Friday 1 July 2011

Woman Accused of Spraying Deputies With Breast Milk is a Special Ed Teacher
DELAWARE, Ohio (KTLA) -- A special education teacher is facing assault charges after allegedly spraying sheriff's deputies with breast milk.
It happened Saturday as Delaware County deputies were responding to a domestic dispute.
The woman's husband told deputies his wife had been drinking at a wedding and hit him several times before locking herself in a car outside a banquet hall. When the deputies found 30-year-old Stephanie Robinette, they tried to talk her out of the car...more
My dear pal Mick Evans sent the above link. Perusing Wednesday's post on my blog he observed : "51,000 words! that's a small novel. They could have written Memories of My Melancholy Whores but instead they debated the bloody graphic novel.”

The Spaniard in the Works (part 5)

I left this disquisition at the point at which a hundred thousand words and more had been expended arguing over the meanings of words. And while I believe it is a thing to be avoided at all costs, I invariably find myself trapped in a situation where I have to deal with the subject. In short I am called upon to explain la novela Gráfica, as happened in the Barcelona interview described at the beginning of this series of posts.

So I have evolved a strategy for getting through the process without giving in or falling prey to the innumerable stupidities to which the comics world has subjected it. The first problem to navigate past the idea that it is a format. At this early juncture I usually bring up Will Eisner, who has a substantial reputation with both the regressive and the progressive crowds. This artist is often given as the initiating spark for the whole thing. Whether it is true or not is one of those arguments that leads to tears and should be avoided. So I'm not saying he was or he wasn't, he's just a place to start that is likely to be accepted by most parties.

What did Will Eisner mean when he called that first book of his a 'graphic novel'? The naysayers are quick to point out that it is a collection of short stories, and in the field of writing, a bunch of short stories does not make a novel. The problem with these naysayers is that they are usually the same people who argue that 'graphic novel' is a format, without any concern for the fact that in the field of writing, a novel is not a format. In other words, they are trying to have it both ways, though unconsciously, since the contradiction does not normally occur to them. I don't think the majority of comics readers can separate the idea of 'form', where comics are concerned, from 'format'. Put it this way, a song is a musical form and an mp3 is a format. It should be easy enough to separate those two concepts and apply the same principle to comics.

Will Eisner clearly wasn't thinking of a graphic novel as a format. This is easy enough to demonstrate. In the same month that A Contract With God appeared from Baronet books., October 1978, he also started serializing Life on another Planet in the Kitchen Sink Press Spirit magazine, in 16 page 'signatures', with 'A GRAPHIC NOVEL printed on the very first page. We may deduce that he had given up on the idea of another book like the first one. The reader was instructed to cut out the pages, fold them and secure at the side with thread or whatever. It is perhaps to be observed that he was thinking his graphic novels were going to be in a small format like paperback books, but let's not confuse the issue here, as later episodes were all printed full page size (somebody probably pointed out to Will that folks nowadays are not inclined to cut up their magazines, so anybody who cut out the first one would have done so in vain.) In his mind he was drawing a long-form comic, which he called a graphic novel, and he was serializing it. That is, he didn't retroactively decide it was a graphic novel. I only mention that in relation to one of the Spanish arguments.

(From Spirit magazine #19, oct 1978. Kitchen Sink Press)

So, what did he mean by novel then? The answer that gets me out of this catch-22, invariably leads to an even trickier quandary. He was making a bid for 'literariness'. The problem I find myself in at this juncture is that I must then say what I mean by 'literary', and my own idea of it is somewhat different from Will's. His idea of literary would have implied a shelf of books that you keep, in contrast to the low status of the throw-away comic, and in subject it would perhaps have been bounded by Ring Lardner at the populist end and Booth Tarkington at the more serious (consider his grand family saga, The Name of the Game in comparison to The Magnificent Ambersons). Whether Eisner ever reached the goal of his ambition is a separate argument. For this one, let it simply be noted that he often said he imagined a comic that went beyond 'stories of pursuit and vengeance', that dealt with more profound subjects "such as a man's relationship to God". From the beginning he wanted to create a different kind of comic.

As to my idea of literary then; can comics be literature? (let's not lose sight of the fact that the graphic novel is a kind of comics). This question is a minefield. On the one hand I suspect that there is a school of thought that rejects such a pretension, that insists that the essence of comics is that they are always anti-status quo, subversive in some way or other, and that literature is the stuff foisted on you in school and comics are the natural antidote to society's streamlining of us. On the other there is the intellectual standpoint that insists that comics are an autonomous art-form and not just a genre within an older traditional culture of reading.

The latter attitude holds to the presumption that literariness implies that the graphic element of a comic would be considered subservient, when the parts should be formal equals. Caroline Small answered this problem recently at The Hooded Utilitarian:
" I really resist the idea that literature is made of words (and also I suppose the idea that pictures are not made of words in the same way that all things are texts.) Literature is not prose or story. It is a register, a cluster of ways of making sense and making meaning that makes sense (or that meaningfully makes non-sense). It is a register that is almost always associated with words, but “word-thing” is not any sort of essence of literature to me. It is more “thing, often with words.” Or like Baetens says “a way that parameters are logically used.” The parameters are usually words, but that is just the “dispatch.” Once literature means how the parameter is used it can be made of anything."

As I said in yet another interview recently, Shaun Tan's The Arrival is a book without a single word in it, and I have no problem in thinking of it as literature. And Will Eisner was a practical man who would have had no time for the kind of complicated modern literary theory as read above, but there would have been no problem for him in considering a quality 'graphic novel' to be literature, whether it be Maus, or Palestine, or Persepolis, or Jimmy Corrigan. It should be recognized that, to a significant extent, the literature of our times has pictures.

(to be continued)


Thursday 30 June 2011

Oxford comma 'change' sparks uproar
Friday, July 01,
A report that Oxford University had changed its comma rule left some punctuation obsessives alarmed, annoyed, and distraught. Passions subsided as the university said the news was imprecise, incomplete and misleading.
Catch the difference between the two previous sentences? An 'Oxford comma' was used before 'and' in the first sentence, but is absent in the second...
Hayley Campbell's comedy hour. Does anybody have a report for the old man?


Wednesday 29 June 2011

The Spaniard in the Works (part 4)

If I'd known Santiago García at the time of the release of his La novela grafica I would have said "Now you've gone and done it. They won't let you get away with this. They will find you."
Who will?
I don't really know. There are otherwise quiet people, sitting at home, who have an unmeasurable capacity to argue about the words 'graphic novel'. You have woken them up. Yes, even in Spain. Fate will throw a Spaniard in the works.

(and since it was my manifesto in part that got you into this, I feel that I have to throw in with your side, though of course I was only describing what I saw to be true, and you saw the same thing)

It all started that night...

Jose Torralba (The Spaniard of my title) on May 31st 2010 wrote his review of the book at Zona Negativa (the aptly named Negative Zone) and declared war upon it. The comments piled up to a count of 27,000 words. A week later The Watcher, in a post titled "One more time: A vueltas con la novela gráfica," having also reviewed the book and been excited by it, took back his earlier judgement and said "like it or not, in the last few years there has developed a different kind of comic from the ones we are accustomed to." He got no comments to his first statement; this time he got 60. And at the end of it, everybody shuffled over to Pepo Perez' blog for another 88. Pepo blogged like a man possessed. He posted seventy times that month, usually on the subject of la novela gráfica, and if he wasn't posting himself, he was arguing with Torralba in somebody else's blog comments. It was like an old fashioned pamphlet war.

You might wonder how I could be bothered ploughing through it all. Well, my name keeps popping up, and if you know me, you would say yes, that explains it. Both sides in fact quote the Campbell manifesto as though that could resolve the argument. And also, Google translation keeps throwing up Dadaist gems like this one:
"Sandman enchants me. Much. But in that aspect I am in agreement with you Pepo, is a tebeo for adolescents. Which does not mean to say that is worse than Maus, nor bad. It is a good tebeo, with excellent episodes. But his target is the one that is, I create. Just as it happens, for example, with the Hair nets of Morrison."

So it is to be understood that my version of events probably exists only in a parallel Spain, where things look only slightly similar to the real one. let's call it Googlespain

On August 5th 2010 Santiago García was interviewed at (I nearly said 'in') the Negative Zone by Toni Boix. The comments led with 2,500 words from Torralba, who is pathologically incapable of letting anything stand. Just over a month before, my own El Destino del Artista was released by Astiberri, with translation by Santiago García, so I was already in this bunfight at least a year before I knew anything about it. Entrecomics lifted the huge Comics Journal interview with me that had just gone online, translated it and on Oct 14 put it in a beautiful display that scrolls down for the length of a football pitch. Alberto placed 70 colour illustrations in it. Tcj never gave that much attention to anything. Naturally all the combatants had an opinion. The Watcher posted again with a title that translates as "And again with the graphic novel". In comments, and at great length,Torralba gave the manifesto a thorough wash and rinse, Barrero applauded and somebody else said "these are not comments, they're literary essays." When I arrived in Spain in April 2011 I had no idea that they had been using me for a football for a whole year before that. In fact, speaking of football, one of the things I like about Spanish blog comments is that everybody stops fighting when the football results come in. It's like those First World War stories about Christmas day when the combatants would stop and kick a ball around together, and then the next day go back to shooting each other.

The whole shebang came to a crescendo on Dec 29 when Tebeobien posted "LA NOVELA GRÁFICA: UN MANIFIESTO POST-CAMPBELL" which is handily given in both Spanish and English. I think he decided there was too much humour in mine and a more serious one was needed. At la Carcel de Papel, the blog of Alvaro Pons, another voice in all of this, though I think Alvaro prefers to avoid controversy, this new manifesto was dissected in 450 comments amounting to 51,000 words, which is almost the size of an average prose novel. Torralba wrote an Anti-Campbell manifesto in which he satirized all ten points of my foolish document. It is actually quite funny: "... that the terminological debate is not the important thing and that its not-movement could have been called the one of "Huevos rancheros", in which 'huevos is not "eggs" and "rancheros" has nothing to do with ranches."

The page as it now stands does not appear to be complete, but as far as I can piece it together, Pepo and Torralba have shamefully lost their tempers, and are knee-deep in contrition of a biblical proportion. From Pepo's comment quoting a previous, and remember this is happening in Googlespain (the parties involved, intelligent men all, will scold me): "I have made an act of contrition for previous commentaries, not to give pábulo to this Sálvame that you have mounted, and in that I, done violence to, have also fallen for my shame" (J Torralba) I suppose that I have forced you to do it end of pistol, just as I have forced you to ask that they erase something that I had written... My excuses by the way to all the presents, especially to Crocus, that already I have seen that one occurred more directly alluded. There are no excuses, so I reiterate my excuses..."
The translating program has failed to completely strangle his closing words: "I believe she gathers much of that spirit who floats now in the atmosphere, of those "great hopes" in the future, in spite of the crisis and to the present difficulties. And nothing else, my better desires again for this year that now begins." There was a lot of sentiment in the air.

A week later they were back to shooting each other under the title "A format not so free?" (123 comments-16,300 words). Then Pons disabled the comments for good. Around the same time, Pepo swore off blogging. There were two or three more outbursts after that. You can come round and read them in my files some day.

What was the argument about? To what purpose were these thousands of words furiously typed? One side says 'it's a movement' and the other says 'you can't say that because it's a format.' Only in Googlespain could it be interesting.

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Tuesday 28 June 2011

This week. click for a bigger version.

Wood Green bookshop, London, details at this link

The Spaniard in the Works (part 3)

I looked at the Wikipedia page that had so impressed me, translated from the Spanish, and had another thought. Was it like that at the start or was it turned that way by an event or series of events? I opened the history screen and ascertained that a large number of amendments were made in and around May of 2010, including the link at the foot of the page to the 'manifiesto'. Furthermore, the amendments invariably give this book as their source:

Santiago García's La Novela Gráfica was released at the end of March last year. It came from the same publisher as my own books, Astiberri, and I found myself sitting next to Santiago briefly at their signing table in Barcelona. I scanned the pages of his book and was pleased to take away a copy, But I didn't realize, until I got it home, that this is the one book on the subject that I would have loved to have written myself. Without getting caught up in foolish arguments about what a graphic novel is supposed to be, García illuminates the more progressive features of the present day comics environment and explains what makes these different from the situation that prevailed previously. These features are, essentially, respect for the voice of an author, a long view of the history of the medium, a bid for wider recognition in the cultural landscape and a community that reaches across international boundaries.

García is in line with my own view of seeing the entirety of comics in terms of phases rather than simply format choices. (In the so-called manifesto I suggested "a movement, or an ongoing event" with the intention of placing it in time rather than in physical material). Or if they coexist, then they do so in the way that generations live together in a family. Artist Pepo Perez explained the idea visually in an arrangement of Photos recently showing, in turn, the newspaper strip, the comic book, la novela gráfica.

The previous phase of comics, which still continues, trying to adapt to changing times like Grandad wearing the new fashions, was commanded by corporations who assigned replaceable writers, artists and other team members to maintain their properties, or characters. In the new phase the artist seeks the kind of autonomy customarily enjoyed by a literary author.

A healthy respect for the history of the medium has resulted in a developing library of the classic comics of all time. A former appreciation of the past tended to be myopic; the former 'golden age' began around 1939. A new appreciation however has made available at last an English language collection of the complete works of Toepffer in an appreciatively bound hardcover. The contents go back over a hundred years before that date.

The bid for wider recognition has resulted not only in the winning of prizes never before within the reach of a comic book practitioner, but has also seen the cultivation a more universal subject matter, the very stuff, and all of it, of our own life and times.

The authors of this growing body of work hail from and live in all the corners of the planet. A brief sampling would give us Chris Ware in the USA, Chester Brown in Canada, Marjane Satrapi from Iran and living in Paris, Shaun Tan in Australia, Lat in Malaysia, Taniguchi in Japan. Where previously there were comics, bande dessinee, fumetti, tebeo, manga, each country with its own separate tradition, the new option gives us the graphic novel, la novela gráfica, romanza grafico, roman graphique, powieść graficzna. Think about that. For all that you probably thought that the term was lousy, did it occur to you that it is actually, accidentally probably, a very useful international term that ends up sounding recognizably similar wherever it lands?

García keeps the picture rigorously lucid. The ideas are thrilling, something you'd like to be a part of. The book was universally cheered, flowers were thrown in front of the author's feet and his countrymen thanked him profusely.

well, kind of, but

God no.

(continued in part 4. meanwhile, here I am with the author in Barcelona, photo pinched from Entrecomics) (santiago's blog)


Monday 27 June 2011

Hear me blatherin' for a whole hour. some of it is quite funny.


The Spaniard in the Works (part 2)

In the event that the following may bore the arse off you, here is a funny face in a Spanish elevator.

So El Tio Berni (Alberto really. It takes an eternity these days to sort out people from their online monikers) was asking me about ‘the graphic novel’?
When, I ask myself, did they become interested in that? Spain has its own names for the comics. I was last here in 2005 and there was no hint whatsoever that they needed an extra one. As soon as I got home, I looked it up in Wikipedia. I mean Wikipedia (Español). Novela gráfica or, in translation: graphic novel

and I find myself astonished.

The wikipedia page is perfect in its simplicity. It looks like something I might have constructed myself. It describes the subject as a movement and names its important practitioners, Clowes, Sacco, Seth, Satrapi, etc. and so far it’s only 168 words into the article. Contrast it with the American one, a tedious wilderness trek which takes you through three weeks of ‘definition,’ scrolldown through another fortnight of ‘history,’ through cave paintings and medieval tapestries, then examines every miserable claimant to being the first graphic novel, and by the time you get to something that matters, say Maus, you have read 2,655 words (out of an end count of 3,821) and completely lost the will to live.

And the Pictures. The American version has images by Kane, Corben, and Gulacy that represent the onset of the late mannerist phase of comic books, with absurdly posturing heroes. The page really is a grotesque embarrassment and it should be deleted. The Spanish version by sublime contrast just shows a well-stocked corner in a book store. Nothing misleading there. The page was established in 2004.

But when did they start talking about la Novela gráfica?

Blogger The Watcher, in a post of 31 Mar 2009, conveniently explains the terms used in Spain and when they kicked in.: Tebeo, cómic, novela gráfica. (don’t try to read this only in Google translation, which makes a massacre of a subject which is already at best a dog’s breakfast). The medium was originally referred to as historietas, or small stories. Tebeo comes from TBO magazine, which originated in 1917 and by the late 1930s sold in quantities huge enough to give its name to the whole medium. I think the English language word ‘comic’ crept in around the 1970s when the history of the American newspaper strip started to be celebrated internationally, When Raymond, Foster, Caniff etc. were raised to the level of old masters. Spain has always been good at publishing these old masters, and The Watcher might be surprised to know that they were never as familiar to the average comics reader in the USA as they are to him. I have several books in Spanish that were not, or at least not then, available in English editions, including a set of ten slim volumes of Stan Drake’s Julieta Jones. And finally, we have the arrival of la novela gráfica, which the Watcher concludes is a ‘chorrada’ or, roughly translated, a ‘turd’, though a year later, and I like the cut of his gib, he changes his mind.

As I look deeper into the subject I find a document quoted all over the place which I thought was a thing that had had its brief moment in the world and was put to sleep four or five years ago. I‘m referring to a thing called Eddie Campbell’s manifesto of the graphic novel. If you've never heard of it, off the top of my head I can think of six places where you can find it online in English. here's one. The Spanish Wiki page links to a translation at 68Revoluciones (posted May 2007). Pepo Perez posted a different translation last year. I also know it in Portugese and French. It's the most widely disseminated thing I have written. It has been well described as "a not-altogether-serious document that is also not altogether kidding." In Spain when journalists want to explain 'graphic novel' they quite often reach for my little manifesto. I wrote it in the first place as a demonstration of a way to stop my comrades from arguing about the meaning of words, thus promoting confusion and discord to the world at large, when it would be useful instead to promote our ideas.

By Dec. 2007 in Spain, the term graphic novel had made such inroads into cultural awareness that
"The Online Literary magazine offers readers a special titled "From Comic to graphic novel', which contains 15 articles. The supplement has been coordinated by Luis Garcia and among the articles that comprise it are by novelist José Ángel Mañas, the poet León Vicente Muñoz Álvarez, the cartoonist Angel de la Calle and principal of, Manuel Barrero." The pieces are more or less interesting; to give a sense of the tone, one from the postmodernist viewpoint talks about Alan Moore and Watchmen and describes From Hell as "a masterpiece that teaches how to make metaliterature without sacrificing the literature."

Everything is going well until the comics expert steps up. Manuel Barrero, in a lengthy essay titled La novela gráfica. Perversión genérica de una etiqueta editorial (Perversion of a publishing label) writes:"Eddie Campbell, the artist of From hell, a comic book calling itself a graphic novel even though it was previously serialized, has erected in defence of the neologism a manifesto, stating that the graphic novel comprises a new art form, a movement, a 'cause'. This elitist approach generates a quality judgement that can lead to separation of categories of readers (cultivated vs uneducated), the fragmentation of the possibilities of the medium...etc"

To put it bluntly, Barrero is not somebody I would choose to represent my medium. In the above illustrious company he has embarrassed himself with his cultural provincialism. Who else but a comics fan would think that a text that has been previously serialized has disqualified itself from being a novel? Where does this business about qualifying come from anyway? In the larger world of writing (we'll leave 'literature' out of it for the moment) such a notion must sound curious indeed.

However, Spain luckily has representatives of a more cosmopolitan cut. (continued in part 3)

Funny Face Alert!


Sunday 26 June 2011

The Spaniard in the Works * (part 1)

In April I was a guest at the Barcelona comics convention. Hayley Campbell came over from London to meet up with me. She wrote about the event for the Comics Journal.

I like that in Spain comics get covered by the press as a regular subject without the attendant embarrassment you get in the English speaking world. Here is a report in JOT DOWN, 'contemporary culture mag' of a very complicated panel on autobiography in comics in which each participant had their own translator.

Since June the previous year, Astiberri have published four of my books in Spain, or three separate works if you allow that Alec is in two volumes. The others are El Destino del Artista and El Black Diamond Detective Agencia. So I was hoping and expecting to do a bunchof interviews, and I did. the splendid blog Entrecomics wanted an interview.**
"I'd like to talk about the graphic novel," said the very likeable El tio Berni.
"oh oh" I thought, glancing to see if I could make a clear run for the exit...

(to be continued)

translation notes.
* to my Spanish brethren: 'to throw a spanner in the works' means to deliberately cause trouble. 'A Spaniard in the works' is a play on that expression, written by John Lennon as the title of a book (1965).
** the google translation of the intro to that interview gives me a fabulous white 'toupee' instead of a 'quiff'. At least you have your health, as everybody's mother would say.

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