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), Stefan Strocen (c), "El Sargento Kirk: Ruta de sangre" [blood route], Misterix # 441, April 26, 1957.

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

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

Héctor Germán Oesterheld (w), Hugo Pratt (a), Stefan Strocen (c), "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, Vortex 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, Drawn & 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...

Friday, September 5, 2014

Mat Brinkman's Skeleton Jelly, Part 1 (followed by Part 2)

Mat Brinkman, "Multiforce: Skeleton Jelly," Paper Rodeo # 6, October November 2000. Multiforce was collected in a tabloid sized book by Picturebox in 2009.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Feliz Día de la Historieta!

Francisco Solano López, tapa de Hora Cero Suplemento Semanal # 12, 20 de noviembre de 1957.

Hoy se celebra el Día de la Historieta en la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires (Capital Federal) y en toda Argentina.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Perspective As A Symbolic Form

Hector Germán Oesterheld (w), Hugo Pratt (a), "El Sargento Kirk: El pais de los mungos," Editorial Abril, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Misterix # 359, August 12, 1955 (page 665 of the series, 46 of the story). The original art was India ink on paper in the landscape format (three tiers: 2 x 3 x 2 panels); size of publication 5.7 x 9 inches, genre: Western.

In the last few days I praised the work of Hugo Pratt, Héctor Oesterheld, and Stefan Strocen in "El pais de los mungos" as if said work's excellence was obvious to anyone looking at my examples (it never is, of course). Today I want to look at one page of the story to see if a close reading sheds some light on the work of Oesterheld and Pratt (Strocen is absent because the page is in black and white). I will not convince anyone who dislikes the work of one of them or the work of both, obviously, because the critic can only "convince" the converted. Aesthetic choices, not unlike choices in the fields of politics or religion or sports are personal and not transferable. 

Anyway, I digress...

It would be very interesting to read Oesterheld's script to see if it's an Alan Moore kind of script or a somewhat looser one: Oesterheld chose the shots or Hugo Pratt planed it all? European fans of Hugo Pratt, some so-called critics among them, prefer to believe in this second option, but that's because they have a religion, they're Ugoprattians. Since I'm not part of that particular church I have to be Agnostic here: I simply don't know, so, from now on it's the work of Pratt/Oesterheld or the work of Oesterheld/Pratt. I put this disclaimer at the beginning just to get that shadow out of the way...

What the page above shows is basically a conflict situation. The page starts with an extreme close-up of Kirk (panel one). Kirk is alone because he needs to make a very difficult decision: will they try to save Tumiga from the Crows or will they abandon him in the name of the group's safety? Kirk chooses the latter option. The next shots are wide close shots showing the reaction of the group against (Corto) and in favor (Dr. Forbes) of Kirk's decision. Their silhouettes in panel three connote conspiracy, but we know that Corto will not confront Kirk, so, nothing will come out of that. In panel four the real danger to Kirk's leadership appears for the first time: Kani. Like Kirk she needs to make a decision and she knows that she's alone. So, like Kirk, she gets her full close-up (not as extreme as Kirk's, but her decision is not as difficult to make). The most important exception to the group's wide close shots though are not the close-ups, the most important exception, the panel that says it all, is panel six: a full high angle shot (it's a double contrast: of frame and point of view; it also contradicts the other composition solutions in friezes introducing the oblique line - between Dr. Forbes and Kani). She's diverging from the group and never was she bigger than when the perspective shows her smaller in the last panel.

Milton Caniff, "Terry and the Pirates," the last Sunday before leaving the series, December 29, 1946 (I don't know who the - great - colorist was). The sixth panel above reminds another panel that was ingrained in Hugo Pratt's brain (as seen on this blog already). The obvious difference is that Kani diverges while Jane converges.

It's a well known fact that Hugo Pratt started his career in comics under the powerful influence of Milton Caniff, but in "El pais de los mungos" another influence (an European one this time), and a not less powerful one, begins to show: Hergé and what was later called (by Joost Swarte) the clear line.

Hergé and Studios Hergé, "Tintin au Tibet," Le Lombard, Tintin Magazine # 20, May 20, 1959 (left); Hector Germán Oesterheld (w), Hugo Pratt (a), Stefan Strocen (c), "El Sargento Kirk: El pais de los mungos," Editorial Abril, Misterix # 357, July 29, 1955 (right). It may seem strange that I chose a 1959 panel to show its influence in 1955, but Hergé's (and Studios Hergé's) style was perfectly in place in 1955 when "L'Affaire Tournesol" [The Calculus Affair] was being serialized. Besides, Tintin au Tibet is another book in which footsteps in the snow are an important part of the plot.

If we look closely though, there are also important differences between the clear line in 1955 and Hugo Pratt's style in the page above. Pratt uses linear perspective, but the space is never very detailed or deep. Except for the last panel the forest is more suggested than shown, but the main difference lies in the thickness of the lines. Figures in the foreground are outlined with thicker lines than the figures in the background. This is clear (no pun intended) in the last panel when the linear perspective is enhanced to guide the reader's eye from right to left (the "unnatural" way of reading in the West, suggesting the difficulties ahead) until we find fragile, and yet gigantic in her resolve, Kani. The lines have also a "nervousness" in them that is absent from the clear line (we may say that the clear line is here to decrease the drama, but Hugo Pratt doesn't want pathos to fade completely; also, the sticks look like needles adding a subtle expressionist touch). There are no shadows, no hatching or cross-hatching, but thick lines suggest drape folds and logs.

Snow falls from the beginning to the end of the page. This provokes a relentless, uncomfortable, visual rhythm. The clock is already ticking... the fates never rest...

Death As a Character - Coda #2

Yesterday I said that, after the story arc "El pais de los mungos" [Mungo country]. Hugo Pratt's art declined. I didn't change my opinion since then, but there are some cinemascopic panels on the covers of the next long story arc, "Ruta de sangre" [blood route] (119 pages) that seem to disprove me. What happened is that Hugo Pratt realized at some point that, since Misterix had a landscape format (with three tiers) the best that he could do was to adapt drawing wide panels (that's, by the way, why his adaptation of the series to the portrait format in Ivaldi's Sgt Kirk magazine is so "unnatural" - I gave you an example of what I'm saying below already). These are some sparks in a rather gray panorama, though. The brilliance of "El pais de los mungos" was far behind...

It's not the first cinemascopic panel in the series by any means, but here's a good example before "Ruta de sangre":

Héctor Germán Oesterheld (w), Hugo Pratt (a),"El Sargento Kirk: Blanca Sombra" [White Shadow], Editorial Abril, Misterix # 403, June 22, 1956.

Without further comments here are three examples of what I'm talking about above (the height of these panels is bigger than the height of the black and white panel because the cover had two tiers instead of three):

Héctor Germán Oesterheld (w), Hugo Pratt (a), Stefan Strocen (c), "[El] Sargento Kirk: Ruta de sangre," Editorial Abril, Misterix # 422, November 2, 1956.

Héctor Germán Oesterheld (w), Hugo Pratt (a), Stefan Strocen (c), "[El Sargento Kirk]: Ruta de sangre," Editorial Abril, Misterix # 426, January 2, 1957.

Héctor Germán Oesterheld (w), Hugo Pratt (a), Stefan Strocen (c), "[El] Sargento Kirk: Ruta de sangre," Editorial Abril, Misterix # 430, February 8, 1957.

...Oh, and, by issue # 387 of Misterix it was Summer already:

Héctor Germán Oesterheld (w), Hugo Pratt (a), "El Sargento Kirk: El Espantado" [The Startled One] Editorial Abril, Misterix # 387, March 2, 1956.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Death As a Character - Coda #1

Héctor Germán Oesterheld (w), Hugo Pratt (a), Stefan Stocen (c), "Tierra enemiga," Misterix # 345, May 6, 1955.

Readers of Misterix just needed to look at Hugo Pratt's art and Stefan Strocen's colors (with his somewhat reduced warm palette - it's a shame that only 22 out of 120 pages are in color in "El pais de los mungos") to see that something changed for the better in the Sgt. Kirk series at the end of "Tierra Enemiga" [enemy land] (page 104 - 608 of the series above), but especially during most of "El pais de los mungos"' [Mungo country's] run (from issue # 348, May 27, 1955, until issue # 377, December 23, 1955). After that Hugo Pratt's art went in a downfall until his Frontera years (maybe he lost interest in Sgt. Kirk - to the point that, in an interview with Dominique Petitfaux, 1528 pages seemed like 5000 to him). I don't know what happened exactly in Hugo Pratt 's private life during his Abril (and "El Sargento Kirk") years, but he's not known for being a workaholic exactly. Maybe he decided to, at least, moderate his nocturnal adventures in 1955 because this work stands out as some of the best that he ever created. I particularly like how it's Autumn at the end of "Tierra enemiga", with leaves falling from the trees, and the series continues through Winter in "El pais de los mungos", with snow falling and snow covered landscapes (see below).  

Héctor Germán Oesterheld (w), Hugo Pratt (a), Stefan Strocen (c),"Tierra enemiga," Misterix # 345, May 6, 1955: Autumn.

Héctor Germán Oesterheld (w), Hugo Pratt (a), "El pais de los mungos," Misterix # 359, August 12, 1955: Winter.

What about Oesterheld though? It's not that easy to realize at first sight that a story is greater than the one preceding it. Well, Oesterheld's narrator (see below) charged himself with the task of explaining to us that, after Dinard and General Harper died, this was not "an adventure like the previous ones..." 

Héctor Germán Oesterheld (w), Hugo Pratt (a), Stefan Stocen (c), "El pais de los mungos," Misterix # 356, July 22, 1955.