Children’s Literature and Comics/Graphic Novels at MLA 2014

Modern Language Association 2014: logoWith thanks to Craig Svonkin for assembling the children’s literature panels list and Charles Hatfield for assembling the comics panels list, here’s a list of panel sessions on either children’s literature or comics/graphic novels at the Modern Language Association Conference in Chicago, 9-12 January 2014.  Is there anything missing here?  Drop me a line, and I’ll add it.


Thursday, 9 January 2014

97. Children’s Literature and the Common Core

3:30–4:45 p.m., Belmont, Chicago Marriott

Program arranged by the Division on Children’s Literature

Presiding: Jan Christopher Susina, Illinois State Univ.

Speakers: Daniel D. Hade, Penn State Univ., University Park; Michelle Holley Martin, Univ. of South Carolina, Columbia; Kristin McIlhagga, Michigan State Univ.; Sarah Minslow, Univ. of North Carolina, Charlotte; Joe Sutliff Sanders, Kansas State Univ.

This roundtable will address how the English Language Arts Standards of the Common Core State Standards (www.corestandards.org) will affect the teaching of college courses in children’s and adolescent literature, given that many of the students enrolled in these courses are preparing for careers in K–12 education.

This session has been chosen by MLA President Marianne Hirsch to be part of the presidential theme, “Vulnerable Times.”

Children’s Literature Division Executive Committee Meeting

Thursday, 10 January, 5:15-6:30 pm, Dupage, Marriott


Friday, 10 January 2014

193. Pre-Raphaelite, Aesthetic, and Fin de Siècle Children’s Literature

Friday, 10 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., Addison, Chicago Marriott

Program arranged by the William Morris Society and the Children’s Literature Association

Presiding: Andrea Donovan, Minot State Univ.

  1. “Laurence Housman’s Field of Clover and the Pre-Raphaelite Politics of Making,” Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson Univ.
  2. “Mapping the Invisible and the Multivalent: Arthur Hughes’s Illustrations for George MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind,” Carey Gibbons, Courtauld Inst. of Art
  3. “Illustrated Labors: Text, Textile, and ‘Wise-talk’ in Christina Rossetti’s Sing-Song,” Jesse Cordes Selbin, Univ. of California, Berkeley
  4. “Art Critics in the Cradle: Fin de Siècle Painting Books and the Move to Modernism,” Victoria Ford Smith, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs

269. Deliver Us to Normal: Children’s Literature and the Midwest

Friday, 10 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Los Angeles–Miami, Chicago Marriott

Program arranged by the Children’s Literature Association

Presiding: Katharine Slater, Pacific Lutheran Univ.

  1. “The American Urban Jungle: Tarzan of the Apes and Chicago,” Michelle Ann Abate, Ohio State Univ., Columbus
  2. “Coming of Age in a Divided City: Navigating Chicago Cultures in Sandra Cisneros’s Poetic Bildungsroman and Veronica Roth’s Dystopian Fiction,” Suzanne Hopcroft, Yale Univ.
  3. “When Myth Becomes Truth: Adolescent Identity in Depression-Era Kansas,” Jill Coste, San Diego State Univ.
  4. “Environmental Conservation and Racial Purity in the Fiction of Gene Stratton-Porter,” Sarah Clere, The Citadel

310. Randall Jarrell at One Hundred

1:45–3:00 p.m., Great America, Chicago Marriott

Program arranged by the Division on Children’s Literature

Presiding: Chamutal Noimann, Borough of Manhattan Community Coll., City Univ. of New York

  1. “The Child Is the Animal in Randall Jarrell’s Animal Family,” Patricia Oman, Hastings Coll.
  2. “Jarrell the Heroic Reader,” Molly McQuade, American Library Assn.
  3. “Randall Jarrell’s Impossible Children,” Stephen Louis Burt, Harvard Univ.

Respondent: Richard McDonnell Flynn, Georgia Southern Univ.

388. Transnational Comics

Friday, 10 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Chicago X, Sheraton Chicago

Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives and the Division on Literature and Other Arts

Presiding: Anke K. Finger, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs; Nhora Lucia Serrano, California State Univ., Long Beach

  1. “Traveling Comics; or, What Happened When Winsor McCay’s Innocents Went Abroad?” Mark McKinney, Miami Univ., Oxford
  2. “Graphic Memories of Revolution: Women on the Verge in Iran and Lebanon,” Julia Watson, Ohio State Univ., Columbus
  3. “Transnational Regards from Serbia,” Ioana Luca, National Taiwan Normal Univ.
  4. “Conceiving the Cosmopolitan Muslim Superhero in The 99,” Stefan Meier, Chemnitz Univ. of Tech.

428. Cash Bar Arranged by the Division on Children’s Literature and the Discussion Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives

Friday, 10 January, 7:00–8:15 p.m., Grand I, Chicago Marriott


Saturday, 11 January 2014

437. Diaries of the Young Girl: The Craft of Female Selfhood

Saturday, 11 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., Indiana-Iowa, Chicago Marriott

Program arranged by the Division on Children’s Literature

Presiding: June S. Cummins, San Diego State Univ.; Rocío G. Davis, City Univ. of Hong Kong

  1. “Writing to Survive: Child-Writing Characterization in Sade Adeniran’s Imagine This,” Suzanne Ondrus, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs
  2. “Constructing the Self: Pocket Diaries as Discipline in Nineteenth-Century America,” Martha L. Sledge, Marymount Manhattan Coll.
  3. “‘Okay! Fine! You Can Read It!’: Memory, Adolescence, and Belonging in Lauren Weinstein’s Girl Stories,” Tahneer Oksman, Marymount Manhattan Coll.
  4. “Witness, Re-vision, and the Constraints of Child Authorship in Nadja Halilbegovic’s My Childhood under Fire: A Sarajevo Diary,” Anastasia Ulanowicz, Univ. of Florida

541. Queer Youth: Sexuality and Adolescent Transformations

Saturday, 11 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Chicago F, Chicago Marriott

A special session

Presiding: Philip Nel, Kansas State Univ.

  1. “The Queer Case against Willa Cather’s Paul,” Adam Sonstegard, Cleveland State Univ.
  2. “Queer Sentiments: Tomboys and Familial Belonging in Carson McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding,” Kristen Proehl, State Univ. of New York, Brockport
  3. “When Queer Isn’t So Queer: The Absent Adolescent in the Work of David Levithan,” Kent Baxter, California State Univ., Northridge

Responding: Sarah Sahn, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana

563. Postcolonial Graphic Memoirs

Saturday, 11 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Erie, Sheraton Chicago

Program arranged by the Division on Autobiography, Biography, and Life Writing

Presiding: Linda Haverty Rugg, Univ. of California, Berkeley

  1. Malamine, un africain à Paris: A Closer Look at Contemporary Postcolonial Unbelonging,”Michelle Bumatay, Univ. of California, Los Angeles
  2. “Self-Construction of a Transnational Feminine Identity in an Andean Context: Power Paola’s Virus Tropical,” Felipe Gómez, Carnegie Mellon Univ.
  3. “Drawing Memories, Visualizing Texts: Transnational Belonging in GB Tran’s Vietnamerica,”Lan Dong, Univ. of Illinois, Springfield
  4. “Illustrating Alternate Narratives: Unconsumable Racialized Bodies of Young Women in Half World and Skim,” Michelle O’Brien, Univ. of British Columbia

575. A Reading and Conversation with Katherine Paterson

Saturday, 11 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Chicago D, Chicago Marriott

Program arranged by the Conference on Christianity and Literature

Presiding: Roger W. Lundin, Wheaton Coll., IL

Speaker: Katherine Paterson, Barre, VT

595. Comics and Fine Arts

Saturday, 11 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Lincolnshire, Chicago Marriott

Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives

Presiding: Hillary L. Chute, Univ. of Chicago

  1. “Art Worlds, War Worlds, Girl Worlds: Henry Darger, Henry James,” Michael D. Moon, Emory Univ.
  2. “Cartoonists Greet the Future: The Antiart of Comics, Modernism, and the Armory Show,” Peter Sattler, Lakeland Coll.
  3. “Not Made to Be Looked at with ‘Aesthetic’ Eyes”: Boxed Works by Chris Ware and Marcel Duchamp,” Jonathan R. Bass, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick

Sunday, 12 January 2014

691. Broadway Babies

8:30–9:45 a.m., Great America, Chicago Marriott

A special session

Presiding: Donelle Ruwe, Northern Arizona Univ.

  1. “Belting: The Construction of Childhood Voice in Annie,” James Leve, Northern Arizona Univ.
  2. “‘There’s Going to Be a Change in This Workhouse’: Lionel Bart’s Oliver! and Postwar Youth Culture,” Marc Napolitano, United States Military Acad.
  3. “Urchins, Unite: Newsies as an Antidote to Annie,” Marah Gubar, Univ. of Pittsburgh

Abstract:
“Broadway Babies” examines AnnieOliver!, and Newsies, musicals in which the child is at first isolated, unloved, and impoverished and then is brought into a nurturing, albeit non-traditional, “family.” As the panelists demonstrate, these shows’ dual fantasy of the vulnerable child in need of rescue and the redemptive child who rescues others is complicated by the medium of musical theater.

755. Female Rebellion in Young-Adult Dystopian Fiction

Sunday, 12 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Sheffield, Chicago Marriott

A special session

Presiding: Sara K. Day, Southern Arkansas Univ.

  1. “‘I Am Beginning to Know Myself’: Rebellious Subjectivities in Young-Adult Dystopian Fiction,” Miranda A. Green-Barteet, Univ. of Western Ontario
  2. “‘Rebel, Rebel, You’ve Torn Your Dress’: Distractions of Competitive Girlhood in Young-Adult Dystopian Fiction,” Amy L. Montz, Univ. of Southern Indiana
  3. “Docile Bodies, Dangerous Bodies: Sexual Awakening and Social Resistance in Young-Adult Dystopian Novels,” Sara K. Day

768. Collaboration in Comics

Sunday, 12 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Colorado, Sheraton Chicago

Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives

Presiding: Charles Hatfield, California State Univ., Northridge

  1. “Multimodal Composition and the Rhetoric of Comics: A Study of Comics Teams in Collaboration,” Molly Scanlon, Virginia Polytechnic Inst. and State Univ.
  2. “‘A Story Lived, Photographed[,] Told[,] Written and Drawn’: The Dance of Pen and Camera in Guibert and Lefèvre’s The Photographer,” Birte Wege, Freie Univ.
  3. “The Problem of Collaborative Authorship in the Comics Jam,” Isaac Cates, Univ. of Vermont
  4. “Collaboration as Consciousness Raising: The Bodies of Feminism in Wimmen’s Comix,” Margaret Galvan, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York

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Comic-Con, San Diego, Sunday, July 21

No Face (from Miyazaki's Spirited Away)

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

Getting Into Character

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

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

Poison Ivy and Two-Face

Poison Ivy and Two-Face.

Spy vs. Spy

Spy vs. Spy.

One cos-player photobombs other cos-players

One cos-player photobombs other cos-players.

Funky Winkerbean’s 40th+ Anniversary

Tom Batiuk and Alex Sinclair

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

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

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

A couple of choice quotations from Tom Batiuk:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith Erin Hicks in Conversation with Jeff Smith

Faith Erin Hicks and Jeff Smith

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

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

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

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

Jeff Smith: Wow. Nice.

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

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

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

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

Jeff Smith: You quit your day job.

Faith Erin Hicks: My day job quit me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some recent work Faith Erin Hicks recommends:

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

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

— Faith Erin Hicks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gene Deitch

Philip Nel, Eric Reynolds, Gene Deitch, Zdenka Deitch

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

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

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

Paul Hornschemeier draws Crockett Johnson

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

Crockett Johnson by Paul Hornschemeier

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

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

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

Paul Pope & Gene Luen Yang

Paul Pope & Gene Luen Yang

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

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

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

Gene Yang and Kyoshi Warriors

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

Books (and one DVD)

Comic-Con: books

Books arrayed on floor of hotel room.

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

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

My Favorite Tweet from Comic-Con 2013

The Future Belongs to Crowds

“The future belongs to crowds”

— Don DeLillo, Mao II (1991)

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

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

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

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

Crockett Johnson, Barnaby (15 June 1943)

 

The rest of my 2013 Comic-Con coverage:

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Comic-Con, San Diego, Saturday, July 20

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

Philip Nel, Barnaby, Eric Reynolds

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

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

Small-Press Comics for Small People

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

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

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

Never Mind the Bullock

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

Will Eisner and the Graphic Novel

Neil Gaiman, Dennis Kitchen, Scott McCloud, Jeff Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Levitz introduces the topic of what was learned from Eisner.

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

There was no time for audience questions.

Team Cul de Sac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lincoln Pierce

“He’s one of my heroes”

– Lincoln Pierce

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

– Lincoln Pierce

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

– Mark Tatulli

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

– Mark Tatulli

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

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

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

Richard Thompson, Cul de Sac

More quotations from panelists:

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

– Lucas Turnbloom

“Our entire adulthood was shaped by Parkinsons.”

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

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

– Jenni Holm on Richard Thompson’s writing

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

– Andrew Farago

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

– Shaenon Garrity

“I worship his art.”

– Rob Harrell

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

– Mark Tatulli

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

– Lincoln Pierce

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

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

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

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

A few quotations from the panel.

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

– Robert Williams

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

– Eric Reynolds

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

– Robert Williams

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

– Eric Reynolds

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

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

My Dinner with Eric

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

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Comic-Con, San Diego, Friday, July 19

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

A Simple Repast, Coming This Fall

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

Brought to You By

advertisement on side of building, San Diego

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

advertisement on side of bus, San Diego

Juxtaposed Images vs. Juxtaposed Text and Images: Smackdown!

Philip Nel, Scott McCloud, R.C. Harvey

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

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

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

McCloud: Isn’t text a kind of image?

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

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

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

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

Me: No. Where would I find it?

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

Me: Thanks.  I’ll check it out.

Gauld = Wry, Topical Gorey

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

Tom Gauld

Here Comes Snoopy

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

Snoopy and fan

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

Drawing Stories: What’s New in YA Graphic Novels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humor in Graphic Novels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Gauld, The Poetry Gene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa Hanawalt: “I take a lot of notes”

Ellen Forney: “just observations from the day”

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

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

A Tribute to Kim Thompson of Fanagraphics Books

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

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

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

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

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

—Eric Reynolds

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

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

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

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

— Diana Schutz

Eisners: It’s an Honor Just to Be Nominated

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sergio Aragones at the Eisners, 2013

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

Kidd and Gaiman, snogging

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Comic-Con, San Diego, Thursday, July 18

Comic-Con: banners

Reflections and notes from the second day….

Rise and Run

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

Into the Breach

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

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

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

Nel signs Hatfield's BarnabyIs There Anybody Out There?

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

(Photo at right by Mich Hatfield.)

Barnaby, Volume 1

Look at Me

cosplay: photo by Ben Towle

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

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

Gene Deitch

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

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

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

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

Gene Deitch accepts the Inkpot Award

Other quotations:

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

— Deitch on what studios thought of animators

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

— Deitch on Terrytoons, prior to his time there.

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

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

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

The line to nowhere

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

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

Tom Gauld

Tom Gauld, Dickens cartoon

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

Jeff Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More quotations from Jeff Smith…:

On Bone:

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

On Tuki:

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

On Rasl:

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

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

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

Wonder Women: On Paper and Off

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

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

A few words on our panelists:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Ramona Fradon

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

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

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

— Mary Fleener on Gilbert Hernandez’ Love & Rockets

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

—Trina Robbins on how Jaime Hernandez draws women

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

— Ramona Fradon

Fran Hopper, Glory Forbes (mid-1940s)

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

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

The rest of my 2013 Comic-Con coverage:

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

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

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

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

San Diego Convention Center

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

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

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

Walking billboards

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

The Zombie Apocalypse Store, San Diego

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

The rest of my 2013 Comic-Con coverage:

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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:

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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!

 

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Shrdlu, Minsky, Burke & Hare

When you look at Chris Ware’s post-Newtown New Yorker cover, the looks on the parents’ faces call to mind the previous month’s massacre in Connecticut. But 10 years from now, readers (I hope) will see just a scene of children entering a school as their parents watch intently. In creating the notes for Volume 2 of Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby, I’m facing this challenge as I work to help contemporary readers follow the political satire.

Johnson’s comic strip was a fantasy, and you can enjoy it without knowing the contemporary scene of 1944 to 1945.  But I’m one of those people who wants to know. In reading Fantagraphics’ beautiful Krazy Kat series, I was always a little disappointed when one of Herriman’s obscurities lacked an explanation in the book’s “Ignatz Debaffler Page.”  So, for Fantagraphics’ equally beautiful Barnaby series (the first volume of which should be available in March), I’m catering to the reader ­— like me — who wants to turn to the back of the book, and find an explanatory note.

In addition to being topical, Barnaby was also wide-ranging in its allusions. Johnson’s characters offer wry commentary on American politics in the 1940s, but also reflect his interests in mathematics, mystery novels, and popular culture. There are many referents that might be obscure even to his readers in 1944 and 1945.  On 28 September 1945, the lettering on a con-artist swami’s door reads “SWAMI ESYAYOUISIJA.”  I spent some time staring at this before realizing that the swami’s surname is “YES” in four languages: Pig Latin (ESYAY), French (OUI), Spanish (SÍ), and German (JA).

ShrdluEarlier that same month, Barnaby introduces a printer’s devil named “Shrdlu.”  He’s a friend of Barnaby’s fairy godfather, Mr. O’Malley. Why Shrdlu? A linotype machine arranged the letters in order of how frequently they were used. In English, that order is ETAOIN SHRDLU. On the machine, the first column (reading downward) was ETAOIN, and the second was SHRDLU. Thus, as the OED explains, “ETAOIN SHRDLU” are “The letters set by running a finger down the first two vertical banks of keys on the left of the keyboard of a Linotype machine, used as a temporary marking slug but sometimes printed by mistake; any badly blundered sequence of type.” So, Shrdlu is the ideal name for a newspaper employee who, as he explains on 4 September, is “responsible for all omissions, typographical errors, pied lines, switched captions and misspelled names.”

etaoin shrdlu from Linotype: The Film on Vimeo.

On 28 March 1944, O’Malley says he’s a devotee of Minsky’s brand of humor. Who? He’s referring to the comics employed by the Minsky Brothers, who were more famous for their risqué burlesque shows. Johnson’s also making an in-joke: one Minsky comedian, Jimmy Savo, provided some inspiration for the character of Mr. O’Malley.

O'Malley phones Burke & HareNear the beginning of his career as a Wall Street financier, Barnaby’s fairy godfather decides to phone a brokerage firm. So, he checks the phone book, and says “This firm’s name has a familiar ring to it. ‘Burke & Hare.’” The name may be familiar, but it’s not the kind of familiarity one associates with a reputable firm. It recalls the infamous Burke and Hare Murders of 1828. Over the course of 10 months in Edinburgh, Scotland, William Burke (1792-1829) and William Hare (1792-?) murdered 16 people, and sold the corpses to Dr. Robert Knox, who needed cadavers for his anatomy lectures.

Even though you don’t require these notes to enjoy the strip, a thorough editor (that’s me!) provides them… for the few readers who (like me!) want to know.

Barnaby Volume 2: 1944-1945 should be out in early 2014, and Barnaby Volume 1: 1942-1943 is due in March. I expect to receive an advance copy in the next week or two.

Note: All Barnaby images are from the Del Rey paperbacks (1985-1986). For the Fantagraphics books, expect higher-quality images and paper.

Barnaby, Volume 1

Coming in March, from Fantagraphics: Barnaby Volume 1: 1942-1943, co-edited by Philip Nel and Eric Reynolds. Design by Daniel Clowes. Introduction by Chris Ware. Essays by Jeet Heer and Dorothy Parker. Biographical Afterword and Notes by Philip Nel. You can pre-order it now.

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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!

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