Friday, November 15, 2019

Today I'm incredibly sad! I just learned that Tom Spurgeon died two days ago! You will be missed, Tom! I surely will miss you, my friend!...

Saturday, June 22, 2019

(Not Quite) The End

A little bug is flying around my head saying repeatedly to me that it's time to put this blog to rest. Looking back I fondly remember my arrival on the Internet, searching immediately for The Comics Journal site (it was 1997 or 1998, I can't remember anymore). I also fondly remember the comix@ list and the comixschl list (to which I belong to this day). I'm very grateful for these more than twenty years on the Internet, half writing this blog, but also for the opportunity to write for The Comics Journal for a brief period of time (something I couldn't imagine in my wildest dreams). 

Now I must thank a lot of people:

The great José Muñoz, for giving me the honor of addressing his wonderful and unforgettable emails to me!

My gracious opponents: Kim Thompson (who left us way too soon and I miss terribly) and Tom Spurgeon on the CJ messboard and Arthur van Kruining on the comix@ list.

Noah Berlatsky, for letting me write on his blog The Hooded Utilitarian (that put me on the map, like I never was before or after). Matthias Wivel and Ng Suat Tong, for being there (love you guys!).

Håvard S. Johansen for inviting me to Comix Expo 2012 (loved it!).

Ann Miller, for her invitation to write in the European Comic Art magazine.

Frank Aveline, for inviting me to write in L'Indispensable.

Bill Kartalopoulos for  my participation on the Alternative Comics site.

John Lent, for letting me publish in the International  Journal of Comic Art.

Paul Gravett, for including me in his project 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die.

Marcos Farrajota, José Rui Fernandes and Julio Moreira for my inclusion in their Lisbon and Porto convention catalogs and Quadrado magazine. I must also thank Marcos for letting me be the curator of a Guido Buzzelli exhibition in Lisbon and José Rui for a great trip to New York!

Pedro Moura, Carlos Pessoa and Sara Figueiredo Costa for my inclusion in the Amadora convention catalog. I also thank Pedro for my inclusion in the Tinta nos Nervos exhibition catalog and several panel invitations.

Isabel Carvalho, Pedro Nora and Mário Moura for Satélite Internacional. Where have all those magazines gone?

Last, but not least, on the contrary, Miguel Falcato Alves and Manuel Caldas for publishing my first writings, insipid as they were...

Also: my supporters when the world was against me: you know who you are...
Damn you world, for giving me such a hard time! You also know who you are.

A big thank you goes to my faithful readers. I which I could say it personally to each and everyone of you! (Surely, you aren't that many...)

Will this be my last post on this blog or is my comics critic career over? I don't know, maybe... I'll write here whenever I feel like (once in a blue moon, I guess) and my days as comics critic are out of my hands. It all depends on putative invitations, but I will be forgotten, I'm sure I will... When you fight against the whole world you're sure to lose, but, as António Dias de Deus put it: the only victory possible is defeat. See you in the funny papers... Oh, and, you know... this art form deserves to die...

Monday, June 17, 2019

Breaking The Frames - Coda

Because of this post I just reread what I wrote about The Graphic Novel An Introduction by Baetens and Frey. Man! I miss myself!

The conclusion:
This book is a sad sign of the barbarian neoliberal times in which we are unfortunately living in. If you think that the political reference is uncalled for, think harder. With education systems running at double speed: with good schools for the wealthy; and crappy underbudgeted schools for the 99 %... With a capitalistic world view in which only what sells is worth doing resulting in a culture running at double speed also: with sophisticated art for the 1 % paid at its weight in gold; and the lousy lowest common denominator for everybody else... It's no surprise that a future which once looked like this (you may notice that Jan Baetens was supposed to be part of it), is now ashamed of itself (it's elitism) trying desperately to backpedal to square one.

This art form deserves to die.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Breaking The Frames

I just finished the above book. I could say that I enjoyed it, I guess, but it's more than that, a lot more than that... A book such as this one was sorely needed for two decades or more. A few years ago I would write a review (it happened three times, at least), but now I can't do it anymore. So, I'll just write a few words that pop on my head...

With the exception of Chris Ware the artists whose work is examined (with metacriticism to boot too; the best part, I must say...) don't interest me in the least (or, to be more precise, in Alan Moore's case, his work examined doesn't interest me because I just like From Hell and not much else). That said I would love to see the criticism of such a sacred cow as Jack Kirby debunked, for instance, but beggars can't be choosers and I'm perfectly happy with what I got.

OK, so, Chris Ware: Marc Singer is unfair to him because, in the end, he accuses him of being a coherent editor. Imagine that, he is an editor with a taste and aesthetic standards! The horror! Right?!... On the other hand Chris Ware's taste isn't as narrow as Marc Singer suggests. He likes the work of Frank King and George Herriman, among many other things like Suiho Tagawa's comics or The Kin-Der Kids. Are all these artists already dead? They are, for many years now, and, maybe, that's why Chris Ware didn't include their work as the best of 2007?

Does Marc Singer incur in the same mistakes he accuses others of? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. For instance: he chastises those who say that Marjane Satrapi chose to publish in black and white when economical considerations on the L'Asso's part are 100% responsible for that choice, but on page 130 he wrote "Witek acknowledges that the artwork in Pekar's comics is often crude, unsophisticated, not "conventionally 'realistic'"-with the stylistic descriptor placed in quotes, as if to signal that the comic's realism lies in areas other than visual convention." Harvey Pekar's stories are often crudely drawn because he couldn't afford the artists he really liked. Two things, here though: 1) I seem to remember Harvey Pekar saying something to that effect, but I'm not sure (it's been a while); 2) on the other hand he couldn't criticize "his" artists, could he?, but I believe he genuinely liked some of them - here he praises a few, but what's interesting to me is that he excuses Robert Crumb's cartoony style because his work is a "wealth of accurately observed detail". This proves to me that he didn't get what he wanted most of the times, not even from Crumb...

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Dumbing Down

I haven't seen the exhibition, but I bet that, after seeing it I would agree with every word.

The only Japanese comics artists I really like (in the restrict field, I mean...) are Taniguchi and Tsuge, anyway...

Wednesday, May 15, 2019


I undestand what Seth says at the beginning (the interview starts at 9:40): the thrill of seeing your work in print kind of fades with age. That's kind of sad, I guess, but that's life, we get more and more  detached...

Monday, April 29, 2019

Monthly Stumblings # 20: Jochen Gerner

Panorama du feu (a view of fire) by Jochen Gerner

Jochen Gerner was a founding member of the OuBaPo (Ouvroir de Bande Dessinée Potentiele - or, the Workshop for Potential Comics, best represented in the US by Matt Madden, Jason Little and Tom Hart). Modeled after the OuLiPo (Ouvroir de Literature Potentielle - workshop for potential literature) created by Raymond Queneau, the OuBaPo aimed to explore new ground for comics using, paradoxically, constraints as a creative motor. The OuBaPo published four books to date (the last one in 2004) all by the dominating force behind the project, Jean-Christophe Menu and L'Association publishing house. Even if engaged in other projects the work of Jochen Gerner is never very far from OuBaPian creative processes.

Les Vacances de l'OuBaPo (the vacations of the OuBaPo), Oupus 3, L'Association, October 2000, illustration by Jochen Gerner.

Jochen Gerner views himself as a draftsman who does comics among other things. Represented in France by Anne Barrault Panorama du Feu was part of Jochen Gerner's second exhibition at said art gallery in 2009 (the first one happened in 2006). The theme of the exhibition was the four elements: earth, air, water, fire. A year later L'Association published Panorama du feu (the "fire" part of the exhibition, of course) in a cardboard box, surrounded by a paper ribbon with the word "Guerre" (war) written on it, containing fifty-one booklets numbered from zero to fifty. Each booklet is the reworking of what's called in France the "petits formats" (the little formats), cheap, mass art comics imported mainly from the UK (published there by Fleetway) and sold in newsstands from the 1950s (or even earlier) until their decline in sales during the 1980s and disappearance in the early 1990s. The genres included in Panorama du feu are War, of course, but also Western, Espionage, and even a Tarzan look-alike produced in Italy, Akim. In each of these eight page booklets (cover and back cover included; booklet number zero has twelve pages with an introduction by Antoine Sausverd) Jochen Gerner used two creative strategies: (1) the cover was blacked-out with India ink leaving a title formed by expressions found in the book and the name of the collection plus explosions and signs (circles, crosses) in (not so) negative space; (2) the interior retained some didactic essays, advertisements and other paratexts published in the original comic books, plus what Thierry Groensteen called "reduction" in Oupus 1 (L'Association, January 1997): the stories were reduced to four, five or six panels (one per page).
In Panorama du feu Jochen Gerner chose visual rhymes (airplanes or trucks in all the panels, for instance). He also favored more abstract images and close-ups.

Airplanes (in perfect order and in chaos) in booklet # 40 of Panorama du feu, L'Association, September 2010: visual rhymes.

Besides being a non-conceptual reflexion (as Jochen Gerner stressed, saying that his is not a theoretical approach) on violent representations in petit format comics during the Cold War, what I find fascinating in the comic book reductions performed by Jochen Gerner is the contrast between said supposedly entertaining violence and a clear intention to be didactic including in the books many scientific essays. Below there's an unexpected encounter between something as frivolous as Bettie and Veronica (Archie is here called Robert, by the way) and yet another image of violence. By mixing didacticism and comicality with the violence of war, the violent message was somewhat undermined or, at least, balanced by a variety of things, advertisements included.
Given the fact that Jochen Gerner reduced whole stories to a few panels it's no surprise that many make little sense letting the reader with the strange sensation that something incomprehensible is going on (cf. below: infra-narrativity).

Betty and Veronica run to join the French war effort during WWII? booklet # 33 of Panorama du feu, L'Association, September 2010: comicality undermines seriousness.

Page 38 of TNT en Amérique by Jochen Gerner, L'Ampoule, 2002.

The blacking-out of covers and interior pages (as seen above: a détournement of Hergé's Tintin en Amérique - Tintin in America -, 1946 version) has its roots seven years before. In the above page the word "feu" (fire) appears (twice) and pictographs representing flames and smoke (plus a car and the words "poursuite" - "chase" -, and "route" - "road") are similar to the covers in Panorama du feu. A look below at Hergé's page blacked-out by Jochen Gerner in TNT en Amérique helps us to reach interesting conclusions:


Page 38 of Tintin in America as published in 1973 by Methuen (originally published in black and white in 1931 /32 and reworked by Hergé in 1946).

Diegetically two things happen in this Tintin page: Tintin escapes a persecution and flees a fire. In the tradition of creating suspense at the end of every odd page Tintin is almost caught by the flames in the last panel. The persecution (by the baddies) is represented in TNT en Amérique by a car and the words "chase" and "road." In spite of Tintin riding a horse (the stereotype of the American cowboy imposes itself to a formulaic narrative) Jochen Gerner used a car pictogram to update the story. The animals on tiers two and three are almost ignored (the "almost" goes to the star pictograph, a symbol of trouble - emanata would have been more effective, maybe, but who am I to question Jochen Gerner's choices?, maybe he sees emanata as too blunt a sign?). Most of the attention goes to the fire with an ironic devil chasing the hero: can he be a villain destined to burn in hell's eternal flames in spite of his virtuous persona?
The general conclusion that we may extract from the TNT en Amérique example is that the two creative tactics described above (blacking-out and reduction) have the exact same result of reducing the deturned story to a skeleton.


On the left: page from Courts-circuits géographiques (geographical short-circuits), L'Association, 1997; on the right, the same page as reworked for XX/MMX, L'Association, 2010.

The image above shows, on the left, a page of Jochen Gerner's autobiographical book Courts-circuits géographiques; the image on the right shows the same page reworked for publication in XX/MMX (an anthology commemorating L'Association's 20th anniversary). As Jean-Christophe Menu noticed in his thesis La bande dessinée et son double (comics and their double, L'Association, 2011), the evolution from representational (even if caricatural) to ideographical is clear, but even the older page shows a tendency to what Thierry Groensteen called, in Bande dessinée récit et modernité (comics, narrative and modernity, Futuropolis, 1988) "the inventory" (a subset of his concept of the infra-narrative).

Malus by Jochen Gerner, Drozophile, 2002. A boon to a Ben-Day fetishist like me.

In Malus, as seen above, a silk-screened comic, Jochen Gerner illustrated real traffic disasters reported in newspapers. A creative tension is caused by the caricatural and schematic drawings depicting tragic events. A distance is created by the inadequate relation between form and content, or, to be more precise, the content isn't exactly what one would expect given the source material. An ironic Dadaistic distance pervades all of Jochen Gerner's work, but Malus is the height of this propensity. It shows Gerner's tendency to explore - and short-circuit; cf. the Betty and Veronica example above - violent undercurrents in the mediasphere. TNT en Amérique lays bare, by reduction, how violent Hergé's stories really are (TNT being, obviously, a reduction of Tintin's name and an explosive). The same happens in Panorama du feu.

Left: Buck John # 105 (Buck Jones, I guess), Imperia, February, 1958; right: a deturned by black-out Buck John comic (not necessarily # 105, of course), Panorama du feu, L'Association, September 2010.

As we can see below Panorama du feu is a dual object corresponding to its two lives in 2009 (in an art gallery) and 2010 (as a series of fifty one comic books):

Up: Panorama du feu as exhibited in Anne Barrault's gallery, September 2009; down: Panorama du feu as a box containing fifty one booklets, L'Association, September 2010.

In 2009 the fifty books were, as Jochen Gerner put it, like a giant battle ground as seen on a big control panel. Seeing the deturned covers behind glass encased comics come to mind. The act of reading is out of the question. On the other hand L'Association's edition does almost the opposite, readers have access to the booklets' content, but the ensemble is lost. Can these two forms of presentation be reconciled? I don't think so, but one of the best solutions, I think, involved Jochen Gerner. I'm talking about Salons de lecture (Reading Rooms), an exhibition at the La Kunsthalle in Mulhouse:

Salons de lecture, La Kunsthalle, Mulhouse, February 3 - April 3, 2011.

In Salons de lecture readers /viewers were invited to sit and read, as we can see above. As I said, reading and viewing can't be reconciled, but I like this Duchampian solution: it's a visual arts exhibition because the La Kunsthalle is a place where contemporary art is shown. Plus: there's the design with different colors for the six rooms available.
Here's Jochen Gerner's opinion:
Simply to place the boards adjacent to each other in a linear fashion is like trying to reproduce the phenomenon of reading a book. This can't be right. But the exhibition Reading Rooms plays effectively with the principle of the book on a flat surface. The effect in this exhibition is almost that of a wall placed horizontally on trestles. The exhibition design and the graphic systems used to mark the placement of the books, plus the captions printed on the table propel these books into another dimension.