Friday, April 30, 2010

Paris Under Water

OK, maybe this falls under the heading of shameless promotion, but here goes anyway.

Details for some of the background for the current storyline in my online comic strip, Slipped, came from two books — a little from Andrew Hussey’s highly entertaining 2006 book, Paris: A Secret History (Bloomsbury USA), which I’ve been reading on and off since it came out, but even more from Jeffrey H. Jackson’s new book, Paris Under Water: How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910 (Palgrave Macmillan 2010).

Jackson’s book includes almost a score of entrancing photos taken during the flood, as well as a timeline that stretches from the “higher than usual” rainfall noted in the summer of 1909; through the explosion of a vinegar factory in the Ivry suburb on Jan. 25, 1910, after invading water sloshed together volatile chemicals; to the Seine’s receding to normal levels by March.

The author also provides insight into Prefect of Police Louis Lépine — the hero of the hour.

But here comes my confession: I introduced the character of Lépine in Slipped before I was able to get my hands on a copy of Paris Under Water. I’d read a bit about him in a New York Times review of the book, enough to admire Lépine’s efforts to save his city — and about his ever-present bowler.

What I didn’t learn until I started to read the actual book this week was how: a.) I got his personality pretty dead-on — a successful leader in such a crisis almost certainly would have to be unyielding, fierce (Jackson’s words) and tough; and b.) I got his looks exactly wrong (except for the hat, of course).

“Lépine was a small, wiry man, with a large forehead, steely eyes and stern gaze. A thick mustache and goatee framed his pursed lips,” Jackson writes. My Lépine is tall, possesses not much of a forehead to speak of and wears a bristled mustache, a la Mutt and Jeff. Maybe I’ll have him grow a beard as the story develops.

Now, my excuse for not waiting for more details concerning Monsieur Lépine is this. My characters hijacked control of the Slipped storyline about two months after I started the comic strip in 2008, and when we got to the Paris flood a few weeks ago, they were in a hurry.

As the Scarlet Sparrow and her traveling companions arrive in 1910 — actually their out-of-control giant spider-like tank drops them into the Seine — in Chapter 97, panel 4, a small boat can be seen on the horizon. As it paddles closer in succeeding panels and chapters, and unbeknownst to me, it’s revealed that boat carries Lépine and his (fictitious) assistant, Inspector Pomme de Terre.

And, by golly, that is what this Lépine looks like — a bowler, yes, but no goatee.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Comic-Con Tug of War

In response to Los Angeles’s and Anaheim’s attempts to lure Comic-Com International away from San Diego, that city’s officials are proposing it’ll offer $500,000 in hotel tax revenue to help defray convention organizers’ costs.

You can read about it here on Michael Cavna’s Comic Riffs blog on the Washington Post site, or here at the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Who would have thought this day would come, when big municipalities would squabble over some event about comic books — those evil things our parents tried to get us to stop wasting our time and eyesight reading?

Yes, I know the annual four-day event is about more than comic books. It’s about promotion for the host city, tourism, movie and TV show publicity, hotel-room occupancy, restaurants, taxis and buses …. That is to say, money.

P.S. The San Diego newspaper reports single-day and four-day tickets for this summer’s event are already sold out.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In the Studio, Part 3

Todd Hignite’s In the Studio: Visits With Contemporary Cartoonists puts me in mind of Ron Goulart’s valuable 1975 book, The Adventurous Decade: Comic Strips in the Thirties. As Hignite picks the creative brains of today’s cartoonists at the top of their game — Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Jaime Hernandez, Daniel Clowes, Seth, Chris Ware, Ivan Brunetti, Charles Burns and Gary Panter — Goulart tracked down writers and artists who launched a new approach to newspaper strips.

Goulart talked to — or found professionals who had worked with those who’d since died or vanished into obscurity — Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates) and Noel Sickles (Scorchy Smith), Chester Gould (Dick Tracy), John Dille and Dick Calkins (Buck Rogers), Hal Foster (Tarzan), Roy Crane (Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy), Harold Gray (Little Orphan Annie), Ham Fisher (Joe Palooka), Will Eisner (The Spirit) and many more. It’s chockablock with discussion of technique, inspiration and opinion, and you still can find copies in hardback and paperback.

The Adventurous Decade, in turn, makes me think of — hold on, this isn’t too much of a stretch — Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists. Born in 1511, Vasari studied painting under, and became friends with, Michelangelo in Florence. The Michelangelo.

As time went on, he gathered notes on other Florentine artists, which he published, in two editions, in 1550 and 1568, to much acclaim. (Influential ArtNews magazine has long called its briefs section “Vasari’s Diary.”)

Vasari’s subjects included, along with his pal Michelangelo, Titian, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Fra Angelico, Botticelli and Fra Filippo Lippi, among others.

All three books serve as receptacles of great artists musing on great work — theirs, their contemporaries and their predecessors.

Read my earlier posts on In the Studio here and here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

In the Studio, Part 2

I hadn’t thought of that before.

In his interview in Todd Hignite’s fascinating In the Studio: Visits With Contemporary Cartoonists, Chris Ware shows the work of Japanese cartoonist Suiho Tagawa, “my fourth-favorite cartoonist who’s no longer alive.” Tagawa in the 1930s produced big, wide-open-vista colorful pictures that depicted multiple characters in myriad scenarios — all in one image.

“This,” Ware contends, “is the course comics should’ve taken before they got sidetracked and transformed by the language of cinema in the 1930s.

“As near as I can tell, the Japanese understanding of art is almost a sort of simultaneous reading and seeing, where ours is purely seeing ….”

I hadn’t considered the notion of cartoons having been hijacked at some stage by a movie-form — i.e., a sequential form, with dramatic camera-like angles — of storytelling. (My guess is Ware would name as the chief culprit Milton Caniff, who made the most of a cinematic look with his popular Terry and the Pirates.)

And I hadn’t ever thought about that being wrong.

See my earlier post on this book here.

And you can see Ware display his Gasoline Alley collection in a video interview by Chicago NPR radio station WBEZ here. (I always meant to try to finagle a visit to Ware’s house when I also lived in Oak Park, but it never happened.)

More on In the Studio
to come.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

In the Studio, Part 1

One of the best things about In the Studio: Visits With Contemporary Cartoonists is how the likes of R. Crumb, Jaime Hernandez and Seth tell you what and who their influences were and what struck them about those earlier works, then — bam — you can see a sample of that inspiration juxtaposed with the work of the artist.

Crumb, for example, waxes on about the strong crosshatching used by 19th century newspaper illustrator Thomas Nast (the guy who drew the image of how we’ve come to see Santa Claus, among other achievements), and there’s a sample of a Nast 1879 Harper’s Weekly magazine cover on page 19. On page 20 are two black-and-white pieces by Crumb, and we can see for our own eyes how Crumb took the cue.

Hernandez mentions a 1952 cover for the comic book Canteen Kate he especially liked, drawn by Matt Baker. It’s reproduced on page 142, showing a closeup of smiling, plucky Kate herself, hair tussled. On the previous page is Hernandez’s own 1986 Love and Rockets number 15 cover, depicting an equally close image of Rena, one his characters. She, too, is joyful and her hair is even more mussed.

Seth cites illustrator Doug Wright — in particular Wright’s choice of “beautifully evocative” color — who worked from 1948 to 1980. Chris Ware acclaims Frank King’s “masterpiece” Gasoline Alley, deeming that newspaper strip “a 50-year-long comic strip novel that captures and distills the ineffable passage of time through the regular touch of an artist’s pen to paper.” Everyone familiar with Ware’s own books knows of his consuming interest in measuring that “passage of time.”

More to come ….

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Stitches Nominated for Eisner

David Small’s Stitches has been nominated for a 2010 Will Eisner Award, for best reality-based work.

You can see the list of nominees here, on the Graphic Novel Reporter site. My post on Small’s presentation in Michigan last autumn can be read here.

Other 2010 Eisner Award nominees on whom I’ve written recent posts include:

The TOON Treasury of Classic Children's Comics, edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly, in the best publication for children category and in the best archival collection/project-comic books category

Bill Willingham’s Fables in the best-continuing series category and Willingham himself for best writer

Incognito, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, in the best limited series or story arc category.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Essential Guide to World Comics

Tim Pilcher and Brad Brooks’s The Essential Guide to World Comics is a colorful, entertaining book into which to dip, packed with both facts and gossipy tidbits. And even though their introduction specifies this is “a guide and not a definitive encyclopedia of every title, every publisher and everyone who has ever worked on comics,” they still pretty much check off all the big names from around the globe — Osamu Tezuka of Japan (Tetsuwan-Atom), Hergé of Belgium, Hugo Pratt from Italy and bunches of other places, Jack Kirby from America, Dez Skinn the English editor and publisher, Jacques Tardi, Moebius and André Franquin (the Marsupilami, among others) of France, Jason of Norway ….

Also, decent time is spent on parts of the world whose comics many of us know little about, including India, Egypt, South Korea and the Philippines.

I do have a few minor concerns with this Essential Guide, though. Surely Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez deserve more than a one-sentence reference, given their influence.

And this simply seems odd: In the U.S. chapter, the authors write about Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko; then Art Spiegelman, R. Crumb and other underground cartoonists; then Joe Sacco; then about Dark Horse Comics, followed by Neil Gaiman; then Dave Sim and Cerebus the Aardvark; then Spiegelman again and RAW; then Todd McFarlane and that gang; then Harvey Kurtzman
, creator of MAD magazine; and ending with Will Eisner. What sort of order this? It doesn’t present a thematic progression, and it certainly is not chronological …. If you figure out what it is, leave a comment or send me an e-mail, please, because I don’t get it.

Of course, the one thing we really want from a reference guide, even if isn’t “an encyclopedia,” is accuracy. When mentioning Casterman Publishing’s marvelous À Suivre magazine, Pilcher and Brooks state it ran for 25 years, from 1978 to 1987. (À Suivre folded in 1997.)

Now, this could be the only error — surely a typo — in the entire book. But how do we know?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dick Giordano

Dick Giordano, longtime comic book editor and inker, died March 27 at age 77 from leukemia complications. If you don’t know the name, you should. He was one of the major forces behind the so-called Silver Age of comics.

Here are a few reasons why he should be remembered:

• As an editor at DC Comics, he oversaw the Watchmen (characters who first saw life as the Blue Beetle, the Question, the Peacemaker, et al., under his guidance when he was editor at Charlton Comics) and The Dark Knight Returns — two of the big three comics (along with Maus) celebrated for bringing comics into a postmodern world and influencing countless comic book writers and illustrators working today.

• He edited and inked the Crisis on Infinite Earths series.

• He inked more DC pages than anyone, DC President and Publisher Paul Levitz told The New York Times for Giordano’s obit. That could be why it seems he worked with just about everyone in the industry at one time or another — either he worked for or helped launch them.

• He started the now standard policy of listing writers’ and artists’ names on covers.

If you want to see the type of work Giordano influenced during the Silver Age, take a look at The Silver Age of Comic Book Art, by Arlen Schumer.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec

The movie version of Jacques Tardi’s long-running bande dessinée series about journalist and Belle Epoque adventuress Adèle Blanc-Sec will open in Europe April 14. More exciting, as it was written, produced and directed by internationally known Luc Besson — he did the highly influential action pictures La Femme Nikita and Léon (The Professional), among other hits — there’s an excellent chance it’ll turn up on this side of the ocean, certainly at least in New York, LA and Toronto.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, as best as I can tell from the fast-moving trailer — another good sign is an English-translation version is available on YouTube and elsewhere — takes bits from several Adèle stories: Adèle and the Beast (a pterodactyl, actually), The Demon of the Eiffel Tower and Mummies in Madness.
(Yes, English versions are available. Try American Book Exchange/

As I noted back in my earlier post on Tardi, Adèle’s sometimes-hallucinatory adventures have entangled her and her pals with the aforementioned demon in the Eiffel Tower, rampaging mummies and multi-tentacled sea monsters rising from the Seine to snatch cooing infants out of their strollers. Wild, fun stuff.

You can see the movie’s cool web site (en francais) here. Très excitant.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Backing Into Forward

In his new memoir, Backing Into Forward, cartoonist, author and playwright Jules Feiffer recalls how he landed a job, without pay for the longest time, right out of high school in the legendary Will Eisner’s studio. But, Feiffer says, while he remained a great admirer of his hero’s work, “… by mid-1947, (The Spirit comic strip) wasn’t what it had been. I found myself increasingly let down by Will’s story writing.”

Knowing no fear, Feiffer, now all of 18, mentioned this drop-off in quality to his boss. To his surprise, Eisner replied, “‘If you think you can do better, why don’t you try your hand at one?’”

So, channeling Eisner, he blended in other influences — his own Bronx childhood as well as then-popular radio dramas such as The Adventures of Sam Spade, Detective. Eisner perused Feiffer’s first eight-page layout, with its “crude sketches and dialogue,” then said, “‘This is good, we’re going to use this. Write more.’”

“And I wrote more.” Young Feiffer was off to the races.