Catching up on several days' worth of Online Commentary & Diversions:
• List/Plugs: In an article titled "Fantagraphics: The Greatest American Comics Publisher," GUY.com's Rob Gonsalves says "What the Criterion Collection is to DVDs, Fantagraphics is to comics. Any self-respecting collection of graphic novels, any library public or personal, needs to sport at least one Fantagraphics book," and recommends a nicely idiosyncratic top-20 list of our publications which includes some of our more obscure releases
• Review: "While there definitely were some hardships, Clemente’s life was as unique and joyful as his persona and ball playing skills were, and Wilfred Santiago’s 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente reflects this uniqueness and joy through its own unique retelling of Clemente’s life. [...] The simple joy conveyed in this book is universally appealing... Baseball is a game that is full of life and story, and every year the game blooms in the spring with the trees and flowers of the season. 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente celebrates life, and new life, as much as it does baseball." – Andy Frisk, Comic Book Bin
• Interview: Pittsburgh City Paper's David Davis, who says "In his new graphic novel 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente, the author of 2002's In My Darkest Hour uses Clemente's life to explore issues on and off the diamond. These include the thorny politics of Puerto Rico (statehood or commonwealth status?) as well as the racism Clemente faced in America as a dark-skinned Latino. The result is both a superhero cartoon and a lyrical time-machine, rendered in the regal black-gold-and-white of the Bucs' uni," has a brief Q&A with Wilfred Santiago: "I began my career working on superhero cartoons. That's the look I wanted to get -- somewhere between a cartoon and a painting. I wanted to get the camera right there with him and you're experiencing the action up close."
• Review: "Slavishly documenting and lavishly illustrating through band flyers and set lists and rare record sides and marvelous photography, along with first-person textual accounts, this strange, excited dialogue between misfits in America through bands, venues, zines, and lives and how it was all done punk and how punk was done. [...] Taking Punk to the Masses’ gallant bridging of universal punk history with our own in Ecotopia is a reason to celebrate. Your eyes can gnaw on decades of delicious artwork while you read and watch stories you may have heard of, but after this, will never forget." – Chris Estey, The KEXP Blog
• Review: "In Hate Annual #9, Buddy returns to Seattle to meet the dysfunctional family of his wife Lisa who he has never met despite having been with Lisa for close to 20 years. In a tension-filled 72 hours, Buddy is subjected to senile parents, criminals, and drug addicts. Each page is filled with the sardonic humor and high drama that are staples of Bagge's work. [...] Read this issue slowly because once you're done laughing your head off, you are sure to be sad that you'll have to wait another year to check in with one of the best characters of alternative comics." – Rip Ransley, Stray Riffs
• Review: "The particular fascination in this early work [The Arctic Marauder] is seeing one of the unique individual styles in cartooning at a formative stage. [...] As for the subject matter: It’s an example of parody that continues on when the thing parodied has long faded away. [...] Part of the appeal is feeling superior to an earlier age, and another part is being engaged in the traces of the earlier form embedded in the parody, which you would normally feel yourself too sophisticated to enjoy." – R. Fiore, The Comics Journal
• Plug: "At once a parody and a tribute to late 19th, early 20th century mystery/adventure Jules Verne-esque fiction, this gorgeous one-shot [The Arctic Marauder] is masterfully drawn scratchboard style, as to echo the woodcuts of the era. The result is sumptuous, and look at those elegant art-nouveau panels! [...] Fans of concentrated mysteries, steam-operated machines, dramatic adventures and over-the-top vilains should be all over this!" – 211 Bernard (Librairie Drawn & Quarterly)
• Review: "With Woodring’s skill, I never found myself confused, at least, more than you’re supposed to be. I’ve never read a statement by Woodring saying this, but I always got the impression he wanted you to work for the meaning behind his stories. Even if it’s not the case, I highly enjoy the process. In one graphic novel [Weathercraft], I got what I think may have been a love story, a treatise on spiritual enlightenment and sometimes just a whole lot of fun." – Joe Keatinge, Joe Keatinge's Comics & Stories
• Review: "Weathercraft... [is a]nother volume of nightmarishly beautiful wordless comics by the remarkable Mr. Woodring. Even for those accustomed to his work, there is page after page that makes you say, 'I’ve never seen anything like that before!' And then hide under your bed." – M. Ace, Irregular Orbit
• Interview:Book By Its Cover's Jen Rothman, who says "Ray Fenwick has created yet another masterpiece. His second book, Mascots, hit shelves in the beginning of this year and it’s quite a beauty. It’s filled with his signature style that mixes ornate hand lettering and imagery, creating amusing little narratives," has a Q&A with Ray: "I thought of the idea of mascots because they’re these outrageous, often ridiculous figures, but they’re symbolic of something else. The thing they’re there to represent isn’t ridiculous at all. I thought that was similar in a lot of ways to the work in the book."
• Interview:One Two One Two Microphone Check has a cultural Q&A with our own Kim Thompson: "There is no movie I love but would be embarrassed to talk about in a serious, intellectual conversation, because if I love it, it is worth talking about by definition. (I concede this could be taken as arrogant.) That said, I am mildly embarrassed at how much I actually love Love, Actually."
• Interview: Alex Dueben's great interview with Daniel Clowes at Comic Book Resources touches on Dan's design work for our upcoming series of Crockett Johnson's Barnaby collections: "It's probably the best written comic strip of all time. The artwork is disarmingly simple. It's the kind of thing that I would normally not be attracted to. He uses typography instead of hand lettering and very simple diagrammatic drawings, yet they are perfect, and work beautifully in a way that anything added to it would detract from it. My goal with the design of the book is to follow his very severe minimal design style and try to live up to that."
• Interview: At TCJ.com, Sean T. Collins also talks to Clowes: "I was always baffled that people who liked mainstream comics seemed to really gravitate towards [Eightball #22]. I couldn’t quite figure out what it was about that one, specifically, that made them like that so much."
• Commentary:Tim Kreider pens an essay on the state of the cartooning industry for TCJ.com: "When you’re young, it’s exciting and fun just to have your work published in the local alternative weekly, or posted online, “liked” and commented on and linked to; but eventually you turn forty and realize you’ve given away a career’s worth of labor for nothing. What’s happening in comics now is what happened in the music industry in the last decade and what’ll happen to publishing in the next. Soon Don DeLillo will be peddling T-shirts too."
• Commentary:Robot 6 polled Gilbert Hernandez for their weekly "What Are You Reading?" feature: "The new comics I always enjoy are by R. Crumb, Dan Clowes, Richard Sala and Charles Burns. I haven’t seen Burns’ and Sala’s new books yet but I did read The Bible by Crumb, which I found tedious only because of the subject matter and Wilson by Clowes. That was hard to get through because the protagonist is so supremely hateful. Well executed, though."
This month's issue of Booklist brings a starred review for 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente by Wilfred Santiago and additional favorable reviews of 5 more of our recent releases, excerpted below:
"Nearly every page brings a new compositional marvel, setting energetic, limber figures against stylized photographic backgrounds washed in sepia tones and Pirate-yellow highlights. The in-game sequences, though, are show-stoppers, taking advantage of dizzying perspective shifts to capture the fluid, whirling nature of the game as it moves in fits and starts through huge moments of pause into cracking shots of sizzling drama. It’s not a comprehensive biography by any means, nor does it try to be one. But for a book that matches the pure athleticism, unshakable compassion, and towering legacy of its subject, look no further." — Ian Chipman (Starred Review)
Popeye Vol. 5: "Wha's a Jeep?" by E.C. Segar: "The fifth oversize volume collecting Segar’s vintage 1930s newspaper strip sees two particularly notable events, the introduction of Popeye’s lovable pet from the fourth dimension, Eugene the Jeep, who can foretell the future — a talent that Olive Oyl and Wimpy predictably exploit at the racetrack — and the seafaring quest to find Popeye’s long-lost father, Poopdeck Pappy, who turns out to be even more irascible than his cantankerous son. The out-of-continuity Sunday pages are more humor-driven, allowing Segar’s most brilliant comic creation, the rotundly roguish J. Wellington Wimpy, to take the fore." – Gordon Flagg
Prince Valiant Vol. 3: 1941-1942 by Hal Foster: "This period, with its far-flung story lines and lavishly detailed artwork, is arguably the acme of Foster’s four decades chronicling the bold exploits of his medieval hero. While the oversize pages don’t approach the expanse of the bygone broadsheet newspapers that were Valiant’s original home, this is the best showcase Foster’s epic creation has had since its original appearance more than 70 years ago." — Gordon Flagg
Krazy & Ignatz 1919-1921: A Kind, Belevolent and Amiable Brick by George Herriman: "Although nearly a century has elapsed since these episodes first saw print, nothing that’s appeared on newspaper comics pages in the intervening years has approached their graphic and linguistic sophistication, let alone their brazenly idiosyncratic singularity. The bounty of Herriman’s fanciful masterwork is enhanced by a pair of informative supplemental essays and Chris Ware’s strikingly stark cover design." – Gordon Flagg
The Complete Peanuts 1979-1980 (Vol. 15) by Charles M. Schulz: "Although Schulz’s much-loved comic strip is considered timeless — the continued reprinting of decades- old episodes in today’s newspapers attests to its perennial appeal — it wasn’t immune to contemporary trends. In these episodes, Peppermint Patty advocates for women’s equity in sports and gets Bo Derek-inspired cornrows. In other anomalous sequences, Charlie Brown’s pals express uncharacteristic affection for him when he’s hospitalized, and Peppermint Patty falls in love with — of all people — Pig-Pen. But most of the strips here display the comfortable tropes, from Snoopy as a WWI flying ace to Linus awaiting the Great Pumpkin, that Peanuts fans grew to love during its five-decade run." – Gordon Flagg
R.I.P.: Best of 1985-2004 by Thomas Ott: "With Ott’s trademark scratchboard style affording the highest possible contrast, this is some of the most stunningly crafted work in comics today." – Ray Olson
This interview was conducted by Fantagraphics' Eric Buckler. Thanks to Eric and Wilfred!
Wilfred Santiago has a striking cartooning style that he can mold to fit any of the diverse projects he has created or contributed to. He has worked on everything from Capes to XXX to the alternative In My Darkest Hour, his first graphic novel for Fantagraphics. His newest project, 21, is about one of the most inspiring individuals to ever play the sport of baseball: Roberto Clemente. Rob Neyer from ESPN.com said about the book: "Wilfred Santiago's 21 is brilliant and beautiful, challenging and lyrical...which seems exactly right, as Roberto Clemente was all those things and more." Santiago and Clemente are both natives of Puerto Rico.
ERIC BUCKLER: What is your personal relationship with baseball?
WILFRED SANTIAGO: As personal as any other sport. Growing up, you either did sports or you did not. You called a couple of neighbors and you played baseball, basketball or whatever.
It's been years since I played any sports at all, and it feels a bit weird not to have that today, so I got a kick out of "playing baseball" on 21.
BUCKLER: You are from Puerto Rico; what did legendary Puerto Rican baseball star Roberto Clemente mean to you as a kid, and how is he seen by Puerto Ricans?
SANTIAGO: As a kid, it was different. In Puerto Rico, he was more of a myth than anything else. Sure, 21 played great baseball, but it was his reputation as a good-hearted Christian that preceded his game: perhaps to the level of deity. And you get this sense, because that's all the adults talked about. I never saw him play; he had already died. For a time, I didn't get that I couldn't go to a game and watch him play, like he never left. But his image was almost everywhere: a coliseum with his name on it. I haven't been to the island for years so I couldn't tell you about his impact on the present.
BUCKLER: This book is a biography. How did you go about capturing what he was like when he was alive?
SANTIAGO: Dissection. Clemente was a private man. Once you go through the rudimentary written biographies and any available footage of the man, you can start shaping his presence.
There are two parts to Clemente: The athlete is one way on the field, and another way as a father and husband. Roberto doesn't have a secret identity per se. However, in order to write Spider-Man, you also need to depict his life as a regular teenager. Peter Parker in costume becomes someone else and so are athletes. And of course, the people that surrounded him, the period when he lived, these are things that shape all of us, which are the same things that shaped Clemente as a character. Many times you have to separate the myth from the person and sometimes you have to speculate within parameters. For example, it was a known fact that Clemente went to a certain restaurant, but you have to speculate about whether he had chicken or ribs.
• Review: "...The Arctic Marauder [is] a gorgeous, sprawling tale that — thanks to translator Kim Thompson's finely tuned ear for tone — boasts chewy Vernian narration... Call it ur-steampunk — one of the works that laid the groundwork for a genre that would, just a few years later, fill bookstore shelves with soot, goggles and gutta percha. [...] Tardi's arctic seascapes and undersea trenches are things to marvel over, as is his ability to evoke the eerie undulations of the Aurora borealis with just a few finely scratched lines. The Arctic Marauder is at once a loving homage and a smart satire; it's also, not for nothing, a rollicking adventure. Pick it up, and get rollicked." – Glen Weldon, NPR's Monkey See
• Review: "Tardi is one of France's most famous creators, and Adele Blanc-Sec, the cynical author turned adventurer, is his most famous creation. [...] I am very happy to see that Fantagraphics has decided to republish the first two stories in a beautiful hardcover book, with another book to follow next year. [...] The adventures are by turns funny, weird, and surprising. They are reminiscent of Tintin, if Tintin was a cynical Frenchwoman instead of an idealistic boy." – John Anderson, The Beguiling
• Review: "...[T]he colorful (in many senses of the word) collection The Artist Himself... is a smorgasbord of senses working overtime, the coffee table book of the year for raunch-loving pop art fans and literary hedonists alike. [...] One of Canada’s best pop cult artists, Holmes lived far too hard and died way too young. I can’t imagine a better book being put together about him, though. The Portland-based [Patrick] Rosenkranz (whose earlier underground comics compilation Rebel Visionsis a tidy and sweet sweep of the entire field) has written a beautiful biography of the 60s-born underground cartoonist..." – Chris Estey, The KEXP Blog
• Review: "You can tell by the cover [of R.I.P.: Best of 1985-2004] that it bodes pretty badly for all those involved, from have-a-go-heroes, souped up for the occasion Charles Atlas-stylee, to those covering their murderous tracks, now newly addicted to cleanliness. Indeed both virtue and godliness play their part here, though neither is rewarded. These very short stories are like ten-second episodes of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected and really challenge you to think, but they’re so concise and precise that it makes that a joy rather than a chore. [...] The medium employed... is scratchboard: that blank-slate of black upon which you work in reverse, scratching out shivers of white with a needle, sharp compass or random sterilised murder weapon. It works enormously well for stories so penumbral, yet on occasions the panels break out as blindingly as the light which fills them." – Stephen L. Holland, Page 45
• Analysis: At Robot 6, Matt Seneca takes a close look at a 2-panel sequence from Prince Valiant Vol. 3: 1941-1942: "Foster’s composition is wonderfully harmonic: two chords, beautifully struck in a rich and assured ink line, that complement each other perfectly. Though the panels use different camera angles and depict different subjects at different distances from the action, they share a remarkable symmetry."
• Feature: At Care2, Wilfred Santiago, creator of 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente, writes about Clemente the humanitarian: "Clemente was aware that being a baseball player gave him the resources to do even greater good than he could have imagined. Most importantly, we have the opportunity to know and share his life story, and for that, we all are very fortunate to come across the history of a man like Roberto Clemente."
• Review: "The art is wonderful. Tardi has this rounded style that is unique and easily identifiable, all at once his signature. The level of detail is astounding, in the background and mechanical details as rendered faux woodcuts...: be sure to drink in every inch of this black and white work. [...] At $17 for a sixty-four page oversized hardcover [The Arctic Marauder] is a great value: ...it stands as a great period work with wonderfully detailed art." – Scott VanderPloeg, Comic Book Daily
• Review: "As an art book From Shadow to Light is stunning; ...it offers a remarkable and overdue testament to [Mort] Meskin (1916-1995), one of the seminal yet overshadowed figures of the comic book’s formative era. I can’t imagine not having this book in the Platonic comics studies library. [...] Of the recent bounty of deluxe books exhibiting vintage comic art — surely this is the Golden Age for comic book historiography and appreciation? — From Shadow to Light is one of the best. It is beautiful. Its design is dynamic yet coherent... The survival of so many Meskin originals, from comic book pages through storyboards and advertising comps to paintings, even to sketches on (!) paper towels, is itself cause for celebration, and, man, Brower exhibits these objects to advantage." – Charles Hatfield, The Panelists
• Plug:Reason's Brian Doherty touts: "Reason's cartoonist genius Peter Bagge will be leaving his Seattle stronghold and blessing the people of New York with his luminous presence this week in multiple venues [MoCCA, Desert Island & Scott Eder Gallery]. ... It'll be a Baggapalooza weekend! If you live anywhere near New York, check out one or all of his appearances. If you live on Earth, buy all [his new] books [Hate Annual #9 and Yeah!]."
• Interview:The Daily Cross Hatch's Brian Heater begins a multipart conversation with Mome contributor Noah Van Sciver: "I have some Zap Comics, but besides the Crumb stuff, it just does nothing for me. But I like the freedom that they had in the 60s. I’m more into the 80s and 90s."
• Profile: At the ABC News website, the AP's Matt Moore talks to Robert Crumb during his recent visit to New York City for his Society of Illustrators exhibit opening: "'It was never intended for that purpose, so it's always odd to see it on a wall, or under glass; it was intended for printing and books. It wasn't made as a wall hanging piece,' Crumb said in an interview with The Associated Press. 'For me, the printed copy is the magic moment. When I see it in print — that was the whole purpose of it.'" (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
• Interview: At Previews, a must-read chat with Gary Groth about our classic strip reprints: "The only criterion is that it’s great cartooning. We wouldn’t waste our time devoting this much time and energy to anything less. Our mission has been to publish the best cartooning — not only in comic strips, but in every 'branch' of the cartooning art — that we can."
• Interview: At Robot 6, Chris Mautner talks to Wilfred Santiago about 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente: "I was trying not to make it … biographies to me have a static feel to them. I was trying to avoid [that] and I feel like cartooning helps you in expressing the story and what you’re trying to convey thtorugh the story. It was difficult too because I wanted it to be cartoony and realistic at the same time. I wanted it to be fun. What’s important was that it was exciting; that it could almost speak. That you could read the book in a very sort of sharp-paced way but you could also take the time and read through it at your leisure."
• Interview: Matthew Baker of Vanderbilt University's Nashville Review has an epic chat with Anders Nilsen: "Really I feel like comics is just the most useful category to drop me into. I don’t feel like I’m wedded to comics as a medium. I draw, and I usually sort of tell stories, but I do make standalone drawings and paintings, and I do make stuff that is probably closer to poetry than comics. I’ve made books before that aren’t really comics — just a series of pictures, or diagrams, or whatever."
• Review: "Stunning and evocative and rendered in a cacophony of swirling miasmic lines, this fearsome modern parable is a fierce interrogation of faith and destiny which asks uncompromising and uncomfortable questions about the price of Grace and the value of belief. [...] Emotive, shocking and utterly compelling, Stigmata is a grotesque and beautiful metaphysical rollercoaster with existential angst and blind faith gripping each other’s philosophical throats and squeezing really hard. No rational reader or mature comics fan can afford to miss this dark shining delight." – Win Wiacek, Now Read This!
• Review: "This book beautifully captures the phantasmagoric flow of images that occurs in dreams. Mattotti's art is incredible. There are panels that are so intricate that I wonder how he had the time to draw so many of them. At 32 mostly wordless pages it's a very short book, but the imagery, like the panels of a child throwing a toy at a giant, or the panels showing a huge black bird carrying off a rabbit in a rainstorm, will stay with you long after you finish reading. If you like the intense, emotional, sometimes dreamlike artwork Mattotti did for Stigmata, you will love Chimera." – Jon Anderson, The Beguiling
[Editor/Marketeer's Note: You can get Chimera for half price when you order Stigmata!]
Spurgeon's comments on the book: "Santiago brings the same playful complexity to the story of the Puerto Rican baseball slugger and humanitarian that he's put on thrilling display in previous comics. Many of the pages are to die-for gorgeous, and Santiago routinely finds compelling visual solutions to communicating the physicality and grace of a player whose heyday was long enough ago we have more stories than film to go by. The insights into the man's personal life are perhaps even more engagingly portrayed. As biography, 21 is admirably restrained and leaves a lot to the reader's interpretation of what they're seeing on the page. It is a book bristling with intelligence that will bear re-reading in the same way that Roberto Clemente continues to invite our regard and admiration for his accomplishments on and off the field."
From Wilfred: "To an extent, that's Clemente. Clemente didn't waste much time. Everything was urgent to him. The pace of the book tried to capture that sort of non-pause, that sort of way of going forward without slowing down. He does have what you just said -- exuberance -- and that's such an important part of his life. So you approach it the same way. When you think about it, that's exactly the way he died, too. He could have slowed down."
• Plug: "A shooting star that brightened the game in the '70s, Roberto Clemente broke cultural divides and game records and grasps on just what a baseball athlete could accomplish inside a long-storied sport. Writer and cartoonist Wilfred Santiago brings a graphic novel  that details the bio of a beloved player still, decades after his abrupt death." – Mark Ruffin, Examiner.com
• Plug: "In his comics, the Swiss illustrator [Thomas Ott], 44, usually begins with a pencil drawing, then copies it with tracing paper. Then transfers the image to black paper and scrapes with the aid of a stylus. Too much work? Yes, but the technique, known as scratchboard, impresses. Check out... a small sample of the new album [R.I.P.: Best of 1985-2004] — a selection of nearly 20 years of work by the author — and dare to disagree. The images are disturbing, but beautiful." – Telio Navega, O Globo (translated from Portuguese)