Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Comics-and-More Podcast 9

Another week, another new episode of the Comics-and-More Podcast, third in our four-part series examing DC Comics The New 52.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Comics-and-More Podcast 8

Oops!  I almost forgot to link to the new episode of the Comics-and-More Podcast, the second in a four-part series examing DC Comics The New 52.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Comics Journal #301

By Gary Groth (Editor), Michael Dean (Managing Editor), Kristy Valenti (Managing Editor), and a whole bunch of contributors

The latest "issue" of the venerable Comics Journal is, at 624 pages, less a magazine and more of a book.  Handsomely designed by Eric Skillman (that's the book's cover up above, with the title featured on the impressively thick spine), the book is the first release under the Comics Journal banner since the more-or-less-monthly magazine ceased regular publication a couple of years ago in favor of a regularly updated website, now ably run by Dan Nadel and Tim Hodler.

The cover feature is The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb, which is the subject of an interview with the author conducted by Gary Groth, as well as a roundtable critical discussion.  While I personally feel that Crumb's version of the first book of the Old Testament is an extraordinary work, certainly deserving of all of the pages devoted to it here, its merits are hotly debated in the roundtable.  The most entertaining and cogent arguments come from Jeet Heer (he likes it) and Rick Marschall (he doesn't, and comes at the book from the interesting perspective of a practicing evangelical Christian).  Also participating in the roundtable are Donald Phelps, Robert Stanley Martin, Tim Hodler, Alexander Theroux, and Kenneth Smith.  Fine writers and thoughtful critics all (although Smith more or less does his usual schtick, using Crumb's book to launch into a familiar sounding philosophical screed against modernity), whose opinions on Crumb's book vary wildly, making for an entertaining and enlightening exchange of ideas.

There are two other long interviews in the book, one a conversation between humor cartoonists Al Jaffee and Michael Kupperman (moderated by Gary Groth), and Groth's interview with Joe Sacco.  These interviews are as insightful and rewarding as one might expect, given the participants.  Also,  Marc Sobel provides a too-cursory gloss of "the Decade in Comics," R. Fiore writes about the depiction of racial minorities in old comic strips, R.C. Harvey provides a glimpse at an unpublished comic strip from late Gordo cartoonist, Gus Arriola, Tom Crippin answers "Three Questions About Robert Crumb," Chris Lanier examines Brian Chippendale's Maggots, Warren Bernard makes the case for John T. McCutcheon as the father of the midwestern school of cartooning, and a handful of recent graphic novels are reviewed. 

A generous selection of Gerald McBoing Boing comics are included, introduced by Gene Deitch.  Most people probably don't even realize that there were Gerald McBoing Boing comics, based of course on the Academy Award-winning animated short subject, but there were, and they were pretty good, although it's a shame the artists and writers who worked on them were not able to be identified.  The reprinting of rare and "undiscovered" comics was one of my favorite features of the previous incarnation of the Journal, and I'm glad to see they have made room for that sort of thing in this new format.

But wait, there's more!  One of my favorite features was the artist sketchbooks, featuring work by Jim Woodring, Tim Hensley, and novelist Stephen Dixon.  Each sketchbook section was preceded by a short interview with the artist.  I also really enjoyed a feature by Rob Clough on the Center for Cartoon Studies, focusing specifically on the mentoring program.  This feature offered great insight into the day to day experience of attending the school, as well as glimpses into the personalities of the various cartoonists who served as mentors to the students.

Along with the interviews (always a highlight of any issue of The Comics Journal) my favorite feature was Tim Krieder's excellent essay on Dave Sim's Cerebus.  Initially, I was only mildly interested in reading this essay, having not read very much of Cerebus at all, but it quickly became apparent that Krieder is a writer whose intelligence and wit are capable of making any subject interesting, or at least that was certainly the case here.  I would highly recommend this essay to anyone, regardless of your level of interest in Cerebus.  It's just a fine piece of writing.

I like this new format for The Comics Journal.  While the magazine was indisputably important and vital in the first several years of its publication, in its later years it could hardly be said to have had its finger on the pulse of the industry.  The print magazine seemed to lose its way the last several years it was published, and, while it always contained a lot of good writing, it was clear the best venue for a vital discussion of comics had relocated online, amongst a variety of the better comics blogs and websites.  After a rocky start, the regularly updated, online version of The Comics Journal has become a much more vital outlet for the serious discussion of comics, primarily thanks to the stewardship of online editors Dan Nadel and Tim Hodler.  In its new format, the print Comics Journal is a fine companion to that ongoing effort.  With the burden of remaining "current" lifted by the website, the print Journal is free to explore important works with a depth and seriousness rarely found online.  The Journal's founder, Gary Groth, is much more directly involved with this book than he seems to have been in recent issues of the magazine or the website.  This is a good thing, as Groth's editorial hand and distinct critical perspective (not to mention unparalleled interviewing skills) are what made The Comics Journal such an important voice in the comics community in the first place.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Comics-and-More Podcast 7

The new episode of the Comics-and-More Podcast, the first in a four-part series examining DC Comics' The New 52 comic books, has been posted.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Volume 1: Race To Death Valley

By Floyd Gottfredson

A two week assignment.  That was what cartoonist Floyd Gottfredson was told by his boss, Walt Disney, would be the duration of Gottfredson's run on the new Mickey Mouse comic strip.  The strip, begun just a few months prior, was initially written by Disney himself, with art by Ub Iwerks (Mickey's co-creator and primary animator on the early cartoons) and Win Smith.  Iwerks and Win soon left the strip, however (Iwerks to start his own animation studio, and Win over a falling out with Disney), at which point Disney himself gave up the reigns as writer and brought in Gottfredson as a temporary replacement until a permanent writer/artist could be found.  That temporary fill in assignment would turn into a distinguished 45 year career, in which Gottfredson's work on the Mickey Mouse comic strip (always credited to Walt Disney, of course) would evolve into one of comics' all-time  masterpieces.

In this Golden Age of Comic Strip Reprints, Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse was, I had long assumed, the one that had gotten away.  Long acknowledged as a classic of the genre, the fear was that the gargantuan Disney corporation would have no real interest in preserving or showcasing the work of Floyd Gottfredson over and above that of the Disney brand.  I had about given up hope when Fantagraphics (publishers of the Complete Peanuts and many other fine archival comics projects) announced at the 2010 Comic Con International in San Diego, that they would indeed be reprinting Gottfredson's work in its entirety.  The first volume in this ambitious project has been released, with a second volume due in a couple of months.  It should go without saying that Fantagraphics has done their usual stellar job in regards to editorial presentation (by Disney expert David Gerstein and Fantagraphics founder and publisher Gary Groth) and design (by Jacob Covey).

In addition to over two and a half year's worth of the strip, the book contains an impressive amount of introductory material and contextual essays, covering such topics as the origins of the strip (from which the information in the opening paragraph of this review was cribbed) to spotlights on characters and other cartoonists who contributed to the strip during Gottfredson's run.  While Gottfredson was the primary ghost artist and chief architect of Mickey's comic strip adventures, many other artists were employed from time to time in the strip's production, and the editors go to great lengths to give everyone their due, regardless of how relatively minor their contribution.  There are other neat bonus features, such as cover images from foreign editions collecting storylines from the strip.

As for the comics themselves, they entertain on a couple of levels.  First, it should be of interest to comics fans as one of the Great Comic Strips Of All Time.  While I would not place Gottfredson in the very top tier of strip cartoonists alongside artists like George Herriman, E.C. Segar, and Charles Schulz, he is undoubtedly a highly talented and imaginative cartoonist, whose primary strengths lie in story construction and the sheer manic, exuberant energy with which he brings those stories and characters to life.  I would stop short of calling the artwork beautiful, but it is a lot of fun to look at, with rubber-limbed characters flailing across the pages in inky black and white, huge sweat droplets constantly flying from their brows.  The comic strip should also be of great interest to Disney aficionados, as it represents one of the earliest transitions of the animated characters into another medium, and indeed was initially written by Walt Disney himself.  The Mickey who appears in these pages is markedly different from the cutesy cartoon character modern audiences are familiar with.  He is more of a scrapper, and it may surprise some that Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse takes the form of an adventure strip, a popular genre at the time.  There are some decidedly un-P.C. elements here, as well.  In one story, Mickey carries a gun, and there is even a brief storyline where Mickey is thwarted in his various attempts to commit suicide!  It is admirable that Disney has allowed this version of Mickey Mouse to once again see the light of day, in the interests of preserving Gottfredson's work in its original, unedited form.

Shortly after the Mickey Mouse comic strip announcement was made, Fantagraphics announced that they would also be reprinting another Disney comic, the complete Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics by Carl Barks.  If they do half as good a job with those books as they've done with Mickey Mouse, it is going to be a very good year for comics fans and Disney fans alike.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Comics-and-More Podcast 6

The sixth episode of the Comics-and-More Podcast has been posted.