Archive for the 'letters' Category

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Greatest Comics Show Ever?

Might the Egyptian Book of the Dead show at the British Museum be the best comics exhibition ever? It certainly contains some of the greatest comics I’ve ever read. It’s good sometimes just to forget about the historically determined understanding of comics as a modern art form and remember that humans have told stories in sequentially-arranged images and text for millennia. Irritating as Scott McCloud’s formalistic muddying of the waters in Understanding Comics might be, there is also something problematic about the dominant urge to isolate the modern mass-culture iteration of this practice from the larger history of word/image art.

Expertly presented, the exhibition itself merges sequence and repetition to evoke for the visitor the deceased’s journey through the afterlife as described in the official Egyptian guidebook, the collection of spells today known as the book of the dead. Drawing largely upon the Museum’s own astonishing collection of such ‘books’, it presents the narrative of what happens after death stage-by-stage, from mummification and burial to the perilous voyage through the netherworlds to the eternal fields of green beyond. Following us are sections of one extensive version that belonged to a scribe named Ani, which become our own guide through the show’s different rooms, in which examples from other Books of the Dead as well as objects related to death and burial in the Egyptian New Kingdom deepen the experience. Because the set of spells laid down in the Book are essentially the same, one is familiarised with their narrative, internalising it as one moves along. Continue reading ‘Greatest Comics Show Ever?’

Images from the Copenhagen debate on transgressive cartooning

As mentioned earlier on this blog, the Danish Comics Council organised a panel discussion on transgressive cartooning at the University of Copenhagen this past Tuesday, focusing in equal measures on the recent debate about legislation against drawn and animated child pornography and the Mohammad cartoons.

It was a lively and well-attended event, despite the regrettable last-minute cancellation by the Social Democrat member of parliament Karen Hækkerup, who is the instigator of the proposal to ban drawn child pornography. The Council invited a number of other politicians who have supported the proposal, but without luck. The debate was streamed live on the internet and is archived in its entirety here.

Several photographers were there, including my buddy Frederik Høyer-Christensen, who took the above photo of literary critic Klaus Rothstein and commentator/lawyer Jacob Mchangama and has more in his Flickr- and Facebook sets. More images, from photographer Niels Larsen and cartoonists Erik Petri and Annette Carlsen can be seen at the Danish Comics Council website.

Picks of the Week


The picks of the week from around the web.

  • BBC’s “A History of the World in a Hundred Objects”. For those residing outside Britain, you might be unaware of this brilliant radio programme, in which British Museum director Neil McGregor pieces together a history of human civilisation from individual pieces in the museum’s collection, presented in 15-minute installments, each featuring almost invariably well-informed guests. Beyond the impressive feat of routinely evoking an object the audience cannot see (well, you can see them online), this is simply great radio.
  • James Campbell on Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. I suspect Campbell senses a lot of what’s wrong with contemporary literature right here. Incisive and entertaining.
  • An interview with Bill Gaines. This 1983 Comics Journal interview with the EC comics publisher, conducted by Dwight R. Decker, Gary Groth and Peppy White, is not only a great historical document, but a fantastic read.
  • The Hooded Utilitarian goes archival. The comics blog to which I occasionally contribute has added a new feature: the representation of academic and critical texts of note for the internet audience. Fabrice Neaud’s late 90s review of Aristophane’s Conte Démoniaque is a great example of what comics criticism can be, while Andrei Molotiu’s 2006/2007 essay on the aesthetics of original comic art is a fine scholarly analysis.
  • Image: Ain Sakri Lovers figurine, found near Bethlehem. More here.

    Picks of the Week


    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Ray Davis: “High, Low and Lethem”. Great essay about the continuing confluence of high and low culture and the transformation of that modernist dichotomy, which touches upon auteur theory, copyright issues and much more. (Thanks Tim!)
  • Comics! Ron Regé’s great “We Must Know, We Will Know” now available for free at What Things Do. If you haven’t done so already, bookmark or feed this site now. Oh, and there’s one of Shigeru Mizuki’s fun GeGeGe no Kitaro stories up here — check it out. It’s in a different tenor than the more realistic, later Shigeru books currently in the works for the English readership at D&Q (I wrote about one of them here). (Thanks, Dirk!)
  • On Murakami and Observing Reality

    Last week, I got the chance to attend an afternoon of readings and on-stage interviews with Haruki Murakami in Møn, Denmark. Although the interviewers were fairly unimaginative and failed to probe below the surface or pursue any of the interesting points made by the author, Murakami was such a charming, unpretentious and earnestly thoughtful speaker that it nevertheless turned out a great session.

    I’m fairly new to Murakami’s work, having only read a couple of his novels and short stories, but found it pretty compelling — if perhaps unsurprising — how his work process and whole approach to writing, as he described it, so closely mirrors the way his protagonists experience life and events. Murakami described the creative process as descending into the subbasement of a house and letting the darkness dictate the writing. He emphasised that he avoids research entirely when writing his first draught, only turning to source material and implementing factual corrections from the second draught onward.

    He said that he starts with a word or an image, from which the story unfolds, but doesn’t plan anything out ahead. “When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along to an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta”, is the opening sentence of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Murakami described how his first question would then be, ‘who’s on the phone?’ and then he would go with the idea that came to him, worrying about who the anonymous woman he has talking sex to the protagonist is and what her call means later — or not at all, as the work may dictate. Continue reading ‘On Murakami and Observing Reality’

    Picks of the Week

    “Think, for example, of Northrop Frye. Frye’s is now a name that you never hear mentioned but which was then everywhere. CS Lewis, who is now famous for fairy stories, was then famous for being a scholar. Tolkien too was famous for being a scholar, not for elves and so on. There is no prestige associated any longer with being a good critic. There are people writing now who seem to me likely to be as good as those critics I’ve been mentioning but they won’t be as famous nor as influential. There’s some very good scholarship in the subject still going on. There’s also an immense amount of rubbish.”

    – Frank Kermode

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Crumb! This week saw the continuation, but also the possible cessation (?), or roundtable on Crumb’s Genesis over at HU. Last at bat was Peter Sattler with a great essay on the ‘literalism’ of Crumb’s approach. In addition to that, Tim Hodler linked to film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum’s fine piece on Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb documentary, as well as a recent piece he has written for its reissue in the Criterion series. All worth reading for people interested in Crumb!
  • Re: the “Ground Zero Mosque” shitstorm, Justin Elliott examines how an innocuous and initially uncontroversial news story developed into the ridiculous media circus we are now witnessing. And former FBI agent Ali Soufan expresses his exasperation.
  • Frank Kermode RIP. The passing of the great critic found me reading this short 2006 interview, in which he talks about the evolution of criticism and its reception over the course of his career.
  • In Memory of José Saramago

    Jesus is dying slowly, life ebbing from him, ebbing, when suddenly the heavens overhead open wide and God appears in the same attire he wore in the boat, and His words resound throughout the earth, This is My beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Jesus realized then that he had been tricked, as the lamb led to sacrifice is tricked, and that his life had been planned for death from the very beginning. Remembering the river of blood and suffering that would flow from his side and flood the globe, he called out to the open sky, where God could be seen smiling, Men, forgive Him, for He knows not what He has done. Then he began expiring in the midst of a dream. He found himself back in Nazareth and saw his father shrugging his shoulders and smiling as he told him, Just as I cannot ask you all the questions, neither can you give me all the answers. There was still some life in him when he felt a sponge soaked in water and vinegar moisten his lips, and looking down, he saw a man walking away with a bucket, a staff over his shoulder. But what Jesus did not see, on the ground, was the black bowl into which his blood was pouring.

    The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (1991), trans. Giovanni Pontiero

    Asterios Polyp: Beyond the Binary

    The past week-and-a-half or so has seen David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp debated and dissected over at the Hooded Utilitarian, with discussions shooting off in a multitude of directions, amongst them the words-image binary in comics and the potential of comics as literature and the development of comics through modernism to the present day.

    Today I’ve uploaded my official contribution to the roundtable, which in part builds upon the essay I wrote in this space last year. My piece follows contributions by Noah Berlatsky, Derik Badman, Richard Cook, Craig Fischer, Vom Marlowe, Domingos Isabelinho, Caroline Small and Robert Stanley Martin. When the roundtable winds down this week, I’m sure Noah will collect them all and present them together in a single section — so look for that!

    Picks of the Week

    “It’s pretty well understood amongst the crew who’s in charge,” …[Kuchta] said.

    “How do they know that?” a Coast Guard investigator asked.

    “I guess, I don’t know [...] But it’s pretty well — everyone knows.”

    – Captain Curt R. Kuchta of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig

    The weekly linkage is back! Which I guess means the blog is finally back up and running.

  • New York Times: On the Gulf oil spill. This article runs down the litany of corruption and incompetence that led to the disaster in the Mexican Gulf. Unbelievable stuff. Also, Frank Rich had a great column yesterday on Obama’s reliance on expert opinion and failure to assert control over the oil business.
  • New York Review of Books: Peter Beinart – “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment”. The US response to the week’s depressing developments in the Eastern Mediterranean is framed by this even-headed examination of attitudes to Zionism amongst the younger generations of American Jews.
  • P1: Interviews med Chris Ware, Thomas Thorhauge, Signe Parkins og Dennis Gade Kofod. Skønlitteratur på P1 stiller skarpt på den litterære udvikling indenfor tegneserien. Et glimrende interview med Ware, et provokerende med Thorhauge og et informativt med Parkins.
  • Angoulême 2010: Friday

    Reporting live from the Angoulême festival: The rain didn’t keep people away. Friday has been fairly busy, with the exhibition areas and tents filled as usual with a broad, heterogenous audience. I spent the day taking in various exhibitions and browsing the exhibitors’ tables in the alternative tent, ending my day of programming by attending the on-stage interview with comics autobiographer Fabrice Neaud.

    Neaud’s approach to autobiography is at once intensely personal and political, drawn realistically with a nigh-unflinching portrayal of his emotional life as well as his interaction with friends, strangers, lovers. Neaud candidly discussed his views on ‘right of the image’ and the notion that one has the prerogative to control representations of oneself, even if they’re based on public appearances. Neaud has suffered the consequences of representing people in this way both in lost friendships and physical hurt. A hurt that has forced him to reconsider his approach to his work, if not actually stopping him, and has made him want to leave his hometown from fear of reprisal, and it has embroiled him in a draining lawsuit. Continue reading ‘Angoulême 2010: Friday’

    Picks of the Week

    “one reason there are so many dead in Haiti is that agriculture in the countryside was no longer providing a livelihood for Haitian peasants; they moved in the thousands to the capital, they built shanties on the sides of canyons; all gone now. I won’t go over the arguments against globalization for countries like Haiti here. Suffice it to say that Haiti, once the Pearl of the Antilles, once France’s most valuable and productive colony, and still into the 19th century at least an important provider of the world’s sugar, rum, and coffee, is now a net importer.”

    – Amy Wilentz

    The picks of the week from around the web.

    All right, back to this, which will be the first picks of the year, not to mention the first for a long time.

  • Haiti. While we hope for all good things for Haiti’s future, Amy Wilentz and Tracy Kidder explain how it is an even greater tragedy than it could have been.
  • Comics criticism. There last few weeks have been great for people who like reading about comics. In addition to the selection of the year’s “best” that I participated in, there has been Tom Spurgeon’s overall excellent interviews with a number of critics about the books of the decade, and on TCJ R. Fiore has resurrected his half-a-decade old, still fine essay on the Simpsons and Mad. Oh, and the great David Levine gets his due with the re-up of Gary Groth’s great decade-and-a-half old interview with him.
  • David Foster Wallace on “how to think”. Read this inspiring commencement address of 2005 by the sadly departed author for an a slight injection of optimism at this otherwise bleak moment. (Suggested by Emma.)
  • Clint Eastwood, Bogforum, Literaturhaus og Højbjerg

    Thorhauge her! Lige pludselig sker der en masse, og det er jo både fedt og spændende, men kæden er røget af min planlægning og jeg er bagefter med ALTING, suk… Anyway, jeg har en del offentlige arragementer i den kommende tid, samt – ta-daa! – premiere på min splinternye tegneserie, Clint Eastwood! Her følger programmet:

    3.-28. november: Kom hjem-udstilling på Højbjerg Bibliotek
    I forbindelse med et foredrag jeg holder på Højbjerg Bibliotek den 16. november, har selvsamme bibliotek sat et udvalg af Kom hjem-skitser og -originaler til offentlig beskuelse (tak, i den anledning, til den fortrinlige Dan Knudsen, der kiggede forbi og hjalp med at sætte udstillingen op)

    13.-15. november: Bogforum
    Årets bog-gedemarked er på godt og ondt en uomgængelig begivenhed. I år deltager jeg i flere arrangementer:
    Lørdag, kl. 14: signering af Clint EastwoodAben Malers stand
    Lørdag, kl. 17.20: samtale med Søren Vinterberg om Kom hjem, Under uret
    Søndag, kl. 14.15: undertegnede interviewer Murakami- og manga-oversætter Mette Holm om Manga Messias og Manga Metamorfose i Bibelselskabets stand

    15. november, kl. 20: Tegneseriesalon i Literaturhaus
    Nemlig – mens der bliver slukket og ryddet op i Bogforum, afholder Dansk Tegneserieråd “Tegneseriesalon” i Literaturhaus på Nørrebro, 10 minutters gang fra Forum. Her vil jeg forsøge at styre landets førende tegneseriekritikere i en forhåbentlig livlig, underholdende og tankevækkende snak om tegneserier og kritik og meget mere (se listen over de prominente deltagere her).

    16. november, kl 19.30: Foredrag om Kom hjem og bølgen af graphic novels på Højbjerg Bibliotek kl. 19.30
    Masser af billeder, bøger og aha-oplevelser til dem, der endnu har graphic novel-oplevelsen til gode, kom frisk!

    Picks of the Week

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Commonweal: “Culture and Barbarism”. Terry Eagleton offers a compelling analysis of today’s fault lines between secularism and religion, which he analyses in terms of a dialectic of civilization and culture. A thoughtful corrective to the new atheists and an unsettling entreaty for us to confront the worst in ourselves. Not new, but if you haven’t read it and are interested in the issues, it’s highly recommended (thanks, Noah!).
  • The New Yorker: “The Cost Conundrum” Again, this is not new, but the article has been an important reference point for the Obama administration’s efforts to argue the case for universal health care, and is pretty horrific reading. Slightly related, my new favorite conservative columnist, Ross Douthat on Obama’s somewhat ill-advised Nobel Prize.
  • The Independent: “Gore Vidal’s United States of Fury”. Highly entertaining profile/interview, by Johann Hari, with a great iconoclast, who amongst other things explains why he has no faith in the Obama administration, and once again adresses his beast of a mother.
  • Steranko: “The Block”. A gorgeous rarity, this didactic self-help comic from 1971 showcases Steranko’s chops in rendering the kind of gritty urban environment he would invariably insert into his mainstream comics. And once again, it becomes evident how much Frank Miller cribbed from this guy (thanks, Henry!).
  • Not the Thing Itself

    Just read Neil Gaiman’s Coraline (2002), which I often hear hailed as his best novel. I don’t know — I think the premise is good, while the execution leaves something to be desired. This is especially apparent when compared with Henry Selick’s excellent film version from earlier this year, which improves quite considerably upon the story.

    In the novel, the threat from behind the secret door in the house is almost immediately made apparent, while the film allows itself more time to portray Coraline’s attraction to the alternate life offered her on the other side. Gaiman hardly seems to have time in his plot for suggesting the dangerous allure of wish-fulfillment that drives it. The film, on the other hand provides this wondrous sensory experience to go with the narrative of the protagonist’s emotional maturation. Continue reading ‘Not the Thing Itself’

    The Cage Stands as Before

    The English illustrator, painter and comics artist Martin Vaughn-James passed away last week (obits here and here). Perhaps this will be an occasion for comics world to take greater note of this significant artist and innovator in the medium. Owing to his influences and probably especially the fact that he lived in Brussels for the latter part of his life, he is much admired by critics and scholars, if not the comics-reading populace at large, in the Francophone world. In America, however, he lamentably remains largely unknown.

    From what little I’ve seen of his work as an illustrator and painter, I would hazard the guess that his work in comics, although comparatively limited — consisting as it does of a mere half a dozen books — is nevertheless his most significant. His approach to the form, both in terms of narration and, more concretely, his blend of words and images, remains unique in the medium, all the while prefiguring important later innovations by direct progeny such as Schuiten and Peeters and Marc-Antoine Mathieu, as well as by such less directly related figures as Richard McGuire and the Fort Thunder cartoonists, different as they are. Continue reading ‘The Cage Stands as Before’