by BK Munn
Happy May Day, everybody!
This is the day we celebrate all the workers and since this is a comics blog, here’s to the comics workers of the world!
Things are tough for comics workers, these days. Everybody loves comics, but not enough people want to pay for them. I’m glad when comics workers stick together to fight the new status quo and unite against unfair practices and ripoffs. It makes my heart fairly glow!
Just the other day a cartoonist acquaintance of mine mentioned online how he lost a job with a major book publisher because he “thought author/artists should be paid royalties for original work that may be reprinted and resold in perpetuity. They strongly disagreed, and offered a one-time payout.” Whatever happened to royalties??? It seems like traditional book publishing is going the way of traditional comics publishing, just as some comics publishers have begun to behave like traditional publishers, offering equitable deals, royalties, and far-seeing transmedia options. But maybe we’ve been living in a bubble? Regardless, stay strong and vigilant, comics workers!
On the other side of the coin, the few people who write ABOUT comics as journalists and critics suffered a blow this past weekend when AOL shuttered its Comics Alliance news site, thus eliminating another scarce source of paying work for writers. With the ongoing death of print and the work for free mantra of the web, comics workers and their livelihoods are being hemmed in on all sides. Solidarity, brothers and sisters!
On this day, let’s take a moment to consider ways we can work together to make the travails of our fellows in the art form and industry of comics easier, more fulfilling, and sustaining.
03.Dec.2012 Seth on the End of Bazooka Joe Comics
Topps recently announced the discontinuation of its long-running Bazooka Joe comic strip, since 1954 a popular addition to its bubblegum packaging. The strip has a storied history (ironically the subject of an upcoming celebratory book from Abrams ComicArt, Bazooka Joe and His Gang: A 60th Anniversry Collection). For many years the gags were written by Underground comics legend Jay Lynch and drawn by former Tijuana Bible cartoonist Wesley Morse. According to The New York Times, the gum company executives have decided to rebrand, reducing the iconic character to the role of occasional spokesperson/mascot, stating, “What we’re trying to do with the relaunch is to make the brand relevant again to today’s kids.”
Sequential asked cartoonist Seth, creator of the Jocko gum-machine giveaway comic, and a Bazooka Joe collector of long standing, to comment on the news.
Bubble Bursts on Bazooka Joe
“Contrary to popular opinion, I am NOT more of a Pud fan than a Bazooka Joe Fan (though Pud had his charms as well)! Bazooka Joe is definitely my favourite of the two. However, that said, when I heard that Topps was discontinuing the little comics in the gum I mentally shrugged. “Who cares?”, I thought. They killed the real Bazooka Joe decades ago anyway. Whatever modern version is currently being given away with the gum is surely some sort of abomination (I’m assuming). Still, some part of me felt kind of disappointed to hear it. One less anachronism in the world. Even if those little modern comics are utterly horrible ….it’s still sort of charming that today’s kids were unwrapping their gum and reading a comic strip for one second before they balled it up and tossed it away and turned back to their electronic distracter. A minor continuity of childhood stretching back to the mid 20th century, I s’pose.
Truthfully I wish there were a lot more of these sort of things in the world. Why didn’t every candy company put a comic or gag cartoon in with their product? Why didn’t CrackerJack put a whole little comic book into the box in their heyday (a disappointing comic book where every page would’ve been accidently glued together by molasses and caramel corn)? Those tiny Bazooka Joe comics were such a great little marketing tool and I always thought that Topps was fairly brilliant to have thought up the idea.
Though thinking about it –I’m ashamed to admit it I’m not sure who came up with it first. Was it Fleer or Topps? Either way– a smart, sweet little idea. Innocent almost. I cannot imagine why Topps would bother discontinuing the only element of their gum that makes it worth buying? But then, it’s the classic kind of stupid business move that “clear-cutting” pop-culture businesses make all the time. They don’t recognize something interesting in their midst until they have ruined it. Look to the entire history of mainstream comic books to support this statement.
I must say, I always deeply enjoyed the poor quality of the old Bazooka Joe strips. There was something inherently odd about those strips and that tiny world of the characters. They seemed to take place just around the corner from some better kid strip –like Peanuts or maybe Little Lulu. Just over on the other side of the fence where the world was still vaguely 1930′s. A neighbourhood where the people never digressed in speech because they were only allowed 3 words per balloon (less in their Canadian neighbourhood since they had to squeeze in a French translation as well!).
So many of those waxy comics passed through your little hands as a child and yet you never really had any sense whatsoever of who those characters were. They all seemed like bit players. As often commented –the only elements remembered about them were their oddities. Joe’s eye patch, Mort’s sweater, Percy’s cowboy suit and Herman’s obesity. The little girl (Jane?) was memorable only because she was the only girl (at least the only one I remember). When I found out that the strip’s cartoonist was also a pornographer back in the 30′s I could not have been happier. It somehow made Bazooka Joe even more perfect.
Loving Bazooka Joe has always been about loving the IDEA of something. Little strips going out into the world wrapped around gum for little children. That’s great. Pure. Simple.
There really was nothing much else to love about it but the idea. I have hundreds of Bazooka Joe strips in a binder in my library. I’m never going to reread those. There is nothing to re-read. They exist as an object. An artifact of an idea. So, I guess I am sorry that this charming old fashioned idea is passing out of the charmless world we live in today. But as I said, they’d already wrung most of the flavour out of this thing 20 years ago (much like well-chewed gum) so I’m not crying about it either. Thank God Jack Chick is still passing out his classic-cartoon-styled hate literature on city benches. There’s so little of these ephemeral kind of oddities left in the world. One less now.”
by BK Munn
Yesterday I bought a bunch of old comics.
One of them was Young Romance #56 from 1953. Young Romance was the comic book series that started the romance genre. It was created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, who edited the series until 1959. During that time, Kirby drew 1,936 pages of art for various romance comics published by Prize Comics, including many covers. One of the few Young Romance covers NOT illustrated by Kirby was this cover, one of a myriad of photo covers used in the series. But doesn’t the loverboy on this cover look like Jack? The eyes. The grey temples? The hirsuteness? The square fingers? (Jack has a story inside, too: the 9-pager “On Your Honor”).
Not sure who the woman is? (She looks similar to the woman on the cover of YR #60.) Maybe the whole thing is just some stock photo acquired by Joe Simon from one of his regular suppliers? Who can say? Check out this history of the Simon and Kirby romance comics by the recently-retired Harry Mendryck.
01.May.2012 May Day! Happy May Day from Sequential!
I’m having a bit of a worker’s holiday today. I was working on a double review, comparing the politics of Otto Soglow and The Little King to Ernie Bushmiller and Nancy and Sluggo, but as deadline loomed and my eyelids started to droop, I said fuck it, I’m taking the day off instead. A sort of Sequential strike in solidarity with all the folks working in comics under the work-for-hire system, I guess, not to mention the various Occupy actions going on today. (Check out Occupy Indie Comics here, Susie Cagle here and here, and Occuprint posters here.)
Herewith, a few quotes and notes from Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, tangentially related to my theme.
Wertham on Bushmiller on comic books:
E. Bushmiller (“Nancy”) told the San Diego County Women’s Clubs, “I wish you would differentiate between the newspaper comics and the comic books. Most newspaper comics are wholesome, but a large percentage of the comic books are cheap junk and just turned out for a quick sale.”
Wertham on child labour: how Sluggo survives
The history of medicine records a controversy about whether young children who have to do industrial work at night need sunlight for their health. It is not yet a hundred years since a physician had to defend in detail that sunlight is good for the immature organism, and that at least part of the day children should have sunlight in order to remain healthy. He was in just such direct contradiction to the employers who made these children work long hours at night as I am to the comic-book publishers. Similar arguments took place on the question of whether children need regular meals, sleep, how old they should be for heavy work and how many hours they should work. Nowadays the intellectuals are just as anxious to guard the freedom of children to read crime comics. In those days, as Lord Elton writes, they were eager to preserve the liberty of children of six to work eleven hours in the mines.” Then they used to quote Bentham; now they quote Freud.
Wertham on stunted growth and delinquency: reading Seduction, it becomes fairly obvious Sluggo must read tons of crime comics.
One is apt to forget that besides delinquent and emotionally disturbed children there are many children who are just plain unhappy. That is particularly true of adolescents. If you gain their confidence and give them a chance to talk to you under suitable circumstances you will find that one of their most frequent and serious worries has to do with the growth of their bodies [...] No better method could be evolved to cause such worries or to aggravate them than the advertising in childrens’ comic books. I understand that there are advertising associations or advertising councils interested in keeping products advertised, as well as the manner of their advertising, on an ethical level. If that is true,they must have looked the other way with regard to the stupendous amount of advertising in comic books. Inany case, they “raised no cry.” Advertising is, or could be – quite apart from its selling aspect – a wholesome educational influence. That in comic books is not only anti-educational, but has done untold harm to children from the point of view of public health and mental hygiene, not to speak of common human decency.
Wertham on child homosexual prostitution: I’m sure this doesn’t apply to Sluggo since Sluggo rarely goes to school.
Homosexual childhood prostitution, especially in boys, is often associated with stealing and with violence.For all these activities children are softened up by comic books. Their super-ego formation with regard to sex is interfered with in a subtle way: everything is permitted to men in comic books and there is constant sex stimulation. Charles was studied at the Quaker Emergency Service Readjustment Center. At the age of twelve he engaged in regular prostitution. He did not play hookey, but followed this occupation after school hours. He said, “I meet the men in office places or places of business. They give me a dollar or fifty cents. I wondered how they’d be so generous. Some men are about thirty-five.” The outstanding feature in this boy’s examination was his moral confusion. Comic books contributed to this. “I usually read comic books, Gangbusters or True Comics, about ten or fifteen a week, about two a day. I trade them.”
Wertham on comics criticism: I want to say that the situation has remained unchanged, but really,comics (and my life!) has been enriched by some great criticism over the past two decades, including Bart Beaty’s critical biography of Wertham.
Every medium of artistic and literary expression has developed professional critics: painting, sculpture,drama, the novel, the detective story, the seven lively arts, musical recordings, television, children’s books.The fact that comic books have grown to some ninety millions a month without developing such critics is one more indication that this industry functions in a cultural vacuum. Literary critics evidently thought that these accumulations of bad pictures and bad drawing were beneath critical notice. I have convinced myself often that they were ignorant of the material itself unless it was brought home to them in their own families.One literary critic had been very permissive about comic books and had not included them in his other excellent critiques of life and literature. He changed his mind one evening when after reprimanding hischildren, aged seven and five, he overheard the older saying to the younger: “Don’t worry. In the morning Ikill both of them!”There have been other excellent critics, but they came later. Marya Mannes has expressed her opiniontersely: “Comic books kill dreams.” She discerned the monopoly position comic books had obtained amongthe educationally less privileged: “In one out of three American homes, comic books are virtually the onlyreading matter.” John Mason Brown had this to say: “The comic books as they are now perpetually on tapseem to me to be not only trash but the lowest, most despicable and most harmful and unethical form of trash.” When heckled by a comic-book publisher about what his own children think of his opinion, he made the classical reply: “They have been so corrupted by you that they love them.”The closest critics of the poison tree should be the parents. Gilbert Seldes has correctly seen as a key problem of comic books “the paralysis of the parents.” In his recent book The Great Audience he says: “. . unlike the other mass media, comics have almost no esthetic interest.” (I would question his “almost.”) After quoting testimony that connects comic books with delinquency and evidence of their brutality and unwholesomeness he goes on: “Most of these outcries represent the attitudes of parents searching for a way to cope with a powerful business enterprise which they consider positively evil. . . . The liberal-minded citizen dislikes coercive action, tries to escape from corruption privately, and discovers that his neighbor, his community, are affected. . . . Year after year Dr. Fredric Wertham brings forth panels showing new ugliness and sadistic atrocities; year after year his testimony is brushed aside as extravagant and out-of-date. The paralysis of the parent is almost complete.”What causes this paralysis of parents? I do not think it is a real paralysis; it is helplessness. The vast majority of mothers have been outraged when they read the crime comic books their children read.
Broken Pencil Wonders If the “Fine Ahtwerks” of Marc Bell and His Contemporaries Have a Place at Zine Fairs
by BK Munn
The current issue of Canadian indie culture bible Broken Pencil sports a cover feature titled “Zines vs High Art” and the article, written by BP assistant editor Laura Trethewey, ponders a “growing divide in the zine world” between old-fashioned cheap photocopied zines and a new generation of more expensive artist-produced zines. Trethewey sets up several easy and not always accurate binaries, including rich/poor, professional/amateur, graphics/text, style/content, and abstract/personal, to make her case that the presence of gallery shows, academics, art books and art prints represent a sea change in the anarchic diy subculture that gave birth to the zines and zine fairs and that these trends are essentially sucking the heart and soul out of what’s left of non-corporate culture.
Using the example of the recent “Not Bad For London” show and sale at the Michael Gibson Gallery in London, Ontario (featuring art by Marc Bell, James Kirkpatrick, Amy Lockhart, Jason McLean, Peter Thompson, Jamie Q., and Billy Bert Young), Trethewey argues that zines featuring the work of these artists are essentially “low level artifacts produced for the perusal of those who couldn’t afford to take home the real thing,” meaning the zines that the art was originally presented to the public in are not really zines at all but now function as exhibit catalogs for pricey original art. As evidence of this growth in the divide between classic zine aesthetics and the values of the gallery world, Trethewey describes the spectacle of pages from the Young/McLean/Thompson jam Uncle Pork Chop Scrapes Away the Summer selling for $1500 and mentions other works priced at $350 and $400 easily selling out at the show. This in comparison to lowly punk-style zinesters like Dave Cave, also mentioned in the article, whose self-promotion at zine fairs consists of a flyer reading “fuck you it’s a dollar.” The article goes on to quote comics/zines veterans Fiona Smyth and Billy Mavreas, and refers to several recent coffee table books on the zine aesthetic in its overview of the perceived clash between traditional and what one commentator calls “second wave” zines.
Of course Trethewey’s piece, like a good Broken Pencil cover story should, cops a certain funky-punky approach and reads as if meant to be controversial, with a little bit of a rebellious edge. Her tone and language are provocative, firmly anti-intellectual and anti-corporate (she tosses around terms like “highfalutin” to describe the content of some modern zines), but the whole thing is based on such a laughable premise (the zine world is becoming more expensive, slick, trendy, and –ugh– arty) that it almost reads like some kind of postmodern joke or Situationist prank. “Artists sell art for money?! Modern zines aren’t solely the work of underemployed luddite crybabies specializing in highschool poetry, the vagaries of the mental health system, poor penmanship, anticapitalist rants, and hard-core punk rock? Quel horreur! Épater la bourgeoisie!”
Seriously? Trethewey’s earnest-seeming attempt to explore the divide between the authentic zinesters and the slumming posers reminds me of what Jello Biafra had to say about the “Fonzie punks” of the music scene, with their very firm ideas about what constituted punk music and style back in the 90s (hint: they targeted Biafra as a “sellout”). Sad to see the zine world fall victim to the sort of clubby exclusivity the article lambasts as the exclusive preserve of “the art world”. That is, it would be sad to see if I didn’t think the whole article was a put-on, finding controversy where there isn’t any, and treading in some seriously hypocritical horseshit along the way.
First off, using the London crew of doodlers as an example of the big dollar fine art world intruding into the precious alternative zine culture is the funniest part of the article. The show that Trethewey attended was a small-town celebration of a group of artists who came out of and are still part of a vital local scene of artists and zinesters dating back to the 80s. Trying to make a point about the trendy uniformity of modern high art zine production using this crowd as your example is a serious mistake. These folks, some of whom have achieved a modicum of international recognition within various tiny art ghettos, have long-ago paid their dues and have “zine cred” to burn. They are all tireless promoters of other artists, zinesters, and obscure cultural producers from their own scene and around the world, and no one of them (unfortunately, sadly, true) is getting rich for their efforts. Trethewey notes that it was “often hard to tell the artists’ work apart” at the London show. Rather than evidence of a trendy sameness germane to contemporary zine art production, couldn’t it have been her general unfamiliarity with the artists? Hell, I write a daily blog about obscure Canadian comic artists and I sometimes have trouble telling who did what in one of these zines myself (unless there’s a Lord of the Rings reference, then I know it’s Peter Thompson). Or maybe it’s the fact that the artists have all developed together and often work in a collaborative fashion characteristic of the London doodle and mail art scene, a tiny yet vital underground art movement documented in part in the Bell-edited Nog a Dod anthology, and reviewed favourably in BP I might add. The fifteen pages of the Uncle Pork Chop zine were the joint effort of three individual artists who, after a gallery commission of 50% and a 3-way split, probably ended up pocketing less than seventeen bucks a page. And I’m pretty sure they don’t have a sold-out art show every week, so that’s a hell of lot less than minimum wage, let alone the price of a limo to drive around to zine fairs in. Hardly evidence of the intrusion of the caviar-and-champagne high art world into crusty punk zineland. (Really, the prices these folks are charging are a criminal joke compared to what the guy who’s drawing Spider-Man this week gets for his original art, not to mention the elites of the New York gallery world or even weekend hobby painters who routinely sell their amateurish still-life watercolours at shopping mall co-ops for multiples of what the London crowd is getting. Art lovers of Canada! Buy more art from the Not Bad For London artists!!)
Just reading a typical issue of Broken Pencil anytime over the last decade should disabuse anyone of the notion that zines are stuck in some sort of low-tech, monochromatic time-warp. And as for punkish resentment of johnny-come-lately preppy art school grads from the ‘burbs? Forget it. The typical BP issue is chock full of reviews and interviews with zinesters representing a huge cross-section of society, from pop-culture fans to artists to cartoonists to diarists to crafters, and just as mind-bogglingly a choice of production values and formats, not to mention tons of professionally-produced books of non-fiction, poetry, and novels from small presses across the land. And the BP-sponsored Canzine festival, which Mavreas describes in the article as a utopian, non-judgemental space that keeps “everyone involved and together,” doesn’t exactly seem to be a class war battleground, littered with the corpses of silk-screen devotees who dared to charge more than a few dollars for their zine, to say the least.
And, really, glass houses, anyone? Delving even a few inches into the shadowy grey area where “independant” and “lamestream” media meet can be enlightening. Broken Pencil, like many magazines, galleries, artists, writers, and publishers in Canada, benefits from government grants (as well as corporate advertising –an ad for Steamwhistle Beer greeted me when I clicked on the BP website) and has been a stepping stone to “mainstream” publication for many contributors. The perzine patron saint Dishwasher Pete, mentioned in the article as an example of independent working class purity, is now an e-book from multinational Harper Collins and writer “Diswasher” Pete Jordan has been on Letterman and contributed to NPR’s This American Life. Trethewey herself writes articles about gourmet cheese for yuppie consumer guide Toronto Life. All a far cry from the world of photo-copied, pay-what-you-can zinester culture.
Are artists like the London gang of seven contaminating the zine world? I fucking hope so!
06.Mar.2012 SEVERIN IS CRACKED (and Vice Versa)!
by Mort Todd
Like many kids growing up in the 1970s, I first became familiar with John Severin through his art on The Incredible Hulk and Sgt. Fury (over the pencils of Herb Trimpe and Dick Ayers respectively), DC war comics and, of course, Cracked.
As a more obsessive collector I became aware of his full body of work, picking up old copies of his S.H.I.E.L.D. work in Strange Tales, Atlas Comics titles and EC-Mad reprints. Little did I realize, some ten years later, I would become his “boss” at Cracked and one of the best creative relationships I’ve ever enjoyed!
I first got hired at Cracked as a creative consultant, based a lot on my youth. New owners had bought the magazine from the original publisher, Bob Sproul, and they moved the editorial offices to New York from Florida. They were not particularly happy with the new editor hired to package the magazine and its many reprints. The material he gathered was bad, even by Cracked‘s lowest standards, and looked like reprints from Sick magazine (which they later were revealed to be!). The worst part of it, there was no John Severin in the magazine!
Though my role was to inject some relevance to the magazine (the editor was still doing Nixon jokes in the Reagan era), my first mission was to get Severin back on board! I made it very clear to the publishers, that without Severin, there was no Cracked. It’s no stretch to say that the only reason Cracked survived for over 40 years, when other humor magazines fell to the wayside, was because of the professionalism and versatility of the artist John Severin.
There were dozens of issues of Cracked where John ended up drawing a third or even half of each issue. Mostly known as the star artist for TV and movie parodies, John drew supplemental stories in alternating styles, ranging from “big foot” cartoony stuff to mimicking other styles while working in a variety of mediums. Some may think black and white print a limiting medium compared to color, but John would stretch any limits by working in pen & ink, wash, gouache, zipatone, tone overlays, and famously, his use of duo shade paper. (Craftint Duoshade is paper used by editorial cartoonists and has invisible tones and cross-hatching that becomes visible with a chemical applied by brush or pen). John even painted almost every single cover, plus hundreds of other Cracked-related covers, despite being colorblind! Every now and then, a green flame would show up on a cover and he always made E.T. non-pink because of this condition.
So, when I started at Cracked, there had been 3 releases without any Severin contributions! Sacrilege! The editor hadn’t been able to get Severin, saying he demanded too much of a page rate. I explained to the publishers that with no Severin, there was no Cracked, so they authorized me to get Severin back … at almost any cost. I got Severin’s phone number from Larry Hama’s office at Marvel Comics (he was just about the only editor using Severin at the time) and I began an association with him that has positively altered my life.
As it turned out, the Cracked editor had contacted Severin, offered him a very lousy rate… and demanded a kickback on his pay! The editor was not only reprinting material from other publishers’ magazines, but when he did commission new work, he forced the artists to turn over some of their pay to him! John Severin would have none of this and turned the editor down. We settled on a page rate of $500 (at a time when most Marvel pages were around $125 for pencils & inks) and $1500 for covers, on his condition that he only work with me and not have to deal with the other editor. Within an issue or two, that editor was gone and I took the reins of Cracked as Editor-in-Chief for the next five years.
And what a damn fun ride it was! Sev and I would probably spend up to ten hours a week on the phone, and it wasn’t all just Cracked business. As a comic geek, I would always ask about his career, from Crestwood, EC and Atlas to Cracked, as well as all the legendary creators he worked with. Discussions would also range from films and history to religion and politics. John had some pretty strong convictions that I admired.
For Cracked articles, I would try to dig up as much reference for artists as possible, particularly for celebrity parodies. It was a little tough in those pre-digital 1980s! One of the many great things about Severin was his eye for detail, so if there were ever any historical elements in a story, John would have the reference … in his head! Weapons, clothing, cars, buildings, furniture; anything from the beginning of time until, as he told me, about 1947, he wouldn’t need any reference. Mark Evanier recently related that “Jack Kirby used to say that when he had to research some historical costume or weapon for a story, it was just as good to use a John Severin drawing as it was to find a photo of the real thing.”
I also enjoyed working with John on my Monsters Attack! magazine. He did some fantastic covers and stories that we collaborated on and I asked him why he hadn’t done more horror comics, especially at EC. John told me that his work was too anatomically correct for EC. He had done a sample for Bill Gaines of a severed limb that was so realistic it made Gaines ill. Imagine Gaines trying to rationalize that on the stand at the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency!
Not only was Severin an incredible good artist and prolific, he was fast! There were many times over the years that pages were lost in the mail, changes were needed, or missed deadlines (by other artists!), and Severin would come through and whip out some new artwork in the nick of time! Sometimes overnight! And he was no hack, in fact, quite the perfectionist. Many Severin originals would have a bit of correction he did with paste-ups or white-out and ink over it. Sometimes he even drew tone effects with his pen to match the duo shade on the rest of the page! If he had painted a full cover and didn’t like it, he would redo it. For one cover, he included the shredded up first version of it. My art director Cliff Mott repaired the torn cover and darn if we could see what was wrong with the first version!
Although I worked with him almost daily, I never met him personally until I was at Cracked for a few years. We were planning Cracked‘s 30th Anniversary party and wanted John and his wonderful wife Michelina to attend. The problem was the Severins lived in Denver, Colorado, we were in New York and Severin didn’t fly. We ended up booking them a first class suite on a train from Denver, which took a few days, and he arrived at Grand Central Station like a movie star in the golden age. He was a bear of a man and resembled a cross between John Wayne and Orson Welles (the beard, not the girth).
Over the course of the next few days, we had parties, dinners and a convention event for the anniversary and John, despite his shy nature, was quite the raconteur and spent a lot of time talking with fans. All of the legends of the comics industry, both old friends and newer talent, came out to greet John on this rare East Coast sojourn and pay homage to the master.
Personally, John made a great impact on me as an artist, writer, editor and by inspiring me to do my best in all things. There were a few times he inked my pencils and… wow! One illustration had a superhero throwing a car, and you could see underneath it. My pencils were pretty loose, but when the art came back, every nut and bolt, along with the transmission, axels and tire treads were there! Since it was in my nutty sense of perspective I thought, “Gee, if I need too, I can swipe this next time I gotta draw the underside of cars!” After Cracked, we continued to work on a few projects together, at Marvel and a newspaper comic strip called “Biografix.”
A lasting significant influence on me of John’s involves liquor. Trying to live the role of the hard-drinking New York City magazine editor, I had tried a variety of spirits but never one I was comfortable with. As a Christmas gift, Severin sent me a bottle of Bushmills whiskey and I discovered my elixir of choice! After that, we both knew what to send each other for gifts! Ironically, despite being a devout Catholic (the Severins had 12 kids!), Bushmills is from the world’s oldest Protestant distillery. When I heard of John’s passing, I ordered him a shot and poured it on the ground out of respect for my missing homie.
John Severin was a one-of-a-kind, dynamic personality with a full life and he left an amazing legacy that people will enjoy for generations to come. He has a wonderful family and a work ethic that kept him drawing to the end. He had recently drawn a fantastic cover for a periodical called Smoke Signals, that featured some Native Americans burning copies of Cracked.
The final proof that Severin is Cracked and Cracked is Severin is the fact that the magazine thrived for years, under Mad’s massive shadow … when Severin was contributing. In the early 2000s, when Cracked ownership changed hands, they couldn’t afford Severin and the magazine went out of business. When it was relaunched a few years later as a slick, color magazine, Severin (and I) decided not to contribute because of the questionable editorial direction, and it bombed. Now that it has been sold again, it has resurfaced as a humor website, and quite entertaining, but as a magazine, since there is no Severin, there is no Cracked.
Mort Todd is the former Editor-in-Chief of Cracked Magazine.
John Severin died February 12, 2012 at age 90, after a 60-year career in comics, 45 of them spent at Cracked.
For more about Severin’s career at Cracked, see Mark Arnold’s new two volume history of the magazine, If You’re Cracked, You’re Happy! featuring a recent cover by Severin.
05.Mar.2012 Is the Head of Disney Paid Too Much?
Maybe Just a Little?
by BK Munn
There’s a war of words taking place between the management of Marvel Entertainment owner Disney and a group of Disney shareholders represented by Institutional Shareholder Services. In advance of Disney’s upcoming annual shareholder meeting, ISS criticized Disney CEO Robert Iger’s $31 million salary and his dual role as CEO and Board Chairman. ISS recommends firing the current Board of Directors for electing Iger, saying the Board’s decision represents “an about-face from governance reforms adopted following a highly public ‘vote no’ campaign at Disney in 2004.” the report said.
In referring to Iger’s salary and compensation, the ISS report “finds pay for performance misaligned at the company.”
Disney says Iger’s pay “is entirely in line with the compensation paid chief executive officers of the five other media peers.”
Disney fundamentally disagrees with certain of ISS’s recommendations, which are based on both flawed premises and methodology. The Company’s Board of Directors adheres to a rigorous performance test for compensation, and the Company’s tremendous performance under Bob Iger is evident. Disney had record financial performance in Fiscal Year 2011 and its total shareholder return is more than four times greater than that of the S&P 500 during Mr. Iger’s more than six years of leadership. After careful and considered deliberation, the Board took action to secure Mr. Iger’s leadership through his expected retirement in 2016 to provide for an effective, seamless succession and management transition and continuity of the Company’s proven strategy. In addition, the board will appoint an independent lead director with duties and responsibilities that, ironically, exceed in scope those recommended by ISS.
more: LA Times
by BK Munn
So I’ve been reading comics and about comics and their creators for decades now, and one common theme has been how hard it is to make a living and how unfair the North American “industry” is to those who work in it. I had a subscription to the Comics Journal when that issue about the Disney strike came out. I really thought something like a union for comics creators was an inevitability and was probably going to happen sometime in the late-80s. But I was a kid then, I guess. Still, even though I’m much more cynical now I can’t help but think a union would be a good idea.
The recent beginnings of organization in the comic book industry fan and creator community around issues of creator rights and renumeration have led to several online conversations about the need for some sort of union or guild for the people who write and draw comic books for corporate clients. Controversies involving Alan Moore and the Watchmen property, Gary Friedrich and Ghost Rider, Tony Moore/Robert Kirkman and The Walking Dead, and Jack Kirby and the bevy of characters he created and co-created while freelancing for Marvel, including Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and The Avengers, have highlighted the basic inequalities that have historically existed between creators and corporations in the business of comics in the North America.
In other industries, notably film and television, creative people and other professionals are largely protected by their membership in the various unions with standard agreements and pay scales that guarantee them a minimum standard of credit and payment. In book publishing, an industry perhaps more closely related to comics in some ways, a century of contracts negotiated by agents have resulted in a more-or-less fair system of advance payments, royalties and copyrights that benefit writers, illustrators, and publishers equally. So why not comics?
Historically, attempts at organizing creative people in the U.S. comics industry have been stifled by any number of factors. Comics is a very small business, with only a few thousand artists making a living in some way in the current system. Since the 1950s, workers no longer even work together in small sweatshops or bullpens, and are no longer concentrated in New York. A group of far-flung freelancers in going to be alot harder to organize than a group of people working together in a factory or animation studio. As well, the industry owners and publishers have always been very good at crushing even the talk of organization, playing one creator against another, and using the threat of termination or no work to scare people into accepting the status quo. Sometimes these threats have actually moved into the action stage, with writers and artists losing work/being fired for trying to fight for better rates and health benefits. These days, its possible for many people to make a good middle class living, all seemingly without the benefit of a labour organization. So who needs a union?
Add to this the fact that most people who create comics are highly individual, self-motivated people who for the most part just want to create art and entertainment in a medium they love, without having to join a group or pay dues for the privilege. And since most work from the major publishers is negotiated one-on-one with editors and the business agents of those companies, seemingly based on a system of meritocracy, most people who do this work see little need for anyone else’s participation in the process. Plus, and especially in today’s economic climate, most people seem just happy for the work. So who needs a union?
And of course, there are options outside of Marvel and DC. Since the days of the Undergrounds, smaller companies and self-publishers have existed that operate more like traditional book publishers, where authors negotiate contracts, keep the copyright to their creations, and receive royalties on all sales of their books. Rip-Off, Kitchen Sink, Fantagraphics, and Drawn and Quarterly have all been the poster children for this movement. All outside of the work-for-hire system. Image Comics provides a compelling alternative to creators who would like to create genre work and maintain control of their own characters and stories. Now graphic novels are big business, with success stories and bestsellers from a ton of “mainstream” book publishers, movie deals, and merchandise windfalls. So who needs a union?
The original work-for-hire contract was on the back of the checks given to creators after they had created work. What contracts there were were usually fairly insulting, like this one that Jack Kirby signed with Marvel in 1975. Imprints like Marvel’s Epic line had slightly different contracts, with new language about creating new characters. Daniel Best, who broke the Gary Friedrich story, has some documents from the case, including contracts and royalty statements for Ghost Rider reprints. The money he has earned from those reprints is miniscule. He has of course earned nothing from any other corporate iteration of the character he created. Marvel, on the other hand, has some great contracts by which it licenses the use of its characters to other companies. But who needs a union?
In 1978, during a time of instability in the comics publishing world, Neal Adams initiated The Comics Creators Guild along with original members Terry Austin, Mike W. Barr, Cary Bates, Rick Bryant, Michael Catron, Howard Chaykin, Chris Claremont, Tony DeZuniga, Steve Ditko, Peter B. Gillis, Michael Golden, Archie Goodwin, Klaus Janson, Joe Jusko, Alan Kupperberg, Paul Levitz, Rick Marschall, Roger McKenzie, Bob McLeod, Frank Miller, Michael Netzer (Nasser), Martin Pasko, Carl Potts, Ralph Reese, Marshall Rogers, Josef Rubinstein, Jim Salicrup, James Sherman, Walt Simonson, Roger Slifer, Jim Starlin, Greg Theakston, Len Wein, Alan Weiss, Bob Wiacek, and Marv Wolfman. The Guild eventually fizzled out, in large part because of the DC Implosion threw a large number of freelancers out of work and made the competition for jobs tougher, with a reduction in page rates and even paying gigs a new bargaining chip to be used to threaten creators. So who needs a union?
At the same time, the industry was fighting for some sort of settlement for Superman creators Siegel and Shuster. An embarrassed DC, newly acquired by Warners and with a slate of Superman films hitting theaters, finally awarded an annual stipend to the duo and their byline still appears in the little “created by” box that accompanies every appearance of the character. Coupled with the growth of the direct market and the introduction of new publishers hyping creator-owned work, these events saw DC and Marvel begin to develop more creator-friendly deals, including royalties. DC seems to have the better royalty and incentive deal, and under Paul Levitz even made some effort to ensure that creators like Jack Kirby benefited retroactively for the creation of characters (Stephen Bissette is perhaps the most well-know example of this seeming largesse: he famously received a large payday for the use of a minor character he helped create in Swamp Thing when Hellblazer/Constantine became a Keanu Reeves movie.) Marvel, on the other hand, stops royalty payments after a few years and pays no royalties on foreign reprints and translations. Both companies have yet to iron out a cohesive digital policy, let alone royalties for digital. So who needs a union?
In 2000, the Hero Initiative started up as a non-profit to help out older comics creators in financial need. This charity, which counts an executive from Marvel on its board of directors, exists as a bandaid solution to the problem of an industry built almost entirely on the work of freelancers who work without benefits like medical insurance or retirement pension plans. So, when someone like Gary Friedrich reaches the end of his rope, loses his lawsuit against his former employer, and is then sued by the same former employer, the Hero Intitiative can step in and offer a few dollars in grant money. The charity is funded by donations from fans, pros, and as I understand it, some corporate donations, as well as tons of volunteer hours. Over ten years it has handed out over $500,000, which, if you think about it, would average around $1000 to 50 people per year. Not quite a viable retirement plan. So who needs a union?
Most recently, artist Tony Harris called for the formation of a Sequential Arts And Entertainment Guild, envisioned as an advocacy organization along the lines of the Graphic Artists Guild, that would collect dues, run workshops, and call attention to the plight of creator rights. Some big name creators like Steve Niles appear to have signed up, but aside from a recent manifesto of sorts on Harris’ blog, there have been no public announcements and Harris has severely curtailed his online presence since 2010. Things remain essentially as they were. So who needs a union?
One of the big comics-related stores last year was the saga of the Spider-Man musical. Plagued with a series of disasters before it opened, the director of the production, July Taymor, was eventually fired. Through the director’s union, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, she subsequently sued the producers for royalties due to her as the first director of the play, arguing that much of the staging has been retained by the subsequent director. Last week, the case was settled in Taymor’s favor, with the producers agreeing to pay her the approx. $10,000 per week she is owed. Still in contention are royalties owed Taymor as one of the original writers on the project. Apparently Taymor is pursuing the writing suit on her own, without benefit of a union, and some have speculated she may be on shakier ground since the actual story of the play has been changed to keep it more in line with previous iterations of the Spider-Man mythos, as originally constructed by Lee and Ditko and most recently reimagined for the movies. Even though she didn’t create Spider-Man and had nothing to do with writing and drawing the character for the last 50 years, Taymor stands to earn substantial royalties. I’m not sure how these things work out in the world of theater, but in film there is a very clear template for how credit is assigned, and a basic pay scale system is in place for everything from “based on characters and situations created by” to “story by” to “screenplay” and everything in between. The Writers Guild sees to that. But who needs a union?
The Animation Guild is local 800 of IATSE, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes and Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts. The Guild represents animators, writers and technicians, including some visual effects technicians at the Cartoon Network, Disney, Dreamworks, Fox, Sony, Universal, and many others. The current president of the Guild is Bob Foster, an animator, director, writer, and cartoonist (Disney Comics and the fondly-remembered 1980s Fantagraphics series Myron Moose Funnies). In the past, the Guild has helped Simpson animators get back pay from Klasky-Csupo, and currently negotiates contracts for studio employees that include vacation pay, health care, pensions, and more. But who needs a union?
Another guild within IATSE is local 800, the Art Directors Guild, which includes illustrators, storyboard artists and matte artists, and is different from the Writers Guild, which many comics professionals are already a member of. Comics are just storyboards for movie pitches, right? Besides making appearances at several comic cons in the U.S., one of the Art Directors Guild’s main job is fighting for credit of its members, like in the current case of the lack or credit for a production designer in the Tintin movie. Help with workplace grievances, portable health care, contracts, lack of payment, shady business deals. It wouldn’t hurt to talk to these guys. But who needs a union?
I think this is a conversation that should happen. Most union organizing has to happen using a fair amount of secrecy, but there is no harm in talking publicly about the issues and the unique needs of comics pros. Nor is there any harm in picking up a phone or emailing one of the organizations mentioned above.
It’s not hard to find tits in mainstream comics. Lots and lots of big, round, almost nude tits. On the covers, in the pages, everywhere.
Seldom being used in their primary biological function – feeding babies – but mostly and exploitatively, in their secondary sexual context as eye-grabbers. Attention-getters. Fun bags! Bursting out, all over the place, barely covered at all.
Be it kid-oriented or not, making the most of scantily clad superheroes is just something comics do. It’s enough to make even a straight man puke sometimes.
So, it’s kind of funny – though not surprising to me really – that anyone working in the fandom world would be up in arms over someone “exploiting” Breastfeeding of all things, as depicted in this piece on the left by Calgary artist Fiona Staples for her collaboration with Brian K. Vaughan, “Saga“. I’ve seen bras that cover less than that baby does.
To be fair Dave Dorman is by far one of the more modest and tasteful artists out there. So I won’t push the hypocrisy angle, much. And it seems maybe he agrees or at least has backed away from this complaint because he seems to have taken down the post where he railed about this. But all the same this came from the very same person who enjoyed I’m sure, rendering this [sic].
In his post he was put off it seems by the juxtaposition in the context of some PR material in USA today, of the image on the left against quotes from Brian K. Vaughan saying…
“I just miss the days when I was a kid where you could pick up a No. 1 comic and it’s not a reboot or a relaunch or something.”
But this assumes
-Brian K. Vaughan put together the promo package, creating the juxtaposition in the first place.
-Vaughan meant for this specific title to be for the very young – rather than as I read it, a new book and not a reboot of something.
-Or that it’s somehow distasteful for young readers to see a woman breast feed!
Context is all, so it’s worth pointing out the quote was followed with…
It’s also a universe that he has been imagining since he was a kid. But it wasn’t until he had his own children that the story of Saga came to life.
“There are a lot of stories about having children, but they’re always comedies,” says Vaughan, 35, father to 1-year-old Alec and 8-month-old Wilhelmina. “It’s like the birth of a child is the end of drama. But I don’t think that’s true.”
There was some joking about a bit of feminist overreach [the woman who can do everything], and swipes at her modesty. Please, part of the reason there are few wallflowers in the superhero world is that we know instinctively modesty does not plausibly go along with being a super heroine most of the time. Modesty and realistic goals are only part of comics as ironic counterpoints to the commonplace outlandish, over the top, and unrealistic expectations. So, sure, let’s have some interesting modest characters. But these are very weak complaints.
By his now-deleted response, clearly he’s amongst those who tend to equate breast feeding with the taboo – to be hidden rather than viewing it in the contemporary context of a symbol of feminine power. He’s probably not alone. Being born in the 70s I have to admit I feel a bit uncomfortable when a woman breast feeds in public around me, even as the child of hippies, I don’t really know what to do with my eyes!
So I avert them by default and admire their liberty and the whole giving life thing without staring. That’s real life and I think the respectful default when in doubt. But not because it’s shameful, because it’s intimate. I don’t ogle couples kissing in public either. But we’re past the point I think where PDAs are widely thought to be immodest. This image challenging the taboo on public acts of motherhood is only exploitative
because if we’re not quite over that irrational double standard yet, and if there is no substance to it in BKV’s pending comic…
This is a book by Brian K. Vaughan? You know, the guy who gave us Y the last man?
Do we really think it’s just a cheap shock value comic cover? Or is it a statement about how he’s going to tell this story?
This is a piece of art – yes a promotional image – meant to establish a fictional mythical character as much as to sell books. So we’re clearly invited to look. Social modesty is forgiven. Grabbing our attention and telling us as much as it can without telling anything at all is the whole goal. So pragmatically why should this image be more taboo than boobs being exploited in all the other ways they are in comics? By even Dave?
This is meant to set the tone for what Brian wants to be seen as an unconventional notion of what it is to be heroic. It’s really quite powerful and if this helps sell the books it will also introduce a more rounded notion of the feminine power myth to comics readers – young and old alike. If we’re going to have sex in comics - and I think we’re long past the point of that being the conversation – then how about let’s have some nurturing in there along with all the wank-fest matter?
02.Jan.2012 2011: The Year in Review
2011: The Year That Comics Died
by BK Munn
(Or, The year that comics died, were born again, mutated, limped along in zombie form, and continued dying at the same majestic pace.)
Some notes on the year that was from the vantage-point here at the blog about Canadian comics culture.
1. What is comics, anyway?
For the last 3 months the following books have sat on my desk, waiting to be reviewed on Sequential: Melamine Car Bomb by Mark Connery, OMAC #1-4 by Dan Didio and Keith Giffen, The Klondike by Zach Worton, and Drag Bandits by Colleen Frakes and Betsey Swardlick. So, what do a punk collection of street art collected by doodle-king Marc Bell, a Jack Kirby homage penned by DC Comics publisher Dan Didio and José Muñoz-plagiarist Keith Giffen, a historical graphic novel released by A-List publisher Drawn and Quarterly, and a crowd-funded comic book about transvestite highwaymen edited by indie-cartoonist Box Brown have in common? Fucked if I know.
This is the quandary faced by anyone attempting to get a handle on the world of North American comics, circa 2011. What constitutes comics? Where are comics going and how can one humble little news blog cover the whole thing? It’s a fragmented world, to say the least. Print publishing, including books, newspaper comic strips, and traditional comic books, seems to be on its last legs. A new wave of digital and web comics are heralded as the future and a comics design and art aesthetic dominate our visual culture. What we used to think of as comics seems almost dead and buried, and yet comics in their various aspects have never been more ubiquitous, ambitious, and overwhelmingly beautiful and emotionally powerful (not to mention, financially successful). How do we reconcile the comics industry with “comics”?
In this year of revolution, war, reaction, and financial collapse, comics have been our mirror, our diversion, our comfort, and our despair. Cartoonists have taken to the streets, enlisted in the Canadian debacle in Afghanistan, were bombed, arrested, and fired. Cartoonists made us cry. But outside of very few publications, these events were not reflected in the comics of the past year. Instead we got, for the most part, teen-oriented manga, bestselling zombie comics, superhero reboots, golden age reprints, overhyped non-fiction memoirs, literary adaptations, and young adult fantasies.
The highlight of 2011 for the Sequential blog was the Toronto Comics Arts Festival and the publication of the third annual print edition of the Sequential magazine. For TCAF we provided extensive coverage, including a round-table overview, while the print magazine included tons of previews and actual comics highlighting many of the attendees of the festival.
As for the regular blog, Sequential featured a number of interviews representing a diverse cross-section of the comics landscape, including talks with Eugene Zhilinsky and Kimberley Whitchurch, Sarafin, Shannon Campbell of the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival, Rebecca Kraatz, Jesse Jacobs, Benjamin Rivers, John Martz, Joe Sacco, Joan Steacy, Mark Laliberte, Dylan Horrocks, and Nick Maandag. We also offered reviews of books by Maurice Vellekoop and various Koyama Press titles, Lorenzo Mattotti, David Lester, Joe Ollmann, George Walker, Keith Jones, and Steve Ditko. Sequential ranked the Canadian Comics of the Decade, and reported on future books by Emily Carroll, Bryan Lee O’Malley, and Jillian and Mariko Tamaki.
In publishing, the Marvel Boycott began and spread to Canada, and the company cancelled perennial sad-sack Canadian punching bag Alpha Flight. Jay Stephens ended his Oh, Brother! comic strip, the Xeric grants ended, Udon phased out pamphlet publishing, New Reliable Press ceased operations, and the Comics Code finally died.
In convention news, besides our TCAF roundup, we covered Fan Expo and a number of other events, including Wizard dropping its Winnipeg con, and a new Vancouver event announced its intentions. Venerable comics retailer Silver Snail moved and upstart Little Island opened.
The comics journalism world was rocked by the news of cartoonist and publisher Dylan Williams death, and the illness and hiatus of beloved comics newshound and critic Tom Spurgeon. Wizard Magazine imploded, and The Comics Journal received a new transfusion of talent.
3. “The Comics Industry”: Culture of Fear
I’ve been doing this year end review thing for Sequential since 2006 and the theme every year since then has been how comics, and especially the tiny world of Canadian comics, have been growing from strength to strength, becoming more popular, and becoming more accepted by what remains of mainstream culture. The evidence is always anecdotal, based mostly on industry hype and the generally blinkered view of someone (me) who spends his spare time trolling Google news for tidbits about graphic novels publishing and blog reviews. Even so, there is no denying that, despite some major successes and crossovers in the larger public consciousness, 2011 was also a year of diminished expectations. The new permanent recession economy means that our (that is “the comic book industry’s”) highs will be less high and successes will be less successful. Despite the early Christmas that comic book shops received in the form of a temporary return to 1995-era levels of sales and excitement (not to mention the 1995-era eye- and mind-bruising stories and art typical of the Image-dominated superhero comics of that time) with DC’s “New 52″ initiative, comics sales and the audience in general seems to have been shrinking for years and the trend continued in 2011. We just have to look at the numbers that comics distributor Diamond posts about sales to see how small the traditional “Direct Sales” comic shop market is, with a basic audience of little over 100,000 people in North America for even the bestselling $3 monthly comic book. This is not a mass market but a boutique industry. And that goes quadruple for Canada.
Of course, what I like to think of Canadian comics culture is much larger, even if you don’t include the audience for superheroes, and factoring in the readership for digital and webcomics, people who buy graphic novels and manga in bookstores and take them out from libraries, and those who attend comics and pop culture conventions, the world of comics is much larger than the world of the comic shop and superhero fandom. Larger for certain, but is it 10 times larger?
In regards to the actual economics of the Direct Market in Canada, I can only reiterate what I noted in last year’s report. Within the general downward decline, anecdotal evidence suggests a sort of homeostasis within the comic shop economy. There hasn’t been an avalanche of store closures, but few new stores opened and current owners aren’t exactly buying luxury Batmobiles. Ditto for the larger book market. We haven’t had something like a Borders bankruptcy, but a major Canadian book distributor (H.B. Fenn) did go under, and traditional small bookstores are closing left and right. The print book seems imperiled, yet everyone is still talking about reading and the business of digital.
Indeed, the industry seems to be contracting in very specific ways, with layoffs, book cancellations, and an eye for the corporate bottom line becoming the new norm; recessionary business strategies tailor-made for the tightly-squeezed boutique publishing/R&D organelles that DC and Marvel constitute in the larger Warner-Disney constellations, and within the larger “content producing” industries in general. Most comic creators, as Marvel illustrator Dale Eaglesham noted last week, are working in a culture of fear, wherein it seems the next digital announcement or quarterly report could signal the end of a way of life that has existed for a small number of artists and writers churning out a very specialized form of genre entertainment off and on for 60 years.
In terms of specific publishing enterprises in Canada, nothing really seismic was recorded on the Sequential Richter scale this year; the same handful of English-language publishers (Conundrum, Drawn and Quarterly, Koyama Press) lead the pack in terms of locally-produced comics, graphic novels and related publications, with a few small presses, vanity presses, self-publishers and even large-ish dilettante international concerns shepherding the occasional graphic memoir or young adult fiction to bookstores. And the same is true for Quebec. Sure, many new young cartoonists came out with impressive work and many older lions fought hard to maintain primacy, but the tiny game board on which this artistic to and fro took place remained largely unchanged.
Which brings me to my next category:
4. Newsmaker of the Year: Drawn & Quarterly
Over the past 20 years, Montreal publisher Drawn and Quarterly has evolved from a one-man show responsible for a marginal anthology to a major book publisher with an international roster of artists in its catalog and an industry dominance that puts it in the forefront of comics publishing worldwide and dwarfs at the same time as it inspires its competition locally in Canada. The dream team of founder Chris Oliveros, co-publisher and publicist Peggy Burns, ex-Highwater Books publisher Tom Devlin, and a ragtag cohort of editors, designers, translators, booksellers, and dedicated interns make the modern D+Q a beehive of comics greatness and news-iness.
It’s a trifle unfair, you might mutter, to award a publisher and not one of its individual authors the newsmaker trophy, but when I really sat down to think about it, looking over the past twelve months of comics coverage on Sequential, around the web, in print and other media, no other entity really dominated the consciousness of the Canadian comics imagi-nation. From the announcement of a new Seth book that kicked off the new year to the publisher’s recent crowing about six out of its twenty-four 2011 titles (one-quarter of its output) ending up on the New York Times graphic novel bestseller list, D+Q had a banner year in terms of publicity, corresponding sales, and public engagement. Sure, any one of those bestsellers deserves special consideration this year, and any one of their creators would make for a fascinating profile here, but whether it’s the mega crossover success of Kate Beaton, Dan Clowes’s canonization, or Chester Brown’s massive signing lines despite a controversial book about prostitution and Libertarian candidacy, Drawn and Quarterly’s quality control and tireless, Napoleonic-quality publicity efforts are the common thread behind these successes, almost above and beyond the skills and personalities of individual artists. Even tangential stories this year, like Seth’s Harbourfront prize win or the announcement of Conundrum Press signing Michel Rabagliati, are in some part D+Q stories. Seth, Rabagliati, and Conundrum had good years, sure, but D+Q had a better one. The Canada Reads horse race? Jeff Lemire got booted off the island but still sold books; Chester Brown and D+Q got a boost for Louis Riel, without it making it to the island at all.
Certainly, D+Q isn’t exactly leading the charge to publish a ton of hot new talents –people like Emily Carroll, Jonathan Dalton, Michael DeForge, Patrick McEown, and Ethan Rilly are all being published elsewhere– but they still found a place in their schedule for a solid debut by Zach Worton and a successful sophomore effort from Pascal Girard. As well, D+Q’s stable were essentially the stars at TCAF and other big events, and D+Q did keep up with some trends, keeping a finger in every pie whether it was manga translation (a potential book of the year with Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths), classic strip reissues (Doug Wright), webcomics (Kate Beaton), and digital (Chester Brown, initially).
With no close rivals, the publisher looks positioned to continue its dominance of hearts and minds in the years to come, continuing with longterm reprint projects like the John Stanley Library, Moomin, Gasoline Alley, and Nipper, and expanding its catalog to include major U.S. talent like Gilbert Hernandez, at the same time as it maintains its gold standard in terms of Canadian graphic novel production.
Every year we can get some sort of sense of the best comics of the previous year by looking at the various awards handed out in Canadian comics in 2011. And the winners were:
As always, we end our year in review by remembering those who have left us over the previous year, including cartoonists, writers, and cultural critics.
Alvin Schwartz (1916-2011) creator of Bizarro Superman
Norm Muffit (1942-2011) political cartoonist for northern newspapers
Gordon Reid (1936-2011) Calgary political cartoonist
Bob Monks (1928-2011) Windsor historian and cartoonist
Charlie Bell (1916-2011) Regina policart
Clement Sauvé (1977-2011) young Montreal comics illustrator
John Gallant (1917-2011), co-author, Bannock, Beans, and Black Tea
(thanks to David Hains, Robert Pincombe, Salgood Sam, and Dalton Sharp for their contributions to Sequential throughout 2011!)
Pity the poor newsboy of the day, trying to hawk his papers on the streets of Fawcett City or Toronto, as the case me be. Who edits these things?
Margaret Atwood’s new memoir/essay collection on science fiction and fantasy, In Other Worlds, is being excerpted in The National Post. Saturday’s excerpt included Atwood’s reflections on her early experience of comic strips and superheroes, and her attempts at creating same. She name-checks Mandrake, Flash Gordon, Terry and the Pirates, and Little Orphan Annie, before letting loose with this observation:
“Where did we kids discover the knowledge of flying capes, superpowers, other planets, and the like? In part, through the primitive comic-strip superheroes of the times, the most popular of which were Flash Gordon, for space travel and robots; Superman and Captain Marvel, for extra strength, superpowers, and cape-based flying; and Batman, who was a mortal, with a non-functional cape — one that must have encumbered him somewhat as he clawed his way up the sides of buildings — but who nonetheless shared with Captain Marvel and Superman a weak or fatuous second identity that acted as a disguise. (Captain Marvel was Billy Batson, the crippled newsboy; Superman was Clark Kent, the bespectacled reporter; Batman was Bruce Wayne, the very rich playboy who lounged around in a smoking jacket.)”
Of course, everybody knows that it wasn’t Billy Batson but Freddy Freeman (secret identity: Capt. Marvel, Jr.) that was the “crippled newsboy.” Billy Batson was simply a newsboy of the non-crippled variety before graduating to radio announcer and journalist for station WHIZ.
Now, I don’t expect Margaret Atwood to remember this sort of comics trivia for 60 years or so –she’s got enough on her plate building her own worlds– but what about the fact-checkers and editors at the National Post and McClelland & Stewart? They really dropped the ball on this one. Holy Moley!
02.Aug.2011 Should We Boycott Marvel?
Last week, comic book artist and writer Stephen R. Bissette called for a boycott of all products based on the work of Jack Kirby until Marvel Comics and their owners at Disney come to terms with the Kirby heirs and acknowledge Kirby’s role in creating and co-creating such characters as Iron Man, The X-Men, Thor, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, and Captain America. According to Bissette, “Jack Kirby always, in his life and in his work, trumpeted the power of the INDIVIDUAL to act against power. It was JACK’S message, in all his work: the power of the INDIVIDUAL to CHANGE THE WORLD. So, CHANGE THE WORLD, those who grew up reading, loving, enjoying, creating, earning livings from Kirby’s work and all that followed.”
At immediate issue is the recent decision of a U.S. District Court to deny the Kirby heirs their right to the copyrights of the characters and stories Kirby created. The judge denied the family’s claims on the grounds that Kirby produced the work as an employee of Marvel Comics. (Colleen Doran has an excellent summary as well as the actual legal document of the decision here.)
Bissette argues that Kirby signed away his rights retroactively and under duress, being essentially extorted by Marvel for his livelihood and later for the return of his original art. Bissette makes a great case, using examples from his own career working for Marvel and DC, and proposes several tactics for embarrassing Marvel and denying the company money in exchange for exploiting characters Marvel/Disney should have no right to.
Regardless of the legal ruling, and the legal status of “corporate authorship,” Bissette argues that the question is a moral one.
Should Marvel Comics continue to benefit financially for exploiting, denigrating, and generally abusing the genius of Jack Kirby?
My own opinion is that they should not.
I agree that what the corporation did to Kirby and continues to do to his legacy and heirs was and is morally wrong and therefore in good conscience we should not reward Marvel for their morally wrong behaviour. That means working for Marvel on Kirby creations or buying Kirby-derived comics or books from Marvel, or buying video games, movies, toys, or any other products based on Kirby characters that Marvel has produced or licensed, is out.
I think Bissette’s boycott plan and suggested tactics are a good idea and could have some concrete effect in shaping public opinion and maybe even effecting change within Marvel.
Collective action has had an impact on the big American comics publishers in the past. Most famously, a campaign spearheaded by Neal Adams and Jerry Robinson succeeded in pressuring DC into giving credit and compensation to Siegel & Shuster in the 1970s for their creation of Superman. In the 1980s, The Comics Journal led the fight for the return of Kirby’s original artwork. In the 1990s, a loose fan boycott of Marvel product had an effect on the way the company produced and marketed its comics.
I think a boycott of Kirby-derived product from Marvel (Kirby created approx. 80% of the well-known Marvel characters) will have been judged a success of at least one of these 3 goals are reached:
1. Marvel acknowledges Kirby as the creator or co-creator of the relevant characters and titles, giving him credit with each publication, film or other product.
2. Marvel begins paying the Kirby heirs royalties.
3. The Kirby heirs win the copyrights to the characters Jack Kirby created while at Marvel.
Nothing less will do and I believe Marvel should not be supported until these issues are resolved and Jack Kirby’s contributions are rightfully acknowledged.
13.Jun.2011 POD Sequential Pulp III
12.Apr.2011 Canadian Cartoonist Landmarks
“I don’t mind being a symbol but I don’t want to become a monument. There are monuments all over the Parliament Buildings and I’ve seen what the pigeons do to them.”–Tommy Douglas
As another famous Canadian has said, “unlike other countries, Canadians (and their leaders) loved and supported cartooning.” What better way to show this love than through large public monuments to cartoonists and their creations?
by BK Munn
Let’s take a quick comics landmark tour of Canada, shall we?
First stop, Halifax and the future site of the Prince Valiant statue. This monument to the comic strip created by Halifax-born Hal Foster is currently in the fund-raising stage but maybe someday soon there will be a statue at Bishop’s Landing on the Halifax waterfront? Honestly? I thought this thing was already built but it seems to be languishing, judging by this neglected website.
After a short career as an artist and illustrator in Canada, Foster (1892-1982) departed for greener pastures in the USA, where he became rich and famous as the illustrator of first, the Tarzan comic strip (1929-37), and then his own creation, the long-running Prince Valiant (1937-1980). Valiant has a strange position in the canon of North American comics. Because it more often resembled an illustrated storybook than a typical adventure strip and eschewed many of the comic strip storytelling devices like word balloons and speed lines, comics fans sometimes see it as a pretentious hybrid whose mashing-up of potboiler pulp epic with a classical approach to composition and subject matter made for an uneasy marriage. However inexplicably, the strip was extremely popular and influential in its time (it was certainly beautiful!). At its peak it was carried in hundreds of newspapers and inspired comic book artists like Gil Kane, Wally Wood, and Jack Kirby; one of the few comic strips to achieve a sort of high culture status among the general public (as Luc Sante notes in this recent review, Prince Valiant was the only comic strip Lynd Ward could name.)
Next, to Granby, Quebec, site of Brownie Castle and Palmer Cox’s gravemarker. Palmer Cox was the Granby-born cartoonist known for creating The Brownies, a pixie-ish clan of imps that appeared in comic strips, magazines, and books beginning in the 1860s. Cox emigrated from rural Quebec to the American wild west in 1863 and created cartoons for various newspapers there. His Squibs of California is an example of an early graphic novel. Moving to New York, he found work for the burgeoning humour market there and created The Brownies for St. Nicholas magazine. The characters were a huge hit and Cox shrewdly marketed his creations, licensing them to all sorts of publishers and toymakers, eventually lending their name to the iconic Kodak Brownie box camera. Cox retired to his ancestral home in the Teens, creating a large mansion dubbed Brownie Castle, where he died in 1924. The house still stands and a large stained glass window featuring the Brownies is still visible. Cox’s grave is nearby with a large bas-relief Brownie figure featured prominently on his memorial.
While in Quebec, why not make the trek up to St-Jean de Matha, where Albert Chartier has a bridge and short street named after him. Chartier was known as the godfather of Quebec bande dessinee and created the long-running Onésime strip which was featured in the weekly rural newspaper Le Bulletin des Agriculteurs. Known equally for his wonderful illustration work and a series of cosmopolitan strips featuring shapely girls, it seems his reputation will rest on the linguistically rustic adventures of this stuttering milquetoast figure of Onésime. Now you might say, ‘A bridge? Why honour a cartoonist with a bridge? What kind of memorial is that?’ Well, it’s a pretty big deal, as far as memorials go. Not quite an airport (usually reserved for heads of state), a bridge is an important structure, charged with safely conveying citizens over dangerous waters. This bridge bears its users on its shoulders just as Albert Chartier bore the cultural weight of Quebec comics on his shoulders, forging a new tradition from the base metal of a foreign medium. The location makes a cameo in Michel Rabagliati’s Paul Goes Fishing graphic novel.
Next stop: the London Press Club in London, Ontario, where a papier mache sculpture of Luke Worm, the cartoon mascot of political cartoonist Merle “Ting” Tingley resides. Born in 1921 in Montreal, Ting took a few cross-country journeys himself, first as a young cartoonist manque, post-World War Two, when he rode his motorcycle across the land looking for work in his chosen profession, and again years later, when his work was syndicated nationally. Ting was the cartoonist for the London Free Press between 1948 and 1986 and his signature character Luke Worm made a cameo appearance in most of his cartoons. This “life-size” version of the character has been ensconced in Ting’s club since time immemorial (probably the 60s). Luke Worm, and indeed the entirety of the London Press Club, is a relic of a bygone era of Canadian newspaper culture, when large regional dailies employed a full staff of writers and artists, including foreign and Ottawa correspondents, as well as cartoonists who dealt with local and international issues on the editorial page (check out the Club’s gloriously retro webpage). Ting’s cartoons were collected in several books over the years and he won the National Newspaper Award, the big political cartooning award in Canada, for his work in 1955.
Speaking of drinking, let’s take a little drive down the 401 highway and stop for a pint at The Ben Wicks Pub in downtown Toronto. The only bar named for a Canadian cartoonist, The Ben Wicks is still a local haunt of Cabbagetown’s creative class. Founded in 1980 by cartoonist and tv personality Ben Wicks (1926-2000), the restaurant is decorated on the outside with large murals of Wicks’ drawings, and framed copies of his cartoons decorate the walls around the large “Cheers”-style bar inside. (Little-known fact: the Doug Wright Award nominees are chosen at a secret ceremony that takes place every year at this location.) Wicks was a nationally-syndicated political cartoonist who specialized in single-panel gags and domestic comedy. His strip The Outcasts (later renamed “Wicks”) began in the 1960s and he was also published in The Saturday Evening Post and Macleans. Wicks was also familiar to many as the host of a CBC cooking-slash-talk-show (seriously!) as well as for his work for children’s literacy (a literacy charity administered by his family is his other legacy).
stumbling out of the pub worshipping at the shrine of Wicks, you might want to walk a few blocks North and a few blocks East to 66 Charles Street East, the site of a Historical Plaque outside the home of J.W. Bengough. Bengough (1851-1923) was the founder of Grip magazine, a weekly humourous paper that featured cartoons by Bengough, his army of pseudonyms, and other cartoonists dedicated to skewering the excesses of Canada’s Victorian elites, in the manner of England’s Punch or the original U.S. Life magazine. One of the first post-Confederation cartoonists to make a name for himself, he covered the rise and fall and rise of Prime Minister John A. MacDonald and MacDonald’s adversaries, Louis Riel and Wilfred Laurier. This plaque to Bengough’s memory was bolted in place long ago in 1983.
On to Flin Flon, Manitoba, where the town’s titular mascot keeps watch over the frozen north. Named for a character in a science fiction novel discovered in the wilderness by the town’s founder (full name: Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin), the character was allegedly designed by U.S. cartoonist Al Capp in a gesture of cross-border goodwill. Flin Flon is a mining town that shares the border with Saskatchewan and was also once the underground capital of marijuana production in Canada. The chamber of commerce commissioned the production of the massive statue of Flintabatty Flonatin and you can visit it at the Flin Flon Tourist Park on Highway 10A near the city limits. And that should complete your tour of Manitoba’s 5th-largest town and the largest (24 feet) landmark on this list.
Finally, to Alberta where we will stop at Jasper National Park and visit with the park’s internationally-known mascot, Jasper the Bear. Created by cartoonist James Simpkins in 1948, Jasper was a regular feature in MacLean’s magazine for twenty years and the star of a syndicated comic strip from 1968 to 1972. Through the years, the character also represented the Boy Scouts and the United Way charity. The friendly bear has greeted tourists since the he was adopted as mascot in 1962, standing opposite the Jasper train station until damaged by vandals in 2004. A repaired and updated Jasper now stands in a more secure location and is an essential photo op for all visitors. It’s fitting that one of the most well-known cartoon landmarks in Canada is based on Simpkins’ bear. Along with Doug Wright, Simpkins was probably the most visible cartoonist of his generation, helping to create an impressive cartoon legacy across the national print landscape in the latter-half of the Twentieth Century.
26.Mar.2011 Rob GranitoLittle late to this story, and i don’t have a lot to add. First, most of what you want to know has been covered well by Bleeding Cool.
Start with Who On Earth Is Rob Granito? posted March 24 by Rich. Then More Fun With Rob Granito Before MegaCon, Yes Orlando, Rob Granito IS At MegaCon – Pics, Rob Granito Hits YouTube At MegaCon, When Ethan Van Sciver Met Rob Granito, all posted March 25. Concluding for the moment with Artists React To Rob Granito In The Only Way They Can, posted today, March the 26th. [yep, there's been a lot of posting about this, hasn't there?]
The short of it this Rob guy is producing art and prints that are clear swipes of other people’s work–something you do see in comics but is only tolerated if you credit the work as an homage–and saying it’s his own.
This is on top of what can only be described as a fantastically packed full of lies list of false credits, like saying he drew Calvin and Hobbes for example, or other titles we know full well he had nothing to do with.
I think mostly the things i linked to up top cover the bases, i just want to add one note coming from having read this from a friend on facebook posting on Ty Templeton’s wall.
Anastasia Acid PopTart [one of the more obvious victims of Robs swipes] has already contacted Chiller [con] and, at this time, they will not cancel Granito’s appearance. They have been informed of his thievery but say that it is up to the individual artists who have been ripped off to deal with the situation. Anastasia has said that she will possibly go to the convention and present papers in person.
Here’s my very public reaction to this, in the form of a note to all convention managers.
This is not how to handle this. The quote is anecdotal, but if it’s true?
Very bad PR and possibly leaves you liable. You have it on very good word from numerous creators, regardless if they have contacted you personally, that someone is forging their work, selling it as his own at your shows. And furthermore that the credentials he presented you with were faked was well.
If you’re taking money from Rob you’re profiting from fraud. You are also a victim of fraud. Even if you are providing space for free. You took him on under the understanding this person is someone who did X Y & Z, and they did not. They lied to you.
In either case you most certainly should not be leaving it to creators to do your job for you and police the event. That’s asking to host a brawl and not going to help create the kind of positive event environment that is in your own best interest. And while i’m not a lawyer, I think you are leaving yourself open to legal consequences by taking money from Rob, who is really playing Russian Roulette here with his brushes.
True, artist don’t have tons of money for legal action. So maybe Rob will get lucky with them and never receive a cease and desist letter or get sued by that crowd. Maybe. Perhaps he’ll just get punched in the face.
But the man is claiming to have worked on some pretty big license properties and is selling their copyrighted merch illegally at YOUR shows.
Get ahead of the curve on this one, and invest in some karma. And keep in mind leaving it to creators, Marvel or DC, Bill Watterson or Jim Davis to file suit or papers means probably leaving yourselves open to receive papers too.
Just a thought.
23.Mar.2011 We’ll call this one “max spouts off a bit”
Hey ho, always a bit awkward feeling when it come to talking about myself, but along with publishing and sometimes contributing here, I also make my own comics as you probably know, and I edit for the literary journal carte-blanche.org.
I, I, I, blah blah blah.
It’s as a creator that I was interviewed by my old friend Sam Agro for his blog MOVING PICTURES.
SA: Do you think the future of comics lies in digital media?
SS: I don’t think it’s the whole future, but I do think it’s a big part of it. The internet proper is a great entry point for new talent to stretch their legs, get feed back, and learn if they care to. And for more experienced creators it’s a good place to prove something publishers are normally wary of taking a risk on, like unconventional and maybe demanding approaches to pacing and plot. And building an initial interest in a project.
Also, I’ve solely promoted my work online as a comic artist and illustrator, since 1998 or so. And I’d say about 80% of my income has come from inquiries via that.
Then with the new incoming ‘App’ market we have something that may well offer a viable alternative to periodicals, and the problems of overhead and distribution the direct market is struggling with. It’s got a built in monetary stream so that solves that issue, and the new tablets, e-readers and net-books offer an increasingly comfortable reading form factor. Too early to say anything definitive about it but it’s looking pretty viable. Any problems with it I see are more questions of execution and problem solving, than innate obstacles. —>
And as editor at carte blanche I have a shop talk blog post today, catching non-comics readers up with the evolution of the medium over the last 10 years, and addressing the nomenclature of comics, sequential art, graphic novels and graphic fiction.
What I still think of as comics has been going through a time of great change and growth.
When I decided to dedicate most of my time to making them in high school, it was in part because I was being kicked out, and comics were something you didn’t need a degree in. In truth, there were no degrees to be had in comics. If you wanted to learn more about the medium, you studied art, writing, and film, and extrapolated from these different media. If you achieved a professional level of skill there was little worry about competition; I landed my first paying jobs at Marvel after just one serious attempt to get work in the early 1990s.
While I was developing my own skills out on the edges of the scene in the late 1980s, the then lone journal of comics, inventively titled The Comics Journal, called for our bastard medium to be taken seriously by critics, and urged creators to take what they did seriously in order to bring the standards of their work up to where they might merit that attention. —>
Diamond Distributors, the company responsible for moving most of the comic books to comic shops in North America and the UK, does not separate its publicly available sales reports by country.
But it does release numbers for its top 300 comics and top 300 graphic novels every month. We can’t find out how many comics were sold in Canada through these lists but we can figure out how many comics created by Canadians were sold.
Looking at the lists for January and February, we see the following Canadian comic books (floppies) were bestsellers (the first number is the Diamond sales rank and the last number in parentheses is the estimated number of copies of the individual issue sold):
4 Spawn #200 Image (65448)
82 Spawn #201 Image (18458)
145 Sweet Tooth #17 DC (8522)
224 Skullkickers #5 (4009)
269 Glamourpuss #17 AV (2253)
188 Sweet Tooth #18 DC (8466)
270 Skullkickers #6 Image (3731)
300 Kill Shakespeare #1 $1.00 reissue IDW (2860)
These are the highest profile creations by Canucks in the mass market monthly comics sweepstakes and looking at these lists satisfies a few urges and questions I’ve had recently about the strength of the market. For instance, awhile back there was some hype around the debut of Jim Zubkavich’s Skullkickers series and how many copies were being printed. Now I can see how many sold initially through comic shops and glancing back over previous lists it looks like maybe somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 of the first issue were purchased? I think that’s a fair, if very broad, estimate. Considering that the top 10 bestselling books sell somewhere between 70,000 and 120,000: food for thought.
And speaking of those top bestsellers, when I see the biggest hyped comic book of the last six months, January’s Fantastic Four #587 featuring the death of The Human Torch character, sold only 115 thousand copies, I begin to wonder about the strength of the Direct Market. Do the numbers on this list mean that there are only about 100,000 hardcore comics buyers who buy monthly comics through comic shops in North America? January was reportedly (and is traditionally) a very slow month for comics retail, with very little to lure regular superhero fans into the shops. But still, I find that number kind of low. Even figuring that the number is twice that, and that, to be generous, 5 times that number (let’s say a million people) make a purchase annually in comic shops in North America, it looks like the market is kind of small.
Sure I’ve seen numbers over the past year asserting that through bookstores, comic shops, online sales, the market for comics, graphic novels, and related paper ephemera numbers in the millions. But these comic shop numbers should be the backbone of comics sales, according to certain pundits. I know it’s hard to come up with any real numbers. Heck, I consider myself a big comics fan (don’t I contribute to a blog about comics?) and sometimes go for several months without buying something from my local shop.
Ten Canadian books made the list of top 300 graphic novels over the last two months:
45 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 01 PRECIOUS LITTLE LIFE ONI (1,339)
130 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 03 INFINITE SADNESS ONI (642)
133 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 02 VS THE WORLD ONI 634
159 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 04 GETS IT TOGETHER ONI (536)
164 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 05 VS THE UNIVERSE ONI (530)
175 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 06 FINEST HOUR ONI (491)
240 SWEET TOOTH TP VOL 01 OUT OF THE WOODS DC (342)
269 SWEET TOOTH TP VOL 02 IN CAPTIVITY DC (294)
78 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 01 PRECIOUS LITTLE LIFE (973)
133 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 02 VS THE WORLD ONI (702)
176 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 03 INFINITE SADNESS ONI (519)
215 MID-LIFE DQ (434)
227 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 04 GETS IT TOGETHER ONI (402)
231 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 06 FINEST HOUR ONI (400)
236 SCOTT PILGRIM GN VOL 05 VS THE UNIVERSE ONI (391)
257 SWEET TOOTH TP VOL 01 OUT OF THE WOODS D (347)
291 SWEET TOOTH TP VOL 02 IN CAPTIVITY DC (304)
These lists reveal the bittersweet reality of the funny book biz, and tell us more than the Sequential Bestseller List based on bookstore sales. For the most part, the numbers represent pre-orders, meaning an actual consumer ordered the book through a comic shop, sometimes months before the book was even printed. Not too many other industries work that way with such a devoted clientele.
On the flipside, the widespread use of preordering and pull-lists means that many comic shop owners can be extremely conservative in ordering and stocking the shelves of their stores since their customer base has essentially promised to buy the bulk of their product before it hits the floor. Meaning reordering and stocking for a general or casual readership is not really necessary since most of the bills are already paid by the Wednesday crowd.
So, I’m afraid that in comic shop terms, the list above says to me that unless Mid-Life suddenly becomes another Scott Pilgrim, Watchmen or Maus, or makes a ton of Books of the Year lists, that these initial numbers might represent a large chunk of the bulk of the book’s sales through comic book shops, ever. Sweet Tooth has, beyond Jeff Lemire’s not insubstantial talents, the advantage of an ongoing series and the hype-machine of DC Comics behind it, so I expect the collections to hang around the Top 300 for awhile. And so on…
Update: this comparison of the size of the comics market with 1959′s doesn’t make me think that more people are reading comics. Dollar-wise and vriety-wise, today’s market may be larger, even adjusted for inflation, but more kids read comics then, no?
10.Jan.2011 The Sequential Round Table: 2010 in Review
For our second ever podcast David Hains, Dalton Sharp, Salgood Sam and Dave Howard met up in Toronto to take a look back at the last year. News stories that stuck in our craws, and the books we loved and saw. And then we took a look ahead, in anticipation at some of the promised realeases of 2011.
Opening Music:Dr. John – Comic Book Crazy
Top news 0f 2010
Music: Charlie Winston – Kick The Bucket – Hobo
Books of 2010
Music: Al Green – Aint No Sunshine When She’s Gone – Presious lord i’ll rise again
Music: Billy Brag – To Have And Not – Back to Basics
Music: Skinny Love – Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
Looking forward to 2011
Paying For It by Chester Brown
The Klondike by Zach Worton
GNBCC by Seth
Welcome to Oddville by Jay Stephens
Even The Giants by Jesse Jacobs
Cat Rackham book by Steve Wolfhard?
Suddenly Something Happened by Jimmy Beaulieu
Midlife by Joe Ollmann
Michel Choquette monster anthology of comics about the the 60′s
Closing Music: Gold Was His Sun – Nick Craine – November Moon
by Bryan Munn
Time once again for a look back over the past year in Canadian comics. In many ways, I think 2010 will be remembered as a year in which the newest generation of cartoonists really came to the fore and asserted themselves on the national and international stage. Whether it was the spectacular debut and seeming ubiquity of Michael DeForge, continued strong work from the likes of James Stokoe, Jillian Tamaki, and Pascal Girard (among many others), or the overhwhelming success of Bryan Lee O’Malley as a multimedia behemoth, this cohort of young 20- and 30-something artists really dominated the linkblogging here at Sequential.
In terms of important news stories, the ongoing recession which continues to batter the comics industry in the U.S. seems to have been less of a story here in Canada. Just as the Canadian banking and real estate markets have weathered the crisis better here, so retail has been generally stronger. The gang at the Shuster Awards seem to have a better finger on the pulse of the world of comic shops, where for every story of a store in crisis there is another balancing story of a store opening or thriving with a varied clientele. Book sales in general are reportedly down 3.98% over 2009, but there is really no reliable way to look at sales of comics and graphic novels throughout the sprawling Canadian marketplace, including online sales, independent bookstores, Chapters, and the 250-odd comic book shops scattered across the country. Diamond Comics Distributors, responsible for the vast majority of comic sales through local shops, has indicated that North American sales are down 3.5% over 2009, with no differentiation of the Canadian market. Not a huge drop, but not exactly double-digit growth, either. That number translates into something like $430 million in the Direct Market alone, which translates to basically some nice pocket money for Warners and Disney, and the trickle-down side-effect of continued steady employment and healthy paycheques for many Canadian freelance artists. But booksales are on a longterm decline in general, and comic sellers, after a few pre-crash years of growth and mainstream acceptance euphoria, seem skittish and conservative, if still passionate.
Tangential to the theme of the economy and sales is another big 2010 story, the advent of multiple digital platforms and strategies from most of the major comics publishers and retailers. Sequential hasn’t really covered these innovations to the extent that the U.S.-focused blogs and news sources have, as it is hard to separate the hype from the actual facts about usage, cost, sales, etc. Plus, we don’t really have that much interest in how you can access the latest Spider-Man comic here (well, we do and we don’t, if you understand me). Maybe when Louis Riel is available as a hologram brainscan?
Other big news stories? I’ll mention three that stand out from what Sequential reported on over the last 12 months. First, on the macro-scale, the continued growth in the convention trade, both as an outlet for comics sales on an individual cartoonist level and in mass-market promotional terms. I think of Dan Clowes’ recent comments about the changes to San Diego and cons in general as emblematic of the mainstreaming of superhero and comic fan culture. In short, comic conventions are big news and popular. Nothing illustrates this better than our coverage of the two major (and mirror image) Toronto shows, TCAF and FanExpo. TCAF the big art comics love-in and FanExpo the massive multimedia explosion. 10s of thousands of people attended these events and with the exception of the overcrowding and shut-down during the peak hours of FanExpo, it is hard not to see this as a vindication of the power of comics fan culture.
In publishing news, the big story was the arrival of Koyama Press on the scene. The boutique Toronto press fronted by publisher/art patron Anne Koyama, interviewed by Sequential’s David Hains here, is a welcome addition to the uncrowded Canadian comics scene with a handful of weird and wonderful art books and comics, including the afore-mentioned DeForge and Tin Can Forest’s Baba Yaga and The Wolf.
In terms of individual artists, Jason Kieffer seems to have suffered (enjoyed?) the most controversy, with his faux-guidebook to Toronto characters, real and imagined, which came under fire from critics for both tone and subject.
Which brings us to:
1. Newsmaker of the Year: Bryan Lee O’Malley
As mentioned above, Bryan Lee O’Malley and his Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels, as well as complimentary movie, soundtrack, and videogame were the 900-pound gorilla of Canadian comics in 2010. From humble beginnings (I remember Brad Mackay announcing that Scott Pilgrim had been optioned as a film way back in 2005, when O’Malley won the Best Emerging Talent trophy at the first Wright Awards), the Scott Pilgrim franchise has grown into a worldwide brand, with passionate fans and incredible book sales testament to the power of a unique cartooning talent.
The year began with O’Malley riding high on the success of the first five volumes of his series, with fans eagerly anticipating the final volume (Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour) and the imminent arrival of the celluloid adaption of the series, Scott Pilgrim vs The World. Modern film promotion being what it is, the hype for the film, and the targeting of a perceived audience, coupled with O’Malley’s strong internet presence and social networking skills, generated a level of interest that reached a fever pitch early on and didn’t really let up until the dvd of the movie dropped in the Fall. A bestseller on not only the Sequential Canadian bestseller list but on almost any other comics and even general book list you can find, the Scott Pilgrim books, as well as O’Malley’s 2003 debut GN, Lost at Sea, dominated sales all year, challenging not only the traditional superhero publishers, but also newer upstarts such as Jeff Smith’s Bone and The Walking Dead franchises for chart supremacy. Scott Pilgrim Volume 6 was the number 4 book on Diamond’s year end chart, with Volumes 1 and 2 taking the 6 and 10 spots, respectively, and a similar story can be told by consulting the Amazon and Chapters lists, ad infinitum. Eventually celebrating over one million copies of the series in print –a true publishing success story– O’Malley and Oni Press have proven Scott Pilgrim the little comic that could. And how it could. The final book dropped amid such huge anticipation that a Harry Potter-style frenzy took hold. A deftly-engineered midnight release was executed in bookstores and comic shops across North America, with a giant street party sponsored by former O’Malley employer The Beguiling taking place at the epicentre in Toronto. A Sequential roundtable panel added its voice to the many who sang the praises of the book, boosting the hype even higher in anticipation of the movie which premiered scant days later and also experienced a triumphant unveiling at San Diego Comicon. Although well-reviewed and the subject of seemingly perpetual, unabated hype, the final film version was something of a box-office disappointment. The final tally, a still mind-boggling $30 million in ticket sales, recouped barely half the film’s reported $60 million cost, and earning less than other 2010 comics-related movies like Marmaduke ($33 million), Kick-Ass ($48 million), and Diary of a Wimpy kid ($64 million), according to BoxOfficeMojo. The film still made many year-end “best of” lists and looks destined to be something of a (cult) classic among comics fans and cineastes alike.
All told, it was really a Scott Pilgrim year, with Bryan Lee O’Malley entering that rarefied club of comics creators/filmmakers, with book store cred and a loyal fanbase, attached to mainstream film properties that make him practically a household name. An internet/social media phenomenon and inspirational artist with an accessible public persona seemingly tailor-made for the way we consume pop culture today, O’Malley and his hero entertained and inspired an entire generation of readers and viewers in 2010.
Our annual listing of links to the winners of Canadian comics awards. This year, two graphic novels received notice from major (non-comics) book awards: Leslie Fairfield’s Tyranny was nominated for a GG and Sarah Leavitt’s Tangles (Freehand Books) was nominated for The Writer’s Trust prize.
The Sequential Bestseller List is a semi-weekly attempt at giving you a snapshot of what is popular in bookstores across the country. Using numbers from bookmanager.com, the list ranks Canadian comics in terms of sales through independent bookstores and some comics shops. Outside of Amazon and Chapters ranks or Diamond sales (which don’t separate Canadian from U.S. sales), these rankings are the only publicly accessible indicators of graphic novel and comics sales we have. This past year, the list featured lots of manga, and what is shaping up to be a perennial conglomeration of strong sellers, including new Canadian classics like the Scott Pilgrim series, Skim, and all-time longevity champ Louis Riel, which all took turns at the top of the list. (label: bestsellers)
Sadly, several comics professionals left us during the past year. We end our overview of 2010 with a final look back at these passages:
05.Jan.2011 Comics of the Decade, 2000-2009
So, like, I started to compile this list last year at the turn of the decade but abandoned it before finishing. Since many folks then and now still consider 2011 as the beginning of the new decade, I thought I’d take another stab at it, with the added benefit of another year of hindsight. If these aren’t all exactly my favourite comics of the past decade, or even by some eternal objective standard, “the best,” they are all important for what they have achieved or for what they represent in terms of the growth of the graphic novel in Canada as a serious artform.
For a decade that saw such huge changes in the wider international comics world, the last ten years in Canadian comics were by contrast very low-key, notable for the consolidations of the lessons and gains of the previous decade, embodied for the most part in major works by already-established artists.
On the international scene, the past decade is notable for the the rise of the graphic novel and its firm entrenchment in the larger literary and visual culture, against all odds and the predictions of fans and critics alike. Almost a theoretical, science-fictional object in the 1980s and 90s, the graphic novel, and its cousin, the graphic memoir, became mainstream in the 2000s, receiving attention from major publishers, along with respectable sales numbers, critical praise, and even film adaptations. This movement was largely mirrored in Canada, with several of the names on this list responsible for a new, wider appreciation of comics as serious (and, occasionally, not-so-serious) art.
In Canada and elsewhere, the rise of what I like to call Japanese cultural imperialism, in the form of translated manga imports (competing in the same market with and in most cases dominating homegrown U.S. comics production), the widespread adoption of webcomics as a financially and artistically serious comics delivery and reading platform, and a crisis in the print, magazine, and newspaper industries, all led to major changes in the way that comics were thought of, produced and consumed. This is a big change: people don’t get their comics only from the newspaper or on newsprint anymore. Increasingly, we don’t even get them from comic shops.
At the beginning of the decade, most comics and graphic novels in North America were still published in serial form, usually in traditional stapled pamphlet or “floppy” format. By decade’s end, all but the most devoted creators and their readers have shifted their focus to larger stand-alone volumes or graphic novels, or else to serializing on the web. Inspired by some of the creators on this list, by manga, and by the example of younger cartoonists like the American Craig Thompson, whose massive Blankets graphic novel served as something of a watershed for a new generation of cartoonists, creators and consumers of comics have come to see long-form narratives in the graphic novel format almost as the default comics delivery system; a precarious situation that seems on the verge of being eclipsed by new technologies and the web. For example, one of the most critically-lauded American graphic novel creators of the past few years, Dash Shaw, has produced some of his best work online, with his web work being eagerly scanned and dissected by enthusiastic fans months in advance of print versions. In Canada, the break-out star of 2008 was Kate Beaton, whose comics are an almost-entirely web-based success story.
If the graphic novels on this list have one thing in common, it’s that they are essentially products of a culture and economy that pre-dates these massive shifts. With two or three exceptions, they are the work of cartoonists (and publishers) who emerged from the 1980s primordial stew that was the dawn of the graphic novel and fought the epic battles of mainstream acceptance and art for art’s sake in the 1990s.* If they are not exactly the comics establishment, they are living proof of an established, thriving comics culture in this country; a comics culture that regularly produces graphic novels of international repute and artistic import, and your grandmother can put that in her pipe and smoke it.
Canadian Books of the Decade, 2000-2009
11. Essex County by Jeff Lemire. 2008-2009.
Why it’s important: Jeff Lemire’s first major journeyman novel, essentially a trilogy made up of Tales from the Farm, Ghost Stories, and The Country Nurse, exemplifies the new dominance of the graphic novel model in Canadian comics and manages to merge the tropes and tangents of a landscape-focused Canadian literary fiction with the immediacy and emotion of comics. A poignant meditation on heritage, hockey, heroism, and comics, the entire book brings an inky sketchiness to pastoral romance. Quite emotionally affecting, Lemire’s narrative mashes up dollops of melodrama, sports nostalgia, and comics impressionism to create a whole greater than its constituent parts and a new classic for an entire generation of comics readers. The book has been embraced far and wide and most recently has been nominated as one of the top 10 essential Canadian books of the decade by the CBC radio “Canada Reads” juggernaut, competing against a barrel-full of traditional prose novels. Lemire has also used the relative success of his trilogy to carve out a distinctly 21st-Century niche for himself, straddling the worlds of the “literary” Canadian graphic novel and the work-made-for-hire U.S. superhero and science fiction factory system with aplomb.
10. The Last Day by Dave Sim. (“Latter Days” vol. 2) 2004. (Collects issues 289–300 of Cerebus , 2003–2004).
What it’s about: Alone in his room, the aged Cerebus has a long dream about theology and then tries to have one last conversation with his son. He learns that his political and religious enemies have transformed the world into a liberal dystopia and that his every desire has been thwarted. He dies “alone, unmourned, and unloved” –fulfilling the destiny predicted for him at the formal beginning of this epic comic book roman fleuve. Plot aside, the book stands alone, summing up many of the themes Sim had been expanding on for the past 30 years, and is a tour-de-force artistically.
Why it’s important: Sim published four volumes of his massive 16-volume Cerebus graphic novel series in the 2000s (Going Home, Form and Void, Latter Days, and Last Day). The final two volumes form their own arc within the larger narrative of Sim’s Cerebus character’s life story (“Latter Days”).
Because of his politics and personal philosophy, it’s tempting to describe Dave Sim as a liminal or transitional figure, his accomplishments of the 1980s as the spearhead of the self-published comics movement and as one of the first graphic novel creators have assured him a place in history, outstripped by “latter day” developments and a younger, faster breed of cartoonist. However, and despite his critics, his role remains one of central importance to our understanding of the graphic novel, its capacities and potentials. And his Cerebus follow-up, Glamourpuss, is a freaky, complicated beauty of a mess and one of the most interesting ongoing English-language comic books of this new century.
9. Ripple by Dave Cooper. 2003.
What it’s about: Pushing 40, kid book illustrator Martin DeSerres makes a radical career change and decides to pursue his painter-ly muse, producing portraits that visualize the “eroticism of homeliness” and parallel his obsession with complicated teen model Tina, she of the overbite and big hips.
Why it’s important: Ripple represents the culmination of several themes that Cooper had been working through in previous graphic novels like Crumple (2000) and Dan & Larry (2001), including themes of sexual obsession, horror, and the aesthetics of ugliness. Originally serialized in Cooper’s comic book series Weasel (Fantagraphics), Ripple marks a sharp departure in tone and style for the artist. Using a less-cartoony approach to anatomy and setting, the story takes on a real-world urban feeling of verisimilitude. It reads as thinly-veiled autobiography and seems an outgrowth of the post-Crumb, Canadian school of personal memoir comics that includes the early work of Seth, Chester Brown, et al. But Cooper’s narrative is a highly subjective one, and his tale of an up-and-coming artist trying to take his obsession with the voluptuous, plus-size forms of his models into the wider world of fine art painting is prescient of Cooper’s actual career trajectory and obsession with “mostly pillowy girls,” in addition to serving as something of a coda for his cartooning career, inasmuch as he seems much better known as a painter than a cartoonist in 2010. After this gripping statement of artistic intent, and in one of the most exacting cases of life imitating art, Cooper seems to have largely abandoned comics to pursue his painting muse, with several international exhibits and book collections following.
8. Lady Pep (2004)
Long Term Relationship (2001)
The Madame Paul Affairr (2000)
by Julie Doucet.
Why they’re important: Like Dave Cooper, Doucet is another fractured comics apostate, having largely forsaken her pivotal international role in comics for the larger world of fine art installations and print-making. Hot on the heels of her groundbreaking Dirty Plotte comic book series (and it really was groundbreaking, kids) and My New York Diary (now a movie by Michel Gondry), Doucet plunged into a series of autobiographical graphic memoirs delineating her marginal bohemian existence and feral excursions into comics mark-making, ink-ladling and iconography. Before resurfacing with the workmanlike 365 Days, Doucet made her book-market rep with this series of slice-of-life episodes and mixed-media mash-ups, chronicling the 1990s apartment-dwelling subculture of North America in her signature style. Collectively, these books codify the teachings of their autobio underground precursors in the Crumb/Kaminsky/Pekar/Brown lineage, asserting to a new audience that quotidian personal experience has a validity, beauty, and humour equivalent to any historical epic or postmodern fictional pychodrama, and that you can mix comics and a fine-art approach to boot. Doucet is an icon and feminist trailblazer within the micro-scopic/cephalic world of male-dominated comics, and her hilarious, busy, detail-crammed panels are an indication of a fully-fleshed-out road-less-travelled for comics that nonetheless remains an artistic role-model for younger cartoonists.
7. Paul in the Country. by Michel Rabagliati. 2000.
Why it’s important: This volume introduced English-speaking readers to the charming adventures of Paul, a young everyman who Rabagliati will go on to follow through late adolescence into early adulthood, in the process emerging as a vibrant new voice on the scene. During the course of the Paul series, four volumes of which have been published by Drawn and Quarterly, Rabagliati will mature as a draftsman and storyteller, bringing something of a European-by-way-of-Quebec bande dessinee sensibility to the provincial world of Canadian comics, all the while keeping a firm hold on the uniqueness of his perspective and personal history. Along with Guy Delisle, Rabagliati represents the first wave of a-list, post-Dirty-Plotte Quebec bd creators to find an audience in the wider anglo comics market with a series of highly idiosyncratic and subjective graphic novels.
6. King by Ho Che Anderson. 2005.
What it’s about: The life story of civil rights leader Martin Luther King is told in a variety of voices and from multiple viewpoints, beginning with King’s life and ending with his assassination in 1968.
Why it’s important: Anderson began drawing this epic biography of King while a very young man in the early-1990s. When all three volumes of his story (released separately between 1993-2002) were finally published together a decade later, he had transformed into one of the elder statesmen of a newly-popular medium. The completed book not only sums up King’s long journey but also metonymically stands in for the evolution in the form of the graphic memoir that had taken place in the meantime, with the public embracing of artful non-fiction comics by the likes of Joe Sacco, Marjane Satrapi, David B., and others. Beginning as a short black-and-white bio commissioned by his publisher, King gradually grew into a full-colour exigesis of the U.S. civil-rights movement and of comics-making, employing a variety of effects and styles to depict aspects of a tumultuous and confusing period.
What it’s about: Working as an animation subcontractor, cartoonist Delisle chronicles his bizarre sojourn in the North Korean capital.
Why it’s important: Along with Michel Rabagliati’s first Paul book, I’ve chosen this translation of the enthralling French-language comic book North Korea non-travelogue to represent the breadth and depth of comics coming out of Quebec over the past decade. Where Rabagliati is notable for producing a deeply humane semi-autobiographical series, Delisle’s light-heartedness-in-the-face-of-soul-deadening-dictatorship-and-banality book makes the cut for exemplifying the trend of comics reportage and political commentary pioneered by Joe Sacco. Delisle is the paripatetic ying to Rabagliati’s homebody yang. Personifying the new internationalism of the graphic novel, he is a globetrotting cartoonist and animator from Quebec City with a home base in France, where the cutting-edge and culturally-transformative collective L’Association was his first publisher, tying him into one of the major art comics movements of the period he exemplifies here. Pyonyang’s “I see but don’t obviously judge but by seeing I judge” aesthetic uses a timely, stealthily simplistic cartooning style to document the truth as he sees it in a North Korea newly demonized by the U.S. as part of the post-9-11 “Axis of Evil.” Actually very photorealistic, the book, as well as Delisle’s previous China experience and subsequent tour of Burma, uses a chunkily sketchy and diaristic innocent abroad perspective to probe the edges of tyranny.
4. Skim by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki. 2008.
What it’s about: Highschool outsider Skim (Kimberly Keiko Cameron) experiments with various identities (goth, Wiccan, artist) but confronts a crisis when her schoolmates become cynically obsessed with the suicide of a boy from another school, leading to a rift between Skim and her best friend. Cut loose, Skim drifts into a romantic relationship with her English teacher before forming new bonds of friendship with a kindred spirit.
Why it’s important: The only writer-artist collaboration on this list, Skim is a great graphic novel that highlights the close relationship between text and image in comics. Jillian Tamaki’s illustrations of her cousin Mariko’s sensitive coming-of-age tale carry half the emotional weight of the story in the same way that a great actor can bring life to the brilliant prose of a playwright –but in this case the actor is also credited as co-creator. The book is a bittersweet coming-of-age tale of sexual identity, and in that sense it follows in something of a Canadian comics tradition. The artistic success of Skim, as well as its critical and commercial reception, was almost eclipsed in 2008 when Mariko was nominated for a Governor General’s Award in the Children’s Books category for her writing, with no mention of Jillian’s contributions. The resulting controversy made Skim the poster-child for the new profile of graphic novels and for the growing pains attendant on that higher profile. Breakout artist Jillian has since gone on to become something of a generational touchstone, an internationally-recognized illustrator and teacher, with a newly-minted reputation as webcomic-er and producer of several well-regarded solo books, while writer Mariko has pursued her own muse and the newly-emergent market for young adult comics fiction, a trajectory embraced by some of the most visible North American comics creators recently emerged from the toils of indy-land.
3. George Sprott (1894–1975) by Seth. 2009.
What it’s about: An unreliable narrator prone to digressions reveals snippets of the life of the explorer/con-artist, racounteur, egoist and latter day tv personality George Sprott while chronicling the last hours of George’s life.
Why it’s important: This gorgeous panoramic history of a fictional minor 20th-century Canadian celebrity’s life and loves is equal parts charmingly funny and heart-breakingly sad, tinged with a bittersweet reverence for a vanished way of living that seems to take greater pleasure from the threadbare detritus and half-remembered scraps of same. As well as cementing Seth’s position as one of the international heavy-hitters of the comics medium, the book unites several threads from Seth’s own oeuvre and from the larger history and trajectories of comics in general, marrying his melange of classic storytelling with themes of loss and memory, with sly nods to our provincial cultural heritage.
George Sprott the book is at the same time an exquisitely crafted love-letter to our paper artifact heritage and a thoroughly modern naturalistic narrative production, the end-product of the last quarter-century’s drift towards a sustainable level of appreciation for adult comic books. Most plainly, the book’s position relative to the culture of the graphic novel can be read in its genesis and publication history. Firmly rooted in Seth’s personal fictional universe and artistic practice (like Wimbledon Green and Clyde Fans, it’s another story about old men linked to the idealized town of Dominion), the book was expanded from the episodic format originally serialized in The New York Times, a prestige gig that more than anything sums up the strides the graphic novel has taken and Seth’s role in that evolution.
2. Scott Pilgrim. Bryan Lee O’Malley. 2004-2010.
What it’s about: I feel dumb reiterating the plot of such a highly visible comic book/movie, but here goes: Bass-playing layabout Scott Pilgrim must battle the seven evil exes of rollerblading delivery-girl Ramona Flowers in order to win her love and just maybe get it together.
Why it’s important: This decade-spanning series of six graphic novels about a megalomaniacal Toronto rocker who must fight his girlfriend’s ex-lovers has a video-game logic and manga-style action, but also functions as a charming coming-of-age love story and comedy of errors. Over the course of the series, O’Malley grows from artistic strength to strength, seamlessly incorporating and rejigging manga storytelling and stylization into his work and developing a great gift for naturalistic dialogue that perfectly captures a certain kind of youthful self-expression and subcultural elan. The book’s embrace by an entire cohort of international comics fans, and its subsequent transformation into a cross-media phenom (videogame, movie), is the coda to the narrative of the graphic novel’s growth in the decade. The heir apparent to the international heritage of comics and graphic novels, O’Malley’s comic magnum opus is nevertherless a quintessential Canadian experience.
1. Louis Riel by Chester Brown. 2004.
What it’s about: Metis mystic and politician Louis Riel leads a frontier rebellion against the Canadian government.
Why it’s important: It’s hard to believe that Brown’s historic take on Canadian history was the only major thing he published this past decade and that it’s already a complete ten-spot since the first issue shuffled on to the floppy serialized-comic book stage in 1999. Brown’s relentless, understated nine-panel-grid structure and retro-Harold Gray stylings mark a new epoch in terms of the depth and devotion that comics bring to the game of narrative art. Combining equal parts equivocation, deadpan delivery, and graphic surety, Brown lays a libertarian blueprint for what has in many ways come to stand for the comics of a nation.
As Jeet Heer notes, [i]t’s true that Louis Riel is much more Gray-like than anything Brown did before. I think there were a number of factors that made a Gray-inflected style a logical choice. Brown’s earlier work tended to be personal and inward looking [...] The Riel story [...] was a very public one: based on history, dealing with politics, and often set in public places (open air meetings and courtrooms). Gray was a very public cartoonist in a variety of ways: dealing with public issues, but also showing his characters out in the open with very explicit, theatrical faces. So Gray makes sense for a history strip. [...] Gray started cartooning in the 1920s, his style with its crosshatching and caricatures echoes the cartooning traditions of the 19th century (especially Victorian book illustrations). Thus it is a style that seems to come from the same world as Louis Riel himself.
With Louis Riel Brown has given Canadian comics a sort of foundational text, universally accessible in terms of both style and subject, yet at the same time a complex construction of symbols and cartooning gestures that links together a century of cartooning.
* Of course, my own origins as a comics reader and critic are rooted in the same period, and it’s entirely possible that my perspective and taste are biased towards this earlier “pioneer” generation.