean King.

Peanuts: Title 9, Schulz, & Billie Jean King

As I side note, I really loved this photo with Joan Jett, Debbie Harry, David Johansen, & Joey Ramone.

Joan Jett, Debbie Harry, David Johansen, Joey Ramone

The story is that it was a mock wedding between Debbie Harry & Joey Ramone, and they used the Peanuts Treasury as the Bible.

During the panel discussion, Art Roche (the licensing-and-marketing guy) says, “People always want to put Peanuts on whatever case they have.” For example, “We just had the World Cup. There were several countries want to put the Peanuts characters in their World Cup uniform. And that’s OK. And there are other cases where they want to put the Peanuts characters in religious shrines,… and that’s not O.K.”

Seth Green observed, “As you all did, I grew up on Peanuts. It seemed so soft from the outside, but underneath, it’s incredibly thought-provoking.”

Hilarious moment: Fred Tatasciore (who plays the Hulk on the Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. cartoon) does the Miss Othmar/adult Peanuts voice and asks the panel an (incomprehensible) question. Seth answers the question straight, as if he understood it. Tatasciore asks a second question, and Seth again answers as if it were perfectly normal. Tatasciore does an adult-speak incomprehensible thank-you & yields the floor. Seth then explains to us that we’d just been listening to Fred Tatasciore.

A few other interesting facts I learned:

  • Schulz created 17,897 Peanuts strips.
  • At its height, Peanuts was published in 2600 newspapers, and 75 countries — making it one of the most successful comic strips ever.
  • In Japan, Woodstock is very popular — so much so that people know the names of Woodstock’s friends. Harriet, Olivier, Conrad.

Comic Arts Session #3: British Comics, Genre, and the Special Relationship with American Comics

To quote the panel description, “Chris Murray (University of Dundee) discusses the often-overlooked and peculiar history of British superheroes, arguing that they reflect the changing relationship between the two countries in the aftermath of World War II. Julia Round (Bournemouth University) investigates the use of gothic and horror tropes in British girls’ comics of the 1970s and 1980s, which, she argues, draw on some of the tropes of the previous generation of American horror comics. Phillip Vaughan (Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design) analyses British science fiction comics in terms of the influence from American comics, and considering their relationship to British and American television and film.”

British Superheroes (title slide for Chris Murray's presentation)

Chris Morrison, who is writing a book on British superheroes, gave a fascinating talk.  I knew nearly nothing about British superheroes — save for, say, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ versions of American superheroes (in Watchmen). His argument is that British superheroes “are based on the British political relationship with America.”  He noted that the superhero “is such a perfect icon for America, as the American empire is taking off.”  At the same time that’s happening, “the British empire is in sharp decline,” as its place in world history is being taken over by America.  As a result, “there’s an ambiguous, tense, relationship with America.”

Most of the lines of influence come from America, but there are the occasional images from British strips — such as this one, from Captain Q — that do make you wonder if there were any trans-Atlantic influence going in the other direction.

Captain Q

I was interested to learn that British comics tended to have pictures and a lot of text. Indeed, sometimes when they adapted American comics for the British market, they’d add lots of text! This text-heavy style became known as the Amalgamated Style (because Amalgamated Press favored it).

Superman (in Triumph, UK 1940)

Morrison noted that American comics were much more visually sophisticated, adding that British comics like Dandy and Beano succeeded because they copied American comics’ visual style.

Dandy and Beano

This Captain Miracle comic strove so ardently to convey that it was American that — as its subject — it faced racism in the American south.

Captain Miracle

There’s also a strain of British superhero comics that don’t take themselves too seriously, such as Bananaman, who gets his superpowers from… bananas?

Nutty & Bananaman

Fascinating stuff.  This is going to make a great book!

Julia Round‘s focus was Misty – an anthology comic for girls (1978-1980), which has been described as a “female 2000 A.D.

Misty

She gave us an intriguing history of girl comics in Britain.   These start in the 1950s, featuring girls all in “gender-approved occupations. I was particularly interested by the long-running “Four Marys,” which ran in Bunty.  It featured four different Marys, each of different social class, at boarding school.

Evolution of British girls' comics

The tales of peril in Misty seem to be a response to these earlier ones. Such tales, she says, are “not new in girls’ comics, but there is a darker, more mystical turn here [in Misty].”  She in particular praised the tension between moral content and ironic comment in Misty because there were “no comforting conclusions here”

Misty: Dare you read it alone?

Phillip Vaughan‘s paper was:

Vaughn: title slide

He assembled a great collection of information on the subject, and had lots of slides to share. To be frank, he is, I think, still working out what story he wants to tell about this material.  And that’s fine.  But one result, for me, was that I was wondering: What’s the narrative of this history? I hope that my saying this doesn’t come across as overly nit-picky or critical. I’m very familiar with this struggle. It’s the central task of the biographer, too.

And, as I say, he presented great information in very elegant slides. For instance, he told us that one British response to American horror comics was Dan Dare, a very stiff-upper-lip pilot of the future.

Dan Dare

Here are a couple of comics based on the TV show Dr. Who.  The show, he noted, had a limited budget.  In contrast, the comic could depict more.

Dr Who

Daleks

There was also a UK strip based on Star Trek. The strip, created by UK writers and artists, “had a different flavour.”

Star Trek


Gene Luen Yang in Conversation with Scott McCloud

Scott McCloud & Gene Luen Yang, Comic-Con, 24 July 2014

The panel description is “Comic-Con special guest Gene Luen Yang (The Shadow Hero) and Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics) talk comics, creative processes, current and upcoming projects, and the general state of the industry. It’ll be awesome.” But Scott McCloud stressed that the focus here was on Yang, not on himself (or on them both equally) — McCloud had a panel later that day devoted to his new book.  Sadly, I had to go to a signing & so missed that panel.

But… I did attend this one!  Here are my notes.  (I would write them up in to something more coherent, but this account is taking longer than I thought it would!  Apologies…)

Gene Luen Yang: This is surreal for me. Scott McCloud is one of those seminal voices in my childhood. … If you had told 19-year-old me that I’d be on this panel with Scott McCloud, my head would have exploded.

Boxers & Saints

Scott McCloud: One question on Boxers & Saints. [McCloud shows slide of book where they've been put in the box in the wrong order, so that the spines do not form a face.] Do you ever just want to punch anyone who puts it in like that ?

GLY [joking]: The last time I punched someone, actually, was…”

SM: You’ve been making comics for about 15 years…?

GLY: I’ve been making comics ever since I read Understanding Comics.

McCloud will be editor of next (2015, I presume?) Best American Comics….

Gene Luen Yang’s latest is the Shadow Hero — a revival of a the first Chinese-American superhero comic. But, Yang tells us, the comic’s original publisher didn’t agree to allow the protagonist to be depicted as ethnically Chinese.  So, the artist who created the comic responded in a passive-agressive way.  He never showed the hero’s face.

Gene Luen Yang, American Born ChineseSM: You may be one of the most unpredictable writers on the planet. … When Chin-kee showed up [in American Born Chinese], my jaw was on the floor…  From the very beginning you were addressing Chinese-American experience, Asian-American experience, but… in such a subtle way,… “with eyes unclouded by hate.” Sorry– Princess Mononoke line.

GLY: I love that line.  I think, especially with Cousin Chin-kee, I did that as a mini-comic, I think maybe 12 people read it, and 11 of them were people I knew. I could have called them up to explain any misunderstanding.  I wonder if I would have done it the same way if I were doing it as a book.

SM: Who would have thought this book would have become so accepted?

GLY: There’s something about the intimacy of comics that gives you this sort of false bravado….

Yang and McCloud both praise Michael DeForge’s comics. McCloud praises Yang as a writer of prose — “that directness.  Telling a story in an unexpected way.”

SM: You’re drawn to collaboration. Why?

GLY: They’re two different experiences.  When you’re working with someone else, you’re telling a story in a mixed voice. … With something like Boxers & Saints, it came out of my whole childhood — I grew up in a Chinese-American Catholic community. … It expressed a sense of the difference between Eastern and Western ways of looking at things that I had felt since my childhood.

Yang admits to having a bad color sense. (That’s why he had a colorist for Boxers and Saints, he says.) Scott McCloud admits same. Yang says he’s going to tell his wife so that she stops picking on him about it.

McCloud, in a slightly roundabout way, asks Yang about religion (McCloud starts with mythology)…

GLY: At the root of religion is that story is important, that story is how we as human beings organize ourselves. … Person hearing the story should have a personal relationship with that story.

GLY: Within the Bible, my favorite book is The Gospel of Mark.  It has two endings.  One: two women leave the tomb, they’re sad.  Two: 16 completely ruins it.  First is better because it’s uncertain — it leaves you to resolve it in your own life.

McCloud and Yang both admit to not having seen M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of Avatar the Last Airbender, though Yang offers that he’s “heard that [watching] it’s like punching yourself in the face over and over again.”  In further discussion of (what I’d call) the racist casting of Shyamalan’s Avatar, Yang says, “I don’t think I could ascribe any racism to the decision. I think it was driven by the market.”

They talk about teaching — Yang had left teaching, but is going back to teach computer science (one class per year) because he misses it.

SM: Surely, there’s a role of an educator that plays a role in your storytelling

GLY: I think I’m kind of like you in this. I’ve been called Asian Scott McCloud before. … For me, I think if I go into a story and I’m trying to deliver a message,.. I find that the story comes out anyway.

They start to talk process….

GLY: Do you outline?

SM: OK! Let’s talk shop! I do outline, and then I do super-obsessive, anal-retentive layouts….  How do you do it?

GLY: I’m an outliner.  When I started out, I wanted to be more of a pantser. But I became a planner. [Pantsers flies by seat of their pants.]

SM: I wanted to be a pantser, too, but my dad was an engineer.

GLY: My dad was an engineer, too!

SM: I thought so!  About 10 minutes ago, I was thinking: I wonder if his dad’s an engineer?

Both mention and praise Anya’s Ghost….

SM: John Green really loved Boxers & Saints…. and he doesn’t think of himself as writing for a YA audience. He thinks of himself as writing for an audience.

GLY: I don’t think comics has traditionally thought a lot about age categories.

I then had to dash out so I could get to my signing — or, to be more accurate, my “signing.”


Don Rosa, Trina Robbins, and Yours Truly

Trina Robbins, Don Rosa, and Philip Nel

From 4 to 6 pm, I sat at the Fantagraphics booth, signing copies of Barnaby Volumes One and Two. By which I mean to say: From 4 to 6 pm, I sat at the Fantagraphics booth. I enjoyed chatting with the Fantagraphics gang (Eric! Jacq! Jen! Kristy!), Bob Harvey, assorted passers-by, and — at the signing table — Trina Robbins, and Don Rosa! Trina Robbins has the original Holt hardbacks of Barnaby, and Don Rosa remembers watching the 1959 TV special (starring Bert Lahr as Mr. O’Malley, and Ronnie Howard as Barnaby).

And it was really fascinating watching Don Rosa draw. Here he is drawing Scrooge McDuck for a charity auction:

Don Rosa draws Scrooge McDuck

He says people who watch him draw see him sketch the drawing, and then — as he draws the ink lines — see him not drawing directly on the sketched lines. “Why don’t you draw on the pencil lines?” They ask. “Those lines just tell me where not to draw,” he replies.

Don Rosa draws Scrooge McDuck, continued...

Don Rosa draws Scrooge McDuck, continued again...

Don Rosa draws Scrooge McDuck, continued yet again...

Sitting behind him, in the last photo, is a fan from Norway.  No less than three Norwegian fans came up with books to sign. He also had fans from Sweden, Mexico, and various parts of the U.S. He told me he’s much more popular in Europe.  There, fans line up for hours to get his autograph.  Here, in the U.S. the lines aren’t as long — indeed, Europeans (especially those from the Scandinavian countries) will sometimes fly to a comics convention in the U.S. where it’s much easier to get his autograph.

He was very gracious to all the fans, inscribing their books, drawing a picture if asked. Rosa makes no profit from the sales of these books. That money all goes to Disney. But he’s glad to see his works getting reprinted here, in the U.S. And he’s glad that his friend Gary Groth’s company can profit from that a bit, too.

That’s all for tonight!  I’ll be signing (or “signing”) again at the Fantagraphics booth (#1718) between 9 and 10 am on Friday. Stop by!


Leave a Comment

Comic-Con 2014: San Diego, July 23

San Diego Comic-Con 2014

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
— William Wordsworth, “The World Is Too Much With Us” (1802)
SHARKNADO
GO SHARK YOURSELF!
— promotional material for Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)
Sharknado 2 (promotional materials, handed out on the streets near Comic-Con)

Greetings! I’m here at Comic-Con in San Diego, delivering a glimpse of the goings-on for you, my loyal readers. It is the very first evening of Comic-Con (though there are some sneak previews this evening, the programming proper begins tomorrow). So, I thought I would begin by assuring you that, despite what you may have heard from Fox News and other pessimists, capitalism is thriving here. Advertising covers all available surfaces:

buildings,…

Ascension advertisement, side of building, San Diego: the dummies of people are wearing clothes that rustle in the wind.

the train,…

Gotham, advertised on side of train.

and, of course, the body.

Vampire Diaries: advertisement on back of Comic-Con backpack worn by attendee

All those who register for Comic-Con get one of these great big canvas bags/backpacks, designed to carry lots of merchandise (and to go a bit easier on the back than a tote bag would!). Beyond making it easier for you to carry what you buy, each bag also turns the user into a walking billboard, advertising whatever is on the back.  Mine has Adam West and Burt Ward, in the original Batman TV series (1966-1968), which will be released on DVD and Blu-ray later this year.

Speaking of advertising,…


Barnaby 1 and 2 at Fantagraphics booth, Comic-Con, 2014I’ll be at the Fantagraphics booth (#1718), signing Barnaby books (which I co-edited with Eric Reynolds). Currently available: Barnaby Volume One: 1942-1943 (2013) and Barnaby Volume Two: 1944-1945 (2014).

Schedule of my signings (and the far more illustrious people who will be signing at the same time):

Stop on by, even if it’s just to say hi! And click here for full schedule of Fantagraphics authors & editors.


For those who have a four-day pass or “Professional” badge (as I do), the exhibit hall was open tonight for three hours.  It’s nice to get in before the hall gets too crowded.

Comic-Con 2014, exhibit hall: Star Wars

I’m only being partially ironic in saying it’s not yet too crowded. I was in this section of the exhibit hall on the first full day of the conference last year, and it was shoulder-to-shoulder. You couldn’t move at all. Tonight, movement was still possible.

Comic-Con 2014, exhibit hall: Walking Dead

Comic-Con 2014, exhibit hall: Simpsons, Tomb Raider, Dark Horse

So many people to meet! In the photo below, I greet fellow educator Principal Skinner, and we grin maniacally at each other. As we always do.

Principal Skinner and me.

Last year, I got to meet Snoopy. I didn’t see him this evening. I hear he’s been spotted atop his doghouse, with his typewriter, working on his novel. Maybe that round-headed kid can convince him to come by and meet his fans. Here’s hoping!

Why, hello, Kitty!  And Black Rose Alice!

Hello Kitty

Hello, Monster High merchandise!

Monster High dolls

Hello, Spawn!  And Rocket Girl!  And Rat Queens!  And, oh, who am I kidding?  I’m out of my depth here.

Spawn and others

I don’t follow the entertainment industry that closely anymore. There are good television programs and films out there. But I rarely get around to watching them. I recognize the older characters — though I’m amused to see Alfred E. Newman peeking out from between superheroes….

The Flash, Alfred E. Newman, Batman

I’m here for the comics — or “graphic novels,” to use the preferred industry term. I like to see what’s being published: new stuff, classic comics, kids’ comics, all of it. And I like to learn from the creators and the scholars on the comics panels.

Some of what I got this evening (omitted by accident: Seth's The G.N.B. Double C)

This year (as last year), I’m also here because a book I worked on was nominated for an Eisner — this year, it’s Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby Volume One: 1942-1943 (co-edited with Eric Reynolds, for Fantagraphics; designed by Daniel Clowes, foreword by Chris Ware, intro by Jeet Heer, Afterword & Notes by me). Will I become a two-time Eisner Loser? We’ll find out Friday evening….


Comic-Con 2014:

Comic-Con 2013:

Comments (1)

“There Are Loads of Rules”: The Art of the Mixtape

To me, making a tape is like writing a letter — there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again […] A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick it off with a corker, to hold the attention […], and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, […] and . . . oh, there are loads of rules.

— Nick Hornby, High Fidelity (1995), pp. 88-89

I make a lot of mixes, and occasionally I post them on this blog. I’d originally planned to post many more of them, but . . . it’s fairly labor-intensive, and so I don’t. Recipients of these mixes have asked me how I make them. (Specifically, my friends Speed and Ted both asked me this question last month.)  So, here is my answer.

Westward, Oh: a mix made in July 2000 (the month I moved from Charleston, South Carolina to Manhattan, Kansas)

Above: a mix from July 2000, when I moved from So. Carolina to Kansas

1. No repeats. Since I began making these on CD (2003), I’ve not repeated any song across the three main mix series: uptempo (which I make the most frequently), midtempo, and quiet.  You could listen to all three series and not hear a single song repeated.  Indeed, within any given series — the kids mixes, birthday mixes, mixes on a theme (Summer, Halloween, Christmas/Holidays, Back-to-School, the end of the world), etc. — no song can repeat.

2. Only one song per artist per CD. But that’s artist, and not composer. You can have two Cure songs, as long as one is a cover. Technically, you should not have a Matt Berninger solo track if you already have a song from the National (the band for which he is lead singer), though this is a little more flexible — I bend this “should,” from time to time, including on the mix that I’m about to offer as an example.

3. There needs to be some connection between adjacent tracks.  So, on my most recent midtempo mix, “Everyone Says ‘Hi,’” here are the connections between the first seven songs. (If this is more detail than you really need, feel free to skip ahead to point no. 4.)


Everyone Says “Hi”

1)    Pennies From Heaven  RON SEXSMITH (2013)

Sweet Relief III: Pennies from HeavenThis beautiful song seamlessly mingles optimism and melancholy, cheer and sadness. Written by Johnny Burke and Arthur Johnston and first recorded in the mid-1930s, “Pennies from Heaven” has an introductory verse that often gets omitted (Bing Crosby’s 1936 recording includes it; Billie Holiday’s 1936 recording does not). Ron Sexsmith’s version — done for Sweet Relief III: Pennies from Heaven — includes that opening verse, which is one reason I chose it. The other reason is that it sets the tone for the rest of the mix, and that tone is … mixed. It’s neither joyous nor sad, but somewhere in between. (Perhaps, too, it’s why Dennis Potter chose the title for his teleplay/screenplay?)

2)    Heaven  SIMPLY RED (1985)

Simply Red, Picture Book“Pennies from Heaven” to this cover of Talking Heads’ “Heaven” is quite an obvious link: the title, and the fact that both are covers. It also continues the theme of emotional complexity. Though sung with sincerity (by David Byrne on the original, and by Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall here), the description of Heaven is ambiguous. “Heaven is a place, / A place where nothing ever happens”: does that imply pleasant solitude or endless boredom? “The band in heaven / They play my favorite song. / Play it one more time. / Play it all night long”: does this reflect the joy of getting to hear your favorite music or the annoyance of a popular song getting overplayed? I don’t know, and the song never resolves this tension. I chose the Simply Red cover because it’s a bit smoother, more soulful than Talking Heads’ original, and thus offers a more seamless transition from Sexsmith’s track to the next one.

3)    Little Vacation  VIC CHESNUTT (1996)

Vic Chesnutt, About to ChokeFor those who believe in an afterlife, Vic Chesnutt (1964-2009) is already there. With a sharper sense of irony than the Talking Heads tune, this one also describes a desired location in terms that make you wonder how desirable it is, really. Perhaps it would be better if I stayed home. Vacation is a metaphor for what he wants, and so is “scenic vista,” “a long awaited chemical buzz,” “a far off twister,” and “an unexpected run-in with the fuzz.” The first item in this list has more appeal than the last one, and the ones in between are more mixed (hey, at least the twister is far off…). Using the language of bureaucracy to describe a holiday is also brilliant: “Why don’t we have a little council meeting / And hash out something real?” He promises “Robert’s rules of order will be observed. / I’ll be the parliamentarian / with an unswerving dedication.” The ambivalent longing here is brilliant, plus (on a less important point) I like the fact that “a little old song that I want to hear” echoes “my favorite song” in “Heaven.”

4)    Everyone Says ‘Hi’  DAVID BOWIE (2002)

David Bowie, HeathenThis song and the next one both include the line that gives the mix its title. Both songs find a twinge of melancholy in the clichéd, well-meaning phrase — conveying the good wishes of those who are not here, bringing their absence into the present moment. So, the link to “Little Vacation” is the likelihood of using this very phrase while on vacation, and the sense, when traveling, of enjoying where you are but missing those who are not with you. The Bowie song addresses someone who has not just taken “a big trip,” but “moved away.” It’s not clear if the addressee is even among the living (another link to the previous two songs). The final line of the first verse is “Happened oh, so quietly, / they say” which could also be used to describe someone’s death. That said, the person could simply have moved away, left no forwarding address. She or he could be someone Bowie’s narrator will never see again. Philip Nel and Shahid Hoda, c. Sept 1987I have a friend like that. I last saw him in May 1989. He disappeared later that year, or perhaps it was early the following year. After making some inquiries, I learned why. So, Shahid, if you happen upon this blog post, I hope you are well. Please know that your old friends still think of you. Everyone says “Hi.”

5)    To All My Friends  JOSH JOPLIN (2005)

Josh Joplin, JaywalkerBeyond including the title line, this track also evokes this vocal lineage that begins with David Bowie, and continues through his spiritual offspring, the Psychedelic Furs’ Richard Butler (who sounds a bit like Bowie), and then Josh Joplin (whose voice resembles Butler’s — even though Joplin’s song “Happy at Last” alleges “I sound like Michael Stipe”). As the “s” in the title indicates, this song addresses many friends who have passed out of Joplin’s life. The line “winter of our unpaid rent” (nice Richard III allusion, Joplin!) might refer to a former lover, or at least a roommate; “summer of unrequited love” suggests a hoped-for relationship; “the best minds of my troubled youth” (Allen Ginsberg allusion!) evokes the many musicians that Joplin may know. One could make a full mix just focusing on songs for missed friends — Neil Young’s “One of These Days” would of course be included, though isn’t on this mix because I’ve used it before.  So, instead,…

6)    Friend of Mine  STEVE MARTIN & EDIE BRICKELL (2013)

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Love Has Come for YouAnother song about friendship, but this time to someone who is still here. Like Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” (another great song for a friendship mix!), this collaboration between Steve Martin & Edie Brickell talks about friends who help you survive: “When everybody lets me down / You lift me up again.” I also concur with the lyric’s thesis about life more generally: “The world is such a crazy place, / Full of joy and pain.” Yes. Life is beautiful and sad. This past week’s news has delivered much more of the sad, the painful, the heartbreaking….

7)    All Our Endless Love  THE BIRD AND THE BEE feat. MATT BERNINGER (2014)

Endless Love: Original Motion Picture SoundtrackAddressing not only friendship but love, this song continues the emotional resonance of the previous one, but moves directly into the intensity and fragility of intimate relationships. Amidst a deep bond, this one may also be coming apart. “I am falling to the rhythm of all your endless love” points both to falling-in-love expressed in the first verse (“I couldn’t breathe without you there”) but also to a falling-out-of-love, expressed in such lines as “Is this really ending?”


That’s the first third of the mix, and more than enough to convey the links between songs.

4. Variety.  Ideally (and especially on an uptempo mix), two adjacent songs won’t be too similar in style, though this isn’t an ironclad rule.  A link between songs (see no. 3) can be purely sonic.  In general, I think of the range as “from punk to show tunes,” by which I mean you can include swing, heavy metal, hip-hop, rock ‘n’ roll, dance, folk, funk, reggae, R&B, trip-hop, novelty records, garage rock, new wave, blues, a cappella, jazz, J-pop, 1960s Italian film soundtrack music, gospel, and, yeah, punk and show tunes.  For an uptempo mix, all of these would need to be uptempo. For the quiet mixes, you’ll likely have more a cappella, classical, jazz (and no metal). Similarly, the midtempo mixes (such as the example given in no. 3) tend to have a narrower range (no metal there either…).

5. The mixes tend to be present-centered, but are not only present-centered. So, most songs are relatively current — from the current year or the past decade.  But it would be very rare to focus only on recent music. Generally, the timespan is the 1930s to the present, though occasionally there’ll be something from the 1920s or earlier. The mix above includes several more recent recordings of songs from earlier periods (“Pennies from Heaven,” “When You’re Smiling,” “Pure Imagination”), though I often use earlier versions.

6. Since mixes get played more than once, I try to pick songs that bear repeated listens.  I realize that this one depends on taste. Playing your favorite song once again (as in song no. 2 on the above mix) can be heaven… or can be hell.

7. I favor shorter songs over longer ones. If there is a long song, it’s likely to go last. This is something of a corollary to point nos. 6 (I don’t want to wear down the listener with a song that goes on and on) and 4 (shorter songs allow for more variety).

8. Beginnings: I try to start a mix with a good kick-off song — “a corker,” as Nick Hornby says. Sometimes, I will use a short spoken-word piece (dialogue from an old film or a musical, say).

Fiona Apple, Pure Imagination - Single9. Endings: I might slow it down a little at the end or I might not.  This can also be a place for spoken-word pieces, or perhaps the concluding music to a film. For the mix excerpted in no. 3, I conclude with Fiona Apple’s cover of “Pure Imagination” because both Gene Wilder’s original recording and especially her version bring to the fore some dissonance that undercuts the ostensibly optimistic lyric. Also, if you’re playing a CD in a car, it’s likely to repeat. Moving from “Pure Imagination” back to “Pennies from Heaven” works well. Both songs dream of something better, but they are just that — dreams.

10. Use all of the space. A CD holds one hour, 19 minutes, and 45 seconds. I try to come as close as I can to filling the whole thing. This became part of my criteria back in the days of cassette tapes: blank space at the end of a side (especially side A) was annoying because then you’d have to fast-forward to the end. Ideally, you’d pick a song that would conclude roughly as the cassette tape did. Sometimes, I would fade out a song slightly early or (to fill space) add a very short song just so that there’d be no (or very little) silence at the end.

Carl Wilson, Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste (2007)11. Good taste, which is nearly impossible to define. My mix-making guidelines ultimately rest upon my own taste, for which I direct you to this blog post on Carl Wilson’s excellent Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste (and no, this isn’t Beach Boy Carl Wilson; it’s Canadian music journalist Carl Wilson).  That post is the most fully articulated expression of whatever the heck my taste is.

If I were to try to further clarify that, I’d note that I’m a big fan of cover tunes in general.  So, it’s unusual to have a mix that lacks a cover.  My favorite cover artists are Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox (if you’ve yet to discover them, stop reading this blog post now, go to YouTube, and start listening) and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (superlative punk covers).

In addition to punk, I love ’60s soul and R&B (Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, the Isley Brothers, the Supremes), & the great American songbook (Berlin, Gershwin, Porter, Harburg, Arlen, Fields and Kern, Warren and Dubin, etc.).

Musically, I came of age in the 1980s; so, the styles of that era have a strong hold on my musical imagination. This is likely one reason why the Wombats are one of my favorite contemporary pop groups: tight hooks, surprising lyrics (“Please allow me to be your anti-depressant. / I am prescribed as freely as any decongestant”).  I recommend their first two albums, and (I expect) the third, once it comes out, later this year!

As the quoted lyric indicates, I like words: I appreciate a sense of humor, an unusual turn of phrase, etc. Hence, my affection for novelty records. I also like a cappella. I’m a sucker for a good hook. I like pop, but I like it best when it’s a little off-kilter — an uptempo song on a melancholy subject, a downbeat cover of a happy song, an unusual or incisive lyric, a haunting melody.

My favorite band is They Might Be Giants.  Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of the National.  Other favorite artists: Fats Waller, the Clash, Ella Fitzgerald, Hem, Chet Baker, Leonard Cohen, Moxy Früvous, Paul Simon, Mavis Staples, Warren Zevon, Billie Holiday, Laurie Anderson, Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Dessa (A Badly Broken Code is one of my desert island discs), Richard Goode (love his recording of Beethoven’s late piano sonatas).

Though I could ramble on and on about taste (indeed, I already have…), this post has run its course. Yes, it’s a highly subjective set of criteria for assembling a mix, but there is an internal logic to it, a sensibility (however idiosyncratic) that makes it all work. If you have strong opinions (and music fans tend to), please do feel free to express them, below.

Leave a Comment

Where Is My Mind?: The National’s Influences

The National. Photo by Diedre O'Callaghan.

This mix goes out to fans of the National. Influences cited are mostly sourced, but partly speculative. That is, most of the selections here come from bands identified by National members (usually Matt Berninger) as an influence, but some simply sound to me like influences. So, of course, feel free to disagree with my choices in the comments, below.

Also, since this is a mix (as opposed to just a playlist), I’ve chosen selections from each band that work together, in sequence, as a mix. For any who may be curious, I will post my rules for mix-making in a couple of days. Anyway. Here are… some of the National’s influences.

1)     Love Will Tear Us Apart  JOY DIVISION (1980)                              3:26

The documentary Mistaken for Strangers briefly shows Matt Berninger singing along to this song. Of comparisons to Joy Division, Berninger has said, “I think a lot of that is the range that I sing in is similar to Ian Curtis. And I get a lot of Nick Cave. I think it’s mostly because of the vocal range that we get that. Definitely Joy Division, I know Bryan our drummer, from a drumming perspective, that’s been a big influence on him.”  (Incidentally, I debated putting “Transmission” on, but this song seemed a better way to launch the mix….)

2)     How Soon Is Now?  THE SMITHS (1985)                                       6:46

Asked by Cheryl Cheng in 2007, “Who are some of your early inspirations?” Berninger responded, “The bands that I first really started falling in love with were The Smiths, Violent Femmes, Tom Waits, Nick Cave…”

3)     Where Is My Mind?  PIXIES (1988)                                                  3:53

On YouTube, there’s footage of Berninger singing the Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man” at a karaoke bar:

4)     New Drink for the Old Drunk  CROOKED FINGERS (2000)          3:53

In his Rolling Stone “Top Tearjerkers” playlist, Berninger includes Crooked Fingers’ “Sad Love.”

5)     Jockey Full of Bourbon  TOM WAITS (1985)                                 2:47

In that same playlist, he includes Waits’ “Jersey Girl.” There are many Waits songs I could have included on this mix, but “Jockey Full of Bourbon” is my favorite and it fit well at this point in the mix.

6)     A Shot In The Arm  WILCO (1999)                                                    4:20

I’ve never heard any member of the National cite Wilco as an influence, but I hear echoes of Wilco circa Summer Teeth (1999) and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) — the records just before the band’s critically lauded pretentious mess, A Ghost Is Born (or, as I call it, Wilco Lays an Egg).

7)     Whisper  MORPHINE (1995)                                                              3:29

I’ve never heard members of the National mention Morphine, but they’re the most sonically similar group I know. In my iTunes, one playlist is “National & Morphine.”

8)     Sweet Jane  THE VELVET UNDERGROUND (1970)                    4:09

It’s more likely that the Velvets influenced the bands that influenced the National — i.e., we’re hearing their influence at one remove. Not incidentally, Lou Reed and Berninger both appear on Booker T. Jones’ The Road from Memphis (2011).

9)     Just Like Honey  THE JESUS & MARY CHAIN (1985)                 3:03

The Jesus and Mary Chain’s thick wall of distorted guitars is obviously a much bigger influence on the Raveonettes, but I’d be surprised if this band wasn’t somewhere among the National’s influences.

10)   Pretty in Pink  THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS (1981)                          4:00

The National cover “Pretty in Pink” on The Daytrotter Sessions (2007). Also: listen to the lyrics. It’s a much darker and more interesting song than its association with the Molly Ringwald film would lead you to believe. The National’s cover brings out the song’s sad narrative quite well — “All of her lovers all talk of her notes, / and the flowers that they never sent. / Wasn’t she easy? And isn’t she pretty in pink.”

11)   Flavor of the Month  THE POSIES (1993)                                      2:36

I have a vague notion that members of the National have cited the Posies as an influence, but I can’t find my source.

12)   Last Nite  THE STROKES (2001)                                                      3:20

Matt Berninger: “The Strokes have influenced more bands in the last ten years than even the artists I mentioned [Waits, Cave, Nirvana, Smiths] in all 25 years.”

13)   Uptown Again  THE AFGHAN WHIGS (1998)                                  3:11

Afghan Whigs, 1965Berninger is an avowed Afghan Whigs fan. Of Greg Dulli (the Whigs’ lead singer & main songwriter), Berninger says “Dulli just had a way of being so dark and almost brutal in some of his observations of himself and his dark side of romance, but he was able to articulate it in unbelievably powerful ways. There are people like that, who happily dig into the very uncomfortable personal exposure in a way. It’s not wallowing. It’s some sort of cathartic recognition of the sad and dark sides of our minds and hearts. I think it’s a healthy way to deal with that stuff.”

14)   First We Take Manhattan  R.E.M. (1991)                                        6:05

Although this is R.E.M. covering a Leonard Cohen song, I see an affinity between R.E.M.’s original work and the National’s. They’re both rock bands with a vocalist & lyricist who writes suggestive but elliptical lyrics. They’re also willing to develop more sophisticated arrangements, bringing in strings & piano.

15)   False Alarm  SLOAN (2003)                                                             3:48

Sloan’s songs are typically more power pop than the National’s (and I’ve not seen the National cite Sloan as an influence), but the elements of longing (“Always looking for reasons to walk on your street”) secure it a place on the mix. In sum, this is Sloan at their most National-esque, and (arguably) not as strong a choice as the other songs on this mix.

16)   Game of Pricks  GUIDED BY VOICES (1995)                                2:15

Berninger listens to Guided by Voices, and put “Learning to Hunt” on the aforementioned Rolling Stone playlist.

17)   I Can’t Forget  LEONARD COHEN (1988)                                      4:32

In September 2011, Berninger told The Phoenix’s Michael Christopher, “when I was in high school I became obsessed with Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits.”

18)   Traveling Light  TINDERSTICKS & CARLA TORGERSON (1995)       4:50

I’m not sure whether the National considers Tindersticks an influence, but many reviews make the comparison between the two bands. With their baritone vocals and fondness for orchestral arrangements, it’s easy to see why.

19)   Love Letter  NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS (2001)                       4:09

Asked about his influences, the first two that Matt Berninger mentions tend to be Nick Cave and Tom Waits.

20)   Arvo Pärt: Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten  DENNIS RUSSELL DAVIES: STUTTGART CHAMBER ORCHESTRA (1984)                        5:08

Dennis Russell Davies: Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, Arvo Pärt: Tabula RasaThis mix has placed too much emphasis on Berninger. This last song highlights the band’s guitarist, Bryce Dessner, who is also a classical composer. I’m convinced that he and his brother Arron Dessner’s work in non-rock music are key to the National’s sound, bringing in atypical rhythms and arrangements. Bryce Dessner has worked with and performed the works of minimalists Philip Glass and Steve Reich. I don’t know what he thinks of fellow minimalist Arvo Pärt, but this track seemed an apt way to conclude.

There are many other bands who might (and perhaps should) have been included on this speculative compilation, including Nirvana, Radiohead, and Depeche Mode. (Some songs cut from earlier versions of this mix: “Lithium,” “Come As You Are,” “No Apologies,” “No Surprises,” “High and Dry,” “Policy of Truth,” “Enjoy the Silence.”) But to make this collection work as a mix (and one that would fit on a single CD), I had to cut some things.

Credits: Photo of the National by Diedre O’Callaghan, taken from “The National on World Cafe” (WXPN).

Comments (1)

Imagination & Survival: 2 Picture Books from Australia

Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer (2013) is only one of the great Australian children’s books of the past couple of years. Here are two more. Neither appears to have found a publishing home in the U.S., U.K., or Canada. So, attention publishers of North America and Great Britain! Bring out these two books in your countries:

  • Elise Hurst’s Imagine a City (Scholastic Australia, 2014)
  • Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood’s The Treasure Box (Penguin Group Australia, 2013)
Elise Hurst, Imagine a City (2014) Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood, The Treasure Box (2013)

Elise Hurst’s Imagine a City invites readers to a “world without edges,” where anthropomorphic animals and people coexist, the subjects of paintings reach beyond their frames, buses are giant flying fish, and bears ride bicycles. The art makes the book feel that is both very contemporary and classic. Her pen-and-ink drawings feel like they’ve time-traveled from another era — Edward Ardizzone, E. H. Shepard, or maybe Winsor McCay. The visual motifs (especially the flying fish) recall Shaun Tan and David Wiesner. It’s as if she’s brought her sketchbook into a parallel, surreal world, and this book collects sketches of what she saw during her travels.

Elise Hurst, Imagine a City (2014)

Elise Hurst, Imagine a City (2014)

Hurst’s book suggests that books allow us to imagine worlds, and Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood’s The Treasure Box also finds hope in books. In watercolors, ink, and collage, Blackwood illuminates Wild’s tale of a boy, displaced by war and sustained by the memory of a red book. The story begins, “When the enemy bombed the library, everything burned.” Next page: “Charred paper, frail as butterflies, fluttered in the wind. People caught the words and cupped them in their hands.” The only surviving book is one that Peter’s father had checked out of the library — his favorite book because it’s “about our people, about us.” He puts it in a box, and they take it with them as they flee the advancing armies. To say more risks spoiling the experience of those who’ve not read it. So, instead, I’ll simply note that it’s an eloquent defense of why, in the dangerous times in which we live, people need books.

Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood, The Treasure Box (2013)

Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood, The Treasure Box (2013)

Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood, The Treasure Box (2013)

Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King's The Duck and the Darklings (2014)There are many other beautiful books I saw in Geelong and Melbourne,* including one that Erica Hateley showed me: Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King’s The Duck and the Darklings (2014). Unfortunately, I neglected to pick up a copy of this book. But I did at least want to give it a mention here — both to remind myself to get it, and to call it to your attention.

UPDATE, 11 July, 10:20 am: Since several non-Australians have asked, you can buy Australian books via Fishpond.com.  I bought a copy of Shaun Tan’s The Rules of Summer from Fishpond in November 2013, months before its US release.

_______

* I was there last week for two conferences: ACLAR and Literature and Affect.

Leave a Comment