Friday, October 31, 2008

Pablo Picasso's Songe et Mensonge de Franco

If Pablo Picasso was a Spaniard, although living in France, and I blog in English, why is the phrase Songe et Mensonge de Franco written above? Because the French title is an untranslatable Surrealist "jeux de mots" (a word play between "songe" - dream - and "mensonge" - lie).

Picasso's art was a barometer of Picasso's life. He was particularly sensitive to women around him (all great art is, in a certain measure, autobiographical). The art style that corresponded to his first wife, Russian dancer Olga Koklova, was Neoclassicism. Surrealism, especially the more politicized later one, was an antidote to him when their relationship soured in the late twenties, early thirties (his work from this period is full of vagina dentatta and mantislike figures). Even if Picasso wasn't a bonafide Surrealist he participated in the exhibition Vingt-cinq peintres contemporains (twenty five contemporary painters) in 1925 and other Surrealist activities like La Révolution surrealiste (issue # 1: December, 1924) and Minotaure magazine (issue # 1: June, 1933). In 1941 he wrote a Surrealist play: Le désir attrapé par la queue (desire caught by the tail). Before that, he wrote a Surrealist text that was meant to be published with the two Songe et Mensonge de Franco etchings (these, incidentally, would be sold, on behalf of the Spanish Republic, at the International Paris Exhibition in 1937; the images should be cut and sold as postcards, but Picasso saw the narrative flow that linked them and prevented the cutting):

"Dream and Lie of Franco
fandango of shivering owls souse of swords of evil-omened polyps I scouring brush of hairs from priests' tonsures standing naked in the middle of the frying-pan placed upon the ice cream cone of codfish fried in the scabs of his lead-ox heart - his mouth full of the chinch-bug jelly of his words - sleigh bells of the plate of snails braiding guts - little finger In erection neither grape nor fig - commedia dell'arte of poor weaving and dyeing of clouds - beauty creams from the garbage wagon - rape of maids in tears and in snivels - on his shoulder the shroud stuffed with sausages and mouths - rage distorting the outline of the shadow which flogs his teeth driven in the sand and the horse open wide to the sun which reads it to the flies that stitch to the knots of the net full of anchovies the sky-rocket of lilies - torch of lice where the dog is knot of rats and hiding-place of the palace of old rags - the banners which fry in the pan writhe in the black of the ink-sauce shed in the drops of blood which shoot him - the street rises to the clouds tied by its feet to the sea of wax which rots its entrails and the veil which covers it sings and dances wild with pain - the flight of fishing rods and the alhigui alhigui of the first-class burial of the moving van - the broken wings rolling upon the spider's web of dry bread and clear water of the paella of sugar and velvet which the lash paints upon his cheeks - the light covers its eyes before the mirror which apes it and the nougat bar of the flames bites its lips at the wound - cries of children cries of women cries of birds cries of flowers cries of timbers and of stones cries of bricks cries of furniture of beds of chairs of curtains of pots of cats and of papers cries of odors which claw at one another cries of smoke pricking the shoulder of the cries which stew in the cauldron and of the rain of birds which inundates the sea which gnaws the bone and breaks its teeth biting the cotton wool which the sun mops up from the plate which the purse and the pocket hide in the print which the foot leaves in the rock"

Here's a site with images from the Spanish pavilion in Paris' 1937 World Exhibition:

General Francisco Franco led a civil war against the Spanish Republic's Popular Front. I don't have many new things to say about Songe et Mensonge de Franco's meaning, so, I'll let Juan Antonio Ramírez (and a couple of others) do most of the job for me (Guernica, Electa, 1999: 27 - 33): "As some [scholars] already said, the title alludes to Goya ["The Sleep of Reason Creates Monsters"] and the Spanish literature of the Siglo de Oro [the golden century: the 16th][...]. This gives us ground to decipher the scene as an horrendous buffoonery, a nightmare peopled by the ridiculous and pathetic monsters that the military sublevation unleashed. All the panels seem to describe the devastating effects of the Francoist "crusade" against the Spanish people. The antihero in the first etching is a deformed being, a kind of tuberculoid-worm that rides on a disemboweled horse (as they were frequently seen in those days' corridas) carrying a religious banner. [...] [H]e also carries a sword upright (the Fascist Francoist field talked about the "sword of Christianity"), from which handle hangs a rope, and wears a crown with a crescent moon (an allusion to North African Francoist Moorish troops). The horse and the sun smile sardonically [the Fascist hymn was Cara al sol - facing the sun:]." The description continues, but I prefer Elisabeth Francesconi's interpretation of the second panel, here: She says: "Picasso’s depiction of Franco walking a tightrope in the second frame resembles a specific scene in Goya’s Disasters series entitled "When Will the Rope Break" [...] giving evidence of his exposure to Goya’s works. Goya had placed a religious figure with a high status in the Church on a fraying, suspended rope. Under the leader, he added a crowd that appears to be shouting at and angry with the man on the rope." Martínez views this as Franco's crossing from Africa into Europe to attack an idealized image of Spain in the next panel; he then continues: "The monster is (fourth panel) a travesty of the traditional Spanish maja [beaut] with her peineta [back comb], mantilla [shawl] and fan with the proverbial image of the Virgen del Pilar." (Franco's huge penis in the second panel is, according to Patricia Failing - cf. link above - a "sign [...] of sexual prowess as a symbol of military might.") In the fifth and sixth panels the monster attacks a bull (another symbol of Spain) and worships money (one duro was five pesetas). In the last strip of etching one the guts of the horse are transformed into serpents; Franco tries to (according to Martínez) sexually assault a winged horse (after loosing the serpents that were eating him up from the inside the horse became Pegasus, another symbol of Spain). In the end the monster is still facing the sun, but he now rides a not so noble animal: a pig (a piggy bank: those who pay him). Did Picasso imply that the Spanish people needed to be exorcised to expel Fascism? What seems to be true is that, according to Martínez again, the Pegasus' wings (freedom, of course) grew out from the wound inflicted by the monster on the horse's flank (it's the same wound that we'll see in Guernica). The second etching repeats some of the same topics that we analyzed until now (namely the fight between the bull - the Spanish people - and the aristocratic horse - metamorphosed into a negative symbol again: with the guts, spilled out by the bull, came the now familiar symbols of Fascism: the sword, the national banner, the religious standard). The last four panels show war's real victims: the civilians. Guernica's population was just the beginning. Millions would follow... all over the world...

Picasso didn't invert his drawings and writings when he etched the plates, but here, in these images bought at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, the etchings were reversed; that's why we can read Songe et Mensonge de Franco above as a western comic strip instead of an Asian or Arab one. The last four images of plate two were added a few months later (June 7), after Picasso finished Guernica (May, 1937). That's why they repeat some great details of the painting: the tongue / speer, the nostrils / tears, the nose / impotent penis, for instance.

PS To level things up (since I posted Cara al sol above), here's the great Mexican singer Lila Downs, singing El Quinto Regimiento (the fifth regiment):

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lynda Barry's The Most Obvious Question - Coda






1. Mad magazine's Dave Berg inspired teeth in Lynda Barry's biting comics (her first book): Girls and Boys (Harper Collins, 1993 [The Real Comet Press, 1981]);
2., 3. Maybonne ponders child abuse in Come Over Come Over (Harper Collins, 1990);
4. Lynda Barry's funky collage style is typical of feminist Pattern and Decoration art (Ree Morton, more than Miriam Schapiro, comes to mind); art as exorcism in One! Hundred! Demons! (Sasquatch Books, 2002)
5. Lynda Barry's "how to" book, and more: What It Is (Drawn & Quarterly, 2008 - thank you for keeping the flame alive on paper Chris Oliveros!): a moody self-portrait as a child.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Lynda Barry's The Most Obvious Question

Do you remember when the Masters of American Comics exhibition's curators were accused of sexism? (Los Angeles: The Hammer Museum and The Museum of Contemporary Art: November 20, 2005 - March 12, 2006);col1
The above Art Forum article (April 2006, XLIV, No. 8) by Sarah Boxer tells it all; I chose two quotes:

"[Invoking Little Nemo's mother: women are] the creatures that shake you out of fantasyland. No wonder they're not allowed in the clubhouse."
"Two frames from Jimmy Corrigan say it all. One shows a dull cityscape with a tiny bit of color, a caped superhero about to take a flying leap from a tall building. The next frame shows the tiny colored bit splattered on the ground. That's one small step for a superhero, one giant leap for comics."


Fifteen artists were chosen and not one of them was a woman. Plus: Sarah Boxer continues with the same accuracy demonstrated above: "from McCay to Schulz [...] the main characters are boys or men: Little Nemo, the Kin-der-Kids, Wee Willie Winkie, Popeye, Dick Tracy, Terry, Steve Canyon, Charlie Brown." I would add that gender doesn't matter to me as much as genre: there's no doubt that we're in fantasyland. Feminist critics, by the way, are almost the only ones to challenge the babymen status quo in comics.

I don't advocate some kind of positive action in the arts, but, in this case, Lynda Barry is the blatantest absence from this people's (John Carlin, Brian Walker, Cynthia Burlingham - a woman! -, Michael Darling) epitome of mastery.
Ernie Pook's Comics (later: Ernie Pook's Comeek) was Lynda's first comic. It was published by her pal Matt Groening and John Keister in the newspaper of the University of Washington. Ernie Pook's had two phases: first it was about male / female relationships; later it was about childhood. Lynda Barry explained the change in an interview with Thom Powers (The Comics Journal # 132, November 1989: 66 - when will this mag interview her again?, if I may ask...): "my hand started to really hurt when I drew, so I had to use a brush instead of a pen, and there was something about using a brush that made it so I couldn't draw that same kind of [editorial strips] [...]; they just didn't look right in brush to me. [...] When you start to work with a brush, the drawings start to look retarded, and the retardation, the natural retardation that comes from using a brush, sort of made my writing get retarded. [...] In kind of a nice way. Like one of the first strips in which the voice that I use now appeared in is "What Is Friendship?"
Lynda Barry is known for including a lot of words in her strips. I don't understand the comics milieu's logophobia, but it was demonstrated once again when Art Spiegelman invited her to participated in Raw. Lynda, in the same interview (74): "Art said "Try not to make it so top-heavy, with so much writing." I almost started laughing, because that's my work: it's really dense and it has lots of words." Even so she seems to have complied, "The Most Obvious Question," Raw vol. 2, # 3 (Penguin Books, 1991) has a caption in every panel (it's Maybonne's voice in "voice over"), but I'm certain that there are captions in Barry's oeuvre with a lot more text than here. The inner narration is a counterpoint to the outside world shown by the images. Against expectations, though, it's the supposedly subjective words that are cold, distant, desensitized, slightly ironic and the supposedly objective images that blend everything in a fuzzy web of curves, hatchings and cross-hatchings.
Searching for a golden age when her family was happy (we always lose our paradises) loveless Maybonne fakes the gestures of love (Lynda Barry hides Maybonne's eyes behind her glasses, underlining her alienation, except in one panel in which she remembers a blissful scene). Her mother achieved the next level: she doesn't even bother anymore.

horror stats by the Guerrilla Girls, Washington Post, April 22, 2007 (detail): ; "What is Friendship?" comic strip, parts one and two, has it was published in Everything in the World (Harper & Row, 1986).

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Guido Buzzelli's Zil Zelub - Coda






1. "Nikola - The Polish Refugee", Princess, October 15, 1960: alimentary comic published in the UK (even so, here's what Paul Gravett & Peter Stanbury have to say: "a surprisingly grim wartime story for a girls' comic.": Great British Comics, Aurum Press: 149); Buzzelli was lucky with the scriptwriter assigned to him, maybe?;
2., 3. Zil Zelub's pages as published in Italy by Edizione Grandi Avventure, 1975 [1972]: (2) part of an autobio scene (the beard indicates that Buzzelli is remembering) in which the child loses himself in fantastic worlds; (3) in this nightmarish scene people from all revolutions in history mistake Zil Zelub for the enemy while the real dictator (a condottiere on a horseback) prepares himself to reassume power; the absence of gutters in the strips is a Buzzelli trademark;
4. the agnone leaves Rome, growling, under the implacable surveillance of the angel; L'Agnone, as published by PMJ, 2000 [1977];
5. the ugly and the beautiful people (story by Grazia de Stefani Buzzelli): "Dressage", Glamour International Magazine # 5 (February 1986).

PS Guido Buzzelli's official site:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Guido Buzzelli's Zil Zelub

OK, so, Matthias Wivel's comments on my Oesterheld vs. Pratt post prompted me to write about Guido Buzzelli. The reason is the above drawing. Guido Buzzelli is one of my all time favorites (I suspect that you guessed it by reading my profile on the upper right corner), but, even so, this drawing made a strong impression on me. Hugo Pratt's doll is a romantic dream: the detached adventurer we all would like to be at a certain age. (And I remember what Dwight MacDonald said about Hemingway: "A feeling that loyalty and bravery are the cardinal virtues and that physical action is the basis of the good life - even when reinforced with the kind of nihilism most of us get over by the age of twenty - these don't add up to a philosophy." - Against the American Grain, Random House, 1962: 171 -; more than the philosophy part, what interests me in this quote is the juvenile nihilism that can also be detected in Hugo Pratt's beloved character.) Like Tintin, a reporter who never wrote a line, Corto Maltese is a sailor who didn't navigate much. We really don't know what he did for a living. We never saw him eating or worrying about where his next meal will come from...
In a word, so to speak: he doesn't have much of a normal daily life.
Guido Buzzelli's interpretation is an anti-escapist Corto Maltese instead of an homage. This is a true rugged sailor, with his skin burned by a hard life at sea. Its also rather uncommercial...

The Terzo Salone dei Comics (third comics convention) occurred from June 30 to July 2, 1967, and took place in Lucca, Italy. The event's catalogue Comics Almanacco published the first graphic novel in the restrict field: La rivolta dei racchi (the revolt of the ugly) by Guido Buzzelli.
Many discussions are happening these days because of the expression's semantics. Not being an essentialist I basically agree with Eddie Campbell (for reasons pertaining to publishing politics): "When he [Will Eisner] called that suite of short stories [A Contract With God] a 'graphic novel' he meant to draw attention to this thematic ambition. Neither the form nor the format was the relevant issue." The commercial series was the norm in comics. Here's how I described a series (owing a lot to Umberto Eco: Apocalittici e integrati, Comunicazioni di massa e teorie della cultura di massa, Bompiani, 1964) in the Comics Journal messboard (posted 04-23-99 10:36 AM):

"in order to exist the series must:
1 - Have an hero. The hero (be it Tintin or Corto Maltese or John Difool) is not a fully developed character, it's more of a void designed to be filled by the reader with positive things.
2 - A cast of stereotyped characters: the faithful reader knows that this one does this, that one does that. The reader who likes mainstream stuff usually doesn't want to be surprised (Obelix *always* says that he wants to drink the magic potion; Captain Haddock *always* wants to drink scotch; etc...).
3- A set of stereotyped situations. The plot obeys to a few fixed rules. In adventure comics the thing goes more or less like this: the bad guys attack, the bad guys defeat the good guys, the good guys make a come back and win. The End. In comical comics the hero (or antihero) always commits the same errors, etc...
4 - Adventure follows adventure and the hero and his friends never age. It's as if nothing happened from story to story (the few exceptions to this rule are far from being perfect).
5 - Psychological depth, what's that?!"

The graphic novel is a strategy to fight the blunt commercialism of the series, it's the anti-series. Calling a collection of children's stories (about superheroes, for instance) a "graphic novel" is a co-optation by the sharks, smelling fresh money. On the other hand it's true that the public acceptance of the "graphic novel" label happened after a commercial campaign led by alternative publishers (Drawn & Quarterly's Chris Oliveros at the front:

Guido Buzzelli started doing comics to earn a living, for him and his family, in post-WWII's difficult times in Rome, Italy. Being a virtuoso draughtsman commercial comics were easy for him to do. He viewed himself as a painter though. It was at one of his exhibitions that an idea hit him: "My link to comics changed when I made an exhibition in Rome. I thought about the canvases' positions, about the images, about the sensations that I wanted to convey. It seemed to me that the whole thing would be more powerful if I had done a story. Each painting was the figurative embryo that needed development. And that's how I faced art comics." (Interview on French TV, Antenne 2, 1980.)
Buzzelli continued to do alimentary work (like the western comics: Nevada Hill - script by J. P. Gourmelen -, 1973; Tex il grande, Tex the great, 1988), but he also did graphic novels for himself: I Labirinti (the labyrinths - Aunoa in France; 1970), Zil Zelub (an obvious anagram; 1972), HP (horse power; 1974), L'Agnone (a mix between "agnelo," "lamb," and "leone," "lion,": an anti-manichaean allegory; 1977). A few short stories also exploit his favorite themes: Mammaaaa! (All'ultimo piano) (moooom!, at the higher storey; 1973); Il mestiere di Mario (Mario's job; 1973); L'Intervista (the interview; 1975). The topic that intersected both worlds seem to have been eroticism.
Guido Buzzelli committed the ultimate sin of being a political skeptic during highly utopian times: the sixties and seventies. All his revolutions were flawed because the opressed rapidly became opressors after gaining power. His angels (a recurring symbol of goodness in Buzzelli's oeuvre) being self-righteous and castrating are worst than demons. In Zil Zelub, the main character, a Buzzelli alter ego (Guido Buzzelli was also one of the first, if not the first, serious autobio comics author), feels this dilemma as an internal problem that's literally tearing him up to pieces (his id rebels against his superego). In the end he loses his fight: a crooked politician patches him up. We, the comics readers who are constantly doing what Scott McCloud called "closure," are not only witnesses, we are also accomplices. Everything goes back to normal: business goes on, as usual...

Corto Maltese by Guido Buzzelli as it was published in I giorni e le opere (works and days), Comic Art Editrice, May 1999.

PS Many thanks to the nice people who publicized The Crib. Matthias Wivel (he has a great essay and a great list of comics here:; Sara Figueiredo Costa, Kerry Dennehy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Federico del Barrio's and Elisa Gálvez's La Orilla - Coda






1. Madriz # 1 (January 1984): cover by la movida icon Ceesepe;
2. ad for El Canto de la Cabra theater company: art by Raúl; backcover for El ojo clínico # 2 (Federico del Barrio's, Felipe Hernández Cava's, Jesús Moreno's, Raúl Fernández's post-Madriz magazine; Spring 1997);
3. poetical page by Federico del Barrio in El ojo clínico # 1 (Fall 1996);
4., 5. cover and interior page of Silvestre's Relations (Amok, December 1996 [Pelure Amère # 4, 1993]); Silvestre is Federico del Barrio's experimental nom de plume (my translation): "Iconoclasm: Have you noticed that we have no shadow? / That's because it's cloudy. / Nor legs! / To do what? We are standing still. / Roberto the void is eating us up. / We still can talk. Tell me something. / I became white. / Get over it; maybe we're secondary, but we're in the foreground. / Roberto! / Yes? / We're invisible. / I'm delighted. / We became literature. / Not yet, a little detail is missing. Come over here. / Here? / Yes, now, at last, the world is watching us. We're something. / Yes Roberto, and you, of course, you're an idiot."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Federico del Barrio's and Elisa Gálvez's La Orilla

Last century's late seventies, early eighties in Madrid are known as "la movida" (the scene). I could try to talk about it here, but I'll quote from this site instead ( "Madrid, November 19, 1975. Dictator Francisco Franco dies and, with him, 36 years of repression and censorship. The transition to democracy begins." [...] "Madrid's newfound freedom of speech and expression prompted its citizens to do, well, anything and everything. Call it what you will - hedonistic, flamboyant, debaucherous, subversive, perverse, libertine - the overall sentiment was taboos don't exist and the harder you party, the better." [...] "It's not often a politician openly and avidly supports a counterculture movement. But then again, Enrique Tierno Galván was not your conventional mayor. Forced out of the Spanish university system in the 1960's for leading student protests against the dictatorship, Tierno Galván returned well-weathered from his tenure at Princeton to jump into transition-era politics. "The Old Professor," as he was affectionately called, believed that La Movida was extremely healthy for post-Franco society."
I stop quoting when, as usual, comics are forgotten.
At the end of la movida, mayor Tierno Galván still supported a comics mag: Madriz (first issue: January 1984). I have a caveat though. It wasn't exactly the municipal government that payed Madriz. As we can read in issue number one, the "Consejalia de la Juventud del Ayuntamiento" (the municipal youth council) payed the magazine. This means that, as usual again, with or without movida, comics were seen as entertainment for kids. Fortunately one of the greatest writers that ever wrote for the art form, Felipe Hernández Cava, was chosen to be the mag's editor. (Federico del Barrio collaborated with Felipe H. Cava in a couple of projects that deserve their own post.) That changed everything and Madriz was aesthetically ambitious and completely mature. It truly is one of comics' greatest achievements during the eighties, on a par with Raw magazine. (Great artists who published in Madriz: OPS, LPO, El Cubri - Felipe H. Cava, Pedro Arjona, at this point -, Raúl, Ana Juan, Fernando Vicente, among others...)
Federico del Barrio's contributions to Madriz started in issue # 1 with "Palmeras en Madrid" (palm trees in Madrid). He would publish a lot more highly atmospheric, stream of consciousness, short stories in there.

"La Orilla" (the shore), written by Elisa Gálvez, appeared in Madriz # 13 (February 1985). It's just two pages long (see above) working as a double-page spread. Concise as it is, it's one of comics' most analysed works; by Thierry Gröensteen in Système de la bande dessinée (1999: 46 - 48) and its American translation: The System of Comics (2007: 38, 39) or Viviane Alary in The International Journal of Comic Art Vol. 5, No. 2 (Fall 2003: 18 - 26). So, I have nothing new to say, I'm afraid. Viviane's analysis is a bit more complex than Gröensteen's (who's focused on the aesthetic use of double pages only), but I'll stick mostly to the latter.
"La Orilla" tells the story of a woman's life in six panels. Three on the verso, three on the recto. Horizontal panels symbolize an easier time; vertical panels are seen as upward moments in life towards the only possible conclusion: death (the black rectangle; in addition to said geometrical form, we can see as paratext: the sphinx - connected to the three ages' riddle; the three-headed Cerberus: wolf: old age; lion: midlife; dog: youth). The foot prints and the woman's movements write the letter "V" for "vida" (life).

La Orilla by Federico del Barrio (a) and Elisa Gálvez (w): Madriz # 13, February 1985; Elisa Gálvez plays Samuel Beckett's Winnie (September, 1996).

PS In 1992 Elisa Gálvez and Juan Úbeda created El Canto de la Cabra (the singing of the goat), a Madridian alternative theatre company. The ensamble presented several plays written by Federico del Barrio: El día que voló Renata (the day in which Renata flew), 1993; Viaje al Tártaro (voyage to Tartarus), 1994; Caín (Cain), 1998; ¿Qué? Nada (what?, nothing), 1999.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Chester Brown's The Playboy - Coda






1. Chester Brown's first autobio story "Helder" was published in his comic book Yummy Fur # 19 (Vortex Comics, January 1990); "The Playboy" (titled "Disgust" and "The Playboy Stories") began serialization in Yummy Fur # 21 (June 1990); "Fuck", or, the more commercially viable, but less accurate, "I Never Liked You" began serialization in Yummy Fur # 26 (Drawn & Quarterly, October 1991);
2., 3. pages from "Mathew", an adaptation of the Bible which is respectful of the original writing, but, being caricatural (Chester Brown admires Harold Gray) avoids any kind of visual Idealism: page twenty one, Yummy Fur # 24 (April 1991), page twenty five, Underwater # 3 (May 1995; the loneliness of the prophet is similar to the loneliness of the artist); worthy of note are Chester Brown's innovative layouts: he drew separate panels constructing the pages afterwards;
4. a curious experiment that reminds, in this cover (Underwater # 7, August 1996), Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay because it shows the psychological and physical development of a pair of twins: they can't understand what the adults are saying at first (they can't understand social conventions, either) and confuse dreams with reality; unfortunately Chester Brown decided to stop this series with issue # 11;
5. Chester Brown's acclaimed graphic novel Louis Riel started here: Louis Riel # 1, June 1999.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Chester Brown's The Playboy

It was 06-24-99 08:18 AM on The Comics Journal Messboard and I posted the following (minus a pathetic attempt at humor and a few changes):

"I submitted only two of my poorly written articles to TCJ. As for the second one I can't even remember what it was about. I'm posting part of the first one here. Keep in mind that this was written in 1994, or something like that...


In page 17 of Yummy Fur # 21 Chester Brown (the character) decides to hide an issue of Playboy magazine in the bushes near his parents' house. This apparently simple action becomes a nightmare because of Chester's guilty complex: he imagines the neighbours spying on him with binoculars, someone hiding behind the trees, his recently deceased mother looking down on him from the sky with a reproving look on her face. All those menaces are well expressed in the twisted drawings of the skeletal branches. On page 11, panel 6 of Yummy Fur # 22 Chester goes into the woods again in order to hide another issue of Playboy magazine. The trees on the superior half of the panel look so twisted that they seem like a spider's web, waiting there to catch the uncautious Chester. Sigmund Freud, who first explored our unconscious mind (the hidden meanders of our brain), talked about Eros and Thanatos as the supreme entities that rule our obsessions. If said trees possess a menacing aspect it is not less true that they emanate a certain feminine erotic power: the tree that is closer to Chester looks like an inverted woman's body.

(First symbolic digression: in the centre of the world is the Tree of Life. It loses its leaves to regain them again, in a perpetual regeneration process. Sometimes it is represented in an inverted way in order to permit life to come from the sky and penetrate the earth. In the Upanishads, the Universe is also an inverted tree.)

In the first panel of page 12 of Yummy Fur # 22 it is remarkable that the branches are twirled as if in an erotic ballet. After being surprised by someone hiding in the bushes, Chester leaves the place extremely upset. The same trees that we have seen before gain an even more frantic movement now. The most poetic of all the stories by Chester Brown is, without a doubt, the one that he dedicated to his girlfriend Sook-Yin Lee (published in Yummy Fur # 31). In this brief story without words Sook-Yin's alter-ego assaults a deserted town in which center is a round garden with only a tree in its inner point. She lays down near this lonely tree sleeping there all night while being embraced by the branches. Next morning the town disappeared giving place to a desert. The tree is, now, Chester's alter-ego.
(Second symbolic digression: the symbolic town is always square. It represents a crystallization of the vital cycles. The town is related to mineral symbolism, it is a symbol of stability. The circle represents perfection, the unity, the world. The Earthly Paradise is round and is associated with vegetal symbolism too. The tree is a fertility's symbol of such power that, in certain nomad tribes of Iran the young girls are tattooed with a tree on their bodies, the roots on the pubic zone and the branches on their breasts. The tree is, at the same time, a phallic symbol and a motherly one. It is the hermaphrodite and so the unity.The desert is the origin, the purity of things.)
Chester's town is square and deserted. The only living thing in there (the only thing in there that's not crystallized) is the tree/Chester. Sook-Yin's alter-ego assaults Chester's alter-ego's crystallized self in order to reach and free his center. All the eroticism that is suggested by the drawings in Yummy Fur # 22 is openly showed here. All the adolescent pathos is now gone to give its place to adult love.

(Third symbolic digression: the night is the time for gestation, for the liberation of the unconscious mind.)
All the symbolic digressions were taken from the Dictionnaire des symboles. A collective work supervised by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant."

My Comics Journal messboard post ends here, but the story goes on with a curious ut pictura poesis discovery. A poem by Argentinian poet Roberto Juarroz that has affinities (the same atmosphere and similar meanings) with Chester Brown's story (my translation):

We arrived at a sacred city.
We prefer to ignore its name:
in that way we can call it all the names.
We don’t find whom to ask
because we are alone in the sacred city.
We don’t know which cults are practiced in it.
The only thing we realize is that here there’s only one thread
uniting all the music in the world
and all the silence.

We don’t know if the city greets us or says goodbye,
if it's just a stop or the end of the journey.
No one told us why it’s not a forest or a desert.
It appears in no guide or map.
Geography keeps its location silent or it never knew it.

But in the center of the sacred city there’s
a square where all the silent love inside the world is opened.
And only now we understand:
what’s sacred
is all the quiet love.

page eighty two of The Playboy as graphic novel (December 1992): panels five and six of page eleven in Yummy Fur # 22 (September 1990); page seven of Yummy Fur # 31 (September 1993): the city, the woman, the tree.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hectór Germán Oesterheld's (and others) Ernie Pike - Coda






1. Héctor Germán Oesterheld's name in nowhere to be seen in this Italian Ernie Pike edition (1976);
2., 3. Hugo Pratt was one of the best artists in comics with the ability to convey body language (he was great with the characters' facial expressions), but it was Oesterheld who, in Ernie Pike, was more interested in the dog face, on both sides of WWII, than in the big stupid "heroic" picture; because of his complex characters (Oesterheld refused children's comics usual manichaeism) he was accused of sympathy for the German side; two masterpieces by this unforgettable duo: Hora Cero Extra!'s covers for # 1 (April 1958), and # 5 (December 1958);
4. Oesterheld's credo (my translation in last post below); on the lower left hand corner we can see Frontera's famous logo, created by João Mottini;
5. years later, Hugo Pratt became an international star; to achieve success he relied on a juvenile Oesterheldian narrative surface (he couldn't replicate the master's touch; Pratt's female characters are his own, though) and a rampantly mannerist drawing style (in the end, long gone is Realism): Saint Exupéry, Le dernier vol (1995).

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hectór Germán Oesterheld's (and others) Ernie Pike

In 1961 Argentinian comics writer and publisher Héctor Germán Oesterheld sold his publishing house, Editorial Frontera. He suffered serious economical difficulties since the end of 1959. That's why, trying to minimize his debts, he sold Hugo Pratt's original pages in his possession. Retaliating Hugo Pratt published their stories in Europe without acknowledging Oesterheld's co-authorship.

I'm saying this not as some sort of gossip (Buenos Aires Babylon, or something...). I'm saying this because comics critics in Europe never acknowledge Hugo Pratt's debt to Oesterheld's writing mastery. If their excuse is ignorance because they never saw the writer's name in Sgt. Kirk, Ticonderoga, Ernie Pike, it's a weak one because critics should know what they're talking about.
Franco Fossati in the Spanish mag Bang! # 9 (1973), for instance, is clearly operating in bad faith: in an article about Hugo Pratt, Oesterheld's name appears once, in a list, among many other names (talking about Ernie Pike - the name comes from American war correspondent Ernie Pyle, the face is Oesterheld's - he says that Pratt "was inspired by a friend's face to create Pike's"). Fortunately Spaniard editors read Argentinian mag Dibujantes # 21 and added a note or two restoring the truth.

Closer to us in time it's not possible to feign ignorance: there's simply too much information circling around and Héctor Germán Oesterheld is the creator of adults' comics in the restrict field (the comics milieu, I mean). Not that he intended to do so. In his mag Hora Cero Semanal's cover, he stated: "Historietas para mayores de 14 años" (comics for people over 14 years old). What happened was that he worked a lot. Some of his stories are just average, but when they're good, they're very good. Here's what Oesterheld wrote on Hora Cero Semanal # 1's back cover (September 4, 1957; my translation):

There are bad comics when they're badly done only.
Denying comics all together, condemning them as a whole, is as irrational as denying cinema all together because there are bad films. Or condemning literature because there are bad books.
There are, unfortunately in a huge ratio, lots of bad comics. But these don't disqualify the good ones. On the contrary, by comparison, they should underline their quality.
We believe that our comics are good comics. By good comics we mean strong comics, comics that are stout and cheerful at the same time, violent and human. Comics that grab the reader with fair, reliable, means. Comics that baffle the reader because they're new, because they're original, because they're modern, they belong to the present day, they may even belong to the future.
FRONTERA and HORA CERO are proof enough of what we're saying: the readers know it because they chose our stuff.
With HORA CERO SEMANAL we believe that we've outdone ourselves: we are sure that we assembled quality comics in a way that's hardly repeatable.
It's with legitimate publishers' pride that we bring to you HORA CERO SEMANAL knowing that it is a new valuable addition to our magazines which, turning their backs to cheaper, inferior, imported stuff, open their pages to Argentinian stuff. Said stuff (someone has to say it sometime) conquered, without protection or help of any kind, a dignified place among the best stuff done in the world.
To the readers, to the publishers of good comics, our sincerest regards.


I don't suppose that Dominique Petifaux is ignorant when he makes this outrageous allegation in Casterman's tome 1 of the series, 2003 (I may be wrong though; my translation): "Silence is a very important theme in Ernie Pike. When we know those long mute sequences in Hugo Pratt's oeuvre, it's easy to guess that those panels without words were created by the draughtsman who wanted to counterbalance the beautiful, but long dialogues - and sometimes useless captions - written by the scriptwriter. If the silence after Mozart is still Mozart, silence after Oesterheld is Pratt." To be fair, he wrote the word "guess" somewhere in his diatribe. But guess work is incredibly unprofessional for a so-called critic. The truth is that Hugo Pratt is a sacred cow and Oesterheld is no one outside of Argentina. Videla's thugs killed this great master, European critics killed his memory and usurped his rightful place in comics history.

Sgt. Kirk page written by Héctor Germán Oesterheld and drawn by Hugo Pratt. Where are those long dialogues and useless captions? By the way: even the name "Corto" (yes, as in "Corto Maltese)" was used first in Sgt. Kirk by Oesterheld.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What's a Comics Fake? - Coda






1. a "Mort Cinder" page (by two South American greats: Argentinian writer Héctor Germán Oesterheld and Uruguaian artist Alberto Breccia) as it was published in Misterix magazine # 749 (March 22, 1963); verdict: genuine;
2. the same page as it was reprinted in Mort Cinder (Colihue edition, 1997): the logo disappeared and, in order to fill the blank, a "brilliant" editor decided to blow up a detail from the page's first panel; verdict: fake;
3. said page as reprinted in Mort Cinder's Planeta DeAgostini's edition (2002): the logo remained, but it's a different one; the hand lettering was substituted by computer fonts (god knows why); verdict: fake;
4. another "Mort Cinder" page as printed in Misterix # 719 (August 24, 1962): verdict: genuine;
5. the same page as it was reprinted in the aforementioned Colihue edition: many reprints disrespect page layouts (don't let me start on colors), this is just one example among thousands; notice also how the editor butchered panel two (editors also used to pay hacks in order for them to add details in drawings if the panel was too small to fit the new hyperframe); the last "panel" is another blow up; verdict: fake.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What's a Comics Fake?

In Languages of Art (1976 [1968]) Nelson Goodman states: "Let us speak of a work of art as autographic if and only if the distinction between original and forgery of it is significant; or better, if and only if even the most exact duplication of it does not thereby count as genuine." (113) [...] "an art seems to be allographic just insofar as it is amenable to notation" [...] "Amenability to notation depends upon a precedent practice that develops only if works of the art in question are commonly either ephemeral or not producible by one person." (121, 122)

Thus: painting and sculpture are autographic (one-stage, perennial, not amenable to notation), music and literature are allographic (two-stage, ephemeral - the former, I mean -, amenable to notation).
What about comics, then?...
Reading Goodman's book a bit too fast, people tend to say (comparing comics to literature) that comics are allographic. See, here, line 44, if I'm not mistaken (I'll discuss Carrier's book at another occasion):

(Does all this seem to be going in a "discussing the sex of angels" kind of direction, again? Maybe, but, please, bear with me, I'm heading someplace, I promise...)

That said, autographic arts are fakeable, allographic arts aren't: "There is no such thing as a forgery of Gray's Elegy. Any accurate copy of the text of a poem or novel is as much the original work as any other." (114)
Does Nelson Goodman speak about comics in his book? Of course not: no philosopher, or any other thinker, for that matter, even remotely remembers that comics do exist (they may cite culinary or puppetry, but comics are never mentioned). He scrutinized printmaking though: "The etcher [...] makes a plate from which impressions are then taken on paper. These prints are the end-products; and although they may differ appreciably from one another, all are instances of the original work. But even the most exact copy produced otherwise than by printing from that plate counts not as an original but as an imitation or forgery." [...] "not all one-stage arts are autographic and not all autographic arts are one-stage." (114, 115)
This means that comics, instead of being allographic (unfakeable), being reproduced from original art, are, like printmaking, a two-stage autographic art form. Words in comics (lettering), being part of the original art (even if they're a notation), are, in my humble opinion, autographic too. (If you don't agree, you may say with Nelson Goodman: "The architect's papers are a curious mixture." (218); for you, then, comics are a curious mixture...)
Anyway, besides lettering, there's no doubt that comics and printmaking aren't exactly the same art forms (even if the former may be reproduced using the latter; It also seems to me that printmaking is a technique: the real art form is drawing - or photography...). Comics are rarely printed in the exact same size as the original art; if comics are autographic which is the right published size, then?, the first one, ever? Are Peter Maresca's Little Nemo books the real deal being all the other editions just fakes?, it doesn't matter because huge or small they all came from the same original piece of art? And what about a repro of a repro?, are comics an n-stage art form or is the first edition the only authentic one? What about translations?, are these faked comics too? What about the cover?, does a reprint have to duplicate it (even if the publisher is a different one, with a different logo)? What about the printing technique?, do old genuine comics have to be reprinted using old machinery?
I think that the drawing, original color (when it exists), page layout, lettering, are autographic features; print size doesn't matter, comics are an n-stage art form and translations are faked comics (traduttore tradittore and all that...) albeit acceptable ones. Other elements, covers included, are paratextual. Newer printing techniques are OK if they photographically reproduce the images, but they cease do be kosher if they alter or renew the original work. (I don't intend to answer these questions in a definitive way, though; arbitrariness rears its ugly head again?)
All of the above autographic characteristics of comics have been subverted by publishers. Their lack of respect for the artists' work (artists were many times viewed as just hacks) or the readers' right to buy the real thing put the comics industry in the dubious honor of being the hugest purveyor of faked goods on the face of the earth.

Graham Rawle is a UK writer who did Woman's World (2005) using around fourty thousand collaged mag fragments: autographic literature?: the book's cover; two interior pages; the artist at work.

PS Graham's website:
PPS Some generalizations above about intellectuals and publishers are slightly exaggerated for comic effect...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Jacques Callot's Les Miseres et les malheurs de la guerre - Coda







1. self-portrait as a war correspondent in The Siege of Breda (1628. detail; a couple of "miseres de la guerre" can already be seen in the background);
2. The Fair at Imprunetta near Florence, Italy (1622);
3. A humorous caprice (c. 1617);
4. scene # 4 of Les Miseres: "Their brutal spirit prompts them to thefts in the wayside inn, which they cover with the fine name of booty. These disturbers of the peace deliberately quarrel in order to avoid paying their host, and even steal his pots and pans. When they have been properly primed with food and drink, they become prone to help themselves to other people's property.";
5. scene # 11: "These damned, infamous robbers, hanging like miserable fruit from the tree, prove in the end that horrible crime and evil purpose is itself an instrument of shame and vengeance, and that it is the destiny of vicious men to undergo sooner or later divine justice." (a similar scene happened in Kirscheidt a year later, in 1634; the Swedish army hanged the population);
6. scene # 17: "When the soldiers have committed so much damage, their enemies the peasants finally ambush them and kill them, stripping them to their shirts. Thus they revenge themselves on these miserable men for their lost property, for which the soldiers alone are to blame." (All translations: David Kunzle.)