Saturday 25 August 2007

I'm such a fool.

If you read my beef a couple of days back about the Article on Douglas Wolk's book ("Did Ingmar Bergman have to justify Star Wars every time he sat down for an interview?"), and picked up Tom Spurgeon's commentary on it, (not to mention those of Ben Schwartz, and James Vance) you will respond to the following with an accumulation of unkind mirth or of righteous dismay. This is not a qualitative beef. Bergman is great, Star Wars is fun. Neither needs to know about or explain the other. My beef: everywhere I go, why must I always have to represent the whole customary f*****g stereotype of comic books? It is tied to my ankles like clattering tin cans.

I thought that by appearing at a couple of 'writers' festivals' I would have a chance to establish my name as an author with his own world view and humorous thoughts about life. Yesterday on me blog i was so happy, if a little intimidated, to think about my appearance next week in Melbourne in the company of a couple of significant literary figures. Look, I'm not asking much. I don't mind if I come off as a literary jester, for that really is the role of the cartoonist-author (my real fear is that i'll come off as a fuckwit). BUT, today I see the program for the 'graphic novel' part of the Brisbane Writers Festival (12-16 sept), and Astro Boy is all over it... ?

A large number of questions are automatically asked:
If Campbell is to be a fuckwit, can't he be left to do it on his own account? Is Astro Boy connected to the concept of 'graphic novel'? With Eddie Campbell on hand to answer questions, how was such a mistake made? Is the author of that character going to be present? Will there be any authors from Japan? How about authors from other nations who are working in the 'manga' idiom? Surely it's not meant to stand in for the whole medium (whatever that medium might be)? Does it in any way relate to the festival's guests: Campbell? Talbot? Greenberg? Delisle? Tan? Rigozzi? White? And anyway, even if we can't all agree that it is not relevant why is the figure of Astro boy so clumsily traced from here?????

Where have I gone wrong? Sure, I looked away for a minute while my attention was diverted by wrapping up my new book, The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard, but where have I seriously misjudged the situation? I had a meeting and several phone conversations and explained the whole thing. A certain disgruntlement on my part has been interpreted, I think, as a dislike of the idea of the 'graphic novel,' (really a feeling that the term is useless, and the real irony in all of this is that I don't use the term any more , except when quoting another, which is why I always spell it with the quote marks) which they have taken to mean a dislike of 'comics,' because all the terms seem to mean the same thing, and since they have determined to spotlight the medium (loosely therefore understood as all of 'comics' I suppose), it is necessary to humorously disregard my 'literary pose' of being disgruntled, because that is the sort of affectation that authors like to sport.

"Eddie, Sorry 'the graphic novel' as a whole program is not quite to your taste/opinion." (from an email yesterday. Note that the quote marks were remembered.) Having early in the process sought the opinion of a supposed expert, it is now politely dismissed. Hey, I've got nothing against Star Wars OR Astro Boy. I like them all. Early in the planning they were talking about getting some DC and Marvel people in. I said (phone converation, no record of it), fine, but just call it 'comic books' and lose that pretentious 'graphic novel' tag.

Returning to the 'beef', a chap at Newsarama takes me to task for being critical of Wolk's book without having read it. When I said the book is doing 'more damage than good', I didn't need to go further than the title: Reading Comics; How graphic novels work and what they mean. Analyse it. 'Comics'= 'graphic novel', 'graphic novel'='comics', names for the same thing. Wolk is telling the world that they are one and the same. When Eisner first used the term he used it because he wanted it to mean something other than, or at least more than, comic book (as did the person before him who coined the term). I don't want to get into a semantic argument. If that original intention is now lost, I accept it. I believe Eisner felt that it was lost too. In his last years he was pleased to get his line of books out of the comic book market and into the hands of a mainstream book publisher (Norton). Anyway, that's why I don't use either of these terms any more (I'm going with the old fashioned 'strip cartoon' from here on, or at least till that gets screwed (just noticed I put it in quote marks too... wonder if I should leave them?) and note that I have no objection to 'comic book', which I see as a genre of popular fiction). From Hell is a 600 page strip cartoon.) And as for Douglas, he is an agreeable guy who is probably perplexed to learn that his enthusiastic celebration of his innocent pleasures could possibly be an obstacle to my megalomaniacal world conquest.

Now, lest you think this is all a bit abstract and not worth getting my nickers in a twist over (and as a professional humorist I must admit this is the sublime comedy of it all) I am the guy they have got in to stand up at the front and explain what a 'graphic novel' is, despite having promised myself I would never let it happen again.

From the online promtion:
CYA Later Alligator: The inaugural "CYA later, Alligator" Children's and Young Adult (CYA) Writers and Illustrators Conference will be held in Brisbane on 16 September 2006 in partnership with the Brisbane Writers Festival. This conference is aimed at new and established writers and illustrators of children's and young adult literature. Seminars and master classes will be conducted by well known Australian and International authors and illustrators.

From an email:
As discussed you are appearing at the CYA Later, Alligator Conference, on 15th September 2007, at the QUT Creative Industries Precinct in Kelvin Grove at 2.50 to 3.30.
Your topic is: The Graphic Novel Manifesto

(You may or may not recall that Campbell's so-called 'manifesto' was written as a jest, but has become his most reproduced work ever on the internet, even available on Wikipedia and long removed from its original context, and now comes home to haunt him. It was originally written in response to the mass of confusing information that the 'comics community' gives out. Wolk's title is the most recent example of same.) (there's a link in the sidebar if you're new around here)

wait a minute, it's the phone...

(it's my pal White..)
"hey Eddie, have you seen the program for the festival?"


"hey, nothing changes. it's 1984 all over again...FLASH!
Flash - Ah - Saviour of the universe
Flash - Ah - He'll save ev'ry one of us"
...ha! remember that radio show you were on...

yeh, fuck off.

"Flash - Ah - King of the impossible
He's for ev'ry one of us
Stand for ev'ry one of us
He'll save with a mighty hand
Ev'ry man ev'ry woman ev'ry child
Dispatch War Rocket Ajax to bring back his body"

yeh, Daren, sob... thanks for roning.


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Friday 24 August 2007

"The name in a hundred indexes"

I think I put my foot in it. I have gotten into the habit of avoiding being stuck on panel discussions with comicbook people. Last year I was asked to be on a radio program in a three way discussion with the nitwit who put on the "Heroes and Villains" show of Australian comic art at the State Library of Victoria, and I said I'd only be in it if they wanted to talk to me on my own. So it didn't happen. Now, with the Melbourne Writers festival I decided to head off any of this 'gang' mentality (let's invite a gang of 'graphic novelists') by saying I'd much rather find myself talking to real authors about books and life instead of 'What is a goddamn graphic novel, part 2,479'. So now I'm on a panel with the immensely illustrious Victoria Glendinning and Brenda Niall, who have both written significant biographies of historical literary figures. Campbell is oot o' his depth and in a state of agitation. I'm reading Glendinning's book on Leonard Woolf in preparation for this adventure:

Leonard and Lytton agreed to write each other once a week, and to keep each other's letters. What they both had in mind already was posterity. When Leonard came to write about his college years in Sowing, he was nearly eighty years old. Thoby Stephen was dead. Lytton Strachey was dead. Saxon Sydney-Turner was dead. Clive Bell was dead. Maynard Keynes was dead. G.E.Moore was dead. Their names were and are famous for whatever it is that each of them became famous for. (Saxon is famous for being their friend. His is the name in a hundred indexes.)

oh to be the name in a hundred indexes!

(Here's an interview: The lady vanishes- Aug 18- Sydney Morning Herald.)

MY BLOG is nothing important. It doesn't even talk about big stuff. Just books mostly, and according to a recent survey, One in four Americans read no books last year -Guardian Unlimited -(AP)- Aug 22.

But this pece by Michael Skube, Blogs: All the noise that fits- LA Times-Aug 19, dismisses the entire blogosphere as worthless.

Jay Rosen retaliates in the same paper on Aug 22-The journalism that bloggers actually do.-
In an email exchange, the author tells Marshall, "I didn't put your name into the piece and haven't spent any time on your site." Huh? Turns out an editor stuck Marshall's name in there because the column didn't have enough examples in it. Skube agreed to the script change, but this meant he had no idea what his character was saying.
Dan Gillmor, a former newspaper man, calls it "journalistic malpractice." And it is that. Also pedagogical buffoonery. In Skube's columns, there's a teacher who doesn't believe in doing his homework - any homework.
So I did it for him. I asked friends in the blogosphere to help me put together a list of examples that would confound Skube if he knew of them, but possibly interest his students. Blog sites doing exactly what he says blog sites don't do: "the patient sifting of fact, the acknowledgment that assertion is not evidence ... the depiction of real life."

He follows with an impressive list of journalistic achievements within the blogosphere.
(via Mark Evanier)

Use of the speech bubble in business logo: Trevor Elliott lines up sixty examples.: Here is just a fraction of what’s going down out there in Web Bubble Logo Land. This is what happens when the perfect symbol, a symbol so good that it does all the thinking for you, gets together with a sea of designers who aren’t thinking enough.
(link via Journalista)


Thursday 23 August 2007

"Rabbi Heskel Shpilman is a deformed mountain, a giant ruined dessert, a cartoon house with the windows shut and the sink left running."

I 've been carrying Chabon's new novel around on my travels in the hope of reading it a second time, but I'm being overtaken by myself going the other way, so I'll say something now. My copy doesn't have the attractive cover design at left. I wonder; why is that? I mean, what theory is at work that decides Australia, or wherever else, needs the one with the careening 1940s car? It strikes me as misleading. Chabon says he started to get the idea for the book while reading Raymond Chandler (interview), but we shouldn't forget that they belong to quite different eras of writing. Chandler is one of those writers that more people have something to say about than have ever read him. Mickey Spillane on the surface may be seen to be mining the same genre milieu, that of the heroic private detective, but he too, in his early 1950s post-war conservative mindset was a million miles from Chandler, as noted in this insightful piece by Will Cohu in the Uk's daily Telegraph:
His (Spillane's) books were strip-cartoons, written in brutal prose, with an insistent reactionary heartbeat, the thump-thump of the first person singular and the fist as Hammer smashed another face to a bloody pulp. Chandler aimed for the elite; Spillane for the mob. His books were descendants of the "penny dreadfuls" - mass produced, widely distributed and cheap. Their artwork was almost pornographic (I, the Jury showed a picture of Mike Hammer pointing a gun at a semi-clad woman). He flaunted his lack of literary credentials, calling himself a "writer" and taunting the "authors". He developed an anti-aesthetic.
Chabon's detective story has the literary air of Chandler, with the shiny polished lines: "He wasn't a handsome kid. He had a second chin and the hint of a third, without the benefit of a first." but Chabon's milieu is our own feminized world in which the cop's ex-wife is his superior officer, and in which the details of his partner's kids' 'polar bear jammies' are noted. I don't remember the presence of any kids in any of Chandler's novels, though I'm sure I could be mistaken.

But then it is not exactly 'our own' world, though we might say that in our world an author doesn't need to take time out to explain the concept of 'alternative history.' It wasn't exactly unknown in Chandler's years, given some currency by JC Squire's 1931 anthology If it had Happened Otherwise, containing among other 'what ifs', If the Dutch had Kept Nieuw Amsterdam by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, but five or six decades of science fiction broadcast into our living rooms have made it a commonplace. However, as occasionally happens with a book you have no intention of not reading, I sat down to The Yiddish Policemen's Union without having read or heard a single word about its unusual and imaginary setting. For a while I was mystified and kept on my theoretical toes wondering when and where the hell this was taking place, because the author hasn't posted any signs to tell us. He mostly leaves us to figure it out, though by the time things get complicated he had me looking extratextually for a specific answer. Chabon's theoretical Yiddish community is thoroughly worked out in its hierarchies and underworld with its slang, where a gun is a 'sholom' (peace) and a mobile phone is a 'shoyfer' (ritual ram's horn). I love this book. Y'know, I really should just cancel a week of stuff and read it again.

At some point in the draft of the above I was speculating on Chabon's difficulties in following up on his Pulitzer winning Kavalier and Klay when my thoughts turned to another great writer who ran into follow-up trouble, Ralph Ellison. (and I love this title...)
The Invisible Manuscript- Washington Post-Sunday, Aug 19-

Ralph Ellison died leaving four decades'worth of scribbled notes, thousands of typed pages and 80 computer disks filled with work on an ambitious second novel. For 14 years, a pair of literary detectives labored to fit the pieces together. Now they're ready to share with the world.

I almost wrote about Ellison's supposed writer's block in my Fate of the Artist but sensed that I was way out of my depth:
It was only after Ellison's death that Fanny Ellison chose Callahan to become literary executor. This was an honor, but it soon became clear it was also a Herculean task. Manuscript pages, computer disks and scribbled notes lay helter-skelter, everywhere in his home. Ellison had not suffered from writer's block, after all. He had writer's fury. He had written and written and written. A gush of words, and chapters and notes about the chapters. There were background notes -- musings on writing and America and fiction -- much of it also beautifully written; notes about plot outlines and more characters, built word by word, then buried under more notes. It was a spouting gusher of artistic creation, fat manuscripts covering other fat manuscripts, almost all related to that second novel.

(via Bob Morales)

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Wednesday 22 August 2007

It's all sunny, except outside it's still raining.

Melbourne's newspaper The Age, the sunday magazine insert, M , is doing a feature on the presence of the 'graphic novel' in the Melbourne Writers' Festival this year. They've interviewed me and Nicki Greenberg. She's been photographed for the front cover and superimposed against blow-ups of her characters, and I was commissioned to do a full page in colour for inside. It's a 12 panel autobiographical job, and that's a small detail enlarged on the left. It's in the style of the Fate of the Artist. So let's cross fingers and hope that it all comes out right, as you never know whether mainstream mags are goint to 'get it'. But Editor Michelle Griffin interviewed me for the Australian back in 2001 when she was a freelance journalist and that came out very well, so I'm hopeful. There's certainly room to write an optimistic piece on the subect vis a vis this country. With my First Second books distributed over here by MacMillan (my self-published books have never really been on sale outside of the comicbook specialty shops), with Nicki's book (see yesterday) and The Arrival by Shaun Tan, who will also be a guest of the festival, there's ample room to make a case for the form at last having its moment in the Australian sunshine. That's Sunday 26 aug. If any of it is online I'll let you know. For my appearances on panels and interviews, scroll down and see my post of 8th aug.
Nick Bertozzi has posted all ten pages of the Black Diamond pitch he and James Sturm prepared. My understanding is that they worked this up from the movie script (though they ignored its actual contents much more than I did) for the purpose of pitching to publishers. By the time First Second showed an interest in the book, they had committed to other jobs and could no longer see it through. This is dated 2003 and I was called in towards the end of 2004
Taking comics seriously -- fun and all- Chicago Tribune- August 19.
Douglas Wolk is a nice enough bloke, but my feeling right now is that his book "Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean" (Da Capo, 2007), which I haven't read, is probably doing more damage than good. I'm tired of having it all lumped together as though we are all doing the same thing. As my pal Evans once quipped; "Did Ingmar Bergman have to justify Star Wars every time he sat down for an interview?"
YEEHOO!!! "The world's most unlikely detective comes to DVD for the first time ever in all 23 thrilling Season One episodes of The Rockford Files."


Tuesday 21 August 2007

The Great Gatsby

The first time I saw Nicki Greenberg's little characters I thought they were surely too facile to bear the weight of a tragic novel from the canon of American Literature. But more and more they've come to remind me of a type of pictorial invention that goes back centuries. The first hint was when I found myself thinking of the grotesques you find in the fourteenth century Luttrell Psalter, which are highly particular even among their type. Describing the beings populating the margins of the psalter, the babooneries, or 'babewyns' as he called them, the late Michael Camille wrote:
'Created from a variety of textures- greasy, slimy, hairy, subcutaneous, phosphorescent. rubbery, metallic, velvety and vegetal- they exhibit every possible variation of malformation, often on one page. a pug-nosed piggish human face with speckled yellow legs stares in dismay as his own cabbage tail sprouts up from between his legs with a tentacular, ejacuatory gush. Above on the same page, a sneering hooded fellow with a metallic blue body and flippery feet wears a kitchen cooking pot with the aplomb of a fashonable hat.' (from Mirror in Parchment)
You may say that such grotesques are not apt in the context of a modern novel, but they were hardly appropriate to the psalms either.

Part of the catalogue of individuals seen at Gatsby's parties:

The book's major pictorial conceit puts it squarely in the twentieth century. It begins with Nick Carraway pasting photos into an album. In Fitzgerald's novel he simply narrates, reopening the wounds of the past.

It's one of those old fashioned photo albums with the matt black pages, and the photos are all in sepia. The book is printed in full colour in order to make this sepia, even though we never see a hint of colour in the story pages. Chapter headings remind us that a full range of hues is in use. As the stylistic device runs for the whole 306 pages, it is likely to slip your mind that you are ostensibly looking at photos, with their serrated edges and occasionally casting a shadow, until late in the book a character is removed by being literally torn out of the picture. A peculiar thing: the publicity dept. at Allen and Unwin sent clean jpegs of the above, but they seemed to me to lack some important ingredient by being removed from the actual paper of the book, so I scanned them myself. It's one of those packages where every detail is in harmony, including the binding and type of paper. It's pleasing to just hold it and contemplate it as an object.

Gatsby is to be released in September here in Australia. It may not be available where you are until 2008 (UK) or even 2010 (USA) as copyright restrictions on Fitzgerald's novel run out at diifferent times due to varying international legalities and original publication dates. Greenberg is a qualified lawyer who explained it all to me carefully, but she did so in a bar, and if you find my version unconvincing, get a better one later.
I like her book a great deal; it is a singular achievement. She puts her little cast of 'babewyns' through a faithful if slightly condensed version of the text, and by the time you finish, her cast seems neither more nor less up to the task than the one that includes Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.

Nicki has a website.
and a blog too.
And speaking of Australian women:
Australian Woman Killed By Amorous Camel
(thanks hayley)
And of beings that are half human and half something else:
Dwarf's penis gets stuck to vacuum cleaner
The attachment broke before the performance and Blackner tried to fix it using extra-strong glue, but unfortunately only let it dry for 20 seconds instead of the 20 minutes required. He then joined it directly to his organ. The end result? A solid attachment...
(thanks Gareth)

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Monday 20 August 2007

get all 128 pages of The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard wrapped up and off to be scanned well before the Sept 1st deadline. The day starts with buckets of rain and continues with them, and with our state still in a drought panic too. Everybody weeps into their breakfast cereal because they don't know what to do and then orders a taxi. Normally I'd cycle there and carry the art in a big back-pack, but that's too risky with watercolours in this weather. So I wait two and a half hours for the one I called at 7.30 a.m., having risen early and showered and shaved with the nervous energy of one who does not normally have to leave the house in the morning. Around ten I wonder if it's safe to nip into the bathroom for two minutes. Sure enough, while I'm wiping my bum I hear the hooting of the horn and run down the front stairs in disarray, doing up my trousers and tucking in my undershirt, past Monty who is leaping up and down trying to get a look at the driver.
Here's a glimpse of the work while it was in progress:

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Sunday 19 August 2007

This one was fun
Mick Evans' idea was to make a neatly designed logotype and then damage it by hand. Actually, I think he said it was to be 'distressed.' He made up a bunch of xeroxes on ordinary bond paper and invited me to attack them with a scalpel. Then we selected the best. On this close-up of the L you can feel the paper and toner suffering under my scraping. After a few efforts we decided on a disturbance coming from off-field and after a few more fixed upon the lower right as the source of the violence. Mick scaneed and saved at 800 dpi. When it's done in red and superimposed on the cover painting its origins are less obvious than you see here in black and white.

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