Tagged: Chris Ware

Mindy Newell: Occam’s Razor

Yesterday – well, two days ago, since you’re reading this on Monday – I was listening to Ira Glass and “This American Life” on NPR. The subject? Superpowers.

Mr. Glass interviewed Chris Ware, cartoonist and author of the graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid On Earth, beginning with the start of Mr. Ware’s fascination with superpowers and his quest for obtaining them:

Chris Ware: I mean, unquestionably, I was by far the most loathed member of my class, I think, being a pasty, unathletic kid who was weird looking and probably seemed overly eager. And I had friends that would come over on the weekends to play. But then at school, they would ignore me and pretend like they didn’t know me.”

While it’s true that very few adults look back on their school years with love and affection – especially the high school years – I do think that most of us who were geeks before it was cool can entirely empathize with Mr. Ware and his escape into the world of wonder and four-colors. And I wouldn’t be surprised if, before this modern era of easily accessible fanfic on the web, many of us wrote stories that we didn’t show to anyone, hiding them under our beds or deep in the darkness of our desk drawers. Or, like Mr. Ware, spent hours drawing the superheroes and adventurers of science fiction and fantasy.

And didn’t we all dream of actually having ultra-human capabilities – of finding a hammer in a cave that transformed us into a Norse god of legend, of discovering that we were actually the last survivor of a long-gone planet in another star system so that we had abilities far beyond those of mortal men, of being the inheritor of a mutant gene that enabled us to read other people’s minds? Didn’t we think that if we jumped high enough and hard enough we would never come down?

Like us, Mr. Ware wondered if he could find a radioactive spider like the one that bit Peter Parker. Like us, Mr. Ware spent hours drawing superheroes. And then there was Mr. Ware’s experience in the shower:

There was one morning where I was standing under the shower. And of course when you get in, immediately, because you’re so cold, the water is extremely hot by contrast. So you have the cold water turned up. And as you stand in there, you get used to it. And you turn the cold water down.

And I was in there for a very long time. And I remember turning the cold, and it wouldn’t go any farther. And I thought, that’s weird. It must be stuck. And I turned it more. And it wouldn’t go any farther.

And I realized I was standing under completely hot water. But it felt fine to me. It actually felt warm, almost cool. And the longer I stood there, it felt cooler and cooler.

“And the only explanation I could come up with is that I had developed the ability to withstand extraordinary heat.

“Of course, we’d just run out of hot water. But at that time, I didn’t know that that happened. I thought hot water was an endless commodity.”

As a kid I used to believe that if I stared long enough at a wall I would “turn on” my secret X-ray vision; sometimes I would lay I on my back and stare up into the sky, trying with all my will to see beyond Earth’s atmosphere into outer space with my telescopic vision. And, as I talked about in a previous column, my favorite dream as a child was the one in which I went to my Aunt Ida’s toy store to pick out a costume for Halloween…and the Supergirl costume that I picked actually imbued me with the powers and abilities of my favorite Kryptonian.

But if the powers-that-be decided to grant you one super-power, and that super-power was either invisibility or flight, which would you choose?

This was the question that Mr. Glass’s colleague, John Hodgman, asked the man and woman “in the street.”

The answers were not in the least heroic:

Man: “If I could fly, the first thing I would do is fly into the bar. Check out what’s going on there. Fly back home. I would attach my baby to me and fly to a doctor’s appointment at 11:30. Fly right back. Then I think I would fly to Atlantic City.”

Woman: “[if I had the power to be invisible] I’d go into Barneys (a very chi-chi New York clothing store with prices so high you need flight just to read them). I’d pick out the cashmere sweaters that I like. I’d go into the dressing room. The woman says, how many items? I say five. I go into the dressing room. I put those five sweaters on.

“And I summon my powers of invisibility in the dressing room. I turn invisible. I walk out, leading her to wonder why there’s a tag hanging from the door that says five and no person inside.”

John Hodgman: “So you would become a thief pretty quickly.”

Immediately. Until I had all the sweaters that I wanted. And then I would have to think of other things to do.”

No one said that he or she would destroy the world’s nuclear arsenals, bring peace to the Middle East, or fight crime. Instead, they would use the power of flight to save on commuting costs, or use their invisibility to sneak into movies or airplanes.

It seems that the contract to obtain a superpower doesn’t include a morality clause. But before signing there is a lot of negotiation:

Man: “Now, when you’re flying, if you’re flying at 1,000 miles an hour at 100,000 feet, are you comfortable? Do you get very cold?

“[or] Let’s say I’m in this room, and I’m invisible. And I’m walking around this apartment, and I’m invisible. Do I have to be completely quiet, or you guys will like, hear my footsteps? Because that’s a pain in the ass.”

Yep, that’s the American way! Look for the loopholes!

It turns out that that in this – granted, very unscientific – survey there is gender bias to choosing, because, overall, men go for flight, women for invisibility. Is this a product of our society, in which men are taught to be bold and aggressive, and women encouraged to be not to make a scene? I don’t know. Neither Mr. Glass nor Mr. Hodgman specified the ages of the participants. My guess is that the older adults, raised in a more conservative (read: sexist) society, would follow the pattern, while the younger adults, raised in a more open culture in which they are “free to be you and me” (to quote Marlo Thomas), would be more difficult to assign an expected role.

I asked Alix and Jeff which they would choose.

Jeff: “Invisibility.”

Alix: “Invisibility.”

Well, both are way more practical than me; both immediately said that invisibility would be the more useful of the two – though Jeff added that he has a friend who would definitely choose flight.

Hodgman described what he calls “The Five Stages of Choosing Your Superpower.” The first is called the Gut Reaction:

Responder: “Initially, I would think perhaps invisibility.”

Stage II: Practical Consideration:

Because you have the ability to walk around work, perhaps. Show up at one point and perhaps go away for a little while and turn invisible. And then come back and listen to what they say about you. You have the power to spy on your exes. And that would all be enlightening and fun and, in fact, a little bit perverted.”

Stage III: Philosophical Reconsideration.

“That would – I believe it would immediately turn into a life of complete depression. You wouldn’t be able to really share with anyone. And I know there’d be some problems with, like, the perversion thing.”

Stage IV: Self-Recrimination:

Invisibility leads you– leads me, as an invisible person, down a dark path. Because you’re not going to want to miss out when you’re invisible. No matter how many times you’ve seen a woman naked in the shower, you’re going to want to see it again. Because there’s always a different woman. Right? And there’s, like, a lifetime of that. And that’s not acceptable behavior, no matter whether you’re invisible or not.”

Stage V: Acceptance.

Yeah, I’d have to go with flight.”

As Mr. Hodgman pointed out, and I agree with him, the choice indicates the dichotomy of our inner selves. We all want to be heroes, we all want to be gallant and overt and looked up to, we all want to fly. But down here on the ground, we are all secretly afraid and covert and selfish, we all want to those “bad” parts of us to be invisible.

As one respondent said:

Flying is for people who want to let it all hang out. Invisibility is for fearful, crouching masturbators.”

Hey, almost everybody masturbates.

But I want to fly, as well.

Up, up, and awaaaaaaay!


Marc Alan Fishman: Have Your CAKE and Eat It

Fishman 130824

So I was considering going on a long-rant/love-letter to the WWE, whose Summer Slam pay-per-view and Monday Night Raw this week were just fantastic. I was going to highlight how no other company producing week-to-week content for an audience of millions has the balls they do when it comes to allowing their villains to complete terrible acts without retribution for months on end. I was going to ramble on about how for the first time in the history of the company a truly undersized, under-utilized hero has emerged due entirely to his in-ring ability. But then I realized that while ComicMix is a pop-culture blog and news site… Comic is in the damned title. I might be better served bitching about something comic related. Which brings me to last night.

I attended a ‘Drink-And-Draw’ at a local(ish) watering hole. First and foremost? I was elated to learn just how many south-suburban Chicago comic book artists there actually were. Drinks were drunk. Poutines were consumed. Drawings were rendered. Conversations were had. I was lucky enough to flank my end of the table along with my frenemy Dan Dougherty (who I should mention has just released the second book in his Touching Evil series which could sit next to Revival for book-you-should-be-reading right now), and Wesley Wong, colorist to the stars.

Later on in the evening, Jon Michael Lennon, a compatriot, comic maker, and long-standing pal-at-the-cons moved a chair down to our end of the table, and we got to chit-chatting. Amongst the topics that came up was attending various sized shows. I then lamented that I wasn’t a fan of juried shows. Specifically the recent CAKE (Chicago Alternative Comics Expo) con that Unshaven was unceremoniously denied entrance to for the second year in a row. Jon was quick to chime in. “Yeah. I didn’t get into the [expletive deleted] show either. And I was like, seriously? Have you seen my stuff? Man… [expletive deleted] them.” I’m paraphrasing, mind you.

Jon was right. As he’d go on to explain, he’d found out from those folks within the jury/selection committee/hipster d-bags who get off on being a figure of authority… that they weren’t looking to bring in a local artists whose purpose was ‘mostly to make money’, as far as he could ascertain. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

The thing is, I know that Unshaven Comics is an indie brand. We put 200+ hours into every book to publish. We print in Lansing, IL, 10 minutes away from our homes. We sell only at conventions, and have to-date moved a whopping 10 books via our webstore, and those were to friends and family who simply can’t get to us. That being said? Our books are (now) all-ages, and envelop a style more attune to what might be considered traditional. I was, to-a-point OK with not being considered indie-enough for CAKE. If anything? I interpreted our denial e-mail to be a sign we were too mainstream for their con. Screw it, I guess we’re just knocking down DC and Marvel’s door any day now!

In stark contrast, Jon Michael Lennon and his Cheese Lord Comic imprint could not yell Indie any louder. His art style mixes influences of Robert Crumb and Daniel Clowes. His stories have given my nightmares daydreams. He is a boundary-pushing, down-trodden Harvey Pekar with an imagination that falls somewhere between Francis Bacon and actual bacon. I’m not doing him justice enough. Suffice to say: his work (specifically the Product of Society series he’s been self-publishing for years, as well as a handful of other short works in various other collections) are of the ilk that to me are akin definitively with alternative/indie/whatever-non-conformist label you’d ever give. I mean if you think a comic that questions the size of Jesus Christ’s penis is mainstream than maybe you and I should meet and get coffee.

Now, the idea that CAKE didn’t include Jon or Unshaven Comics, or dozens of other local folks I knew who also did not make it into the creamy filling of their convention resting on our collective desire to earn money for our wares…is perhaps a bit weak. If it is, in fact, true? Well, I’d never submit an application to them again, and I’d freely and happily do everything in my power to sway the masses from ever going to the show in the first place. More likely though, is that this ‘juried’ convention wanted to include those artists whose name and art style follow closer to the hip-and-with-it crowd of horned-rimmed readers who know names like Chris Ware, but couldn’t tell a Kirby from a Crumb.

The fact is that art is subjective. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. It’s how boy bands sell billions of albums, and singer-songwriters are left recording on youtube for pennies. For whatever reason, I’ve never had a problem with a fine-art gallery having a jury for a themed show. But a comic convention never crossed my mind as being a place where lines are drawn (natch) between what constitutes show-worthy and not. Comics have long been considered by the zeitgeist to be all-encompassing kitsch. The trails blazed by Crumb, Clowes, and their brethren seemed to dampen that universal lumping of our medium.

Call it a bit of black on black crime here kiddos, but I see a show like CAKE with its collection of like-minded creators to prove that within even this extremely small, extremely tight community of artists and creators… there’s still an undercurrent of ‘good and bad’ which leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Comics to me is all-inclusive. Juried shows, by-and-large, only breed seclusion. And if that is the case? Then I’m right where Jon is:

 [Expletive deleted] them.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


Eisner Awards Presented at Comic Con

All Pulp congratulates the winners of the 2013 EISNER Awards.


The winners of the 2013 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards were announced at a gala ceremony held during Comic-Con International: San Diego, at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, on Friday, July 19.

Best Short Story: “Moon 1969: The True Story of the 1969 Moon Launch,” by Michael Kupperman, in Tales Designed to Thrizzle #8 (Fantagraphics)

Best Single Issue (or One-Shot): The Mire, by Becky Cloonan (self-published)

Best Continuing Series: Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image)

Best New Series: Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image)

Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 7): Babymouse for President, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Random House)

Best Publication for Kids (ages 8–12): Adventure Time, by Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, and Braden Lamb (kaboom!)

Best Publication for Teens (ages 13–17): A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, adapted by Hope Larson (FSG)

Best Humor Publication: Darth Vader and Son, by Jeffrey Brown (Chronicle)

Best Digital Comic: Bandette, by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover (Monkeybrain)

Best Anthology: Dark Horse Presents, edited by Mike Richardson (Dark Horse)

Best Reality-Based Work (tie): Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller, by Joseph Lambert (Center for Cartoon Studies/Disney Hyperion); The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song, by Frank M. Young and David Lasky (Abrams ComicArts)

Best Graphic Album—New: Building Stories, by Chris Ware (Pantheon)

Best Adaptation from Another Medium: Richard Stark’s Parker: The Score, adapted by Darwyn Cooke (IDW)

Best Graphic Album—Reprint: King City, by Brandon Graham (TokyoPop/Image)

Best Archival Collection/Project—Strips: Pogo, vol. 2: Bona Fide Balderdash, by Walt Kelly, edited by Carolyn Kelly and Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics)

Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Books: David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil Born Again: Artist’s Edition, edited by Scott Dunbier (IDW

Best U.S. Edition of International Material: Blacksad: Silent Hell, by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido (Dark Horse)

Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia: Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, by Naoki Urasawa (VIZ Media)

Best Writer: Brian K. Vaughan, Saga (Image)

Best Writer/Artist: Chris Ware, Building Stories (Pantheon)

Best Penciler/Inker (tie): David Aja, Hawkeye (Marvel), Chris Samnee, Daredevil (Marvel); Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom (IDW)

Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art): Juanjo Guarnido, Blacksad (Dark Horse)

Best Cover Artist: David Aja, Hawkeye (Marvel)

Best Coloring: Dave Stewart, Batwoman (DC); Fatale (Image); BPRD, Conan the Barbarian, Hellboy in Hell, Lobster Johnson, The Massive (Dark Horse)

Best Lettering: Chris Ware, Building Stories (Pantheon)

Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism: The Comics Reporter, edited by Tom Spurgeon, www.comicsreporter.com

Best Comics-Related Book: Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, by Sean Howe (HarperCollins)

Best Educational/Academic Work: Lynda Barry: Girlhood Through the Looking Glass, by Susan E. Kirtley (University Press of Mississippi)

Best Publication Design: Building Stories, designed by Chris Ware (Pantheon)

Hall of Fame: Lee Falk, Al Jaffee, Mort Meskin, Trina Robbins, Spain Rodriguez, Joe Sinnott

Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award: Russel Roehling

Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award: Chris Sparks and Team Cul deSac

Bill Finger Excellence in Comic Book Writing Award: Steve Gerber, Don Rosa

Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award: Challengers Comics + Conversation, Chicago, IL

See more at http://www.comic-con.org/awards/eisners-current-info#sthash.7hRCavEx.dpuf

Harvey Awards 2013 Final Ballot Announced, “Hawkeye” Gets 7 Noms

harvey-logo-2010-brown-300x2852-7421006The final ballot for the 2013 Harvey Awards is now available. Named in honor of the late Harvey Kurtzman, one of the industry’s most innovative talents, the Harvey Awards recognize outstanding work in comics and sequential art. The 26th Annual Harvey Awards will be presented Saturday, September 7th, 2013 as part of the Baltimore Comic-Con.

If you are a comics professional, you can vote online at harveyawards.org/2013-final-ballot/.  This will enable easier and faster methods for the professional community to submit their nominees. Ballots are due by Monday, August 19, 2013.

And the nominees are… (more…)

Kim Thompson. Photo via Tom Spurgeon.

Kim Thompson: 1956-2013


Fantagraphics co-publisher Kim Thompson died at 6:30 this morning, June 19, at the age of 56. “He was my partner and close friend for 36 years,” said Fantagraphics co-publisher Gary Groth.

Thompson was born in Denmark in 1956. He grew up in Europe, a lifelong comics fan, reading both European and American comics in Denmark, France, and Germany. He was an active fan in his teen years, writing to comics — his letters appeared in Marvel’s letter columns circa early 1970s — and contributing to fanzines from his various European perches. At the age of 21, he set foot, for the first time, on American soil, in late 1977. One “fanzine” he had not contributed to was The Comics Journal, which Groth and Michael Catron began publishing in July of 1976. That was soon to change.

“Within a few weeks of his arrival,” said Groth, “he came over to our ‘office,’ which was the spare bedroom of my apartment, and was introduced by a mutual friend — it was a fan visit. We were operating out of College Park, Maryland and Kim’s parents had moved to Fairfax, Virginia, both Washington DC suburbs. Kim loved the energy around the Journal and the whole idea of a magazine devoted to writing about comics, and asked if he could help. We needed all the help we could get, of course, so we gladly accepted his offer. He started to come over every day and was soon camping out on the floor. The three of us were living and breathing The Comics Journal 24 hours a day.”

Thompson became an owner when Catron took a job at DC Comics in 1978. As he became more familiar with the editorial process, Thompson became more and more integral to the magazine, assembling and writing news and conducting interviews with professionals. Thompson’s career in comics began here.

In 1981, Fantagraphics began publishing comics (such as Jack Jackson’s Los Tejanos, Don Rosa’s Comics and Stories, and, in 1982, Love and Rockets). Thompson was always evangelical about bandes dessinées and wanted to bring the best of European comics to America; in 1981, Thompson selected and translated the first of many European graphic novels for American publication — Herman Huppen’s The Survivors: Talons of Blood (followed by a 2nd volume in 1983). Thompson’s involvement in The Comics Journal diminished in 1982 when he took over the editorship of Amazing Heroes, a bi-weekly magazine devoted to more mainstream comics (with occasional forays into alternative and even foreign comics). Thompson helmed Amazing Heroes through 204 issues until 1992.

Among Thompson’s signature achievements in comics were Critters, a funny-animal anthology that ran from 50 issues between 1985 to 1990 and is perhaps best known for introducing the world to Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo; and Zero Zero, an alternative comics anthology that also ran for 50 issues over five years — between 1995 and 2000 — and featured work by, among others, Kim Deitch, Dave Cooper, Al Columbia, Spain Rodriguez, Joe Sacco, David Mazzuchelli, and Joyce Farmer. His most recent enthusiasm was spearheading a line of European graphic novel translations, including two major series of volumes by two of the most significant living European artists — Jacques Tardi (It Was the War of the Trenches, Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot, The Astonishing Exploits of Lucien Brindavoine) and Jason (Hey, Wait…, I Killed Adolf Hitler, Low Moon, The Left Bank Gang) — and such respected work as Ulli Lust’s Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life, Lorenzo Mattotti’s The Crackle of the Frost, Gabriella Giandelli’s Interiorae, and what may be his crowning achievement as an editor/translator, Guy Peelaert’s The Adventures of Jodelle.

Throughout his career at Fantagraphics, Thompson was active in every aspect of the company, selecting books, working closely with authors, guiding books through the editorial and production process. “Kim leaves an enormous legacy behind him,” said Groth, “not just all the European graphic novels that would never have been published here if not or his devotion, knowledge, and skills, but for all the American cartoonists he edited, ranging from Stan Sakai to Joe Sacco to Chris Ware, and his too infrequent critical writing about the medium. His love and devotion to comics was unmatched. I can’t truly convey how crushing this is for all of us who’ve known and loved and worked with him over he years.”

Thompson was diagnosed with lung cancer in late February. He is survived by his wife, Lynn Emmert, his mother and father, Aase and John, and his brother Mark. Our condolences to his friends and family.

Photo via Tom Spurgeon at Comics Reporter.

Eisner Awards 2013 Nominations Announced; “Hawkeye”, “Fatale”, “Building Stories” Lead

Comic-Con International is proud to announce the nominations for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards of 2013. The nominees, chosen by a blue-ribbon panel of judges, reflect the wide range of material being published in comics and graphic novel form today, from crime noir to autobiographical works to cartoon adventures. Three titles lead the 2013 list with 5 nominations each.

“Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes” wins Costa Book Awards biography of 2012

Dotter of her Father's EyesMary and Bryan Talbot’s Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes has won the Costa Book Awards biography of the year. They won the £5,000 biography prize for a book that interweaves the true and tragic story of James Joyce’s daughter Lucia with Mary’s own troubled relationship with her father, the eminent Joycean scholar James S. Atherton.

The Talbots have known of the win for several weeks. “It has been really hard keeping quiet about it,” said Mary. “We were astonished. Just being shortlisted was amazing and hearing we’d won the category was stunning. We’re delighted of course, both personally – it’s the first story I’ve had published – but also for the medium, I can’t believe a graphic novel has won.”

It is not the first graphic work to win a major literary prize – Art Spiegelman’s Maus won a Pulitzer in 1992 and Chris Ware won the Guardian first book prize in 2001 for Jimmy Corrigan: the Smartest Kid on Earth – but the Costa award is still a significant moment for the graphic medium.

“It is a good thing for graphic novels as a whole,” said Bryan Talbot whose prodigious output includes The Adventures of Luther Arkwright and Alice in Sunderland as well as strips for Judge Dredd and Batman. “Graphic novels are becoming increasingly accepted as a legitimate art form.”

The last graphic novel spike came about 25 years ago with the popularity of books such as The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen and Maus. The problem then, said Talbot, was that there were not enough books to feed this. “By the time you’d read a dozen or so of the best titles, there wasn’t enough left to keep this nascent interest going. Since then, there has been an increasing number of graphic novels published and now we have this whole canon of quality work.

“We are living in the golden age of graphic novels. There are more and better comics being drawn today than ever in the history of the medium and there’s such a range of styles of artwork, of genre and of subject matter.”

Judges called Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes “a beautifully crafted” work “which crosses the boundaries between literature and the graphic genre with extraordinary effect”.

via Costa awards 2012: graphic biography wins category prize | Books | The Guardian.

Congratulations to Mary and Bryan!

REVIEW: The Art of Daniel Clowes

The Art of Daniel Clowes
Edited by Alvin Buenaventura
224 pages, $40, AbramsComicarts

The world appears to have caught up with Daniel Clowes, the artist who looks at the ordinary and conveys that feeling of loneliness and cluelessness so many of us feel on a daily basis. When he grew up, just three years behind me, he saw the pop art era in a vastly different way, an artist’s way I suppose. He had an unremarkable childhood and was trained at the Pratt Institute, graduating in 1984. He desperately wanted to find a commercial art job.

“I was trying to get work as an illustrator in the ’80s, but no art directors actually ever called, which is what led me to throw up my hands in despair and slink back to comics. Originally, I was hoping to find a writer to collaborate with, since I was much more interested in the drawing part of the equation, but that didn’t work out. And so I began writing my own stories. I didn’t really intend to write ‘personal narratives,’ but somehow that’s what happened,” he told The Atlantic.

And thank goodness for that. The artist’s work is being celebrated this month, first with the release of the monograph The Art of Daniel Clowes. On April 12, the Oakland Museum of California opened “Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes” which was organized by Susan Miller and René de Guzman. As a result, he has been interviewed and profiled from the mainstream press with regularity.

Clowes amused himself in 1984 with Lloyd Llewellyn, which he managed to sell to Fantagraphics. The title didn’t see print for two years and while he sought a fulltime position he freelanced, notably illustrating “The Uggly Family” for Cracked. As time passed, though, it was clear his idiosyncratic and hard to pin style wasn’t going to get him hired. Instead, he found himself making a living as a comic book artist, telling his stories, his way. This resulted in the anthology Eightball which has won every major industry award and gave us numerous features that have been collected. One such serial became Ghost World, which Clowes adapted with director Terry Zwigoff as an indie film in 2000 (giving us a young Thora Birch and Scarlet Johansson).

Since then, Clowes became one of the faces of the independent comics movement as he continued to explore society in Pussey!, Orgy Bound, David Boring, and Ice Haven among other books. Additionally, he went on to do more film work including Art School Confidential and screenplays for films yet to be born.

Not that he’s sold out to The Man, but Clowes has also done artwork for twenty CDs and commercial work for Coca-Cola’s failed OK soda. He’s produced a one-sheet for Todd Solondz’s Happiness and DVD covers for a trio of Samuel Fuller films.

Still, it’s his inventive and captivating work in graphic storytelling that led to the book and exhibit. In 2007, he launched a twenty-part serial for The New York Times, Miser Wonderful, which was his idea of a romantic story which has since been collected and lauded. While his father lay dying, Clowes filled a sketchbook with notes that became his mostly work, Wilson, which was published in 2010 and is now being adapted for film by Alexander Payne. That story, about the lost adult, is drawn in a wide variety of styles, aping the comic strips he read as a kid to experimenting with his own work. There’s a command to his page construction and line work that keeps his pages fresh and always interesting.

Alvin Buenaventura, the book’s editor, opens the volume with a lengthy interview that gets the artist to open up on topics he’s barely discussed in the past including the two years he lost to heat disease. Only after a seven hour operation, a year after his son Charlie was born, was Clowes finally feeling energetic to return to the drawing board.

The 9.25” x 12” book is copiously illustrated from across the man’s career and is nicely designed by Jonathan Bennett. Accompanying the art and interview are critical essays by Miller, Ken Parille, Ray Pride, Chris Ware, and the ubiquitous Chip Kidd.   Overall, I gained a new appreciation for Clowes’ versatility and vitality as a storyteller and observer of our mundane lives. Familiar with his work or not, you can learn a lot about the breadth of graphic storytelling by studying his illustrations and reading the analysis that enriches the work.

Comics Round-Up: No Connection Whatsoever — Mister Wonderful; The New Yorker: On The Money; The Lives Of Sacco & Vanzetti; George McManus’s Bringing Up Father  ;

Comics Round-Up: No Connection Whatsoever — Mister Wonderful; The New Yorker: On The Money; The Lives Of Sacco & Vanzetti; George McManus’s Bringing Up Father ;

And here are four more graphic novels (or similar beasts) that I neglected to write about soon after I read them, when they were fresh in my mind. Let’s see what I care to remember…

Mister Wonderful is part of the endless repackaging of Daniel Clowes, though this piece (unlike most of his recent books) didn’t first see life as a single issue of his old comics series, Eightball. No, this first appeared in the short-lived New York Times Magazine “Funny Papers” section, one of the few moments when the Grey Lady tried to emulate regular newspapers.

The story has been reworked slightly — each large NYT page has been broken into two shorter, wider pages, to pad the length up to something that can be called a book — and there are some other changes as well, but it’s still the same, just told in a slightly different form. (And it’s also a story very similar to Clowes’s last standalone graphic novel, Wilson, which I reviewed here last year.)

Marshall is a middle-aged sad sack, divorced, lonely, nearly broke and with no real hopes of getting any better. He narrates this story — intensively narrates it, in a caption-filled style very out of fashion in most of mainstream comics, which shoves us directly into his head and holds us there, hostage perhaps, until the end of the book. Marshall isn’t great company, unfortunately — he’s obsessive about his own shortcomings, and self-flagellation is only interesting for so long.

Mister Wonderful is the story of one day in Marshall’s life — one night, really — starting with a blind date, and continuing on from there. Marshall’s been set up with Natalie by mutual friends, and Natalie is probably just as damaged as Marshall is, in her own ways — but we only see her through Marshall’s eyes, and only see her when Marshall gets out of the way, which is hardly ever. So Mister Wonderful is primarily a tour through Marshall’s psyche, with short stops along the way to take in some real-life events that illustrate that his poor self-image is well rooted in his actual competencies.

It doesn’t have the satirical edge of Clowes’s earlier work — Clowes wants us to identify with Marshall and care about him. (Mister Wonderful is most like a work by a slightly more friendly, and less formalist, Chris Ware.) But Marshall is undeniably tedious and suffocating — though he is nowhere near as horrible as the “hero” of Clowes’s Wilson was, so he does have that to (very slightly) recommend him. Clowes can create characters that are damaged, self-obsessed, and fascinating — recall Enid and Rebecca from Ghost World — but, these days, he’s tending to leave off “fascinating,” which is unfortunate. (more…)

Comics Round-Up: More Random Books

I have not read as many books as I wanted to this year, nor have I written about as many of the ones I did manage to read. (I didn’t manage to save as much from the flood as I would have liked, either; it’s a low-batting-average kind of year.) But the year is not over, and I can catch up on one of those fronts very quickly, viz:

I’ve devoted several thousand words over the past few years to the “Best American Comics” series — see my posts on the 2006 and 2007 and 2008 and 2009 editions — so perhaps I’ll be forgiven for not diving as deeply into the Neil Gaiman-edited 2010 edition. (Particularly since the 2011 book is out now, all shiny and new, so this is terribly old news.) Each editor shifts the material somewhat — Gaiman’s volume leads off with a long excerpt from the Jonathan Lethem/Farel Dalrymple/Gary Panter Omega the Unknown, the first Big Two story in the series, which feels significant — but the core of each book is very similar, drawing from the same group of major mid-career “alternative” cartoonists, from Gilbert Hernandez (here represented by a story done with his vastly less-prolific brother Mario) to Ben Katchor to Chris Ware to Peter Bagge to Bryan Lee O’Malley to C. Tyler to Robert Crumb. As usual, the series editors, Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, picked a hundred notable works from their year — September 1, 2008 through August 31, 2009 — and sent those to Gaiman, who chose from them (and, possibly, from a few things he discovered on his own) to make this collection. Gaiman’s introduction makes it clear that this isn’t the “best” comics of the year — nor even the best “American” comics of the year, whatever that may mean — but it is a big collection of a lot of very good comics (and a few clunkers, though precisely which ones are clunkers may be a matter of personal taste) at a reasonable price. The whole series is a great way to discover what’s going on over on the more interesting, less punchy side of the modern comics world, so I recommend this book, as I do its predecessors, for people who like stories told in comics form, though probably not for the kind of people who like the things that draw in the crowds of maladapted boy-men every Wednesday. (more…)