Andrew Sullivan's always-entertaining mostly-political blog The Daily Dish has showcased an ongoing "Bugs or Mickey Debate," attempting to tease out why it is that Bugs Bunny, arguably a more interesting character, is so much less popular than the iconic Mickey Mouse (latest installment here). If the debate is still ongoing next month, I wonder if our release of the first volume of Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse strips, which feature a far feistier and more adventuresome Mickey than the wide public is used to, will re-orient the debate. (Even those who don't buy the book will get a glimpse of this Mickey in our Free Comic Book Day release, which also spotlights Mickey.) Of course, the debaters so far seem also to be ignorant of the (more widely available) earliest Mickey animated cartoons, in which Mickey was also far more of an anarchic spirit.
Now this is the material that was serialized in The Nimrod, right?
Yes and no. The Nimrod #1, 6, and 7 featured the first three installments (out of six). So if you have all the Nimrods, sorry, you'll be buying half of it all over again. But the translation's been reworked and it's been re-lettered from scratch.
Why re-letter? I thought whoever did the comics did a really nice job.
I agree, but Jeremy Eaton's no longer interested in lettering, which means that the second half would've looked different from the first half. Also, in the intervening years, someone created a fantastic Trondheim font. And re-lettering allowed me to tighten up my translation. Turns out I've gotten better in the intervening years, I look at the Nimrod version and go "I can do better than that."
Is that the Trondheim font you used for his MOME story? That is a good font.
It's such a good font that the Eisner Awards jury nominated that story for "Best Lettering," which amused me.
Call me old school but I feel translations should be hand-lettered.
The problem is, if you hand letter translations you lose the infinite-tweaking capability that font lettering gives you. I tweak my translations endlessly, and if I were to do that with a hand-letterer every book would cost us ten thousand dollars to letter. And of course font lettering is far, far cheaper even setting aside my own undisciplined idiosyncracies. But I also think we've tipped over to the point where in many cases the font lettering actually looks better than the hand lettering, partly because it's in the artist's hand, partly because even the best letterer tends to tense up when trying to copy-fit, particularly when lettering those artists who in the original did their lettering and then drew the balloons around them to fit, like Trondheim and Tardi. The hand-lettered chapters of "It Was the War of the Trenches" in Raw and Drawn and Quarterly were done about as well as you could imagine, and I miss the irregularities of hand lettering that font lettering eliminates, but ultimately I think our font-lettered version is better.
One exception: Céline Merrien, who letters our Mahler translations for MOME and will letter our next Mahler project (not announced yet, you heard it here first), can do utterly flawless impressions of pretty much anybody and make it work so it looks like the original. But she's superhuman (and not cheap). If it wasn't for the flexibility/cheapness issues above, I'd hire her to re-letter every foreign book we do... I mean, except for the ones that were font-lettered to begin with, like King of the Flies and the Mattotti stuff.
So, getting away from the lettering nerd-talk, this is all autobiographical comics from the 1990s, right?
Right. Although as Lewis explains in his endnotes, it almost happened by accident. He was writing and drawing a comic in the U.S. "pamphlet" format which was intended to be a combination of fiction and little autobio vignettes, and the latter completely took over. The vogue for autobio comics didn't hit France nearly as hard as it hit the U.S., but Lewis is one of the few who really got into it — and still is, in his "Little Nothings" series. (Others would be Jean-Christophe Menu, Fabrice Néaud, and Guy Delisle.) What's funny is that Lewis is in person quite shy, but utterly willing to expose himself in his comics. He writes with extreme candor about his shyness!
Any juicy gossip about other cartoonists?
No. Several other cartoonists figure prominently, particularly his studio mates at the time (Émile Bravo, Charles Berbérian), and his L'Association compadres (David B., Jean-Christophe Menu, Killoffer), but no real dirt - unless it comes as a surprise to you that Menu is quite the lush! Mostly just mildly embarrassing anecdotes about things like Émile Bravo's annoying humming habits, and Lewis (who hits himself 100 times harder than he hits anyone else) lets the cartoonists set the record straight in a "Rebuttals" section at the end. Oh, there's a wordless cameo by Moebius, too, watching Lewis nearly throwing up.
Why did you stop publishing Trondheim? Fantagraphics was out front with both The Nimrod and the McConey books, then you just quit.
Because both series tanked! American readers rejected the European album format of McConey, and The Nimrod was caught in the death spiral of alternative comic books. Tom Spurgeon wrote a very nice little essay a few weeks ago about how if a great book like The Nimrod couldn't work that signaled the doom of the "pamphlet" form. On the other hand we'd kind of run out of Trondheim material that worked in that format, all we had left was to run more chapters of Approximate and that sort of seemed to be cheating; I'd started to resent the use of the pamphlets as just being double-dipping pre-graphic-novel content providers, and I'm sort of pleased two thirds of the Nimrod material did not fit that definition. (It does also mean that Trondheim fans who missed the now sold out issues are shit out of luck.)
Anyway, NBM and First Second have been doing a pretty stellar job of cranking out Trondheim stuff. NBM has been putting out three Trondheim books a year for a while, and when you consider their Dungeon books collect two of the French editions, the amount of Trondheim albums available in the U.S. has got to be pushing 40. Which is only about a third of his output, but still.
That said, I would like to get back into the Trondheim business and actually plan to start putting out two of Lewis's books a year.
That would be telling. It would make sense to put out La Mouche as a "pendant" to Approximate Continuum, of course. But wait and see. No matter what, I think he can still write and draw them faster than Terry Nantier and I combined can translate them.
Is Approximate Continuum some of your favorite Trondheim work?
Yes. Why else would I pick that since he's got a zillion other books to choose from? Check.
Because you already had it half translated, it was easier doing a new one from scratch, and you're lazy. Check.
Good point. But back then I picked it because it was some of my favorite Trondheim work too. Checkmate.
Well played, sir! And you're right, it is a great comic.
When I created Critters back in the 1980s, it was largely so that I'd have a publication in which I could publish the work of cartoonists within the funny-animal genre that I liked (Stan Sakai, Freddy Milton, J. Quagmire, and Steven Gallacci), as well as on occasion chiseling some work out of other cartoonists in the same ballpark (Jim Engel, Mike Kazaleh, Ty Templeton, and Mark Armstrong). A side benefit was that as the comic became better known, I started to receive submissions from other cartoonists, several of whom became regulars in the magazine.
One of my very favorites was "Fission Chicken," a hilariously deadpan super-hero parody written and drawn in a sort of Scott-Shaw!-meets-Paul-Coker-Jr. doodly style by John P. Morgan. "Fission Chicken" ran in a number of Critters (including as a solo feature in one of the late, one-feature-per-issue issues), and when I pulled the plug on Critters I was especially sad to leave ol' Fish homeless.
John continued to produce the occasional "Fission Chicken" story, released a book collection of some of the Critters material, and eventually started serializing new Fission Chicken stories on his website, while also "reprinting" classic older material. I'd lost track of him for years until Edd Vick passed along the unfortunate news that John had died last December 30th.
Another good guy, gone far too soon. Although none of his work is in print, several "Fission Chicken" stories can be downloaded and read from his still-extant website, fissionchicken.com -- have a look. Enjoying John's work one more time (or for the first time) would be the best way of honoring him.
[In this installment of our series of Editors Notes, Kim Thompson interviews himself (in a format he's dubbed "AutoChat") about The Arctic Marauder by Jacques Tardi, now available to pre-order from us and coming soon to a comics shop near you. – Ed.]
Hey, whoa, another Tardi book? Didn't the last one come out like three months ago?
Not that I'm complaining. So, what made you select this one out of the dozens of Tardi books that are available to you?
Three reasons. First, I like the idea of picking from all periods of Tardi's career and this, being just his third graphic novel, nicely extends the range. (The one after that will be literally his most recent book.) Second, I like the fact that it's so visually distinctive, and I like its historical importance as an early steampunk — or "icepunk" as I like to call it — work of comics. And third... well, the third reason I can't actually tell you. It will become clear eventually.
Oka-ayyy... Speaking of the distinctive style, what is that? Scratchboard?
Yeah. As a kid, Tardi had some old Jules Verne books featuring woodcut illustrations, and he set out to try to duplicate that look, which he thought would be cool and appropriate for this book.
It looks like a hellacious amount of work.
Oh, it was. From what I gather, Tardi had to draw the foreground characters, then ink in all the backgrounds where he was going to do woodcut effects in solid black and then, using these knives and comb-like utensils, carve them back to white. And those were super-detailed pages! Having finished, he swore "never again" and has certainly been true to his promise.
So when the book says "The Adventures of Jérôme Plumier" that's kind of a joke, we'll never see another album in this series? Even though it's really pushed as a bit of a cliffhanger?
In this series, no — and the cliffhanger, like the rest of the book, is very much tongue in cheek. Then again, whether you've seen the last of Plumier and his acolytes, that's not as cut and dried.
You've said that you tweaked the dialogue in the Adèle Blanc-Sec book to make it more "retro," more purple in the U.S. edition. This one is even more outrageously ornate in its captions and dialogue...
Yes, but in this case I was actually following the original quite scrupulously. Tardi wrote it that way himself to begin with.
So what's the next Tardi book after this?
Like a Sniper Lining up His Shot, another Jean-Patrick Manchette adaptation. I just got my copy of the French edition a few weeks ago and it's great, it's like West Coast Blues except far more violent...
Uh, "FAR more violent"...? West Coast Blues wasn't exactly namby-pamby...
Oh, yes! This one is just savage: Even crows and cats get it, in the worst way. All quite faithful to the original book, I might add. After that, well, I just sat down with Tardi's bibliography and there are at least a half-dozen equally worthy candidates so far as I'm concerned, although since the first Adèle Blanc-Sec book is doing really well, I've decided to slot the second one in for later this year. After that, I don't know.
Tardi's working on another Manchette adaptation right now, isn't he?
Yes, although not the one we announced. He started adapting a book called Nada but (in a weird repeat of what happened back in the 1970s when he started working on yet another Manchette book and gave up partway through) dropped it and has now started on one called O Dingos, O Châteaux (Easy Prey), which I think is actually a better candidate for comics adaptation. It has an apocalyptically climactic shootout set in a supermarket that I can't wait to see done in comics form.
How does "O Dingos, O Châteaux" translate to "Easy Prey"?
It doesn't. It's an incredibly abstruse original title that's a punning parody of a Victor Hugo verse and I was baffled as to how I could translate it, until Manchette's son Doug told me that I could just use Manchette's original French title, "La Proie Facile," which translates without any fuss as "Easy Prey." Actually, from what I understand it's possible the Tardi adaptation may use even a different title from that since it is so goofy.
What is going on with the Luc Besson Adèle Blanc-Sec movie so far as getting U.S. distribution?
Damned if I know. It didn't set the French box office on fire, and it was a very expensive movie by European standards, so maybe they just can't get a mutually satisfactory deal with an American distributor. I ordered my copy of the French DVD just in case, and it arrived a couple of days ago. I'm getting ready to watch it with a mixture of anticipation and a little bit of dread, it looks like Besson may have let his goofier side (the Chris-Tucker-in-The-Fifth-Element side as opposed to the Jean-Reno-in-The-Professional side) run a bit rampant. It looks pretty, though. I expect it'll show up on Pay-Per-View or as a DVD Stateside eventually.
It is with great sadness that we have learned, and feel we should pass along, that one of the members of the Fantagraphics family died last year. CRAIG MAYNARD, who worked on staff here in Seattle in the early 1990s, passed away last September and we just learned about it from his family (through a reply to a rerouted Christmas card).
Craig had been suffering from a number of debilitating illnesses for years and the news was not exactly a shock, but all of us from that era who worked with Craig (Gary G. and me, of course, and also Dale Yarger, Pat Moriarity, Roberta Gregory, Michelle Byrd, Jim Blanchard, Frank Young, among others) were still saddened.
Craig, who worked in the production department doing design and paste-up (as well as lettering — a number of our earlier, pre-digital-font foreign-translated EROS books feature spectacular Maynard lettering) was a delightfully upbeat, energetic presence in the office, with a guffaw that would rattle the windows. A fine cartoonist in his own right, he channeled his experiences and concerns as a proudly out gay man into a handful of EROS comics, including the off-the-hook outrageous LEATHERBOY and the furious, despairing one-shot UP FROM BONDAGE ("a powerful example of politically conscious homoerotica," a critic rightly called it at the time).
But like many others who knew and loved Craig, I prefer to remember him for "Minor Memories and the Art of Adolescence," a series of beautifully-realized, touching autobiographical short stories that graced the pages of PRIME CUTS and GRAPHIC STORY MONTHLY. (We have posted a sample story here.) Sadly his illnesses put an end to his cartooning career as such (he eventually became literally unable to hold a brush or pen), leaving an ambitious project he had been working on unfinished.
Craig deserved far, far better from life than he got, and those of us who knew and loved him were and are humbled by his fortitude and perseverance in the face of adversity. We are grateful for the time we had with him — fortunately much of it in better times, as the accompanying photo shows (thanks to Jim Blanchard) — and he will be missed.
[In this installment of our series of Editors Notes, Kim Thompson interviews himself (in a format he's dubbed "AutoChat") about Stigmata by Lorenzo Mattotti, now available to order from us and at a comics shop near you. – Ed.]
So... Mattotti, eh?
Yeah. I've long wanted to do a book by Lorenzo. For my money he's one of the most brilliant cartoonists in terms of sheer virtuoso draftsmanship who ever lived. I think among the current breed of Europeans he's rivaled only by Moebius and Blutch and I'd still rank him first. I was just biding my time.
It's been a while since anyone last published a Mattotti book in English, hasn't it?
Yeah. NBM published his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde adaptation back in 2003, but before that you have to go all the way back to the early 1990s, when Catalan and Penguin U.K., probably spurred on by his appearances in RAW, published several of his 1980s graphic novels: Fires, Labyrinths, and Murmur. I should note that Mattotti is also a prolific illustrator (you've probably seen his covers on The New Yorker; there was one just two weeks ago), and hasn't published any new comics in something like seven years.
Is he retired from comics?
No, no, in fact, he's working on some sort of huge magnum opus which we're in line to publish when he finishes it, but who knows when that will be?
So what made you pick Stigmata?
I just really liked it. His "Ignatz" comic, Chimera, did pretty well for us, it was one of the few Ignatzes we had to reprint due to demand, and Stigmata is drawn very much in that style, wild, swirly, expressionistic black pen lines. And I responded to the story, about this hopeless miserable drunken lump of a guy who ultimately finds salvation. It's very dramatic and emotional without being hokey. In its own way it's a little reminiscent one of my favorite movies, Breaking the Waves.
Why, are you religious?
Ha! Not at all, I'm a stone cold Bill Maher/Ricky Gervais "religious-people-are-wack" atheist. But there are elements of Christian faith that I find admirable, and the Bible is fascinating, if not as history, then as allegory, and of course for its language. And I think the book's themes of suffering and redemption, of good and evil, even if they're communicated through the prism of Christian thought, are universal. It's a good read no matter what your spiritual inclination, although it may hit home the most with Catholics.
The last third of the book is mostly a long prayer; is that from the Bible? I thought I recognized some Job in there.
Yes and no. It's sort of a mix-tape of religious writing that includes, as you say, a passage from the Book of Job, as well as some lines from a couple of Psalms, and excerpts from the writing of two saints, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Theresa of Lisieux. Some of which I tracked down through the modern secular miracle of Google, some of which the author told me about.
Has the writer, Claudio Piersanti, written other comics?
Not that I know of, he's a novelist and screenwriter. In fact, from what I understand Stigmata was written as a movie script which never got produced. Piersanti and Mattotti knew one another, had a little bit of a mutual admiration society going on, and somehow Mattotti ended up with the script and decided to do it as a comic. Ironically, after it was published as a comic — a decade and a half later, in fact — a Spanish film director decided to make a movie out of it and adapted the comic.
Have you seen it?
I have a DVD of it which I haven't got around to watching, or rather I've only watched a bit of it, but it sure looks beautiful, and very faithful to the book based on the trailer. It's interesting, in order to find someone with the gargantuan physique required for the main role, they didn't even try to cast an actor but hired a world champion shot-putter, who is of course enormous. If you watch the movie it's kind of clear that he's a non-actor, but given the character he's playing it seems to work OK. If it had been done in the U.S. it might have been another great comeback role for Mickey Rourke.
Do you have any more Mattotti projects lined up after that?
Comics, no, not right away, but next year we're releasing an English language edition of his collaboration with Lou Reed on an illustrated edition or Reed's The Raven song cycle, itself of course a posthumous collaboration with Edgar Allan Poe. That'll be pretty cool. And I would like to release one of his color books, either the classic Fires, which was released by Catalan Communications a long time ago, or El rumor de la escarcha (The Sound of Frost), which is his most recent graphic novel and which is just stunning.
I post this to distract you from the fact that I'm a bit behind schedule on finishing the translation for Lewis's APPROXIMATE CONTINUUM COMICS. It's embarrassing that Lewis draws new comics faster than we can translate his old ones.
Thanks, that was a nice surprise. Not because I didn't think King of the Flies deserved it, but because I thought it had kind of flown in under everyone's radar.
Well, no one had heard of these guys before here...
Actually, that's not entirely true. Nobody remembers this, but back in 1998, in its death throes as part of the genetically spliced corpse of Tundra, Kitchen Sink released Pirus and Mezzo's Armed and Dangerous. You can find it for about fifty bucks on Amazon if you want. I wouldn't recommend it, the production on it is kind of screwed up, wait for someone to reprint it properly.
King of the Flies is a really odd book. It takes place in France, people pay stuff in Euros and Germany is just a few miles away but...
...But somehow all the names and cultural references are English or American, yeah. I mean, aside from the Gustave Courbet references in this new volume (including the title, and the cover, which is a pop-art parody of the painting of that title, by the way — look it up on Wikipedia, but be warned, NSFW). In case anyone was wondering, that's how it is in the French version, it's not the translator and me changing all the references from Serge Gainsbourg and Johnny Hallyday or anything — although obviously it would've been tough to graphically edit in the Rolling Stones, Jarvis Cocker, and Jan and Dean. King of the Flies basically exists in a weird globally neutral pop-culture realm, which these days means Anglo-American. It's one of its charms. Another charm is that you start off thinking it's realistic, but as you'll see in Volume 2 it starts going pretty far off the rails into the supernatural. It's a really cunningly constructed piece of writing that pulls you down the rabbit hole quite unexpectedly at times...
Have you read the third volume?
No. Mezzo and Pirus are only a dozen or so pages into it — they got sidetracked with some other projects — so I'm just as much in the dark as anyone.
King of the Flies really wears its influences on its sleeve at times...
I've heard that said less gently. There's no doubt that Mezzo — whose earlier work looks quite different, I might add, see the abovementioned Armed and Dangerous — absorbed a number of stylistic and structural tricks from Charles Burns in general, and Black Hole in particular, for this project. The very first time I saw King of the Flies I was a little taken aback myself. But the more I read it the more I realized that Mezzo and Pirus were bringing an enormous amount to the table themselves, and the writing and breakdowns really ultimately don't feel like Burns at all. David Lynch is discernable in there too, of course, but these days Lynch is virtually a genre. There's also some Watchmen DNA in there, I think, in the methodical, gridlike, writer-driven approach to panel breakdowns — and some thematic elements in the second volume. And the funny thing about the Burns connection is that Charles himself has moved so far away from his Black Hole style now that his recent X'ed Out — which borrows heavily from Hergé — looks nothing like King of the Flies. It's all grist for the mill.
The second volume is coming out just 10 months after that first. That's unusually quick.
Well, it's very much a continued story, and I didn't want people to forget it.
Did you consider waiting for the trilogy to be complete and publish it in one volume?
I briefly did, but I was concerned that doing that big of a book would make the price point too high. It's also so dense — I think readers need a breather. And I like the "serial" aspect to it, I want readers to worry about what's going to happen next. Anyway, Americans are getting a better deal than the French, for whom the books have been appearing with three-year gaps. That said, I do plan to release a special edition of the whole damn thing at some point. As I'm sure the French will.
This is one of the few European books you didn't translate yourself. How come?
I'd started realizing that I wouldn't be able to translate every single book we were doing indefinitely, so when I decided to do King of the Flies I had already started to think in terms of hiring a translator. I'd really liked the work Helge had done for Drawn and Quarterly, and she was game, she loved the book when I sent it to her, so it was game on! I've actually hired translators for a couple of other upcoming books next year, so there will be more of our releases that I'm not doing.
How involved are you in the translation?
When I work as a translator for an editor, as I have once in a while, I'm grateful for as much feedback as possible, so I did work a lot with Helge. I think we both agree that the final result is significantly better than what either of us could have done alone. But it's probably 95% Helge at least. And certainly every word I changed or fiddled with has been OK'd or approved by her, as well as by Michel Pirus, who speaks English quite well and was able to course-correct us when we missed some stuff. And he and Mezzo very nicely redid all the chapter-heading as needed for us, which is why it looks so perfect.
It's maybe the grimmest, darkest book you've released, except for War of the Trenches, which at least you could defend as historical. And it's hard to see how Volume 3 could in any way become more cheerful.
Yeah, but I love that kind of stuff, and I'm hoping enough other readers do. Besides which, it's often hilarious. The characters are all going to hell, but they're funny about it as they go.
Yeah, we're great, and our books are late. Why, what did you think the headline meant?
Anyway, a new year is upon and it's time to 'fess up about all the late Fantagraphics titles you were expecting to have by now, and don't, because we suck. Specific apologia and weaseling have been added to some titles, others we just pass under mortified silence. 2011 will be better!
The following have been rescheduled: • THE ANTIC CARTOON ART OF T.S. SULLIANT will be reformatted, rethought, re-solicited, and released in early 2012 • FORLORN FUNNIES VOLUME 1 by Paul Hornschemeier will be released in the Summer of 2011 • THE HIDDEN by Richard Sala will be re-solicited and released in July 2011 • HOW TO READ NANCY will be re-solicited and released in 2012 in a vastly expanded version from what we first expected • IS THAT ALL THERE IS? (né MODERN SWARTE, originally announced for 2007) in late Fall 2011: Yes, Joost has turned in all the files and publishers in three countries are synchronizing their watches! • NANCY IS HAPPY will be released in late 2011: It turns out that there was more production work than we anticipated to make the book as perfect as humanly possible.) • POGO VOLUME 1 will be released in the Fall of 2011 - yes, seriously, for real this time
Would you like to watch Jacques Tardi draw for three minutes? Sure you would! Here he is working up a panel from his recently-published semi-sequel to IT WAS THE WAR OF THE TRENCHES, PUTAIN DE GUERRE. (My best translation: FUCKING WAR. Will need to rethink that for when we do our edition of the book.) Around 0:50 Tardi complains that he always screws up the boots and has to bring out the Wite-Out. So he is not a god. But almost.