From Jim Woodring's Fran, a comic Joe McCulloch made me appreciate more, even if the cartoonist's recent work has left me a bit cold
Once again, Ng Suat Tong has posted an overview
of some of the best comics criticism published online in the year gone by over at the Hooded Utilitarian. In previous years, he has gathered differing juries consisting of a fairly wide range of critics, but this year he has dispensed with that in favor of just selecting a bunch of pieces on his own.
And once again, I’m flattered to be included on his list, especially considering just how little I’ve written in the past year. I’ve kept wanting to, but other things just kept getting in the way, and much as I want to say things are going to be different, that probably won’t change much in the coming year. Anyway, it was nice to see my piece on Abel Lanzac (aka. Antonin Baudry) and Christophe Blain’s Quai d’Orsay and Willem’s Degeulasse, written for The Comics Journal last August, mentioned. Especially since so many really excellent pieces (as well as some fairly mediocre one, it has to be said) were included.
Suat’s taking stock, which has now been running for five years, remains a valuable service to the corner of the comics internet interested in serious writing about the art form, and I for one am grateful that he still makes the effort. Also, he continues to write outstanding comics criticism himself: from the last year, I particularly liked his critique of Michael Deforge(‘s critics), his appreciation of The Trigan Empire, his essay on Daniel Clowes’ because of Shia Laboef now rather famous “Justin M. Damiano”, his examination of Suehiro Maruo’s The Strange Tale of Panorama Island, and his head-scratching dissection of a particularly lauded xkcd story.
Now, don’t waste more time here — go check out the list.
Whoa, a couple of pieces I wrote on comics last year have been selected among the best pieces of online comics criticism of 2012 by a panel of judges at The Hooded Utilitarian. I’m flattered, not the least to be in the august company of a selection of really excellent pieces from a variety of writers, several of whom I admire a lot. Although I’m proud of the two pieces in question — my review of the first volume in Fantagraphics’ complete edition of Carl Barks’ Disney comics and my critical piece on New Yorker cartoons — it’s hard for me to agree with the selection in a year when a lot of great comics criticism was published. Give me half an hour and I’ll match any of my pieces with something better… wait, Suat mentions a bunch in his ‘notable omissions’ section at the end, so I won’t have to!
The Best Online Comics Criticism is an annual feature at The Hooded Utilitarian, run by Ng Suat Tong. It’s been interesting to follow it, and I must say this year’s edition has been the most convincing yet, in execution if not in the final selection. Suat has been really thorough, running quarterly reviews in order to reduce the risk of missing significant pieces in the final round. Those are great overviews in themselves and also rather hilarious for Suat’s pithy comments on the nominations.
One thing that’s unfair about the feature is that Suat himself will never be in the running, for obvious reasons. To my mind, he wrote several pieces in 2012 worthy of consideration. His meticulously sourced approach proves illuminating on Mattotti and Zentner’s The Crackle of the Frost, for example, while his skill at ideological criticism comes to the fore in his review of Joe Sacco’s Journalism. His command of visual reference is on display in his piece on Lovecraft in comics, and his critique of Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? is commendable for its dissection of the book’s complex if also smothering structure.
Anyway, the Best Online Comics Criticism is your one-stop linkage to a lot of great comics criticism. It kind of makes one optimistic on behalf of this still fledgling discipline. Go and explore.
The image at top is from Craig Fischer’s fantastic essay on serial photography, photocomics, and memory, which is also (kinda) among the year’s selections.
Julie Christie and Oskar Werner in François Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
The week in review
This week I have a Danish-context comics-related grievance I want to address, so please excuse the shift in language here. International links below!
Bogtillægget til denne uges Weekendavis skæmmes af et fejlinformeret og tendentiøst opslag. En ærgerlig plet på en ellers som regel velredigeret og seriøs publikation. Kan det overraske, at emnet for begge artikler på opslaget er tegneserierelateret?
På venstresiden får vi en kommentar til sidste uges tildeling af Kronsprinsparrets Kulturpris til tegneren Jakob Martin Strid, skrevet af Bo Bjørnvig, der tydeligvis stadig ikke er kommet sig over halvfemsernes skingre presseopgør med tressernes venstrefløj (kan læses online her). Bjørnvig pointerer det pudsige i, at folk — herunder kunstnere — bliver mere konservative med årene, mere specifikt at Strid (og Bjørn Nørgaard, og givetvis også, ad åre, dilletanterne i kunstnergruppen Surrend) fralægger sig tidligere tiders ekstreme holdninger for mere samfundsbevarende af slagsen. Der bliver minsandten også plads til en stikpille til Carsten Jensen.
Alt er, med andre ord, ved det gamle. Continue reading ‘The Week’
The week in review
Not much to report from this angle this week, apart from the fact that the Jewish new year reminds me that I’ve been back in the ole home country for over a year now. Last year’s Rosh Hashannah kind of marked a fresh return to new beginnings here and it’s been a great ride since then, one of the best years I’ve had. Thanks to everybody taking part.
I would like to supplement this week’s welcome announcement that Fantagraphics is going to publish Ed Piskor’s online comic The Hip Hop Family Tree with this interview with Piskor, conducted by my man PTA on said piece of edutainment.
Also in comics, the Hooded Utilitarian’s five-year Anniversary of Hate! has brought some good criticism to the table. I liked in particular Steven Grant’s essay on bad comics and why the field still makes sense as a vocation. Plus! HU has reprinted Ng Suat Tong’s notorious Comics Journal essay from 2003 on why the EC New Trend comics are among the most overrated in the canon, supplemented by a back-and-forth on the issue with R. Fiore.
Other (more!) comics-related links: Slavoj Žižek on The Dark Knight Rises, Tom Spurgeon on Dave Sim’s recent, depressing letter of resignation, Chris Ware on display in New York.
Meanwhile in hip hop, I really enjoyed what El-P had to say about Nas’ classic debut album Illmatic (1993) in this otherwise rather dumb list of best albums of the nineties, and I totally dug this video of a young Kanye West rapping with his mom.
The week in review
The Olympics ended today. Besides offering plenty of amazing performances, the event for me was interesting in that it something as rare as an (almost) uniformly positive display of national pride by the customarily self-loathing Britons. Lame and messy as it was in parts, it was great to see an opening ceremony that was essentially intellectual and — as most good things British — self-aware, with a political edge (tying into the upcoming US presidential elections!) to boot. No stooping to reach the lowest common denominator, just the inevitable unselfconscious popular lameness.
And it was gratifying to see the Britons perform so well athletically, home field advantage or not, demonstrating that the healthy mind so effortlessly celebrated in the opening ceremony ties into a healthy body. It remains to be see whether the goal of inspiring a surge of interest in sports in Britain will come about, just as it remains to be seen whether all the big words about rejuvenating some of the most disadvantaged areas of East London through the building of the Olympic Village and attendant infrastructural lift will come to fruition. Right now, it’s just predictably ugly (the Olympic Stadium looks like so much scaffolding, lacking in harmony, and Anish Kapoor’s lumpy twirl in front is just an embarrassment, inelegant and pointless).
So far, however, it has been a bravura achievement, uniting Britons with the world in a way that reminds us of the the bedrock confidence that underlies the usual self-loathing and doubt. Not bad in this recessed economy, and not bad for something so fundamentally tied up in the negative empowerment of money and political prestige.
Paul Ryan. Mitt Romney’s announcement of his running mate yesterday has sharpened the presidential race, making it clearer what kind of laternative Romney will be representing to the electorate. This profile on Ryan by Ryan Lizza from last week’s New Yorker provides some helpful background on the tea-party ideologue now gunning for the White House.
Ng Suat Tong’s recent reviews of notable comics. The long-time comics critic has really been bringing it lately over at Hooded Utilitarian, weighing in on several of the year’s most notable releases. Here are his reviews of Joe Sacco’s Journalism, Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?, and Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem — Chronicles from the Holy City. Also, check out his essay on Lovecraft in comics.
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).
“I heard something recently by Richard Feynman, and he said that understanding the way the universe works is like extrapolating a huge checkers game from a regular game of checkers. Checkers is an easy game to play, but if the board were huge and you had many, many checkers, it wouldn’t be easy to play anymore. While you can understand the universe somewhat while examining a small component, when it’s right in front of you, when you think about the extent of it and how it all works together, it completely escapes you. Trying to think about the moral universe, the political universe, the nature of consciousness, the question of what consciousness is—all that stuff is easy to do if you create a small system that’s got tight borders and contains a limited sphere of action. That’s what the Unifactor is for me—a little thought laboratory, with just a few characters in it and a limited number of forces, and those forces have a limited range. Even though they all correspond to things that I see existing in the real world, they’ve been reduced to a size that allows me to play with them and think about them and mix them up and see how they react with each other.”
– Jim Woodring
The picks of the week from around the web.
Recovering from the long weekend, I have a quick bunch of comics links. Some of them are old news, but so good that I still want to call attention to them:
Jim Woodring interview by Nicole Rudick at The Comics Journal. One of the greatest interviews in comics, Woodring delivers one of his most thoughtful and inspiring interviews so far. A must-read.
Grant Morrison interview at Mindless Ones. Another of the great interviews in comics delivers meatier-than-usual talk here. Check it out.
Comicalités. New online journal for comics scholarship Not all that much there yet, but it’s interesting material. Bookmarkable!
Ng Suat Tong on Chester Brown’s Gospel adaptations. This is an archival item, but still worth noting in case you missed it. Brown is the hottest name in comics right now, and this is an in-depth examination of one of his great, unfinished projects.
Merwyn Peake at 100. Michael Moorcock leads a handful of writers in a thoughtful look back.