The acclaimed anthology of contemporary comics steams toward its landmark 20th issue. This issue leads off with the cover story, the first part of the satiric psychedelic epic "The White Rhinoceros," drawn by Josh Simmons and written by The Partridge in the Pear Tree. It is our privilege to welcome the great Gilbert Hernandez to the pages of Mome with a brand-new story starring his beloved character Roy! Also debuting this issue, exciting newcomer D.J. Bryant, with what may be the most hard-boiled story to appear in Mome yet. And making return appearances: Olivier Schrauwen, Tim Lane, Conor O'Keefe, and Robert Goodin with new stories, and T. Edward Bak with the continuation of his epic "Wild Man" serial.
Download an EXCLUSIVE 9-page PDF excerpt (1.6 MB) with a page from every artist in the issue, plus the Table of Contents.
We're very pleased to present this interview with Cathy Malkasian conducted by contributing Mome cartoonist Robert Goodin. We typically have Fantagraphics staff members conduct these "Diaflogue" interviews, but when assigning an interviewer to talk to Cathy, I couldn't think of anyone better than Rob, who has known Cathy for years and published her first minicomics under his Robot Publishing banner. I was thrilled when Rob and Cathy agreed to have this conversation.
Robert Goodin: I think you had a bit of an unusual path to comics. Why don't you tell us about your background like education and your main profession.
Cathy Malkasian: The wonder of mixing words with pictures started in kindergarten. We were given the task of doing little booklets depicting some event in our lives. We drew the pictures and the teacher or our parents would take our dictation for the story, writing words where there was room. The combination of words and pictures, bound in a stable form, really excited me. I can only describe this feeling as joy.
Decades later, when I started doing comics, that same joy came back, remarkably unpolluted!
My interests were so varied growing up, but they always centered around the study of character. I could have learned any subject well if there were compelling characters involved.
The school system back then was geared toward verbal and pattern-based/logical/verbal thinkers. Kinesthetic and character-based thinkers had to make our own way. I wish that higher math had been taught with characters, since it is so much about relationships and solving for unknowns. These can all be translated into character gestalts, involving emotion and even comedy in a way that makes abstract ideas stick.
I processed and translated experience in terms of character, either taking on the qualities of other people, or assigning characters to abstract ideas or words, such as the days of the week. Character created relevance.
So whether I was studying acting or music history, opera or eventually working in animation, I was always interested in characters and how they interacted and thought. Directing and storyboarding for animation was a very exciting experience, because never before had I the opportunity to see characters I'd drawn come alive in other people's hands! It was fantastic! A great way to connect with great artists. But the strictures of children's TV writing kept the stories from getting deeper, so comics seemed like the next logical step. Comics allowed for that gestalt experience, getting characters and their context to represent philosophical, ethical and emotional states.
RG: You've certainly got some abstract ideas attached to character in Temperance. There is a good balance between characters representing ideas, but also being real people (at least with Minerva and Lester, less so with Pa and Peggy). How did these characters come together in your mind? Did you begin the book with large ideas that you wanted to wrestle with or did you start with characters that these ideas glommed onto?
CM: I started with the idea of war and how it may be the larger expression of our struggle with entropy. Let's face it: nobody is a fan of decay!! Who wants to slide into chaos and emerge transformed? Even though that's the way of things it's too scary to contemplate! We all want to take our minds off this stuff, but it's there in the background. So we have to deal with it consciously or unconsciously. This story is all about entropy and synthesis; the two sides of change, the dual nature of everything. Of these two constants, entropy (and its psychological counterpart oblivion) gets most of our attention, paradoxically because we don't like facing it head-on. Look at our culture now: we hate decay as much we glorify it. Our pervasive way of dealing with it, of beating it to the punch, is violence. We glorify violence because it is entropy under the illusion of our control.
I looked at violence as our sped-up version of entropy, our way of fooling ourselves into overcoming nature. If we can just destroy things, we will somehow live, conquering nature. If we can harness what nature does, we won't have to succumb to it. Tearing things down, blowing them up, gives us the temporary illusion that we stand over and apart from the forces that shape us. War is the most absurd expression of this illusion.
So I wondered: how would I personify not just this force of entropy, but our deeply uneasy feelings about it? How would this force look to us on an emotional and ethical level? We often judge our own decay as cruel and unrelenting. It seems like a form of self-hatred. So I had to make the Pa character not just driven at every moment to do his destructive work, but to hate himself and everything around him. His "job" as this force is to keep going until even he is destroyed. But of course that's impossible, and he knows it, so he's in torment all the time. He can't enjoy the game he's a part of. Still, with his all histrionics he seems impressive and all-powerful.
On the flip side, everything that seems gentle, receptive and creative is still seen as weak in our mass culture. While we judge entropy harshly we often ignore synthesis/creation. This force, which Peggy represents, is very subtle much of the time. Peggy is in the background, in everything. Her influence is practically invisible so it's easy to forget her. She goes about her business more slowly. To personify her would involve a sense of knowing, kindness, compassion and, of course, love. Sadly these qualities still get punished in our popular culture. So Peggy must work "underground," just as the sustaining core of any culture must plan for rebuilding even while the fires rage above.
RG: Yeah, I’m picking up what you are laying down. Why is it that destroyers always trump creators? I guess it’s just much easier to destroy something than to create. I always think about how a given population only needs a small percentage of their number bent on destruction to make the society absolute hell. How many terrorists does it take, or corrupt government officials, or faulty oil rigs? It can seem like a lost cause. Your book ends on a note of hope. Are you completely full of shit?
CM: Destroyers are generally more seductive than creators because bonding via primitive instincts is easy, immediate and addictive. Destruction generally requires less skill and time than creation (even a three-year-old can start a forest fire), so any spectator can say "Hey, I can do that!” Creators, on the other hand, are methodical and patient, representing the more executive functions in the brain. They can seem more intimidating, since they don’t have that immediate bond with our simple instincts. Can you think of many people in our popular culture who are admired for their patience and persistence? False, fast power is always more impressive to more people, especially people who haven’t developed their skills at patience and methodical thinking, or who live primarily in their instinct-based emotions.
Another reason the destructive minority grabs influence is that we are transfixed by our own awe at destruction, at seeing natural forces hijacked in the form of grand spectacle. I have a hunch that our fascination with destruction is an outgrowth of our neurological need for contrasts and patterns. We need to find patterns and disrupt them, to keep our brains awake. And we are fascinated at our own fascination, too. Humans can't seem to get enough of ourselves…
Big disturbances, for good or for ill, really wake us up, sending ripples through the wider cultural mind.
The end of the book is a tableau of a cycle coming around again. Whether or not it’s hopeful is up to the reader!
RG: Since we are on the topic of patience and creating, I wanted to talk to you about comic making. You’ve been making your living in animation and have been drawing storyboards for many years. While there are some skills that translate well into comics, comics still have aspects that do not have any overlap (like designing a page to work as a whole, placing blacks and whites, and a nice, finished drawing). Did you find it difficult to make that transition? Was there anyone you looked at when (or if) you felt a little shaky?
CM: I’m really driven by story and character, and this applies to both media. It’s a pretty intuitive process, waiting to “see” the next scene or panel once I am emotionally involved. As far as page design goes, a lot of my visual instincts come from doing paintings. I don’t paint often, but when I do it’s a quite a challenging exercise of balancing all those things you mentioned. More than producing a nice finished drawing, I want to get into the scene. Once the scene feels “real” the drawing is finished. It’s great looking at other people’s work, and their influence sinks in, but I don’t usually analyze it. Getting too analytical takes all the fun away!
RG: I know what you mean. There is also the phrase, “Paralysis by analysis” that can creep in too. At some point you have to trust your instincts. However, you appear to be blessed in that good artistic decisions seem to come naturally to you, where I need years of studying and practice to put things together.
CM: Well, what may appear to you as good instincts is really the end product of hitting a lot of intellectual and creative brick walls. I always do a mountain of preparation then get frustrated and give up, at least until my brain airs out. At that point all you can do is let go and trust that all the research and notes and sketches will sort themselves out. So however you slice it, we're both putting in years of study and practice. And, by the way, your work just gets more and more stunning.
RG: Now that you have two graphic novels out in 3 years, what’s next? Are you going to do another big book or do you want to try something shorter? Do you have any interest in reprinting some of your short stories?
CM: I am so ready to do a comedy now! And shorter books, too! It'd be good to see what Percy Gloom is up to — he'd be a great little guy to work with again. I also have this novella I wrote that needs some spot drawings and paintings, so that'll be fun, too. There's a mini-comic I did a while back called "Little Miss Mess" about a couple of incognito space aliens. I really like the main characters and wouldn't mind continuing their adventures. So ideas are rolling around in the old noggin. I just need to find out which one is shouting the loudest.
This coming weekend, May 22-23, 2010, the Silver Lake Jubilee in Los Angeles is hosting "Jubilee Comix," a comics showcase featuring live readings at El Cid both mornings beginning at 10am featuring Tom Neely, Robert Goodin, Jesse Moynihan, Ted Stearn, David King and Malachi Ward. Afterward, all of them, plusTim Hensley and Olga Volozova, will be signing in the Literary Village. And Esther Pearl Watson is just one of many comics and small-press artists exhibiting in the "We Come in Peace" collaborative "zine fort" installation. Sounds like a can't-miss!
I might have to start posting these art-blog roundups on the weekends too... these Monday updates are outa control...
• Airbrushed Zippy the Pinhead art (artist unknown)! Posting this on Facebook, Bill Griffith says "This is the 2-page spread ad for the 'Zippy Movie' from Variety magazine, 3/29/90. The ad was taken out by the Aspen Film Society (at that time they were the producers of the movie) in hopes of attracting a studio/distributor. Are we in turnaround yet?" More about it (and the likewise never-to-be Zippy TV show series) here
For those out of town, the show can also be experienced on the blog with one cover being posted per day beginning March 6th. Work can be purchased by following a link to the Secret Headquarters Flickr page.
• Review: "Imagine then what yesterday — or today's — right wingers would say about The Great Anti-War Cartoons... Sadly... what these cartoons have made us 'see' is how little things have changed 'round the planet, or within our species. ... And while being the spark for various brilliant cartoons over the decades doesn't justify the institutional addiction to war (or its always-looming threat), these cartoons can at least provide some solace. Or good fallout shelter reading." – Mark London Williams, The SF Site: Nexus Graphica
• Review: "Jaime Hernandez’s side of the Love and Rockets anthology may have started in a world of futuristic fantasy, but [The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S.] is the volume where he finds his feet and hits a groove. ... Jaime’s illustration is beautiful and effortless. His characters mix a near perfect clear-line style with cartoonish expression, used with particular aplomb when emotions are running high. It’s a masterclass in comic illustration." – Grovel
• Plug:Library Journal features May 2010's Artichoke Tales by Megan Kelso in their inaugural Graphic Novels Prepub Alert: "A coming-of-age story about a young girl from a family caught between sides in a civil war, set in a world similar to ours but where people have artichoke leaves instead of hair. ... Its delicate, rather impish black-and-white line work comes from the creator of the subtle and poignant Squirrel Mother."
By the way, multiple belated hat tips to Robot 6, whose roundups of end-of-year links have been invaluable to the last few installments of Online Commentary & Diversions. On with the links:
• List:Publishers Weekly announced the results of their 2009 Comics Week Critic's Poll; among the top vote-getters are You'll Never Know, Book 1: A Good and Decent Man by C. Tyler ("I love this autobiographical family story as much for the way Tyler weaves between her own life and her father's, as for its painterly, illustrative panoramas of suburban neighborhoods and army scenes." – Sasha Watson) and Tales Designed to Thrizzle Vol. 1 by Michael Kupperman ("Milk and other liquids may come out your nose as you read one of the funniest comics ever put to paper. Kupperman's droll absurdism is matched by a stiff, woodcut-like art style that underplays the sometimes outre concepts. A comedy diamond." – Heidi MacDonald). Humbug by Harvey Kurtzman et al, Low Moon by Jason, Luba by Gilbert Hernandez, Supermen!: The First Wave Of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941, West Coast Blues Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jacques Tardi, and You Are There by Jacques Tardi and Jean-Claude Forest all received single votes in the poll
• List: At comiXology, Tucker Stone counts down his top 25 Best Comics of 2009, with Grotesque #3 by Sergio Ponchione at #23 ("...every once in a while, I get a reminder how vast the world of comics really is. Grotesque — European, unusual, brilliant — was one of those, an experimental passport to another universe"), Ganges #3 by Kevin Huizenga at #7 ("...Ganges captured the thing that all of us spend a lifetime doing — thinking — and turned it into something deserving of examination") and, in the top spot, Prison Pit: Book 1 by Johnny Ryan ("Aggro, obscene, hilarious, compulsive: Prison Pit. It wasn't just the greatest comic of the year, it was one of those comics that operated like the end result of a math equation, a definitive answer to the question of what comics are, and what they should be...")
• List: Johnny Bacardi's Personal Best of the Decade includes Eightball #22 by Daniel Clowes
• Review: "Each [panel] almost vibrates with the frenetic, desperate energy of the characters as they try to pull off their cons. That energy explodes in the final pages, as the story comes to a dramatic but ambiguous conclusion. In the end, the work offers an homage to B-movies while standing out as a graphic novel. The Troublemakers will please long-term Hernandez fans. It also should serve as a good introduction to newcomers looking to jump into the Love and Rockets universe." – Publishers Weekly
• Review: "...Giraffes [in My Hair], a collection of anecdotes from Bruce Paley's teens and twenties on America's countercultural fringe, is a breezy read. ... Swain's art rarely calls attention to or gets in the way of itself, and in that it meshes seamlessly with Paley's deadpan 'here's what happened' narrative style, his reluctance to overstate or oversell the import of the anecdote reminiscent of Harvey Pekar's." – Sean T. Collins
• Review: "...[The Comics Journal] has reached issue 300 and is celebrating with a fascinating collection of creator-chats as industry tyros and giants come together to interview, share, bitch and generally shoot the breeze about graphic narrative: a tactic that makes this the most compelling read of the year for anyone truly interested in what we all do and why." – Win Wiacek, Now Read This!
• Review: "Fantagraphics Books continues its series devoted to chronologically packaging [Peanuts] and has not missed a step along the way. ... I’m pleased to inform that the latest edition, the twelfth in the series, is as lovingly curated as the first... [I]t is nice to know that one of the form’s greatest achievements is being held up as the accomplishment it really is." – Dw. Dunphy, Popdose
• Review: "[In Sam's Strip] Walker and Dumas clearly take pleasure in working in callbacks to classic comic strips... [and] many of the metatextual gags are funny and fun. ... Dumas’s drawings of classic comic-strip characters are excellent... The result is a frustrating, compelling curiosity: the soul of an underground comic trapped in the mortal coil of a Hi and Lois." – Shaenon Garrity, The Comics Journal
• Events:Star Clipper is sponsoring a screening of Ghost World at Schlafly Bottleworks in St. Louis tonight — oh jeez, in like half an hour! — and copies of the graphic novel and other Clowes books will be on sale