Friday 16 October 2009

Chris Staros, master of ceremonies at Top Shelf Productions, tells me he's seen early bound test copies of both the hard and soft covers of the new book, that they look great and everything is on course, if somewhat late. I've been doing a bunch of interviews recently and they're all being sat on until the books come out. I'm sure I've repeated myself all over the place. I remember watching an old Hollywood songwriter, when his memoir was published, doing the rounds of the UK talk shows, giving the same spiel every time, not realising that the UK is so small that it would be the same audience watching every show. The internet's like that, when you break it down into communities. But anyway, somebody asked me what's my favourite out of all my stories, and I probably said a parent can never pick favourites from among his children, or some blather like that. But what I really meant to say was that it is this byzantine half hour anecdote I told last year in Chicago, and which I'm reposting here for anyone who missed it when it first appeared at Bookslut last October. I was supposed to be doing a 'reading,' but this story crisscrosses a handful of unrelated books and doesn't exist in a tangible form except here.

The video: In which I mimic a horse, try to figure out what's inside a dog's head, and perform other unseemly acts...

Eddie Campbell Reading -Chicago, July 2008 from Host: Jessa Crispin, Bookslut. Filmed by Brown Finch Films, who marked a spot on the floor where I was supposed to stand.
(and whose documentary Proceed and be bold I reviewed in June)

Thursday 15 October 2009

This one took me a while to get hold of for some reason. I didn't want to show up on the tv without having read what is likely to be the 'graphic novel' of the year. I tried ordering it from my local comics shop and after five weeks sought another source. My favourite fine books outlet couldn't get hold of one quickly either. Kinokuniya books in Sydney came though with an overnight delivery. I Checked out the store while I was down there on Tuesday. It moved to central Sydney as recently as 2002 and is now the biggest outlet for new books in Australia I believe. (The international success story of this Japanese enterprise is worth reading). The thing that always impressed me about David Mazzucchelli back when he was doing the regular comic book stuff, was his sense of place. No other artist came near him in this. He gave you all the details that make one street different from every other street:

The atmospheric qualities that make an exterior different from an interior:

Andd each room different from every other room. I'm just going with what I can round up on the internet, but handily, here's a picture in which he manages to get the whole room into the frame except only for the ceiling.

I was pleased to see this interest is still with him in his new work, the masterly Asterios Polyp, particularly in the way this set piece undergoes a number of variations and transformations through the book.

Just about everything else that needs to be said about this much lauded masterpiece has been said elsewhere. (here are 7,208 words of annotations for after you've read the book)


Wednesday 14 October 2009

Another whisky ad. this one's a great piece of Irish blarney.

(link from Bob Morales, supplier to the blogging elite)

Firm seeks Glaswegian interpreter
A translation company is looking to recruit Glaswegian interpreters to help business clients who are baffled by the local dialect. Today Translations placed an advert in The Herald newspaper on Tuesday seeking speakers of "Glaswegian English". Successful candidates, who could earn up to £140 a day, must understand "vocabulary, accent and nuances".
The firm said, so far, 30 people had applied for the positions - some of them in Glaswegian.
(thanks to dr jon for the link)


Tuesday 13 October 2009

Yesterday's televisual event went as well as can be expected (as Wallace, from Wallace and Gromit would say). However, when you're trying to make the case for there being no reason why the significant stories of our times cannot be told using the simple elements of the strip cartoon, citing as examples a memoir of being a child during the Islamic revolution, and a personal account of  9-11 and its aftermath, and then the superheroes are entered into evidence, at that point you're going to have to plead guilty.

It happened while my mind had momentarily wandered. The same thing happened last week while we were negotiating the travel agency fiasco with a person in a position to effect a solution. A detail in the awful narrative gave me a story insight. I suddenly realized that I had dropped out for a few seconds and the wife of my bosom was now doing the negotiating. I brought it up later and she said, 'oh, everybody knows when you've left the building."

The show is The First Tuesday Book Club which airs the first Tuesday of every month on ABC tv here in Australia. They shot fifty minutes and have to cut it down to thirty. My fellow panelists were  Nicki Greenberg, Bruce Mutard and Sophie Cunningham, editor of Meanjin Quarterly. It should air in a few months, and there may be a longer version online

Nicki had her wee baby girl with her. here is Campbell easing the little one off into noddyland. You will find him surprisingly good at this sort of thing.


The Collider, the Particle and a Theory About Fate
Then it will be time to test one of the most bizarre and revolutionary theories in science. I’m not talking about extra dimensions of space-time, dark matter or even black holes that eat the Earth. No, I’m talking about the notion that the troubled collider is being sabotaged by its own future. A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather.
(link thanks to Bob Morales)

Comics Scholarship—Mississippi Style
If the last century saw the state of Mississippi as the cradle of the blues, this century may see the region’s University Press of Mississippi set the course for modern comics scholarship. Although there is a lot of academic and critical interest from journals such as Comic Art, The Comics Journal and comics-centered blogs, the concept of comics scholarship is still frequently seen as an oxymoron.

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Monday 12 October 2009

One or two of the four parts of Persepolis (2000-2003) have been around the house before, when Hayley Campbell still lived at home, and I dipped into them while rushing from one thing to the next. They were full of very attractive little cartoon strip anecdotes from a faraway place and Marjane Satrapi is also a formidable personality. I really should have stopped and paid more attention, because reading the whole work now in one thick volume I realize that I have not properly praised this masterpiece in any of my blatherings. The Random House/VINTAGE paperback (2007) collects it neatly in one compact bundle, though at this size the lettering can be a challenge to eyeballs that have been rolling around for as long as mine. This book makes me think how well the cartoon strip is the perfect mode of communication between cultures and languages. I know when my own stuff appears in translation, I don't worry too much about the words since the pictures are there to anchor things to my intended message. The meaning may indeed go adrift but the next panel is always there to pull it back. In other words, the meaning in good comics is not carried by the words or image separately. Nevertheless in scouting around on the subject of the book under discussion, I couldn't help noticing one or two disagreements occurring before we even get to translation:
(from the Wikipedia page on the Book)-
"University of Tehran literature professor Seyed Mohammad Marandi points out that in Persepolis representation is regularly interwoven with other aims and projections, which militate against accuracy. He states that the book and movie are the works of one who has 'Westernized' her outlook. He goes on to say that Satrapi, like Azar Nafisi, constantly confirms what orientalist representations have regularly claimed: the backwardness and inferiority of Muslims and Islam."
One of the reader reviews on the page:
recommended but don't take it seriously
Most of the events are from the eye of a Marxist which makes the narrative biased. In other words seeking iranian revolution history from this book is like learning WW2 history from the film U-571!
It would be a terminally vague person who'd think they could get history out of a cartoon strip or a Hollywood movie, though in a case of suppression of all other sources of information I would privilege the former. The real pleasure of Persepolis, and of Maus and In the Shadow of No Towers, and Fun Home and all other strip cartoon memoirs, is exactly that they are personal. This review from the same amazon page, by somebody who has arrived late to all the 'graphic novel' hoopla, gets it:
"for the unawares, the narrative in this book is made up of artwork, its like a comic book, which makes it utterly adorable
In the fourth quarter of Persepolis with Satrapi now in her twenties, she tells us of a cruel thing she did. I found myself somewhat shocked, and uneager to proceed until some penance was negotiated. It reminded me of something the British critic Waldemar Januszczak wrote in 1984 when faced with Spiegelman's Prisoner of the Hell Planet, that the cartoon strip finds itself the perfect vehicle for the personal, with the reader required to "perform the function of the Catholic priest in the confessional."

news item from Sept 15: 'Persepolis' is One Book, One Philadelphia winner
"The work I have tried to do with Persepolis is to change the ethnic point of view that so many people have about Iran," she said.
"My role as an artist is not to supply answers" to political and ethnic questions, she said, "but to inspire people on both sides of the East-West divide to question their assumptions."
This summer's pro-democracy demonstrations in Iran, she said, have helped Americans to see Iran in a new light.
And they've given her hope about the future.
"I have always thought that I wanted to die in Iran, because it's my home," she said. "Now I'm hopeful that some day I can live there."

Between writing the above and posting it, two things just collided in my head. First, I'm sure I quoted it once before on this blog but my search can't unearth it, which may be a spelling issue, here is the complete quotation from Waldemar Januszczak, from The Guardian, July 24 1984. I have long regarded this paragraph as an insightful key to understanding a great deal about the comics of our times. He was reviewing a London Mayfair art gallery exhibition, the theme of which was Comics/Fine Art, and the writer was talking first about Spiegelman's Prisoner of The Hell Planet. (The opening pages of Alec were also included in this exhibition, though were invisible to the reviewer).
Heading: 'A DIET OF BUBBLE AND SHRIEK- Strip cartoons have stepped off the page into the galleries. Waldemar Januszczak reports on two exhibitions which give them the trappings of fine art-'
"WHEN THE neurotics appropriated the strip cartoon we witnessed the ideal marriage of form and content. They subverted its innocence and filled its thought balloons with their wretched, guilt-sodden solilioquies. The strip cartoon turned out to be a splendid medium for confessions. And we, the audience, found ourselves called upon to perform the duties of the Catholic priest.
Art Spiegelman confesses to being A prisoner of the Hell Planet..."
It's just occurred to me after all these years, due to the proximity of the words 'neurotic' and 'Catholic,' that Waldemar must be familiar with Justin Green, whom I mentioned in passing here yesterday:
Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary is a 1972 comic book by Justin Green. It was the first long autobiographical work to appear in underground comics, and was extremely personal, detailing Green's childhood struggle with a disorder which in Catholicism is referred to as scrupulosity and was later diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This comic book influenced many other cartoonists of Green's generation to explore their own personal histories; Art Spiegelman said it made his novel Maus possible.
Green: ""You may deem my material as being too indulgent, morbid, and obscene. I dare say many of you aspiring revolutionaries will conclude that instead of focussing on topics which would lend themselves to social issues, I have zeroed in on the petty conflict in my crotch! My justification for undertaking this task is that many others are slaves to their neuroses. Maybe if they read about one neurotic's dilemma in easy-to-understand comic-book format these tormented folks will no longer see themselves as mere food-tubes living in isolation."


Sunday 11 October 2009

Scouting around to make sure I'm up to date on the idea of 'the graphic novel,' the subject of a tv program I've been enlisted to appear on this week, I picked up a handful of books on Friday, items that have been on my shopping list for some time. I'll record some thoughts over the next few days. Firstly, Life in Pictures by Will Eisner. I have the larger part of this volume already, but I was mainly interested in getting a sense of how Eisner stood at the end of his career, with his books organized into three large compendiums. I've noted in a couple of places recently that the form has arrived at a stage where there is now enough material in existence for us to see this happening with those authors who have been practicing a long while (the Hernandez brothers also spring to mind, and my own big Alec set).

Eisner took all his 'graphic novels' from DC comics over to Norton Books in Dec 2004. I've always understood this to imply that he saw a significant difference between these and The Spirit 'comic books' that he was more than happy for DC to keep in their catalogue. He more or less thought of the two as separate media, and In fact he has made it clear on more than one occasion, as in this Publisher's Weekly article from Nov 28 2006.
He proposed that Norton purchase the rights to the Will Eisner library from DC Comics in 2004 while working with Norton executive editor Robert Weil on The Plot, while making it clear his groundbreaking comic The Spirit should remain at DC. In an interview with PW Comics Week, Weil stressed that Eisner "loved DC and had great relations with them to the end. What he did was separate The Spirit from his literary works—he wanted a separation of the two, to get his books into bookstores. He wanted his novels with a literary house."
In this excerpt from Mark Asquith's 2004 interview with Eisner, quoted, if memory serves, in the Eisner obituary issue of the Comics Journal in 2005, Eisner emphasizes that he considers it essentially the content that differentiates 'The graphic novel':
"The reason graphic novels have become recognized by the cultural elite, so to speak, is because at long last the content has finally arrived at a level that is attracting serious readers. Up until 1970 the content of comics, which are the forerunners of graphic novels, consisted of stories that were built on adventure, they were designed for entertainment. Comics are really emerging from a history of being a vehicle for jokes. The superheroes came along, and what they were providing were stories of pursuit and vengeance, which is mainly the main theme of most of the comic book stories. In order for comics to emerge from that area they had to change the content and address adults, which is why I started A Contract with God in 1978. I reasoned that the readers who had grown up on comic magazines or comic books were now thirty-five and forty years old, and would no longer be satisfied with the simplistic stories that were being told at that time. And so I thought, let's try to address them on a serious subject such as man's relationship to God."
Once they had secured the rights to the Eisner library in December 2004, Norton moved quickly to release the works. The hardcover A Contract with God Trilogy: Life on Dropsie Avenue, which collected A Contract with God, A Life Force and Dropsie Avenue, appeared in November 2005. In Oct 2006, the company published a hardcover compilation of four classic Eisner works under the title Will Eisner's New York, which includes the classic works Life in the Big City; New York, the Building, City People Notebook; and Invisible People. And in Oct 2007 there was the volume under discussion. Autobiography is made to be the connecting theme of this volume, which is stretching things a bit, and I'm having trouble imagining Will would have been happy with the label. Three of the five pieces certainly fit the bill, The Dreamer, To the Heart of the Storm, and a little four pager titled The Day I Became a Professional, which first appeared in an anthology titled Autobiographix.
In his introduction, editor Dennis Kitchen writes about how Eisner was tempted into a more personal vein after contact with the work of underground cartoonists Justin Green and Robert Crumb. Crumb's personal work can be best experienced in the huge Crumb Coffee Table Art Book that Kitchen Sink Press put out in the mid '90s. The personal and intimate were always rife in Crumb's sketchbooks, and in many short published works from the early '70s on through Weirdo magazine and beyond. Spiegelman too mined the autobigraphical vein, as you can see in his 1977 Breakdowns, recently republished, which reprints stuff from the mid-'70s Arcade magazine. Harvey Pekar made autobiography his single mode beginning in 1976. Malaysian Cartoonist Lat must be counted here too, his great works Kampung Boy ('78) and Town Boy ('81) recently released in American editions by First Second. Since then a great number of artists have given us a backward looking memoir in long-form comic strip, including Raymond Briggs, Alison Bechdel, Craig Thompson, Marjane Satrapi, Seth, Joe Matt, Chester Brown, Jeffrey Brown, or presented their ongoing daily observation of their life as has James Kochalka, and not to forget the exemplary work of Joe Sacco, who puts himself firmly in the panels of his journalistic accounts of dodgy places such as Bosnia. The three Eisner works certainly stand alongside these and others in justifying the personal statement as one of comics' most valuable contributions to the culture of our times.
The other two pieces in the current volume are A Sunset in Sunshine City (1985), a neatly constructed little drama in 28 pages about a man whose daughters persuade him to leave New York for Florida, and The Name of the Game (2001), a full length saga (176 pages) about the members of wealthy old-money Jewish families vying for social position. I find myself reading these two for the first time and they are both worthy contributions to Eisner's oeuvre, but the personal element in both is but a starting point. Eisner did move to Florida, and perhaps the background of his wife's family inspired the latter work, but beyond that, these are both in Eisner's other modes. The family dynasty model reminds us of Dropsie Avenue: the Neighbourhood, and Sunset is not unlike the shorter works in Contract With God or Invisble People.
A couple of points. Sex in these stories always seems to symbolize a descent of sorts, the sin that condemns a character, or the resignation that sets them on a fateful course. In Eisner, only the unresolved sexual frisson created by characters like Connie Rodd ever seem to leave with us with a cheerful feeling. In fact, oddly, Connie seems more like a person you could actually meet. The cynical element does not amount to a personal expression or world view, however. What Eisner is giving us in Name of the Game is another rendition of the kind of era-spanning family dynasty story that used to be the staple of the tv mini-series of the '70s/'80s, with its relentless air of tragedy. For this reason in particular, it sits uncomfortably with the genuine memoir of The Dreamer and To the Heart of the Storm, his reminiscences of his youth and early adulthood. It tends to emphasize a feeling of loss that Eisner never returned to the more personal account of these latter works. Seeing them next to each other in this volume invites us to see them as interlocking parts. The entire 48 pages of Dreamer fits into Heart just before its last 15 page segment, and together at around 250 pages they make up the larger part of the collection. The other thing that sticks with me is that the later drawn Name of the Game has overall a much lighter and more advanced quality to the drawings. The figure work is some of the best observed of Eisner's career, with none of the grotesqueries that lumbered through his early pages, even as late as The Super in A Contract with God, and he would have been 83 when Name was first published. I also notice that the greys have been added in photoshop and a certain dotting in the hatching, due to the resolution of the scanning. It may have been his first work reproduced this way, with the older pieces in the book probably scanned at a very high resolution specially for this collection (I welcome any observations).

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