Archive for Gene Deitch

Comic-Con, San Diego, Sunday, July 21

No Face (from Miyazaki's Spirited Away)

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

Getting Into Character

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

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

Poison Ivy and Two-Face

Poison Ivy and Two-Face.

Spy vs. Spy

Spy vs. Spy.

One cos-player photobombs other cos-players

One cos-player photobombs other cos-players.

Funky Winkerbean’s 40th+ Anniversary

Tom Batiuk and Alex Sinclair

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

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

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

A couple of choice quotations from Tom Batiuk:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith Erin Hicks in Conversation with Jeff Smith

Faith Erin Hicks and Jeff Smith

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

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

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

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

Jeff Smith: Wow. Nice.

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

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

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

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

Jeff Smith: You quit your day job.

Faith Erin Hicks: My day job quit me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some recent work Faith Erin Hicks recommends:

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

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

— Faith Erin Hicks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gene Deitch

Philip Nel, Eric Reynolds, Gene Deitch, Zdenka Deitch

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

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

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

Paul Hornschemeier draws Crockett Johnson

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

Crockett Johnson by Paul Hornschemeier

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

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

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

Paul Pope & Gene Luen Yang

Paul Pope & Gene Luen Yang

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

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

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

Gene Yang and Kyoshi Warriors

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

Books (and one DVD)

Comic-Con: books

Books arrayed on floor of hotel room.

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

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

My Favorite Tweet from Comic-Con 2013

The Future Belongs to Crowds

“The future belongs to crowds”

— Don DeLillo, Mao II (1991)

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

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

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

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

Crockett Johnson, Barnaby (15 June 1943)

 

The rest of my 2013 Comic-Con coverage:

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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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