On to Baltic Comic in Rendsburg

"Nordic Game" by Volker Sponholz


Tomorrow, I travel to Rendsburg in Schleswig, Northern Germany, to participate in the Baltic Comic seminar and workshop held at Nordkolleg cultural center. I am to give the keynote along with comics critic and historian Klaus Schikowski and it promises to be a fun event. I hope to see some of you there and will write more about it upon my return.

Baltic Comic is a recently founded network for comics in the Baltic region, comprising of course the Nordic and Baltic countries, along with Poland, Russia, Germany and the Netherlands. There’s a lot happening here up North!

A New Drawing by Titian


Above is a detail from a drawing that I’ve published in the new issue of the Burlington Magazine as by Titian. Not many drawings by the master is known, so this is a rare occurrence. I’m convinced that it’s by him, but am interested to see and hear what others think. So, if you’re interested, do look up the article.

The drawing was brought to my attention by George Goldner of the Metropolitan Museum in New York with words to the effect of “want to see a new drawing by Titian?” Needless to say, I am very grateful that he did.

Maren Uthaug vinder Politikens tegneseriekonkurrence


Som tidligere nævnt sad jeg i juryen for Politikens tegneseriekonkurrence. Tidligere i dag annonceredes vinderen, såvel som anden- og tredjepladsen. Maren Uthaug tog førstepladsen med Ting, jeg gjorde — en version af hendes vidt læste blog. Nummer to blev Christoffer Zieler med Arbejdstitler, mens tredjepladsen gik til Johan F. Krarups Uoplyst optimisme. En fornem vinderakkompagneret af to fornemme runners-up.

Ovre på Nummer9 har Thomas T interviewet Maren i anledningen og jeg selv giver ham også et par ord med på vejen. Her er Marens tegnede reaktion.

The Week

The week in review

The picture above reared its head again last week when the foundation dedicated to its authentication as an earlier version of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo presented new “proof” by pointing out geometric similarities with the famous picture in the Louvre. Strangely, it did not seem to occur to them that such geometric consonance would happen quite naturally in a copy, which is clearly what this is. But don’t take my word for it, here’s Leonardo specialist Martin Kemp demolishing the spurious claim.

  • This week, it was announced that the late collector and art historian Denis Mahon bequeathed 57 of his pictures, primarily Italian works of the 17th century, to a series of British museums, unfortunately with rather problematic stipulation that they be deaccessioned if the owners start charging admission. Look at the pictures here.
  • Ryan Holmberg on Osamu Tezuka’s sources. Revelatory article on how the Japanese “God of Comics” Tezuka and his collaborator Shichima Sakai more or less swiped the imagery and storytelling of their famous introductory sequence to their milestone New Treasure Island (1947) from American Disney artist Floyd Gottfredson.
  • There’s a new issue out of The Scandinavian Journal of Comic Art.
  • Donald Richie. We paid the late great film scholar, author, and Japanophile our respects yesterday, but just wanted also to share the following video of him talking about Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar. We got it from this touching tribute. Also, read some of his criticism for The Japan Times here.
  • Donald Richie RIP

    Besides technique, however, there’s something else about [Seven Samurai] that defies analysis because there are no words to describe the effect. What I mean might be called the irrational rightness of an apparently gratuitous image in its proper place, and the image I always think of is that wonderful and mysterious scene in Zéro de conduite where it is apparently Sunday, Papa is reading the paper, and the boy’s little sister moves the fishbowl (hanging on a chain from its stand) so that when her brother removes his blindfold he can see the sun touching it. The scene moves me to tears and I have no idea why. It was not economical of [Jean] Vigo to have included it, it “means” nothing–and it is beautiful beyond words.

    Part of the beauty of such scenes (actually rather common in all sorts of films, good, bad, and indifferent) is just that they are “thrown away” as it were, that they have no place, that they do not ostensibly contribute, that they even constitute what has been called bad filmmaking. It is not the beauty of these unexpected images, however, that captivates… but their mystery. They must remain unexplained. It has been said that after a film is over all that remains are a few scattered images, and if they remain the film was memorable. That is true so far as it goes, but one must add that if the images remain, it means only that the images were for some reason or other memorable. Further, if one remembers carefully one finds that it is only the uneconomical, mysterious images which remain.

    Kurosawa’s films are filled with them… For example, in Drunken Angel there is a scene where [Toshiro] Mifune lies ill in the room of his mistress. [Takashi] Shimura comes in and does not wake him buts sits by the bed. He opens the girl’s powder-box. It has a music-box inside and plays a Chinese tune. While it is playing, he notices a Javanese shadow-puppet hanging on the wall. While looking benevolently at the sleeping Mifune (and this is the first time he has been nice to him–when he is asleep and cannot know about it), he begins to move the puppet this way and that, observing its large shadow over the sleeping gangster. While one might be able to read something into the scene, it is so beautiful, so perfect, and so mysterious, that even the critical faculty must hesitate, then back away.

    Its beauty, certainly, is partly that in the closely reasoned philosophical argument that is this film, it is a luxury–take it away and it would never be missed. It gives no information about plot or character. Kurosawa’s films are so rigorous and, at the same time, so closely reasoned that little scenes such as this appeal with the direct simplicity of water in the desert. There are many more… but in no other single film are there as many as in Seven Samurai.

    What one remembers best from this superbly economical film then are those scenes which seem most uneconomical–that is, those which apparently add nothing to it… there is the short scene where a prisoner has been caught, and the oldest woman in the village–she who has lost all her sons–is called to come and murder him. She marches slowly forward, hoe in her hand, terribly old, terribly bent, a crone. And though we sympathize, the image of one of horror–it is death itself because we have seen, and will see, men killed and think little of it, but here is death itself with a hoe, mysterious, unwilled. Or, those several shots of the avenue of cryptomerias, and two bonfires, one far and the other near. This is where the bandits will come but we do not yet know this. Instead the trees, the fires, the night–all are mysterious, memorable. Or, that magnificent image we see after Mifune has rescued the baby and burst into tears. The mill is burning and Mifune is sitting in the stream, looking at the child and crying. The next scene is a simple shot of the water-wheel turning, as it always has. But the wheel is on fire. Or, that curiously long close-up of the dead Mifune. He has stolen some armor but his bottom is unprotected. Now he lies on a narrow bridge, on his face, and the rain is washing away the dirt from his buttocks. He lies there like a child–all men with bare buttocks look like children–yet he is dead, and faintly ridiculous in death, and yet he was our friend for we have come to love him. All of this we must think as we sit through the seconds of this simple, unnecessary, and unforgettable scene.

    From Donald Richie, The Films of Akira Kurosawa (1960). Donald Richie RIP.

    Donald Byrd in Hip Hop


    The passing of the great trumpetist Donald Byrd last week brought me back to his music, but also to the music that taught me about him. The great jazz-inflected wave of hip hop music during those magical years in the early nineties, before sampling laws changed the direction of the art, relied in no small measure on his music. Here’s my time machine. Continue reading ‘Donald Byrd in Hip Hop’

    The Week


    The week in review

    I’ve been asked a few times about the painting that the National Gallery in London has recently cleaned and put back on display as Titian’s portrait of the physician Girolamo Fracastoro, as mentioned by Vasari in his Life of Titian of 1568. It’s a difficult one. The argument, as presented in an article in last month’s Burlington Magazine, is based partly on plausible provenance, but mostly on the fact that it it carried on the back of its frame a 19th-century note identifying its sitter as Fracastoro.

    The painting is clearly Titianesque, but rather dull. As mentioned repeatedly in the press coverage, by far the most attractive area is the lynx fur worn by the sitter — compelling tactile eruption flecking through an otherwise rather bland surface. In any case, it pales in comparison with the other Titians in the same room at the National Gallery. None of this means the attribution is wrong, however: it is apparently quite damaged, which probably accounts in large part for its somewhat unconvincing appearance, and although very consistent, Titian did have bad days.

    Another problem is the identification of the sitter. He looks quite different from known portraits of Fracastoro, such as the woodcut on right. The sitter in the painting is clearly slimmer of face and with a thinner, more elegant nose, but he is also clearly older in the woodcut, which might account in part for his fuller, more plump appearance. Plus, we still know very little about the extent to which, and how, painters at this time idealised, rejuvenated, and otherwise altered the appearance of their sitters . It’s an issue, which always makes identification of sitters in Renaissance (and later!) portraits difficult. The nineteenth-century label helps in this case, of course, but is far from proof, even if it repeats an older tradition.

    Summing up, I don’t see any reason to disagree outright with the proposal made by the gallery, which largely convinces, but cannot help but feel a little uneasy about it.

    Links!

  • TPB AFK. A lot of people are of course already unto this, and have only watched the beginning, but I’d still like to point in its direction: Simon Klose’s documentary on the Pirate Bay trial promises an important document about a important moment in the development of digital rights discourse. Youtube link.
  • Eddie Campbell on the ‘Literaries’ and reception of EC Comics. Yes! Campbell formulates much more precisely than I could important aspects of what I’ve been trying get at in my comics criticism of the past few years. A must-read for people interested in comics and how we read them.
  • David Frum on Booker T. Washington. I’ve only started digging into these stimulating posts occasioned by the publication of Robert J. Norrell’s biography of the early black American leader, but warmly recommend them. Washington has long needed the nuanced and revisionist treatment he seems to be getting now.
  • G. W. Bush, naivist painter. This is almost too weird — and good! — to be true, but these are supposed to be bathroom self-portraits by the erswhile president. His vacant expression is very well captured indeed.
  • Stephen Greenblatt on Richard III’s bones. Typically intelligent, if breezy, take on the archeological find of the week.
  • And finally, this article on the problems faced by museums when accepting gifts with stipulations from the donor is an informative read. I’ve long thought that the control exercised by donors over what happens to their collections once donated to a worthwhile institution is often counterproductive, even onerous, especially in America. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is merely one egregious example that I’ve written about in the past.
  • Donald Byrd RIP

    The man with the liquid horn passed away earlier this week, we now learn. I’ll leave deeper analysis to the specialists and merely note that I’ve always gotten immense enjoyment out of his recordings, from his early bop period to his seminal fusion material, on his own and with the Blackbyrds. His playing was consistently light and energetic, celebratory even. Check the hook — and his soloing! — on “Ghana” from 1960, above. (Hank Mobley’s muscular tenor sax is magnificent too, a perfect counterpoint).

    Naturally, the entry point for me was hip hop: Gang Starr, Public Enemy, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Black Moon, and on, with Guru and Jazzmatazz providing the reveal.

    But soon, his own material took over, not the least on his fusion material for which he seemed eminently suited. Continue reading ‘Donald Byrd RIP’

    Flix: The Comics Museum at Storm P.


    As recently noted in this space, the holdings of the Danish Comics Museum, collected over three decades by its founder Anders Hjorth-Jørgensen, have now entered the Storm P. Museum in Copenhagen. In short, this means that its future is secured at a State-approved institution with everything that implies in terms of conservation, development and research. A milestone event in Danish comics and one we in the Danish Comics Council, who have helped midwife the process, are happy to see come to fruition.

    These photos provide at panorama of the guests at last night’s reception, pretty much a who’s who of a certain set of generations in Danish comics. Many of the creators, editors, publishers, and retailers of the seventies and eighties, contemporaries of Hjorth-Jørgensen, showed up to celebrate. It was great to see them all. A the mic, Iben Overgaard, director of the Storm P. Museum, initiated the proceedings, and she was followed by Thomas Thorhauge, chairman of the Danish Comics Council, and Hjorth-Jørgensen himself, both of whose speeches are excerpted in the videos below. Continue reading ‘Flix: The Comics Museum at Storm P.’

    Danish Comic of the Year 2012

    As he does every year, Paul Gravett has rounded up proposals for the best national comics of the year from an international panel of experts. This time around, he asked us to name just one comic rather than several, as we usually do — not everyone followed this direction, but I did. Here’s my pick, but do go to Paul’s site for the entire list.

    Stig & Martha
    by Mårdøn Smet
    Aben Maler

    This slim, tall tome collects one of the hidden gems of Danish comics of the past twenty years. Since it first saw the light of day in the seminal anthology magazine Fahrenheit in 1992, Mårdøn Smet’s (e)scathological gag strip has led a liminal and rather intermittent existence in Danish comics, providing small revelations for the intrepid few. Now a wider, if still discerning, audience gets the chance with this near-complete collection. Smet has jettisoned a few early efforts and redrawn a few others in glorious watercolour, fashioning a seamless whole of what was always a shatter of fragments.

    Eponymously titled, the strip centers on two characters: short and tall, male and female, ambitious and sensitive, rational and emotional. In Smet’s hands, this classic formula becomes a vehicle for sacred reflection through profane humor. Smet’s line was built as a pastiche on Dutch masters Fred Julsing and Daan Jippes, but has long transcended its paragons to become an almost cryptogtaphic idiom, where buoyant dynamism is encoded in multitudinous swoops and curls. An embodiment of the failure of language, appropriately set in pantomime – everybody can read it, if they are willing to brave the line. Smet himself describes it as a kind of ‘waste product’, the art shed by his despair. It is grim, but very human, centering on irrepressible if always vain aspiration. Tense and beautiful.

    Here’s a preview:

    For previous lists, here are mine from 2009, 2010, and 2011.

    Danish Comics Go Museum!

    Holger Philipsen wishes Storm P. a happy sixtieth in 1942


    Denmark has a new museum for comics! Well, sort of, and as good as. As of today it is official: the collections of the long dormant Danish Comics Museum have now found a permanent home at the Storm P. Museum in Copenhagen. This means that the latter, a long-standing and well-respected museum dedicated to the greatest Danish cartoonist (1882-1949), now expands its scope to encompass comics as a medium and art form, with ambitions to maintain, expand and conduct research.

    The man of the hour is Anders Hjorth-Jørgensen, whom one might call the Bill Blackbeard of Danish comics. Educated as a librarian, he was inspired early on in his career systematically to collect Danish comics publications, eventually amassing an expansive collection covering the century-long history of Danish comics, with a nearly complete collection of all comics published in Denmark since 1950. This collection formed the basis of the Danish Comics Museum, which Hjorth-Jørgensen opened in Gørlev, in Western Sealand, in 1993. The museum however closed its doors in 2001, living on in different makeshift incarnations, first at the nearby library, since at Kalundborg Museum, as well as a rich online resource on Danish comics.

    As of now, the museum is no more. The collection has been transferred to the Storm P. Museum within which it will be titled the Anders Hjorth-Jørgensen Collection. The Storm P. Museum, under the leadership of director Iben Overgaard, has agreed to maintain and continue to build the collection, as well as make it available to scholars and the public at large. This is a major event in Danish comics, securing for posteriority this important piece of Danish cultural history, while further consolidating the Storm P. Museum as a central institution for Danish comics and cartooning.

    The idea to thus secure the Hjorth-Jørgensen collection originated with the Danish Comics Council, with art historian Louise C. Larsen, journalist Søren Vinterberg, and yours truly midwifing the negotiations between the director of the Storm P. Museum and Anders Hjorth-Jørgensen. We are overjoyed with the agreement they reached. A great day for comics in Denmark.

    Oh right, here I am talking about the news on Danish radio. And if you’re in town, do show up at the museum on 7 February at 5pm for the official reception, featuring live cartooning and much more.

    Dongery at The Comics Journal


    Today at The Comics Journal the latest installment of my column on European comics, “Common Currency”, features the Norwegian cartoonists’ collective Dongery, specifically the monumental compilation of a decade and a half’s worth of fanzines, published last year. Hop on over there for a primer on some of the freshest stuff in comics right now.

    Building Stories Roundtable at Nummer9


    For those who read Danish, or are willing to brave a Google translation, myself and a few colleagues — Thomas Thorhauge, Erik Barkman and Johan F. Krarup — have discussed Chris Ware’s latest major publication, Building Stories — one of the past year’s most anticipated and remarkable comics — at some length in roundtable-style format. It’s at the comics site Nummer9 and can be read here.

    The Week

    The week in review

    Once again, I find myself moving house. This is the fifth time in two years. It’s a drag, but promises to be good once it’s done. This just to say that for the next while there’s a better than normal reason for spotty updates here, or at the very least incomplete ones. Such as this one.

    Damn, sometimes I wish I didn’t own so much junk.

    At least, here are some links:

  • James Meek on Breaking Bad. Fine piece arguing for the political edge to the excellent, if perhaps somewhat overlong, AMC show. Having enjoyed a large chunk of the series over the holidays, I must say that I share Meek’s enthusiasm, even if I have my reservations when subjecting it to closer analysis. Intelligent entertainment building a grand, if flawed conceit of chemistry as a metaphor for life.
  • Tom Spurgeon’s series of holiday interviews with comics folks are always a treat. I’ve missed most of them and his site doesn’t make them easy to find, but I’m sure he’ll post an overview with links once he’s done. Today’s interview with the fine cartoonist and groundbreaking editor Sammy Harkham is a good place to park yourself while waiting.
  • Huijbert van Opstal on Victorian Age wood engraving and its cartoon offshoots. The piece, which was inspired by a revelatory meeting of the Platinum Age nerd mind (guilty as charged) at Angoulême last year, this should be unknown territory to most people, including comics afficionados.
  • This article on Shigeru Mizuki’s autobiographically comics about the second world war is informative, but the real treat is a scanlated version of his key story on the subject “War and Japan” (1991). I’ve referred you all to it before, but that link is now dead, so here’s your re-up.
  • 2012: The Year in Hip Hop at Rapspot


    As always, we the people of Rapspot have selected our favorites (as well as the wackest) of the year 2012. The text is in Danish, but check out the list anyway, there’s some good stuff on it and for once I agree with the to highest-scoring records. I hope to write up my own shortlist soon, so stay tuned.

    Above: watch Kendrick Lamar break down the truth behind the most personal track on his brilliant major label debut album good kid m.A.A.d city.