Friday 25 April 2008

my mum and other regular people need not read this one.

Bart Beaty on Frederick Wertham
Steve Bissette comments on Frederick Wertham on his own blog after contributing a few words to the comments on mine over the last few days.

This is another one of those moments, like the argument about Vince Colletta, that has boosted my readership here for a day or two and I apologize to all the sensible people who have no interest in the subject whatsoever. I'll post my last word here rather than allow it to sit like a lump in the road at Steve's place and stop all the comic book nuts from taking potshots at Wertham.

We are all to a greater or lesser extent products of our time. Wertham was a product of his own time, which culminates in the post war and cold war years, a time of suspicion of nonconformity. Steve is a product of the sixties, which rebelled against all that. Walt Kelly was a product of his own time too and it comes as no surprise to me that he thought the authors of the crime and horror comic books should be kept out of the National Cartoonists Society (see Steve in comments a couple of days back, and Beaty too). Don't forget that in 1950 the NCS spent six months arguing before allowing the first woman to join the society (as detailed in RC Harvey's book on Caniff, pages 612-615), never mind artists who were giving cartooning a bad name.
Today women are permitted to join the society, comic book folk have their own club, and Wertham's book is out of print. It's no longer relevant, having been long ago overtaken by circumstances. You say Kitchen thought of reprinting it? (see Steve's post at his own blog) That's another one of the cockeyed notions that put them out of business, if you ask me. So, I'm having trouble understanding why anybody would want to continue arguing about the matter, shouting back at the deceased over all these years, except that comic book fans tend to be people with a manichean view of reality and like to have a villain to... well just to be a villain, he doesn't have to be doing anything that's causing anybody significant problems. What was the result? Were you robbed of a childhood? A chldhood full of better comic books? As Beaty says in his part 3, the comics were going south anyway. TV was causing it, and that ten cent pricing problem. Colletta was a product of his time too. He didn't see anything wrong with erasing a few of Kirby's figures to save himself time from having to ink over them. He didn't realise some fools would be taking comic books so seriously many years later. In his time they were just junk. And to all you who are feeling miffed I say, Frederick Wertham, Vinnie Colletta and Doctor Doom, the evil triumvirate that plotted to steal your childhood from you, they didn't steal it. You're still in it.

I'm out of town for a couple of days. Argue among yourselves.

before I go... Sreve, you must already be familiar with these: "The Kaibo Zonshinzu anatomy scrolls, painted in 1819 by Kyoto-area physician Yasukazu Minagaki (1784-1825), consist of beautifully realistic, if not gruesome, depictions of scientific human dissection." (thanks to dr jon)

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this is excellent news. Knockabout have rereleased Hunt Emerson's masterpiece, his adaptation of Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, first published in 1989. More at Hunt's own site. He also drew another book around then which was a great favourite of mine, Casanova's Last Stand. I haven't seen the Rime yet and I'm stealing all this stuff from Lew Stringer's blog. Recently Emerson appeared on YouTube with the extended Emerson tribe, (that's Hunt in the green T-shirt in the video) performing their version of 1971 pop single Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. The video became a hit on the internet and was covered on regional tv news.

Here is my sketch of Hunt as well as the late Don Lawrence sketching outside a cafe for fans in Switzerland in 1986 that I drew into my book "How to be an Artist.' It was based on a photo and I recall taking the photo, but the quality of the print in my file looks too good to have come from the campbellian camera, a big ugly waterproof yellow thing brought from Australia by the wife of my bososm. I deduce that I guessed it would be an important moment and borrowed another camera, probably from the lovely wife of Don's bosom.


Thursday 24 April 2008

an exhibition at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh:
Local Heroes: The Art of the Graphic Novel

Visual art: Unfit for heroes- The Scotsman- 25 April 2008-

"With its vast resources, the National Library had a golden opportunity to take us through the evolution of comics, but this flawed exhibition is an opportunity squandered... The idea of a sequence of images forming a narrative is as old as art, but it was Hogarth who first made it funny...
I can't even be bothered to critique this crap, and I would cheerfully say that none of it has anything to do with me, except that I turn up later in the piece. Has anybody seen the exhibition? What have they been and gone and done? Or am I better off not knowing?
"Raymond Briggs's wonderful Where the Wind Blows is apparently highly rated in this story and there are a few other familiar faces, Asterix and Posy Simmons looking very lost among the aliens and comic book monsters, for example. If you spend a lot of time peering at the covers you can work out that separate cases are dedicated to different Scottish artists, including Eddie Campbell, Cam Kennedy and Frank Quitely. The way it is displayed you can scarcely judge the quality of their work."
As I responded to a recent request to reproduce images of mine in a book to be ludicrously titled "Five Hundred Essential Graphic novels," please, please do not include me in any of this shite.
From Onion AVclub last year:
15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has Or Will
14. He wrote Player Piano while working for General Electric, "completely surrounded by machines and ideas for machines," which led him to put some ideas about machines on paper. Then it was published, "and I learned from the reviewers that I was a science-fiction writer. I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled 'science fiction' ever since, and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal."
(via Bob Morales)


design goof.
OGC unveils new logo to red faces - Telegraph UK- 24/04/2008

"It cost £14,000 to create, but clearly no-one at the smart London design outfit that came up with the new logo for HM Treasury thought to turn it on its side:"
"The logo, for the Office of Government Commerce, was intended to signify a bold commitment to the body’s aim of “improving value for money by driving up standards and capability in procurement”.
(link via Ben Smith)

update several days later. oh dear, somebody has animated it.

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Wednesday 23 April 2008

a new book on an old subject, hot off the presses from its editor, Alex Werner, who requested the use of a couple of illustratons out of From Hell for the seventh and final chapter titled 'Jack the Ripper- A legacy in Pictures', by Clive Bloom, Emeritus professor of English and American studies at Middlesex University. His piece begins: "The East End is both a geographical location and a location for filmic fantasy." which confirms the problem I always felt I was up against when working on From Hell. "It has to be recreated in filmland as a set, so that it is airless, claustrophobic and without escape..." "Jack finally strikes and the set constructed around his absence finally reveals the reason for its construction." I like the caption on the photo at the end on page 266: 'In this publicity shot for The Hands of the Ripper (1971), Eric Porter is caressed by actresses dressed in the obligatory boas and feathers which always signify fallen women in such films. The costumes are Victoriana rather than Victorian." Some great old photos in the rest of the book, most of which are new to these eyes, and I looked far and wide over the years, underline such misconceptions.

(I previously addressed the problem of costume vis a vis film adaptation)
Bart Beaty continues his examintion of Wertham. "Comics need boogeymen since it is always simpler to blame the outsider for one's own failings than face the truth that is right in front of you."

Drunk Darth Vader's Jedi assault- BBC NEWS- Tuesday, 22 April 2008

A man posing as Darth Vader attacked a Star Wars fan, who had founded a Jedi Church, a court has heard.
Arwel Wynne Hughes, 27, from Holyhead, Anglesey, admitted assaulting Barney Jones and cousin Michael with a metal crutch. They suffered minor injuries.
Hughes, who was drunk and dressed in a black bin bag, shouted "Darth Vader!"
Earlier, when Hughes failed to arrive on time, District Judge Andrew Shaw issued an arrest warrant, adding: "I hope the force will soon be with him.
(via wee hayley campbell)


Tuesday 22 April 2008

after my applauding Bart Beaty's intelligent assessment of Frederick Wertham yesterday, he now weighs in himself on Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague (The great comic book scare and how it changed America):

For me, the most surprising thing about The Ten-Cent Plague was that it was missing the entire second day of testimony in the April 1954 Senate hearings. Given that the entire book builds to these hearings as the culmination of the drama, this seemed an extremely curious absence. I initially thought, "Well, he wanted to end with Gaines to put all the emphasis on the Gaines/Wertham relationship."
This particular showdown has become one of the great myths of the comic book (I'm using myth correctly to mean 'sacred story' rather than 'falsehood,' the usual debased meaning given to the word these days). I saw the same thing in Eisner/Miller (Dark Horse 2005)
(Frank) MILLER: Didn't they also just happen to write the Code sentence by sentence to shut down Bill Gaines?
(Will) EISNER: No.
MILLER: But they even prohibited the names of his books! Nothing with "crime" or "horror" in the title.
EISNER: I don't know. I wasn't present at the writing of this thing.
MILLER: It seems to me it was a pretty shitty job, putting the best publisher out of business.
EISNER: Well, I don't know if he was the best publisher at the time. You call him the best publisher? I don't know if historians will agree with you.
MILLER: He had the best line out there at the time.
EISNER: I don't know why you'd call him the best publisher. Is that because he was publishing some of the best stuff?
MILLER: Because EC represented as high a quality standard as I've seen in commercial comics.
EISNER: Well, he had good people.
MILLER: Well, what else makes a good publisher?
EISNER: All right, I don't know.
MILLER: He published really good work.
EISNER: Oh, no, no. I just challenged why you selected him as the best publisher. Also, I don't know where you get your evidence for--
MILLER: I read the Code.
EISNER: But I don't think they sat down and designed it to put him out of business.
MILLER: It listed the titles of his books and said, "You can't use these titles, you can't use these genres!" Everything he did is listed there as being forbidden, and that's about all that's forbidden.
EISNER: They listed his books in the Code?
MILLER: They don't say, "No Crime SuspenseStories." They say, "There will be no comics with the word 'crime' in their title, or 'terror,' or 'horror.' There will be no living dead. There will be no stories that disrespect authority." It's pretty much a laundry list -- that is, without outright saying, "There will be no EC Comics," that's pretty much what it says.
EISNER: To me that's different. It's Charlie Biro (editor at Lev Gleason Pubs) who was using the word "crime," so it was aimed at him too, wasn't it? I challenge why you conclude that it was designed to put EC out of business; I'm not saying I know differently, I'm just challenging your assumption. I don't know whether it's true or ot. I don't think it was written to put Gaines out of business.
MILLER: That's my understanding at least.
EISNER: I think it's written to defend publishers against what they expected would be an avalanche of litigation that would put the comic book business out of business. The Carlino proposal, legislation in New York that I was debating against, was a law that governor Dewey vetoed; it would have forbidden the sale of comic books on newsstands.
At this point Miller should have delved into the matter of the 'Carlino proposal', but he wanted to retell those old stories around the fireside. I'm sure many young readers hoping to learn something from all this pointless blather neglected to work out the dates and note that Miller was born three years after the events he's arguing about so vehemently. If it was me, I'd have tried to learn something from the older man instead of forcing my dumbassed opinion on him.
Like Miller, Hajdu also makes up his own story about what was what in the comic book business of the early 1950s (as noted again by Beaty):
Indeed, Hajdu marginalizes Dell in the most curious fashion. On page 190, for example, he writes that Stan Lee had "helped make Timely the most successful publisher in comics by 1952, with sales half again as great as that of its closest competitor, Dell, and twice that of National/DC." This is worth unpacking. First, Timely ceased publishing comics in 1951 and was replaced by Atlas (which later became Marvel). Second, while Timely's sales declined after the public lost interest in the initial wave of superhero comics during World War 2 they were by no means in bad shape. Monroe Froehlich told the Senate committee that the 35 titles that they published in 1954 averaged a total cumulative sale of 10 million copies (285,000 copies per title). Helen Meyer of Dell, on the other hand, testified a few hours later that they sold 25 million copies per month, or 32% of the total industry. So it is difficult to know what Hajdu means when he claims that Timely was the most successful publisher in comics at that point in history.
God save us from some of these half-arsed historians (one has to wonder about Eisner's faith in them in his fourth line above). At least Beaty wouldn't have missed asking about the Carlino proposal.

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Monday 21 April 2008

last week Dirk Deppey drew our attention to a set of Bernie Wrightson prints from 1978 posted my Mr. Door Tree. Something that happened occasionally in the artist's better work is that he would have a perfectly lovely figure drawing standing out in the middle of his overwrought detail.

The arrival of Wrightson circa 1970 is the exact point, I can see in retrospect, at which I lost all interest in American comic books (allowing for the occasional curiosity of one who must still make his living from drawing, and also the enduring fondness for the foolish nonsense of my childhood). He was the first artist that I recognised (though not at first sight) as a 'fan,' whose style was sewn together Frankenstein-like from bits and pieces of earlier artists. Of course all art must build upon earlier visions to a greater or lesser extent, but the case here was one where the sources were so ignoble and ordinary (in contrast for instance to Infantino's fascination with the design ideas of Frank Lloyd Wright) that even a teenage bozo like me could find them, specifically the artists of the EC horror comics. There was a touch of the soiled flair of Frazetta's street-corner toughs, the shambling gait of a Jack Davis graverobber, the viscous saliva from the mouths of Ingels' fiendish plotters, and any suggestion of conventional pleasantness always cast a shadow of sarcastic insincerity.
Coincidentally Deppey, in his next day's posting, links to an article in the New Yorker by Louis Menand that puts the problem in perspective.

THE HORROR: Congress investigates the comics.
It’s true that respect for the comic book as an art form can be a little overdone. George Herriman’s “Krazy Kat” has a kind of artistic genius; “The Vault of Horror” is just dumb. It’s supposed to be dumb: it’s for eleven-year-olds.
I still believed in the idea of comic books as art, but from then on it was entirely in the abstract, existing in the realm of possibility only. After Wrightson in fact things got worse; the Wein-Wrightson Swamp Thing was a tedious compendium of horror movie cliches, and much as I was happy to see Alan Moore make a living from his writing, the later revival of the character confirmed my certainty that everything had gone completely wrong. It was a monster eating and regurgitating itself.
The Menand article is about Fred Wertham and his attack on the comic books in the ealy 1950s that brought about the formation of an official censor (being a review of Hajdu's recent book on the subject). Wertham is another of those indviduals, like Vince Colletta, that the mindless herd of comic book fans like to loathe. Anyone prepared to stop and think clearly is to be applauded:
Bart Beaty’s “Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture” ($22, paper; University Press of Mississippi) makes a strong case for the revisionist position. As Beaty points out, Wertham was not a philistine; he was a progressive intellectual. His Harlem clinic was named for Paul Lafargue, Marx’s son-in-law. He collected modern art, helped produce an anthology of modernist writers, and opposed censorship. He believed that people’s behavior was partly determined by their environment, in this respect dissenting from orthodox Freudianism, and some of his work, on the psychological effects of segregation on African-Americans, was used in the Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education.
Beaty is unimpressed by the claim that the horror comics were somehow part of a popular-culture avant-garde, and he thinks Gaines’s attempt to portray himself and his company as subversive artists oppressed by the establishment has fooled many people. “Ultimately,” he writes, “Fredric Wertham aligned himself with the most defenseless portion of postwar American society, children. His critics have aligned themselves with an industry that targeted racist, sexist, and imperialist propaganda at minors. He was one man, operating out of a free clinic in Harlem, facing a multimillion dollar per year industry organization that hired private detectives to tail him and intimidate his staff.”


late update. To the fellow in comments who perhaps thinks I'm critcizing an artist of being 'derivative,' note that this is not a term I would ever use in this way. All art must be derivative. But the artist must choose whether his work is to be derivative of worthy ideas or of facile mannerisms. There is a philosophy of the practice of art that works upon the principle that all habits and mannerisms impede the reaching for truthfulness, and should be excised from the work as soon as the artist becomes aware that he is exercising them. I wasn't finding this kind of exacting discipline in comic books is all I'm saying. Don't let me stop YOU from reading them.

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Sunday 20 April 2008

your monitor is dirty. To clean it, click here.