I love this playlist of some of Joe Sacco's favorite songs that he put together for the New York Times. For one, Joe cites Wings' "Magneto & Titanium Man," describing it as a song about "made-up superheroes." Joe has to be the only comic book artist in America whom I could believe loves this song yet doesn't recognize Magento and Titanium Man as the iconic Marvel super-villains that they are. Joe, your FOOM card is revoked. I also love it because Joe cites Charlie Patton's "Down the Dirt Road Blues." Around the time Joe was working on Safe Area Gorazde, after one of our hundreds of conversations about music that we've had over the years, Joe gave me a mix tape of classic delta blues that he titled, Feels Like Murder Here. It's a phrase that routinely flitters through my mind...
In like a lion with Online Commentary & Diversions:
• Review: "Thank God then for Almost Silent, a new collection repackaging some of Fanta’s older Jason books — some of which are no longer in print in their original format — as an anthology the same size, shape and design as Low Moon. ... Buy it to read the stories, keep it to restore order and balance to your bookshelf." – J. Caleb Mozzocco, Newsarama
• Review:Avoid the Future collects and expands on their first 10 Twitter micro-reviews of Newave! The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s: "More than just a collection of mini-comics, the book features interviews and insightful commentary from some of the creators as well as the lovingly-reproduced source material."
• List:Only the Cinema's Ed Howard concludes counting down The Best Comics of the Decade: the top 20 includes "The Lute String" (available in Mome Vols. 9 & 10) by Jim Woodring at #16 ("It's moving, funny, and as with all of Woodring's work it demands a close reading"), Alias the Cat (originally The Stuff of Dreams) by Kim Deitch at #14 ("It's funny, goofy, exciting and far-ranging in its imaginative nonsense accumulations, and throughout it all Deitch's fond sense of nostalgia for a world that never quite was lends emotional heft to the story's elaborate twists and turns"), Dash Shaw's Bottomless Belly Button and Mome stories (collected in The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century A.D.) at #13 ("Dash Shaw is an utterly brilliant young cartoonist who has, in a few short years, advanced from the academic experiments of his earlier work... into a formalist genius whose skills encompass both a natural gift for color and a feel for subtle, indirect characterization"), Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco at #7 ("Joe Sacco is a unique figure in modern comics: there is no one else who combines sheer cartooning chops with a newspaper reporter's sensibility and instincts in quite the same way. ... Safe Area Gorazde [is] an especially powerful document of the effects of war"), the comics of Kevin Huizenga at #4 ("Kevin Huizenga is the best young artist in comics. It's as simple as that. With his recent Fantagraphics series Ganges (part of the Ignatz line of high-quality pamphlets) Huizenga has matured into one of comics' finest formalists"), Jimbo in Purgatory by Gary Panter at #2 ("The denseness of Panter's references and cross-references makes the experience of reading this book a truly overwhelming experience; every line, every image, spirals into multiple other references and ideas, pulling in the whole wide expanse of world culture as a stomping ground for Jimbo's wanderings through the Purgatory of modern existence towards enlightenment"), and the Love and Rockets Vol. II work of Jaime Hernandez (as collected in Ghost of Hoppers and The Education of Hopey Glass) in the #1 slot ("There is no greater all-around artist in modern comics than Jaime Hernandez, and his recent work builds on his past successes so that his oeuvre as a whole is shaping up to be one of literature's best sustained stories about aging and the shifting of relationships over the course of a life").
• Review: "The best argument that the underground tradition is still alive is Hotwire Comics, edited by Glen Head (one of the most underrated cartoonists around, incidentally). Hotwire Comics is a visual assault, abrasive, confrontational, willing to poke and prod the audience: a real live wire that can shock. Everything a good underground comic book should be." – Jeet Heer, Comics Comics
• Review: "Strange Suspense is a handsome book generally, with a fun front cover and a nice, sturdy, feel. As far as my eye can tell the work is reproduced well; admittedly, I have one of the worst eyes in comics for that sort of thing. It's nice to have a bunch of comics from this time period, particularly the grittier pre-Code or Fear of Code-Like Crackdown work. There are some truly repulsive pieces of throwaway pulp in this book's pages, and Ditko was more than up to the task of illustrating them." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
• Review: "Mother, Come Home is a subtle, dark story about death and madness and fantasy, tied together by symbols and the voice of an older Thomas looking back on his childhood. It's not bleak, though; Thomas survives his traumatic childhood, and perhaps Hornschmeier's lesson is that we all can, if we try — if we step outside our rituals and fantasies and reach out to each other, we can make it through." – Andrew Wheeler, The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent. (via ¡Journalista!)
One of my favorite books I've received lately is this handsome, considered little tome from Spain's Blur Ediciones, Rotulando in Spanish • Lettering en Español, collecting something that on the face of it might sound a bit loopy: lettering by the cartoonist Nono Kadáver created for the Spanish editions of work by American greats R. Crumb, Daniel Clowes, Joe Sacco, Johnny Ryan, Peter Bagge and Gilbert Shelton.
Nono worked throughout most of the 1990s at Barcelona's Ediciones La Cúpula, one of Spain's leading comics publishers, and was one of the last of an era when book production was done largely by hand, not computers. Nowadays, most publishers get fonts created for an artist, but thru the 1990s, Nono spent many of his days mimic-ing the lettering styles of Bagge, Crumb, etc. the old fashioned way, with a pen and paper (and maybe a lightbox). He was a real master at trying to maintain the integrity of the original artwork, putting his ego aside in an effort to seamlessly blend the Spanish text into the artist's page compositions as unnoticeably as possible. Kind of like the old saw that the best movie soundtrack is the one you don't notice, Nono's work could probably make you forget that Daniel Clowes wasn't Spanish when you're reading Bola Ocho.
I am a lettering nerd and it makes me a bit sad that hand-lettering like this is becoming a dying craft, because it can make or break a translated foreign book and typeset fonts are rarely as effective. Kadáver likens his work to a forger in the excellent introductory text:
"I feel a great admiration and respect for counterfeiters... I think that even falsifying, we leave our mark... What you have to do is forget your personal style and adapt to the artist's. This is accomplished by reading a lot, dissecting his work, and learning from it; in the end the only thing that matters is as close a possible resemblance to the author's style."
A bit late with the Online Commentary & Diversions today due to being a touch under the weather:
• Review: "OK, [Gahan Wilson: Fifty Years of Playboy Cartoons] is very expensive, but Wilson's a lot cheaper than Zoloft. Some people fly their inner freak flags as a sign of liberation. This strange dude isn't sure there's another type of flag out there. In his world, there's always something over the horizon ready to eat you, blow you up or turn you into a homicidal maniac. Sounds a lot like life." – Laurel Maury, San Francisco Chronicle
• Review: "...[An] exemplary republishing of Wilson’s Playboy cartoons... One of the many nice features of the new Fantagraphics book is that it is chronological and dated, so we can see Wilson responding to the changing social and political landscapes. ... As a physical object Gahan Wilson: Fifty Years of Playboy Cartoons cannot be praised highly enough. ...[L]ooking at Wilson’s work at length, eating it up with my eyes, I came to love his work. He is, in fact, a master. ...[F]or all their morbidity and ghoulishness, Wilson’s cartoons affirm the value of cherishing life. As inhuman as his characters often are, Wilson is a deeply humane cartoonist." – Jeet Heer, Comics Comics
• Review: "Published soon after the conflict that it documents, Safe Area Goradze is an intense reading experience and an active call for the condemnation of tribal and international leaders who put politics ahead of humanity." – Suzette Chan, Sequential Tart
• Review: "There’s a remarkably spare and lean quality to the plot and characterization cooked up by Jean-Patrick Manchette’s West Coast Blues. ... It’s a story that’s both grim and strangely detached (or at least restrained), eschewing the sort of cliches that an American might expect from a crime story. ... If the text felt a bit detached, then Jacques Tardi added muscle, bone and fat to it with his delightfully chunky line. ... It’s the first quotidian crime story that I’ve ever read, and Tardi’s commitment to the depiction of the everyday and the way nightmares crashed into daily life are what made this book work so well." – Rob Clough, The Comics Journal (warning: spoilers)
• Feature:Comic Book Resources' Brian Cronin spotlights Michael Kupperman's Tales Designed to Thrizzle as part of "A Year of Cool Comics": "Tales Designed to Thrizzle is one of those books where you might really need to see it to believe it. Michael Kupperman delivers thirty-odd pages of the most delightfully absurd ideas that you can imagine, to the point where I don't know if simply describing the comic would do it justice... I, for one, think it's one of the very best comics currently made."
• Interview:Graphic Novel Reporter's John Hogan has a Q&A about Sublife with John Pham: "I hope to have established a sort of model for the upcoming issues with Volumes 1 and 2. So basically, continuing serializations of either Sycamore St. or Deep Space, accompanied by various, shorter strips where I can experiment and joke around."
I attended Joe Sacco's Town Hall event last night in Seattle, and it was, as expected, a great talk. Is there a more charming, erudite, and intelligent soul in this racket? I tend to think not. Anyway, I'm not even going to begin to write a recap -- too many foreign sects, races and historical events to keep track of -- except to say that the talk focused on the social and political events from about 1949 to 1956 that led to the massacre investigated and reported on in his new new book, FOOTNOTES IN GAZA, followed by an excellent Q&A session. When one woman asked Joe if it was true that he was planning on following up FOOTNOTES with some lighter, funnier comics and he confirmed it, she asked him if he could elaborate. He simply replied, "I have some very good ideas." We have no doubt about that, Mr. Sacco.
Above photo: Joe Sacco contemplates some of his great ideas before his event at Seattle's Town Hall, 01.13.10.
• List: On Random House's Suvudu blog, Dallas Middaugh selects 2008's Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw as #3 on the Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2009: "This book came from out of nowhere to great critical acclaim, and it pushed young Mr. Shaw in the spotlight as one of the most exciting new cartoonists in the field. ... This haunting story of a dysfunctional family twists and turns and stuck with me long after I read it."
• List: At Comic Book Galaxy, Marc Sobel counts down "The 15 Best Back Issues I Read Last Year," including Birdland by Gilbert Hernandez ("vastly underappreciated") and the entire run of Hate by Peter Bagge ("This series gets better with age")
• Review: "Dreams are probably the second most popular subject for autobiographical comics, however distantly they lag behind the events of waking life. But no one, to my knowledge, has attempted to create comics arising from the hypnagogic netherworld that lies between the sleeping and the wakeful states. Until now. Or maybe not. It’s hard to say precisely, which is what gives Kevin Huizenga’s Ganges #3 so much of its unique charm." – Rich Kreiner, The Comics Journal
• Review: "What the hell is going on here? What is this book, anyway? ...[Pim and Francie] is like the inexplicable artifact of a deranged mind... Columbia has a flair for the grotesque, which, when mixed with such cute cartooniness reminiscent of old-school Disney, makes for an especially creepy juxtaposition. ... It's a cascade of horror, page after page of mostly-unfinished nastiness, enough to stick in the mind and cause nightmares for weeks." – Matthew J. Brady
• Review: "At long last, a handsome, two-volume, slipcased set [of Humbug] brings back into print a pivotal, neglected portion of the oeuvre of Harvey Kurtzman and that of a cadre of gifted pranksters bent on smart satire." – Rich Kreiner, The Comics Journal
• Review: "With a new exhibition currently on view at Tony Shafrazi Gallery in Chelsea and his remarkable inclusion in the 2010 Whitney Biennial, Robert Williams seems more than ever the most likely candidate to represent the ways that late decadent American culture will be remembered by history. ... This is a late career artist at the top of his game, a shamefully overdue entry into still meaningful discourse of what art can be when it refuses to play by the rules, a monster of the imagination whose time has finally come." – Carlo McCormick, artnet
• Review: "Portable Grindhouse celebrates the sleazy kick of killing time in a slightly crappy video rental store, minus the inevitable arguments about what to rent or the possibility of your VCR eating the tape." – Dave Howlett, Living Between Wednesdays
• Plug:Robot 6's Chris Mautner is reading his stack of Comics Journal back issues "starting with #291, which features interviews with Tim Sale and Josh Simmons, as well as a great critical thinkpiece by Gary Groth on Ralph Steadman and Hunter S. Thompson. That alone was worth the cover price."
• Plugs: Some fun and appreciated name-drops from Tom Neely and Charles Bernstein in the 5th part of The Beat's year-end survey of comics pros
• Plug/Coming Attractions:Comic Book Resources' Greg Burgas comments on the January issue of Previews (our listings from which can be seen here): "Jacques Tardi's It Was the War of the Trenches, from Fantagraphics on page 256, sounds keen. It's a World War I book, so I'm sure it will be utterly depressing, but it still sounds worthwhile!"
• Interview: The final part of Brian Heater's interview with C. Tyler at The Daily Cross Hatch: "To me, it’s underground, and there’s other people who think, 'no way, it’s Mad Magazine.' Everyone has their place where it starts. There’s people now who say, 'Kramer’s Ergot is when it started for me.' Everyone has their place when they jumped off the diving board, into the pool of comics. The fact is, it’s continual."
• Profile: Gurldoggie takes a quick look at Joe Sacco in advance of his appearance in Seattle this week
• Events: The Covered blog celebrates its 1st anniversary and announces an art show at Secret Headquarters in L.A. in March
• List: Any best-of list that leads off with a Maria Bamford reference is all right with me. NPR's Glen Weldon rounds up his best graphic novels of 2009, including You'll Never Know, Book 1: A Good and Decent Man by C. Tyler ("...Tyler lets her warm, fluid art draw the parallels between herself and her father, and hint at a darker story behind it all") and Low Moon by Jason ("The deadest of deadpan humor. Jason's cartoony, utterly affectless characters interact is ways that are horrible, hilarious and sad — often at the same time.")
• List: Josh Flanagan of iFanboy names The Best Comics of the Decade, including Palestine by Joe Sacco: "More than any of the documentaries or news stories I've seen, Palestine shaped my view about what things are like in the Palestinean territories. Joe Sacco spent time with the people who live there, and explored the sticky, nearly untenable situation that persists today. Sacco's cartoons put a human face on the people involved, and it's a stunning work, comics or otherwise."
• List:Library Journal knows that no list of 24 Graphic Novels for African American History Month would be complete without King: The Special Edition by Ho Che Anderson: "Widely acknowledged as a masterpiece, this award-winning biography invokes King’s flaws, tragedies, and triumphs."
The first Online Commentary & Diversions of the new year might be the longest one ever, so let's get to it:
• List/Review/Interview: As part of The Comics Reporter 's unique series of critical discussions on notable comics of the decade, Tom Spurgeon talks to Tucker Stone about Kevin Huizenga's Ganges: "That's the thing about Ganges #3 that makes it a unique comic -- it cannot be told in another medium and work. How are you going to write that down, that aspect of Glenn chasing his own thoughts and memories about completely personal, mundane life aspects, without drawing the character swimming around in his own head?" Elsewhere, Sean T. Collins responds to some of Stone's points
• List:Robot 6 lists The 30 Most Important Comics of the Decade. In part one, Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco is at #19 ("What's more, it showed that comics could handle not only tough subject matters, but deal with timely, true-life subjects in a hard-hitting, journalistic fashion"). In part two, The Complete Peanuts is at #15 ("If you believe, as I do, that we are living in the Golden Age of Reprints, chances are The Complete Peanuts is your Exhibit A")
• List:Newsarama's J. Caleb Mozzocco names his top 10 comics of the year, with The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book by Joe Daly at #8: "...[W]hat he delivers in the two stories collected in this book are unlike anything else I’ve seen in popular comics."
• List: Joe McCulloch of Jog - The Blog prefaces his Top Ten Comics of 2009 list with a "Top Five Caveats of 2009" list of reprinted or unread comics which includes Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941: ("Supermen!excited me... for suggesting a burning, manic soul of superhero comics, a reckless freedom differentiated from pulp writing and feature films by gnarled visual style while set apart from newspaper strips by virtue of a restless hunger to entertain quick and hard. It felt like the start of a future, and the comedown only hit when I realized I enjoyed it more than any new superhero comic of 2009") and The Squirrel Machine by Hans Rickheit. On the Top Ten list proper: West Coast Blues by Tardi & Manchette at #8 ("Teeming with fleshy characters prone to bleeding and puking, rippled with burn lines of existential dismay, the story keenly exploits how the thrills promised by bloody adventure outside the law segue into the terror of governmental systems failing to protect their cozy consumer citizens") and Prison Pit: Book 1 by Johnny Ryan at #4 ("as visceral and gory as fantasy throwdowns get, while remaining almost contemplative in its plain-paneled studies of bodily movement").
• List: Patrick Montfort, blogging at Articulate Nerd, names his Favorite Comics of 2009: at #10, West Coast Blues by Tardi & Manchette ("A masterfully constructed crime story with an unlikeable protagonist caught in an unlikely circumstance, this very French graphic novel is superior to anything I've seen in the genre from an American cartoonist"); at #9, Abstract Comics: The Anthology ("Handsomely designed and smartly edited... one of the year's most unique releases... thrilling"); at #8, Prison Pit: Book 1 by Johnny Ryan ("Refreshingly devoid of any literary or artistic pretensions, this first of what I hope will be many, many volumes nevertheless comes across as somehow one of the smartest and well crafted books of the year"); at #7, The Complete Peanuts 1971-1972 and The Complete Peanuts 1973-1974 by Charles M. Schulz ("Really strong stuff here, including the 'Charlie Brown wears a sack on his head to summer camp' sequence, surely the 'Poison River' of Peanuts"); and at #2, The Squirrel Machine by Hans Rickheit ("Reminiscent of the best work of David Lynch, there are a lot of powerful themes humming just beneath the surface of the creepy and dreamlike narrative. This one hit hard, and I can't wait to read it again. Really, really impressive")
• List: Cartoonist David Lasky's Best Graphic Novels of the Decade include Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco at #8 ("More haunting and harrowing than any TV news report on the subject") and The Frank Book by Jim Woodring at #10 ("Jim Woodring's cartoon animal, Frank, learns about life (the hard way) in an odd, visually lush, surreal world")
• List:Newsarama's Henry Chamberlain names the comics he was most intrigued by in 2009, including The Squirrel Machine by Hans Rickheit ("Hans Rickheit has been producing work like this for years and he has perfected a certain haunted and exquisite comics style. Take it from me, this story of two very strange brothers is the real deal.")
• List: Matthew Price of The Oklahoman names his top 10 graphic novels of the decade, with Joe Sacco's Safe Area Gorazde at #9 ("Joe Sacco's nonfiction account of the war in Bosnia was among the best ever examples of graphic novel journalism.")
• List: Edward Kaye of Hypergeek selects The Best Graphic Novels of 2009, including Low Moon by Jason ("At times both bleak and humorous, these beautifully absurd stories will leave you as speechless as one of Jason’s silent characters."), Love and Rockets: New Stories #2 by the Hernandez Brothers ("Los Bros. Hernandez continue to blaze trails with their originality, and the comic industry is better for it. This essential collection should be on every fan’s shelf."), Luba by Gilbert Hernandez ("It’s an astounding collection of stories about family, life, love, and heartbreak... [W]hen you read all of these powerful tales together in one place, you realise that Beto has created an epic here, unrivaled in its scale and depth. Words fail to express just how wonderful this collection is."), Everybody Is Stupid Except for Me by Peter Bagge ("It’s a brilliant piece of work, and perhaps Bagge’s finest achievement to date."), Locas II by Jaime Hernandez ("These tales of the lives of Maggie, Hopey, and Ray, are some of the most enthralling, and sometimes bizarre, stories ever told in the comic medium.") and You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation! by Fletcher Hanks ("...[T]hese surreal tales from the dawn of the super hero are uncompromisingly vivid, brutal, and at times, completely insane!")
• List/Coming Attractions/Plugs:Hypergeek lists The Essential Comics and Graphic Novels of 2010, including Almost Silent by Jason ("Jason is one of the greatest cartoonists in the world") and the year's books from the Hernandez Brothers: The Troublemakers ("I loved Chance in Hell, so this follow-up is a must for me. Beto is a wonderful storyteller, and an astonishing artist, so you can't go wrong picking this up, even if you've never read any L&R!"), High Soft Lisp ("This collection is essential for all L&R fans, as it collects together many of Beto's stories from the second L&R series, for the first time."), Penny Century ("Another essential collection for fans of L&R, collection Xamie's Penny Century stories from the Penny Century series and from Love & Rockets Volume II."), and Love and Rockets: New Stories #3 ("If it's a tenth as good as the first two volumes, we're in for a treat!")
• Review: "Magnificent art. Panels that range from three or so across medium-sized panels and the occasional painfully detailed and colored super-sized panel. An ongoing story...with blood and gore even! Dooming predictions, wounds, loss and death. Fantagraphics is to be thanked for working so hard to produce a book [Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937-1938] that shows Foster's artwork in a decent size and with the colors corrected." – Fred Kiesche, The Lensman's Children
• Review: "For a change of pace, it's nice to delve into some work from the great Steve Ditko and find nary a spider-man nor a strange doctor among them. Fantagraphics provides the ideal venue for doing so in Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 1... With the Fantagraphics logo on the sturdy spine, readers can expect — and receive — a top-quality package with crisp pages and handsome design. It's certainly attractive for some stories Ditko dismissed as 'junk,' but we all know there's treasure buried in trash." – Rod Lott, Bookgasm
• Review: "Issue #2 [of Sublife] saw a lot of [the] promise [of the first issue] fulfilled in a group of stories that ranged across both genres and visual styles... What connected each story was a common theme: the desire for family and the ways in which that need either created surrogate families or metastasized into something darker." – Rob Clough, The Comics Journal
• Plug:Robot 6 guest contributor Shaenon Garrity got Humbug for Christmas: "I love Harvey Kurtzman's failed magazine projects... Kurtzman never had much success in all his long career, but he had a talent for making smart people want to give him a hand... fun stuff. It's got a lot of work by Arnold Roth, whom I love."
• Coming Attractions:Robot 6 surveys numerous comics pros as to what they're looking forward to in 2010: in part 1, Evan Dorkin mentions several of our upcoming reprint collections; in part 2, Chris Schweitzer mentions Drew Weing's Set to Sea (July); in part 3, Jamie S. Rich mentions Lucky in Love by Chieffet & DeStefano
• Interview:The Daily Cross Hatch's Brian Heater continues (in part 3 of 4) his conversation with Carol Tyler: "I thought I could knock it out really quickly. That’s not case. But that’s not really stopping me, or anything. It’s just that, if it takes another six months to make this nicer, sweeter, and more wonderful, I want to. At first I thought I could get it all out in one package. I had it ready. But I’m not person who can write a script and then go illustrate it. I’m intuitive and I’m intuiting my way into this huge subject matter that hits me like a rock. There’s times when I can’t work because it makes me cry."
• Profile:Comic Book Resources' Shaun Manning talks to Dash Shaw about The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century A.D.: "I realize that some people think of comics as being storyboards, or as some kind of preliminary work for a movie, and that's very funny to me. But usually the people who think that are film-industry people who think EVERYTHING is preliminary work for a future film! A book, play, whatever! Ha!"
• Survey:The Beat's year-end survey of comics pros includes the following responses. From Jay Lynch: "When I think of comics in the 00s I think of: Johnny Ryan." From Mike Dawson: "What was the biggest story in comics in 2009? The Comics Journal moving almost exclusively online."