Saturday 2 February 2008


verybody is linking to Steven Stwalley's Crumbling Paper Index where he has been posting an unending stream of grand old newspaper funnies. Last April he wrote an introductory note that stuck in my noodle. It is of particular interest to me as one of my grand failed projects of recent times was The History of Humour. I was attempting to recreate the humour of past times in such a way that the reader could enter into a moment in which that humor lived again, albeit through a screen of irony, rather than to present it in the detached scientific manner of the sociologist. One of the problems I found was that I could not always depend on my reader to share my intelligent benevolence, let alone my sense of what is funny. (I have even heard that there are some who think that this blog is not the most amusing thing in the world.)
Thus one is duty bound to frame everything in the health and safety warnings of our own times, which I'm sure will provoke hilarity for a later generation. I rather like the panache with which Steven dealt with the issue: impression from reading stuff from early in the last century, I don’t think that most people even had heard of the concept of racism. Race and ethnicity was not only viewed as a ripe source of humor… it was one of the most popular sources of humor.
Today’s newspaper comics (which I should note are incredibly tame in comparison to the early comics in almost every way imaginable) have their genres… domestic humor, office humor, funny animals, etc. If you were to divide up the major genres of the early (pre-1920) comics, it would have been something like: racial and ethnic humor, devil children humor, unstable marriage humor, dim-witted woman humor, homelessness and poverty humor, violence and misfortune humor, and wacky surrealism. So that all said, here are the deeply offensive Chocolate Drops, by E. W. Kemble, circa July 23, 1911 from the American Examiner. I can’t imagine a strip in a modern paper depicting young kids stealing a car for a joyride and laughing when they get some adults arrested, can you? Anyone who says the past was a more innocent time is talking out of their ass.


Friday 1 February 2008

No matter how famous we think a book or film has become, there will always be a brick wall of human brains that will remain impervious to any knowledge of it:

LONDON (Reuters) - Woolworths has withdrawn the sale of the Lolita Midsleeper Combi, a whitewashed wooden bed with pull-out desk and cupboard intended for girls aged about six after a concerned mother raised the alarm on a parenting Web site.
"What seems to have happened is the staff who run the Web site had never heard of Lolita, and to be honest no one else here had either," a spokesman told newspapers. "We had to look it up on Wikipedia."
(link via wee hayley campbell)

This made me laff. One of my comic books from twenty years ago ended up in a museum.

The Museum of Riverina, city of Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia:
This new acquisition has a link to the Wagga region, simply by virtue of its title: by the time i get to WAGGA WAGGA. The cover illustration depicts a rough map of the Wagga region, with a 'Where's Wally' type character falling towards it from a plane.
This comic is a good example of the work done by graphic novelist and illustrator Eddie Campbell. It is one of a number of quirky items which use the name Wagga Wagga in their title, but seem to have little to do with the place itself.
Campbell's quirky comic exemplifies the number of books or plays which use the town of Wagga Wagga as a setting - for example the books Mud Crab Boogie and Men are From Wagga and Women Wish They Weren't.

(a link to this has been in my 'gallery of amusements' sidebar for some time, but you may have overlooked it there. anybody curious as to what was in the comic book see here.)

Coincidentally, somebody has just posted a cartoon page I drew twenty years ago on how to collect comic books. I'd steal it back and show it here except I think my mum is still sore about me using my school lunch money for such nefarious purposes.


Thursday 31 January 2008

The Amazing Remarkable Leotard

Here is the final cover, showing front with spine, as designed by Charlie Orr, who also put together the covers for my other First Second books, The Fate of the Artist and The Black Diamond Detective Agency. The book is at the printer and is on schedule for arrival in the publisher's warehouse at the beginning of July.

My pal Dan Best worked with me on the story. You may recall him from the Escapist piece we did for Dark Horse a couple of years back. Leotard is a huge sprawling epic that gobbles up a large swathe of history from the Franco-Prussian war to the sinking of the Titanic
My book tour will not be quite so epic, but will impress nevertheless, starting in July with San Diego, where I am a guest of the convention, and finishing with an appearance at Page 45 in the UK on the first Sunday of August, with a couple of other stops in between, still to be worked out and announced here in due course.

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Wednesday 30 January 2008

H ere I am sitting at the computer scanning the art pages of After the Snooter to prepare digital versions for the big Alec Omnibus planned for next year from Top Shelf. Just watch out it doesn't run you over. So in between scans I'm doing a bit of catching up around the blogosphere.

Jeet Heer has posted his excellent essay Guy Davenport: the writer as cartoonist online. Jeet focuses on the neglected aspects of Davenport's work, best explained in these biographical notes:

from Wikipedia:
Many of Davenport's earlier stories are combinations of pictures and text, especially Tatlin! and Apples and Pears (where some of the illustrations are of pages that resemble those of his own notebooks).
"It was my intention, when I began writing fiction several years ago, to construct texts that were both written and drawn. [ . . . ] I continued this method right through Apples and Pears [ . . . ]. The designer [of A+P] understood [my] collages to be gratuitous illustrations having nothing to do with anything, reduced them all to burnt toast, framed them with nonsensical lines, and sabotaged my whole enterprise. I took this as final defeat, and haven't tried to combine drawing and writing in any later work of fiction."

From the same source, this caught my eye:
Two sentences he wrote about Ralph Eugene Meatyard apply to himself as well: "He was rare among American artists in that he was not obsessed with his own image in the world. He could therefore live in perfect privacy in a rotting Kentucky town."

Charles Hatfield discusses Thierry Groensteen's The System of Comics
The book's heart is in its description of comics as networks of images: comic art, says Groensteen, "is not only an art of fragments, of scattering, of distribution; it is also an art of conjunction, of repetition, of linking together". The relations between images are, for Groensteen, what define the comics "system." The sum total of these relations he refers to as arthrology, of which he distinguishes two degrees or types: restricted arthrology, meaning the linear relations that comprise the "sequential syntagms" of a story; and general arthrology, meaning distant or translinear relations, to describe which Groensteen invokes the concept of "braiding," that is, the linking of images in networks across even the breadth of a long work such as an album or graphic novel. (As Groensteen himself suggests, one example of braiding might be the recurrence of the smiley face icon in Moore & Gibbons' Watchmen; the repetition of this image, though discontinuous, constitutes a major structuring device in that novel.) The sense of comics that emerges from all this is grand and architectonic.

I once had a taste for this kind of investigation, but now I tend to see it as being in the realm of fiction, which is to say that I enjoy reading it as i once enjoyed reading, say Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I'm not sure it has more practical value than a chess game. There is a certain contingent in Art that likes the idea that all art can aspire to the abstractions we find in classical music. Thus in teaching myself the rudiments of musical composition (Only so that I can better understand a book such as Charles Rosen's The Classical Style, as well as 'sleeve notes' (as we used to call 'em)), I can get excited trying to figure out:
Compared to seventh chords, ninths play a decidedly secondary role in composition. The reason lies in the different ways the resolution of the dissonance relates to chord progression. Adding a 7th to a triad produces a dissonance that cannot resolve within the chord. Thus F in the seventh chord G-B-D-F resolves to E, a tone foreign to the G chord. Using the 7th, therefore, promotes progression to a new chord- one that contains the tone of resolution. Because the dissonance so powerfully influences harmonic direction, it is useful- indeed necessary- to think of seventh chords as a special category, bearing in mind the fact that they are really triads plus a dissonant passing tone or suspension. (from Harmony and Voice Leading by Aldwell and Schachter))

However, while all of that serves a demonstrably useful purpose, which is to say that at the end of it a graspable music may be made, I would not dare to think that comic books are discussed so seriously often enough that a new bunch of words couldn't be spontaneously coined for each and every occasion.

Furthermore, there seems to be a resistance to any terminology becoming a shared vocabulary. Is it possible to refer to 'visual-verbal balance' without feeling that one has become the physical and actual embodiment of RC Harvey, or to say 'aspect-to-aspect transition' without truly imagining that one is heading off home to a cheery supper with Ivy McCloud?

A while back I dismissed Douglas Wolk's Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean with the casual 'this will do more harm than good'. A few were irked that I should comment without even reading his book. Indeed, my feeling was that the title alone had done all the damage. I took it to indicate that Wolk was conflating the whole idea of the art of 'comics' into the idiom (a very shrivelled one) of American comic books. Derik Badman, a much more prosaic and patient fellow than myself, goes through the job point by point, confirming for me that I have better things to do with my time.
His focus on the binary of “mainstream”/”art comics” is extremely problematic (including the confused overlap with mainstream/independent). On one level, I can’t imagine why the general reader would care about such things, and similarly why anyone would want to make them knowledgeable about such insider-y and useless distinctions. Just the term “mainstream” itself grates, for its illogic. But also, Wolk’s idea of “art comics” relies on his idea of style being “at least as important” as content and on the use of deliberately “ugly” art. His argument for art comics as style over content seems so indistinct. Couldn’t one easily say that the so-called “mainstream” superhero comics are an example of style over content? Wolk frequently returns to the idea of “ugly” art in comics, yet, despite his attempted forays into aesthetics (like Kant), he never makes any good claim for what “ugly” means. He says that “it’s a result of a conscious choice to incorporate a lot of distortion and avoid conventional prettiness in style.”