STAFF PICKS :: HIP HOP FAMILY TREE GN :: NOVEMBER 13, 2013

November 12, 2013 By: Seth Peagler Category: DISCUSS, Staff Picks

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seth_smlSETH’S PICK :: HIP HOP FAMILY TREE GN: Astute readers of the Heroes Blog will remember that I interviewed cartoonist Ed Piskor about this very book back in May.  If you missed it the first time, you can find that HERE.  As I noted in that interview, I’m not a huge fan of Hip Hop, nor do I have a great deal knowledge of its rich history.  I am, however, a fan of great cartooning, and of the possibilities that exist when combining the seemingly disparate arts of comics and music.  Having finally seen the book in person, I can tell you that I haven’t encountered another musical chronicle quite like it in the realm of comics.  The strength of the book isn’t merely represented by Piskor’s authoritative knowledge of the music’s history, but in how his art puts you right in the middle of the lives of the artists who were breaking new musical ground.   Whether you’re a fan of Hip Hop or just curious about its varied history, this first of a several volume series from Piskor is a comic deserving of your time, money, and enthusiasm.  This is honestly one of the most significant new graphic novels I’ve seen this year.  Give it a look and I’m sure you’ll agree with me.  hiphop

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STAFF PICKS :: LOST CAT HC :: JULY 10, 2013

July 08, 2013 By: Seth Peagler Category: DISCUSS, Staff Picks

SETH’S PICK :: LOST CAT HC:  I’ll admit that my first cursory assessments of the works of Norwegian cartoonist Jason weren’t favorable. I didn’t initially see the brilliant storytelling behind the deceptively simple artwork.  Had I actually sat down to read some of his works, I would’ve seen the greatness sooner.  Now I’m happy to say that I’ve read just about everything  by this cartoonist, and am always excited when he releases a new book.  Jason is widely regarded for his shorter works, so the real selling point of Lost Cat is that it’s a lengthy 160 page story.  It has the trappings of a detective story, but will certainly have some of the pathos and characterization that set Jason’s work apart from others. It should also be noted that this book was translated by the late Kim Thompson.  Kim did many great things for comics over the course of his life, but his translations of works by Jason are among my favorite of his contributions.  Thanks to him, numerous works from talented European cartoonists were introduced to an American audience, and that will resonate among cartoonists in this country for decades to come.  If you missed Craig Fischer’s fine remembrance of Kim on the Heroes Blog a few weeks ago, I’d encourage you to check it out HERE

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For Kim Thompson :: 1956-2013

June 21, 2013 By: Craig Fischer Category: DISCUSS

Painting of Kim Thompson by Felix De La Concha.

1.

I didn’t grow up in a household full of books. My dad never finished college, my mom never finished high school, and neither of them were readers. Buffalo libraries were terrible. The collections were old and small, and budget cuts during the inflationary ‘70s limited my local branch to 30 open hours a week, most of them happening while I was in school. I was forced to help my brother with his paper route, and use the cash I made each week to buy books to read. My lifelong reading habits—pulp like Doc Savage and Perry Rhodan, and of course comic books—were shaped by how dirt cheap genre paperbacks and comics were. I wanted to get maximum reading for my money.

I kept buying comics, and one day on a whim I also bought a copy of The Comics Journal. (I’m sure I thought, “Hey, here’s a magazine about comics, and I like comics, so…”) My first issue was #69 (December 1981), which featured an awkward cover painting of Dr. Strange and Clea, a long interview with Marvel/DC scripter Gerry Conway, and obituaries for two artists I didn’t know, Russ Manning and Wallace Wood. Reading that issue of the Journal, however, was as bracing as a slap across the face: I remember in particular a raw review of Bruce Jones and Brent Anderson’s Ka-Zar the Savage by J.J. Pierce. This was no wallow in lowbrow pleasure: the men who edited the Journal (and they were all men, back then) thought seriously about comics, and prodded the medium to live up to some nebulous standard of aesthetic quality.

I must’ve been intrigued, since I picked the next issue I saw at the local comic shop (#71, March 1982), and was amazed to read a long debate (between R.C. Harvey and Gary Groth) over the merits of Frank Miller’s Daredevil, a comic I uncritically worshipped at the time. I remained intrigued enough to buy every subsequent issue of the Journal since, up to the current book-sized #302 (2013). I read countless Journal articles referencing the work of Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman and Robert Crumb, so I hunted down and read the work of these artists. I read a positive Journal review of Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor #8, so I bought that issue of Splendor, wrote to Pekar, and drove to Cleveland to meet the man in the mid-1980s. Eventually, I’d write for the print Journal myself a few times, and I currently write an intermittent column for the updated-five-times-a-week TCJ website. I’ll always be grateful to the men and women who edited the Journal and gave it its confrontational yet thoughtful vibe.

2.

When Fantagraphics, the company behind the Journal, ventured into publishing its own comics, I was skeptical: I couldn’t figure out how Fantagraphics could compete with Marvel and DC, or even Eclipse and Pacific. But as Fantagraphics released titles like Love and Rockets, Neat Stuff and Eightball, and I fell hard for these comics, I realized that their publishing strategy, such as it was, consisted solely of finding unique artists and giving them a regular outlet for their art. I’m grateful to the editors who had the good taste, the curatorial savvy, to bring cartoonists like Los Bros Hernandez, Jessica Abel, Tony Millionaire and Michael Kupperman to my attention. (Not to mention their recent reprint volumes of Krazy Kat, Peanuts, Pogo, Barnaby, etc.)

3.

I begin my “Introduction to Comics and Graphic Novels” class with Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics—not because I agree with all of McCloud, but because Comics is an accessible, productively controversial introduction to such issues as cartoon abstraction and closure between panels. I typically schedule one McCloud chapter per class meeting, and cover the book over eight periods, along with other ancillary reading. In the class on chapter 2 of Comics, for instance, where McCloud argues that readers experience greater identification with abstracted, cartoony characters, I’ll also assign some readings from film theory that challenge McCloud’s argument. (The gist: movie viewers have no trouble identifying with hyper-realistic, photographic characters, so why should comics readers?)

Every time we read and discuss a chapter of McCloud, I also have my students read the same graphic novel, over and over again, eight times. That way, they develop a deep knowledge of at least one book, and hopefully also a sense of how McCloud’s concepts (and the other critical ideas I drag into class) can be used to increase our understanding of real-life, out-there-in-the-wild comics. For me, the graphic novel that works best in juxtaposition with Understanding Comics is Jason’s Hey, Wait… (American edition, 2001). Wait is short, easy to read multiple times, and crammed full of examples of McCloudian form; you can discuss  about how Jason’s anthropomorphic characters encourage identification, and there’s a heartbreakingly poignant example of aspect-to-aspect panel transitions about halfway through the book, right after the six black panels representing Bjorn’s death. And students love to debate the ending of the book. Has Jon rewritten history to bring Bjorn back to life, while obliterating his own adulthood? Has Jon died?

It doesn’t hurt that Hey, Wait… is magnificent. I adore Hey, Wait…, my students find it both confusing and moving, and it works great in class. I’m grateful to Jason for writing and drawing Hey, Wait…, and for all his subsequent books, and I’m also grateful to the man responsible for translating Jason’s work into English and for making it available to U.S. readers, especially my students.

4.

What’s the best (anti-)war image you’ve ever seen in a comic? The ones that I can’t shake involve the face of Huet, a French soldier in Jacques Tardi’s It Was the War of the Trenches (1994; American edition 2010). We see Huet in close-up, in a No-Man’s-Land trench during World War I, staring through the fourth wall, his eyes at half-mast:

Then a flashback explains Huet’s troubles: in an earlier battle, he was ordered to fire into a phalanx of innocent bystanders, and he is haunted by the fact that he gunned down a woman and her two children. Tardi shows Huet’s escalating madness in a non-consecutive series of static panels, where the most significant changes occur in the soldier’s eyes:

Huet’s widening stare reveals his impotence, hopelessness, anger and outrage. (Did I have to open my eyes that wide to take in the horror of the Abu Ghraib torture photographs?) I’m grateful to Tardi for all his World War I comics, and I’m grateful to the man who’s made so many Tardi books (anti-war and otherwise) available from Fantagraphics.

\infty

Thank you, Kim.

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STAFF PICKS :: BARNABY VOL. 1 HC :: JUNE 19, 2013

June 17, 2013 By: Seth Peagler Category: DISCUSS, Staff Picks

SETH’S PICK :: BARNABY VOL. 1 HC: With the behemoth of HeroesCon taking all our time and energy in recent weeks, we understandably put our weekly Staff Picks on temporary hold.  That said, it’s good to be back writing about new releases.  Regular readers of the Heroes Blog know well that Andy Mansell, stalwart blogger and HeroesCon panel coordinator, is something of an expert when it comes to comic strip history.  You might think he’d be the one to talk about Barnaby, a long forgotten, under appreciated gem of a strip, but no, it’s me this time.

Barnaby started in the early forties, and ran for over a decade. It was produced by cartoonist Crockett Johnson, who is best known for his timeless masterpiece Harold and the Purple Crayon.  Though Harold is considered the classic, Barnaby received lots of critical acclaim in its day.  One look at it and you’ll see why.  To begin with, there’s the simple, fluid line work in Johnson’s art.  Then you see the intricate typeset letters, which Johnson produced with a kind of mathematical clarity – he knew exactly how many letters would fit on each line of a word balloon.  Then you have the subject matter.  Though the stories revolve around five year old Barnaby and his fairy godfather (along with a ghost, lion, and more), the seemingly whimsical strip dealt with important issues in a way that didn’t talk down to children.  Thus it’s one of those great strips that provided entertainment for young readers and their parents.

I had the pleasure of seeing a Barnaby panel at last year’s Small Press Expo.  Panelists included editors Eric Reynolds and Philip Nel, and cartoonists Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes, who helped contribute to the book’s design.  That panel got me excited about seeing this strip find its way to a new audience.  I’m not a huge reader of comic strips, but this one has numerous seemingly disparate elements in it that tie together nicely.  I hope some of you pick this one up and give it a try.

For a video tour of the book, check out this page on the Fantagraphics site: http://www.flickr.com//photos/fantagraphics/sets/72157633285033568/show/

 

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HEROES INTERVIEW :: ED PISKOR

May 14, 2013 By: Seth Peagler Category: DISCUSS, Guest List, HeroesCon, Interviews

With HeroesCon less than one month away, I’m happy to bring our blog readers this interview with the talented Ed Piskor.  Ed’s already had a notable career, including work on original graphic novels like Wizzywig and collaborations with Harvey Pekar on The Beats and Macedonia.  You may have heard industry rumblings about Ed’s newest project, Hip Hop Family Tree.  Aside from being one of the most comprehensive sequential studies of a genre that’s ever been undertaken, it’s a work that’s already receiving due respect and acclaim from both the comics and music communities.  Make sure to stop by Ed’s table next month at HeroesCon and see why everyone’s talking about this book.
Seth Peagler (SP): Ed, I’ve known you for a few years now, and it seems like every time I’ve run into you, we’ve talked a little bit about this book-in-progress.  Through those conversations and preparing for this interview, I realized that Hip Hop Family Tree is something you’ve been living with and building toward for a long time.  How long do you think you’ve been consciously or subconsciously developing this book, and what made you want to collect it in this format now?
Ed Piskor (EP): I’ve been drawing comics incorporating classic Hip Hop imagery for as long as I’ve been drawing comics. I remember some of my earliest comic attempts in High School were like Hip Hop wannabe versions of Love and Rockets. Looking back at old interviews and stuff I found this interview from 2009 where I talk about wanting to do a Hip Hop comic. http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/ae/books/ed-piskors-graphic-novel-creates-sensation-among-genres-fans-346662/
“While working on “Wizzywig,” Piskor listens to old school hip-hop music  for inspiration. When “Wizzywig” wraps, his next big project will be a  history of hip-hop that focuses on the Boogie-Down Bronx and DJ Scott La Rock. He promises it will be exhaustive.”
Because it’s going to be an all encompassing and comprehensive work, it’s going to take forever to tell the entire story the way I want it to be told. In this day and age of the ADHD internet attention span, I felt it best to produce maybe one book a year to keep up a presence. Otherwise, I’d have to disappear for a decade and emerge with a doorstop of a comic, and that’s not quite sustainable or necessary. Some eras are more important to some people than others. A 100+ book per year feels right.
SP: A big part of the draw of the book for me is that you’re going back to the real roots of Hip Hop and tracing its progression over the years.  Even though I know you’re a fan, did you consult many sources outside of the music?  Are there many definitive histories of Hip Hop that you could even consult?
EP: There were some interesting things to look at while writing the book. It’s necessary to know the political/economic climate at the time. The fine art scene plays an integral role in the development of early Hip Hop as well, which many people might not know. If it wasn’t for the downtown scene gravitating toward graffiti culture it could have all died out in the early 80s.
There are several good books to reference out there, but, there are also 30 years of interviews with everybody who matters which are accessible either online, in magazines, or youtube. My goal is to take all the best stuff I can find from everywhere and distill it into a fun comix narrative. A tough goal, but, it’s what I’m shooting for, nonetheless.
SP: Along the way of writing and drawing the book, did you stumble across any lesser known artists whose stories you felt you needed to include?  Since it’s essentially a history of the genre, did you feel compelled to tell it chronologically, or did you allow yourself to veer from that path at any point?
EP: Being a fan of Rap music already, this project gives me the chance to fill in the gaps of my knowledge. I’m not necessarily discovering new people to cover, but, I’m discovering what makes certain, more obscure people, important in the greater scheme of things.
This first book is fairly linear but we’re going to veer off and project things into the future here and there as the project moves forward, because I will be talking about certain people who may not have contributed much in, say 1982, but went on to do great things by 89 and if we handle it linearly, you’ll have forgotten their intro. Not sure if that makes sense. I guess the best example would be one of the newer strips I’ve done which will be in book 2, about the Jonzun Crew. http://boingboing.net/2013/04/23/brain-rot-hip-hop-family-tree-55.html
SP: As a musician and someone who is just starting to write comics that incorporate elements of music within my stories, I’ve run into some difficulty conveying the gravity of rhythm and melody on a page.  I’ve seen several of your pages where you seem to not only capture the energy of specific artists and their charismatic stage performances, but also convey the communal aspects of an impacting live show.  How did you go about capturing the specific musical identities of these performers through the art of comics?
EP: During such sequences the characters need to be larger than life and maybe even downright Kirbyesque if/when possible. The Hip Hop Family Tree, however, is more about the actual relationships that went into creating hip hop rather than just focusing on the music.
SP: I’d like to bring up one of your earlier books, The Beats.  For those who aren’t familiar with it, in it you collaborated with the late, great Harvey Pekar, one of comics’ true innovators of journalism and memoir.  Of course, the Beats chronicled historical and cultural figures within the Beat movement, but I’d imagine you learned a lot from working with Pekar on that specific book that might have been beneficial for you on this project.  Were there any memories of collaborating with Pekar that resonated with you while you worked on Hip Hop Family Tree?
EP: I think working with Harv on The Beats gave me a strong clue into how to move the narrative along. Between each panel, days, months, or years can go by, and deconstructing Harv’s work gave me a roadmap for how to keep things tight. How to choose the correct moments to cover. Things like that.
SP: From what I’ve seen and read, Hip Hop Family Tree kind of stands alone as a unique chronicle of music in comics form.  I’m excited that Fantagraphics is publishing the book, and I know you’re already receiving critical praise from comics journalists.  Have you had much feedback from Hip Hop artists and journalists who cover the music?
EP: Yep, my phone number now seems to be within a network of rappers and journalists because I will randomly get calls from people at any hour of the day or night and it’s always a pleasant surprise. I don’t want to be a name dropper though. Everybody seems really into it and it’s creating a situation where I’m able to get some precious info that will enrich the story and that’s a cool bi-product that I wasn’t expecting. It’s cool too when different musicians tweet the strips. It helps propagate the material and spread the work.
Now that I have a handful of really cool people into the comic, whenever some random schmo has silly stuff to say, it gives me ammo to cut them down like “Oh that’s too bad you don’t like it, as long as “x” likes it, I guess I’ll just have to deal with that.”
SP: Finally, I’m wondering if you’ve allowed yourself to think about what kind of project you might want to work on next?
EP: Another thing about this project is that with the scope of the story I’m trying to tell, I know what I’m going to be working on for the foreseeable future.
SP: Thanks again to Ed for taking time out of his busy schedule for an interview.  Make sure you make it a point to stop by his table next month at HeroesCon.  His original art is something you’ll definitely want to see.  Remember to pick up Hip Hop Family Tree when it hits the shelves.  Rest assured, myself and other Heroes staffers will be talking about it when it does.
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STAFF PICKS :: EC JACK DAVIS HC TAINT MEAT IT’S HUMANITY :: APRIL 10, 2013

April 08, 2013 By: Rico Renzi Category: DISCUSS, Staff Picks

JUSTIN’S PICK :: EC JACK DAVIS HC TAINT MEAT IT’S HUMANITY: Jack Davis is the cartoonist’s cartoonist, a man whose sheer command of his craft is universally praised. His style is at once elastic and iconoclastic; whether it’s horror or humor (or somewhere in between), Davis’ inimitable work is instantly recognizable. As a youngster, he was one of the first cartoonists I knew by name. And here’s a book to treasure: a lovely volume collecting all of Davis’ seminal work from EC Comics’ Tales From the Crypt. These are the comics that set an incredibly high bar for sequential art, and also caused a national uproar for their daring and graphic content. By modern standards they may seem tame, but make no mistake: this was heady stuff for its time. Davis was at the epicenter of that controversy, turning out highly detailed, expressive work that is matchless in its quality. Pick up this book (or IDW’s MAD Artist’s Edition, or Fantagraphics’ Jack Davis Drawing American Pop Culture, et al.) to find out why.

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STAFF PICKS :: COMPLETE PEANUTS HC VOL 19 1987-1988 :: APRIL 03, 2013

April 01, 2013 By: Andy Mansell Category: DISCUSS, Staff Picks

ANDY’S PICK :: COMPLETE PEANUTS HC VOL 19 1987-1988: When I was a kid–years before the proliferation of VCRs but sometime after the advent of indoor plumbing– my comic reading holy grail was any Peanuts Paperback reprint book like He’s Your Dog Charlie Brown and Slide, Charlie Brown, Slide! I’d read them and trace the drawings until they fell apart. They were never enough to satiate my Peanuts fanaticism. I wanted more!. If only Fantagraphics Complete reprint series was around during the the Nixon Administration. But lucky us!!– Volume 19 (of a projected 25) of this landmark series is out this week and contains every daily and Sunday strip from 1987-1988.

Of course the later years of the strip were not quite in the same league as the Prime Peanuts era from 1960-1976..but then again, what is??? By 1987, with world wide fame, fortune and renown, Schulz could have just hired assistants and began coasting– but instead, he kept pushing himself as an artist. When it first appeared in papers, the main selling point for Peanuts was that it was available every single day in a four panel grid that a subscribing paper could publish vertically, horizontally or even stacked. It was the all-purpose comic–built for any comic page! Here in the 38th(!) year of the strip, the Master cartoonist threw caution to the wind and altered that familiar grid by using one-two-three or even five panels to tell his daily story. The results invigorated the strip. Rerun Van Pelt continues to step into the spotlight more. The enigmatic “Lydia” makes Linus’ life a veritable hell. Snoopy injures his knee playing hockey and later writes a “kiss-and-tell” memoir. Even the much maligned Spike gets a really enjoyable storyline as he joins brother Snoopy in the trenches of WWI France.
Buy this volume– or any other volume of The Complete Peanuts that Ms. Shelley keeps in stock on the Heroes shelves. Enjoy one of the great works of comic art and be a kid again!

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STAFF PICKS :: COMICS JOURNAL #302 :: FEBRUARY 13, 2013

February 08, 2013 By: Rico Renzi Category: DISCUSS, Staff Picks

ANDY’S PICK :: COMICS JOURNAL #302: First of all–Boy do I miss the old Comics Journal published 8 times a year. But times change, comics change, so comic journalism and criticism must change as well. Now TCJ functions predominantly on-line accompanied by a mammoth annual print volume. Last years TCJ book edition–#301 was a monumental tome that included a an unprecedented discussion of R. Crumb’s Genesis. This year’s model #302 promises– A career spanning interview with Maurice Sendak conducted by Fantagraphics co-publisher Gary Groth (one of the best interviewers around!), an interview with French comics legend Jacques Tardi, an article about classic children’s comics by Art Spiegelman, a previously unpublished interview with Roy Crane along with an article from comics historian Bob Levin that details R. Crumb’s litigation issues caused by the surprising success of Keep on Truckin’. You want more you greedy people?
OK – how about some comics by Lewis Trondheim previously unpublished in English and a creator round-table discussion about the blurry lines between comics and fine art? And still more…much, much more! It’s 624 pages and it’s only 30.00!! You’ll be reading it for months!

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STAFF PICKS :: PROBLEMATIC: SKETCHBOOK DRAWINGS 2004-2012 :: JANUARY 9, 2013

January 04, 2013 By: Seth Peagler Category: DISCUSS, Staff Picks

SETH’S PICK :: PROBLEMATIC: SKETCHBOOK DRAWINGS 2004-2012: I could have justifiably written about the start of artist James Harren’s new B.P.R.D. series (subtitled The Abyss of Time), or Tom Kaczynski’s Beta Testing the Apocalypse – fans of indie, political or analogy-filled comics should give this one a look.  However, I saw Fantagraphics’ preview of this new sketchbook from Frank artist Jim Woodring, and it quickly jumped to the top of my buy pile.  If you know Woodring, you know he’s a master of imaginative, bizarre, often wordless comics.  What I didn’t know, was that Woodring fills up Moleskine sketchbooks on a monthly basis.  Everything from stream of conscious excursions, life drawings, crazy new character designs and loose thumbnails find their way into Woodring’s sketchbooks.  Admittedly, this book might be best suited for the process hounds among us, but Woodring’s eclectic art is well worth seeking out for the uninitiated as well.

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STAFF PICKS :: 2012 FAVORITES :: ANDY MANSELL

December 26, 2012 By: Andy Mansell Category: DISCUSS, Staff Picks

ANDY’S FAVORITES OF 2012:
Favorite Superhero Book of 2012: Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery: Sure it is a reprint, but it is book that showcases Grant Morrison at his Doom Patrol era weirdness and the great Frank Quitely being…well, the great Frank Quitely. The awesome title of the book and that marvelous cover by Quitely alone are worth the price of admission!  And here’s the best part.  This HARD-COVER  that collects the infamous 4 part mini-series is only $24.00!!!!  Earlier this year those two dozen hard-earned dollars would not have been enough scratch to purchase any one single issue of the original series. And did I mention Frank Quitely–well shame on me, I should have done that earlier.

(more…)

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