Saturday 27 October 2007

In my neighbourhood.

C ampbell's lobotomy went as well as could be expected, and the doctors are hoping for a speedy recovery. The patient has been confined to his verandah and disallowed from going anywhere near a computer, so we're putting today's post together from scraps found in his drafts folder. This is a view taken on an earlier occasion from his verandah at sunset, where he will be allowed one gin and tonic as a sedative before being retired to bed at eight:


His pal Best, lawyer of note, thought his team were being complimented when the judge passed down the following:
"The pettifogging casuistry exhibited by the defendants' arguments is to be deprecated."

why, thank you, m'lud.


Friday 26 October 2007

conservatism part 2

Why, oh why can't I be THIS Eddie Campbell:

instead of that other one, that Eddie Campbell the 'graphic novelist', the meanspirited bastard who speaks ill of his friends in public, that supercilious twerp who has made his poor wife's life a misery with all his vainglorious claptrap. I should give up this foolish seeking after Art, do charitable work for the community, find at last a humility that will enable me to live with myself instead of pacing the floor all night, unable to even escape from my own ego into the anaesthesia of slumber.
Maybe I could be THIS EDDIE CAMPBELL... no wait, he's dead:

The producer of the Arts program that flew me to Melbourne a few weeks back to explain what a 'graphic novel' is phoned yesterday to find out why I'm refusing to sign the customary release document for my appearance on the show. After I explained she offered to put up the podcast of my original interview. I said no, but I was thinking good lord no, I don't believe a word of that optimistic baloney I came out with. As a sidelight in relation to yesterday's blather, one of the several bones of contention was that they wanted me to name the first 'graphic novel', and I wouldn't do that because I thought it would be misleading to imply that firstness was important.
In fact if I'm ever asked, and you can quote it, this is Campbell's final theory of the graphic novel:
Once upon a time, in a place we shall call Comic-book-culture some guys stopped cataloguing their purchases for a minute. Now, this is the place where they bag and box their comic book collections and lose sleep worrying whether the acid in the paper will eventually destroy the books. Well one of them had the disquieting feeling that it was a bit embarrassing to be losing sleep over this juvenile nonsense, so what if we were to lose our sleep over something worthwhile instead! Another said, yes and if it was not dissimilar from the juvenile stuff then we could use the same boxes and not have to look for new ones. Okay, but we'll need a name for it, and a high flown theory of course if we are going to impress the world with it, and a few theorists to make it sound gee-whiz complicated. And thus was born the 'graphic novel.' And out into the world it went. Now, when they got it out there they found that it already existed in many various ways. There was loads of stuff that already fit the description of this thing they had sat up all night inventing. But that just wouldn't do if they were to impress upon the world that this was a great artistic moment in history. The most important thing is that it should have originality, and trailblazers and most importantly of all, originating genius. A first! It wouldn't do if there was stuff around before that looked pretty much exactly like this brand new idea. Thus they devised a defintion so that the other stuff could be clearly excluded. In fact they enjoyed the mental exercise so much that they spent the next thirty years writing ever more precise definitions until at last the new thing looked exactly like the thing they were embarrassed about in the first place. Except that it was on better paper of course and they no longer had to lose sleep on that account.

wait, it's the phone
"hi, honeybee. eh? the blog?"
"yes i've written today's. the public apology to Brian? well, yeah, kind of. And then the one where I start writing about trees from now on and forget all that 'graphic novel' shit.
well, uh...."

"gotta go
thanks for roning."

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Thursday 25 October 2007

When did you last see your tutor?

A couple of different things recently brought this book to mind, apart from reading that great interview with Posy Simmonds this week. Firstly, Bryan Talbot in what was very much his own version of the history of 'comics' recently in the Guardian, credited himself along with Raymond Briggs with introducing the 'graphic novel' to Britain in 1982. Even allowing for the existence of such a thing, that would of course be complete bollocks. Posy's True Love came out in 1981. I'm not putting up a different candidate for primacy, because you know I have no time for that race-to-the-patents-office mentality, but we can't let faulty facts end up in Wikipedia (Hell, it's already been in the Weekend Australian, and THEY gave him a four-year start).

The other thing that reminded me of this book was my argument over the last few days about the need to step outside of comicbook culture to view our subject ('that thing of ours'). You see, Posy is a good example of an artist who has worked entirely outside of that all her life (the reason indeed perhaps why she might be overlooked by Mr T, whose artistic ideas exist entirely within it). Her cartooning career started in 1969 (she'd have been twenty four) when she drew a regular panel cartoon titled Bear in the British newspaper The Sun. I can't find a single example of it online, but I think I just scored a copy of the 1969 book of the series (there was a second in 1975). More on that when it arrives. She went on to illustrate for the Guardian and started her series The Silent Three of St. Botolph's there in 1979. Later she did some great childrens books; her Lulu and The Flying Babies was a favourite around this house, and also the Famous Fred animated film, based on her book Fred, with Lenny Henry doing the voice. I had a lady friend in 1981, just before the book under discussion appeared, who followed Posy in the Guardian (as she checked in on Feiffer in the Observer Sunday magazine and Claire Bretecher in the Times Sunday magazine whenever those other papers fell within reach) who had no idea what the hell I was talking about when I showed her the cartoon novel I was working upon. She saw no possible connect between what Posy was doing and what I intended. I mention this to show how far outside of comic book culture Posy is and was. I thought my own thing (The King Canute Crowd) had no whiff of it whatsoever and I was anxious that it shouldn't. But there you go.

True Love, as I understand, was drawn specially as a story-book, as opposed to using material from the Guardian as her other two or three books around the time did, though it still used characters from the Silent Three. You can see the density of the work in the spread above, and also that it was printed in black, with one colour. The sequence you can glimpse that is predominantly pink is taking place in the memory of one of the characters.

The story is a satirical little piece about office girl Janice Brady who thinks the boss has an eye for her. Posy could, and still can, compose kinetic sequences as well as anybody in the strip biz.

I like the way she references other idioms, such as the boldly designed graphics of the soap opera strips. Sometimes the pseudo-heroine in these sequences looks deliberately badly drawn, somewhat crosseyed under a weight of mascara, as though Posy wants us to know that she is alluding to the idiom in its most ordinary generalisations rather than to the best it can offer;

Here she evokes a pastoral mood with delicate traceries of flexible pen:

A couple of pages where we lose sight of the characters:

And a pastiche of the painting by William Yeames, 'When did you last see your Father,' which was a subject of much hilarity with a certain generation in Britain, so that I was amused to find, quite late in the day, that my late and much missed Auntie Ella thought the original painting was intended as a joke.

My records show the book was published in hardback in Oct 1981, soft cover in '83 and has been gone since then. Worth noting is Posy's date on the pastiche, '1979', which appears quite late in the piece, so that we might assume she started it in '78 and it may even have preceded the start of the Silent Three in the Guardian. In other words, was she thinking of a book-length story before the self-contained, once-a -week version? Somebody should ask her about that one day.

In a better world, you'd read my affectionate recollection and immediately go out and buy a copy.

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Wednesday 24 October 2007

In my neighbourhood.

The jacarandas are in bloom.

(click for larger, Mum)

Regarding my blather of Sunday last, I closed down the comments when once again it looked like everybody thought I was just arguing about words. I then decided that the whole concept is an artistic dead end and that I would never mention it again, but today I find a useful article (via Tom Spurgeon):
Interview with Steven Heller, Critic- at the Gothamist- October 22, 2007
Author, critic and journalist Steven Heller ... launched the careers of some of our most well-known illustrators, but also chronicled graphic design in more than 100 books. Heller also has been a contributing editor to Print, Eye, Baseline and I.D.,...

Do you think illustration is dying?
I did a couple of years ago. I think it’s coming back. Marshall Arisman and I are kind of suffering over a book about the new illustration, suffering because Marshall is in his late 60s and he’s set in his very creative ways and doesn’t really see all of what’s going out there that’s new. It’s coming back in a different way.
How? How are illustrators finding relevance?
More as entrepreneurs and visual essayists. In childrens’ books and graphic novels. In toys, games, T-shirts, hats, street fashion. An awful lot is going on where illustrators’ hands, eyes and minds are being used in way that we would consider are not traditional ways. Go into Giant Robot and take a look around. Go to Paris and see graphic novels galore.
I have already written about and linked to articles regarding what is called in design circles 'authorial illustration', a way of thinking which embraces the 'graphic novel' as one of its modes. This relates to what I was saying in that it was my intention to inspire the reader to think outside of comic book culture. That is, the task is NOT to invent new terms or clarify the old ones but to shift one's whole point of view. To stand in a new position in order to make visible what was previously obscured behind other objects, and NOT to just to stand in the same spot and change one's socks.


Tuesday 23 October 2007

As we say in our house

Posy Simmonds: the invisible woman -London Telegraph- 21/10/2007

The characters in her stories of middle-class life are known – and loved – by millions. But what of Posy Simmonds herself? Sabine Durrant meets a cartoonist who is never happier than when eavesdropping on the bus
Posy Simmonds, the writer and cartoonist, lives in a quiet Georgian square between King's Cross and Islington in London.
Having male siblings, she says, may well have influenced her sense of humour. 'I think we were all rather lavatorial. My grandmother had a way of changing the subject whenever the talk got a bit salty. She'd say things like, "Oh, there's a squirrel." And this became a family joke. If somebody says anything a little bit… one of us still says, "Oh, there's a squirrel."
The three page article ends with a witty rejoinder to that phrase and I'm reminded of a book on my shelf, As we say in Our house compiled by Nigel Rees, presenter of the BBC4 radio show Quote...unquote. I see he was doing a live presentation of the same kind of thing earlier this month in Warwick.
I've never heard the show, but I enthusiatically picked up the book (published 2001) as it's a theme I've used a great deal in my autobiographical blatherings. Indeed I am always excited by the degree to which the members of close families occasionally share a private lexicon that can be close to being a whole other language. When I first visted the family of the wife of my bosom, I noticed that if one of them was heading out and another asked where they were going, it was customary to say "up on the roof to mow the lawn."
There's one we picked up from the Rees book that has become a favourite. If Anne accidentally overbuys a foodstuff, say marmalade, and we find that we have three identical jars all at once, it is now customary to say: "It's a good thing you went to the store before the hoarders got there."

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Monday 22 October 2007

Drinks! More!

Nathalie sent this photo of the front door of a bar in Rome named From Hell. The gothic style of the lettering suggests a connection with our jackarippy.

However, before go into the bar From Hell, balance the following two reports:

I've always suspected this: Drink limits ‘useless’- From The Times, London-October 20.

The Times reveals today that the recommended weekly drinking limits of 21 units of alcohol for men and 14 for women, first introduced in 1987 and still in use today, had no firm scientific basis whatsoever. Subsequent studies found evidence which suggested that the safety limits should be raised, but they were ignored by a succession of health ministers. One found that men drinking between 21 and 30 units of alcohol a week had the lowest mortality rate in Britain. Another concluded that a man would have to drink 63 units a week, or a bottle of wine a day, to face the same risk of death as a teetotaller.

Don't discount the latest scare: In vino, scare-itas: Is anything safe?- Chicago Sun-Times- October 21, 2007
Just when we thought it was safe to toast good times comes news that alcohol drinking can boost a woman's risk of breast cancer by as much as 30 percent. Women probably don't know whether to roll their eyes or toss their wine racks. Didn't we just get used to the idea that red wine, for instance, protects the heart, lowers the risk of dementia and helps prevent gum disease? Add this latest scientific mystery to a long list of substances that are at one moment great for us -- such as butter, chocolate, coffee and vitamins -- then bad for us, then good for us once again.
The second above has good Richard Laurent editorial cartoon of a woman holding up a huge wine glass with a shark fin skimming through the dark ominous liquid.

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Sunday 21 October 2007


M arjane Starapi is interviewed in the New York Times Magazine- by DEBORAH SOLOMON- October 21- and is made to waste the first three paragraphs defining terms. She is called upon to justify what is taken to be some kind of collective enterprise.

You’ve just turned your acclaimed series of graphic novels into a full-length animated film, “Persepolis,” an oddly charming tale about the brutal subject of growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution. Would you still describe yourself mainly as a graphic novelist?
I don’t very much like this term of graphic novel. I think they made up this term for the bourgeoisie not to be scared of comics. Like, Oh, this is the kind of comics you can read.
Do you think cartoonists have received their artistic due?
No. People either like to write or they like to draw. And we like to do both. We’re like the bisexuals of the culture. People don’t have any problem if you are a homosexual or if you are a heterosexual, but if you are a bisexual, they have more of a problem with you.
The above comes right at a time when the conceptual world of 'comics,' the collective sense of what 'the medium' is supposed to be about, is collapsing into the soulless vacuum of conservatism at its centre. Though I should have seen the writing on the wall with Paul Gravett's Graphic Novels: Books to change your life, with its need for a cosy sense of order and interconnectedness, it didn't occur to me until Douglas Wolk's book, "Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean" (Da Capo, 2007), Julia Keller writing:
Chicago Tribune-aug 19 There is a vivid disparity, then, between the oft-told contemporary tale of a medium ascending in the cultural pantheon and the reality that comics are still -- comics. Even when they're gussied-up and stuck between bound covers and dubbed "graphic novels," they're still -- comics. Even when comics-based films such as the "Spider-Man" franchise and "300" are box office winners, the whiff of juvenilia still clings to comics, like the scent of grape Hubba Bubba and burned Pop-Tart. And that's just fine with Douglas Wolk.
The problem may be described as the inability of an ambitious kind of novel, which uses the elements of the simple cartoon strip for its vocabulary, to remove itself outside of the event horizon of comic book culture. I've covered this in past posts: Ingmar Bergman is not expected to justify Star Wars, but it is usually implied that the success of Maus in some way justifies the Dark Knight. To say that 'it's all comics' is extremely unhelpful.

Mathias Wivel describes the conservative backlash in a 1500 word essay- oct 16- though he sounds much too optimistic to me.
Lo, the pendulum swings. Things have happened so quickly in comics these last years that we are already seeing a backlash against the type of comics that broke the century-old mould and expanded the field of comics as expression and art, until recently almost universally embraced amongst ‘progressive’ comics cognoscenti. There is a new establishment in comics — graphic novels, artcomics, verité dessinée, call it what you want — and, as it should be, a conglomeration of people all set to tear it down, though not always for the same reason or with the same agenda, have emerged. At the same time, myriad new developments are taking the medium in new, and different directions that elicit critical responses even before the ink is dry. It’s only natural — the medium is in a state of evolutionary flux and the battle of redefinition these conflicting discourses are evincing is only to be expected.
I no longer find it useful to refer to it all as 'the medium.' Which medium are we talking about? I recall a conversation I once had with Dave Sim where he said that he regarded the strip cartoons in the newspaper as a separate medium from the one he was working in (comic books). I thought it made perfect sense. Satrapi certainly has no connection to comic book culture, and the question at top sounds oddly ignorant: 'Would you still describe yourself as a graphic novelist?." (Does the interviewer have an occasion in mind when she described herself thus?) There's a good youtube clip in which she describes how she got into the graphic novel thing (in response to a question from the audience, and sensibly without stopping to argue about the term) after reading Maus. In her inimitable way she immediately humanises the predicament with an anecdote about her grandmother.

Heidi Macdonald unintentionally lit a fuse on 12 oct at at The Beat (Publishers Weekly blog) with her review of the Chris Ware-edited Best American Comics 2007: Can anyone here tell a story?
I relish the freedom and unselfconscious work of the new generations of cartoonists — they don’t have to live with the stigmas that seem to have scarred people like Ware, Seth and Brown in their formative years. But as good as the next gen is, the idea of crafting a story, using their imaginations, creating characters who represent their ideas and using them to play things out, doesn’t seem to have even OCCURED to most of them.
In abstract, that’s fine, but all this emphasis on the real has left a kind of disdain for people who want to tell stories. Put it this way, I’d take BONE over 50% of the stuff in BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2007 on my “best” list. There’s no shame in enjoying a fantastic tale about heroism and struggle. Sometimes the enemy is a big dragon; sometimes it’s a nagging wife and wanting to kill yourself.
The review started a bushfire and a large number of people threw in their two cents. Now, I haven't read the book under review and I have no intention of doing so, but I am puzzled as to why the existence of a book could be an annoyance to anyone whose life and comfort it does not affect in any way whatsoever. The answer in short is that conservatism desires homogeneity, in fact demands it. Swiftly, backward-looking formulae are suggested:
The Comics Blogsphere Finally Admits that Most Indie Comics are Awful- Michael Climek -oct 16:"Rather than inventing fictional characters to express ideas in a complex manner ‘artists’ nowadays only write comics of themselves sitting at a desk saying their ideas in a freakishly non-complex straightforward manner. And it’s boring as F*&k."