Archive for Fantagraphics

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.

Comments (1)

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.

The rest of my 2013 Comic-Con coverage:

Comments (5)

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

 

The rest of my 2013 Comic-Con coverage:

Comments (1)

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:

Comments (1)

Barnaby at Comic-Con

Comic-Con 2013Attention! Fellow and future members of the Elves, Gnomes, Leprechauns, and Little Men’s Chowder and Marching Society! If you’ll be at Comic-Con this week, stop by Fantagraphics, at Booth 1718 (see map below).  Eric Reynolds (who co-edited Barnaby Volume One with me) and I will be there at these times.

  • Thursday, July 18: 10-11:30 am.
  • Saturday, July 20: 9-10 am.
  • Sunday, July 21: 2-4 pm.

We’d be glad to sign your copy of the book. Or not. It’s up to you, really.  Or we could just chat.  What? Stopping by to chat about Crockett Johnson, Barnaby, and Mr. O’Malley isn’t enough for you?  Well, you could also purchase one of Chris Ware’s limited-edition posters for my Eisner-nominated book, Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature (2012).  The actual full, wrap-around cover is below: click to enlarge. Seriously: click it. It’s beautiful.  Mr. Ware’s specially designed poster version (measuring 20″ x 39″) removes the blurbs (replacing them with two more Johnson paintings), and removes all other text save for the title (on the front cover) and my name (on the front cover).

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

I’m bringing a limited supply.  Once they’re gone, they’re gone.

Fantagraphics will also have a few copies of the biography (published by UP Mississippi), which I’d be glad to inscribe.  In case blurbs would be persuasive, here are some very nice things that very kind people have said about it:

Front cover by Chris Ware for: Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature (forthcoming from UP Mississippi, Sept. 2012)Mr. Nel’s engrossing, beautifully-researched dual-biography of these two mid-century masters and their enviable symbiosis will restore the cynic’s faith in love and marriage and elicit gasps of shock from devotees of the genre at the sheer decency of their lives.

— Daniel Clowes

wonderful new dual biography…. This book is a great read…. Highly recommended!

— James Sturm, Center for Cartoon Studies

Nel has a gift for stitching together his exhaustive research into a brisk, highly readable narrative

— Jack Feerick, Kirkus

And Fantagraphics will have LOTS of copies of Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby Volume One: 1942-1943 (2013), edited by Philip Nel (me) and Eric Reynolds, designed by Daniel Clowes, with a foreword by Chris Ware, and essays by Jeet Heer, Dorothy Parker, and Philip Nel (me, again).

Barnaby, Volume 1

If you don’t know Johnson’s masterpiece, now’s the time to get acquainted.  Don’t believe me?  Then listen to these people instead:

I never thought I’d see this day, but the book you hold is, well… the last great comic strip. Yes, there are dozens of other strips worth rereading, but none are this Great; this is great like Beethoven, or Steinbeck, or Picasso. This is so great it lives in its own timeless bubble of oddness and truth.

— Chris Ware

I think, and I am trying to talk calmy, that Barnaby and his friends and oppressors are the most important additions to American arts and letters in lord knows how many years. I know that they are the most important additions to my heart. . . . I think Mr. Johnson must love people. I know darned well I must love Mr. Johnson.

— Dorothy Parker

Still not convinced?  Then come by the Fantagraphics booth (1718!).  Eric and I will convince you.  Here is a map — I’ve drawn a red box around booth 1718.

Comic-Con 2013: Where's Fantagraphics?

For more on Crockett Johnson and Barnaby, see:

Leave a Comment

Barnaby, Small Scandinavian Investors, and Dapper Dan: Can you help identify these allusions? UPDATE: Mysteries Solved!

Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby (1942-1952) was both fantasy and topical satire. As noted on an earlier post, each of Fantagraphics’ 5-volume Barnaby series will have notes to explain the topical comments and any other references that may elude the average reader.

I’ve now finished the notes and Afterword for Barnaby Vol. 2: 1944-1945 (2014).

Almost.

There are two allusions that elude me.  Perhaps you can help?  Here are my questions along with the two relevant strips, which I’ve scanned from the Del Rey paperbacks (we’re using better versions of these strips in the volume itself — don’t worry).

Crockett Johnson, Barnaby, 28 Feb 1945

1. For instance, that Scandinavian Pixey, who— (28 Feb. 1945). This seems to be a reference to a specific (possibly diminutive) investor of Scandinavian descent, but I haven’t he foggiest idea as to whom it might be. As you can see in the strip above, Mr. Baxter says “Investment bankers don’t consider Pixies good risks, as a rule—.” He then adds, “Oh, they HAVE made a few exceptions…” and makes this comment.  So, clearly, at least some of Johnson’s readers would have caught this reference.

Crockett Johnson, Barnaby, 27 Apr 1945

2. Dapper Dan’s Outlet Emporium (27 April 1945).  If this is a reference to a specific business, I haven’t been able to find it.  When I was a kid, there was a Dapper Dan toy: a bald-headed man’s face, behind plastic. Using a magnet, you could move the little metal shavings (also encased in the plastic), and give him some hair, a moustache, beard.  But this can’t be it.  In the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), there’s Dapper Dan pomade, but this is a fictional brand, evidently used only in the film.  I need something that may have been around in 1945.

And, yes, of course, I’ll give credit where it’s due. (I realize that getting one’s name in the Acknowledgments is a rather small “prize” for your help, but,… well, I will to the Acknowledgments the names of those who help identify these two — unless you tell me you don’t want to be identified, that is.)  Thanks in advance for any thoughts you may have.

The first Barnaby volume is in press, and will be out in May or June. You can order it from Fantagraphics.

Barnaby, Volume 1

UPDATE, 4:15 pm.  Within less than an hour, both mysteries appear to be solved.  Via Facebook, Mark Newgarden suggests Ivar Kreuger, “the Match King,” as the “Scandinavian” allusion.  This makes sense.  It’s the kind of allusion Johnson would make.  He’s already had O’Malley proudly identify himself as mentor to Charles Ponzi.

Brian Herrera suggests “Dapper Dan” Hogan, a legendary Irish mobster.  The mobster was known for his style, and indeed appears to be the origin of the nickname “Dapper Dan.” Johnson loved detective fiction & true crime stories. This is the sort of allusion he would make. So, combine the historical allusion with an Outlet Emporium and you get a not-too-reputable source of fashionable menswear, exactly the sort of place where a captain of industry (as O’Malley is, at this point in the narrative) would not be expected to shop — hence, the joke.

Mark also points out that the name “Dapper Dan” precedes Daniel Hogan.  It had been attached to products prior to that time.  And there’s even an Eddie Cantor song, says Brian.  So, all of this is grist for my mill — and the note!

THANKS, MARK AND BRIAN!

 

Leave a Comment

Maurice Sendak, Uncensored

The Comics Journal 302 (2013): coverComics people will already know what is being billed as (and probably is) Maurice Sendak’s Final Interview.  (It was conducted in 2011, and he died last May.)  So, I’m writing this for all the children’s literature people out there: here’s why you might want to read this interview, which appears in the latest issue (no. 302) of The Comics Journal.

Pre-publication, Sendak’s fantasy of assassinating President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney got the most publicity. People who didn’t know Sendak were shocked, not realizing that he was making a dark joke. That said, it’s no understatement to say that he truly despised the Bush administration. One of the first times he and I spoke (on the telephone), Maurice referred to President George W. Bush as “that fucking fuckface.” This was back in June 2001, before 9/11 became an opportunity to launch “pre-emptive war,” before Abu Ghraib, before warrantless wiretapping, before torture, and all the rest. Needless to say, Sendak’s opinion of the administration did not improve over time.

Yes, you read his nickname for Mr. Bush correctly. What’s particularly delightful about this interview is that it has not been expurgated. Often, reporters edit out Sendak’s exuberant profanity. Gary Groth (who conducted this interview) leaves it all in. As a result, when you read the interview, it sounds like Sendak talking with you. He loves Henry James, “Jew-hating motherfucker that he is.”  He has an irrational, “impersonal hatred” for Alec Baldwin, “that fat-faced fuck.”  And so on.

He and Groth talk a lot about movies, including why Buster Keaton is better than Charlie Chaplin, favorite actresses (Simone Signoret, Bette Davis, Carole Lombard) and why most contemporary films aren’t worth seeing. But they also talk about William Blake, Herman Melville, Salman Rushdie, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Franz Schubert, and Vincent Van Gogh’s wife.  It’s a wide-ranging interview, covering many subjects.

The Comics Journal: Sendak interview

As is always the case, Sendak is quotable:

On the creative process: “I’m trying to be honest with you. That you never feel you’ve gotten it right because you have a kind of vision, or a kind of feeling. But your body, your hands, the brush in your hand — nothing equips you to fulfill what the original impulse was. So the original impulse is the most exciting thing” (43).

On the publishing industry: “we cannot, I think, separate ourselves from our time. Like when I began in the ’50s … Young people were welcomed. New things were happening, a surge of energy, a surge of hope. A surge of happiness. And now it’s all dwindled. And so I say, look, I’m very lucky that’s when my time was. What a blessing that I could be there and then and be with editors and people in the publishing world who appreciated young people and wanted them to be crazy like I was. Nobody wants them now” (47).

On writing children’s books: “I get criticized for doing too many serious books. Why is there a dead child in your books? Why is there a chagrined mother? Because that’s the way it is. It works both ways. You either become very superficial and do it for the money, or you become very serious and you turn people off. And if it’s a book for children, my God! I would not know how to write a book for children. I’ve never written a book for children. And yet I’m known as a children’s-book writer and illustrator, OK?” (53).

Bonus: the interview is lavishly illustrated with both art from Sendak’s books and images from other works he mentions. There’s an essay by Alexander Theroux, and a reminiscence from Gene Deitch. (I also contributed an overview of Sendak’s career.) But the interview itself will be of greatest interest.

Though lengthy, the interview does not cover everything important. They don’t talk about Ruth Krauss, one of the key professional relationships in Sendak’s life. (For that, you’ll need to read Sendak’s “Ruth Krauss & Me: A Very Special Partnership” [Horn Book, May/June 1994] or my bio. of Johnson and Krauss.) But this was to have been as the first in a series of interviews, and so Groth never got to ask all of the questions he’d planned to. In any case, for a comprehensive interview with someone as accomplished as Sendak was, you would need an entire book.

Above all, in reading Groth’s interview, it’s great to hear Maurice’s voice — his salty, funny, grumpy, insightful, irascible voice — just one last time.

Related content at The Comics Journal:

Related content on this blog:

Leave a Comment

Barnaby, Vol. 1

Barnaby, Volume 1

The book went to press earlier this month, and will be out in the spring.  I can’t wait for you to see it.  Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby Volume 1 is truly a thing of beauty.

If you read any books published by Fantagraphics, this last sentence will not surprise you.  But in case you are not (yet) a Fantagraphics devotee, let me give you a little behind-the-scenes look at why this book looks so great.  (If you can’t wait to see a few glimpses, please scoot on over to Fantagraphics’ post on Barnaby Volume 1: it includes images and Daniel Clowes‘ rough sketch for the cover.)

Fantagraphics is perfectionistic in all the right ways.  At each phase of the process, Eric Reynolds — who is co-editing the Barnaby books with me — contacted me with specific questions.  Most recently, at page-proofs phase, we talked about the layout of my essay, as well as those by Chris Ware and Jeet Heer.  Dan Clowes put the epigraph for the first section of my essay in a Barnaby-style speech bubble.  I thought: that looks cool. Might we try the same treatment for the other epigraphs? We did, and liked the result.  Eric, Dan, and Fantagraphics designer Tony Ong also experimented with how to lay out my notes.  We proofread everything many times, had conversations about grammar and word choice.  Eric worked hard on getting the spacing just right on the back cover’s panels (visible, if too small to read clearly, on Fantagraphics’ post — and below).  If these details sound boring to you, they really shouldn’t.  This sort of keen attention to detail makes for a beautiful book.

Barnaby, Volume 1: cover

Fantagraphics works with the best people.  Daniel Clowes! Chris Ware! Jeet Heer!  Dan designed the book to look as if it were designed by Crockett Johnson in the 1940s.  When you look at (for example) the back cover, it does not look as if it was designed using contemporary software.  The lines look hand-ruled because (I believe) they were hand-ruled.  For the typeface, Dan used Futura because that’s the distinctive typeface of Barnaby — and, incidentally, of Ruth Krauss‘s The Carrot Seed, which Johnson illustrated & designed.  Chris wrote a beautiful, insightful introductory piece on Johnson and Barnaby.  I’m tempted to quote it here, but I think I’ll leave it as a surprise.  I will say, though, that there are few comics creators who can speak as lucidly as Chris can about how comics work.  I’ll also say that Chris’s piece will make you look at Harold (of purple crayon fame) in a new way.  And… that’s all I’ll say.  Comics scholar Jeet Heer’s introduction features the best description of Mr. O’Malley (Barnaby’s fairy godfather) that I’ve ever read: “half-pixie and half-grifter, an otherwordly being most at home in low-life dives and gambling dens, raider of other people’s fridges and cigar boxes, an inept wizard whose magic only works intermittently and often with unintended consequences, a self-mythologizer whose account of his own past glories is an improbable farrago of tall tales, a rhetorician quick to smooth over any difficulty with rococo eloquence and irrelevant digressions.”

Fantagraphics — specifically, Eric Reynolds — communicated with me clearly and regularly.  He was always clear, polite, and had the best interests of the project at heart.  A great guy to work with.  I’m delighted that we’ll be working together on volumes 2 through 5!  (We’re collecting the full ten-year run of Barnaby, 1942-1952, with two years in each volume.)

Finally, we could not have done this without the help of collectors who loaned us their newspapers or scanned strips — the Smithsonian, Harvard University, and Charles Cohen, in particular.  So.  Thanks to them!  Note to the curious: a complete collection of old newspaper strips are not just lying around in an archive.  You have to go looking for them.  It’s an enormous amount of work, and is one of the reasons Volume 1 took so long.  The other is Fantagraphics’ admirable perfectionism.

So.  This spring.  Barnaby Volume 1.  Get it!

Comments (2)

Clear Lines and Comics Luminaries: A Report from SPX

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby and the American Clear Line School. Left to right: Mark Newgarden, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Eric Reynolds, Philip Nel. Photo by Paul Karasik.

It’s hard to put into words what it means to spend over a dozen years on a book, and then be able to talk about it with smart, talented people whose work I admire.  Saturday’s panel at the Small Press Expo — featuring Daniel Clowes, Mark Newgarden, Chris Ware, Eric Reynolds, and myself — was exactly that.  Titled “Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby and the American Clear Line School,” the panel aimed (among other things) to spread the word about Fantagraphics’ Complete Barnaby: Eric and I are co-editing, Dan is designing, Chris wrote an intro for Volume 1.  Since that book isn’t out yet (currently expecting a February ’13 pub date), it also enabled me to draw upon my dozen years of research for Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature (which is just out, and features a cover by Chris).

For 50 minutes, we had an illuminating conversation about Crockett Johnson, Barnaby, and how comics work.  Few people understand comics as well as Mark, Dan, and Chris do.  If you’ve ever heard Chris Ware speak or read an interview with him, you’ll know that he is one of a very few comics creators who can articulate, clearly & with precision, how particular comics work — and do this all without notes, speaking in what sound like perfectly punctuated paragraphs.  He was just as sharp, the following day, on the Building Stories conversation between him and Dave Ball.

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby and the American Clear Line School. Left to right: Mark Newgarden, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Eric Reynolds, Philip Nel. Photo by Paul Karasik.

It’s also fascinating to me that three quite different cartoonists are drawn to Barnaby. With the exception of Ice Haven (my favorite Clowes book, incidentally), Daniel Clowes’ works have the fewest visual similarities to Johnson’s style. Chris Ware’s precise line recalls Johnson’s, though he favors more detailed pages than Johnson does. Mark Newgarden’s line is thicker and looser than Johnson’s, though his aesthetic is closer to Johnson’s succinct minimalism.  What all four share in common is a sharpness, a precision that gives their work a vital presence on the page.  All four understand the visual grammar of cartoons; they are fluent in the language of images.

Commercially, SPX was a success, also. Fantagraphics kindly sold copies of my biography (we sold all of them), and set up signings for me at their booth — the first of which found me sitting next to Dan.  Chris very generously signed the prints of his cover, for my Johnson-Krauss bio., and I sold about a dozen of those, too.

Daniel Clowes and Philip Nel signing books at the Fantagraphics booth. Photo by Alvin Buenaventura.

But, for me, what made it special was getting to hang out with so many great artists, writers, editors, & scholars. I never thought I’d find myself at dinner with Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Charles Burns, Adrian Tomine, and Françoise Mouly. When I told Mike Deforge (an up-and-coming comics creator who was also at that dinner) that I felt like I’d been invited to the grown-ups’ table and wondered how the heck I got there, he admitted that he felt the same way.  So, a hearty thanks to Alvin Buenaventura for inviting us! (On that note, check out Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist, edited by Alvin & with an essay by Chris.)

There are many other highlights — hanging out with Mark N. & Megan Montague Cash, getting to show them original Barnaby strips at the Smithsonian, meeting fellow Crockett Johnson fans, other comics scholars, seeing Warren Bernard’s astonishing personal collection of comics (at his house), discovering a group of comics artists engaged in an ongoing alphabet project, and so much more.  And the Barnaby panel was a career highlight.

Thanks again to Dan, Mark, Chris, and Eric for making it happen.  Thanks to Bill Kartalopoulos for including us in his great program.  And thanks to everyone I met for a fantastic SPX.

Photos by Paul Karasik (top two) and Alvin Buenaventura (lower one). Thanks, fellas!  Enjoyed seeing you, too!

Comments (3)