Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Brussels: The Nightmare

Today I received a magazine with photos of the kitsch comics-themed murals in Brussels. If I ever go to said city I must carefully avoid every single one of those murals. They're a nightmarish reminder of the sad history of comics.

PS My first thought was to put a couple of images illustrating this twit-like blog post, but I quickly abandoned the idea. Those fucking murals are a nightmare in person ergo they're a nightmare on the Internet.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Brian Evenson's Ed Vs. Yummy Fur - Coda

Brian Evenson goes on at some point about why Ronald Reagan doesn't look like Ronald Reagan in "Ed the Happy Clown." Well, the explanation is a lot more simple. He would get an answer if he had read the Journal's Grammel interview:
Grammel: But you [...] used Ronald Reagan.
Brown: OK, the truth is when I first got this idea of having a head on the end of someone's penis, it was going to be Ed Broadbent on the end of Ed's penis. Now, you don't know who Ed Broadbent is, right? He's the leader of the New Democratic Party in Canada. In Canada there are three major parties. There's the New Democrats, there's the Liberals, and there's the Conservatives.
[...] So when I was doing Yummy Fur I was thinking, "Well, do I want Ed Broadbent?" You know, no one in the States is going to know who Ed Broadbent is. "Who is this guy?" It's just going to be a name to them, right? So I did go with Ronald Reagan. It makes me feel kind of embarrassed now, because it does seem like kind of a compromise. You know, maybe I could have put some kind of explanation in the back of the book or something, "Oh, this is who Ed Broadbent is."
Grammel: Why would you want Ed Broadbent on the end of Ed's penis?
Brown: I don't know, I thought it'd be funny. 

Chester Brown, Yummy Fur # 7, October 1987; Ed Broadbent, Photo by Ottawa Citizen/Files, Postmedia News, 2012.

What's also interesting is that Chester Brown's Ed Broadbent looks more like Ed Broadbent now than like 1987 Ed Broadbent. It reminds me of 1963 Alberto Breccia looking like 1983 Alberto Breccia and the famous story about Picasso and Gertrude Stein.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Uncivilized Books - A Quick Note

This is just to add that the idea of Tom Kaczynski publishing a Batman coffee table book is laughable, of course. I wish him all the luck and plenty of happy customers.

Tom Kaczynski, "100.000 Miles...," Mome # 7, Spring 2007.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Brian Evenson's Ed Vs. Yummy Fur

Brian Evenson, Ed Vs. Yummy Fur: Or, What Happens When a Serial Comic Becomes a Graphic Novel, Uncivilized Books, May 2014.

I just finished reading Brian Evenson's book Ed Vs. Yummy Fur: Or, What Happens When a Serial Comic Becomes a Graphic Novel. I can't, for the life of me, figure out who the target reading public for this book is? The couple of dozen people who read this blog (thank you!, thank you!)? Probably... but, putting economic concerns aside, I enjoyed it immensely. Contrary to my own prophecy I wish a long life to Critical Cartoons, the collection that it inaugurates (book 002 - judging from the three digits the collection's editor or editors are way more optimistic than I am - is announced already: Peter Schilling Jr.'s Carl Barks' Duck: Average American). 

Peter Schilling Jr, Carl Barks' Duck: Average American, not published yet.

This is clearly a Crib Sheet Collection, or, at least, it is, for now, before the publisher realizes that what people told him about comics being respected as an art form, not just for kids anymore (I know, ahem... Barks...) etc... etc.. is all a load of bullshit leaving said person with two options: shoot the collection dead or... publish another crappy book about crappy fucking Batman or some shit like that, preferably a coffee table book with lots of pin-ups by Neal Adams and Frank Miller, etc... etc...

I'll shut up now, don't wanting to give anyone any ideas to add more crap to the world and all...

Ed Vs. Yummy Fur does exactly what it says it does in the subtitle: Evenson performs a close reading of Chester Brown's "Ed the Happy Clown" in its three incarnations: serialized in a mini-comic; serialized in floppies (aka comic books); collected in a graphic novel (with three editions so far). What's interesting about this is that Brown lived these hinge times in comics history as internal creative conflicts, but not as formal dilemmas, as Evenson expected. No, what worried Brown, more than form, was time, deadline time. In the interview at the end of the book (and believe me, I know how difficult it is to interview Chester Brown!) that tension between what the interviewer thinks and what's really in the interviewee's head becomes clear. To Brown the mini-comic means all the time in the world to do whatever the cartoonist wants (s/he's in control of both the creation and the deadline; it's a hobby). The comic book means having to produce six issues per year which means, at 24 pages a pop, you do the math... Even the graphic novel (which, to me, is a format, as I put it at The hooded Utilitarian) is seen by Brown as something that's related to time... It helped him to stop being an enslaved traditional comic book artist (although... Chester Brown doesn't like the term "graphic novel" - he says so himself -; Evenson discovers the fact through an interesting close reading of Brown's own take on it: "graphic-novel"; Brown minimizes the expression's content through the use of the lowercase and the hyphenation undermining what some - Chester among them, but not yours truly - may see as a pathetic attempt to give comics a respectable bourgeois name).  

In Chester Brown's mind at the time (Yummy Fur # 1 was published by Vortex Comics in December of 1986) being a professional comic artist meant to stick to one character (Ed in his case) serializing the hero's adventures in floppies to collect the story arcs in albums a là Tintin (his example). As I said before the deadlines also worried him, that's why he decided to reprint his seven mini-comics in the first three monthly issues. It gave him a three month head start, being the series bimonthly after that. 

The Ed series continued until Yummy Fur # 18 (December, 1989). If we take into consideration that Guido Buzzelli published his La rivolta dei racchi [the revolt of the ugly] in 1967 (July, to be exact), the first graphic novel in the restrict field (and I don't mean "graphic novel" in the format sense this time, I mean "graphic novel" in the Eddie Campbell sense, i. e.: a self-contained story aimed at adult readers) we have to conclude that Chester Brown wasn't much of a visionary suffering during more than a year (since issue # 12 was published in September of 1988, the "natural" ending to the Ed story, as he put it) under the yoke of "the professional cartoonist." 

Brian Evenson isn't purely a formalist critic. He also explores recurring themes in the Ed series like scatology, sacrilege and censorship. I just wish that he didn't separate the two so neatly. When he analyzes the form he focus on the form and nothing else. Ditto if he's talking about the content. (One caveat though: since we can't separate form and content Evenson can't do what I say he does above as completely as I suggest.) I'll give you one example in which he missed a great opportunity to mesh form and content together. In chapter four Evenson takes a look at changes in paneling from comic book to graphic novel. His notorious example was taken from Yummy Fur # 8 (November, 1987; see below) which was cropped for the inclusion in the graphic novel (ditto).

Chester Brown, "Ed the Happy Clown: Lost Beneat the Sewers Part Two," Yummy Fur # 8, November 1987.

Chester Brown, Ed the Happy Clown, August 1989.

Evenson talks about the formal consequences, both good and bad, of the crop shown above. For me though, what's lost is an interesting parallel between the sewers and the intestine, the human organ that justifies the sewers existence. 

Chester Brown, Yummy Fur # 18, December 1989.

PS In a near future, I hope, I'll write about Chester Brown as a Gothic artist. Not "Gothic" as in pop parlance (i. e.: as the word is understood in a Romantic sense), I mean Gothic Gothic...

Friday, September 5, 2014

Mat Brinkman's Skeleton Jelly, Part 1 (followed by Part 2)

Mat Brinkman, "Multiforce: Skeleton Jelly," Paper Rodeo # 6, October November 2000. Multiforce was collected in a tabloid sized book by Picturebox in 2009.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Feliz Dia de la Historieta!

Francisco Solano López, tapa de Hora Cero Suplemento Semanal # 12, 20 de noviembre de 1957.

Hoy se celebra el Dia de la Historieta en la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires (Capital Federal) y en toda Argentina.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Perspective As Symbolic Form

Hector Germán Oesterheld (w), Hugo Pratt (a), "El Sargento Kirk: El pais de los mungos," Editorial Abril, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Misterix # 359, August 12, 1955 (page 665 of the series, 46 of the story). The original art was India ink on paper in the landscape format (three tiers: 2 x 3 x 2 panels); size of publication 5.7 x 9 inches, genre: Western.

In the last few days I praised the work of Hugo Pratt, Héctor Oesterheld, and Stefan Strocen in "El pais de los mungos" as if said work's excellence was obvious to anyone looking at my examples (it never is, of course). Today I want to look at one page of the story to see if a close reading sheds some light on the work of Oesterheld and Pratt (Strocen is absent because the page is in black and white). I will not convince anyone who dislikes the work of one of them or the work of both, obviously, because the critic can only "convince" the converted. Aesthetic choices, not unlike choices in the fields of politics or religion or sports are personal and not transferable. 

Anyway, I digress...

It would be very interesting to read Oesterheld's script to see if it's an Alan Moore kind of script or a somewhat looser one: Oesterheld chose the shots or Hugo Pratt planed it all? European fans of Hugo Pratt, some so-called critics among them, prefer to believe in this second option, but that's because they have a religion, they're Ugoprattians. Since I'm not part of that particular church I have to be Agnostic here: I simply don't know, so, from now on it's the work of Pratt/Oesterheld or the work of Oesterheld/Pratt. I put this disclaimer at the beginning just to get that shadow out of the way...

What the page above shows is basically a conflict situation. The page starts with an extreme close-up of Kirk (panel one). Kirk is alone because he needs to make a very difficult decision: will they try to save Tumiga from the Crows or will they abandon him in the name of the group's safety? Kirk opts for the latter option. The next shots are wide close shots showing the reaction of the group against Kirk (Corto) and in favor (Dr. Forbes) of Kirk's decision. Their silhouettes in panel three connote conspiracy, but we know that Corto will not confront Kirk, so, nothing will come out of that. In panel four the real danger to Kirk's leadership appears for the first time: Kani. Like Kirk she needs to make a decision and she knows that she's alone. So, like Kirk, she gets her full close-up (not as extreme as Kirk's, but her decision is not as difficult to make). The most important exception to the group's wide close shots though are not the close-ups, the most important exception, the panel that says it all, is panel six: a full high angle shot (it's a double contrast: of frame and point of view; it also contradicts the other composition solutions in friezes introducing the oblique line - between Dr. Forbes and Kani). She's diverging from the group and never was she bigger than when the perspective shows her smaller in the last panel.

Milton Caniff, "Terry and the Pirates," the last Sunday before leaving the series, December 29, 1946 (I don't know who the - great - colorist was). The sixth panel above reminds another panel that was ingrained in Hugo Pratt's brain (as seen on this blog already). The obvious difference is that Kani diverges while Jane converges.

It's a well known fact that Hugo Pratt started his career in comics under the powerful influence of Milton Caniff, but in "El pais de los mungos" another influence (an European one this time), and a not less powerful one, begins to show: Hergé and what was later called (by Joost Swarte) the clear line.

Hergé and Studios Hergé, "Tintin au Tibet," Le Lombard, Tintin Magazine # 20, May 20, 1959 (left); Hector Germán Oesterheld (w), Hugo Pratt (a), Stefan Strocen (c), "El Sargento Kirk: El pais de los mungos," Editorial Abril, Misterix # 357, July 29, 1955 (right). It may seem strange that I chose a 1959 panel to show its influence in 1955, but Hergé's (and Studios Hergé's) style was perfectly in place in 1955 when "L'Affaire Tournesol" [The Calculus Affair] was being serialized. Besides, Tintin au Tibet is another book in which footsteps in the snow are an important part of the plot.

If we look closely though, there are also important differences between the clear line in 1955 and Hugo Pratt's style in the page above. Pratt uses linear perspective, but the space is never very detailed or deep. Except for the last panel the forest is more suggested than shown, but the main difference lies in the thickness of the lines. Figures in the foreground are outlined with thicker lines than the figures in the background. This is clear (no pun intended) in the last panel when the linear perspective is enhanced to guide the reader's eye from right to left (the "unnatural" way of reading in the West, suggesting the difficulties ahead) until we find fragile, and yet gigantic in her resolve, Kani. The lines have also a "nervousness" in them that is absent from the clear line (we may say that the clear line is here to decrease the drama, but Hugo Pratt doesn't want pathos to fade completely; also, the sticks look like needles adding a subtle expressionist touch). There are no shadows, no hatching or cross-hatching, but thick lines suggest drape folds and logs.

Snow falls from the beginning to the end of the page. This provokes a relentless, uncomfortable, visual rhythm. The clock is already ticking... the fates never rest...