Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery’s resident curator Larry Reid presented a very engaging and informative slide lecture on the topic “WEIRDOS: Seattle’s Alternative Comics Culture in the Context of R. Crumb’s Underground” at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle last night. Stay tuned — we'll be adapting Larry's presentation into an online feature here on the website in the near future.
I attended David Hajdu's excellent event at Town Hall last night, which featured (or so I gathered) a significantly different lecture from those given on the rest of his book tour. The lecture was to promote The 10 Cent Plague, Hajdu's excellent history of the crackdown on horror and crime comics of the 1950s, which promoted the Kefauver Senate Subcommittee hearings on juvenile deliquency and led to the formation of the Comics Code Authority.
This event was put on by Nextbook, a non-profit organization that serves as a locus for Jewish literature, culture, and ideas; as such, Hajdu tailored his Town Hall event to how the creators of the era of The 10 Cent Plague employed comics to express their Jewish experience. For the evening's talk, Hajdu culled exclusively from interviews he conducted for the book that discussed Jewish identity but didn't make it into the final draft. So it was a night of bonus tracks, basically, which was great. He shared anecdotes from Will Eisner, Al Jaffee, Bob Oksner, Arnold Drake, Harry Lampert, Al Feldstein and many others.
But the highlight was a rare film short Hajdu was generous enough to share, a piece of propaganda he obtained from the Library of Congress and filmed in the 1950s to promote the idea that comic books cause juvenile deliquency. Specifically (but not limited to), torture. I wish I could have shot the whole clip, but my digital camera can only film for about two minutes before running out of space.
The film only gets better after these first two minutes, which are mostly introductory. It later becomes a dramatization of a group of suburban adolescents, all boys, happily hanging out in the woods, reading and trading comic books. The voice-over paints a more grim picture (I'm paraphrasing):
"Look at these children. When I was a boy, we too gathered in gangs like this, but it was to roast potatoes or learn skills and build things, like a raft to put in the river. Never did we just sit around READING. And what are they reading?"
Well, you can imagine. Tales of "sexual depravity, adultery, murder, etc." The sheer trauma of reading such pernicious filth turns the boys into a raving mob of sadists who con a younger boy into the woods, tie him to a tree, gag him, hold lit matches centimeters from his head and hair while slapping him around and punching knives into the tree he's bound to, and laughing in a way that makes me think Heath Ledger might have studied this film as research for the new Batman movie. It was like A Clockwork Orange starring the Little Rascals.
Which is to say it was fantastic. I almost bought into it, it was so good. I might have thought going in that knives and matches contributed more to juvenile delinquency than comics, but screw that notion.
Anyway, here's the clip. Thanks much to Mr. Hajdu for sharing with us. Buy his book (even though we didn't even publish it), it's good. It even has a killer Charles Burns cover. Now excuse me, I need to go roast some potatoes.
Each copy of the book comes packaged with a set of 10 bookplates, designed by Ray, for a low price of $26. The 3" by 4" bookplates are gum-backed, ready to apply to your most prized novels, textbooks, zines, and survival guides. The 10 bookplates come packaged in a foil-stamped library due date pocket.
This is a very special signed preorder, so we should tell you that yes, the quantities are limited. Tiny Showcase will stop taking orders for signed copies on Tuesday morning, April 22. So get on it already.
What the critics are saying:
"This is a life-passage story that reveals itself as such so slyly that the joy and loving humilty it evokes at the end are breathtaking."Ray Olson, Booklist
"Fenwick has taken a high-brow route to the art of comedy. Hall of Best Knowledge is several things rolled into one: a bizarre self-help book; an eccentric college text; a guide to life from the unlikeliest of guides. It's hard to categorize (typographical novel? graphic metafiction?), even harder to explain."Mark Medley, National Post
"In addition to a neat bit of ventriloquism, Fenwick shows off dazzling visual originality in his eye-spinning use of pattern and lettering in Hall of Best Knowledge... The lettering melds with its environment as surely as letters in an illuminated manuscript blend with their angels and acanthus leaves."PRINT
MOULY: "'If you really want to work for us,' says the head of Scholastic, 'You could help us do the comic book version of Shrek 2.'" (laughs)
Q: And of course you jumped at that.
A: You have Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly in your office and they're begging to be in your employ so of course you find them the perfect thing. The comic book adaptation of the movie which is a sequel of an adaptation of a book by a cartoonist? Yes, of course, we're going to jump on that.
Heroes & Villians is a photo series by Tatiana Wills and Roman Cho that "features intimate portraits of the most notable emerging and established figures in the Pop Surrealist, Graffiti and Alt-Comic Book worlds."
I would contest their designation of THE most notable but it is cool to see them documenting SOME of the most notable artists working. Pictured above is the enchanting Jordan Crane. Visit Cho's site for a peek at more comics folks like Anders Nilsen, Johnny Ryan, Sammy Harkham, Souther Salazar, Ron Rege, Jr., and Steven Weissman.
UPDATE: I failed to mention that the show is 2 days only, opening this Tuesday at Corey Helford Gallery .