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David Sims writes at The Atlantic about Steve Ditko's ordinary people:

Since Ditko never gave interviews, there's no definitive answer as to why he left Marvel in 1966 at the height of his success, four years after co-creating Spider-Man. But one reason often cited is his disagreement with Lee over the identity of another villain, the Green Goblin. Like Electro, Ditko wanted the bomb-throwing Green Goblin to be a nobody, while Lee insisted that he be revealed as Norman Osborn, an existing character. Ditko left Marvel after Issue 38 of The Amazing Spider-Man, on short notice and with little explanation. Osborn was unmasked as the Green Goblin just one issue later.

"But though Ditko never quite reached the artistic or financial heights of his Marvel work again," observes Sims, "his influence lingers in the building blocks of all superhero storytelling:"

For a hero to work, they have to be strange or eye-catching in some way, while still possessing a recognizable glint of humanity. Ditko's heroes and villains could be terrifying while also harboring some deep inner pain; they could be philosophically objectionable but undeniably alluring in their devotion to some form of justice. They were otherworldly characters who might stalk the street alongside you.

In other Ditko news: Daniel Clowes shares his roughs for a rejected New Yorker cartoon about Ditko, and Craig Russell talks about inking Ditko's pencils on some issues of Rom in the 1980s.

Slate's Matthew Dessem pegs Ditko's high-water mark as "a legendary early 1960s run during which he helped develop Iron Man and the Hulk, was instrumental in creating Spider-Man, and created Dr. Strange:"

Ditko's art, particularly for Dr. Strange, was characterized by the use of abstract and psychedelic images, making it a hit with Eastern-mysticism-curious young people of the 1960s. As sort of a one-two punch with the pop mysticism, Ditko also used his work to explore Randian Objectivism, inventing a Spider-Man villain called the Looter.

After leaving Marvel in 1965, Ditko went deeper into the world of Ayn Rand, creating Objectivist superheroes The Question and Mr. A, the latter of whom was named for "A is A,' a slogan from Atlas Shrugged.

NYT's Andy Webster fine-tunes this emphasis:

Though Mr. Ditko had a hand in the early development of other signature Marvel characters -- especially the sorcerer Dr. Strange -- Spider-Man was his definitive character, and for many fans he was Spider-Man's definitive interpreter.

Mr. Ditko was noted for his cinematic storytelling, his occasional flights into almost psychedelic abstraction, and the philosophical convictions that often colored his work. Scrupulously private, he had a mystique rare among industry superstars. [...]

In "In Search of Steve Ditko" -- a 2007 British documentary narrated by the TV personality Jonathan Ross -- the novelist and comic book writer Alan Moore says that in Mr. Ditko's work there was "a tormented elegance to the way the characters stood, the way that they bent their hands."

He added, "They always looked as if they were on the edge of some kind of revelation or breakdown."

Here is the first of the documentary's seven parts:

NPR refers to the statement from Marvel Comics' head Joe Quesada:

Only a small group of individuals can claim that they have effected and redefined not just an industry, but popular culture worldwide. Steve Ditko was one of those few who dared to break molds every time his pencil and pen hit a blank sheet of paper. In his lifetime he blessed us with gorgeous art, fantastical stories, heroic characters and a mystical persona worthy of some of his greatest creations. And much like his greatest co-creation, Steve Ditko's legend and influence will outlive us all.

Mark Evanier comments on a Jack Kirby feature by Eric Molinsky for "Jack Kirby's Marvels," an episode of his podcast Imaginary Worlds. Despite the episode short-changing both Kirby's pre-Marvel Era work and his efforts in the late seventies, Evanier remarks that "Jack Kirby's Marvels does good work in highlighting Kirby as Marvel's co-founder:"

Kirby's centrality is never questioned, and Molinsky and company have edited many voices into one succinct, riveting account. Further, the early portion of the 'cast, with the visit to the Tenement Museum, could be eye-opening to many (the tenement segment is great). [...]

Finally, I was disappointed by the episode's ending, which comes down to, simply, a reaffirmation that both "Jack AND Stan mattered"--a conclusion that is hardly surprising, indeed by now has become standard. I guess that was a gesture toward closure, and listeners do need closure--but so much gets swept under the floorboards when we do that.

TCJ's interview with Craig Thompson about the new expanded edition of his travelogue Carnet de Voyage reminded me yet again that, despite how much I enjoyed Blankets, I still haven't read Habibi. I had better get to it before Thompson produces any more novels. In the interview, Alex Dueben asks Thompson, "what are you working on now?"

I am still secretive about it, but I'll probably be ready to announce it this fall. I haven't signed a contract yet, but the plan is to serialize it as a comic book. For the first time in my career. When I did Blankets I was really pushing against comic book store culture and collector mentality and serial comics. I was sick of the format of comic books. Now I'm sick of graphic novels and the pretension around them and the prohibitive cost and space they consume. We live in this era over-saturated with media and images and there's something really pure about the 24-32 page comic book to me now. As I was struggling with how to structure this new book, I realized that I want to do it as a comic book. It's still going to be a graphic novel but I want to use the constraint as the structure. I'm excited about comics as a medium again.

Given Thompson's propensity for longer works, Dueben asks, "Is this going to be a shorter or longer book?"

[laughs] Unfortunately it's going to be another Blankets-Habibi. I resisted that for so long. I did not want it to be that and I was trying to figure out how I could cut it down. It wasn't until I came upon the serialization idea that it started to feel more right for me. [...] I hope that this serialization makes it more pleasurable for me. It means I can start having stuff out next year rather than disappearing for years and years again.

Anders Nilsen seems to be really enjoying serializing Tongues.

That's a great example. I don't know if I'm as bold as him, though, self-publishing. But his book is a good example of what I like reading these days. The new Crickets or Ganges or Tongues are much more exciting to me right now than graphic novels.

I don't even know that Nilsen had another series out...another new series to read!

I mentioned Stan Lee's situation a month ago, and io9's piece by Charles Pulliam-Moore summarizes a new Hollywood Reporter article that makes things seem even worse:

In a document dated February 13 that was notarized in front of Lee's former lawyer Tom Lallas, Lee specifically names Jerardo "Jerry" Olivarez, a one-time business associate of his daughter J.C., Lee's current guardian and caretaker Keya Morgan, and J.C.'s attorney, Kirk Schenck as people with "bad intentions."

The document goes into detail about Lee's fraught relationship with his 67-year-old daughter, detailing her impulsive fits of rage and alleging that she spends tens of thousands of dollars a month all on Lee's dime, despite his attempts to curtail her. The document details how, in 2014, J.C. allegedly shoved her mother and choked Lee after being told that a new Jaguar leased in Lee's name was not going to be hers. The document also claims that Olivarez, Morgan, and Schenck "insinuated themselves into relationships with J.C. for an ulterior motive and purpose: to take advantage of Lee and gain control over [Lee's] assets, property and money." [...]

Perhaps most disappointing of all is that, from the looks of it, Lee doesn't have anyone in his corner who's able to protect him from the people that are draining him. If there's one thing Lee needs right now, it's someone genuinely acting in his best interest.

The Hollywood Reporter piece by Gary Baum starts out with a survey of Lee's situation:

Lee's estate is estimated to be worth between $50 million and $70 million (it's been reported he receives $1 million a year for his Marvel ties). And while his primary role with the company is now mostly ceremonial -- including a cameo in nearly every film -- he remains a deity in fanboy culture. Despite the fact that his health requires nursing care at home and on the road, up until his most recent illness, Lee was a jovial regular at international comic conventions, where he can draw thousands of paying autograph seekers.

J.C. declined to speak with THR, Baum notes, but "nearly all of the other players in the messy drama over Lee's estate and well-being are speaking out:"

Their often conflicting stories reveal an increasingly toxic and combative situation involving broken alliances, abrupt expulsions and allegations of elder abuse against one of America's most influential and beloved cultural icons. On several occasions, the turmoil drew the attention of law enforcement.

"Joanie's death from a stroke on July 6 at age 95 marked the end of their evening martini ritual at home in the exclusive Bird Streets of the Hollywood Hills," Baum continues, "and the beginning of pandemonium.

According to household staff and business associates, there have been times when J.C.'s verbal outbursts have turned physical. One incident took place in winter 2014, explains Lee's former business and asset manager Bradley J. Herman, after J.C. discovered that the new Jaguar convertible parked outside, which she thought had been purchased for her, was in fact only leased -- and in her father's name.

J.C. called her parents "fucking stupid," and according to Herman,"J.C. then roughly grabbed her mother by one arm, shoving her against a window:"

Joanie fell to the carpeted floor. Lee, seated in a nearby chair and looking stunned, told J.C. he was cutting her off: "I'm going to stick you in a little apartment and take away all your credit cards!" Herman recalls Lee shouting. "I've had it, you ungrateful bitch!" In "a rage," J.C. took hold of Lee's neck, slamming his head against the chair's wooden backing. Joanie suffered a large bruise on her arm and burst blood vessels on her legs; Lee had a contusion on the rear of his skull. (J.C. has previously denied the incident.)

"This really did never, ever happen," claimed JC, calling it a "Total lie."

Lee appears to need some everyday heroics, and one wonders--who will suit up and protect him?

Captain Hydra?

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So, is anyone familiar with this Captain America cover from a few years back?

(Paolo Rivera, 2013)

The current series Captain America: Steve Rogers has taken flak for a plot twist where Cap reveals a secret allegiance to the fascistic organization Hydra. I happened to find a brutally sarcastic comment addressed to writer Nick Spencer:

Thanks a lot, Nick Spencer. You turned captain America into the new symbol of nazism.

I don't care if he's trying to "make a commentary" or some shit like that, he turned an icon that represented hope and what's good about the US, an icon created by JEWISH writers and artists and turned him into a symbol of hatred.

Good. Fucking. Job.

The post contains a disturbing image [no, I'm not going to post it here] wherein some douchenozzle/twatwaffle/Nazi-sympathizing-fucktard on DeviantArt decided to desecrate Cap's iconography from the cover above by replacing the US flag with one from Nazi Germany, and the stars on his uniform and shield with swastikas. It's some really lazy, low-rent bullshit appropriation that's completely inimical to Cap's Nazi-punching origin:


[See my posts here and here about Cap's decidedly anti-fascist liberalism--as if there were any other kind!]

Noah Charney's piece "Your Brain on Art" praises Eric Kandel's book Reductionism in Art and Brain Science, saying that it "offers one of the freshest insights into art history in many years:"

Ask your average person walking down the street what sort of art they find more intimidating, or like less, or don't know what to make of, and they'll point to abstract or minimalist art. Show them traditional, formal, naturalistic art, like Bellini's "Sacred Allegory," art which draws from traditional core Western texts (the Bible, apocrypha, mythology) alongside a Mark Rothko or a Jackson Pollock or a Kazimir Malevich, and they'll retreat into the Bellini, even though it is one of the most puzzling unsolved mysteries of the art world, a riddle of a picture for which not one reasonable solution has ever been put forward. The Pollock, on the other hand, is just a tangle of dripped paint, the Rothko just a color with a bar of another color on top of it, the Malevich is all white.

Kandel offers this explanation:

In abstract painting, elements are included not as visual reproductions of objects, but as references or clues to how we conceptualize objects. In describing the world they see, abstract artists not only dismantle many of the building blocks of bottom-up visual processing by eliminating perspective and holistic depiction, they also nullify some of the premises on which bottom-up processing is based. We scan an abstract painting for links between line segments, for recognizable contours and objects, but in the most fragmented works, such as those by Rothko, our efforts are thwarted.

Thus the reason abstract art poses such an enormous challenge to the beholder is that it teaches us to look at art -- and, in a sense, at the world -- in a new way. Abstract art dares our visual system to interpret an image that is fundamentally different from the kind of images our brain has evolved to reconstruct.

"We like to think of abstraction as a 20th century phenomenon," he writes, but its roots lie far deeper:

A look at ancient art finds it full of abstraction. Most art history books, if they go back far enough, begin with Cycladic figurines (dated to 3300-1100 BC). Abstracted, ghost-like, sort-of-human forms. Even on cave walls, a few lines suggest an animal, or a constellation of blown hand-prints float on a wall in absolute darkness.

Abstract art is where we began, and where we have returned. It makes our brains hurt, but in all the right ways, for abstract art forces us to see, and think, differently.

Enriching, but not merely entertaining--no wonder it's so unpopular.

Jeet Heer calls the late Jack Chick the Leni Riefenstahl of American cartooning:

Beloved by his fellow fundamentalists, who bought his tracts by the hundreds of millions and seeded them in bus stops and diners all over the world, Chick was widely derided by the world at large where he was seen, accurately, as a producer of hate literature.

Chick's tracts had a disturbing power to make you see the world through his eyes, a squirrelly and sweaty vantage point where everything is a demonic conspiracy to rob you of your soul.

Here, Heer makes the Riefenstahl comparison in detail:

Like the Nazi filmmaker who made Triumph of the Will, Chick was an artist of genuine skill who put his talent in the service of an odious ideology. Both Riefenstahl and Chick raise perennial and unsolvable problems about the relationship between content and form: Can art transcend the intentions of the artist? Can we separate out the message of a work of art from the artistry it contains? Art that helps us understand the mind of another is valuable, but what do we do with art by a mind like Chick's, whose sheer hatefulness numbs empathy?

It does seem an apt comparison, although I'm wary of Nazi analogies.


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The evangelical cartoonist Jack Chick, author of innumerable Chick Tracts, has died. Jezebel notes the following:


Chick Productions announced Monday that their founder Jack Chick has died at 92, which is big news for anyone who's ever been fascinated, horrified, and occasionally delighted by his comic books. Chick was the creator of Chick Tracts, a long-running series of evangelical mini comics designed to bring people to Jesus through a combination of insane, bizarre, fairly campy storylines and extremely middling art.

An independent 2008 documentary on Chick, God's Cartoonist, calls him "the best-selling underground artist and publisher in the world."

For a taste of Chick's biblical bile, see Unicorn Booty's list of his top 5 homophobic rants--and shudder at their reminder that "Chick's tracts have been translated into over 100 languages."

Debasing Donald

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Here's a winning design for a losing campaign:


Just in case it wasn't obvious what they were getting at, the magazine posted an animated version on Twitter:

Donald Trump has taken a knuckle-duster to American political culture

-- The Economist (@TheEconomist) October 13, 2016

super-power bottom

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Charles Pulliam-Moore discusses the latest events in the Midnighter and Apollo series:

At some point between rinsing plates and hanging them up to dry, the couple take advantage of the fact that they're finally alone and get down to having sex right there in the kitchen. The moment's spontaneous and intimate and reflective of the fact that Midnighter and Apollo have been on-again, off-again soulmates in various comics for nearly 20 years.

Though this isn't the first time that Midnighter and Apollo have been depicted being sexually intimate with one another, this particular scene of the two raised a number of fans' eyebrows because of the not-so-subtle implication that Midnighter, a hyper-violent, ├╝ber-butch Batman analogue, is a bottom.

The event in question, as delineated by Fernando Blanco, looks like this:


Pulliam-Moore continues:

Last night, during a panel about representations of race and sexuality in comics at New York Comic Con, Midnighter & Apollo writer Steve Orlando described how a fan of the new book came up to him and said that he'd scored one for the bottoms.

Once the clapping and cheering died down a bit, Orlando insisted that sex scenes like this are an integral part of creating honest stories about queer people in pop culture. Considering the fact that we've seen characters like the Green Arrow performing cunnilingus on Black Canary, Orlando said, seeing Midnighter and Apollo getting down shouldn't really shock people.

Not in the civilized world perhaps--but the Bible Belt might be a different story.

Even in more complex, nuanced depictions of gay culture, bottom-shaming--the mockery of men who prefer to be the receptive partner during intercourse--is still fairly common. Like all forms of homophobia, bottom-shaming is tied to the idea that gayness and gay sex are feminine things and that feminine things are less-than.

In showing Midnighter as a bottom (though he could very well be versatile), Midnighter & Apollo is inviting its readers to broaden their understandings of gay men, gender, and homosexuality. Butch guys can be bottoms, feminine guys can be tops, none of that defines their masculinity.

...and comics can be sexy without featuring scantily-clad women.

This long Alan Moore interview (with Dominic Wells), focusing on his new novel Jerusalem, is worth a read. Here are some highlights:

Alan Moore and I are holed up in an Italian restaurant in Northampton to discuss the culmination of a lifetime's work, research and philosophy. "Bigger than the Bible and I hope more socially useful", is how Moore describes his sprawling magnum opus, Jerusalem, with his customarily deadpan humour. [...]

This is why, as in Alan Moore's first novel, Voice of the Fire, almost all the action in Jerusalem takes place within a small geographical area of Northampton, but ranging across different historical eras, each centring on different protagonists who end up interconnecting in surprising ways. It took Moore ten years to write - in between multiple other projects - and took me three weeks to read. It's part social history of Northampton, part thinly fictionalised history of Moore's own family, part philosophical treatise, part rip-roaring adventure in which a gang of kids maraud through the afterlife in a central section Moore describes as like "a savage, hallucinating Enid Blyton".

As if that wasn't hard enough to pull off, Moore adapts his writing style to the inner voice of whoever is the chapter's focus. One is written as a play, in the style of Waiting for Godot, and throws together the spirits of Thomas Becket, Samuel Beckett, John Clare and John Bunyan - all of whom have some connection with Northampton - as they observe and comment on a husband and wife wrestling with a terrible family secret... [...]

Another chapter, described from the point of view of James Joyce's mad daughter Lucia who was institutionalised for 30 years in a Northampton mental hospital, is written in a mangled, pun-filled gibber-English as a homage to Joyce's Finnegans Wake. It was so laborious to compose that Moore took a year's break after finishing it.

That reminds me of his celebrated story "Pog!" from Swamp Thing #32, which featured characters and dialects reminiscent of Walt Kelly's Pogo:


I read an interview (ages ago, can't recall the source) where he also commented on needing recuperation time afterward. Wells continues:

If this makes Jerusalem sound like hard going, it isn't. It's gripping, full of stylistic fireworks, frequently laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes terrifying, occasionally frustrating. Could it have been shorter? Of course. But it's the digressions and bizarre connections that make the book, the nuggets of pure gold that Moore has sifted from the silt of local history through prodigious research and banked in his near-photographic memory.

RIP, Jack Davis

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I saw the sad news of Jack Davis' death yesterday, and today The Comics Journal has a nice obituary for him penned by Gary Groth:

He was one of the most effective artists who drew horror stories at EC [for Haunt of Fear, Tales from the Crypt, and Vault of Horror]--and one of the most prolific; turning out more than 500 pages in less than five years.

After the comic-book collapse that killed EC, Davis followed Harvey Kurtzman from Mad to Trump, Humbug, and Help! and then drew the poster for the 1964 comedy It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, which Groth describes as "a tour de force of caricature and advertising efficaciousness and propelled Davis into the forefront of American commercial artists." He continues by noting that "Davis's comics work was mostly behind him at this point with one exception: In 1965, he returned to Mad, and continued to work for the magazine into the 1980s:"

In rapid succession, Davis began contributing to the highest circulation mass magazines of the time: TV Guide, Esquire, Life, and his biggest coup -- Time, for whom he did at least 26 covers from 1972 to 1976. Davis would, between 1964 and 1980, draw over 35 movie posters. [...]

Davis continued to produce work at a prodigious pace. He never had a character with which a mass audience could identify him --a Charlie Brown, a Calvin or Hobbes-- but his drawing style itself may have been the most recognizable of any cartoonist or caricaturist in the world.

Groth quotes Davis as reminiscing, "You live your life and just to leave something behind is so great. And I feel that I've had a great, great life."


Hatfield, Charles & Ben Saunders. Comic Book Apocalypse: The Graphic World of Jack Kirby (San Diego, CA: IDW, 2016)

From my reviews of The Comics Journal Library, Vol. 1, Mark Evanier's Kirby: King of Comics, Charles Hatfield's Hand of Fire, and Maximum FF, my love for Jack Kirby should be obvious. The Charles Hatfield & Ben Saunders book Comic Book Apocalypse is essentially a second edition of the catalog from last year's exhibit at Cal State Northridge. Demand for the catalog was high, and apparently wasn't dampened (at least not on my behalf) by the delay from last August to the present.

I was initially disappointed to see the page count was only 168, but the book's 8"x12" size helps to add a bit more visual grandeur to Kirby's art--much of which is presented as full pages or double-page spreads. As is appropriate, the art is mostly shot from the original art instead of the printed pages--the better to appreciate Kirby's artistry. The essays (twenty of them) are on the short side, and touch on various facets of Kirby's creativity. They are both interesting and informative--and well-illustrated, of course. These two passages from the Introduction help to set the tone:

Then, in the '60s, deep into his career, and in the wake of a period of contraction and hardship within his industry, Kirby found himself at the company that would become known as Marvel Comics--where, in an extended burst of creative energy that must count as one of the towering achievements in American popular art, he returned to the idea of the superhero, forging a new visual template for the genre while simultaneously laying the foundations of Marvel's teeming story-world. Central to his method now was a yen for mythopoesis: the building of personal mythologies, replete with secret histories and menacing futures, global, all-encompassing conflicts, and the apocalyptic revelation and potential destruction of whole worlds. (p. 11, Introduction, Charles Hatfield & Ben Saunders)

No comic-book artist has come close to matching Kirby's imaginative reach during this peak period, which he would sustain well into the '70s, month after month, displaying an astonishing ability to invent and populate new visual worlds on the fly. (p. 14, Introduction, Charles Hatfield & Ben Saunders)

Kirby's collaborators are acknowledged as well. Mercifully, his frequent inker Vince Colletta doesn't get slagged here as he often does elsewhere. There is praise for others, such as longtime Kirby inker Mike Royer, mixed in with the adulation for Kirby. This passage is a gem:

Look at the energy, the black-and-white oomph packed into these two pages [Forever People #8, pp. 24-25], comprised of a mere eleven small panels. Kirby had one tool, a pencil, and one mode, flat out. Here, with chopping, slashing, confident lines (beautifully inked by Mike Royer) and a clearly worked-out visual rhetoric, Kirby conjures young faces, muscles, tendons, hair, clothing, rocks (and rocky faces), metals, energy, fission-blasts, "rays," invisibility, and a final big bang--not to mention anger, menace, surprise, fear, introspection, low comedy, and evil majesty. (p. 87, Tony Puryear, "Kirby's Megaton Touch")

Here's a nice discussion of Kamandi #8, pp. 2-3 (below):

Kirby and his inker, Mike Royer, were perfectly suited, since it was the team's natural tendency to lend everything, even rugged, crumbling concrete, a polished sheen. Royer captured Kirby's tendency to emphasize stark shapes and distinct areas of light. There are no gradients here--no crosshatching--just forms locked together in perfect order. In fact, without color, it's impossible to tell the difference between a loincloth, a floor, and marble statuary. This is actually an advantage, for Kirby and Royer's approach unifies the page and moves it away from illustration and into world-building. (p. 129, Dan Nadel, "Kirby's Monuments")

View image

The pair of two-page spreads that feature Kirby's "Dream Machine" painting (pp. 48-49 and pp. 50-51) were a nice surprise (see here), although one wishes that it had been done as a fold-out instead. (Even better, this image would make a great poster--hint, hint!) While I'm dreaming, along with a Jack Kirby: Conversations book as part of the UMiss series, I'd love to see traveling exhibitions of Kirby's work, perhaps focusing on different eras of his career. There is certainly enough artistic variety to support several options. Long live The King!

Here are some tidbits about the book, from an interview with Comics Reporter about last year's exhibit:

HATFIELD: The catalog is a monster: 20 essays on Kirby, most of them short and punchy, interleaved with more than a hundred images, most shot from original art. It's a joint publishing venture between the CSUN Art Galleries and IDW, under Scott Dunbier's eye and with design by Randall Dahlk, who designed IDW's incredible Kirby Artist's Editions. It's in production even now. [...]

I put the book together with my colleague and friend Ben Saunders. Of course one of our goals was to commemorate and deepen the exhibition experience, for those who get to see the show firsthand, but we also wanted to create something more: what we call a "catalog-plus" or companion book of lasting value. The idea is to do deep analysis of Kirby that allows lively voices and personal quirks to come through -- to model a kind of scholarship that preserves individuality and acknowledges how deeply Kirby hits us, as fans, readers, thinkers, makers. We wanted this book to be personal and at the same time solid, documented, smart stuff.

The following sentiment is one which I can agree completely:

SPURGEON: What do you think the average pop-culture consumer should take away in terms of knowing about Kirby and his legacy?

HATFIELD: That Kirby was one of 20th century America's gutsiest, strangest, and yet most influential graphic artists and visual storytellers. That the familiar things of pop culture today -- the Marvel movies, and all that -- came from a drawing board, and from a man working his damnedest to earn a living for himself and his family. That Marvel was just part of Kirby's amazing career story. That Kirby not only designed Marvel but took comic books a step further, toward a quirky and wonderful way of representing mythology through superhero conventions and SF. That he was a nonstop idea generator. That he dreamed of past and future, of new worlds and new gods, and did so in an ecstatic graphic style that distilled everything wild, unrepentant, and delightfully crazy about American comic books.


Print did a piece on the show, with excerpts from the book

Charles Hatfield blogs at Hand of Fire

Snoopy and sadness

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Sarah Boxer explicates Snoopy's "exemplary narcissism" and informs us that pop-culture scholar
Robert Thompson called it "arguably the longest story told by a single artist in human history:"

Why was this comic strip so wildly popular for half a century? How did Schulz's cute and lovable characters (they're almost always referred to that way) hold sway over so many people--everyone from Ronald Reagan to Whoopi Goldberg?

"Peanuts was deceptive," Boxer continues:

It looked like kid stuff, but it wasn't. The strip's cozy suburban conviviality, its warm fuzziness, actually conveyed some uncomfortable truths about the loneliness of social existence. [...] At the center of this world was Charlie Brown, a new kind of epic hero--a loser who would lie in the dark recalling his defeats, charting his worries, planning his comebacks. One of his best-known lines was "My anxieties have anxieties." Although he was the glue holding together the Peanuts crew (and its baseball team), he was also the undisputed butt of the strip. His mailbox was almost always empty. His dog often snubbed him, at least until suppertime, and the football was always yanked away from him. The cartoonist Tom Tomorrow calls him a Sisyphus. Frustration was his lot. When Schulz was asked whether for his final strip he would let Charlie Brown make contact with the football, he reportedly replied, "Oh, no! Definitely not! ... That would be a terrible disservice to him after nearly half a century."

Boxer has a decided preference:

In this deeply dystopic strip, there was only one character who could--and some say finally did--tear the highly entertaining, disturbed social world to shreds. And that happens to be my favorite character, Snoopy.

Before Snoopy had his signature doghouse, he was an emotional creature. Although he didn't speak (he expressed himself in thought balloons), he was very connected to all the other characters. In one 1958 strip, for instance, Linus and Charlie Brown are talking in the background, and Snoopy comes dancing by. Linus says to Charlie Brown, "My gramma says that we live in a veil of tears." Charlie Brown answers: "She's right ... This is a sad world." Snoopy still goes on dancing. By the third frame, though, when Charlie Brown says, "This is a world filled with sorrow," Snoopy's dance slows and his face begins to fall. By the last frame, he is down on the ground--far more devastated than Linus or Charlie Brown, who are shown chatting off in the distance, "Sorrow, sadness and despair ... grief, agony and woe ..."

Here's the strip in question:


Amanda Marcotte examines Captain America's liberalism, and begins by making the following observation:

There's no surer evidence that conservative media coasts on exploiting the ignorance of its audience (and in many cases, the willful ignorance of its pundits) than the hissyfit being thrown over the first issue of a new run of Captain America comics.

In it, Sam Wilson (the super-hero formerly known as the Falcon) has assumed the role of Captain America. As Marcotte points out:

He also helps out undocumented immigrants that are being plagued by white supremacists. Oh yeah, and he's black, something white conservatives know better than to be openly angry about but Allen West will go ahead and get angry over for them.

Breitbart, Daily Caller, and Fox News all threw utterly fact-free temper tantrums over this new development, whining that Captain America's progressivism is somehow new and different and that his stance against racist conservatives is somehow a new development for the character.

Marcotte also references the 2013 essay "Captain America isn't just any hero" [see here] before diving into Cap's portrayal in the MCU:

The first movie is an allegory about how strength is useless without the liberal value of protecting the vulnerable behind it. The second movie is overtly political, a story that openly suggests that the "war on terror" is becoming indistinguishable from fascism.

The Steve Rogers from the movies is unmistakably liberal: Anti-racist, a lover of independent women, and a man who believes that the best patriot is one who questions his government instead of blindly follows orders. This characterization is consistent with the canonical Steve Rogers of the comic books, who has long been an icon of progressive patriotism, a believer that fighting for America should only be done if America defends its own liberal values.

"The fact that so many conservative outlets assumed, without even pausing to check their facts, that Captain America was a conservative character," she continues, "tells you nothing about the actual character, but everything about how conservatives mindlessly equate patriotism with reactionary politics:"

But, in reality, Captain America, particularly in his best stories, is an exploration of how patriotism is not the same thing as nationalism. Some of the best Captain America stories explore the dangers of nationalism, how it leads to paranoia and racism and war and the loss of basic freedoms. This latest story, where the new Captain America makes a stand against white supremacy and argues for the humanity of undocumented immigrants, is just following the long-established spirit of Captain America.

(Conservatives expressing ignorance of history while pretending to defend it--what a surprise!)

sexy success

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Artist/writer Amanda Conner, writer Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Chad Hardin discuss sexy comics that aren't gross. Here's a snippet of their conversation:

And it's sexy without being sexualized, which a lot of other comics try and fail to do. How do you guys succeeded at that so well?

AC: I think being sexy is a lot of an attitude rather than just--you know, I can see a character portrayed in shredded clothing with really big boobs, and if they're just eye candy, it's not a turn-on. But if they have attitude and personality, that's what I think is sexy.

CH: If you think of them as a person and not an object, it's easy.

This sequence from Harley Quinn #15 a few months ago is one example:


Conner's artistry, especially her talent for facial expressions, really sells the moment.

Writer/artist Jack Katz discusses the four-volume reissue of The First Kingdom, and its two sequels:

Is Titan going to publish The Space Explorers Club too?

Yes, that's going to come right after they finish with The First Kingdom. They are publishing that in four parts, The Birth of Tundran is available now with The Galaxy Hunters coming in December, Vengeance in March of 2014, Migration in June of 2014, then The Space Explorers Club in September of 2014, and Destiny in December of 2014.


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I stumbled across Titan Comics' plans to reprint Jack Katz's seminal graphic novel The First Kingdom. FK is long overdue for a critical reappraisal, especially since its 1986 conclusion was overlooked in the wake of Dark Knight, Maus, and Watchmen. (Although Katz has his own Wikipedia page, his novel does not.)

Originally published in 24 parts, The First Kingdom is one of the few early graphic novels that has not been reprinted in full. (Reprints have been attempted twice, but never to completion; one ended one-quarter of the way through the book, the other at the halfway mark.) The original magazine-format issues are, I think, the minimum acceptable size for Katz's detailed artwork; it would suffer from being reproduced at a smaller size--particularly for fans old enough to have bought the series at cover price, and whose eyes might not be as keen as they once were.

Amazon lists both Volume 1.1 and Volume 1.2 as 208 pages each, which would seem to indicate a 4-volume version of the original 768-page saga--albeit with less supplementary material than I had hoped for. Due on 24 September is Volume 2.1: Space Explorer's Club, which appears to be the start of a second novel from Katz.

Boing Boing enthuses over IDW's MAD Artist's Edition:

IDW's Artist's Edition series is a line of enormous (15" x 22") hardcover art-books that reproduce the full-page, camera-ready paste-ups used to create classic comics, from Groo to Spider-Man, offering a rare look at the white-outs, annotations, corrections, and pencil-marks that give tantalizing hints about the hidden workings of these amazing pages.

A recent and most welcome addition to the series is MAD: Artist's Edition, a spectacular tribute to the early years of the magazine and especially to the brilliant satire of Harvey Kurtzman, one of the great heroes of satire, which features an introduction by Terry Gilliam himself.

MAD: Artist's Edition isn't just an amazing book, it's an amazing object, a massive and weighty presence that drew me magnetically to it as soon as I got it back to my office.

It's a well-illustrated piece, and I particularly enjoyed the use of the adjective "Wolvertonian."

Melville House discusses the difficulties of reading Persepolis in Chicago:

It has been over a week since the Chicago Public School system made a move to restrict student access to Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi's coming-of-age memoir which describes her childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution in the 1970s and 80s and the war with Iraq. [...]

Chicago Public School CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said the book was being removed because "It was brought to our attention that it contains graphic language and images that are not appropriate for general use."

Although Persepolis is "no longer going to be required reading for grades 7-10," the article continues, "the book will still be taught in grades 11 and 12 and in Advance Placement classes."


Staples, Fiona & Brian Vaughan. Saga, Vol. 1 (Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, 2012)

Thanks to AV Club for mentioning Saga earlier this year, which had me hooked in short order. This volume collects the first six issues of the well-regarded series, with the seventh and eighth available in your local comics shop. In the just-over-nine-month span since the first issue hit comics stores, the series has already garnered an enthusiastic fanbase. Volume Two is due in July, and the series looks to a future befitting its title.

CBR's interview with Brian K Vaughan praises artist Fiona Staples, saying that "She makes everything I write better, so I hope we can collaborate on this insanity for years to come," and io9 quotes Vaughan's plans:

Well, the book is called Saga, which would be a lousy title for a miniseries. If readers stick around to support us, I'm hoping the book lasts longer than Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina combined. I've already written the last page of the last issue, but I hope we won't reach that endpoint for many years to come.

Y: The Last Man lasted 60 issues, and Ex Machina went for 54, but can we really hope for upwards of 114 issues? (After all, Hazel might have kids of her own by then...)

There is very little I can say about Saga that is critical. Staples' art is endearing, with the only negative being a tendency for her characters' emotional reactions to be a bit too extreme. (This may be deliberate, owing perhaps to the tempestuous relationships she delineates, but some of the facial reactions seem excessive.)


Comics Alliance has a nice-sized preview with a dual Staples/Vaughan interview.

CBR discusses the New York Comic Con panel, moderated by Image Publisher Eric Stephenson, which was dubbed "Saga: Sex, Drugs & Rocketships"

comics lit

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In comics as literature, part 1 GeekDad's Jonathan Liu is assembling a list of graphic-novel classics:

In the world of comics, just as with novels or kids' books, there are some stories that transcend the realm of "hey, it's just entertainment" and become Serious Literature. I'm not saying that they can't include a few laughs (though some are solemn), but that you can tell there's something under the surface, whether through the subject matter or the language or the artwork.

And here's the best part: there's a lot of them. I'll share some of my old favorites and recent discoveries with you over the course of a few posts, but I guarantee you that there are so many more that I haven't read (or even heard of) yet, and I'm counting on you readers to fill in the gaps on my own shelves.

He ventures a few of the classic graphic novels: Maus, Sandman, Watchmen, and Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics trilogy. It's tough to disagree with any of those choices, but I'm curious to see what books he adds in future installments.

WSJ looks at comic books and the success surrounding the Avengers, Batman, Spiderman, and X-Men franchises:

You might thus assume that superhero comics, the original properties on which these franchises are built, are in flush times. They aren't. The upper limit on sales of a superhero comic book these days is about 230,000; just two or three series routinely break into six digits. Twenty years ago, during the comic industry's brief Dutch-tulip phase, hot issues of "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" sold millions.

That two-decade slide "is a bit of a puzzle, especially because comics, broadly speaking, are respectable as never before:"

If no cultural barrier prevents a public that clearly loves its superheroes from picking up a new "Avengers" comic, why don't more people do so? The main reasons are obvious: It is for sale not in a real bookstore but in a specialty shop, and it is clumsily drawn, poorly written and incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in years of arcane mythology. [...]

The people who produce superhero comics have given up on the mass audience, and it in turn has given up on them. Meanwhile, the ablest creators have abandoned mainline superhero comics to mediocrity.

I'm not that concerned about superhero comics tending ward mediocrity--in the same way that summer blockbusters (like the Transformer movies) are for the motion-picture art form, or soap operas for TV. "The superhero comic has for decades been the fixed point around which this vital American art has revolved," the piece continues, and "it deserves better than to be reduced to a parody of a parody of itself."

Agreed. The medium needs better works of art, but also requires better criticism.

WSJ calls artist Jack Kirby the lost Avenger and announces that "sky-rocketing auction prices and a new museum in his honor are signaling that Jack Kirby may finally have arrived" with a $155,350 purchase:

That was the winning bid for a single page of "Fantastic Four" comic-book art drawn in 1966 by original "Avengers" artist Jack Kirby (and scripted by "Fantastic Four" and "Avengers" co-creator Stan Lee) on the website of Heritage Auctions.

The record-setting art, from Fantastic Four #55, can be seen here--with the artistic contribution of inker Joe Sinnott, who completed Kirby's vision with unparalleled skill:


Charles Murray asks in the pages of New Criterion:

Given what we know about the conditions that led to great accomplishment in the past, what are the prospects for great accomplishment in the arts as we move through the twenty-first century?

Although I take issue with his dark hints about "problems associated with increased secularism" [such as lower crime, higher education, and longer lives?] and his "strongest conclusion that ... Religiosity is indispensable to a major stream of artistic accomplishment," this article functions as an intriguing appetizer for his 2004 book Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950.

Slate's James Sturm writes, "I have decided to boycott The Avengers" due to Marvel's mistreatment of the characters' primary creator, Jack Kirby:

His style was completely original. His characters flew across the page with fierce purpose and yet total abandon, fighting their hearts out against a backdrop of crazy machinery and abstract depictions of elemental energy. Though lacking in finesse, the drawings possessed a brute force that made the reader feel a pulse-pounding urgency that other cartoonists could not elicit. Every panel propelled the story forward at warp speed. Other cartoonists' work hit you with a water pistol; Kirby's slammed you with a fire hose.

Kirby's most creatively fertile decade (the 1960s) saw an output of about 800 pages of artwork per year, from The Avengers, Fantastic Four, and the X-Men to The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and Nick Fury. Later decades saw Kirby singled out for onerous contractual restrictions, and his heirs denied any share of Marvel's $4 billion sale to Disney in 2009:

What makes this situation especially hard to stomach is that Marvel's media empire was built on the backs of characters whose defining trait as superheroes is the willingness to fight for what is right. It takes a lot of corporate moxie to put Thor and Captain America on the big screen and have them battle for honor and justice when behind the scenes the parent company acts like a cold-blooded supervillain.

Hero Complex introduces some memories of Jack Kirby's son Neal this way:

"The Avengers," which unites the title characters from four film franchises -- Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and the Hulk - to save Earth from a cosmic threat. The only person who had a hand in creating all of those characters was the late Jack Kirby, a titan figure in comics, but his heirs weren't invited to the premiere; their presence would be awkward considering their legal quest to reclaim the rights to hundreds of his Marvel creations.

Neal writes, "I think about Dad a lot lately, especially when I see Thor, Captain America, Magneto, or the Hulk on a movie poster:"

My father drew comics in six different decades and filled the skies of our collective imagination with heroes, gods, monsters, robots and aliens; most of the truly iconic ones are out of the first half of the 1960s, when he delivered masterpieces on a monthly basis. I treasure the fact that I had a front-row seat for that cosmic event.

[Avengers #4 cover by Jack Kirby (1964), featuring the return of Captain America, a character he co-created in 1941]

Getting back to the movie, Comics Alliance speculates "it's not unlikely that The Avengers will earn a hundred million dollars on its opening day alone" and notes that "This represents a pretty big payday to a lot of people:"

...shamefully, the people who aren't making a big profit from these movies are the people (and the families of the people) who did the essential work of creating them in the first place. It's not just Jack Kirby, either, or (Black Widow and Hawkeye co-creator) Don Heck, but also Steve Engelhart, Peter David, Herb Trimpe, Jim Steranko, Roy Thomas and dozens more - the artists and writers who refined and defined the characters appearing in this movie, who fleshed out the original creations and molded them into the figures we cheer for when we see them on the screen.

Some very sensible people are calling for a boycott of this film on those grounds, but I think it's fairly obvious that a boycott of idealistic comic fans isn't going to accomplish much.

CA suggests instead that "as a thank you to the creators who brought you these characters in the first place, who gave you something to enjoy so much -- you match your ticket price as a donation to The Hero Initiative?"

THI is a charity which provides essential financial assistance to comic book professionals who have fallen on hard times. For decades, the comic industry provided no financial safety net to its employees, most of whom it regarded only as freelancers and journeymen, meaning they were offered no health insurance, no unemployment insurance, no retirement plans -- none of the financial support most of us enjoy from our jobs and careers. A small donation will help this agency provide a valuable safety net in times of need to these beloved entertainers.

RIP Moebius

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The multi-talented artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud has died. Unlike his pseudonym, there were many sides to Moebius, and he seemingly excelled at all of them. io9 looks at his film work:

It's pretty hard to overstate the hand Moebius had in some science fiction's most phantasmagoric films. You know his work even if you've never realized it.

In addition to providing concept art for such films as Alien, Tron, The Abyss, Masters of the Universe, The Fifth Element, and Willow (which was awesome albeit unused), the artist provided concept art for El Topo director Alejandro Jodorowsky's neve-realized Dune adaptation, which was to star Mick Jagger and boast a soundtrack by Pink Floyd.

Neil Gaiman provides a sad anecdote from the world of comic books:

We wanted to work together. I wrote the Sandman: Endless Nights story DEATH IN VENICE for him to draw, but his health got bad, so P. Craig Russell drew it. Half a year later Moebius's health improved a little, and he asked if I could write him a very short story, perhaps 8 pages, and make them all single images, so I wrote the DESTINY story in Endless Nights for him. His health took a turn for the worse, once more, and Frank Quitely drew it. And both Craig and Frank made magic with their stories, but somewhere inside I was sad, because I'd hoped to work with Moebius.

And now I never shall.

For anyone unfamiliar with Moebius' work, check out this gallery. Here's a fitting image of his character Arzach:


Here's another gallery, and Matt Seneca's comments that "His death is sad news, to be sure, but the note of triumph it carries should not be overlooked:"

So many of comics' great artists die penniless, uncared for, forgotten, ruined physically or spiritually or both by having given so much of themselves to an ultimately uncaring public. Moebius was that most important and valuable of rarities: the recognized great cartoonist. His books sold millions of copies, providing him with a comfortable lifestyle and the luxury to put out work when and how he wanted as he grew into old age. He died shortly after a massive exhibition of his work at the Fondation Cartier Pour L'Art Contemporain in Paris, which devoted vast stretches of museum space to his art. Moebius was treated, by and large, as great artists should be, and the outpouring of emotion that has already begun to greet the news of his passing is a fitting capstone to a career that touched so many so profoundly.

update 2 (3/11):
Sean Witzke offers these beautiful remarks:

No artist, let alone a comics artist, has been as singularly influential on the way we as a species see ourselves moving forward. [...] We must not forget that Moebius not only reinvented how science fiction could be drawn, but also placed an indelible stamp on westerns, fantasy art, metafiction, autobio comics, humor strips, and in one instance American superhero comics.

The NYT breaks the sad news that DC plans to defile the memory of Watchmen, one of the few generally recognized classic graphic novels. A group of seven mini-series under the collective title Before Watchmen "will expand on the back stories of the costumed vigilantes like Rorschach and Nite Owl." (h/t to Comics Alliance for linking to the official DC announcement.)

Alan Moore, author of the original graphic novel, calls the plans "completely shameless" and adds that he's not objecting for pecuniary reasons: "I don't want money. What I want is for this not to happen." Similarly, Wired's Scott Thill laments that such artistic necrophilia "has become indispensable in an culture industry that long ago stopped calling derivative a dirty word."

This is all that I have to say:


update (2/6):
Dork Tower had the same idea:


Ted Rall posted a top ten comics of all time list, and asked for his readers' favorites. Over the course of several tweets, I mentioned a few that I have here categorized and alphabetized:

comic strips
Calvin & Hobbes (Watterson)
Dykes to Watch Out For (Bechdel)
Gasoline Alley (King)
Krazy Kat (Herriman)
Little Nemo (McCay)
Pogo (Kelly)
Prince Valiant (Foster)
The Spirit (Eisner)
Tarzan (Hogarth)

Dark Knight (Miller)
Fantastic Four (Lee/Kirby)
Green Lantern/Green Arrow (O'Neill/Adams)
Nick Fury (Steranko)
Swamp Thing (Moore/Veitch/Totleben)
Walt Disney Comics & Stories (Barks)
Watchmen (Moore/Gibbons)

American Splendor
Cerebus (Sim)
Cheech Wizard (Bode)
EC war comics (Kurtzman)
"Master Race" (Krigstein)
Maus (Spiegelman)
Persepolis (Satrapi)
Ring of the Nibelung (Russell)

As with my favorite books, I'm lousy at making a list of n anything--my mind seems to gravitate toward a list of 2n items. I have a strong temptation to pull several anthologies down from the shelves, and spend the afternoon perusing them...

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