Archive for Comic-Con

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:

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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 descent — 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:

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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.


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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 Murray, 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)

Murray 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!


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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:

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Comic-Con, San Diego, Sunday, July 21

No Face (from Miyazaki's Spirited Away)

Welcome to the final day of my admittedly idiosyncratic coverage of the 2013 Comic-Con in San Diego. As on previous days, I’ve given each event or topic a heading so that you can find whatever interests you and then skip the rest.

Getting Into Character

You could spend all of your time here photographing people in their costumes. Some of the people in their costumes seem to come primarily to be photographed. People ask them, they agree, and then they stop and pose. And lots of people take photos. I can’t imagine that these folks make it to many panels.

But they do such an incredible job with their costumes. Truly impressive, and such a wide array of characters — from comics, movies, TV shows, video games, even some from children’s literature. (I saw a Thing One and Thing Two today.)  Here are a few cos-players that I’ve photographed during the past few days.

Poison Ivy and Two-Face

Poison Ivy and Two-Face.

Spy vs. Spy

Spy vs. Spy.

One cos-player photobombs other cos-players

One cos-player photobombs other cos-players.

Funky Winkerbean’s 40th+ Anniversary

Tom Batiuk and Alex Sinclair

Featuring Tom Batiuk (creator of Funky Winkerbean), and Alex Sinclair (who has done coloring for Funky and for a lot of other comics), this panel marked the 41st year of Funky Winkerbean.

Tom Batiuk has a wry sense of humor, and solid comic timing. Describing Phantom Empire (starring Gene Autry) — an over-the-top combination of western, science fiction, and musical — he said it “viewed genre as an inconvenience.”  He’s also fond of one-liners like “So, I got up early one morning at the crack of noon.”

Batiuk recalled reading comics — or having his father read the comics to him — in the 3rd grade.  He started drawing them not long after. As he said, “I got my first comic book, and learned that there was a party going on inside.”

A couple of choice quotations from Tom Batiuk:

“I’ve spent the last 40 years in a room by myself. I’m lucky. I’m a fortunate person. I like spending all day in a room by myself.”

“People often ask me how to get into comics. The first thing I say is don’t have a plan B. And the second thing is try to get a room on the sunny side of the hospital.”

Alex Sinclair talks about coloring the story of Lisa’s cancer, and how in coloring these Funky Winkerbean strips he did the opposite of what he did in comic books. Instead of bright colors, he went for realistic coloring.

The strips about Lisa’s cancer — displayed on the screen — were so very moving that you could hear the audience sniffling (me, too). The strips’ tone makes them so effective. They leaven the sadness with humor, but they do so with a light touch, offering a smile in the darkness rather than a laugh.

Two more quotations, in which Tom Batiuk addresses the sometimes serious subject matter of Funky Winkerbean:

“I still get emails: ‘I really love your strip, especially the early funny ones.’”

“I don’t owe people a funny strip each day…. But what I am obligated to do is give you the best work I could possibly give you every time.”

Faith Erin Hicks in Conversation with Jeff Smith

Faith Erin Hicks and Jeff Smith

Though he was the rock star on this panel, Jeff Smith kept the focus on Faith Erin Hicks. In addition to being a great cartoonist, Smith is also a great moderator/interviewer.

Faith Erin Hicks and Prudence Shen, Nothing Can Possibly Go WrongThis conference introduced me to Faith Erin Hicks’ work, and I’m now a fan. I bought two of her books while here: The Adventures of Superhero Girl and Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong (adapted from Prudence Shen’s novel). I’ll definitely be buying more, and — I expect — teaching her work in my Literature for Adolescents class. (See also her comments on the “Drawing Stories: What’s New in YA Graphic Novels” panel from my Friday, July 19 Comic-Con report).  OK, now on to the panel itself.

Hicks told us, “I was a teenage wanna-be reader of comics, but there were no comics for me.” And so, “I literally started making comics because I wanted Buffy the Vampire Slayer in comic-strip form.” Her early comics, she says, were Buffy knock-offs.

Faith Erin Hicks: I’ve made over 2200 pages of comics.

Jeff Smith: Wow. Nice.

Faith Erin Hicks: And I’d say over half of them are not terribly good.

Hicks was so happy to be interviewed by Jeff Smith. As she said, “I’ve been having the most amazing time at this Comic-Con…. I’ve met all my artistic heroes.  Getting to sit here and talk with you [Jeff Smith]. … I got to meet the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and got to talk with them. … And just this morning, my editor introduced me to Joss Whedon.”  Things are going well for her.

But they haven’t always gone well. She recalled being here at a Comic-Con some years back, and not having enough money to buy meals… and so seeking food at various receptions. She moved to Halifax in 2005 for a job in animation, but that company let her go in 2008. At that time, she wondered whether to look for another job in animation or make comics her full-time (instead of part time) vocation. She chose the latter and has been very happy.

Faith Erin Hicks: I now get to make my living making comics.

Jeff Smith: You quit your day job.

Faith Erin Hicks: My day job quit me.

Smith and Hicks talked about the increase of women in the comics business. Smith observed, “When Vijaya [Iyer, Smith’s wife and business partner] and I came here in 1993, the women’s restroom was like a palace. There was no one else in there. It was just her and Vampira.”

Jeff Smith, Bone vol. 1: Out from BonevilleFaith Erin Hicks big influences — the first comics that really spoke to her — were Jeff Smith’s Bone, and Naoki Urasawa’s work. She tells us that “Manga didn’t have an impact on my style. … But it had an impact on my pacing.” She noted that the pacing in Smith’s work is also like that of manga. He said that he’d heard that, but never read manga until recently, and then, sensing that the conversation had veered toward him, Smith — great moderator and kind person that he is —interrupted himself. “I don’t want to talk about me,” he said, and then steered the conversation back to Hicks.

Discussing future possible projects, Hicks told us, “My most rejected pitch [is] about an office that is a waystation for dead people.”  She added, “It’s been rejected everywhere.”

“It’s the very first comic I’ve done that has no supernatural bent to it.”

— Faith Erin Hicks on Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong (her latest book, 2013).

Faith Erin Hicks starts each day with a run because first priority of cartoonist is to take care of yourself.  She then works 12 hours a day (taking a break fo make supper, see the boyfriend), 6 days a week. She takes Saturdays off … unless deadlines demand that she works Saturday.

Faith Erin Hicks, The Adventures of Superhero GirlI asked whether there’d be more Adventures of Superhero Girl, and she said that she’d like to do more but wasn’t sure where she’d find the time. I completely understand. The more your career gets going, the harder it is to commit to anything not already under contract.

In response to another audience member’s question, Hicks told us that Demonology 101 will never be published in book form because she feels it’s not good enough — she’s just not comfortable selling it. But, she said, it will always be available on-line.

Jeff Smith can relate to that. People ask him to publish the Bone strip he did (“a sort of proto-Bone“), but he says no: “The drawing is terrible, the jokes are terrible.”

Hicks also recalls her comic strip, Font Management, which she did for her college newspaper. She also speaks of it with disdain. (The joke in the strip’s title concerns how to use typefaces to make your essay seem longer.)

“It looked like a guy in a big rubber batsuit fighting a villain on a train. It looked too real.”

— Jeff Smith on the Chris Nolan Batman films, and why he skipped the last one

Some recent work Faith Erin Hicks recommends:

  • David Aja’s Hawkeye
  • Sienkiewicz’s New Mutants

“‘I am going to make superhero comics for me.’ I think that’s my whole career.”

— Faith Erin Hicks

Audience member asks, “Do you have a dream project?”

Jeff Smith (answering for her): It’s a way-station for dead people.

Faith Erin Hicks (joking): Iron Man! I really want to do Iron Man!

Faith Erin Hicks (serious): I would really like to something longer — 3 books, maybe. … I’d like to do something in a historical fantasy setting.

“Once comics become your life, you have to make decisions on what you spend your time on.”

— Faith Erin Hicks on why she’s no longer a gamer

I was struck during this panel and others by how much comics work can be like academic work. Choose the projects that interest you. Since you sit most of the day, make sure you exercise. You’ll work long, long hours (including weekends), but the work will be interesting. Both careers are very self-directed, with all the benefits and perils implied by that. The main difference is that us professors don’t need to make a living from our books, whereas comics artists do. But we’re similar in that we also do other work (in addition to our books) to make ends meet.

Gene Deitch

Philip Nel, Eric Reynolds, Gene Deitch, Zdenka Deitch

Stopped by the Fantagraphics booth to have a proper chat with animation/cartooning legend Gene Deitch. I introduced myself after his panel on Thursday, and thanked him for his help on the bio. of Johnson and Krauss. But I didn’t get the sense that he remembered our correspondence. So, Eric Reynolds and I chatted with him a bit. Eric re-introduced me: “This is Crockett Johnson’s biographer.” We showed him the new Barnaby book and my bio.

Deitch recounted the story (which you can find in his essay, “The Picture Book Animated,” and in my bio.) about animating A Picture for Harold’s Room. That story granted me a lot of insight into how complex Johnson’s Harold books actually are. Each Harold book is essentially one large drawing. To animate it, Deitch couldn’t add a tiny piece of the picture in each new frame because, if he did so, the line would look jerky. So, they drew Harold’s entire picture first, and then filmed Harold erasing that (with his crayon). When you run the film forwards, it looks like he’s drawing the picture. Also challenging for Deitch is that the film has no cuts. It’s one continuous animated film.

I bought Nudnik (the DVD and the book), and Cat on a Hot Thin Groove (collection of Deitch’s cartoons for the record industry).

Paul Hornschemeier draws Crockett Johnson

From 2 to 4 pm, I hung out at the Fantagraphics booth with Paul Hornschemeier — our signing was again at the same time. Not long after we sat down, Paul began sketching a portrait of Crockett Johnson, using the photo on the back cover of Barnaby Volume One.  Remarkably, he did this sketch while talking with other people and posted it to his Tumblr during our signing.

Crockett Johnson by Paul Hornschemeier

This is the third cartoonist’s portrait of Crockett Johnson. In addition to Johnson’s self-portrait, there’s Chris Ware’s (on the cover of my bio.).

Paul Hornschemeier, All and SundryPaul is a versatile artist, as his latest collection, All and Sundry, shows. Since our signing wasn’t exactly mobbed, I spent some time reading his All and Sundry and The Three Paradoxes. I bought The Three Paradoxes solely because it was easier to transport (a smaller book). Both are well-drawn and thought-provoking, and I’ll be ordering the other from Fantagraphics when I get back.

By “wasn’t exactly mobbed” I mean, of course, that very few people came. A former classmate stopped by with her husband, and bought Barnaby.  A few other folks came buy and bought books. There is some good news: when I left (less than an hour before the exhibition hall closed), Fantagraphics had sold all but one copy of Barnaby Volume One.

Paul Pope & Gene Luen Yang

Paul Pope & Gene Luen Yang

I missed most of this because I was down in the exhibit hall, signing books (well, a few books, anyway). And… for the few minutes that I was there, I didn’t take notes.

So, about all I can tell you is this. Paul Pope listens to Beethoven while writing — Beethoven’s Third Symphony is his favorite. Depending on the kind of work he’s doing (inking, say), he also listens to heavy metal.  Gene Yang can’t listen to music while he’s working.  As an ’80s child, he did admit to a fondness for Men Without Hats.

And this: An audience member asked Yang whether he would write something more autobiographical, exploring the complexities of Asian identity. (Yang himself has one parent from Taiwan and one from China.) He said that’s a possibility. He noted that he’s married to a Korean, and that though they’re both “Asian Americans,” identities are of course much more complex.

Gene Yang and Kyoshi Warriors

 After the panel, Gene Yang poses with the Kyoshi Warriors.

Books (and one DVD)

Comic-Con: books

Books arrayed on floor of hotel room.

Now to carry them all home, because it wouldn’t be a proper Comic-Con if you didn’t damage your back, now would it?

Note: The Owly ones are for my niece Emily (I already have copies, albeit not autographed ones!)

My Favorite Tweet from Comic-Con 2013

The Future Belongs to Crowds

“The future belongs to crowds”

— Don DeLillo, Mao II (1991)

I have never seen any conference as massive as this one. I have never seen a book/media exhibit as vast as this one. And the crowds! As far as I can tell, about 130,000 people attended this year’s Comic-Con.

After being at the Con for a few days, you grow accustomed to seeing people in costume. Last night on the way to dinner (blocks away from the Con), I saw Spider-Man crossing the street. No one even blinked.

I learned a great deal from the panels, all of which were really interesting. Not a dud in the bunch. I’ve also learned to avoid the big media events. Unless I get a press pass that lets me jump the line (I assume a press pass would let one do this?), I will in future be sticking to sessions about comics/graphic novels. No point in standing around for hours to see movie stars — those events are covered by the press. You can read about them on-line, afterwards.

I’m not sure when I’ll return, but — to quote Gonzo, at the end of The Muppet Movie — “I’m going to go back there someday.” Heck, if there’s time, I may even dress up like Mr. O’Malley (Barnaby’s fairy godfather). Who wants to dress up as Barnaby & come with me?

Crockett Johnson, Barnaby (15 June 1943)

 

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Comic-Con, San Diego, Saturday, July 20

To begin today’s post, here is a photo of Eric Reynolds and I fending off the crowds at this morning’s signing.

Philip Nel, Barnaby, Eric Reynolds

One at a time, folks! One at a time! There are plenty of books for everyone.

Seriously.  There really are plenty.  I’ll be signing at the booth again on Sunday, from 2-4.

Small-Press Comics for Small People

You already know Jeff Smith’s Bone, Drawn & Quarterly’s picture-book editions of Tove Jansson’s Moomin comics (the latest is Moomin Builds a House), and Andy Runton’s Owly. But do you know these contemporary comics for young readers?  I only just encountered them here, at Comic-Con.

  • Debbie Huey, Bumperboy and the Loud, Loud MountainMike Bocianowski’s Yets! is a whimsical Walt-Kelly-esque fantasy. Though I wish the format were slightly larger (the typeface can be a bit small), but — based on my reading of the first volume — they’re charming adventures for young readers.
  • Debbie Huey’s Bumperboy series features Bumperboy, his pal Bumperpup, and their friends. I haven’t read the Bumperboy Gets Angry sequence, but Bumperboy and the Loud, Loud Mountain, Bumperboy and Friends in “First Day of School”, and Pictonese Lessons are all charming.
  • Konami Kanata‘s Chi’s Sweet Home stars a kitten, and may be for slightly older (say, grade-school) readers, but also very much an “all ages” comic… about a kitten!
  • I already knew James Kochalka’s Johnny Boo series, about the eponymous ghost and his pet ghost Squiggle, but they’re worth a mention, too. (And they’re also on display here.)

Since I started by mentioning Owly, I must add that I bought a couple of Owly books for my niece yesterday (I didn’t buy them for myself because I already have a complete set), and Andy Runton — who is just as kind and thoughtful as you’d expect Owly’s creator to be — inscribed them to her, including some original drawings. Very cool.

Never Mind the Bullock

We tried to find the Jack Kirby Museum booth, where Charles Hatfield would be signing copies of his Jack Kirby: The Hand of Fire (2011, Eisner Award winner), and The Superhero Reader (which he co-edited, 2013). Instead, we found ourselves adjacent to a booth where Sandra Bullock was signing autographs. Later, we realized that the “5000″ numbers in the convention hall are not contiguous: some are in the back left corner, and others are in the front right corner.

Will Eisner and the Graphic Novel

Neil Gaiman, Dennis Kitchen, Scott McCloud, Jeff Smith

Paul Levitz, the moderator of this panel, seemed to have quite a lot to say. He really knew his subject (Will Eisner), but I kept wanting him to stop answering his questions before he had asked them.

That aside, the panelists themselves were excellent.  When the panel began, Neil Gaiman had yet to arrive.  But we had Denis Kitchen (literary executor for the Will Eisner Estate), Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics), and Jeff Smith (Bone).

Denis Kitchen recalled meeting Eisner during the period when Eisner was doing his educational comics. Eisner actually sought Kitchen because Kitchen was involved in underground comics, which had a different business model. The creator had copyright control, the original art would be returned to creator, and so on. This interested Eisner. So, although Kitchen had questions for Will, Will had more questions for him.

Scott McCloud said, “Will was completely different from anyone else in his generation. I saw him arguing with Will Kane about Maus. Will thought it was important for all the reasons we now know. Gil Kane thought it was so badly drawn that he couldn’t get past that.” Speaking of Eisner as an innovator, McCloud offered, “He was leading an army into battle before anyone knew there was a battle before anyone knew there was an army.” Eisner, McCloud explained, “was the first one who really understood what to do with the page.”  Mc Cloud also saw Eisner as part of the non-fiction comics revolution. “We’re only now just beginning to exploit the possibilities that he saw decades ago.” A Contract with God “is not technically the first graphic novel, but the shot across the bow that showed everyone what it could be.”

Jeff Smith told us, “I loved his drawing — the over-the-top caricature — the amount of emotion in is characters.” Smith recalls being fascinated by the fact that “there was some sense of continuity as the story developed.” He noted, for example, that when the Spirit got injured, he would be on crutches for several issues, rather then emerging in the subsequent issue fully intact. “I’d never seen that before,” Smith told us. “Will was so interested in what the new people were doing, what the young people were doing.  He wasn’t just interested.  He had to know…. And I believe in passing it on.  I learned from him that that’s important.”

Jules Feiffer, TantrumJules Feiffer was writing Tantrum at about the same time that Will Eisner was creating A Contract with God. Why didn’t Tantrum have the impact?

Jeff Smith answers, “Will was a comic book guy. Jules was a newspaper guy, known through the Village Voice and stuff like that.”  And so, he said, “I don’t think it [A Contract with God] clicked at the time. I think it clicked in retrospect.”  He added, “It was when you saw that next generation of comics people, … [A Contract with God] made them want to do it.”

McCloud said the problem was that “Tantrum looked at home.  It looked like it belonged.  Will did things that don’t belong.

At about that moment (20 minutes into the discussion) Neil Gaiman — wearing dark glasses and dressed entirely in black — arrived through a side door and walked right in front of where we were sitting. He dashed up onto the stage, and immediately entered the conversation.

Gaiman recalled, “I bought Tantrum with my own money. I was 17.”  He had a very different — and, I think, better — explanation for why Tantrum didn’t click.  “The pschyo-sexual odyssey of a 40-year-old man was less accessible than A Contract with God.” And “It didn’t look like a comic.”

Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, Signal to NoiseGaiman remembered meeting Will Eisner, and he spoke of “Having learned everything I knew about comics from Will, going out and buying Comics and Sequential Art,” which became his guide for how to write comics.  Then, once he wrote comics, he wanted “to do something that was good enough for him. He remembered giving Signal to Noise to Eisner, in an elevator, and then listened to Eisner while he told Gaiman his thoughts on Signal to Noise.  All of the panelists conveyed the sense that Eisner was not just generous to the younger generation but genuinely interested in their work.  One reason, Gaiman said, was that Eisner “wanted it [comics] to expand. He wanted it to embiggen.”

Here is an amusing exchange about Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, which Neil Gaiman read when it was still in draft form.

Scott McCloud: I was a stone-cold formalist. Neil had to harangue me into a chapter about storytelling.

Neil Gaiman: I don’t know that I harangued you. I remonstrated.

Levitz says, “Let’s get back to influence.”  Gaiman tells the following story:

I interviewed Will.  The last one we did was on stage.  And we talked for an hour.  … The bit of the conversation I remember was asking will why he kept doing it…. Why are you bringing graphic novels out now at an age when all your contemporaries are retired are dead or both.  And he started talking about a film which he saw in which Kirk Douglas played a trumpet player, and he was looking for the note.  And if he kept playing his trumpet , he would find the note, and he could finish.  And he described his entire career as being in search of the note.  He knew he could hear this thing somewhere up ahead, and he wouldn’t need to do anything after that.  And he’d finish it, and he’d look at it, and the note would still be moving across the horizon, and so he’d still keep looking.

Jeff Smith offers, “Will provided a good example of how to do a career.  I’d look at him and say I want to do that job.  That’s a good job. …. Will was still really active…. He was still present, he was still around.  That’s the model.  Why not go for it?  Why stop?  This was my sense from him.”

McCloud says, “I’d go one step further and say that he was certainly a role model for me. He was pretty much the whole package.  I saw the relationship he had with Ann.  I wanted to have that kind of relationship with my wife, Ivy.”  McCloud notes, too, that Eisner “was always open to change” and that he was “optimistic — in the good sense of the word, not the deluded sense.”

Kitchen adds, “He was intellectually curious.  He was not like most old people I knew.  Of his generation, no one else was even willing to read underground comics.  He not only looked at them.  They influenced him.  It was people like Justin Green and Jack Jackson that he found very influential.  He was happy to talk about it, and he was happy to credit them.”

Neil Gaiman asks, “Do ever you think it would be interesting if he had really done the autobiographical comic that he could have done?”

Will Eisner, The DreamerKitchen: The Dreamer is the closest he comes.

Gaiman: The Dreamer is a kind of greatest hits. He kind of flirted with autobiography. He took his experience, and he Eisnerized it.

Kitchen: The Dreamer is the one where he pulled his punches.

Kitchen also tells us that he had to push Eisner on The Dreamer, trying to get him to say more.  Eisner, explained that he couldn’t do autobiographical comics because “I’m not like Crumb. I can’t let it all hang out.”

Jeff Smith recalled that, when Scholastic wanted to publish Bone, Smith said OK, if you’re going to do that, you have to put it with the other books.  You can’t put it with the Dungeons and Dragons.  He added “That was me channeling Will.”

Neil Gaiman observed, “He set up the publishing model that gave him The Spirit. I encountered Will [Eisner’s work] for the first time in a proto-comics shop when I was 15.  … On the wall in this basement was The Spirit, no. 2, Harvey edition.  I had no idea they were done in the 1940s. They were the best storytelling I’d ever seen. … Will, unlike pretty much everyone else of his generation, had not sold his baby.”

Levitz introduces the topic of what was learned from Eisner.

Gaiman answers, “Share knowledge. Be collegiate. That was one of the most interesting things I learned.” Smith and McCloud concur.

There was no time for audience questions.

Team Cul de Sac

Chris Sparks, Lincoln Pierce, Mark Tatulli, Lucas Turnbloom, Jenni Holm, Matthew Holm, Andrew Farago, Shaenon Garrity, Rob Harrell

Deftly moderated by Tom Racine, this all-star panel included Chris Sparks, Lincoln Pierce, Mark Tatulli, Lucas Turnbloom, Jenni Holm, Matthew Holm, Andrew Farago, Shaenon Garrity, Rob Harrell.

Richard Thompson's Cul de Sac Golden Treasury (2010)First, if you haven’t read Richard Thompson’s Cul de Sac, what are you waiting for? Though Thompson’s Parkinsons has (temporarily?) cut short its run, the strips have been collected in several volumes, and The Complete Cul de Sac is due out this fall. In the early days of this blog, I did a brief post on it. But you should go and read the strip itself.

If you’re not a Cul de Sac fan, you may not know about Chris Sparks’ Team Cul-de-Sac: Cartoonists Draw the Line at Parkinsons, a book which has raised over $105,000 for Parkinsons research. Sparks, who invited cartoonists to contribute to a book honoring Cul de Sac and Thompson, won the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award at the Eisners last night.

Sparks tells of how he met Richard Thompson, and how devastated he was when he learned that his favorite comic-strip artist had contracted Parkinsons.  He read Michael J. Fox’s book Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist, and decided that “If a rich good-looking movie star could do this, then so could a poor web designer.”

Here’s what some of the other panelists had to say about Thompson and Cul de Sac:

“The best comic strip since Calvin and Hobbes, one of the best comic strips of all-time.”

– Lincoln Pierce

“He’s one of my heroes”

– Lincoln Pierce

“Petey is one of the most perfect comic strip characters of all time. I used to think you couldn’t do better than Charlie Brown, as the everyman.  And yet Petey is more idiosyncratic….”

– Lincoln Pierce

“What I love about Richard’s work is that it doesn’t appear to have any sort of forethought….. It’s very natural and very loose”

– Mark Tatulli

“Petey is my favorite character…. I can remember that from my childhood”

– Mark Tatulli

“I thought there was a lot of mediocrity in the comics, and it’s just not fair”

– Mark Tatulli, on why he created his specific contribution to Team Cul de Sac

In case you don’t know the strip, here is a Cul de Sac for you to enjoy.

Richard Thompson, Cul de Sac

More quotations from panelists:

“It’s just the perfect comic. It’s one of those things where you look at your work and you think I’m doing it wrong. This is right. And I’m doing it wrong.”

– Lucas Turnbloom

“Our entire adulthood was shaped by Parkinsons.”

– Jenni Holm on her and her brother Matt; their father had Parkinsons

“His writing is so amazing because he just nails family life.  The funny dynamics between the mom and the kids, and the kids and the kids. It’s so hard to pull off.”

– Jenni Holm on Richard Thompson’s writing

“It feels like an autobiographical strip I did as a weird 10-year-old kid, sitting in my room and reading comics while all the other kids are playing baseball.”

– Andrew Farago

“The combination of art and writing in the strip is perfect. … They capture the character and the sense of humor at the same time.”

– Shaenon Garrity

“I worship his art.”

– Rob Harrell

“I don’t want to speak for everybody else, but I feel like we’re all faking it and he’s the real deal.”

– Mark Tatulli

“One of the great things about all comics is that as you read them you see that they have their own obsessions. And one of Richard’s is shopping carts”

– Lincoln Pierce

From Comic Book Artist to Fine Artist Extraordinaire: A Chat with Robert Williams

Karl Meyer, Eric Reynolds, Robert Williams (of course!), Gwenned Vitello, and William Stout

This panel featured Karl Meyer, Eric Reynolds, Robert Williams (of course!), Gwenned Vitello, and William Stout.

I went to this panel because Eric was on it and because I knew nearly nothing about the artist, who (I learned) started as an underground cartoonist — was one of the original Zap Comix artists — and in the 1970s began to create fine art.  The art itself reminds me of Dalí and R. Crumb. Robert Williams is a contemporary of Crumb (and they were/are friends) — so, I’m not suggesting his work is derivative of Crumb, but rather that they’re artistic kin.  Stylistically, Williams does not use Crumb’s squiggly line but Dalí’s crisp, precise, realistic renderings of (often) impossible scenes.  Fun fact for ’80s metal fans: Robert Williams did the original cover art for Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction.

A few quotations from the panel.

“The ideas do not come easy. They have to be excreted under pressure.”

– Robert Williams

“He’s taken some of the tropes of comics and infused them into his fine art.”

– Eric Reynolds

“Put enough color and action in there so that it [the image] sticks with ‘em [the audience], whether they like it or not.”

– Robert Williams

“There would be no Fantagraphics if it weren’t for Zap Comix

– Eric Reynolds

Another interesting tidbit I learned: Leonardo diCaprio’s father, George diCaprio, was an underground comix distributor.

Williams had lots of great stories, which I would record here … if I wasn’t so fatigued at the end of the day (this panel began at 7).

My Dinner with Eric

What? You think I’m going to write up my dinner with Eric Reynolds? Sorry. This blog post has gotten long enough. We did have a great chat, though — always great to hang out with Eric.  He’s a good person, and I feel very fortunate to be working with him on the Barnaby books.  Oh, did I mention — another signing on Sunday, 2-4 pm, Fantagraphics?  I did?  Good, then I’ll see you there, at booth 1718.

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Comic-Con, San Diego, Friday, July 19

And now, a few notes from day 3 of Comic-Con 2013.

A Simple Repast, Coming This Fall

Jerry Griswold invited me for breakfast at the Broken Yolk, which (we discovered) had been leased by the TruTV television show (Impractical) Jokers. As we sat at the table, we noticed that a laminated advertisement fully covered the table’s surface. Then, a smiling young woman employed by the network stopped by to hand out an advertisement disguised as comic book. She also invited us to flick a spinner on a plastic wheel, to win a prize. I did and won a sturdy keychain bearing the name of the network. So did Jerry. For those who are interested, the television program seems to involve four white men getting into mischief. Alleged hilarity ensues.

Brought to You By

advertisement on side of building, San Diego

Advertising covers every available surface at the Con itself. The sides of buildings, the sides of buses, the sides and backs of bicycle taxis, the sides of people. To be at the Con is to be immersed in glossy appeals from the entertainment industrial complex. Not that anyone expected otherwise.

advertisement on side of bus, San Diego

Juxtaposed Images vs. Juxtaposed Text and Images: Smackdown!

Philip Nel, Scott McCloud, R.C. Harvey

While loitering at the Fantagraphics booth, I met R.C. (Bob) Harvey, whose work I’ve read and admired for years.  Then, Scott McCloud strolled up to chat.  Haven’t seen him in, oh, 5 years at least. Great to see him again. As if on cue, these two theorists of comics — with opposing views on how comics work — began a friendly debate. As my students (and, really, all people who are serious about comics) know, Scott McCloud, following Will Eisner, defines comics as “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence.” For Harvey, however, the key juxtaposition is between text and images.

Here is a slightly sketchy, inaccurate recreation of our conversation:

Harvey: Have I convinced you yet that text are part of comics?

McCloud: Isn’t text a kind of image?

Harvey: When a definition gets too broad, it loses meaning.

McCloud [not taking the bait]: That can happen, true.

Me: There should be a panel — at a future SPX? at a future Comic-Con? — with both of you, Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik — debating how comics work.

McCloud: And Dylan Horrocks. Have you read his “Inventing Comics”?

Me: No. Where would I find it?

McCloud: It appeared in The Comics Journal. I think he also has it on his website. It’s a very eloquent, smart take-down of me and Understanding Comics.

Me: Thanks.  I’ll check it out.

Gauld = Wry, Topical Gorey

Scott, Karin and I walked over to the Drawn & Quarterly booth, to say hello to Tom Gauld.  I wanted to tell him how much I enjoyed his presentation, and buy a few books — his, the new Spiegelman anthology, more Moomin comics….  But back to Gauld. Later in the afternoon, I read You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, and I think many of my fellow English professors (or, simply, anyone who is a great reader) would enjoy these cartoons.  Rendered with Gorey-esque style and humor, they’re more topical and wry than Gorey. Though some have dark undercurrents, Gauld’s comedy creates a brighter mood. I laugh out loud at these more often than I do at Gorey’s work. The comic below is actually one of the less topical collected in the book, but it’s definitely a keeper.

Tom Gauld

Here Comes Snoopy

I also got to meet Snoopy. (That’s him, on the right.)

Snoopy and fan

My first choice would have been a photo with Charlie Brown, but I understand that he is currently in traction, following an unfortunate, annual kicked-and-missed-football accident.

Drawing Stories: What’s New in YA Graphic Novels

Panel featuring: Vera Brosgol (Anya’s Ghost), Gris Grimly (Frankenstein), Faith Erin Hicks (Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong), Hope Larson (Who Is AC?, Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time), Paul Pope (Battling Boy)

Moderator Scott Robins asked: What did you read as a teen-ager?

Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma 1/2Vera Brosgol read Sailor Moon and Pokemon. She got really into manga.  Sheoved Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma 1/2 and Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal.

Gris Grimly responded, “I wasn’t allowed to read comics, but as a kid I would read New Mutants and hide it.  I’d stick it in my backpack between schoolbooks and stuff.  I was really into horror even though I wasn’t allowed to read horror.”  He also admitted that his books are really more children’s books than comics, but that he had always really wanted to draw comics.  As a result, he said, “My books stand out in the children’s book sections because they look like comics.”

Faith Erin Hicks answered, “I am Canadian, and as all good Canadian children do, I grew up reading Tintin and Asterix…. But when I hit my teenage years, I didn’t really have access to comics.  There was one comic book store, but it was terrifying…. I had no access to comic books that were appropriate for a 15-year-old to read.”  She added, “I started making comics because I wanted to make the sort of comics that I wanted to read.”  Getting back to the question, she admitted, “As a teen-ager, I mostly read prose.” She mostly read science fiction.

Paul Pope said, “I read what ever I could find, but the stuff that I lvoed was Dune. I read Heavy Metal magazine.  I loved Carl Barks.  I read Moby-Dick.” These comments made me see immediately why he and Jeff Smith — who recommended Pope’s work yesterday — would be friends.

Hope Larson told us, “I was kind of an anime and manga nerd in high school.  So, Ranma 1/2. And then I got into indie comics — Dan Clowes, that sort of thing.”

Scott Robins asked: How many of you on the panel are readers of YA fiction?  If so, does that play a role in your work?

Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & ParkFaith Erin Hicks responded immediately: “I’m a big reader of YA. I read one on the plane.” That book was Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park. She wants to see more YA comics. She would like to see books like Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in comics.

Others admitted that they don’t read much YA. Hope Larson responded, “Lately, I don’t have as much time to read. I read YA, but I read my friends’ books.”  Paul Pope said that “Once you start working, you go … down into a trench. All I look at right now is Moebius and Kirby.  I feel like you can do two things. You can either read everything or nothing.  I’m reading nothing.”  Gris Grimly admitted that most of his influences come from children’s literature of over 100 years ago — Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

In a discussion of why teens read, Paul Pope said that when you’re a teenager, “You read to enhance your experience.” Teen-agers, he said, are trying to understand their experience, see possible futures. I thought that an insightful comment.

In a discussion of the future of the YA graphic novel, Paul Pope had an explanation for why there are currently so few: “You have to have two disciplines down, a writer and an artist, to do YA graphic novels. And that’s 20 years to become each.”  Though (as she admitted) the author of an adaptation herself, Hope Larson said, “What I would hope about YA comics is that I’d like to see more original fiction and less adaptations.”

In response to an audience member’s question on making comics more female-friendly, Faith Erin Hicks said, “Not all girls need to have large bosoms” — which inspired much applause from the audience. Paul Pope agreed: “Comics have been dominated by the male gaze.”

One interesting question that no one really had an answer for is what makes a YA comic book a YA comic book. Gris Grimly wasn’t sure. Faith Erin Hicks said “Because they’re about teenagers.” But, as Ben Towle pointed out in a question, teen-agers often read books about adults. So, not an easy question to answer.

In response to why adolescents read what they do, Paul Pope said: “They trust stories to tell them the truth.  You cannot lie to children in books.”

Humor in Graphic Novels

Left to right: Andrew Farago, Jeffrey Brown, Tom Gauld, Lisa Hanawalt, Ellen Forney

On this panel, Andrew Farago, Jeffrey Brown, Tom Gauld, Lisa Hanawalt, Ellen Forney discussed — you guessed it — humor in graphic novels.

They began by discussing how they got into writing humorous comics.

Jeffrey Brown noted that humor “lets you deal with sometimes serious subjects, but there’s this distance that the humor gives you that grants you a different perspective”

Tom Gauld: “I wanted to be a deep dark soul who was tormented, but I just wasn’t. … And I’ve found that through that humor, you can still have a depth….”

Lisa Hanawalt: “It was a way of interacting with other people if I was shy”

Ellen Forney, MarblesEllen Forney: “I think having a sense of humor is a great way of coping with life.”

Lisa Hanawalt: “Sometimes the funniest things are the saddest things.”

Tom Gauld: “A lot of humor comes from things failing…. For something to be funny, you need that balance — funny and sadness, and awkwardness.”

Next, Andrew Farago (our moderator) switched to background in cartooning, asking “What led you here today?”

Jeffrey Brown: “About 15 years ago, I started writing autobiographical comics. And I focused on the most awkward things. I was trying to show how stupid I was.”

Tom Gauld: “The thing I do — the weekly thing for the Guardian — and so every week, I think that the joke is like a little machine that I’d like to make work. And it’s not really about anything else other than itself.  Whereas in a longer work, the joke is in service to the story. The joke comes out of the situation. It can’t be funny all the time.”

Tom Gauld, The Poetry Gene

Lisa Hanawalt: “Comics are the most efficient way for me to take whatever I’ve been experiencing in my life”

Ellen Forney: “Telling — especially retelling — something that was intense or awkward is a way of owning it, controlling it.”

Andrew Farago observed, “Every time I’ve done a panel with humor as a topic, it’s always become about misery”

Tom Gauld added that there’s the idea that “‘Happiness writes white’ because when it’s happy there’s nothing to say”

Tom Gauld noted that people think that writing cartoons must be fun. He acknowledged that, when you get the idea, it’s great. “On either side of that moment, I get a kind of brain smile. But the rest of the time, it’s just a man sitting alone in a room.”

Asked where they draw inspiration from, the cartoonists answered….

Tom Gauld: “My work’s abstracted from the world. It’s not really autobiographical.”

Lisa Hanawalt: “I take a lot of notes”

Ellen Forney: “just observations from the day”

Next question: Are long-form versus short-form radically different processes for you?

“A really short comic can be a bit like writing a haiku, because everything really matters” replies Tom Gauld, who admits he “likes the constraints.” Gauld also explained how he helps people get the joke. He’s always thinking, he says, “Someone who hasn’t been on this thinking journey that I’ve been on, how can I leave little markers for them that will lead them to this hilarious conclusion?”

A Tribute to Kim Thompson of Fanagraphics Books

Eric Reynolds, Gary Groth, Diana Schutz, Gilbert Hernandez, and Jaime Hernandez Fantagraphics publishers (and partners of the late Kim Thompson) Eric Reynolds and Gary Groth joined Diana Schutz (of Dark Horse), and Gilbert Hernandez and Jaime Hernandez (whose Love & Rockets is published by Fantagraphics) to remember Kim Thompson.

As Gary Groth noted at the start of the panel, to learn more about Kim, everyone should take a look at the triubutes to Kim on the Fantagraphics website (I think he means The Comics Journal website, because that’s where I found them).

Recalling being hired (at Fantagraphics) by Kim, Diana Schutz noted that there were a lot of other women who Kim had reached out to. “Back in the ’80s, there were not a lot of other women who were interested in comics. In a lot of ways, we were ignored. So, it was a great honor to be asked to contribute.”

Kim Thompson & EisnersJaime Hernandez saw Kim as something of an enigma. Imagining saying hello to Kim, he said, “Sometimes it was just “Hey, Kim,” and then Kim’s reply would be “Hey.” And that would be the end of the reaction. Then, Jaime said, “In the Comics Journal, there’d be this review attacking Frank Miller, and I’d wonder: is that the same Kim?”  Recalling that article, (Kim Thompson’s review of Frank Miller’s Ronan), Gary Groth said that when he and Kim Thompson were out with Harlan Ellison, Ellison took exception to Kim’s review.  Gary argued back, vigorously defending Kim’s review.  Kim, however, said nothing.  He preferred to argue on the page.

“He was part French bohemian, part comic book nerd, part American punk”

—Eric Reynolds

When he wanted something, Kim would be more outgoing. Affecting Yogi Bear’s voice, Gilbert Hernandez demonstrated: “Heyy, Diana! I’m coming to California!” He explained that Kim “had a way of trying to talk like Yogi Bear when he was trying to get something.”

I found especially interesting the list of novelists Kim Thompson liked (according to Gary and Eric):

  • Cormac McCarthy
  • Douglas Adams
  • P.G. Wodehouse
  • Terry Pratchett

“Fantagraphics publishes the best comics that are currently available, but Kim’s tastes were wider.”

— Diana Schutz

Eisners: It’s an Honor Just to Be Nominated

Susan Kirtley, Lynda Barry: Childhood Through the Looking-GlassCongratulations to Susan Kirtley on winning the Eisner for best Educational/Academic Work, for her Lynda Barry: Girlhood Through the Looking Glass — and for being the sole Eisner winner seated at our table.  She was so very happy.  Very cool.

For the record, since half of my book was devoted to a non-cartoonist (Ruth Krauss), I thought it an odd fit with the rest of the nominees — and the least likely to win. That said, I am an optimist and so was nervous… just in case. The moment Susan won, I relaxed. Whew! I didn’t have to get on stage and speechify. But, just in case, I had mentally prepared a few words. Here’s what I would have said:

When I began this project, back in the waning days of President Clinton’s second term, I never thought it would be nominated for such an award — much less be in the august company of my fellow nominees. There are many people to thank, but I’ll restrict myself to four. Thanks to Chris Ware for creating the best cover any of my books has ever had or will have. Thanks to Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss, who — though I never met them — became two of my closest friends. Finally, thanks to Karin Westman, who for a dozen years shared her spouse with this book.

Since I couldn’t say that there, I’m saying it here.

The big winner of the night was (no surprise!) Chris Ware, who — if my count is correct — won 5 of the 6 Awards for which he was nominated. Chip Kidd (Ware’s friend and editor) accepted them on his behalf, and performed his role with élan (and a bit of camp).

Oh, and there were a fair few celebrity award presenters: Edward James Olmos, Sergio Aragones, Neil Gaiman, James Marsters. (It is possible that Sergio Aragones is not a celebrity beyond the comics world, but any reader of MAD magazine would know who he is!)

Sergio Aragones at the Eisners, 2013

And as part of a bit Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Ross were doing, Chip Kidd kissed Neil Gaiman. On the mouth.

Kidd and Gaiman, snogging

And… that about wrapped things up for this year’s Eisner Awards.

I’ve never been nominated for such an award before, and am unlikely to be nominated again. I think I have a better understanding of those televised awards ceremonies now. The anticipation (and nerves) until your category’s done. And then, following the deflation, an ability to focus more broadly on what’s going on in the room, even as — lacking the former anxiety — fatigue begins to set in. The Eisners ran for oh, over 3 hours. I don’t remember exactly how long. But this is why other awards shows play the “please get off the stage” music (the Eisners do not). Important to keep the show moving.

We didn’t linger afterward. Ben Towle and I congratulated each other on losing an Eisner Award, and then ’twas time for a pleasant walk back to the hotel to write this up.

Coming Saturday morning at 9 am, another signing at Fantagraphics (booth 1718). Barnaby Volume One! The Johnson-Krauss bio.! The Chris Ware poster for the bio!  If you’re at Comic-Con, stop by!

Chris Ware's cover for Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature

 

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Comic-Con, San Diego, Thursday, July 18

Comic-Con: banners

Reflections and notes from the second day….

Rise and Run

I began the day with a run along North Harbor. On one side, there is the bay, tall ships, yachts, seagulls flying overhead, or … 6-foot-tall fences with barbed wire at the top. On the other side, dozens of homeless men. Some sleep on the benches, but some benches have metal bars dividing them into thirds, preventing people from lying on them. So, some homeless men sleep on the ground. Still others are rising, beginning their morning rituals, folding the tarp under which they have slept, preparing for a day on the street. Beyond them, the glorious, indifferent city of San Diego. (Indifference to the ill-housed and ill-fed is not unique to this city, course; it’s merely another example of America’s current policy of punishing the needy.)

Into the Breach

“Haven’t been in a crowd like this since I went to see the Who”

— Weird Al Yankovic, “Another One Rides the Bus”

Then, at Café 222, breakfast with Karin, Charles, his son, and Gina Gagliano (of First Second Books). And on to Comic-Con! Entering the Exhibitors Hall near Lego, Lucasfilm, and Hasbro … was a mistake. As we learned later, many Con-goers were gathering for free merchandise. It wasn’t a 1979 Who concert, but we were shoulder-to-shoulder and at times unable to move. When we made it to the comics publishers, we regained space and mobility. (Whew!)

Nel signs Hatfield's BarnabyIs There Anybody Out There?

Jen Vaughn, Jacq Cohen, Kristy Valenti, and everyone at Fantagraphics were wonderful.  But… few people came to the signing. Thanks to Perry Ostrin, Charles Hatfield, and Karen Green for visiting, and even buying a book! Fun to chat with Paul Hornschemeier, Jacq, and a few others.  And, I’ll be there again Saturday 9-10 and Sunday 2-4.  Don’t be shy!

(Photo at right by Mich Hatfield.)

Barnaby, Volume 1

Look at Me

cosplay: photo by Ben Towle

I was struck by how cos-play puts the body on display. The costumes invite us to look, whether they are form-fitting Spandex, gigantic robots, or the Tardis. Costumed Comic-Con-goers stop and pose for photographers, amateur or professional (though mostly amateur). They pose in the manner of their character, or interact with another character. They get into character. They smile. Or scowl. You might interpret them as colluding in their own objectification. Or perhaps they’re using their bodies to interpellate viewers. Whether the costume disempowers or empowers, it’s hard not to look.

The photo above is by Ben Towle. My impulse to photograph costumed people frequently collided with my worry that photographing costumed people would be voyeuristic,… despite the fact that costumed people seemed happy to be photographed (and, as you can see above, create excellent costumes!).

Gene Deitch

Animation historian Jerry Beck and film critic Leonard Maltin interviewed Gene Deitch. As Beck introduced Deitch as a legend, Deitch quipped, “If you get old enough, you get to be a legend.”  Recalling his days at UPA (working as an assistant to UPA co-founder John Hubley), Deitch dispelled myths about UPA’s “house style.” He said,

UPA was trying to prove that any art could be animated. It just had to be the right art. … What the essence of UPA was was that they didn’t have a house style. … They didn’t have a standard — until they came up with Mr. Magoo, and then they got locked in to that.

He added, “At UPA, when we adapted a book, we went right to the style of the creator. … And that was what we did at Weston Woods, too.” (Deitch animated classic children’s books for Weston Woods, including Harold’s Fairy Tale, A Picture for Harold’s Room, and Where the Wild Things Are.)

Deitch discussed his cartoon Nudnik. “My grandmother was always referring to people in disdain as a nudnik, and I always though it was a sort of a no-nothing,” he said. But he had the definition of the word wrong. He shouldn’t have called the character “nudnik.” Leonard Maltin offers “A schlemiel,” and Deitch responds, “A schlemiel is what he should have been called.” He later learned that “the word ‘nudnik’ in Yiddish means ‘a bore.’”

Gene Deitch accepts the Inkpot Award

Other quotations:

“We never meant anything that much. We just filled out the program.”

— Deitch on what studios thought of animators

“The whole idea was the animation was so rotten you had to have a big orchestra.”

— Deitch on Terrytoons, prior to his time there.

“John Hubley only used a few words now and then, when I was his protégé. But he said the important thing is to know what is about…. Even a simple-minded cartoon, it has to say something.”

“I was imitating Saul Steinberg, and Jim Flora, and a lot of other great graphic artists. And other people are now imitating me. And that’s the way it goes.”

— Deitch responding to Beck’s observation that he influenced Ralph Bakshi, who in turn influenced John Kricfalusi

The line to nowhere

Thinking that a 45-minute wait in the long, snaking line would get us to the Sherlock panel in room 20, we got in line. 45 minutes later, we decided to stay in line because the next event in room 20 would be The X-Files 20th-anniversary reunion, featuring both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. After nearly two hours in line, we realized… no. We’d never get there in time. Stepping out of line and seeing how many more zigs and zags were ahead of us, we realized we were right.

The moral of our story: You can either go to one Big Media Event, or you can attend Comic-Con. The latter is the better way to go.

Tom Gauld

Tom Gauld, Dickens cartoon

Tom Gauld, who creates cartoons for both The Guardian and The New York Times, does brilliant, Gorey-esque work. Not surprisingly, he acknowledges Gorey as a major influence. Only caught the second half of this panel, but I’m definitely going to buy his books tomorrow.

Jeff Smith

Smith arrived few minutes late because of a Make-a-Wish Foundation request. He then did a reading from Rasl and talked about some of the technology that informs the project.

Jeff Smith discussed IDW's new "artist's book" edition of The Great Cow Race (from Bone)

Some Bone news.  First, IDW is going to do an artist’s edition of The Great Cow Race with bonus material. Second, Smith mentioned, “I am talking with Scholastic talking about new Bone projects, and they will be all 100% me.  They’re not sequels, but they’re still going to be kind of fun.”

In November, Jeff Smith is starting a new webcomic.  It’s called Tuki. It’s “a lot more like Bone than like Rasl,” he says.  It’s set 2 million years ago, in Africa.  It’s the story of Tuki, the first human to leave Africa.

In response to a young questioner, he tells the story (which you can read elsewhere) of making up Bone cousins, when he was a kid.  Then, he read JRR Tolkien and other fantasy, and Moebius’ Heavy Metal. Smith said, “I thought it would be fun to take American cartoon characters and put them in a European fantasy.”

Thanks to the Scholastic editions of Bone, he gets lots of fan mail. The two things that get drawn the most by kids are: (1) Gran’ma Ben’s house on fire, and (2) the Dragon coming to the rescue.

Question: What artists are out there right now who you’re into?

Jeff Smith answers, “My friend Paul Pope. … I think Paul’s grasp of the dynamics of comics are about as good as anyone I’ve seen since Kirby. And I’m not exaggerating.” He adds, “I’m a huge fan of Kate Beaton, the Canadian cartoonist who does ‘Hark, a Vagrant.’”  And he likes: Faith Erin Hicks, Ed Piskor, Eleanor Davis, Jim Rugg, Jeffrey Brown.

More quotations from Jeff Smith…:

On Bone:

“I wanted to use the funny animal comic, but I wasn’t writing a children’s book…. It only later became a children’s book when children started to read it…. It was the schoolteachers and the children who turned Bone into a kids’ book.”

On Tuki:

“With Tuki, I want to back to the idea of something that could be in the newspaper, on Sunday morning.”

On Rasl:

Blade Runner, the movie, was a big influence on Rasl.”

On being Guest Editor for this year’s Best American Comics:

“The 9-year-old in me loved it. My job is to read the hell out of these comics…. I went to the store, and I bought some cookies, and milk.  And I went back home and sat on the floor all day and read comics.  The next day, I just drank bourbon.”

Wonder Women: On Paper and Off

Wonder Women, Women's Museum of CaliforniaAfter dinner with Ben Towle and the Hatfields, we went out to the Women’s Museum of California for “Wonder Women: On Paper and Off,” at which Trina Robbins, Ramona Fradon, and Mary Fleener — all pioneering women in their field — shared their experiences of working in the comic industry.

Though a defunct microphone and plane traffic overhead made hearing a bit challenging, it was well worth venturing away from Comic-Con for this event.

A few words on our panelists:

  • Trina Robins’ final and definitive history of women cartoonists — Pretty in Ink — will appear in the fall. Her collection makes up the bulk of the exhibit, which runs through September 1st.  If you’re in the area, check it out!
  • Ramona Fradon has worked for DC since 1951. She worked on Aquaman, and co-created Metamorpho. She worked on Superfriends, Plastic Man.  She also spent 15 years drawing Brenda Starr, 1980-1995.
  • Mary Fleener started doing comics in 1984, inspired by an article Matt Groening wrote on mini-comics. If you don’t know her Life of The Party, check it out — autobiographical comics that are both formally challenging and engaging.

The panel was all Q+A. It began with Trina Robbins correcting a misperception about women and comics. Rose O’Neil, Grace Drayton — the very early women cartoonists — did wonderfully and were very famous. At that time, Robbins said, nobody thought this was a male profession. That belief came later, after the Second World War.  During the war, while the men were off fighting, more women were drawing for comic books than ever before.  After the war, the men returned, and the women were simply not re-hired.  That continued through the 1960s. As a result, she observed, subject matter in the 1950s and 1960s also wasn’t very interesting to female readers: “Women were not interested in men with sharp chins and big muscles beating each other up.”

Fleener noted that the Hernandez Brothers got a lot of women into comics because Love & Rockets had a predominantly female cast of characters.  Love & Rockets inspired Fleener. And then the underground comics in the 1980s were more autobiographical, offered a woman’s point of view.

Fradon, one of the few women working in comics in the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s, described her experience: “All the time I was working in comics drawing superheroes I was having daily identity crises. I just didn’t identify. I didn’t like violence. The angles you had to draw were so extreme.”  She got into comics because she was a good artist. Her husband, an aspiring New Yorker cartoonist encouraged her to pursue comics.  So, she did, and made a respectable living at it.

All panelists said much more of interest, but since I need to get to bed (it’s 1:30 am as I write this sentence), I’ll offer a few quotations from them.

“Occasionally DC and Marvel want to do comics with a social conscience so they can say ‘We’re not all bad.’”

— Trina Robbins, on writing the “domestic violence” issue of Wonder Woman

“They were these boring guys in ugly costumes and short hair.”

— Trina Robbins, on why she didn’t like superheroes

“The thing I didn’t like about superheroes is that you couldn’t tell one from another without the costumes.”

— Ramona Fradon

“The message in Marvel comics is radiation is good for you.”

— Trina Robbins, on the many Marvel superheroes get their powers from radiation

“So many layers to the characters — that’s what I really like about his women.”

— Mary Fleener on Gilbert Hernandez’ Love & Rockets

“She gains weight the way a woman really gains weight.  She gains it in the hip, she gains it in the butt. Not in the breasts.”

—Trina Robbins on how Jaime Hernandez draws women

 “In the years I was drawing Brenda many women said she was an inspiration. Some women who were journalists said they went into journalism because she was an inspiration.”

— Ramona Fradon

Fran Hopper, Glory Forbes (mid-1940s)

Above: Glory Forbes by Fran Hopper (mid-1940s).

That’s all for now.  Tune in again tomorrow!

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Comic-Con, San Diego, day 1: First Impressions

Comic-Con 2013We are attending Comic-Con for the first time.

It begins at the Kansas City airport, when I hear two people talking about the X-Files Reunion, and whether they can get tickets. Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny, and others will be on a panel honoring the 20th anniversary of the show’s debut. On the plane itself, nearly everyone is headed to Comic-Con. There are people wearing t-shirts with conspicuous logos (such as Batman), tell-tale reading material, conversations about Comic-Con. There are people with a “nerdy” look and people without, and many variations within and in between those categories.

I am not wearing a t-shirt with a logo on it, but the woman checking us in at the hotel, asks, “Comic-Con?”  Perhaps the conspicuous absence of a tan gives us away.

San Diego Convention Center

After a short walk, we approach the convention center, and the crowds soon become as thick as any in Manhattan (New York, not Kansas) at midday. A few people are in costume. There’s a Spider-Man, and one of the crew of the original U.S.S. Enterprise (Star Trek). But most are in shorts and t-shirt (as I am) or jeans and t-shirt or in a dress. This, I think, is because my being an Eisner Award nominee places us in the “Professionals” category of registration. I expect to see more costumed attendees tomorrow.

Your humble narrator and his badge, outside the convention centerThere are crowds of people already — even though the programming proper begins tomorrow. But it’s very well-organized. Stand in line, and there many volunteers making sure that your bar-code email matches your ID, and there lots of staff printing out the badges, directing you where to go.  It moves quickly and efficiently.

When you check in, you get a massive bag designed to be worn as a backpack. This is savvy marketing for three reasons. First, it encourages consumption. No one wants to be lugging a bag full of books by the handle. Put it on your back, and sure, there’s room for more! Second, the side of the bag that faces your back has the Comic-Con logo on it. The side facing out is advertising a TV show, turning the wearer into a walking billboard. Mine is encouraging people to watch Arrow on the CW this fall. And, presumably because it’s Comic-Con, the bag also has a black cape that unfurls. This is the third reason it’s smart marketing. Not only is the item useful, but it’s a toy, a costume, a game. (When you unfurl the cape, it covers up the advertisement — which invites the question What’s under there?)

Walking billboards

We were going to attend “Warner Bros. Television Preview Night,” but Karin’s tired. And, to tell the truth, I’m a bit tired myself … and I had some work to do. (Sent back edits on a book review, continued revising a fellowship proposal that I didn’t finish on the plane,….)  I’m sure that some people reading this are thinking: What? You skipped free previews?!  But, to be honest, I’m as interested in the phenomenon of Comic-Con as I am in individual panels. And, tomorrow after breakfast with Mr. Charles Hatfield and a morning signing at the Fantagraphics table, I am going to those panels.  So… best to rest up for the big day.

The Zombie Apocalypse Store, San Diego

P.S. Appropriately, the Zombie Apocalypse Store is adjacent to a Hooters. No, I’m not kidding. If I were a better photographer, I’d have snapped a shot of the two establishments side by side. This is not part of Comic-Con (as far as I know). It just happened to be on the walk back from dinner.

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