Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September 25, 2008

This blog is 6 years old since last September 25. Did the situation of the real great artists in comics history improve since then? Are they recognized as such instead of the parthetic comics canon that we had 6 years ago? Not by any far-fetched stretch of the imagination! The situation is as if people considered the greatest films of all time to be B series films instead of the masterpieces by Mizoguchi, Ozu, Rossellini, Bergman, et al... In other words: money continues to talk and the canon continues to be upside down.

James Edgar (w), Tony Weare (a), "Gospel Mary," [London] Evening News, April 3, 1973.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

More Landscape Panels By Hugo Pratt, Héctor Oesterheld and Stefan Strocen

Héctor Germán Oesterheld (w), Hugo Pratt (a), "El Sargento Kirk: Ruta de sangre" [blood route], Misterix # 441, April 26, 1957.

Héctor Germán Oesterheld (w), Hugo Pratt (a), "El Sargento Kirk: Ruta de sangre" [blood route], Misterix # 443, May 10, 1957.

Héctor Germán Oesterheld (w), Hugo Pratt (a), "El Sargento Kirk: Ruta de sangre" [blood route], Misterix # 445, May 24, 1957.

Héctor Germán Oesterheld (w), Hugo Pratt (a), "El Sargento Kirk: La boda de Walpi" [Walpi's wedding], Misterix # 448, June 14, 1957.

With these images I want to give you a hint of how great an edition of Oesterheld's, Pratt's, Strocen's Sgt. Kirk would be if the Pratt estate didn't prevent it from happening.

Con estas imagenes quiero mostrar lo excelente que seria una edición del Sgt. Kirk de Oesterheld, Pratt y Strocen si Cong no lo impidiera.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Chester Brown As A Gothic Artist

When someone mentions Italian Gothic painting in your presence I bet that the first name coming to your mind is Sassetta. A few others are also likely candidates, of course, but, to me, at least, Sassetta has the added interest of being the Chester Brown of painting. More than that: painting was his technique of choice to do... comics (others use drawings and words, that's the only difference). If you don't believe me just imagine his paintings as panels in a comic because that's what they really are: panels in polyptychs and predellas. There are three problems to view them as such though: 1) they're scattered all over the museums of the world; 2) some disappeared; 3) instead of being viewed as comics telling the life of Anthony or the life of Francis the visual tradition of the West, since the Renaissance, prefers to present them as single images. That paradigm shift also explains why comics are viewed as a minor art form. One = genius; two = stupid.

Stefano di Giovanni (Sassetta), The Blessed Ranieri Frees the Poors From a Florentine Jail1437 - 1444.

Chester Brown, Yummy Fur # 4, Vorterx Comics, April, 1987.

To help me prove my point I ask you to look above at the walls - planes -, some in the shadow, some not. Look at the doors that are just simple holes (rectangles) opening said planes to nowhere, or, if you want, to an ominous blackness... There's also a notorious absence of depth because the walls block the view creating a claustrophobic space. Look at the eerie atmosphere of it all...

Chester Brown, Louis Riel # 3, Drawn & Quarterly, December 1999.

Just like Sassetta's characters above, Louis Riel doesn't seem to be running. On the contrary, he seems to be frozen stiff, floating in space.

Stefano di Giovanni (Sassetta), Saint Anthony Beaten by the Devils, 1430 - 1432.

Chester Brown, "Matthew: 3:1 - 4:17," Yummy Fur # 17, Vortex Comics, August 1989.

Chester Brown, The Definitive Ed Book: Ed the Happy Clown, Vortex Comics, May 1992.

Many of Chester Brown's comics have a religious text and/or subtext. His demons though, are usually beautiful and young (sometimes too young as you can see above). They're not, like Sassetta's, Frankenstein-like creatures born of speciesism. Below though, Sassetta also represents the devil as a beautiful woman tempting Anthony. The only speciesist detail are the bat wings. 

Stefano di Giovanni (Sassetta), Saint Anthony Tempted by the Devil in the Guise of a Woman, c. 1435. 

Stefano di Giovanni (Sassetta), Saint Anthony the Abbot in the Wilderness, c. 1435.

Chester Brown, "Matthew: 14:1, 14:2; 14:12 - 14:23," Underwater # 3, Drawn & Quarterly, May 1995.

Gothic space doesn't ignore linear perspective, but it is not Naturalistic either. There's a stereotyping of rocks and trees that results in a kind of frozen expressionism. The trees above are very important to create the mood of both pieces. Chester Brown's backdrops are a bit more Natural than Sassetta's, but not much. He is careful to keep everything quite simple and to the point. There's a kind of dance in the composition lines of Sassetta's painting that leads quickly to the church (Anthony is inviting us to follow a path that's not a bed of roses; that's what the leafless trees are saying; the animals are allegories of worldly temptations). There's the same idea in Chester Brown's panels: Christ is alone going upward with determination against a strong wind.

Chester Brown, "Knock Knock," Yummy Fur # 31, Drawmn & Quarterly, September 1993.

Trees are very important for Chester Brown. They represent sexual desire in The Playboy, but he goes as far as to identify himself with them in the above panel.

Chester Brown, "Matthew: 14:24 - 14:31," Underwater # 4, Drawn & Quarterly, September 1995.

Chester Brown's compositions are absolutely flawless He has a tendency to use diagonals in order to enliven his hieratic drawing style (another Gothic feature). What's also great about him is his stunning use of the black and white areas.

Chester Brown, "The Playboy Stories: Part Two," Yummy Fur # 22, Vortex Comics, September 1990.

In the above panels there's no explanation for the ground to be black while the trees are completely white. The trees and Chester have no shadows creating a two-dimensional space that reminds the Nabis. The branches are entangled to convey Chester's feelings beneath his hieratic mask. One could say that (unforgivable sin) Chester's panels are decorative. And yet, there're purposes... The same purposes that we can find in Gothic painting: to be clear, to be slightly off (not quite Naturalistic... or not Naturalistic enough; but I'm being anachronistic in the latter's case), to create an engaging and disturbing atmosphere...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Brussels: The Nightmare

Today I received a magazine with photos of the kitsch comics-themed murals in Brussels. If I ever go to said city I must carefully avoid every single one of those murals. They're a nightmarish reminder of the sad history of comics.

PS My first thought was to put a couple of images illustrating this twit-like blog post, but I quickly abandoned the idea. I'm sure that those fucking murals are a nightmare in person ergo they're a nightmare on the Internet.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Brian Evenson's Ed Vs. Yummy Fur - Coda

Brian Evenson goes on at some point about why Ronald Reagan doesn't look like Ronald Reagan in "Ed the Happy Clown." Well, the explanation is a lot more simple. He would get an answer if he had read the Journal's Grammel interview:
Grammel: But you [...] used Ronald Reagan.
Brown: OK, the truth is when I first got this idea of having a head on the end of someone's penis, it was going to be Ed Broadbent on the end of Ed's penis. Now, you don't know who Ed Broadbent is, right? He's the leader of the New Democratic Party in Canada. In Canada there are three major parties. There's the New Democrats, there's the Liberals, and there's the Conservatives.
[...] So when I was doing Yummy Fur I was thinking, "Well, do I want Ed Broadbent?" You know, no one in the States is going to know who Ed Broadbent is. "Who is this guy?" It's just going to be a name to them, right? So I did go with Ronald Reagan. It makes me feel kind of embarrassed now, because it does seem like kind of a compromise. You know, maybe I could have put some kind of explanation in the back of the book or something, "Oh, this is who Ed Broadbent is."
Grammel: Why would you want Ed Broadbent on the end of Ed's penis?
Brown: I don't know, I thought it'd be funny. 

Chester Brown, Yummy Fur # 7, October 1987; Ed Broadbent, Photo by Ottawa Citizen/Files, Postmedia News, 2012.

What's also interesting is that Chester Brown's Ed Broadbent looks more like Ed Broadbent now than like 1987 Ed Broadbent. It reminds me of 1963 Alberto Breccia looking like 1983 Alberto Breccia and the famous story about Picasso and Gertrude Stein.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Uncivilized Books - A Quick Note

This is just to add that the idea of Tom Kaczynski publishing a Batman coffee table book is laughable, of course. I wish him all the luck and plenty of happy customers.

Tom Kaczynski, "100.000 Miles...," Mome # 7, Spring 2007.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Brian Evenson's Ed Vs. Yummy Fur

Brian Evenson, Ed Vs. Yummy Fur: Or, What Happens When a Serial Comic Becomes a Graphic Novel, Uncivilized Books, May 2014.

I just finished reading Brian Evenson's book Ed Vs. Yummy Fur: Or, What Happens When a Serial Comic Becomes a Graphic Novel. I can't, for the life of me, figure out who the target reading public for this book is? The couple of dozen people who read this blog (thank you!, thank you!)? Probably... but, putting economic concerns aside, I enjoyed it immensely. Contrary to my own prophecy I wish a long life to Critical Cartoons, the collection that it inaugurates (book 002 - judging from the three digits the collection's editor or editors are way more optimistic than I am - is announced already: Peter Schilling Jr.'s Carl Barks' Duck: Average American). 

Peter Schilling Jr, Carl Barks' Duck: Average American, not published yet.

This is clearly a Crib Sheet Collection, or, at least, it is, for now, before the publisher realizes that what people told him about comics being respected as an art form, not just for kids anymore (I know, ahem... Barks...) etc... etc.. is all a load of bullshit leaving said person with two options: shoot the collection dead or... publish another crappy book about crappy fucking Batman or some shit like that, preferably a coffee table book with lots of pin-ups by Neal Adams and Frank Miller, etc... etc...

I'll shut up now, don't wanting to give anyone any ideas to add more crap to the world and all...

Ed Vs. Yummy Fur does exactly what it says it does in the subtitle: Evenson performs a close reading of Chester Brown's "Ed the Happy Clown" in its three incarnations: serialized in a mini-comic; serialized in floppies (aka comic books); collected in a graphic novel (with three editions so far). What's interesting about this is that Brown lived these hinge times in comics history as internal creative conflicts, but not as formal dilemmas, as Evenson expected. No, what worried Brown, more than form, was time, deadline time. In the interview at the end of the book (and believe me, I know how difficult it is to interview Chester Brown!) that tension between what the interviewer thinks and what's really in the interviewee's head becomes clear. To Brown the mini-comic means all the time in the world to do whatever the cartoonist wants (s/he's in control of both the creation and the deadline; it's a hobby). The comic book means having to produce six issues per year which means, at 24 pages a pop, you do the math... Even the graphic novel (which, to me, is a format, as I put it at The hooded Utilitarian) is seen by Brown as something that's related to time... It helped him to stop being an enslaved traditional comic book artist (although... Chester Brown doesn't like the term "graphic novel" - he says so himself -; Evenson discovers the fact through an interesting close reading of Brown's own take on it: "graphic-novel"; Brown minimizes the expression's content through the use of the lowercase and the hyphenation undermining what some - Chester among them, but not yours truly - may see as a pathetic attempt to give comics a respectable bourgeois name).  

In Chester Brown's mind at the time (Yummy Fur # 1 was published by Vortex Comics in December of 1986) being a professional comic artist meant to stick to one character (Ed in his case) serializing the hero's adventures in floppies to collect the story arcs in albums a là Tintin (his example). As I said before the deadlines also worried him, that's why he decided to reprint his seven mini-comics in the first three monthly issues. It gave him a three month head start, being the series bimonthly after that. 

The Ed series continued until Yummy Fur # 18 (December, 1989). If we take into consideration that Guido Buzzelli published his La rivolta dei racchi [the revolt of the ugly] in 1967 (July, to be exact), the first graphic novel in the restrict field (and I don't mean "graphic novel" in the format sense this time, I mean "graphic novel" in the Eddie Campbell sense, i. e.: a self-contained story aimed at adult readers) we have to conclude that Chester Brown wasn't much of a visionary suffering during more than a year (since issue # 12 was published in September of 1988, the "natural" ending to the Ed story, as he put it) under the yoke of "the professional cartoonist." 

Brian Evenson isn't purely a formalist critic. He also explores recurring themes in the Ed series like scatology, sacrilege and censorship. I just wish that he didn't separate the two so neatly. When he analyzes the form he focus on the form and nothing else. Ditto if he's talking about the content. (One caveat though: since we can't separate form and content Evenson can't do what I say he does above as completely as I suggest.) I'll give you one example in which he missed a great opportunity to mesh form and content together. In chapter four Evenson takes a look at changes in paneling from comic book to graphic novel. His notorious example was taken from Yummy Fur # 8 (November, 1987; see below) which was cropped for the inclusion in the graphic novel (ditto).

Chester Brown, "Ed the Happy Clown: Lost Beneat the Sewers Part Two," Yummy Fur # 8, November 1987.

Chester Brown, Ed the Happy Clown, August 1989.

Evenson talks about the formal consequences, both good and bad, of the crop shown above. For me though, what's lost is an interesting parallel between the sewers and the intestine, the human organ that justifies the sewers existence. 

Chester Brown, Yummy Fur # 18, December 1989.

PS In a near future, I hope, I'll write about Chester Brown as a Gothic artist. Not "Gothic" as in pop parlance (i. e.: as the word is understood in a Romantic sense), I mean Gothic Gothic...