Saturday 10 December 2011

BBC video interview with Art Spiegelman, in Gosh comics in Soho, London.

"Never mind Metamaus, who gives a brass razoo about that? No this is the important one here, this Alec." (points)

"You mean this one?" (points)

"Yup, that's the one. that Campbell, he's the bear's spectacles"

"You've never given me a bum steer before, Artie, so I'll just grab a copy." (grabs with both hands)
"You'll thank me"

Thursday 8 December 2011

They're almost here.

When Freud met Bacon: British postwar painters – in pictures
A new exhibition, The Mystery of Appearance: Conversations Between Ten British Postwar Painters, examines the influence on their work of the personal relationships between artists ranging from Freud to Bacon to Hockney. Here, curator Catherine Lampert introduces some of the key works from the show. At the Haunch of Venison gallery in London until 18 February 2012

Labels: ,

Wednesday 7 December 2011

It's just comics- part 13

This time around, I'm analyzing the bejesus out another whole romance comic. It's a fable on a grand scale, by which I mean it isn't the complicated life made simple, a shepherd and nymph, a tortoise and hare, though one of these animals gets a passing mention. This appeared the same month as the previous, in a different one of Quality's 14 romance titles. It could well be another piece from the anonymous writer I looked at last time, because this one also sent me on a search. He may even have walked in with both scripts on the same day. If he wrote more, I haven't found them yet, but it would be nice to do so. The penciller and inker appear to be the same too, Sam Citron (?) and the 'tidy hair' inker, though he isn't given a lot of hair to work with in this one. The story is titled 'Turmoil.' Untypically, it's written in the third person.

Franklin Pierce is in the doldrums.

Heart Throbs #7 Aug 1950, lead story, 9 pages.

We get a bunch of financial-world references: "International Reaper... General Dyes... United Communications... I've got a finger in every one. I can't lose, can I, Hughes?" he laments to his personal secretary,
"I don't understand, sir. Your investments are very sensibly distributed."
Pierce gets all the classical allusions out in one rush: "I've tried to lose, but I can't! I've got the Midas touch! I'm a tin-horn Croesus turning to yellow gold against my will. I'm like the tortoise who died of shame because his shell was studded with jewels."

(I did a quick search and found: the Indian moral tale of the Sadhu and the tortoise, here compressed to a couple hundred words),
"What kind of king am I? I have all the wealth and power any king can crave. Every pleasure and comfort is mine, yet I feel alone and lonely. Friends, I have none! I cannot trust my ministers and courtiers. All are crooked and double faced. I need a friend close to me." The king summoned his advsiors and sent them to find a certain honest man...
“Most revered sage, are you Sadhu Shubhananda?" The Sadhu slightly nodded his head. The ministers told him: "Kindly, know that the king has sent us to call you to his palace. He wants you to be his friend and trustworthy companion. The King offers you all his possessions, his wealth, his comforts, his pleasures”
"Do you see that tortoise over there, so still, so quiet? This tortoise, though so quiet, and so still, is fully alive, and enjoying the sun, the water, the nights and days. It's free. Has the King any such tortoise in his palace?"
"Oh, yes!" The envoys replied, "The King has a big tortoise like this in his room. It is studded with gold, diamonds, pearls and precious gems. It’s worth a fortune."
"Hmmm! Now, tell me," asked the Sadhu: "Do you think that this tortoise over here would like to exchange places with that tortoise in the King's palace?"
There was a long silence.

After another dreary day on Wall Street, Franklin Pierce heads for home.

He confides in his friend Dr. Lister:

He tells Lister he wants to find a simpler life.
"Socrates, Plato, Aristotle," says Dr. Lister, "Great guys, all of them. They spurned material things and wove a philosophy of simplicity that lives till this day."
And then there is Donna, first appearing at the bottom of page 3 of her own story:

"He kissed her, searching desperately for a spark of compassion and sympathy, but he found only a coldly yielding body built around a core of tempered steel."

The circular panel is a '40s thing that is fast going out of style by this time, but the artist can't pass up the chance to do this little trick he's thought of, in which the embracing couple form a heart-shape. Note also how the artist gives us quite a different treatment of the appearance and body language of Donna, agressive and decisive, in comparison to Helen, dignified but uncertain, in the previous story.

Come away with me and leave all this behind, he says. Not on your Nelly Duff, she replies, or words to that effect. The millionaire gives Donna the whole kit and kaboodle. Then he parks the car at a desolate strip of beach

He arranges the telltale clothes and walks off along the beach. The moon looks like it's in the script. Identifiable with the feminine principle, it emphatically rises on a new era in the Pierce fortunes:

Donna takes over from here.

Nothing short of the ruination of everybody else will make her happy.

Her rapacious actions create tremors in the world's money markets.

"Like a stalking panther, beautiful, graceful, deadly, she took the diamond studded, continental society by storm." She's going to have her turtle and eat it too. In Paris she finds herself introduced to the one industrial magnate she hasn't been able to topple.

Edward Dubois. She gives him the sweet talk, and the glad eye, and when the sweet talking's done,

She tells him that she'll never forget the amazing stories he told her about his intriguing financial manipulations. and how she envies a man of his cunning. Then she nips down to the telegram office. "there will be an extra charge for the coded message," the clerk tells her. And the deed is done.

Dubois pulls out a pistol and is seized by the gendarmes just as he is about to murder the American financier.

The bystanders at the airport shun her. Her reputation has preceded her like a consuming fire of suspicion and disgust. When she gets home, everything is falling apart:

Even Hughes is packing his bags.

'I have everything I can ever want! I'm rich, rich, rich!'

Tormeneted by her reverie, Donna faints, and in a moment of touching theatricality, Franklin, waiting in the wings, steps from behind the curtain to catch her. She has come to realize that her love for him is more important than all the other baloney. As with the other story, there was an obligatory clinch, but again early in the piece instead of here at the resolution. I find myself moved by this guy's faith in Donna, based on nothing that is mentioned in the story, and I like the fact that this isn't spelled out.

Again with the moon. It emphatically descends as together they disappear along the beach where before he had done it alone.

'They walked away into the night, leaving behind them turmoil and confusion, knowing that somehow a pattern of new life would form from the shambles of the past.'

The story in full at the Digital Comics Museum

Labels: ,

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Coming to a seafront near you.

Labels: ,

In conversation: Neil Gaiman talks to Shaun Tan
NG: Your stuff is always laconic. One of the things I love about it is that a picture is worth a thousand words and you make your pictures work very hard.

ST: The text illustrates the pictures – it provides a connective tissue for me. I usually refine the text last, partly because pictures are harder to do so it's easier to edit words – I use text as grout in between the tiles of the pictures. I always overwrite, really awful, long bits of script and then I trim it down to the bare bones and then add a little bit to colour it in. At the end of all of my stories I test for wordless comprehension. So I remove the text and see if it works by itself. And if it does I feel that that's a successful story. I don't know if that's an important principle but it's helped me structure things.
Announcement. I only have half an idea how the awards work at the annual comics festival of Angouleme. I think they have a long list of about fifty books, from which half a dozen are selected for award. Anyhoo, Alec: Integrale, published by Ca et La is on the list.

And it looks like I'm going to be there! I have no idea about any of it, but wee Paul Gravett has been saying he'll be interviewing me, so it seems to be official. I mean, I've booked a flight, just don't expect me to know where you can find me. Tell me in comments if you know any more than I do. I'll be showing my face in Paris also. I'll update as the fog clears.


Monday 5 December 2011

It's just comics- part 12

In the previous chapter of this endless disquisition on the subject of the 1950s ROMANCE comic book, by which it is my plan to alienate all my readers, I dwelt specifically on the product of the publisher Quality. This time I'm examining a single story at some length. It was published by Quality in August 1950. It caught my eye because the protagonist, Helen, is a magistrate. It's the only time I've ever seen such a thing in a romance comic.

Love Confessions #6 Aug 1950, lead story, 9 pages

Trina Robbins in A Century Of Women Cartoonists, wrote about romance comic books: "With few exceptions, the stories in these books were hackneyed and cliched, but the art was often stylish and elegant..." The problem with that statement is that it implies that other kinds of comic book are not also hackneyed and cliched. Trina probably recognises this, but her real problem is, I would guess, the one that James Romberger spells out when reviewing the Alex Toth book I wrote about here in part 3:
"the romance comics do give the artist a chance to draw a range of emotions and choreograph more intimate stagings, but they are also intended to program young girls to be subservient. In most cases, it is only that Toth drew these stories that elevates them from a justified place in the dustbin of comics history."
It makes no sense to attribute a programming 'intention' to comic books when it was already being done, neither consciously nor cynically, by the state, the church and social history. A cheap commercial artifact such as a comic book can hardly have any interest in changing the world. Its only interest is in selling enough copies to come out again next month. I'll come back to the business of changing the world before I'm finished here today.

First let's look at this notion, common to both quotations above, that you can separate everything else from the 'story.' There really are only a handful of story archetypes, or of romance story archetypes (and a handful of western stories, of horror, etc) and what you are reading is a performance of one of them. To draw a comparison, the tango is one dance, but every performance of it is unique (and both the archetype and the performance are a 'dance'). The tango may be different from a waltz, a quadrille or a four hand reel. As different as each performance of one of these may be from every other performance of it, each ends in its prescribed way, bar mishap. As an example, lest I'm not making myself clear, I see there is a new performance of Spiderman on film. You already know the story. Since the last time they performed it was only ten years ago, I cannot imagine that anybody half interested could not already know it.

So, the story is the abstract of how it started, who did what, and how it ended. Everything on the page, and things not on the page including the writer's instructions to the artist, comprise the performance. The story may already exist somewhere else, in a movie or in prose in a pulp or a slick magazine. Be that as it may, that's one performance and this is another. If you go and tell it later over the dinner table, then that's another performance again, and yours could be better than all the others.

Let's look at this one. I do not know who wrote it and probably never will. The lettering is by the Leroy mechanical process, but I'm thinking it wasn't put on the page pre-artwork in the EC manner, based on looking hard and comparing things. Judging by comparisons with other work not too distant in time and place I'm guessing the pencilling is by Sam Citron, an artist who earlier worked on Superman. Inking is by the 'tidy hair' inker mentioned in the previous instalment. The hair sits on the heads better here because the pencilling is superior. Here's a close up.

This is Wade, the District Attorney. That's him entering from the left in the splash panel spread showing a crucial scene from later in the story. Otherwise, here he is in the opening scene stating the argument. Is Helen to be a magistrate or a woman? And if she decides to be the latter, will she give him a tumble? She takes it under advisement.

Here she is in the courtroom being swayed by the boyish charms of a likely lad, a larrikin, a cheeky charlie.

She lets the guy off but then can't shake the thought that she did it for womanly reasons.

One of the set-pieces of the romance genre is the scene in the girl's bedroom in which she takes stock of the situation. In this scene she is invariably dressed in her smalls and is in a relaxed position. It's usually only one panel and it calls for a nicely observed figure study. There was a period when it was suggested that this is because comic artists are mostly male and they like drawing this sort of thing. That period was the one in which women weren't about to let anybody get away with anything.

So Helen reads a book to get her mind off the cheeky charlie. I'll come back to this panel before I'm done.

Next day, the crafty character invades her chambers. She tries to close the door on him, but he forces his way in.

There is authority in the drawings of Helen. We never for a minute think that the artist has imported a photographic reference. In fact he has probably used a number of stills of an actress from a single film in order to get such impeccable consistency. The challenge is to make it all look seamless.

Subtleties of body language make the difference between a good romance comic and a dull one. Notice the instinctive way she draws her arm across in front of her in the above. Another important set-piece is, of course, the clinch. This is not an easy thing to draw, and this artist shows skill in the way he has his figures coming at oblique angles to each other through, rather than across, the pictorial space. The crushed curls of hair are nicely observed. But storywise, this clinch represents a moment of panic, of danger, rather than emotional resolution.

Now she can't help herself and has been drawn into his web. In the romance comic, so much happens at close personal quarters that the artist must be on the lookout for a chance to get a full figure into a picture (see elsewhere, my 'feet rule'). He takes it here, getting out of the car, and has to extend the picture vertically at left to make it work (one of the reasons I deduce that the pages weren't pre-lettered).

Chuck takes Helen to a party, but it turns out to be the house party of a hoodlum.

Now she knows things have got out of control

She resolves to break off this association with Chuck, but next day, before she can tell him, he phones to say he's on his way round. He arrives with the whole gang in tow.

She realises too late that she has been used. There's been a hold-up and she's to be the alibi.

Suddenly there's a knock at the door. It's Wade and two detectives. She courageously identifies the villains, knowing they have guns trained on her.

All Hell breaks loose and Helen gets winged.

It's a nice touch that the piece doesn't end with an obligatory clinch, leaving the uncomfortable one above, and as presaged in the splash panel, the only one in the story. However, in the final panel Helen bows to male superiority, a 1950s thing that has all but died out in our time.

At this stage I'm thinking, you guys have gone to a lot of effort to make the protagonist of this story a very impressive figure for a comic book character, too much to leave her with that last bit of dialogue. I did not expect 'That rare woman, who has won acclaim in a man's world', to cave so easily. The 'performance' leads the reader of 2011 to expect a better resolution than the 'story' is obliged to deliver. You could delete everything after "I've been a fool" and the comic, in our eyes, would be much better for it. One could speculate that it was added in editorially; in virtually every book I've done with a big publisher there's been a line or two added in that I feel changed the meaning of something I wrote. Even The Fate Of The Artist has got a change I wasn't happy about after I discovered it (quite apart from the funny one I have talked about). It's what happens. But that's pointless speculation; the writer would presumably have wanted to sell another performance the following week. Let's just accept that he took the job and saw it through.

I kept returning to this comic (the complete thing is here, by the way at the Digital Comics Museum.), looking at it hard and thinking how easily it could have been a great piece of work rather than one that gave up at the final hurdle. Then I fastened on the seventh panel above, the one in which she is reading while lying down, the box of chocolates to one side. The book is a legal one, with the title is on the back cover. Perhaps the writer instructed the artist to make sure he got that title on there, and the artist had already composed his picture when he remembered the instruction so he stuck the title illogically on the back cover. 'Cady on Torts.'

I looked up Wikipedia. Daniel Cady was a Justice of The New York Supreme Court in the mid-1800s. He once served on a land dispute case with Abraham Lincoln. But he is perhaps best remembered for being the father of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, an important leading figure of the early Women's Rights movement. I located her autobiography at Google Books. There follows a passage from it.

Eighty years and more: reminiscences, 1915-1897. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, published by T. Fisher Unwin, 1898
(page 31)
As my father's office joined the house, I spent there much of my time, when out of school, listening to the clients stating their cases, talking with the students, and reading the laws in regard to woman. In our Scotch neighborhood many men still retained the old feudal ideas of women and property. Fathers, at their death, would will the bulk of their property to the eldest son, with the proviso that the mother was to have a home with him. hence it was not unusual for the mother, who had brought all the property into the family, to be made an unhappy dependent on the bounty of an uncongenial daughter-in-law and a dissipated son. The tears and complaints of the women who came to my father for legal advice touched my heart and early drew my attention to the injustice and cruelty of the laws. As the practice of the law was my father's business, I could not exactly understand why he could not alleviate the sufferings of these women. So, in order to enlighten me, he would take down his books and show me the inexorable statutes.

So when, from time to time, my attention was called to these odious laws, I would mark them with a pencil, and becoming more and more convinced of the necessity of taking some active measures against these unjust provisions, I resolved to seize upon the first opportunity, when alone in the office, to cut every one of them out of the books; supposing my father and his library were the beginning and end of the law. However, this mutilation of his volumes was never accomplished...
Without letting me know that he had discovered my secret, he explained to me one evening how laws were made."When you are grown up, and able to prepare a speech," said he, "you must go down to Albany and talk to the legislators; tell them all you have seen in this office- the sufferings of these Scotchwomen, robbed of their inheritance and left dependent on their unworthy sons, and, if you can persuade them to pass new laws, the old ones will be a dead letter." Thus was the future object of my life foreshadowed and my duty plainly outlined by him who was most opposed to my public career when, in due time, I entered upon it.
The writer of the comic may have just picked 'Cady' off a shelf of lawbooks. Perhaps he didn't send me to find the above, and it's all a coincidence.

Here's another. While I was writing the above, the episode of Two and Half Men, which I consider a very well written sitcom, in which Charlie is introduced to a lady judge came up as a repeat. Charlie tries to impress her but makes a mess of it. Three times he leaves a voice message for her. Then, having failed, he goes out on a bender. Arrested for being drunk and disorderly, he is brought before the judge, who happens to be Judge Linda. 'Please tell me you did not get yourself arrested just so you can see me?' she asks in disbelief. Charlie thinks about that for an instant and says 'ummm... you got me.' "Will the accused please approach the bench'. So he does, whereupon the judge says she'll call him and then gives Charlie a $500 fine. I mention this anecdote to show that the false dilemma is no longer cited. You can be both a judge and a woman. You can even find a soft spot for the accused without it being a betrayal of your profession. Dramatically speaking I mean. I can't guarantee you won't get hauled over the coals by the judicial conduct commission.