Archive for Fantagraphics

A Report from Comic-Con 2016

Designated Survivor ad, side of building, downtown San Diego, 20 July 2016[Taps microphone.] Greetings, fellow nerds, fans, and affiliated wanderers! If I may interrupt the daily (hourly?) reports of chaos and pain that saturate your newsfeed, I’ll bring you what I hope is a satisfying report from this year’s Comic-Con. Yes, while the Republican National Convention was busy opening a hellmouth in Cleveland, I was in San Diego, learning and talking about comics. In some wonderful ways, Comic-Con is the opposite of our contemporary dystopian moment.  In other ways, it’s also symptom of that same moment.

Sure, I’m aware that Comic-Con is now an entertainment-industry promotion-palooza (also featuring comics). I know that every available surface entices us to consume (watch the new show, buy the action figure, get the Lego set, etc.). And I’d love it if it comics were more of a central focus than they now are.

But to accentuate the positive for a moment, Comic-Con is a community of nice people — whether they’re comics people or TV-and-film people, whether they’re immersed in a fandom or not, whether they’re cosplaying or dressed as civilians. (I cosplay as a middle-aged English professor. This is my third Comic-Con, and my, er, costume is getting more convincing every year, if I do say so myself.)

So, read on for G. Willow Wilson, Jeff Smith, Kate Beaton, tips on teaching with comics, random observations from yours truly, and more!


Temperatures Rising

Walking Dead: ID for ComicCon 2016Situated on the coast of southern California, San Diego’s weather is predictably pleasant. Usually. After landing midday on Wednesday, I took the bus to several blocks from my hotel, and walked… getting hotter and hotter. Daily, temperatures edged into the upper 80s Fº (above 30º C), a trend that will become normal as the climate changes. In response to more imminent existential threats, this is the first year that Comic-Con no longer uses paper badges in a plastic sleeve. Each person’s badge has a unique ID card that must be scanned every time she or he enters or leaves the convention center. Conference sponsor The Walking Dead was on this year’s badge. Enjoy that metaphor because it will return.

Teaching with Comics

Teaching With Comics panel

I started my Comic-Con by drawing pictures. From 4 to 6 pm, at the San Diego Central Library, Peter Carlson (Green Dot Public Schools), Antero Garcia (Colorado State University), and Susan Kirtley (Portland State University) led a workshop featuring classroom educators Samantha Diego, James Kelley, and Jenn Anya Prosser.

Susan Kirtley (a 2013 Eisner-winner for her book on Lynda Barry) asked us what comics are, which is always great because there are so many different definitions. After people offered some answers, she highlighted the answers of Will Eisner, Scott McCloud, Dylan Horrocks, though of course we could bring in others (as I expect she would have, had she more time) such as Thierry Groensteen, Charles Hatfield, or Hillary Chute.

Her comments reminded me, also, that some people face resistance to teaching classes on comics.  She told us that if people are skeptical of why you’re teaching comics, to tell them you’re “teaching graphic narratives as a way to promote multimodal literacy.” Resistance to studying comics interests me because it’s one of the most complex narrative media ever invented. There is so much to say about it.

She also took us through a few exercises.  One was this, which is inspired by Ivan Brunetti’s single-panel comic exercise in Cartooning Philosophy and Practice.

Kirtley (inspired by Brunetti) slide

We had 1-2 minutes to do this.  Here’s what I came up with for Guus Kuijer’s The Book of Everything.

Nel, The Book of Everything, in 4 panels (created in 1-2 mins.)

She then had us all do a one-panel version.  In Cartooning Philosophy and Practice, Brunetti does a single-panel Catcher in the Rye.  It’s brilliant.

Ivan Brunetti, Catcher in the Rye

Mine — done in 1 minute — for The Book of Everything is not brilliant. Obviously.

Nel, The Book of Everything, in 1 panel (created in 1-2 mins.)

But this brings me to another key part of her pedagogy. She does these exercises with her students. “I do it when they do it,” she says, because that levels the critical plain.  She also encourages us teachers to reward students’ risk-taking at moment of assessment: “Make it OK for students to fail — and don’t penalize them for that.” Susan builds in rubrics that take into account the entire process. I like this.

Peter Carlson and Samantha Diego spoke on “Engaging Readers, Empowering Writers, Creating Communities: Civic Superheroes,” via the idea of the superhero.  They asked us:

What superpowers do you want?


Those questions elicit an array of profound responses. One grade-school student had told them invisibility to prevent the other kids from making fun of her appearance.  In our older crowd, answers included persuasion, and healing.  I and at least one other audience member chose healing as our superpower.  When I talked with Susan afterwards, she said that this superpower — healing — really appealed to her, too.  This makes sense. As we age, mortality looms larger. In the Dallas airport, en route to Comic-Con, I read a 43-year-old friend’s (likely) final column for her local paper. Aided by an unrelenting brain tumor, death will likely claim her before the year is out. As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, we all must face the inevitability of our own deaths. I don’t conceive of the healing superpower as an end-run around death, but a way to alleviate suffering on that journey towards the moment when our time finally runs out. For her, perhaps the superpower could buy her more time or at least enable her to retain her cognitive abilities. Even superpowers have limits, I know.

G. Willow Wilson, Ms. Marvel: No NormalReturning to the exercise, some follow-up questions from Carlson and Diego:

What would you do with those powers?

Where would you go?

Who would you become?

They also suggested that the first issue of a comic — say, Ms. Marvel or Storm — can be a good way into these discussions.

Jenn Anya Prosser had us close-read some panels, but I failed to take notes on that (since it’s something I already do). Antero Garcia and James Kelly addressed why we should teach science and English together, and suggested that comics can be a great way to have these conversations.  Comics ask big questions:

What does it mean to be human?

What does it mean to be mutant?

What does it mean to be other?

What does it mean to be?

Science addresses these questions, too. They can also help students think about genetics, viz:

Garcia & Kelly's slide

Preview Night

Afterwards, it was Preview Night!  Though we could have gone to watch previews of not-yet-released shows, Susan Kirtley and I instead zeroed in on the comics sections of the exhibit hall, where I squandered aimlessly — well, not entirely aimlessly. As usual, I bought more than I should — both that night and on subsequent days. But accumulating books is an occupational affliction.  And, hey, it’s good to give your spine a workout, right?

ComicCon 2016: Phil's books and swag

Also, on Preview Night, the crowds are not as thick as they become on subsequent days.  But the hall is always something of a sensory overload.  I sometimes think that Comic-Con should have strategically placed sensory deprivation chambers where Con-goers could sit and decompress for five-to-ten minutes at a time.  There’s a lot to take in.

SDCC exhibit hall floor 21 July 2016

Wonder Woman at 75

From the MAD magazine booth:

MAD: Make America Dumb Again

I chatted with some of my Fantagraphics pals, as well as folks I didn’t know at other booths. Susan and I also met Snoopy — who, to my delight and surprise, did not attempt to sell us any insurance. Then we went off to dinner & had a great chat! (By “we,” I mean Susan and me. Snoopy declined our invitation. Presumably, that round-headed kid had already fed him.)

Kirtley, Snoopy, & Nel


The Jogging Dead

Balboa Park is a few blocks east of the Holiday Inn Express I stayed in. So, first thing Thursday morning, I thought: great, I’ll just jog east, find my way into the park, and have a good run! A helpful person at the hotel’s front desk assured me that there were many ways into the park, and pointed me in the right direction.

However, and unlike New York City, San Diego’s streets and signs offer guidance to cars, not pedestrians or runners.  Though Park Boulevard runs along the edge of the park, it offers few points of access to the park itself, and then (when you finally get in) the park has signs promising trails that turn out to dissipate suddenly. As a result, for part of my journey back, I ended up running in the bike lane along Route 5. Like all places in downtown San Diego, I was never far from the city’s robust homeless population — encamped at the edges of city sidewalks, against a fence in the shade of trees on Park Boulevard, and just off the edge of the highway. Luckily for me, they (and other walkers) had beaten a path from Route 5 back to the city streets I sought.

Part of the Comic-Con experience is always the contrast between the shiny abundance promised within the event and the privation of those who live on the streets outside. Whether silently holding a sign asking for help or sound asleep on the ground, San Diego’s homeless are both politely invisible and a vivid reminder of how America actively neglects its most vulnerable.

At first, I thought our Walking Dead ID cards an apt metaphor for the homeless among us, but now I think them a better metaphor for the conference-goer — walking past suffering, declining to admit that we are seeing what we know we’re seeing. I gave one sign-bearing man $5. I think, in future, I should carry small denominations and just give them to each person begging. I honestly don’t know. But I do know that we do need investment in mental health facilities, affordable housing, and job retraining for those down on their luck.  OK, getting off my soapbox and back to the con….

G. Willow Wilson; or, Ms. Marvel Fans Embiggen

G. Willow Wilson panel

To a full room that included at least nine people dressed as Ms. Marvel, Ms. Wilson introduced herself: “I’m Willow Wilson. I tell people: ‘the G is silent.’” Interviewed by her friend Josh (I didn’t get his last name), she told us about herself — which was great because, though I know her Ms. Marvel comics, I did not otherwise know much about her.

Wilson was born in New Jersey, but grew up in Colorado. As for religion, she said, “I was raised an atheist, but I was never very good at it. When I was a teenager, I realized that I was a particular kind of monotheist, but I was embarrassed about it.”  Indeed, when she did convert to Islam, she did so in secret — not telling anyone until later.

She studied Arabic for two years at university, and then at the age of 19 left for Cairo, where she would live for the next five years. Upon arriving, she realized that the Arabic she had learned was classical Arabic, which, she says, “would be like learning how Shakespeare speaks.” So, she had to learn modern Arabic. Which she did. While working there as a journalist, she met her future husband Omar.  They and their two children now live in Seattle.

G. Willow Wilson, Air #1She and Sherman Alexie share a publisher, and live about 12 blocks from each other. When she was starting out (having published, I think, Air, and Cairo), she was headed to a conference. Her publicist advised her: when you get on the plane, look for Sherman Alexie and share a cab after you get there. So, she’s walking through First Class on her way to coach, and Alexie spots her.

Alexie: Are you G. Willow Wilson?

Wilson: Yes.

Alexie: I loved Air!

G. Willow Wilson, Ms. Marvel: Generation WhyOf all that she said during her conversation, this struck me as the most profound: “You are sometimes able to get to people through fiction what you cannot get through to them through the nightly news.”  Her Ms. Marvel is, I think, the embodiment of this very idea.

When Marvel asked her to do Ms. Marvel, Wilson says her “first thought was ‘no’ because there’ll be all kinds of blowback.” She figured she would get lots of hate mail, just as she had gotten for previous work. But, she said, “when Marvel comes to you and says they’ll put their weight behind a project like this, you have to say ‘yes.’ I said ‘yes.’”  Writing the Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel comics were “a cool opportunity to shed positive light on a community that does not get a lot of positive attention.”  When the first one was published, she thought: “Brace for impact!” But the impact she expected never really materialized. Sure, there was a little hate mail, but response was mostly positive. She concludes, “It was one of the most life-affirming things I have ever done.”

She concluded her session by reading Chapter One of The Bird King, a new novel set in 1491. As she said before she began, “You guys will be the very first people to hear it who are not paid to like it”

There was only time for two questions at the end.  Here they are.

First question was: Advice for women creators who want to get into the industry? Wilson: “The good news is this is now a discussion we can have without people losing their jobs. People are now taking subjects like harassment, equal access to corridors of power more seriously. But there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Second questioner referenced the fact that there are no black women comics writers (at Marvel or DC), and asked “How does that make you feel when you’re writing one of the most nuanced and awesome [characters of color]”?  Wilson replied, “We need to be in the business of recruiting more people.  I love Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Sitting in the Marvel writers’ room, with him across from me, was one of the highlights of my career. But you shouldn’t need to have a MacArthur Genius grant to get hired to write comics.”

Note: The very next day, Roxane Gay tweeted that she has been hired by Marvel to co-write a comic with Ta-Nehisi Coates.

But the greatest thing about this panel were all the people who dressed as the Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel. After the panel was over, they all gathered with Wilson to embiggen!

Ms. Marvels Embiggen!

Cushlamochree! Or, The Kindness of Strangers

GhirardelliAfter lunch, I stopped into the Ghirardelli shop because, well, chocolate.  I had a chocolate ice cream, and reviewed the notes I’d made that morning. In a few hours, I would be appearing on a panel devoted to Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby (1942-1952), which I’m co-editing and Fantagraphics is publishing. (The third volume just came out.)  Typically, I tend to perform a script, or to at least consider the possible questions in advance. But this panel was mostly unscripted, and so I was a little anxious.

A young couple walked past my table, and then walked back, and the young man asked if he could use the plug next to me. I said of course! And I moved over so that he could sit where I had been sitting, and his girlfriend could sit opposite him. He asked what I was doing. I told him. He said: OK, pitch it to me. And… I did. This person who I have never met before listened, offered a little feedback, and helped me talk through the presentation.

I learned a little about him, too. He said, “Not to brag, but I’m the nerdier of us two.” I love that “nerd” is now a term of approbation. When I was his age (a phrase I never used while talking with him), one would not brag about being a nerd! He and his girlfriend are both seniors at San Diego State University: he’s a music major (jazz drummer, in particular). She’s a graphic design major. They were both working for Comic-Con because it grants them a free pass to the conference, and it’s fun to go to Comic-Con. I think her name is Morgan; his name has, unfortunately wandered away from me. If you two happen upon this blog post, thank you!

Encounters like this are what make Comic-Con a welcome respite from the news. There is kindness and generosity in the world. Not enough, but it is out there. It’s our job to make more of it. To quote Ram Dass, “We’re all just walking each other home.”

After that, it was back to the exhibit hall, a quick coffee and a chat with Eric Reynolds, and then…

Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby: What Makes a Great Comic Strip.

Barnaby panel: Tom Spurgeon, Eric Reynolds, Philip Nel, Jeff Smith

This was why I came to Comic Con — to be on this panel!  In the photo, from left to right, that’s The Comics Reporter’s Tom Spurgeon, Fantagraphics Associate Publisher Eric Reynolds (my pal, and co-editor on the Barnaby books), yours truly, and… Jeff Smith!

Whatever anxiety I’d had vanished instantly. The panel was a delight. As you may already know, Smith is as nice a guy as you would expect the creator of Bone to be. I’m also grateful to him for lending his celebrity to our quixotic endeavor. I’m sure that half of the small audience appeared simply to see him. (There were only about 25 people in a room that seats more like 300.) I hope our conversation — led by Tom Spurgeon — helped move a few copies of Barnaby.

Johnson, Barnaby Vol. 1: Chris Ware blurbYou see, Barnaby is the last great comic strip that has never been collected in full. Its admirers include Charles Schulz, Art Spiegelman, Chris Ware, Jules Feiffer, Seth, and Daniel Clowes (who designed the books, and would have been on the panel if he’d been on an earlier flight). Told in Johnson’s elegant clear line, Barnaby tells the adventures of its five-year-old title character and Mr. O’Malley, his loquacious, bumbling, endearing con-artist of a fairy godfather. O’Malley is a great character of possibility, allowing Johnson many opportunities to satirize politics, business, or (coming in volume 4) the emerging medium of television. The strip is both topical and a Calvin-and-Hobbes-esque fantasy. Just as only Calvin sees the reality of Hobbes, the children of Barnaby all see the fairy-world characters, but — also like Calvin and HobbesBarnaby’s adults fail to perceive the reality of fantasy. We readers, however, know that O’Malley and friends are real. Barnaby is a beautiful and influential strip, but — like Krazy Kat — it was never a popular strip. At its height, Barnaby was syndicated in a mere 52 papers. By contrast, at the same time, Chic Young’s Blondie was running in 850 newspapers.

Crockett Johnson, Barnaby Vol. Three (1946-1947), ed. Philip Nel & Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics, 2016)

Fantagraphics is committed to bringing out all five volumes of Barnaby, and I love them for that. I also wish we could help find a larger audience. So, if you’re reading this, why not pick up a copy? Encourage your local or college library to pick up these, too, along with Fantagraphics’ many beautiful editions of classic comics (notably Krazy Kat and Peanuts).


Breakfast with Ebony

Ebony Elizabeth Thomas & Philip Nel at the Broken Yolk, in San Diego, 22 July 2016Friday began at the Broken Yolk, where I had breakfast with Ebony Thomas — whose book The Dark Fantastic should see print in (I am hoping) the next year or two. It’s a really smart way of thinking about how the dark other functions in fantasy. (Make a note of it now, and pick it up when it comes out!)

I actually met Ebony at my very first fan conference — Nimbus 2003, in Florida, thirteen years ago.  I’d written a small book on the Harry Potter series, and they invited me to give a keynote. In this respect, I think our aca-fan (Henry Jenkins’ term for “academic fan”) trajectories are opposite. I went to academic conferences before ever appearing at a fan one, whereas my sense is that she had more fan conference experience prior to becoming an academic.

Part of the fun of conferences — whether academic or fan — is seeing friends, and making new ones.  So, good to see you, Ebony!  Hope you enjoyed the rest of the con!

Keeping It Short

Keeping It Short panel: Abraham Riesman, Kate Beaton, Lisa Hanawalt, Emily Carroll

Moderated by Abraham Riesman, this panel featured Kate Beaton, Lisa Hanawalt, and Emily Carroll.  Though the panel was on short comics, my notes are actually, um, a bit longer than expected.

Abraham Riesman: What short form comics did you read growing up?

Kate Beaton: Sherman’s Lagoon

Lisa Hanawalt: Garfield, Calvin & Hobbes, adult cartoonist B. Kliban

ArchieEmily Carroll: All newspaper strips. I read every one every morning, even if I didn’t like it — I read Rex Morgan every morning. I read a lot of Archie comics, which at the time had no continuity.

AR: What spoke to you about Archie?

Emily: The only comic that had really pretty girls in it.

Lisa: Me, too.  Did you like Betty or Veronica?

A discussion ensued on who preferred Betty, and who Veronica, but I didn’t note it all down.

AR: What does an average workday look like?

Kate: Some cartoonists work 9-5 with lunch breaks, but…

Lisa: I fuck around until 3 every day at least. But usually until 7.

Kate: It might take all day to get into that, until something is actually working.  [Kate then recalled 2 aunts coming to visit at around lunchtime, thinking she’d have a lunch break. That led her to imagine herself saying the following sentence to her aunts.] I just stare at the wall all day until something comes and you ruin my flow?

Emily [adding to Kate’s imagined comment]: Now I have to start wasting time all over again?  I try to start before the afternoon or else I feel bad. But early afternoon is when I start.

AR: How much planning before you draw the finished product?

Emily: I start drawing right away.  Whether it’s the beginning or end — just because I need to see it materializing.

Lisa: For me, it depends. If there’s a narrative, then I have to plan that out. But I also do improv comics. I did some corporate slogans, and the first draft is what got published because it was funniest. Because if I try to make it neater, it’ll be less so.

AR: I love “just fucking do it”

Kate: I write a lot in my head. So, especially, if it’s a three or four panel gag, I have it all in my head.  So, you get a nugget — that’s the angle I’m going to use. And you sort of tumble it around, until you get the right combination of things. If you work too hard on the drawing, it ruins it. I try to go for the energy that comes in the first few lines.

AR: How do you keep the emotion in the artwork?

Emily: My first thought is I only have a few emotions anyway. I either feel angry or guilty or I’m Ok.  …But my general thought is what [I failed to note the rest of her answer]

Kate: You’re not telling people how to feel. You’re showing them how you feel.

AR, to Kate: Any jokes you had to abandon?

Kate: Sure. Not all history is hilarious. You try to bring in a topic that isn’t funny, but should be shared.

AR, to Lisa: what’s funny about birds?

Lisa: What isn’t funny about birds? I just like looking at them — they’re hilarious.

AR: What’s the funniest thing about birds?

Lisa: When a toucan eats a bunch of fruit it [Lisa mimes action of toucan eating fruit, throwing it up into the air, gulping it down. Everyone laughs. She then adds an additional funny bird behavior:] When they sit on their nests.

Lisa Hanawalt, from Hot Dog Taste Test

Kate then offered a short discourse on fecal sacks. The young birds, who cannot yet leave the nest, poop in sacks. This allows the adults to throw their young’s waste out of the nest.  She recalled a grackle who lived near her, and used to decorate her car with these fecal sacks. Her car was blue, the grackles assumed that since it was blue, it must also be water.  Lisa found this story fascinating.  (I did, too.)

AR to Emily [re: earlier question on emotions]: You didn’t mention fear?

Emily: Oh yeah, that’s true.

AR: ‘Cause you write horror. How often are you afraid?

Emily: All the time. Every day.

AR: How much of Anne Herron is true?

Frontier #6: Anne by the Bed

Emily: Anne by the bed?

AR: Yes.

Emily: None of it.  I made it all up.  But it turns out there is an unsolved mystery of an Anne Heron (with one r).

AR: When I interviewed you a few months ago, Kate, you said that cartoonists are horrible to be significant others with at a party because they’re always there drawing.  Is that true for the two of you?

Lisa: I hardly do it anymore. But I used to because I was shy, and I thought it would be an ice breaker.

Emily: I don’t really go to social gatherings. [Laughter from audience.] So, that’s not an issue. I draw less now than I did before.

AR: How much does doodling influence your work?

Kate: Less and less.  Now, you’re like: I really need a different hobby.

All panelists agree that they now do less drawing for fun.

AR: How do you know how to represent time?

Led by Emily’s response, all panelists agree that they go by instinct, and then go back and edit — if it reads too fast, they’ll go back and put in something else to slow it down (says Emily).

All panelists addressed unpublished or unfinished work. All have work that they’ve decided not to publish, nor to continue.

AR: How often to you look at your finished old work?

Lisa: I look at it every couple of years. I go back, and think oh, hey, this is actually pretty funny.

At this point, Kate mentioned she wasn’t feeling well.  She apologized, and left for the washroom.

AR: Is your work ever misunderstood?

The answer to this question (which I failed to record) led to the next one.

AR: How often do you check Twitter, look at comments, or avoid them?

Lisa: I look at everything.  I really should stop.  I even read the Goodreads reviews.

AR: Oh, you shouldn’t do that.

Emily: Oh, I can’t look at those. I do, sometimes.

Did you ever read that Guardian essay about the person who gave bad reviews?

Lisa: Totally obsessed with that. Totally understand. Once I was at a convention, and a lady picked up one of my books, and threw it back down on the desk and ran away. I think about that all the time.

Emily: A few months ago, I just deleted all of my follows except for my wife and the library. So, that way, I couldn’t go and check all my follows. I’m becoming increasingly reclusive, I guess.

Lisa: That [not being on Twitter] sounds nice.

Emily: I realize that even the nice comments didn’t make me feel good!

At this point, Kate returns!

Kate: I’m doing much better.  I had my hair tied back, all ready to rumble.  But it was just poop.

Kate apologizes for including those bodily details.

AR: You’re sitting next to Lisa.

Lisa: I’m like in love with you right now.

Kate [explaining]: I’ve moved to the country, recently, and I don’t drink much any more….

Kate Beaton, Wuthering Heights 1

Kate Beaton, Wuthering Heights 2

AR: How often do you think about Wuthering Heights?

Branwell Brontë's painting of his three sisters, after he painted himself outKate: A lot. I never finished that comic.  I need to.  Anyone ever been to the Bronte parsonage?  I feel like haunted by Branwell [brother of Charlotte, Emily, Anne].  In a family portrait, there’s a weird person-shaped hole because he painted himself out.

AR: Don’t we all feel like a person-shaped hole?

Kate: I did just a few minutes ago.  [Kate then comments on Branwell, who was alcoholic…]  In these [Bronte] books, characters like these brooding frustrated men — like Heathcliff — make me think of Branwell.

In the Q+A, I asked Kate how her process of her picture book The Princess and Pony was different than comics.

Kate said that working closely with an editor was a big difference.  The book is much more polished than her cartoons.  Also, she said, it’s not just a gag. It has a story, and that had to make sense.

In response to a question about (I think) favorite horror narratives, Emily responded, “I like horror that’s really long and boring and nothing happens, and then something maybe happens and then it’s done.”

Questioner asked if they had a reader they trusted who they could turn to for feedback.

Lisa: For me, it’s my partner Adam. But also guys like these — I have a lot. Of cartoonist friends.

Emily: My wife will read over my work. She’ll say it’s too fast or too slow, and I’ll say you don’t understand my process and vision! And then I fix it.

Kate: Don’t read Amazon or Goodreads. [Quoting reviews] “I think there are secret gay people in the book.”  Or “I don’t want to expose my children to farts.”

30 Minutes to Go; brief conversations with Beaton & Sousanis

Kate Beaton's inscribed & illustrated title page for my copy of Step Aside, PopsAfter the panel, I had only 30 minutes before I had to leave. So, I dashed down stairs to the convention hall, where I hoped to meet up with Eisner nominee Nick Sousanis — who’d just arrived earlier that morning — and to say goodbye to the Fantagraphics gang.  Said my farewells to all but Eric (who was moderating a panel), texted back-and-forth with Nick, and decided, well, yes, I could buy just one more book. So, over at the Drawn & Quarterly I bought Kate Beaton’s latest, Step Aside, Pops, which she inscribed and decorated.

I also thanked her for The Princess and the Pony because it’s great to be able to give my princess-obsessed niece a book about a warrior princess. Kate recommended Cherie Priest’s I Am Princess X (2015) and Jeremy Whitley’s Princeless (2012-). I said “Emily’s 5. Would these…?” She said that they’d be for when she’s a bit older. Looking at them on-line, now, I see that I Am Princess X is a YA hybrid comics/text, and that Princeless is marketed to kids from ages nine to 12, which (I think) means that Princeless could be something she’s interested in sooner than that.

Nick arrived when only had about 5 minutes left. I stayed for 10, we chatted, parted, and — along the way back — I realized that, yeah, I really did need the full half hour to walk back to my hotel. Jogging a bit of the way, I narrowly made noon check-out and the shuttle to the airport.  (I had to leave because I’m scheduled to give a keynote at a picture books conference at Kent State on Monday. I’m leaving for that first thing tomorrow morning. Update: American Airlines cancelled my flight. So, I’m now scheduled to leave first thing tomorrow afternoon. Fingers crossed!)

The End?

So, I still worry that America is slouching towards fascism, that state-sanctioned murder threatens people of color every day, that extremism festers and erupts here (Make America White Again!) and abroad (most recently: Nice, Turkey, Munich, Kabul).  But, for a few days in San Diego, glimpses of a different possible future emerged — a future where people do not fear each other, but care for each other. A future where our interests bring us together. Yes, despair lingered at the edges of the Comic-Con experience, as it always does. However, the con was mostly a respite from the violence and hopelessness that afflicts us. And I’m grateful for that.

My previous years’ reports from Comic-Con:

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Gosh! Barnaby Volume Three (1946-1947) is here!

Crockett Johnson, Barnaby Vol. Three (1946-1947), ed. Philip Nel & Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics, 2016)

74 years ago this month, five-year-old Barnaby Baxter wished for a fairy godmother.  Instead, Mr. O’Malley — a loquacious, endearing, pink-winged con-artist — flew through Barnaby’s (open) bedroom window, and announced himself as the lad’s fairy godfather.  For the next ten years, devoted readers of Crockett Johnson‘s Barnaby saw O’Malley elected to congress, running a business, and — in this volume — becoming a diplomat trying to avert war between the U.S. and Sylvania.  Barnaby Volume Three brings our cast of characters from the relative clarity of the Second World War homefront into the anxieties of the Cold War era.

For those who may be new to the series, other characters include Atlas (the mental giant, shown above holding a slide rule), Gus the Ghost (too timid to be effective at haunting), Gorgon (Barnaby’s talking dog), McSnoyd (the invisible leprechaun who, in this volume, does briefly become visible), Jane (a no-nonsense little girl and Barnaby’s next-door neighbor), and Barnaby’s parents.  The strip is both fantasy and topical satire.  The children can see the fairy characters but the adults (usually) do not see them; we readers know, however, that the fantasy characters are real and not just a projection of Barnaby’s and Jane’s imaginations. Because O’Malley is a character of possibility, Johnson can put him into any situation he’d like to satirize, be it politics, filmmaking, diplomacy, or high finance. Barnaby never had a mass following, but — like Krazy Kat — did have many readers who either were or became influential.  The strip’s fans include Chris Ware, Art Spiegleman, Daniel Clowes, Charles Schulz, Dorothy Parker, and Duke Ellington.  As Ware says in his foreword to the first volume, Barnaby is “the last great comic strip” that has yet to be collected — which, of course, our five-volume series in the process of realizing.

Barnaby Volume Three‘s official release date is June 1st, but — I am told — copies of the book may well start shipping in May.

Crockett Johnson, Barnaby Vol. Three (1946-1947), ed. Philip Nel & Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics, 2016): back cover

After you enjoy Daniel Clowes‘ book design and open the cover, you’ll find….

  • two years of Barnaby comics (1946-1947)

Barnaby, 20-21 Oct. 1947

Jeff Smith, foreword to Crockett Johnson's Barnaby Volume Three

Nathalie op de Beeck, "Notes on a Haunted Childhood," from Crockett Johnson's Barnaby Volume Three

  • an essay by yours truly

Philip Nel, Afterword: Escape Artist?, Crockett Johnson's Barnaby Volume Three

  • and, for those who may be curious about the strip’s many allusions, notes (also written by me).

I hope you enjoy the book!  You can buy it via Fantagraphics, the usual online retailers, and your local brick-and-mortar bookstores and comic shops (should you be fortunate enough to have either of these in your area). Our — that is, my and my co-editor Eric Reynolds’ — plan is to bring out Barnaby Volume Four: 1948-1949 in 2017, and Barnaby Volume Five: 1950-1952 in 2018.

To learn more about Crockett Johnson or Barnaby, see:

  • my Comic Art essay from 2004 (pdf)
  • my biographyCrockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature (2012, featuring cover art by the great Chris Ware!)
  • my Crockett Johnson Homepage (established 1998, and still proudly Web 1.0!)
  • the relevant tags on this blog: Crockett Johnson, Barnaby

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 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


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?


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.


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


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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Crockett Johnson’s Elusive Allusions: Errata for Barnaby Volume Two

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby Volume Two: 1944-1945, ed. Philip Nel & Eric Reynolds

You don’t need to get all of Crockett Johnson’s allusions to enjoy his classic strip, Barnaby. But I’m the sort of person who wants to know these things. So, at the back of each Barnaby book (5 volumes, Fantagraphics, 2013-2017), I’m providing notes for other readers like me. You know who you are.

But Crockett Johnson was smarter and more widely read than I am. So, even though I’m his biographer, I occasionally miss things. For Barnaby Volume Two: 1944-1945 (just out this month), two readers have already written in with corrections. (Two! Already!) Here are the strips in question, my original note, and the correction.

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, 26 Sept. 1945

SWAMI ESYAYOUISIJA (26 Sept.). The Swami’s surname spells “YES” in four languages: Pig Latin (ESYAY), French (OUI), Spanish (SÍ), and German (JA).

That’s correct. But as Mr. Russell (@belmontlibrary on Twitter) pointed out, Johnson has also embedded the word OUIJA here.

I expect that Johnson first noticed that “oujia” included the words for “yes” in both French and German, and then decided to create the swami’s name by adding “yes” in two additional languages. Very clever!

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, 27 Oct. 1945

Sigahstaw (27 Oct.). Purely imaginary tribe. It is, however, an anagram for A Sightsaw (which itself is the past tense of Sightsee). Perhaps a reference to Indian reservations as tourist sites?

This note, however, definitely misses the mark. As Paolo Polesello wrote in an email to my co-editor, Eric Reynolds,

In my opinion, “Sigahstaw” should be the pronunciation of “Cigar Store”, so that a “Sigahstaw Indian” is actually a “Cigar Store Indian”, like the ones in wood staying in front of cigar stores (well, I have seen them only in comics, I do not live in US). In fact, in the same strip, Howard the Sigahstaw Indian has cigars in his hands, like a cigar store Indian (see second and third panel)!

Mr. Polesello is quite right. As Eric noted, “This is one of those moments where you just tap palm to forehead and think, ‘Of course! How could I not see that?!?’ Ha!” Exactly. Can’t believe I missed that! And yet I did.

Should we get to do a second printing of Barnaby Volume Two, we’ll fix the notes. Meanwhile, I will just repeat that Johnson was cleverer than I am. I’ll strive to do better on the notes for Barnaby Volume Three: 1946-1947 (due out in 2015). Finally, thanks to those who are buying the book, and even (gasp!) reading my extensive notes!

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Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby Volume Two (1944-1945) is here!

Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby Volume Two: 1944-1945 will be shipping soon!  I know this because my copies arrived in today’s mail. (I co-edited this book with Eric Reynolds)

Box, with Barnaby Volume Two: 1944-1945

It looks great! (You can get Barnaby Volume Two from Fantagraphics or at your local comics retailer. Ask for it by name!)

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, Volume Two: 1944-1945 (front endpapers)

As we did in Barnaby Volume One and will do in the remaining three volumes, we’ve reprinted a different original strip for the front and back endpapers.

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, Volume Two: 1944-1945 (title page)

I say “we” as if I designed it. I didn’t. Daniel Clowes designed the book — he’s designing the whole five-volume series. One of the things I really enjoy about working with Fantagraphics, is that their production team (Tony Ong and Paul Baresh, for the Barnaby books), Eric, and Dan all keep me in the loop. So, I get to see the interiors as they take shape, hunt for additional images to keep the layout interesting, and so forth.

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, Volume Two: 1944-1945 (Foreword by Jules Feiffer)

Jules Feiffer wrote the foreword to Volume Two. And Chris Ware wrote the foreword to Volume One. How cool is that?  Each book also features a scholarly introduction: Jeet Heer (for Volume One), R.C. Harvey (for Volume Two).

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, Volume Two: 1944-1945 (four strips)

Johnson hits new creative peaks during 1944-1945. It’s one of the strip’s most inventive periods. If you enjoyed Volume One, you’re in for a treat in Volume Two.

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, Volume Two: 1944-1945 (Afterword by Philip Nel)

I wrote an Afterword and Notes for each volume.

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, Volume Two: 1944-1945 (Notes by Philip Nel)

Do you need to read the notes? No. Barnaby is a topical strip, but the art, narrative, and fantasy sustain it. You can read it without knowing all of the allusions. However, I’m the sort of reader who, when reading Fantagraphics’ Krazy & Ignatz series, always checked the “Ignatz Debaffler Page” at the back of the book. I wrote the notes for people like me — people who like endnotes. If you don’t like endnotes, then skip ’em!

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, Volume Two: 1944-1945 (back cover)

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, Volumes 1 and 2 (spines)In addition to the photo of Johnson and blurbs from Art Spiegelman and Greil Marcus, the back cover also offers a glance ahead to Volume 3, in which we’ll reprint a few color Sunday Barnabys. We only have a contract for the black-and-white dailies, but we thought readers might like to glimpse just a few of the color Sundays. In Volume 4, we’ll also have a few Sundays — they ran from 1946 to 1948.  The three concluding Sunday strips offer a different way of ending Barnaby.  So… stay tuned!

More about Barnaby Volume 2, courtesy of Fantagraphics:

You can learn more about Crockett Johnson or Barnaby via

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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Fantagraphics and Kickstarter Capitalism

Fantagraphics' logoThis past week, Fantagraphics launched a $150,000 Kickstarter campaign to fund its Spring 2014 season. The sudden death, in June, of co-founder Kim Thompson had an economic impact on the independent publisher: 13 books he was to translate or edit had to be postponed or delayed, creating a drain on the company’s cash flow. The great news is that, only five days later, the Kickstarter has raised over $130,000 from 2,000 different backers.

The less great news is that, here and there, some people are wondering aloud why the greatest comics publisher out there should need to turn to Kickstarter. Hasn’t publishing the Complete Peanuts, or getting a distribution deal with Norton made Fantagraphics sufficiently flush?  How is the company being managed that it should need to launch a Kickstarter campaign?

While it’s wise to ask about management (there are better and worse ways for a publisher to manage risk), I worry that these questions reinforce the false assumption that capitalism rewards every well-managed company and punishes the poorly managed ones. Good management definitely improves a publisher’s odds for success, but all business ventures (and especially ones, like Fantagraphics, that lack a parent corporation) are susceptible to the whims of the marketplace: you have flush years, and lean ones, and you hope that the flush years will allow you to weather the lean ones.

Markets reward the popular, not the virtuous (unless it happens also to be popular). A business can carefully manage its finances and aggressively promote a book, yet still find itself with a product that doesn’t sell. Just as commercial success does not confer moral worth, nor does commercial failure denote moral shortcomings.

I must disclose here that I am a Fantagraphics editor — co-editor, really. Associate Publisher Eric Reynolds and I are co-editing the five-volume series of Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby.  So, I can’t claim impartiality.

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby Volume One: 1942-1943 (Fantagraphics, 2013): front cover

But I can claim experience. I’m author or co-editor of eight books, and have worked with both academic and commercial publishers. I have also written nearly as many failed book proposals as I have successful ones. Hard work and careful planning sometimes yield rewards, and sometimes does not. Because I am an academic, I (fortunately!) do no have to make a living off of the books I write or edit. But publishers like Fantagraphics do have to turn a profit.

And they are a great publisher to work with. Their attention to design is phenomenal. To echo book design of the 1940s, Dan Clowes hand-drew the eight boxes on the back cover of Barnaby Volume One. Today, design software would make these boxes look perfect; in the ’40s (when Johnson was writing Barnaby), hand-ruled lines made them look just slightly imperfect. Details like this, or setting the text in Futura (the typeface Johnson used for Barnaby), give the book its Crockett-Johnson-in-the-1940s aesthetic.  And that’s just one example of the kind of attention Fantagraphics lavishes on its projects.  They make beautiful books because they care deeply about making beautiful books, and they have nearly 40 years of experience doing it.

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby Volume One: 1942-1943 (Fantagraphics, 2013): back cover

If any publisher deserves to be rewarded with commercial success, it’s Fantagraphics. However, since capitalism is an economic system and not a moral one, there’s Kickstarter. While it’s not the solution to all of publishing’s challenges, Kickstarter does allow a publisher’s supporters to make moral decisions with their capital. Those who have funds to donate can vote their conscience, sustaining the health of a publisher committed to the art of comics.

Unless we as a society decide (for example) that public funding for the arts should be a priority, Kickstarter is one way we can help support worthy artistic ventures. Crowdsourcing is not a necessary evil. It’s a necessary good.

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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!

The rest of my 2013 Comic-Con coverage:

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