Archive for the 'commentary and criticism' Category

Pushwagner at The Comics Journal


What more appropriate comic could I have been writing about on the day of that bogus, horrifying presidential auguration? That’s right, the Norwegian artist Pushwagner’s Dystopian 1970s masterwork Soft City, now out in a handsome American edition from the New York Review. Go, read, at The Comics Journal.

Merry Christmas from the National Gallery

This is the kind of thing that helps me cope. Apologies for any awkwardness!

What I’ve been up to


It seems increasingly meaningless these days, right? Yet, these are some of the things I’ve been up to over the last month or so.

ITEM at Apollo Magazine online a few weeks ago, I wrote an appreciation of the great Harewood Titian drawing (above), which is currently under temporary export bar and risks leaving the UK for an overseas home if a matching offer isn’t met before 20 December.

ITEM In the latest National Gallery Technical Bulletin (vol. 37), Chris Fischer, Rachel Billinge and I analyse new technical evidence concerning Fra Bartolommeo’s Virgin Adoring the Child with St Joseph in the National Gallery’s collection. Newly recorded infrared reflectograms reveal underdrawing that straddles the gap between his disciplined Florentine training and the flowering lyrical undercurrent in his work that was stimulated so decisively by his visit to Venice in 1508. We also publish a series of replicas/copies of the composition, including the one in Brescia and a previously unknown one in a private collection, both probably made in his San Marco workshop. The issue also contains articles on Dutch seventeenth-century flower painting, Daubigny and Van Gogh. Consult at your art library or wait till the content is made available online.

ITEM The latest volume of Studi Tizianeschi (no. IX) contains my review of Tom Nichols’ flawed but occasionally stimulating book Titian and the End of the Venetian Renaissance. But don’t get it for that — the issue contains Paul Joannides’ and Jane Turner’s long-awaited and magisterial examination of Titian’s and his workshop’s many versions of the quintessential Venus and Adonis composition, a material that would pose a heroic challenge to any Titian connoisseur. There are other interesting articles on Titian-related matters too, naturally. Again, check it out at your library or order here.


ITEM a couple of my comics reviews have been published in Information (in Danish). Firstly, it concerns the Danish omnibus-like edition of Simon Hanselman’s bleakly funny and deranged comics about Megg, Mogg and Owl (above). It predates last year’s Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam, but pretty much every strip he made prior to that is in it. Next up is Drømme i tynd luft (‘Dreams in Thin Air’), a comics documentary on the formation of the first Tibetan national football team told by the Danish idealist who helped it happen, Michael Magnus Nybrandt and illustrated by the talented Thomas Engelbrecht Mikkelsen. It’s a fascinating story, but the comic lacks dramatic and psychological interest, despite a few inspired passages. Anyway, even if you don’t read Danish, you may be able soon to see for yourself, as several international editions are in the works.

ITEM Oh, and I’m back writing story notes in the Fantagraphics Carl Barks series, which is of course fantastic fun. In the latest book, I wrote about the so-called ‘Donald Duck Rants about Ants’ — a true horror comedy steeped in 1950s paranoia as only Barks can do it. But, you know, get it — and the series — for the comics.

Danske avantgarde-tegneserier i Information

Fra Allan Haverholms When the Last Story Is Told


Efter længere tids fravær er jeg i dag tilbage i Informations bogtillæg med en anmeldese af en række tegneserieudgivelser af den mere utvetydigt litterært/kunstnerisk orienterede art: Signe Parkins & Drawings, Michelangelo Setola og Edo Chieregatos Snuder på lastbiler, Rikke Villadsen og Bjørn Rasmussens første to bind i deres serie Ni piger, og Allan Haverholms When the Last Story Is Told. Læs den her, nu hvis du har abonnement, om nogle uger, hvis ikke. Eller køb avisen på papir!

Og lige en påmindelse: overskrift, underrubrik og billedtekster er stort set aldrig mine på disse artikler. Ikke at jeg nødvendigvis er utilfreds, men sådan fungerer det.

PAW 50!

Paw Mathiasen skoler rosset i boghåndværk, Angoulême 2007 (forstør for yderligere indsigt)


“Glæden ved tegneserier indgår i den store livscyklus. ‘Nuff said!” Sådan sagde Paw Mathiasen i et interview for ti år siden, på et tidspunkt hvor man kan sige at han var steget ind sin fase 3 — den hvor han virkelig begyndte at gøre sig gældende som fuldtidsforlægger med bredt udsyn og en ambition om arbejdet med tegneserier som levevej. De to tidligere faser i denne forsimpling af Paws fine, fornemme og facetterede karriere i dansk tegneserie er naturligvis Fanzine-perioden, hvor en ellers hensynende grund blev gødet med Fat Comic og anden aktivisme, og så Fahrenheit-perioden op gennem halvfemserne og et stykke ind i nullerne, hvor Paw nærmest ene mand sørgede for, at der stadig blev udgivet danske tegneserier hinsides den meget snævre mainstream og samtidig stille, roligt og også lidt rodet introducerede danske læsere for den store udvikling, der var ved at tage fart i udlandet.

Fahrenheit er ganske enkelt den væsentligste danske tegneserieantologi de sidste tre årtier. Det samme gælder forlaget Fahrenheit på dets område. Man kan muligvis til tider have savnet en redaktionel linje, men det er nok samtidig en af hemmelighederne bag forlagets sejlivethed og brede betydning. Det ganske enkelt svært at forestille sig den opblomstring af dansk tegneserie og dansk tegneseriekultur, vi ser i dag uden. Paw har holdt faklen højt i op mod fyrre år og står fortsat som en konstant, varm og progressiv kraft et sted i kulturens hjerte. Fra Godfather til gryende Grand Old Man, med familie i nuet og en fortid at kigge stolt tilbage på. Cyklens fase fire—fremtiden—venter.

Tak og tillykke Paw!

UPDATE: Der er en stor fødselsdagsgave til Paw fra venner og kolleger på Nummer9.

Back at Roskilde


I spent parts of the last few days at the Roskilde Festival covering its hip hop programme for the Danish hip hop website Rapspot. I unfortunately missed most of the two first days, but managed to catch some great music on Friday and Saturday. At this stage of post-Brexit chaos, it was particularly great to see some of London’s finest uniting us in mosh. Fantastic.

If you read Danish, my coverage is here, here, and here. Astrid Maria B. Rasmussen, who took the above photo of Stormzy, has posted several great photo galleries from the festival here, here, here, and here (graffiti).

Mary Wept at the Comics Journal


My by this point extremely irregular column on European comics at The Comics Journal is making a bit of a departure today, presenting a critical assessment of the very Canadian and thus non-European master cartoonist Chester Brown’s new book of Biblical exegesis Mary Wept over the Feet of Jesus. In some ways an addendum to his last, fascinating and conflicted confessional, Paying for It, in some an extension of his nineties Gospel adaptations, and in others his to date perhaps deepest descent into hermetic eccentricity, it is worth a read.

I actually think that Brown is one of the single cartoonists about whom I’ve written the most. A lot of it is accessible right here at this site.

I morgen bliver bedre i Information


Min anmeldelse af Karoline Stjernfelts albumdebut I morgen bliver bedre bind 1 bragtes en anelse forsinket i lørdagens Informer. Læs den her (hvis du har abonnement…). Nåja, og så bør du absolut læse Henry Sørensens langt mere udførlige anmeldelse på Nummer9, samt hans interview med skaberen.

How Did We End Up Here?

In their first issue following the terrorist bombings in Brussels, Charlie Hebdo published a leading article, signed editor-in-chief Riss, which displays some of the worst tendencies of the magazine (English version here). In it, Riss seems to hold accountable all Muslims for the actions of terrorists, skewing dangerously close to the kind of rhetoric employed by fascists. To regular readers, however, it seems clear that what he is doing is criticising the reluctance among Muslims to question aspects of their faith, parts of their holy scripture, that motivate jihadist violence. He specifically mentions the scholar and commentator Tariq Ramadan, with whom the magazine has a bit of an ongoing feud, as somebody influential who glosses over these issues in his efforts to teach non-Muslims about Islam. Riss’ other main target are multiculturalist non-Muslims who similarly prefer not to debate these issues and call out people who do as ‘islamophobes.’

The thing is, there are points to be made here: surveys made among Western Muslims indicate how widespread casual anti-semitism and homophobia are, how paternalistic attitudes toward women can be, and demonstrate surprisingly little discomfort with such passages of scripture as those that condemn to death apostates and women guilty of adultery. Obviously, surveys are not the whole truth, and I assume that most Western Muslims actually have a much more nuanced approach to life than statistics may lead one to think, but it does seem that there is remarkably little open debate about such issues among Muslims. This despite the fact that some of these attitudes and doctrine are anathema to a society built on the rights of the individual and constitute part of the foundations of jihadist terrorism. Similarly, left-wing and multiculturalist efforts to downplay them or place the blame for jihadist terrorism quasi-exclusively with Western foreign and integration policy (important as those factors are) are not doing anybody any favours either, least of all Muslim dissidents.

Unfortunately, very little of this comes across in Riss’ sloppy and sensationalist op-ed. It’s as if he is talking in the same blunt register as he does in his political cartoons, but without the humour. His defense of secularism–in itself essential to our societal model–is shrill and paranoiac. In the English translation of the piece, he (or perhaps his translator) even likens the purported conspiracy of silence described to terrorism. Strangely, and perhaps somewhat reassuringly, this passage is absent from the French original. The absurd claim that a Muslim baker who does not serve pork is somehow infringing our rights to eat what we like and thereby is complicit in terrorism, however, is present in both and is an execrable example that threatens to remove all sense from his argument–confirming the fundamentally unjust caricature of Charlie as a bigoted, hateful publication.

Of course, the editorial was written by someone who has been on the receiving end of jihadist Kalashnikovs. I expect this makes him see certain things more clearly than I, but it is also well known that anger does not make for great politics.

Piskets trilogi i Information


I dagens bogtillæg til Information anmelder jeg Halfdan Piskets Dansker, tredje bind i hans mesterlige trilogi om hans fars liv — ja, egentlig er det en anmeldelse af hele trilogien. Læs den her, hvis du har abonnement, og læs evt. også min anmeldelse fra sidste år af trilogiens første bind, Desertør. Nåja, og læs også dette interview, foretaget af Ralf Christensen.

Patience i Information


I dagens bogtillæg til Information kan man læse min anmeldelse af Daniel Clowes’ nyeste bog, Patience, der via Aben Maler fik verdenspremiere i Danmark lige før jul og nu snart udkommer på originalsproget. Man skal desværre have abonnement for at læse den online, men der er en lidt anderledes engelsk version her.

The Week

Andrea Schiavone, the Marriage of Cupid and Psyche, c. 1550, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art


Just back from a quick trip to Venice for work. I had the opportunity to see the exhibition on Andrea Schiavone (1510-1563) currently on at the Museo Correr and will recommend it whole-heartedly. It’s the first exhibition ever devoted to this singular and very badly understood artist. The exhibition, curated by Lionello Puppi and Enrico Maria dal Pozzolo, makes a good attempt at establishing a chronology and a convincing account of his development as an artist. A difficult thing to do, since the first dated work we have from him is an etching of 1547, at which point he was well into his thirties and thus one would assume well into his career as an independent artist. It is possible to posit a small body of work that precedes this, but nothing datable to earlier than around 1540 — what was he doing before that? It’s anybody’s guess.

Also, there are a number of works that don’t seem to fit anywhere, most notably the Palazzo Pitti Cain and Abel, which relates to the 1540s mannerist turn in Venetian art and consolidates a dramatic figural configuration derived, I think from Baccio Bandinelli (look at far right), continued by those giants of Venetian art Tintoretto (also in the show) and Veronese in the early 1550s. The attribution to Schiavone of the picture goes back to the seventeenth century and the general assumption is that it must be an early work, from before he started subverting perspective, anatomy and naturalistic colour to formulate his extraordinary — sometimes clumsy, sometimes exhilarating — explorations of expressive figuration. The thing is, there’s nothing else in his known oeuvre that looks like this picture, which is closer to (though probably not by) Pordenone, that muscular mannerist of 1530s Venetian painting, than anything else.

Once we get into the 1550s, Schiavone’s development becomes somewhat clearer and some really fantastically original drawings, prints and paintings emerge. The exhibition makes a strong case for his adaptation of Parmigianino’s figural eloquence and Titian’s depth of colour his subversion of great central Italian figures — Salviati, to be sure, but more importantly, Raphael — into a distinctive idiom that, if one accepts the argument of the exhibition, actually anticipated and perhaps even inspired significant developments in the art of figures as great as Titian (who was clearly a close colleague), Tintoretto, and Jacopo Bassano.

Anyway, there’s much more to say and I don’t have the time or wherewithal to do so right now, but if you’re around Venice sometimes over the next month or so, do go see this eye-opening exhibition. It closes 10 April.

The week’s links:

  • Alan Moore! Craig Fischer had a great review up of Moore’s and Jacen Burrows’ first seven issues of the Lovecraft exegesis Providence up the week before last. It’s a great piece, which makes me look forward to reading the book, even if I’ve been largely disappointed with the direction Moore has gone in recent years. His previous Lovecraft book, Neonomicon, was mean-spirited and rather predictable horror-schlock and Crossed #100 was just plain drudgery. But it’s Moore, so it has to get a lot worse before I loose interest. Pagan Dawn had a terrific interview with Moore on magic. Holding out for Jerusalem
  • Hugh Eakin on Denmark, its immigration policy, and the refugee crisis. A great introduction to the political and social situation in Denmark that may help explain the depressing actions of the Danish government lately. Related: I found Oliver Guez’ call for increased European unity in the New York Times well stated.
  • Apple vs. FBI primer. Great one-stop guide to the specifics of the controversy. Was surprised to learn that an FBI mandated change of iCloud password landed them in this situation. What a screw-up.
  • My good colleague Xavier F. Salomon on Van Dyck’s great Portrait of Cardinal Bentivoglio, soon to be on loan from Palazzo Pitti to the Frick Collection for its exhibition Van Dyck: The Anatomy of Portraiture.
  • Bacchus and Ariadne: the Long and the Short


    Serendipity would have it that two separate digital initiatives at the National Gallery had me talking about one of my favourite paintings in the collection, Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne, for two consecutive weeks. One was our #PaintedLovers campaign for the Valentine’s Day season, which consisted of a series of very short and (hopefully) to the point expositions on selected paintings with love as their theme by myself and colleagues (above). The other is a new initiative, #NGYouChoose, where the public votes for paintings in the collection to receive more in-depth facilitation from the curatorial staff. This consists of a public lecture of half an hour or so that is then posted to the Gallery’s YouTube channel (below).

    It was a fun exercise, and hopefully the lectures and videos have been useful to some of you. I’ve got to admit, however, how difficult I find it to talk to a camera. This is particularly evident in the #PaintedLovers video, where I was ad-libbing a presentation where everything had to be on point, i.e. clear, devoid of mispronounciations, uhs, digressions, etc. I come across (to myself, at least) as mannered and robotic. As such it is a pretty good reminder that I need to loosen up when speaking into the dark glass.


    The #NGYouChoose lecture was also improvised — which is the way I tend to prefer it — and its lack of tight coherence shows it, but at least I feel more relaxed. I am talking to an audience that is right there, and that helps. It doesn’t change the fact, however, that the camera mercilessly captures every nervous head scratch, every superfluous gesture, and my incessant shifting of feet. I get sea sick watching it.

    Sorry, this is mostly a bit of autocriticism. If nothing else, I hope it will help me do better videos in the future. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy at least some of what I have to say on this terrific painting. Do let me know, and thanks for watching.

    The Week

    From Kevin Huizenga's contribution to Kramers Ergot 7


    The week in review.

    This week saw the passing of several notable people in letters. The one that hit closest to home here was the way too early departure of Alvin Buenaventura, one of the great artisans in comics publishing. I didn’t know Buenaventura and only barely met him, once, when he was in Angoulême with cartoonist and editor extraordinaire Sammy Harkham in 2009 to promote their giant undertaking Kramers Ergot 7. But he was one of those publishers one feels one knows through the facture of their books. And whatever else I thought of Kramers 7, it was a triumph of book production and a truly admirable publication in both its ambition and generosity.

    Generosity was, I gather from the many touching words from people that knew him, a defining trait in Buenaventura, which is no surprise, because that is exactly the impression one gets from his publications, from the lo-fi texturing and sharp printing of Souther Salazar’s overlooked Destined for Dizziness to the accurate, always vivid reproduction of radically different source material, often from one page to the next, in the monumental Kramers 7. Buenaventura set an example to aspire towards. RIP.

    Read Tim Hensley’s, Ken Parille’s, Dan Clowes’ and Anders Nilsen’s words and visit the comments thread of Joe McCulloch and Chris Mautner’s obituary at the Comics Journal.

  • RIP also to the great Umberto Eco! Since this is already so comics oriented, here’s his famous piece on George Herriman’s Krazy Kat and Charles M. Schulz’ Peanuts.
  • Back at HU! With Daniel Clowes


    So today I made kind of a comeback. I’m back at the Hooded Utilitarian, where I haven’t posted for almost three years. Not because I haven’t wanted to, but because I’ve found it difficult to find the time to write something that lives up to the content generally provided at the site and, frankly, the work I myself put into my writing there way back when. Naturally, that’s not a useful frame of mind, so I just decided to go ahead and write a short review of Daniel Clowes’ new book, Patience, which I enjoyed a lot.

    Patience came out in Denmark just before Christmas in advance of its US release next month, so I thought what the heck — if nothing else, I can maybe help start a conversation on what I think is a challenging and fun book. Go here and check it out.

    I am not promising to start writing regularly for HU just yet. Again, not because I wouldn’t love to, but well, because I still can’t shake this self-imposed pressure to write something good.