The Mignola Drip

Being a sampling of a sampling, i.e. an anthology of details from Mike Mignola‘s Hellboy: The First 20 Years (colors by Dave Stewart, except for the watercolor).

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What next? The Mignola Fleck? Mignola Statuary Fragments? Mignola Weird Little Gnomelike Crittters Getting Beat Up by Hellboy? It’s a bottomless well!

Comics Heaven in Columbus

In the foyer of the Ireland


I’ve spent a good chunk of the past week—from late Wednesday, Nov. 13th, through last night, Sunday the 17th—at the Ohio State University’s triennial Festival of Cartoon Art, held in and around the University’s newly reopened and greatly expanded Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum (BICLM). What a shot in the arm it has been.

Ribbon-cutting @ the Ireland, Friday night, Nov. 15th. Photo by Mike Rhode.

Ribbon-cutting @ the Ireland, Friday night, Nov. 15th. Photo by Mike Rhode. Jenny Robb in the middle, with Jean Schulz next to her. Lucy Caswell on the right.

Calendar-wise, this is a red-letter year for the BICLM. It marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Festival (which started in 1983), and a big transition, indeed transformation, for the Library itself. Friday night saw the Grand Opening (replete with ceremonial ribbon-cutting) of the Ireland’s new, roughly 30,000-foot facility in Sullivant Hall, after more than twenty years at roughly 6800 square feet in its previous home (the Wexner arts facility). This is cause for celebration, and I’m glad that I was there to help celebrate it.

There are thousands of files like these in the BICLM archive

The BICLM, formerly the Cartoon Research Library (and it has had other names too), started back in 1977 as two converted classrooms filled with stuff. Under the stewardship of founding curator Lucy Shelton Caswell, it grew from a reading room to a full-fledged library, then a larger library, and then larger still, et cetera, eventually blossoming into the world’s largest publicly held research collection in cartoon and comic art studies. That’s a testimony to Lucy’s tenacity, the staff and community she helped build, and the concerted support of donors, friends, and the OSU. Seeded by two founding donations, the Milton Caniff Collection and Jon Whitcomb Collection, it has grown to include massive and important collections like those of the International Museum of Cartoon Art and Bill Blackbeard’s legendary San Francisco Academy of Comic Art. The result is a mind-boggling archive including tens of thousands of books and serials, hundreds of thousands of examples of original comics art, and millions of comic strip clippings—a trove of comics and comics history.

Just thinking about it knocks the wind out of me.

Christina Meyer and Gene Kannenberg take photos of really old comics

This was my third visit to the Festival, and my second time presenting at the academic conference that has opened the Festival since 2007. As I did in 2010, I once again had the pleasure of co-presenting a paper with my good friend and colleague Craig Fischer, excerpted from our book-in-progress about cartoonist Eddie Campbell. That was a blast. I also got to witness quite a few other papers and talks, including a stimulating keynote by Henry Jenkins, spend time with many old friends, make some new ones, and talk about the possible future of this field that I love so much. I heard cartoonists whose work I admire—including Jeff Smith, Paul Pope, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Kazu Kibuishi, and Eddie Campbell himself—speak about their craft, and watched the opening of Dave Kellett and Fred Schroeder’s loving documentary film Stripped.

Eddie Campbell charms us all, Saturday, Nov. 16

Also, I saw the two opening exhibitions in the BICLM’s new museum space: Treasures from the Collections, a centuries-spanning sampler that shows the range and depth of the Library’s holdings, and Substance and Shadow: The Art of the Cartoon, curated by Brian Walker, which spotlights the tools and techniques of cartoon art. Both are breathtaking shows that, I kid you not, had me daubing my eyes. (Just one row in the Treasures exhibit: four frames from Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur, then a Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse Sunday, then an Otto Mesmer Felix the Cat Sunday, then pencils by Carl Barks for his classic “Sheriff of Bullet Valley” cover of 1948…)

Frame from Gertie the Dinosaur (though not one of the ones from BICLM, I don't think)

Sheriff of Bullet Valley, from Dell's Four Color #199 (!948)

In sort, these past few days have been great gift.

The transformation and reopening of the Library, I believe, mark a signal moment, a turning point, in the institutional support for cartoon and comic art studies. I’ve been happily stunned by the other OSU Festivals I’ve been to, but this—this took the cake. The combination of the academic conference—more robust and jam-packed than ever before—and the Festival proper, with its artists’ talks, exhibitions, and air of unfeigned sociability and joy, made this an event I’ll always remember: a true highlight of my career story to date. There have been other events that made a big, big difference in how I think about comics and comics studies—such as ICAF 1996, ICAF 1998, and the Will Eisner Symposium at UF in 2002—and this Festival, for me, is on that level.

There are too many people to thank for this experience—of course—but I must thank in particular BICLM curator Jenny Robb, founder and curator emeritus Lucy Caswell, and their team of colleagues and volunteers. They’ve pulled off an extraordinary coup in moving the Library from its old digs to its sparkling new home, and they made the Festival, again, a delight and a brainful. In addition, my colleague Jared Gardner once again served as academic organizer, bridging the Festival and the conference, and he and his fellows did a wonderful job, navigating the new venue and a full-to-bursting program with aplomb.

Mike Rhode @ the Ireland

My great good friend Mike Rhode stands in front of a page by Billy Ireland, @ the BICLM. Thursday, Nov. 14th, I think.

A shout-out to the gang of longtime friends and colleagues that, miraculously, all converged on the Festival: José Alaniz, Corey Creekmur, Brian Cremins, Ian Gordon, Gene Kannenberg, Susan Kirtley, Barbara Postema, Mike Rhode, Mark Rogers, Qiana Whitted, and most especially my buddy Craig. These are some of the people I know best in this field. In addition, I was delighted to renew my acquaintance, though of course too briefly, with good folks like Michael Chaney, Roy Cook, Chris Couch, Damian Duffy, Danny Fingeroth, Chris Gonzalez, Henry Jenkins, John Jennings, Bill Kartalopoulos, Aaron Kashtan, Andy Kunka, Robert Loss (organizer of CCAD’s great MIX symposium), Mark McKinney, Matt Smith, Kerry Soper, James Sturm, Rebecca Wanzo, Robyn Warhol (Robyn, I missed having a chance to chat with you, damn!), and Dan Yezbick (Dan showed me proofs of his forthcoming book on George Carlson, and cripes I almost fainted, it’s so good). I’m glad I got to meet J.T. Dockery, Sean Kleefeld, Frederik Byrn Køhlert, Christina Meyer, Audrey Niffenegger, and Julia Watson—and, though far too briefly, the great Carol Tyler. And I’m glad I got to chat once again, briefly, with Jean Schulz, who has lent so much support to the Library. A special shout-out to the globetrotting Eddie Campbell, invigorating as ever; Chris Sparks, organizer of Team Cul de Sac; Tom Spurgeon, thoughtfulness and kindness personified; my friend Geoff Grogan, whom I got to talk to far longer than I have before; the great, inspiring Tom Inge, without whom I’m sure I wouldn’t be doing comics studies; and the veteran Ohio cartoonist and fan Bruce Chrislip, who kindly showed me Gary Groth’s early fanzines and gifted me a copy of the Ohiocon ’75 program book!

Chester Gould's drawing table

I also want to thank Ken (Nix Comics) Eppstein and his partner Kate for a generous chili-and-music party on Wednesday evening, and Ken’s fellow Columbus self-publishers James Moore and Michael Neno, whom I met last year at MIX 2012 (I got to see Michael only briefly, alas, but he did gift me the latest issue of The Signifiers—so cool!). And I thank Robert Loss once again for introducing me to this community, as well as for chauffeuring me through the Wednesday night cold. ☺

Michael Neno's The Signifiers #2

In closing, I want to underscore the fact that Columbus has become a major hub for comics studies, and the Library has become a must-visit touchstone for the field. Sure, I got a lot from this visit personally—it felt like a kind of culmination, because a lot of my friends were there. That part felt like homecoming. But there was much more to it than that. The rebirth of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum represents the maturation of cartoon and comic art studies: a sign of the movement’s richness and growing institutional strength. I couldn’t be happier to hear that the next International Comic Arts Forum (ICAF) will be happening at the BICLM; that coming-together of organizations and resources holds great promise for the future of the field. Indeed the future of the field, both intellectually and institutionally, was a topic of much discussion in Columbus this past weekend, and I expect those discussions to yield big dividends in the future.

UConn comics studies reunion: Gene Kannenberg, CH, and Brian Cremins

UConn comics studies reunion: Gene Kannenberg, CH, and Brian Cremins (who gave a terrific paper on Walt Kelly and Bridgeport, CT). Thursday, Nov. 14th.

Thank you once again to all my friends and colleagues! Tom Spurgeon has begun a Collective Memory post about the Festival over at The Comics Reporter, and Mike Rhode, Chris Sparks, and Mark Anderson frankly have much better photos than mine, so take a look. And my Facebook newsfeed is crawling with memories and photos! Good, good—this event is so worth commemorating.

Making History Graphic @ the Los Angeles Central Library


Next Tuesday, the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, as part of its lively, ever-ongoing event series ALOUD, will be hosting an event of special appeal to comics readers—as well as anyone interested in the challenges of turning history into story and art:

Joe Sacco and Gene Luen Yang

Sacco, as drawn by Sacco Yang, as seen by Yang

Tuesday, November 12, 2013,
7:15 to c. 8:30 p.m.
Mark Taper Auditorium-Central Library
(The talk will be followed by a book signing in the auditorium lobby. See the bottom of this post for practical details!)
Join these two daring writers for a conversation on how the graphic novel and graphic nonfiction—rising from the frontlines of popular culture—can serve our understanding of history.

I have the honor of serving as interviewer and moderator for this event!

Angelenos, this is a great opportunity to hear firsthand two of the most acclaimed comics creators of our time—as they discuss projects of tremendous ambition and daring!

Sacco has just published The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme, a panoramic accordion book depicting that wrenching, transitional moment in the history of warfare.

Sacco's The Great War, unfolded

Detail from Sacco's The Great War

Yang has just published Boxers & Saints: two graphic stories, each in its own book, that tell two different sides of China’s Boxer Rebellion, together adding up a compelling dialectical tug-of-war but also a complete, and complex, novel.

Yang's Boxers & Saints, as a boxed set

Bao sees Vibiana (from Yang's Boxers & Saints)

Making History Graphic is happening at L.A.’s Central Library, 630 W. 5th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90071. Follow the link for directions to and detailed information about the venue. Here’s what the ALOUD website says about tickets and availability:

Reservation Policy for Free Programs:
As most [ALOUD] at Central Library programs are free of charge, it is our policy to overbook. In the case of a FULL program your free reservation may not guarantee admission. We recommend arriving early. Space permitting, unclaimed reservations will be released to standby patrons at 7 PM.

Fair Use and Why We Need to Defend It

Cartoon by Pete Bagge for Joseph Thomas's article @ Slate

Last Friday my good friend and colleague Joseph Thomas, associate professor of English and director of the National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at San Diego State University, published “Executors or Executioners?”, an article for the Slate Book Review about the burden of copyright permissions, the failure to defend fair use, and the threat that these pose to serious, independent scholarship.

This article is gutsy and important. It examines the damage caused by (a) estates that aggressively seek to control the discourse around the authors they represent, and (b) academic publishers who will not assert the right of fair use, and instead place the onus of seeking permissions on individual authors—even when a conservative interpretation of fair use clearly shows that no permissions should be necessary.

Thomas’s analysis has important implications for scholarly publishing. It spins out of his current book project-in-progress, a study of the poet and cartoonist Shel Silverstein, but what it has to say goes beyond that. I urge my readers to take a look.

Perhaps I should add that the readers’ comments accompanying the article are a mixed bag. Many show a distressing lack of understanding, or refusal to understand, the purposes of scholarship and the fair use doctrine. FWIW, here is a comment I posted, lightly edited for the sake of this blog:

Thomas’s essay is entirely accurate re: the double bind that authors working with most academic presses find themselves in. In general, academic presses are small, under-capitalized, and vulnerable; some, such as my own publisher, UP of Mississippi, are legally not-for-profit institutions, and nearly all are nonprofit in outlook and effect. Such presses are generally leery of pushing the case for fair use. Like the authors who work with them, these presses do not have bottomless funds and could not easily mount legal defenses in court. They often balk at asserting fair use even in cases where they would clearly be within their rights. The “hold harmless” clause in the typical academic publishing contract (i.e. the clause that assigns all liability to the author and thus indemnifies the publisher) passes the responsibility for securing permissions on to individual writers, even though those writers are typically in no position to withstand legal threats and cannot afford to pay lawyers’ fees. This is simply a fact of scholarly publishing.

Thomas is right to note (as he does in the comments thread) that from the author’s POV these projects are essentially nonprofit. Scholarly monographs, essay collections, refereed journal articles, and most reference works yield no substantial profit for their authors and editors; the work is in essence pro bono, and the requirement that authors seek permissions often makes the work a money-losing proposition. (The one significant exception to this in academic publishing is writing textbooks, which are meant to be used by generations of students and are very often exorbitantly priced, to the students’ detriment. That is a wholly different avenue of publishing and raises its own set of serious concerns.)

Happily, I can report that my publisher, Mississippi, has explored changes in its policy toward asserting fair use, and has even made some practical moves in that direction, as a result of which I was able, when finishing my second book, to mostly bypass the byzantine, time-consuming and very costly process of securing permissions that I had to do for my first. I can tell you that that decision helped make my second book possible, period.

Titus Groan (Gormenghast No. 11)

Fuchsia, from Peake's illustrated manuscript, courtesy of

The Attic

Back to Gormenghast, with this extraordinary, rhapsodic passage concerning Fuchsia’s ascent to the attic:

As Fuchsia climbed into the winding darkness her body was impregnated and made faint by a qualm as of green April. Her heart beat painfully.

……….This is a love that equals in its power the love of man for woman and reaches inward as deeply. It is the love of a man or of a woman for their world. For the world of their centre where their lives burn genuinely and with a free flame.

………. The love of the diver for his world of wavering light. His world of pearls and tendrils and his breath at his breast. Born as a plunger into the deeps he is at one with every swarm of lime-green fish, with every coloured sponge. As he holds himself to the ocean’s faery floor, one hand clasped to a bedded whale’s rib, he is complete and infinite. Pulse, power and universe sway in his body. He is in love.

………. The love of the painter standing alone and staring, staring at the great coloured surface he is making. Standing with him in the room the rearing canvas stares back with tentative shapes halted in their growth, moving in a new rhythm from floor to ceiling. The twisted tubes, the fresh paint squeezed and smeared across the dry upon his palette. The dust beneath the easel. The paint has edged along the brushes’ handles. The white light in a northern sky is silent. The window gapes as he inhales his world. His world: a rented room, and turpentine. He moves toward his half-born. He is in love.

………. The rich soil crumbles through the yeoman’s fingers. As the pearl diver murmurs, ‘I am home’ as he moves dimly in strange water-lights, and as the painter mutters, ‘I am me’ on his lone raft of floorboards, so the slow landsman on his acre’d marl – says with dark Fuchsia on her twisting staircase, ‘I am home.’

This passage is one of my favorites in Titus Groan. Am I wrong to think that it’s about the artist’s relationship to her (or his) art—to their invented world, “the world of their centre where their lives burn genuinely and with a free flame”?

Is this passage a touch autobiographical? I feel here as if I’m peeking into Peake’s very soul.

Gormenghast series: Start 6 7 8 9 10

Explore the world of Cartozia Tales!

Click here to visit the Cartozia Tales website!

Cartozia Tales is the first Kickstarter I’ve ever backed.

Why? What is it that got my off my duff and into the game?

Well, Cartozia Tales is very cool comic. In fact it’s a comic jammed full of different comics, brought to you by a crew of diverse yet like-minded cartoonists who together are bent on creating a shared fantasy world, Cartozia, to set all of their stories in. Actually, they’re bent on creating the stories collaboratively too: starting stories for each other to carry on, and carrying on stories started by each other. These cartoonists are designing characters for one another, launching quests for one another, and resolving cliffhangers for one another. In other words, Cartozia Tales is a genuine collaboration at every level. The result is a story-world populated by sweet and interesting characters, funky flora and fauna, enticingly weird locales, and odd, brain-tickling concepts—an all-around imaginative playground.

Map of Cartozia, by Sarah Becan

To be precise, Cartozia Tales is a brand-new, ongoing fantasy comic book for all ages, scheduled to come out every month and a half or so, edited and published by cartoonist and teacher Isaac Cates and featuring a core crew of eight contributors plus at least two guest artists in each issue. Cartozia is a jointly created world only now in the process of being dreamed up collaboratively by all the artists, according to a particular set of rules: each issue scatters the artists to different parts of the Cartozia world map, there either to carry on adventures launched by other artists in previous issues and/or add something new to that part of the world. Cates and company have divided Cartozia into a tic-tac-toe grid, and each issue finds the creators moved to a new part of the grid. While working with characters, locales, and concepts established by their colleagues, each creator or creative team gets to tell its own story or chapter, typically 4 pages in length, and gets to leave a fresh set of challenges for whoever comes after them in that spot.

A sampling of the Cartozia grid method

Basically, Cartozia Tales is a comic, a high fantasy, and a game all at once. It’s like a Dungeons & Dragons campaign made up of endlessly shuffling modules in different locales—and it’s just as open to player input, just as unpredictable, and just as interactive as a good D&D game played by a bunch of friends. It’s a bit like a version of the old game Consequences, or what the Surrealists liked to call (it’s an off-putting name, but no worries) an exquisite corpse: a round-robin process of creation in which stories or images are passed from hand to hand and completed in a spirit of playful competition and challenge, according to each individual player’s imagination and sense of mischief. However, unlike players in an exquisite corpse, the collaborators in Cartozia Tales will be carefully reading and deliberately building on their predecessors’ work.

Cartozia’s website bills the series as an indy comics anthology, an all-ages magazine, and a shared fantasy world. That sounds right on all counts. Mastermind Isaac Cates is a dab hand at this kind of rule-governed but playful collaborative project: he and his longtime friend and colleague Mike Wenthe, along with occasional guest artists, have produced eight issues to date of a minicomic series with the laughably understated title Satisfactory Comics (2001-), each issue of which looks and feels different, and many of which are based on specific rules or “constraints” designed to up the level of challenge and force creative problem-solving. Isaac and Mike’s work consciously focuses on the themes of collaboration, joint authorship, constraint-based creativity, and the happy surprises that can come from creating together and ceding parts of the creative process to others. You’ve heard of creative teams in comics? Well, Isaac and Mike have been dedicated to exploring that idea. It’s good to see them collaborating again, in the pages of Cartozia Tales.

I want to sidetrack from Cartozia Tales for a moment to tell you a bit more about the past work of the Cates and Wenthe team, because I think that will tell you something important about the spirit behind Cartozia itself. Of particular relevance here would be two past projects, the first being the one-shot minicomic Mapjam (2007), in which Isaac, Mike, and others pioneered Cartozia‘s collaborative map-grid approach to fantasy worldmaking (see what contributor Tom Motley has to say about it). The second would be the Cates/Wenthe fantasy story titled Stepan Crick and the Chart of the Possible, also known as Satisfactory Comics #8, which Mike and Isaac produced in 2007-2008. That’s a story about, guess what? A map.

Satisfactory Comics #8, in ten postcards (photo by, I believe, Isaac Cates)

The 10 pages of Stepan Crick are based upon specific constraints solicited from friends and colleagues, and the final result was published as ten full-color postcards (Isaac has long been involved in mail art). Originally intended for the indy fantasy anthology Elfworld, Stepan Crick became the best and boldest issue of Satisfactory Comics, combining interests in fantasy, constrained comics storytelling, and community. But Isaac and Mike have spearheaded other ambitious miniccomics projects as well—the free-spirited Elm City Jams (c. 2003-2004) come to mind—and their whole Satisfactory Comics run is notable for convivial jams, ideas solicited from friends, and formal experiments such as a comics sestina (#6), comics on tiny cards that can be shuffled (ditto), or a multi-path/choose-your-own-adventure comic (#7). For just about every issue Isaac and Mike asked their friends and colleagues to provide “seeds” or springboards for their experiments, thus opening their artistic games to a larger community, and it’s precisely that spirit of communal interaction and creation that sets Cartozia Tales apart.

Cartozia Tales #1, cover by Leah Palmer Preiss

Now Isaac and Mike have joined with cartoonists Sarah Becan, Lucy Bellwood, Shawn Cheng, Lupi McGinty, Tom Motley (again!), and Jen Vaughn—a transcontinental crew—as well as guest artists like Dylan Horrocks, Jon Lewis, and James Kochalka, to dream up and produce Cartozia Tales. As a collaborative anthology-cum-fantasy game, Cartozia celebrates imaginary geography and world-building: exploring, mapmaking, and creative improvising within a broad set of constraints. Each issue has at least nine 3 to 4-page comics chapters, plus brief one-page strips, pinups, actual maps, and interactive elements such as paper dolls and instructions for craft projects. Gorgeous covers (#1’s front cover is by Leah Palmer Preiss, #2’s by Brittney Sabo), handsome, sturdy paper, and high production values complete the package.

The giddy creativity on view in Cartozia Tales is startling: there are some wild, wild notions in play here. At the same time, Cartozia is clearly meant to be a child- and parent-friendly project; in essence, it’s a children’s comic for both kids and grownups. Refreshingly, the creators avoid treacly sentiment and phony solicitude for children’s well-being, preferring to offer instead loopy, freewheeling creativity, a shared sense of play, a taste for mild mischief, and genuine feeling. The results so far—two issues to date—are impressive.

Now, I’m the last person who should be reviewing Cartozia Tales, because I can’t be remotely objective about it. Isaac Cates is a longtime friend and colleague of mine (I confess, I was one of those who contributed constraints to Stepan Crick), and I knew a little something about Cartozia when it had yet to be named, in fact when it was just a gleam in Isaac’s eye. I recall him pitching the idea at a conference last January—imagine my surprise to see the project go from gleam to finished issues in such a short time! So naturally I would like to see this project succeed.

But I know I’d have gotten off my duff for Cartozia Tales anyway. Its strong roster of artists, intriguing collaborative method, and playful riffs on the conventions of high fantasy—all of this knocks my socks off. Its Kickstarter drive invites exactly the kind of communal interaction that the comic itself celebrates (the rewards offered to backers run the gamut—you could even find yourself featured in the comic!). And Cartozia’s aim to create honest, unpatronizing children’s fantasy comics is a welcome gust of fresh air.

Cartozia Tales #1, cover by Brittney Sabo

I hope you’ll lend your support. Good cause, great crew, and prospects for a long run full of crazy creations—that’s Cartozia Tales in a nutshell. Check it out!

Comics Studies: Mix 2013, plus a reminder of 2012!

Mix 2013 logo

About a year ago, in October 2012, the Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD) launched Mix, its annual series of symposia about comics. I hope it lasts forever. Under the leadership of CCAD’s Robert Loss, Mix is rapidly shaping up to be a key event in the comics studies calendar—and that first Mix, 2012, was a delight. I had the privilege of attending Mix then, and fondly recall working and hanging out with Robert, critic and historian Douglas Wolk, my good friend, fellow scholar, and co-author Craig Fischer, local comics creators such as Ken Eppstein and Michael Neno, and a host of other fine folk.

Ach, would that I could attend Mix THIS time, but sadly I cannot (I can’t get away to Columbus right now!). I still want to tell you about it, though! This coming weekend, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 27-28, CCAD will put on the second annual Mix, i.e. Mix 2013, featuring as keynote guest the cartoonist Jeff Smith, plus cartoonist Carol Tyler, journalist and critic Tom Spurgeon, and a screening of Jonathan Gayles’s documentary film about superheroes and race, White Scripts and Black Supermen. PLUS some of my esteemed colleagues in comics studies: researchers such as Jared Gardner, John Jennings, and Mark C. Rogers. PLUS an exhibition of art from Smith’s graphic novel RASL, and, talk about an embarrassment of riches, an exhibition of work by the (understatement alert!) groundbreaking artist Gary Panter. It sounds fantastic, and I wish Robert and everyone a stimulating, collegial, and fun event!

I had the pleasure of giving a talk at Mix last year, based on my book Hand of Fire: The Comic Art of Jack Kirby. Thanks to Robert and his collaborators, video of that lecture, as well as other events from Mix 2012, has just gone online!

(Check out CCAD’s YouTube channel, CCADedu, for more!)

Giving that talk was a blast, especially the post-talk Q&A, which I thought was unusually rich and interesting. It gave me a chance to think on my feet before a sharp and enthusiastic audience, something I’ll always be grateful for. It’s all captured on this video!

Anyone within range of Columbus, go to Mix 2013 if you possibly can. It’s a taste of where comics studies is going.

Help Kirby4Heroes Support Veteran Comic Book Creators!

Kirby4HeroesPlease click on the image to learn how you can help Jack Kirby’s granddaughter Jillian Kirby support The Hero Initiative, the nonprofit organization dedicated to helping out veteran comic book creators in need! Jack Kirby’s 96th birthday, August 28, 2013, is right around the corner—please join the Kirby family in supporting this important cause!

Hollow Man

Image by Kyle Baker (, from his satiric videogame "Mass Murderer of Steel"

It’s a pity that the storytelling rhythms in Man of Steel are entrained to director Zack Snyder’s mania for prolonged and spectacular ultraviolence. It’s a pity because there are some really good things—affecting performances, clever riffs on the mythos, atmospheric scenes, and moments of lovely, delirious image-making—swimming around in the soup of the movie. Sadly these good things are soured by the movie’s overeager overemphasis on palpable ass-kicking and CG mass destruction. Every fight scene in the film—every one, from Jor-El’s fistfights at the start to the distasteful, post-9/11 city-gutting beatdown of the film’s final third—is too long. While the film does a good job, perhaps a better job than any other superhero movie, of showing just how dizzying and imposing a superhero’s super-powers can be—we get the point that ordinary people do have ample reason to fear Superman, because he’s so impossibly fast and strong and because epic-scale devastation follows him wherever he goes—this point is hammered home ad nauseum, at the cost of sacrificing whatever momentum and capacity for surprise the film might have had. To say that Man of Steel is not light on its feet is a whopper of an understatement.

The protracted mayhem cripples the movie in three ways:

  1. The FX sequences, incredibly, become boring through overuse. The appetite gets sated, sickens, and so dies. Extraordinary, ravishing images yield to more images of the same sort, and their extraordinariness drains away. Those scenes in the film would probably be even more boring to watch a second time, sans surprises.
  2. The secondary characters—such as Colonel Hardy or the Daily Planet staffers Perry White, Steve Lombard, and a woman who is never given any other name than Jenny—are lost in the mayhem. That is, they aren’t given the time to develop before they’re placed in jeopardy. Five minutes of exposition earlier in the film, prior to the mayhem, could have yielded big dividends for these characters. As is, their finest moments are wasted on us because we haven’t seen them do anything as ordinary people under ordinary circumstances.
  3. The third problem is specific to Superman’s traditional image as protector. The overlong battles in Smallville and Metropolis, precisely because they are overlong, raise the pesky question, why doesn’t Supes make an effort to take the battle away from these centers of population, so that not so many people, perhaps not so many thousands of people, are likely to get killed in the action? In particular, the spectacular emphasis on Metropolis’s destruction—waved aside so casually in the film’s denouement, as if had never happened—severely undercuts Superman’s status as the extraordinary guy who looks after ordinary folks (go see what Mark Waid has to say about this).

The film’s closing really is a problem, because it has leavening moments of charm and humor that the rest of the film sorely wants but comes so soon after the disaster porn (as Waid calls it) that I can hardly swallow it. Such superficiality after the rehearsal of so much disaster and suffering leaves a rotten taste in the mouth.

Again, the movie does boast some clever touches—such as its nonlinear hopscotching through time, which gets a lot done quickly—some phenomenal, transporting images, and fine performances by the principles (Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, and most especially Kevin Costner and the wonderful Diane Lane as Kal/Clark’s adoptive parents). It’s a better movie than the lifeless and timid Superman Returns of 2006. It has a proper sense of scale and probably comes closer than any other movie to answering my near-lifelong question, what would a comic book-style super-fight actually look like? But in the process of answering that question—of fixating on it—the film becomes a merciless grind, and its lack of attention to the human scale, to real suffering and loss, or even a passable simulation of same, makes it, finally, a hollow, disheartening play of images, without the soul that its best moments so clearly want it to have.

RIP Kim Thompson (1956-2013)

Kim Thompson with some well-deserved Eisner Awards

Kim Thompson with some well-deserved Eisner Awards. This photo came from Kim’s obituary at the Fantagraphics blog, and was taken by Kim’s wife, Lynn Emmert.


Tom Spurgeon has written a lengthy, and extraordinarily detailed and rich, obituary for Kim Thompson that is not simply an obituary; it is a sweeping career story that manages to give the entire history of Fantagraphics Books while yet bringing into sharp focus Kim’s personal qualities, down to the finest nuances and quirks. This is a heroic piece of writing, placing Kim and his work within the context—the very complex and historically vital context—of the much-changed and still-changing US comics industry. Reading what Tom has written, wow, is like diving deep into Scrooge McDuck’s legendary money bin and swimming around in a great accumulation of history, lore, and anecdote. Tom communicates a vivid sense of Kim’s personality and work ethic, while never losing sight of the larger comics-historical narrative of which Kim’s career story is a such a crucial and inspiring part. Bravo, Tom, and thanks.

I have to believe that this particular “news” story affects Tom very personally—he should take pride in giving his friend Kim a fitting tribute.

Also very affecting is The Comics Journal‘s collection of tributes to Kim by fellow comics professionals, for many of whom Kim was publisher, editor, and/or translator—and friend. Eric Reynolds’s remembrance, in particular, is deeply moving. And Robert Fiore nails it: “[Kim] wasted less of the limited time he had on things he didn’t want to do than just about anybody I can think of, and he spent more of that limited time disseminating things we all can enjoy than just about anybody you can think of.” Truth!

The Journal has also run its own fine tribute to Kim as well, and a fine piece by Jeet Heer on Kim’s work as a critic.

Elsewhere, my friend Robert Boyd—like Tom Spurgeon a  former employee of and co-worker with Kim—offers his own wonderful remembrance, which well explains the importance of Kim’s work. Robert’s piece gives a terrific, lived-in sense of what it was like to work in the Fantagraphics office with Kim.

Finally, Tom has put up (and continues to update) a “Collective Memory” page for Kim that will probably link to every piece I’ve mentioned and definitely includes quite a few more. Look too for Tom’s terrific interviews with Kim, some of which he has recently re-run.

What follows is simply my original post on Kim, as published on June 20th. I know far too little to pay him effective tribute, but I’m glad to be one little piping voice in the great big chorus of voices singing his praise. Kim Thompson was a vital, historic figure in the history of US comics—of comics period—and someone whose too-early death makes me very sad.

With sadness—but also thanks for his work—I want to pay tribute to Kim Thompson, co-publisher of Fantagraphics Books, who died this morning at age 56, his life stolen from him by lung cancer. My deepest condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

I did not know Kim well; we were only lightly acquainted. And I’m sure I didn’t know the full breadth of his career. What I do know is that he was a brilliant, spirited, and decent publisher, a lover of comics, and a one-of-a-kind bundle of talents and passions who made a huge difference in the comics world and therefore in my reading life. In fact Kim made my reading world larger, and much richer. Like many, many comics readers, I grieve for his passing. I’ve got to admit, I grieve in selfish terms: to me Kim Thompson meant Fantagraphics, and Fantagraphics has meant the world.

Kim Thompson made comics smarter, brighter, more inclusive, and more interesting. He obviously loved the history of comics and the global present of comics. His horizons were wide. He was worldly in the best sense, cultured in the true sense, fluent in multiple languages, and, as much as if not more than any other single person, responsible for making alternative comics in North America a bigger, more cosmopolitan, and happier tent. He nurtured talent, guiding and encouraging the development of some of our greatest comics artists.

Below is a gallery of images that gives a slight taste of Kim’s long and generative career. Pictured are projects that Kim translated and/or spearheaded. Not included here are many, many other comics—Love and Rockets, Hate, and on and on—that Kim, as co-publisher, played a vital role in shaping, supporting, and producing. That’s a deep, deep well. The official obituary at Fantagraphics, authored by Kim’s long-time colleague and friend Gary Groth, gives some idea; it’s enlightening and moving. I’m sure that within hours Tom Spurgeon will have a substantial tribute up at The Comics Reporter too (Tom interviewed Kim more than once; two of those conversations can be found here and here). Michael Cavna’s Comics Riffs column also has a good, strong post on Kim.

With Kim, we’ve lost a seminal and wonderful talent and genuine leader in the field. RIP.

Wow, Kim. Thanks. Thanks.

Chris Ware draws Kim Thompson

Chris Ware draws Kim Thompson. I got this image from Noah Van Sciver’s tumblr.


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