Tagged: American Splendor

Marc Alan Fishman: When Page Does Not Translate To Screen


The battle lines are drawn each time a leaked picture hits the web. The tattooed Joker. The dark-costumed Superman. The old-school-but-with-new-web-shooters Spider-Man. The Flash — the TV one or the movie one? Aquaman, a.k.a. the WWE’s Roman Reigns. Starlord by way of Han Solo. And whatever the hell Lex Luthor was doing with wardrobe from the porn parody of The Social Network. It sets the nerds on fire in heated debates and discussions. At their core, no true fan of a character can draw peaceful breath while their favorite character is reinterpreted by Hollywood costumers and art directors who totally do not even know what comics are!

And then the stories themselves! What good is Batman v. Superman when it seems like the writer’s room and director are hell-bent on cramming eight major stories into a single bloated cry-fest? Or what of Marvel basically rewriting the same script over and over, but changing the lead character to whatever name is on the title page, to fill in a roster spot for the next massive crossover planned in 2021?

And of course, the studios get their fair share of the blame. How many more retreads of the Fantastic Four will we have to sludge through until the owners of the license finally figure out they can’t make work? Who will tell DC that it’s not a great idea to take the notes on your universally not-loved picture and just apply them willy-nilly to the next movie in line? And I haven’t even scratched the surface on some of the indie debacles we’ve seen that utterly miss the point of their source material.

For every amazing adaptation like Sin City, Hellboy, Deadpool, and Iron Man, we are made to suffer through the muck of Ghost Rider, Catwoman, and Green Lantern. And in all of those cases, it’s seemingly impossible for the nerd masses to unite in love. And even sometimes when the creators totally get it right — Scott Pilgrim, American Splendor, or Ghost World — it doesn’t always spell mind-blowing blockbuster. Which in turn causes the studios to intervene and hire writers and directors to apply their “Hollywood Magic,” and thus we get Batsad v. SuperSerious: Dawn of RainFights or the recently released Batman: The Killing Joke of Barbara Gordon Having Sex With Batman, WTF!

So, how do we deal? Well, I’d say you take a page right out of John Ostrander’s book. No, please don’t tear up the man’s comics! John’s review of Suicide Squad was the best review of the film a fan could ask for. Why? Because John proved that one can love the source material separated from the film is winds up inspiring. What a novel idea! Taken without the source material in mind, Suicide Squad is a loud-brash-loud-angry-loud-bright-loud action flick. A decent one, in fact. Is it Hamlet? No. But it’s a good popcorn flick where things go boom, and the one-liners make you giggle. Are there better comic book adaptations? Yup. Plenty. But taken for what it is — an action movie that will tie-in to future action movies — it was a nifty romp.

This, of course, leads to my unanswered question of the week. How can we, the nerdiest of the nerds, separate ourselves from the horded minutiae of the pulpy roots we commit to memory that now morph into multiple new media? I am truly of two minds on the subject. I think immediately of an adolescent girl who sees Suicide Squad without any knowledge of the source material. I think how she walks away loving Harley Quinn. And I bristle at the thought. “How could you like that vapid one-liner spouting Hot Topic walking advertisement!” I chortle in my mind. But then, the counterpoint seeps in creepily behind the bluster. “If she truly loves the character, she might seek out more information, with which she might partake of Mad Love, or several other better interpretations of the character and come to love Harley more wholly!” And that my friends may end up being the grey answer out of our world of black and white.

We simply can’t blame Hollywood for attempting (and failing) to stick closely to the roots of any license they gobble up. They are in it to make money. That means casting Will Smith and writing Deadshot less like John Ostrander did and more in line with what puts butts in seats instead of eyes at the local comic shoppe. At the end of the day, the character is able to live in infinite iterations. The cream will always rise to the top. Lest we forget: Harley Quinn was made for a cartoon long before she was comic cannon. Starlord as a wise-cracking anthropologist with a love for scoundrels just looks and feels cooler than an uptight space-Nazi.

In a world where every comic has potential to become a great TV show or movie, we are actually allowed to have our cake and eat it too… so long as what makes it to screen is treated with depth, clarity, and care.

Mindy Newell: Yiddishkeit

I miss bookstores.  Being able to walk up and down the aisles, pulling out a title that sounds intriguing, perusing the dust jacket flap, sometimes sitting down on the floor and reading the first couple of pages…just killing a couple of hours lost in a bibliophile’s heaven.

Okay, bookstores aren’t entirely gone, but they are, as everyone knows, on the endangered list.  My own first hint of this came about 15 years ago when the Borders in the Short Hills Mall closed up.  It was astonishing—this was a bookstore that was always mobbed, no matter the time of day.  Many, many people objected to the closing, and many, many people let the mall’s management know it; the customer service desk clerk told me, as I filled out the complaint form, that there were over 3,000 signatures in the first week alone protesting the shutdown, and demanding, if not the return of Borders, the opening of another book proprietor.  I thought, and I’m sure many others thought, that the store closed because the management had raised its rent beyond what Borders was willing to pay.  But now I think that I witnessed the beginning of the end.  I knew for sure that bookstores were about to go the way of the dodo bird when I drove over to Hoboken one Sunday morning a few years ago to spend a few hours in the Barnes & Noble there to find that it was gone; I remember being shocked (“Holy shit!” I said out loud) because not only is that particular store is in a city with a university (Stevens Institute of Technology), but it is also home to the sort of population that publishers love and book stores crave—well-educated and upscale and readers.

I bring this up because I recently bought a book on Amazon that whetted my appetite, especially because it is the last work of the late, great Harvey Pekar, who was one of its editors.  That book is [[[Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular & The New Land]]].  According to the blurb on Amazon, which is lifted from the front flap of the book’s dust jacket:

Yiddish is everywhere.  We hear words like nosh, schlep, and schmutz all the time, but how did they come to pepper American English, and how do we intuitively know their meaning?


Dennis O’Neil: CBG and Romance

O'Neil Art 130124Great Caesar’s bust is on the shelf

And I don’t feel so well myself.

– Arthur Guiterman

I guess they’re not kidding about this “dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return” business. After 1,699 issues and 42 years of publication, what began as the brainchild of 17-year-old Alan Light and, after a few earlier names was finally and best known as The Comics Buyer’s Guide – CBG for short – has reached its end.

I don’t think I ever paid for an issue of the paper but, thanks to the generosity of its publishers, I read a lot of them. When I was sitting behind various editorial desks CBG would appear in the mail once a week and when I had some spare time I’d page through it, reading this and that. It wasn’t a big part of my professional life, but it was nice.

Eventually, I did a short article for it. My idea was to make CBG’s readership aware of Harvey Pekar and his self-published and strange and unique comic book, American Splendor. Since Harvey didn’t truck in the usual comic book stuff, I thought that maybe CBG’s readers might be missing something that was unlike anything else on the market, something they’d like. I now wish I had a do-over. Though my intentions were pure, the piece I produced, I think, was patronizing, maybe because I didn’t, and don’t, know how to describe Harvey’s episodic autobiographies. He was an American original and his work doesn’t classify easily.

That regrettable bit of quasi-journalism printed and, one hopes, quickly forgotten, I no doubt thought I was done with CBG except for my weekly reading of it. But the best was yet to come. CBG played a small, but crucial, part in events that shaped the rest of my life. Cue organ chord.

Getting married is generally considered to be a life-shaper, no? And getting married to a teenage sweetheart you haven’t seen in 30 years, well…

To be brief: Marifran Reuter, nee McFarland, was teaching a parish school of religion in a St. Louis suburb. Talking to a student’s mom, she mentioned that she once dated a guy whose brother had the same name as the student’s father. Mom and teacher compared facts and, yes, the student’s dad was, indeed,the brother of the guy teacher had dated, long since moved to New York and working as a writer. Teach wrote writer a letter and, on the writer’s next midwestern visit, they met and talked until three in the morning. A bit later, during a phone conversation, Marifran told the writer that she’d be selling text books in Omaha during summer vacation. Uh-huh! So the writer, me, looked into CBG and found the name of a comic shop in Omaha. I called the shop and persuaded the proprietor to invite me for an autographing session on the June day that Marifran was hawking textbooks in the area. Then I called her and said that she wouldn’t believe what just happened – I had a gig in Omaha on the same day and why don’t we meet in Missouri and go together…

Would it have happened without CBG? I don’t know. But happen it did, and on a warm Nebraska night, we sat on a hillside and spoke the truth as we knew it and created the rest of our lives.

THURSDAY: Martha Thomases’ Extra Heroes


Emily S. Whitten, In Conversation with Dean Haspiel

Dean Haspiel strikes me as a creator who’s constantly growing. He’s an artist, he’s a writer, he’s won an Emmy for TV design work, and in the last year he’s started up a new project, Trip City, a “Brooklyn-filtered literary arts salon” with an eclectic mix of comics, stories, realism, sci-fi, and more. Now, don’t get me wrong – I obviously love superhero comics, and the people who create them, but I also love creators who can and do cross genres and try new things. Dean is clearly one of these.

While Dean is perhaps best known for his work with Harvey Pekar (e. g. American Splendor and The Quitter) and for his “last romantic anti-hero” Billy Dogma, his current project that’s caught my attention is Trip City, via the sample booklet Dean shared with me at Baltimore Comic Con. While there’s no denying I am hooked on the Internet and social media, I am admittedly also one of those people who still generally prefers reading a paper book when it comes to fiction and creative works; which means that having a paper selection of Trip City’s offerings to lure me to the content on the web is a smooth (and effective) move.

The booklet is a combination of short stories and comics from a variety of creators, and runs the gamut from tales of relationship heartbreak or zombie science to a whimsical “missed connection” ad. It’s definitely a “something for everyone” kind of collection, and while not every selection may strike every reader’s fancy, they’re all quality work (and I, personally, enjoyed them). The best part, of course, is that if you want to read more, you can easily hop over to the site, which hosts a large and varied collection of content, as well as a regular podcast [http://welcometotripcity.com/category/podcast/]. I’m definitely going to spend some time over there, I can tell.

Another cool thing about Dean is that he’s a natural storyteller and born conversationalist. This made for a fun interview when I chatted with him at Baltimore Comic Con. Read on to hear what he had to say!

Emily: Walt Simonson’s work on Thor was just honored at the Harvey Awards. I know you’ve worked with Walt. Tell me about working with him; and did you have some work in the award-winning collection?

Dean: In 1985, I was a senior in high school, at what was Music and Art, which got married to Art and Design and became LaGuardia High School in Manhattan; so I was in the first graduating class of LaGuardia High School. I had befriended Larry O’Neil, Denny O’Neil’s son, who was in school with me, and he would get wind from his father of when some of the local artists might need assistance. Larry went on to become a filmmaker; but at one point during our initial friendship he wanted to be a cartoonist, and he got a gig working for Howard Chaykin on American Flagg! Howard Chaykin shared a studio called Upstart Studios with Walter Simonson. At one point Frank Miller was in that studio, and Jim Starlin…it was this amazing studio. The studio at the time was Howard, Walter and Jim Sherman.

Down the hall, Bill Sienkiewicz set up a studio with Denys Cowan, and Michael Davis (fellow ComicMix columnist!), who was part of creating Milestone Media. Bill Sienkiewicz was looking for an assistant, and I got that gig. So I would work with Bill, and sometimes he wouldn’t be there but I’d come in anyway; so then I’d work in Upstart with those guys, until eventually I became a second assistant for Howard Chaykin. Larry and I both worked on his monthly book. While there, we got friendly with Walter, who would sometimes use me as an assistant as well, and if you know his run on Thor, at one point, Thor becomes a frog; which was so absurd that Walt was a little worried that it wouldn’t fly – but it totally flew. I remember that distinctly because I remember working on some of those stories. My artwork of that time would be more prevalent in Chaykin’s American Flagg!, because I actually drew the backgrounds with Larry on that book; but I did work with Walter.

The way Walter worked (and this was before Photoshop) was that he would do these amazing thumbnail layouts that he always wanted to try to keep the energy of, because when you initially draw something, that’s almost like the best version of that art; because after that you start to finesse it, and sometimes you can cripple it by overdrawing or over-rendering it, or tightening it up too much. And Walter’s style has a loosey-goosey kind of line and he does a beautiful thing with a crow quill pen and brush; so part of my job as his assistant was to take his thumbnail layouts, and use this machine called an Artograph to blow them up onto boards that he would then fully pencil or ink.

Knowing what he was trying to capture was actually harder to work on because you’re trying to be in his arm and his mind, and take his scribbles, and enlarge them onto the projector-sized paper; and I didn’t have the faculty for that. Not only was I not as good an artist as I hope I am today, but also you’re trying to draw like someone else, which is hard. And then of course he would mostly erase it and go on and do his own version. But it was very good training; and also I would fill in the blacks and erase pages and things like that.

But: yes, I did work on some of those famous Thors, and Walt is like a mentor to me. Because another thing that happens, when you work with guys like this for a year, is that it’s the best kind of school. It’s not like, “here’s how you draw a panel, or a page, or rule it” – you do it by example. You do it because you’re around people and you’re getting that energy, and you learn – that’s the only way really to learn these things. He and Howard Chaykin have been mentors to me since 1985. And he’s pulled pranks on me and stuff like that.

Emily: Oh, give us an example!

Dean: Here’s a famous prank. I kind of made a joke at the Harveys about the fact that some of the stuff I learned in their studio was about Warren Zevon and Van Morrison and the writing of Jim Thompson; and they’re the ones who introduced me to Akira, by Katsuhiro Otomo. Because at the time I was like, “It’s 1985, I’m into hip hop; I’m into Prince, I’m listening to what kids listen to.” And in the studio they had this record player, and they were always playing Van Morrison and Warren Zevon and this kind of rockabilly music, and I was like, “I don’t want to listen to this stuff, whatever.” At the time, okay? Now I’m older, I can appreciate it. So they allowed me and Larry to play one record each, and I was way into Prince, so I brought in a 45 of “Little Red Corvette.” So once in awhile they’d allow us to play our song, to be democratic.

One day while working with Howard and Larry on American Flagg!, Howard encourages me, “Hey Dean, why don’t you play that song you like? Play your Prince song.” So I put it on, and it starts playing, and I go back to my seat and I’m drawing. Suddenly I hear Walter’s chair slam against the floor, and he gets up, and he’s huffing and puffing. He’s really upset; and he’s like, “I fucking hate this song, this is bullshit.” And I’m thinking, “Oh my God, what’s happening?? This was sanctioned, why am I not allowed to play it?” And then he goes over to the record player, and I look up at him, and I see this raging – he looked like a monster; and if you know Walt Simonson, he’s the nicest guy in comics ever. I didn’t know who this was, and I got so scared, I turned away. I hear him yelling again about how he hates the song, and he takes the record needle, and he scratches it across the entire song, and I’m just hearing this ripping sound, and I actually start to get sick, and he takes it in his hands, and crumples the vinyl, and I’m thinking, “I’m dead,” or it’s not happening; like I go into shock.

And Walt says, “Dean, I have something for you.” And I’m thinking, “I don’t want anything!” I don’t know what’s going to happen next. And he brings over his portfolio, and he pulls out a 12-inch version of “Little Red Corvette”! And at one point I’d looked at Larry O’Neil and Howard Chaykin, and their faces were pressed against their art tables, because they were trying to stifle laughter, but I didn’t know that at the time. I thought they were afraid and cowering as well. And then everyone starts laughing; and I’m having heart palpitations – I want to vomit; but the thing that was cool was that it made me feel like I was part of the gang. You pull a prank on someone like that, and it means they’re okay, they’ve been green lit in a way…But the collector in me is a little pissed off that that 45 got destroyed!

Emily: Hah! I bet. Now, you’ve also worked with Harvey Pekar; tell me about that.

Dean: It took me awhile to finally do something with him. I would send him samples, and I think he thought I was probably too mainstream, because he wouldn’t react. I actually wrote and drew a two-page comic about it, called The American Dilemma, which I published. It was basically about me sending him my artwork, and feeling like by the fact that he didn’t respond, I was going through a scenario of paranoia about how he was rejecting me; so I published that, to show I could create an auto-biographical story about me and my feelings. It was with other comics that are auto-bio, which I did with Josh Neufeld. It was called Keyhole, and again: nothing. So now I’m publishing things about him and he’s not responding to that either; and I was kind of getting a little pissed off, to be frank.

Then a couple of years later I get a phone call from a guy who I thought was pretending to be Harvey Pekar and pulling a prank on me (because now I’ve had pranks in my life thanks to Walt Simonson!). So he says, “Hey, do you want to do a one-page comic?” And I’m like, “Is this really Harvey Pekar?” I’m starting to question him and who he is. And he says, “Come on man, don’t you want to make some bread?” And I’m like, “Now he’s lying; this guy is a bad Pekar; talking in his lingo and stuff.” And finally he tells me to fuck off and hangs up the phone. And I’m thinking, “How is that a funny prank, if it ends like that? Where’s the prank part?” So I start realizing, “Holy crap, that was probably Harvey Pekar.” And this was before caller ID. So I called up Josh Neufeld, and first of all I thought he’d been the caller, but he says, “No man, what are you talking about?” and then I tell him what happened, and he’s like, “That was Harvey!” So I said, “…can I please get his phone number, and I’ll call him back?”

I call him back, get him on the phone and apologize, and he says to me, “What can I do to prove to you that I’m really me?” And I say, “Can you give me that job that you’re offering?” And he did, and it started this relationship. At one point, I had only done one- or five-page stories with him, and then I’d been an assistant to a film producer named Ted Hope, and I knew Ted was a comics fan, because I’d see a lot of his comics and I would file his comics at times. Ted had a couple of scripts, and one of them was a defunct American Splendor script. So it occurred to me; I’ve worked with Harvey; it would be great to make an American Splendor movie; and I suggested it to Ted, who said, “I would love to try to do that.” So I said “I’ll talk to Harvey and hook you guys up to have a phone conversation.” They did, and a year-and-a-half later, it won the Best Picture at the Sundance Film Festival.

Because of that, Harvey wanted to thank me by doing something more substantial together, and that’s where The Quitter arrived. I’d pitched it to Vertigo; they wanted to start branching out and doing more indie stuff and autobiographical. So we did The Quitter together; and then I brought American Splendor over, because it had been at Dark Horse for awhile, but it wasn’t doing well, or they couldn’t produce or market it right. It was always a hard comic to sell anyway; it’s a particular kind of franchise. It’s not superheroes, it’s about a grumpy guy writing about the mundane things in life; like how much of a fan base can you have? You can hear about it, but does that mean you went and bought it? It’s a Catch-22. So I got two miniseries’ at Vertigo of American Splendor, that became collections, and we did a couple of other little things, and then unfortunately he passed away. He was a great guy to work with. As much as he had his curmudgeonly persona, he was a sweetheart; a mensch. He always looked out for his artists, and he was just a great guy.

Emily: You’ve done a lot of really cool things. What are you working on now?

Dean: Recently I drew Godzilla Legends #5 for IDW. I just drew a Mars Attacks Christmas story for the Mars Attacks holiday special, coming out in October; I wrote and drew a 12-page story for that, which takes place in Red Hook, Brooklyn. I’m doing a couple of little things right now, and I’m also working on the second season of The Five-Dimensional Adventures of Dirk Davies, a webcomic with Ben McCool over at Shifty Look. Namco Bandai is working with different houses to produce these comics at Shifty Look. We worked with Cryptozoic; they also produced The Lookouts which Ben just did, which is a new comic.

I’ve been doing Trip City, where I’ve been curating and creating content; it’s a Brooklyn-filtered literary arts salon online. We also have these paper curated anthologies just to give people a taste of what is online. It’s prose, some comics, multimedia and a bunch of other stuff. I have other things I want to flex, other things I want to do; not just draw comics. I was recently at Yaddo, which is a writers’/artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs, NY, where I completed a feature-length screenplay, the first part of a novel, and a new comic book idea in 24 days.

I’ve been itching to do this stuff, and I had it in the back of my mind, so I went into the woods in a cabin, and did this and walked the dog. It’s the best thing – you should try it! I recommend it to anyone who can afford to do a retreat like that. I just did a print version of The Last Romantic Antihero, which is also up at Trip City; but believe it or not, even if you give it away online, some people will only read it if you put it in their hand or create a different kind of delivery system. So I’m testing the waters with that.

Emily: What do you think today are the most effective ways to reach people with new material?

Dean: I think using the DIY tools that have been given to us, like Twitter and Facebook, is good. We’re all still figuring out how to navigate that, and when is it too much, or not enough – how and when to use it. Figure out a destination point where you put your stuff up, where you can link to something that’s all yours. Also, be communal. You can’t just be me-me-me-me; because after awhile, people get bored of that and who cares? So share what you like, show up to the party. Be informed, be aware. Luckily, I like a lot of other things much more than what I do. I love other people’s stuff, and promote that; and I don’t waste my time hating stuff. I hate stuff; but I’m not going to publish and promote that I hate something. That’s a waste of time. I sometimes feel like the Internet is made for hate, and I’m like, no, no, no; use it for good. So that’s what I promote.

Emily: There are always people looking to break in, or for tips on what to do in the industry to get noticed. Things have changed a lot from year-to-year. What would you tell people today?

Dean: Use the Internet. If you’re not Alan Moore… Listen, no one’s standing in line knocking on my door; I’ve got to let people know what I’m doing. What’s great about putting even ten images up with your name and a contact is that it works as a 24-7, 365 resume. It’s working for you while you sleep. You may get someone knocking on your door from that. And as important as it is to have something up that shows off your wares, also show up to the party and be part of the community. Find your people. You’re not going to love everybody, you’re not going to like everybody, and not everybody’s going to like you; but find your people, truck with your gang, and luckily you can do it virtually. You can do it from your basement or home.

Emily: I’ve heard some artists say DeviantArt is a good place to showcase work; if you don’t have your own website, do you think that’s an effective place? What do you think is helpful?

Dean: This will show my age a little bit. I don’t have a DeviantArt and I don’t have a Tumblr; and I hear about Tumblr and DeviantArt all the time. If I’m hearing about it – and I hear some of my favorite artists do get a lot of work through their DeviantArt pages – then it sounds like it’s probably a good idea to have that. You don’t have to have your own website. You’re part of a community when you’re on DeviantArt and Tumblr, as with Facebook and Twitter. You can curate who you know, and keep a public presence so people can stumble upon you. The key, though, is to respond to other people’s work; comment; spark a dialogue. Yes, I understand that it’s another job sometimes; but if you’re trying to engender work and get people to know you, you’ve got to get to know other people. That’s the only way it works.

Emily: A sentiment I totally agree with. Thanks, Dean, for sharing some amazing stories and your outlook with us!

Everyone, go check out Dean’s work and the new content over at Trip City. And until next time, readers: Servo Lectio!

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis Does Ralph Ellison

WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold Plays With Icons


Harvey Pekar statue fundraiser surpasses $30,000 goal, 13 days early

Harvey Pekar statue fundraiser surpasses $30,000 goal, 13 days early

Harvey Pekar at Hallwalls, Buffalo, N.Y. Oct. ...

Way to go, [[[American Splendor]]] fans!

Donors have given enough money to honor author Harvey Pekar with a desk and sculpture to be installed at the Cleveland Height-University Heights Public Library.

Joyce Brabner, Pekar’s widow, said in early November that $30,000 had to be raised by Dec. 5, for his tribute.

The campaign, started online at Kickstarter, had already raised $30,787 through Monday with 669 backers, according to Carole Wallencheck, a reference associate with the library.

With 13 days to go before the deadline, Wallencheck said any surplus donations will be given to the library to buy graphic novels.

via Harvey Pekar tribute drive surpasses $30,000 goal | cleveland.com.

Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular & The New Land

[[[Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular & The New Land]]]
edited by Harvey Pekar & Paul Buhle with Hershl Hartman
Abrams Comicarts, 240 pages

It always seemed to me like mine was the last secular “Jewish generation” in America. Born in the mid-1950s, in the depths of Brooklyn in a neighborhood adjacent to the heavily Orthodox neighborhood of Crown Heights, surrounded on all sides by three generations of family, including grandparents and great-grandparents born in the old country, the entire world seemed Jewish. Even when my family moved (briefly) to West Virginia (population 5,000, only seven of which were Jews), then back to Brooklyn, to Canarsie and East Flatbush, the feeling of Jewishness never went away. The neighborhoods were now a mix of Irish, Italian, and Jewish, even a sprinkling of Afro-Americans, but when the family gathered, Yiddish was still spoken among the adults when the topic wasn’t fit for kinder, children. As a result, der kinder learned to understand, if not speak, just enough of the mamaloshen (the mother tongue) to get the gist of what we weren’t supposed to hear.

Popular entertainment was Jewish, too. The producers and writers behind many of the sitcoms were Jews and even if the characters weren’t Jewish (with the exception of The Goldbergs), the comedic sensibilities sure were. Ditto for the variety shows, where in addition to everything else, many of the hosts were Jewish as well. Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis (although not Dean Martin), Sid Caesar. Allan Sherman sold millions of comedy albums in the early-1960s with song parodies that were flavored by schmaltz (chicken fat). Today, when he’s remembered, he’s remembered for his (mostly) WASPy “Hello Mudder, Hello Faddah.” Song-writing in the mid-20th century was so Jewish that according to ASCAP’s list of the top twenty-five most popular Christmas songs, twelve were written by Jews.

Even the Italians were Jewish in Hollywood. In The Detective, a 1968 mystery starring Frank Sinatra, Jack Klugman co-stars as one of Frank’s police colleagues who has a brief exchange with his wife in the sing-song cadence of Yiddish about whether or not he wants her to make him a “nice glass tea.” My great-grandmother drank hot tea out of a glass (never a mug), sweetening it with a cube of sugar between her teeth as she sipped.

Jewishness, if not Judaism, was everywhere. Hollywood is still a Jewish town, but the entertainment it now produces is far less so. Even the language of the Jews, Yiddish, has become somewhat catholic in appeal; every schmuck on the street thinks he’s a big macher because he knows a bissel Yiddish. And as the Jews have long known, there’s really nothing like Yiddish to make a point. As Neal Gabler (author of the excellent An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood) says in his introduction to Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular & The New Land, “Yiddish is the most onomatopoeic language ever created. Everything sounds exactly the way it should: macher for a self-appointed big shot, shlmiel for the fellow who spills the soup and shlmazel for the hapless one (as in “poor shmuck”), shnorrer for a freeloader, nudnick for a pest. The expressiveness is bound into the language, and so is a kind of ruthless honesty….Yiddish has dozens of words for imbecile, a tribute to Jewish lucklessness…. There is no decorousness in Yiddish, nor much romance. It is raw, egalitarian, vernacular.”

Yiddish is an “amalgamated language, borrowing freely from German and Polish and Hebrew with its own unique constructions and confabulations,” and the people who speak it are the Yiddishkeit, or the Yiddish culture…although as Gabler points out, what the word encompasses is “so large, expansive, and woolly a concept that culture may be too narrow to do it full justice. ‘Jewish sensibility’ comes closer,” but, in the end, “You can’t define Yiddishkeit neatly in words and pictures. You sort of have to feel it by wading into it.” (more…)

Harvey Pekar: 1939-2010

Harvey Pekar: 1939-2010

Comic-book writer Harvey
, whose autobiographical comic series American Splendor was made into a 2003 Oscar nominated film
starring Paul Giamatti as Harvey in addition to Harvey appearing as himself,
has been found dead in his Ohio home. He was 70.

Cleveland Heights police Capt. Michael Cannon says
officers were called to Pekar’s home by his wife Joyce Brabner about 1 a.m. Monday.
Cannon says Pekar had been suffering from prostate cancer, asthma, high blood pressure and depression. Coroner’s spokesman Powell Caesar in Cleveland says
an autopsy will be performed.

Pekar’s “American Splendor” comics, which he began
publishing in 1976, record his complaints about work, money and the day-to-day grind of life. The comic was done with stories from dozens of artists over the years in a wide variety of styles. Recently, the stories had begun to migrate to the web, as The Pekar Project.

He gained widespread notoriety from his appearances on Late Night With David Letterman, which can give you a video chronicle of the man. Here’s his last appearance on the show:

Our condolences to Joyce and the rest of Harvey’s family.

A cheap(er) evening with Harvey Pekar in NYC

A cheap(er) evening with Harvey Pekar in NYC

YIVO’s “Comics and the Jewish American Dream” interview series (moderated by Danny Fingeroth) concludes tonight at 7:00 pm with Harvey Pekar, creator of American Splendor. Go and see where Joaquin Phoenix learned how to behave on Letterman.

Admission at the door has been dropped to $10. All you have to do is say the secret word: “HARVEY”.

Tuesday, February 17, 7:00 pm
The YIVO Institute For Jewish Research
15 West 16th Street / New York, NY 10011

The Theory of Webcomics: What are Webcomics?

The Theory of Webcomics: What are Webcomics?

Help me Wikipedia, you’re my only hope! What are webcomics?

Oh, okay. They’re comics published on the web. That was easy. What else have we got? Over 18,000 exist, few are self-sustaining, blah blah blah, some are like newspaper comics and some are like graphic novels, yadda yadda yadda, sometimes use sprites, pixels, photos or 3D Poser art. Some are funny, some are not; and they cover a wide variety of genres.

But really, what are webcomics? “Webcomics” is the collective name we’ve given to sequential art that appears online. Scott Kurtz’s PvP is a webcomic, as is Scott McCloud’s Zot!, but so are the reprints available from Marvel Digital Comics and the online For Better or for Worse strips. Same name, wildly different products: Kinda like comparing a 1940s Superman story with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman or Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor. They’re all “comics”, but the similarity stops there.

We’re going to need a little more granularity: Typically, one will use the phrase “webcomics” to refer to creator-owned properties published originally and/or primarily online. Reprinted newspaper strips would still fall under “newspaper comics”, and reprinted superhero material would still be “print comics” or “comic books”. So our narrowed “webcomics” would include DC’s Zuda Comics, but not Marvel Digital or FBoFW. This is still hazy for cases like Diesel Sweeties, which started on the web, and published both on the web and in syndicated papers simultaneously (with different content) for a time; but it will do.

And that’s the definition I’m typically using and tend to focus on when I talk about webcomics. When I talk about how webcomics make money, I’m thinking about how Kurtz or McCloud would make money, not how Marvel would monetize their website. When I talk about “the most popular webcomics,” I don’t mean Dilbert. The collection of comics that are creator-owned, published online, usually maintained by one or two authors and typically full of geeky content are a community and a genre all their own, and deserve the same singular attention that we give to, say, sci-fi novels.

These are the comics that you find on Keenspot [link: http://www.keenspot.com/], Zuda, Blank Label, Dumbrella, Modern Tales, and similar collectives. These are the comics that get their start on Comic Genesis [link: http://www.comicgenesis.com/], Drunk Duck, or Webcomics Nation.

And yes, these are the comics that obey Sturgeon’s Law much more so than any others—after all, the barriers to entry are very low; anyone with a computer and a bunch of free time can create one. (I myself had a short-lived sprite comic, now gone from the web and never to be seen again.) This means they’re often drawn and written by hobbyists with limited time, no editors, and the occasional limited grasp of spelling and/or grammar. Which is, of course, the other reason I like to talk about them: There are some fantastic gems of comics to be found, if you know where to look.

I’m  going to be picking apart how these comics exist as an art form and what makes them different; discuss how they make money, why some do so much better than others, and which ones you really should be reading. Though be warned: The only thing that sucks up more of your free time that creating a webcomic is reading them.

Harvey Pekar Interviews Collected

Harvey Pekar Interviews Collected

Harvey Pekar: Conversations is a new collection of interviews with the celebrated graphic novelist.  Now available from the University Press of Mississippi, the book spans 25 years of interviews that have been drawn from a wide variety of places, from fanzines and radio to The Washington Post. The book was assembled by Mike Rhode who is editor International Journal of Comic Art and blogs about comics.

The creator American Splendor and subject of a biopic, Pekar has a lot of conversations about life in this country that make for fascinating reading.  The 240-page book comes with 20 illustrations and is available in a $50 hardcover or $22 paperback.