Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Few Notes on Dylan Horrocks at Librarie Drawn & Quarterly

I was partway to the Canada border when I realized I had forgotten my camera, so the best image of Dylan Horrocks's appearance at the Librarie Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal this week is a crummy cameraphone picture.

I'm a huge fan of Horrocks (both as a cartoonist and as a thinker about comics). I don't remember when I first read Hicksville, but it was probably back in 2001, when my student Jeff Seymour was writing a paper on it. I've taught it several times, and it's the only book from which I've bought a page of original art. When I found out that Horrocks was coming to North America, and reading just a couple of hours away, I couldn't miss it.

You can see the copies of the new edition of Hicksville in that image, and having read it I can say that the new introduction is a nice addition to the book. I'd say that if you are interested in comics at all, this book belongs on your shelf or your wish list.

Horrocks gave a really enjoyable and informative talk. I was surprised at how much time he spent talking about his days writing Batgirl for DC, but given that the problems of that job led to the opening of his current project, Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen, it makes sense for him to have dwelled on it. And in fact he made me curious to read his run on Batgirl, even while he was dismissing the comics as "terrible writing" for the most part.

The most exciting thing for me about the talk was his description of where The Magic Pen is going—that the book is going to try to discuss the value (and the perils) of daydreams and escapist genres. There's no one I'd rather see writing about that question than Horrocks.

The beginning of The Magic Pen is already online. Go take a look at it, if you haven't. It's good stuff: a smart story, and some of the sweetest cartooning that Horrocks has done yet.

Ah, also, he was kind enough to draw me this cute robot.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Two Halloween Minis

I'm happy to announce that we have not one but two small minicomics ready to celebrate the Halloween season.

The first, "Make Me a Bat," has already been the subject of a few posts while it was in progress. Here are a few photos of the finished product, which will also give you a hint or two about the plot of the little comic:

Of course, this simple desire on the part of the little boy is thwarted through a variety of misunderstandings (possibly deliberate misprisions) about what he wants. Eventually, the wrong costumes get both ridiculous and frustrating.

... But the book does have a happy (and cute) ending.

This isn't actually the last panel; there's also an appropriate denouement, not pictured here.

And "Make Me a Bat" isn't the only new little book that we've got this autumn. My colleague Allegra Bishop also worked up a little book—as much an illustrated poem as a comic—about the peculiar headwear of the actress Sarah Bernhardt.

You can click these images to enlarge them and get a sense of both the cartooning and the doggerel in "A Hat, a Bat, Manhattan."

And here's the back cover, featuring the Divine Ms. Bernhardt in all her chiroptero-sartorial glory.

I'm still folding and stapling to fill Halloween bulk pre-orders, so I can't promise to get large orders to anyone else in time for Halloween. But if you just want one copy of each book, I can pop them in the mail (first-class) on the same day you order, so you might still be able to read both micro-minicomics on All Hallow's Eve (or on Dia de Los Muertos, at least).

$1.50 will cover my publishing costs, the postage, and Paypal's fees. Here's a button to make the transaction easy:

Of course, you could also get these books by ordering a three-for-five bargain deal. They'd count together as a single book, for those purposes.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Festival of Cartoon Art, Final Report

The Festival of Cartoon Art at OSU was in some ways a bewildering experience. I think I'm still processing what I saw there, but I can at least post a few of my photos and a few things I remember. It looks like this is going to be a long post. I'll break it up into twelve items of interest.

I've already said a little bit about the opening day of the festival, which provided some of my favorite moments from the whole weekend. On Friday and Saturday, the festival shifted venues (to a movie-theater / lecture-hall space that could hold all the people in attendance) and transformed into a different sort of event: a series of slideshow presentations made by cartoonists with significant reputations, punctuated by coffee breaks, meals, and receptions.

The lighting in the venue was pretty difficult for my little camera, and Jared Gardner over at Guttergeek has already posted some good pictures from the talks, but I'll include my pictures that turned out okay below.

1.) Jen Sorensen is an underrated cartoonist, as far as I can tell.

On the one hand, she's quite successful — as she put it on Friday, she does make a living drawing talking condoms (among other things) — yet on the other hand because her work appears in alternative weekly papers she isn't as well known as hacks with syndicated dailies, nor does she get the sort of critical respect that comes with a "graphic novel."

What I think will stick with me most was the visual she showed to explain how much of her income derives from her website. The point she was making was that it was a small percentage — 2%? 6%? something like that — but she depicted this as a fraction of a bowl of kibble. First, a hundred kibble pellets to represent the whole income, then a handful of pellets to represent the portion that comes from the web.

Now I'm stuck thinking about a cartoonist's annual income as a bowl of dog food.

2.) Dave Kellett gave a talk in which he espoused Kevin Kelly's "Thousand True Fans" business model as it applies to web-cartoonists: give your strip away, and make your money on the profit margin of your merchandise, book collections, and original art sales to the small fraction of your readers for whom your strip is their favorite thing on the web.

In some ways, the "Thousand True Fans" model is really inspiring—it's nice to imagine that all the talented cartoonists (and other artists) out there could find an audience that would keep them at least moderately remunerated. But I wonder about the economics of it. I'm sure there's a way to make it work, but I wonder what it would take, really, to produce enough new sellable material every year for each of your Thousand Fans to spend, again, the hundred dollars that makes up his or her portion of your bowl of kibble.

On the other hand, I left the room feeling more hopeful than skeptical. It was a good talk in that regard, probably especially for the cartoonists in the audience.

3.) James Sturm gave a great quick overview of his career, culminating with a bunch of really beautiful images from Market Day and a description of the Center for Cartoon Studies and what it has achieved so far. It made me proud to have been affiliated with the enterprise of CCS, even if it's only been in the minor way that I have been.

It wasn't during his talk, but over the course of the weekend either Sturm or Charles Hatfield let it leak that next year's ICAF conference is planned to be in White River Junction (instead of in Chicago or DC). I'm excited about that, as well.

4.) Dan Piraro's talk was hilarious — hands down, the funniest presentation in a weekend full of humor. For someone who draws mainly single-panel gags that represent only a single moment in time, he sure has a knack for comedic timing.

5.) The Festival organized an impressive gathering of cartoonists to pay tribute to Jay Kennedy, the former editor of King Features Syndicate and expert on underground comics.

There's Matt Groening and Bill Griffith during the panel. My pictures of Patrick McDonnell and Brendan Burford, who were also on the panel, didn't turn out well. Each of these luminaries related a couple of personal reminiscences about Jay Kennedy, and a composite portrait emerged of a character who had a lot to do with the shape of American cartooning.

6.) Gene Yang gave an informative talk about the source materials for American Born Chinese and the ideas that inspired it.

I hadn't read Gene's account of how even an editorial cartoon by Pat Oliphant informed Cousin Chin-Kee, and I was impressed, both with the overt racism in Oliphant's cartoon and with the seriousness Gene brought to writing such a ridiculous character. I was hoping that this part of the presentation might stir up some conversation back and forth with the editorial cartoonists in the room about the question of stereotyping, but no one took it up.

7.) Roz Chast was totally charming and very funny.

Among other things, she talked about how much she enjoys drawing lamps, and she showed an image of the first cartoon she sold to The New Yorker, a diagram that labeled odd little doodles as "chent," "tiv," "redge," "hackeb," and so forth. I'm used to seeing Roz Chast's cartoons now, but that early image reminded me that in fact there's a deep vein of weirdness in her work.

The Roz Chast correlative to Jen Sorensen's bowl of kibble was a slide or two of her pile of rejected cartoon submissions. It occupies two filing cabinets and four foot-high stacks of paper on top of those cabinets. It's fascinating, really, to imagine how many of those gag comics are probably very funny, and at least at this point completely unknown to the public.

8.) And then there were the big public lectures. Lots and lots of people turned out for "An Evening with Matt Groening." This is just a part of the audience.

The most memorable thing about the Groening talk, for me, was the awkward string of questions he dealt with after the presentation — mostly people stating they were big Simpsons fans, asking him what his favorite "couch gag" or Itchy & Scratchy torture was, and then asking for his autograph. He must have declined to give autographs fifteen times. And for good reason: look at that audience.

One guy even asked if he could have a lock of Groening's hair. (He had scissors and a Ziploc bag all ready.) Failing that, the fan asked, could I tug on your beard for good luck? The whole spectacle made me a little queasy, in part because I sympathize with the cartoonists who can't be forthcoming to every fan request, and in part because I know I still want to ask some people for autographs, too.

If the crowds were a little thinner for Art Spiegelman's talk the following afternoon, it was probably only because he was competing with President Obama, who spoke at a rally about a block away right after Spiegelman's lecture ended.

One of the things that surprised me about Spiegelman's talk is that he still seems to object to the term graphic novel. I can understand why, but I also think that particular taxonomic battle may have been lost now. Do we have an alternative term? Spiegelman's choice, a comic long enough that it needs a bookmark, doesn't seem practical.

9.) Despite the high-power cartooning celebrity in place at the Festival — and I haven't mentioned all of the speakers, much less the cartoon celebrities who were in the audience (from Jeff Smith to Jeff Keane, from Lynn Johnston to Richard Thompson and others I didn't see) — I think the aspect of the event that had the biggest impact on me was the opportunity to connect and reconnect with some of my academic colleagues. It's always nice to come away from an event like this having met for the first time a few fellow travelers, or to have extended your friendships with people you already knew.

I snapped a couple of decent photos of my friends over at "Thought Balloonists," ...

Charles Hatfield (above) and Craig Fischer (below).

(These were taken while we were waiting for the Groening talk to start on Saturday evening.) I didn't get any pictures of Peter Sattler or Susan Kirtley or Jared Gardner or any of the other scholars I spent time with over the weekend, but I think that those connections and friendships are going to be the best thing to come out of my trip to OSU.

10.) By the time I got to the exhibit of Billy Ireland cartoons over at the library, I was pretty over-saturated with cartoon imagery, but I did manage to snap a few pictures, and looking at them now in retrospect I'm really bowled over by the level of craft evident in those pages. Here are some highlights:

On first glance at this image, I thought, "What an effective caricature of William Jennings Bryan." I have no idea why I was able to recognize Bryan — I couldn't have told you what he looked like, but I recognized him before I noticed his name down in the lower right corner. The mind works in weird ways.

(Ireland's The Passing Show often had little observations like this to mark the changing of the seasons.)

And look how well observed these wolves are! (If you're curious about why one wolf is labeled RUEFISM, here's an explanatory link.)

11.) I brought my robot sketchbook to Columbus, and though I didn't ask for a lock of his hair or any other DNA sample, I did have a short conversation with Matt Groening about the design of one of my favorite robots while he drew this quick doodle.

I got a few other robot doodles while I was in Columbus; perhaps I'll post them some time when I don't have other "content" to share.

12.) I think the Festival of Cartoon Art was an incredible success this year, and an incredible testament to the efforts of the researchers and organizers at OSU. I doubt I'll ever be in a crowd of cartooning luminaries with a friendlier atmosphere.

My only uneasiness or ambivalence about the event had to do with the category it occupied. I know I'd have felt more at home—felt more like a researcher doing his work and less like a fan appreciating things I already liked—if the cartoonists had more often presented ideas, arguments, and detailed accounts of their process. It's enjoyable to have a cartoonist reading his or her strips to you, but that sort of presentation doesn't usually provoke much conversation. Given the incredible collection of talent at the festival, it seems a shame that there weren't more challenging ideas about the direction of comics, or the possibilities of the medium, or the problems of cartooning, et cetera, circulating during and after the presentations. This strikes me as a sort of missed opportunity: why not have a gathering like this work as a think tank, as well as a celebration of the medium? Or maybe those impulses aren't entirely compatible.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Festival of Cartoon Art, Day 2: Some Abstract Rectilinear Landscapes of Columbus, Ohio

Here, without labels or other commentary, are some hard-to-draw interiors and exteriors from around Columbus. You can click each image to make it bigger.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Festival of Cartoon Art, Day 1

I'm in Columbus.

I'm attending the 2010 Festival of Cartoon Art at Ohio State University, where I gave a paper this afternoon on the backgrounds in Krazy Kat. There was an entire panel devoted to Krazy, in honor of the title character's 100th birthday.

And there was a cake at the reception.

I enjoyed the panels today, which taught me about a few comics I'd never heard of before (Scuola di Fumeto looks interesting; the post-Herriman Krazy comics from Dell and Gold Key look like a sacrilege), and I learned new things about comics I'd heard of. (Peter Sattler's presentation on Mutt and Jeff was really eye-opening, especially his description of the inset comic called "Bolsheviki," which seems both harrowing and hilarious. I was also really stunned at the research on display during Michael Tisserand's keynote talk. His forthcoming biography of Herriman is obviously going into my wish list.)

During the conference, as usual, I doodled. Here's a poor likeness of Damian Duffy, scrawled out during his talk on Moore and Gebbie's "This Is Information."

And here's a quick cartoon of one of the most memorable moments in the conference so far. After Toni Pape's interesting paper on Scuola di fumetti, which was sort of heavy with theory jargon but showed some "metaleptic" effects that really exploit the language of comics, there was a pause in the question-and-answer period. The established comics-scholar eminence R. C. Harvey raised his hand, and said, "I have a question for Toni."

"My question is: 'Are you serious?'"

It's hard to know how to answer a question like that. It was clear that Bob Harvey wasn't asking in a mean-spirited way. I think he was asking about the jargon, though the conversation turned to some claims about comics exceptionalism that Toni was more hesitant to endorse than Bob himself was.

And I should point out that the Festival's FAQ page does say that the academic presentations "will not necessarily be aimed at a general audience."

As it happens, a little bit of good-for-the-gander came around during the Krazy Kat panel. While I was giving my talk, Bob Harvey was doodling into his notebook.

(That's Jared Gardner below me.)

... and apparently I make an interesting subject for caricatures.

Later he told me he couldn't decide whether I have a round head or a long one.

Be advised: this is one of the dangers of presenting to a room full of comics scholars.

I'm hoping to have more to report before the weekend is over.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"Make Me a Bat": Pre-Orders

I'm pleased to announce that all the drawing for my Halloween micro-minicomic is finished.

Here's a glimpse of the cover of the "dummy" I printed here at home. The color is not final.

The comic features a little boy who wants to dress up as a bat for Halloween. Unfortunately, his parent (who is only ever an off-panel voice) seems to have a perverse sense of hearing:

Most of the comic consists of the boy finding himself in costumes that almost sound like "bat" costumes. I think the results are pretty cute.

And I don't think I'm spoiling much by telling you that the comic has a happy ending: the little boy gets a great bat costume on the last page, and a fold-out inside back cover lets him go out trick-or-treating in it.

The idea is that I'll hand these out to trick-or-treaters along with candy this year.

I'm planning to go down to Kinko's to print a bunch of these this weekend, so I can send them to the Trees & Hills Halloween Comic Swap with plenty of time to spare. UPDATE: I have taken the book to Kinko's, so I'm closing up the pre-orders for the time being. I'll make a new post when I get copies back.

The book has sixteen interior pages, and the vocabulary in it is deliberately pitched at kids who are still learning to read.

Monday, October 4, 2010

"Make Me a Bat": Teaser

This image does not appear in the comic I am making for Halloween.

Well, maybe on the back cover.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"Make Me a Bat": Outtakes

I'm almost done with the little comic that I'm making for the Trees & Hills Halloween Comic Swap. I ought to be able to take it to Kinko's on Tuesday.

While I work on the layout, here are a few outtakes — not exactly a "deleted scene," but some versions of a costume that I didn't wind up using.

I think this is going to be a fun little comic.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Advice on the 24-Hour Comic

You may know that today is 24-Hour Comic Day for 2010. And you may know that, while we are no experts in the 24-hour comic, Mike and I have made a few attempts at this challenge ourselves. Satisfactory #3 was going to be a 24-hour comic, and I think Mike drew the sixteen pages of that book in sixteen consecutive hours. Satisfactory #5 was a successful 24-hour comic, except for the inking of a last few pages that I had to finish over the following day or two.

And Satisfactory Comics #7 was in some ways the closest we've come: all of the new stories in that book were penciled and inked in a single sitting of about thirty hours. That was actually only 21 pages of new comics, but I got up the next morning and lettered three pages of supplemental text while Mike knocked out the cover. So I think it counts. It sure felt like an accomplishment.

By the end of that experience, we felt ready to offer a little advice about what worked for us and what was difficult in the process. The advice appeared in the last little bit of text in Satisfactory #7, and in honor of a 24-Hour Comics Day that we're not celebrating in any other way, I'll reproduce it here.

I'm surprised more people don't do this: if you're setting out to fill twenty-four pages, why not plan to fill them with an anthology of short pieces? I guess that requires more ideas, but it also means that you can bail from a bad idea quickly and move in a new direction. It even means that you can edit, if you want to, when you get ready to publish the comic as a mini.

The caffeine thing is obvious, but it's really worth thinking in advance about how to vary your drawing tools. Unless you have some perfect pen that I don't know about, your hands are going to get tired (and possibly painful) before the end of the day. Think about what you might be able to accomplish with tools you don't ordinarily use, or tools you hold in a different way. Bring a variety of drawing and inking tools—brushes, markers, construction paper and scissors, Q-Tips, whatever you think you might use in the sleep-deprived wee hours of your project. It's nice to be able to move forward while you give your hands some relief from the posture of pencilling.

And try to switch back and forth between pencilling and inking based not only on the needs of your hands but also on the needs of your inventive imagination. This was the thing about Satisfactory #7 that worked best for us, actually: up until the last few hours, there were always a few incomplete pages on the table, and each of us could always put down the page he was pencilling or scripting in order to get a brief break to think about something else. And, by the end of the day, I think we had honestly surprised ourselves with the number of things we'd come up with.

If you're out there making a 24-hour comic, I wish you fortitude, alacrity, and an unflagging imagination. Here's to many happy returns of the day.