Monthly Archive for October, 2011

The Week


The Week in Review

What a week. Starting with Fantask’s fortieth anniversary celebration last weekend and ending with my participation at NNCORE’s foundational meeting with a short Berlin jaunt to see the astonishing Renaissance portraits and Hokusai shows there. I hope to return a bit to the portraits (though I can’t promise anything), but just wanted to say a few words about Hokusai here.

A huge retrospective covering the artist’s eighty-plus year career, the show really brought home just how prodigious an artist he was. He must have been drawing all the time. The kind of artist whose ambition is to understand no less than everything about the world through drawing, like Leonardo or Dürer. From the proliferating analytical notations in his manga and other instructional booklets to the elegant summaries of his brush paintings, his is a recording of human experience as such. Not the idea of it, and not really with an attempt to comment, but rather a continuous ambition to formulate a vision that suspends it within a order that grasps it all without reducing it to style. In a sense, what all cartooning should aspire toward.

Some links:

  • Questlove’s Top 10 Life-Shaping Musical Moments. As always writing with passion and insight the Roots backbone takes us down memory lane through the songs that shaped his life and work.
  • Ben Katchor on picture stories. The great New York cartoonist does something similar, if less personal, for comics here. A fine thinker about comics, his recommendations contain plenty of nutrient for your dome.
  • Eddie Campbell on Simon and Kirby’s romance comics. The same goes for this, which serves as a reminder just how much of his career Kirby spent creating reality-based comics, and how important the romance genre used to be for comics.
  • Enter NNCORE

    British comics scholars Laurence Grove and Ann Miller at the meeting.


    These last three days saw the foundational meeting of the Nordic Comics Research Network (NNCORE) at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense.

    Initiated by lecturer at the Department of History, Culture and Society Anne Magnussen, and funded by a grant from the Danish Research Council, the network seeks to develop relations between comics scholars in the Nordic countries. It is overseen by an advisory board comprising some of the foremost international comics scholars today and at present has a membership of a few dozen.

    The meeting was characterized by optimism and friendliness and bodes well for the future of comics research in the region. Get in touch if you’re interested!

    Wanderlust – Ulli Lust’s Heute ist der letzte Tag vom Rest deines Lebens


    In 1984, when she was 17, Ulli Schneider went to Italy on a lark. She returned to Austria two months later, a changed woman. The following year she had a child and went on with life. She attended art school in Vienna, became an illustrator and produced several children’s books, eventually assuming her mother’s maiden name Lust. In 1995, she moved to Berlin to study graphic design. She fell in with the notable Berlin collective Monogatari and started drawing short comics, invariably in non-fiction: reportage, documentary, observational. She refrained from doing straight autobiography, however, regarding it as a somewhat hackneyed default shortcut for budding comics “auteurs.” But that defining journey through Italy evidently lurked somewhere, and in 2005 she decided to tell the story in comics form. She started serializing it on her online comics site, electrocomics, completing about half there before reworking it, adding a second color, and publishing to it great critical acclaim in Germany in 2009 as Heute ist der letzte Tag vom Rest deines Lebens (‘Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life’).

    Told with great confidence and uncomfortable frankness across a sprawling 450 pages, it is a coming-of-age narrative that inevitably places itself in the tradition of German travel literature, perhaps unwittingly joining the company of such august figures as Goethe and Hesse. Continue reading ‘Wanderlust – Ulli Lust’s Heute ist der letzte Tag vom Rest deines Lebens’

    Time Tripping


    That’s my man Lars in 1991 and this past Saturday, respectively. The fortieth anniversary of Fantask was a trip down memory lane for us kids, plus a milestone in Danish comics-, SF-, and gaming culture. Frederik Høyer-Christensen documented some of the day and you can see the results in his flickr stream (including a tour of the hidden corners of the store by Lars and yrs. truly.)

    Dues paid: top photo by Mark Borello, bottom one by Frederik Høyer-Christensen.

    Fantask at Forty


    Today the Copenhagen comics-, SF- and games store Fantask celebrates its fortieth anniversary. It is the oldest continually existing store of its kind in the world and an institution in Danish Danish comics, SF, and geek culture. An operation built from the ground up by its founders Søren Pedersen and Rolf Bülow (pictured) as well as the many people who have worked there or otherwise contributed over the years. It is currently being run by Marit Nim and Kenn Nielsen, who are keeping the spirit alive. One of those businesses that remain a presence, because it has heart.

    Over at Nummer9 we’re celebrating forty years of Fantask. I’ve written my Fantask memoirs in shortform, while Thomas presents a gallery spanning the four decades of its existence. I’ve also interviewed Marit about the store, past, present, and future.

    Oh, and if you’re around today, do drop by the store. The gang is all going to be there (plus everything is 30% off). Here’s a drink *ting!

    Sowing the Wind — Nadia Raviscioni’s Vent frais, vent du matin


    Autobiography has been such a defining direction in comics’ new wave of the last 20 years, its innovation so consistent, that it is mystifying still to hear repeated the cliché that most of these new ‘indy’ comics proffer little more than solipsistic tales of melancholy and masturbation. If one considers the work, it is hard to find actual justification for this reactionary attitude—at best it describes a very brief period in the mid-90s, when the genre was dominated by that Canadian foursome of Julie Doucet, Chester Brown, Seth, and Joe Matt, and it may have served to describe some of their since-forgotten imitators of that time, but it is otherwise almost wholly inaccurate as a characterization.

    It makes even less sense in a European context, where autobiography was established early on as a kind of proving ground for innovative cartoonists and continues to be at the forefront of progressive comics. Continue reading ‘Sowing the Wind — Nadia Raviscioni’s Vent frais, vent du matin’

    The Week

    The Week in Review (a.k.a. the feature formerly known as Picks of the Week).

    Over at Hooded Utilitarian this week, there’s been an interesting discussion of Orientalism in comics, prompted by the publication of Craig Thompson’s mammoth graphic novel Habibi. It’s an interesting issue and one that warrants attention like Nadim Damluji gave it here, but several HU writers’ sensitivity to offensive material — mostly racist or xenophobic in nature, but to an extent also sexism — is turning a bit predictable. There’s a tendency there to conflate ethics and aesthetics, which is threatening to make a contentious and thought-provoking site something it never was: boring.

    One of the sad consequences of this is that the good tends to get more attention than the better. Ng Suat Tong wrote an intelligent, but rather strongly-worded piece on Habibi, which irked cartoonist Eddie Campbell so that he raised the issue of decency in criticism on his blog. I understand and sympathize with this reaction, but don’t really agree with it — sometimes harsh language is the right way to go for a critic, although I’m not sure it was in this case. Anyway, this is my very long-winded way of calling attention to Suat’s other, and far superior recent piece at HU, an essay on Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions — one of the most interesting comics releases this year. So far it has netted all of four comments, and presumably far fewer readers, than the one on Habibi. I wish people would pay more attention to this kind of writing, even if it doesn’t push the hot buttons in the same way.

    All right, with that out of the way, here’s some other interesting stuff I came across this week:

  • Alex Pappademas on DC’s New 52. The best piece I seen so far on DC’s succesful new bottling of their old, stale wine. Hilarious and informative, even — I think — to readers unfamiliar with the minutiae of mainstream American comics publishing.
  • Jeffrey Kurtzman on the crisis of the humanities. A professor of musicology and recent visiting professor at Aarhus University, Kurtzman writes passionately and cogently the rise of theory and the devaluation of high culture in contemporary Western society. Highly recommended. (Via).
  • Anders Nilsen – The Metabunker Interview

    Anders Nilsen – The Metabunker Interview
    nilsen_feature.gifAn in-depth interview with one of our premier young comics artists. In four parts: 1, 2, 3, 4.

    (0)

    Scheherezade’s Longbox

    Just got word from Paul Gravett that his massive 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die is out in the UK, with the American edition to be released on 25 October and other national editions to follow.

    Many will be familiar with this popular series covering everything from books to wine. The remarkable thing about the comics one is that it is the first convincing attempt to define an international canon for the art form. The book is of course skewed in favor of work available in English, but Paul has interpreted that limitation in the widest possible way, including an amazingly diverse and international field of comics from Töpffer to the present, including a fair amount never (or not yet) translated into English.

    Individual national editions will make replacements, I’m told, which is really to the detriment of a remarkably coherentbook. Paul recruited 67 comics experts from all over the world, making it a wonderfully rich resource. And this is only enhanced by his decision to order the entries chronologically, adding an eye-opening historical dimension to the presentation. In addition to being a great reference, it’s thus also a short (” “) history of of world comics. I really encourage you to take a look at it.

    Full disclosure: I was one of the 67, although my contribution is rather small. I wrote the entries on the Danish comics included: Storm P.’s Peter & Ping, Palle Nielsen’s Orpheus & Eurydice, Claus Deleuran’s Rejsen til Saturn, and Nikoline Werdelin’s Homo Metropolis, as well as (somewhat randomly) on Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Strikes Again (aka. DK2).

    Check out Paul’s website for more information on the book, its contributors and the comics. He plans to update it regularly with reviews, interviews and supplementary material. For Danish readers, here’s a notice on it for which I provided some comments a couple of months ago.

    The Week

    The Week in Review (a.k.a. the feature formerly known as Picks of the Week)

    Jobs. I’m somewhat ambivalent about the mass adulation directed at the late Apple co-founder this past few days. No doubt he and his company revolutionized the way we interface with technology, even if he didn’t come up with the component parts now often credited to him: the mouse and desktop interface; and no doubt that his autocratic and autonomous stance helped further a vision that might otherwise have crashed and burned like so many Windows operating systems.

    But admirable as these characteristics are in a creative, individual businessman, and even perhaps in a small company, they take on an insidious edge when they become the governing principle of a large corporation. It amplifies human shortcomings in a way that leads to rotten ethics and ultimately limits the freedom of consumers.

    Look, I dig my Macintosh computer, even if I don’t care much for the weak, impossible-to-change batteries that come with most Apple products. I haven’t once regretted switching away from the ongoing disaster that is Windows. (And Linux is just too damn bothersome). Oh, and Pixar’s pretty fantastic.

    Trouble is we’re talking a corporation that behaves increasingly like Jobs reportedly did to the people around him: tyranically censorious and blind to the people around it. As if their disturbing record of outsourcing production overseas weren’t troublesome enough, their record of innovation — transformative as it has been — carries troubling perspectives.

    Apple’s takeover of the music industry (couldn’t have happened to nicer people!) has proposed some interesting solutions for digital delivery, but is basically an overpriced quasi-monopoly concentrated on a crap format, the mp3. Other industries seem to have learned not to but all their eggs in the Apple basket, but it seems inevitable that the company, with their arbitrary censorship practices and Chinese box approach to user participation (as opposed to friendliness), is going to be at the center of digital delivery technology for the foreseeable future.

    Apple’s achievement, however, goes beyond the transformation of user interfaces and content delivery. They’ve built a new type of brand. We’re not talking mere consumer loyalty, or even identification — people seem to regard their products as a kind of personal, even spiritual fulfillment, as if they were an extension of themselves. This is mass cybernetics, people. Psychological interface.

    An amazing achievement, no doubt. And Jobs was at the center of it. He made consumerism a personal matter. Which I guess makes sense, now that corporations are defined as people. RIP.

    My Jobs list: Mike Daisy: “Against Nostalgia”, James Surowiecki: “How Steve Jobs Changed”, Vaclav Simil: “Why Jobs Is No Edison”, Ryan Tate: “What Everyone Is Too Polite to Say About Steve Jobs”.

    The Graphic Novel Tradition?

    The Graphic Novel Tradition?
    gn_feature.jpg
    Does it make sense to rehabilitate the term ‘graphic novel’? Bonus discussion here.

    (0)

    Establishing Shots — Judith Forest’s 1h25

    This review was written for The Comics Journal in July 2010 before it was revealed that Judith Forest was a hoax, a clever ploy by cartoonist William Henne and 5e Couche’s publisher/provocateur Xavier Löwenthal to subvert people’s expectations and understanding of confessional autobiography — and more broadly the representation of “truth” — in comics. For more, please read Bart Beaty’s 2011 examination of the state of comics autobiography at the Journal. As is obvious from the review, I completely fell for it. It’s a good book!

    It’s taken a while, but a new generation of European cartoonists building upon what the new wave of the 90s created is slowly, but surely coming into its own. Unsurprisingly, the genre that arguably defined those trailblazers more than any other, autobiography, still occupies a central place in the repertoire of today’s up-and-comers, along with other reality-based approaches, such as biography and documentary. Continue reading ‘Establishing Shots — Judith Forest’s 1h25′

    Picks of the Week

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Music! So as I wrote, good to be back. And there’s a bunch of new, homegrown music out. Up there’s my man Ras Money’s first stab at deejaying on wax. He’s no Sizzla, but he represents his neighborhood Nordvest 2400 fresh as can be. Cop the 7″. The big event, of course, is the retun of local heroes Malk de Koijn with their first album in nine years. It’s a little conservative for my taste, but they still sound like nobody else, and the opening track “Nalk” goes hard.
  • One of my last shows in New York was Nas performing at Rock the Bells on Governor’s Island. A mostly triumphant return to form, if one steeped in nostalgia. One of the most talented if also erratic MCs of all time, it is rewarding to revisit his back catalogue via Complex Magazine’s “100 Best Nas Songs” feature. Ludicrous premise, but great and extremely thorough showcase with plenty of obscure gems featured, and some good writing to boot. (Old link, I know, but good).
  • Bad Weeds – David Prudhomme’s Rébétiko


    Released 2010, David Prudhomme’s critically acclaimed, award-winning Rébétiko (la mauvaise herbe) is a celebration of the early 20th-century Greek tradition of urban music later united under that umbrella term. The story takes place over the course of a day in Athens, October 1936, a few months into the military regime of Ioannis Metaxas. It follows the actions of four musicians, all of whom are based on actual legends of rebetiko. Continue reading ‘Bad Weeds – David Prudhomme’s Rébétiko’