Tuesday 21 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Saturday 18 December 2010

Tintin + Burroughs + Burns = ????

As big a fan as I am of Charles Burns (I sought and bought every comic book issue of Black Hole as they were published), I really struggled at first with his new book, X'ed Out. The premise -- Tintin meets William S. Burrough's Interzone -- is irresistible to me. But I gotta admit; the new book was impenetrable to me on first read.

One thing was the full-colour, something Burns hasn't done since a one-shot, one-off of his "Blood Club" story. The other issue was the sheer brevity of the book; at around 50 pages I was crying for more by the end. After a re-read and some pondering, I realised what Burns was up to. I discuss "cracking the code" of X'ed Out in today's Globe and Mail Books section

...Burns isn’t satisfied with simply emulating the look and feel of a classic Tintin. With X’ed Out, it’s as if he’s trying to replicate the emotional experience of reading such work as well; an experience that is defined by the anticipation and frustration one feels with a staggered publishing schedule.


Sunday 12 December 2010

Obsessed with 'Obsessed With'

My previous post (the first in what seems like a light-year) got me thinking about stocking-stuffers for the book-obsessed weirdoes in your life. And that got me to thinking about these Obsessed With books by Chronicle—in my mind, the grand-daddy of quirk-rich, off-beat mainstream publishing—that boast a bumper crop of good old-fashioned nerdiness.

If I have a single weakness, it’s for the sweet pop-culture of my younger days. And a goodly part of this brain candy is comprised of Star Wars and superheroes. I know – the twin titans of dork culture; but I can’t help it. Between you and me, I blame it all on my kids (7 and 4) who have been in the thrall of Batman, Superman, The Flash and the Skywalker family for a couple of years now. 

So it was with joy that I opened up one of those great cardboard mailers the other day to find copies of Obsessed With Star Wars and Obsessed With Marvel. Packed with hundreds of questions about comics and Star Wars eclectica, these books fairly drilled into the nerdy spinal cord of my shame-filled soul. They even have a little doo-dad that allows you to choose a question, and have the answer pop right up – saving all of the annoying time of flipping to the back of the book for the answer; or flipping the book upside down and spilling your whiskey on your lap.

The point here, is that as entertaining as these books are I would feel too nerdly to buy them myselves – especially when I own a pile/stack of great comics and graphic novels waiting to be read. But, if someone were to buy one of these for me (or ship them to me) I would be absolved of any guilt and dive right in. So, thank you Chronicle books, from the bottom of my pop-culture heart.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

A Potatoe in your stocking

Last year The Globe and Mail became the target of a heap of online scorn after they published their Globe 100, a curated list of the best books reviewed in their pages in the 2009 calendar year. The issue? They chose only three comics work, Asterios Polyp, R. Crumb's The Books of Genesis Illustrated and Logicomix -- none of which was Canadian. This in a year that featured major release by Seth (George Sprott) and a massive reprinting of one of the country's greatest cartoonists.

I think we're all pleased that this time around their choices comics-wise were a bit more inspired, considering they included the Doug Wright Award-winning Hot Potatoe by London, Ontario's Marc Bell. A stranger more inspired choice out of the past 12 months I cannot think of at the moment. Can you imagine the stunned look on your Great Aunt Lou's face when she cracks this beautiful chunk of weirdness out from under the Festivus pole this year? Thank you Martin and crew! Well done.

The bastardized Family Circus cartoon above is pulled from Marc's site.

Saturday 2 October 2010

A rare peek into McGill University's indy comics history

Last year I wrote a piece for McGill University's alumni magazine, McGill News, about graduates who had gone on to success in comics. Unfortunately, two of those interviews didn't survive the final cut; Canadians Mark Shainblum and Jordan Raphael. In the process of doing a much (much) needed update of my website this past month, I realized that I needed to rectify this. I have done so there, and now here (below).

Shainblum's story is classic punk-rock comics; start a comics company with no money or experience, while living in your parent's house. Of course he flamed out, but in the process he founded Matrix Comics and introduced the world to Bernie Mireault via The Jam and Mackenzie Queen. He also talks about the genesis of his own series, Northguard.   

Raphael's story is equally intriguing. Now a L.A.-based lawyer, Raphael is better known as the Mark Zuckerberg of alt-comic, thanks to his work behind the scenes at The Comics Reporter and The Comics Journal, not to mention his co-authoring of Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book with Tom Spurgeon (as good a read out there about the towering and divisive comics legend).

Here he also discusses his role in Newbies Eclectica, McGill's little-known and short-lived alt-comics anthology (featuring early work by Mireault, Rich Tomasso and Al Columbia) that would have made William Shatner proud. Hope you enjoy the read - and let me know what you think.

Mark Shainblum (Dip Ed '91)

The comics book contributions of McGill graduates are not limited to just contemporary efforts, in fact, they stretch back some 25 years to the independent comix boom of the 1980s. That's when 24-year-old Mark Shainblum founded Matrix Comics, which would publish seminal alternative Canadian comics like MacKenzie Queen and The Jam, along with his own unique take on Canadian superhero mythology, Northguard.

Operating out of his parent's basement in a Montreal suburb, Shainblum's company thrived in a time when small-press publishers were selling thousands of copies of their largely black-and-white comics, and giving Marvel and DC a run for their money in the process.

Now 46, Shainblum has a full-time job (in McGill's Communications Department) but still finds time to write comics and science fiction in his spare time. He took a little time out recently to reflect on his experiences as a comics creator and publisher. 

Looking back on it, Matrix was a remarkable Canadian success story for its time. You started it from nothing and ended up being the toast of the independent comics world for a while—addressing huge crowds at conventions hob-nobbing with cartoonists. What was your inspiration?    

MS: Dave Sim [of Cerebus] and Wendy and Richard Pini, who did Elfquest, they were my model going into this. This was the heyday of independent comics. It was the internet before the internet in that everybody who had a couple of thousand dollars was publishing comics.

The 80s were certainly fertile ground for independent comics. Everyone from the Hernandez Brothers to Dave Sim and Chester Brown were putting out ground-breaking work in self-published form. In Canada, Bernie Mireault was considered an indy star. How did you end up publishing his work?

MS: We ran into Bernie in Ottawa at a comic convention (he later told me he was looking for me because he had heard that I was publishing comics). He had these comics and I loved them and agreed to publish them. We did his first series MacKenzie Queen and later The Jam, which started out as a backup feature in Northguard.  

I have to say of all the things I've done, the thing that I'm the proudest of is being the first person to have published Bernie Mireault.      

Of course, you also published Northguard, a revisionist take on the patriotic superhero that you created with artist Gabriel Morrissette. What was your inspiration behind that?

MS: At the time I was reading a lot of British comics, like 2000 A.D., which had stuff in it like Alan Moore's Miracleman which was dealing with superheroes in a totally different way. I think there were only a couple of copies of that comic in Montreal at the time, but I managed to hunt them down. 

Northguard is regarded as a highlight in the history of Canadian superheroes, which stretches back to the Second World War when the home-grown comics dubbed "The Canadian Whites" debuted. Were you aware of this history going when you were developing your characters?

MS: Yes. I was very consciously working in the shadow of those comics. The first comic I published was called New Triumph, which was a reference to a comic by Adrian Dingle [The creator of Nelvana of the Northern Lights which ran in Triumph-Adventure Comics]. I was very influenced by his style.

Like many indy comic companies at the time, I'm thinking of Sim's Aardvark-Vanheim and Aircel, Matrix experienced huge growth for a number of years before going bust due to an overheated market and rising material costs. Do you have any regrets?    

MS: I look back on it with great fondness, but also frustration. In one way it was like a Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland movie—you know, 'Hey guys! Let's make some comics!' In some ways I really miss it, but it wasn’t sustainable. I was always more interested in the creative side and not enough in the business side of things.

They were very heady times. In some ways, I think [it was] an undervalued time in North American pop culture history.      

Jordan Raphael (BA'97)

Born and raised in Toronto, Jordan Raphael is a patented over-achiever. At McGill, he was an honour roll student with a joint honours degree in English and Mathematics, which he followed up with an MA in journalism from the University of Southern California, and then topped off with a law degree.

Yet, ever since the age of six abiding passion has been comics. It's clear that they've informed many of his life choices, including; the founding of Newbies Eclectica while he was an undergrad at McGill; his employment at The Comics Journal; his co-authoring of Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book; and his co-founding of The Comics Reporter, the go-to website for smart comics news and criticism.

Now 34 and working at a law firm in Los Angeles, we caught up with Raphael to discuss how comics changed his life.

So what's your earliest memory of comic books?

JR: In 1981 a friend of my father's bought out the inventory of a comic shop that was going out of business and he just dropped off a huge box of comics—it must have had like 600 comics in there. What was nice is that they were all wrecked; they were all these old, random comics. There was no order to them at all. So you could pick up one and it'd be Spectacular Spider-Man #76 and the next issue would be some terrible Charlton comic, and then Man-Thing #14. There was no rhyme or reason. It was just a mix. I just read and re-read and re-read those comics. And eventually I started buying comics and worked in a comics store in Toronto.

I was surprised to find out about your role in a critical period of comics history at McGill, mainly your founding of Newbies Eclectica via a student group called the Graphics Cartel. What can you tell me about that?

JR: It was an anthology, and honestly, I'm just not very good at choosing names. I just came up with a stupid one—it was terrible. There could have been better ones.

So you formed a club, called the Graphics Cartel, whose 'activity' was publishing comics? Is that how you pulled this off?

JR: Every semester the student government would pony up some money for student clubs, a thousand or $1,500, and that would pay the printing bill. It was actually an interesting experience, because I got to learn about printing and how to deal with printers. The first time I had no idea what you did, I just sent him a bunch of pages, and he said 'Well, you know you might get a better result if you make the proofs yourself.' So we ended up getting more and more professional.
By the end of it, I had a little bit of a—I don’t want to use the word, 'scam'— going. But basically what we would do is publish say two or three thousand copies and we'd just drop at different places on campus, like the way you would with the university paper. By the end of it we had a pretty high quality publication, and we'd drop them for free and keep maybe a thousand copies to sell off campus. So, we made a bit of money too.

Looking back at it, you pulled off quite a coup. During its seven issues you featured contributions from everyone from Rich Tomasso and Bernie Mireault to Al Columbia and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.

JR: Sure. And Roberto, frankly, is the most successful of all the comics-related folks who came out of McGill.

I remember, one of the big thrills some of the artists would get is, they would be at someone's apartment and they'd go use their bathrooms and there'd be a copy of Newbies Eclectica next to the toilet. And they though that was, like, the coolest compliment.   

So, how did you get involved in Tom Spurgeon's The Comics Reporter?

JR: I had just started law school [and] I had been talking to Tom and he was looking for something to do. So we decided a site would be a good idea to get him out there and give him a platform. Frankly, I think he's one if the best writers about comics out there.
I set it up for him, and now I just kind of maintain it for him. I take of all his business and he just writes.

So, you used to be a journalist. How do you think we should wrap this up? 

JR: I guess you could wrap it up by saying that right now I'm a lawyer, so I'm not deeply involved in comics anymore. But all those comics are still back in my parent's house in Toronto—including 1,500 issues of Newbies Eclectica. Every time I go back they remind me about it.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Tubby soothes the savage boy

My sick day today was made more bearable by a delivery from the good folks at D+Q. In it was the first volume of collected Tubby stories in their ongoing John Stanley Library series, most of which I have more of a connection with than Lulu --  I suppose because of the 'boy' thing. Anyways, I trotted the book out to the dinner table and to my surprise my boy (4) asked to be excused, plucked the book from my hands, hunkered down on the couch and started to flip through it. I think it was the first story (about Tubby's mustache) that hooked him here:

And he was still at it, days later.

Seeing that he begins school next week, this is all very encouraging. That you D+Q (and J. Stanley) for providing momentary distraction for a restless boy.

Thursday 2 September 2010

Sneak peek at the new graphic novel from 'Hamilton's Harvey Pekar'

Hey, I didn't coin that-- some record company exec did -- but I can't help but fully endorse (steal) it. I've long considered David Collier a national and regional  treasure; quirky, eccentric, smart and funny, his early comics are true gems and were partly responsible for helping break my lingering fascination with mainstream comics (Ah, Vertigo -- you were a great old lass...). Meeting Dave at Word on the Street in Toronto many years ago was really thrilling, and I'm always pleased to bump into him semi-regularily, the last being at May's Doug Wright Awards.

Around that time I was handed a copy of his latest work-in-progress; a graphic novel that deals with his experiences re-enlisting in the Canadian Forces some 20 years after he left. I'm happy to say that it's classic Collier, winding through an at-times awkward experience with many amusing asides. Like the one below -- ha ha, what a card!

Anyways, Dave has given me permission to run a three-page "exclusive" (is it? I guess it is..) preview of his Spring 2001 book from Conundrum Press, Chimo (the name of the navy ship he is assigned to as part of the Canadian Forces Artists Program). I hope you were as jazzed as I was. Click to enlarge...but I'm guessing you knew that already.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

David Collier Sells Out

Hey all - OK, Mom - Guess what? Hamilton, Ontario's own Hero-of-Comics David Collier dropped me a line to let me know that he's SOLD OUT! That's right, after years of living the life as the bluest of blue- collar cartoonists, Dave has cashed in his "street cred" to collaborate with Canadian indie-rocker Luke Doucet.

Collier has penned a comic based on Doucet's lyrics that will be included in his upcoming CD, Steel City Trawler. The comic and the CD appear to be about the steel city itself, Hamilton. One can only hope that Pigskin Peters/Pete makes a cameo at some point.

Of course, I joke about Dave selling out -- but it is always exciting to see new work from the man and heartening to see it push its way into other media such as this. (Does anyone else remember his weekly strip in the National Post? Is there a better use of Canada Council grants than a collection of the best of those strips? Chris? Peggy? Tom??? Andy???)

Anyways, here's a short promo video for the CD that features art from Dave and an interview with The Man Himself. Enjoy!

Friday 6 August 2010

Reason #356

Why I love old Jimmy Olsen comics:

Thursday 24 June 2010

New Doug Wright Annuals at D+Q

Well, since Chris Oliveros has officially made public Drawn and Quarterly's plans for their Doug Wright property I figure I can now talk about over here as well. The first book to debut (this September) will be Nipper: 1963-1964 and will pick up directly where The Collected Doug Wright: Canada's Master Cartoonist left off. Each book will collect two-years worth of strips and will feature Seth's able design work (see below for a non-final draft of the cover).

A preview of the book is over here.

I also contributed a brief introduction which serves to set the scene a bit for this fertile period in the Canadian cartoonist's career. The beauty of this new format is that it echoes the previous publishing history of Wright's work, mainly two cheap (but very popular) collections of his Nipper material that appeared in the 1960s and 70s. The landscape layout of the book is even the same. The difference this time around is that the D+Q books will be high-quality - just the way Wright intended them to appear - and they will contain dozens of strips republished for the first time ever.

The other bonus is the cover illustration of Nipper motoring away in his "Hot Rod." As a kid I was obsessed with this go-kart and was inspred to build several of my own for local parades etc. None ever looked as cool as Nipper's though.

And fans of the Bed Red Book, fret not. Seth, Chris and I are fully committed to publishing Volume Two a few years down the road. Be patient!

Friday 11 June 2010

The most frightening paper doll ever?

Ask anyone who appreciates fine books and they'll tell you: Dover Books are a great niche publisher. Specializing in reprints (this is how I first discovered a run of Little Orphan Annie strips decades back) and clever uses of public domain material, the company has carved out an impressive if unlikely market for themselves.

One of the most interesting aspects of their catalogue is their selection of paper doll books. In fact, according to their website they are "The #1 publisher of paper dolls." Why? "Because our low-priced books are irresistible for paper doll enthusiasts of all ages." Agreed. I've bought several of these for my daughter and she loves them -- especially this one.

But I have to draw the line (and scratch my head) over their latest release, Classic TV Moms Paper Dolls by Tom Tierney, the modern king of paper doll illustration. 

I mean, it looks cool enough (with the exception of Peg Bundy I suppose) and when you start flipping through it it satisfies expectations. There's Laura Petrir from The Dick Van Dyke Show, Harriet Nelson from The Ozzie and Harriet Show and then there's page 15:

That's correct. That's Roseanne Barr as Roseanne, the flinty-but-funny working class Mom from 1990s TV hit Roseanne. And yes, she's in lingerie. (This is a dress-up toy after all.) But what was Tom thinking on this one? Dressing up (and down) Mary Tyler Moore circa 1962 I can get the appeal of; but Roseanne Barr? What little girl would even knwo who she was? And if they did, why on earth would they ever want to dress her up? I guess ( = pray) this could be a massive prank, but if it isn't I think Dover needs to fire an editor or two unless they want "The Tom Arnold Coloring Book" on their Spring release schedule.

Wednesday 26 May 2010

Best single page of a crummy comic I bought recently

From Unknown Worlds #39 (ACG Comics) Spring 1965:

Sunday 9 May 2010

The handsomest Doug Wright Awards ever

 am proud -- damn proud! -- to say that I survived TCAF, and The Doug Wright Awards, in one piece this year*. (* more or less.) I've downloaded all of my Wright Awards pics, which will become a longer post later when i get my equilibrium back, but for now I thought I'd share this post-ceremony shot of our host Peter Outerbridge posing with the original art Seth did for this year's Best Book video tribute:   

(An aside: I love how that Nipper pin looks on his lapel. Way better than my 20-year-old MEC backpack)

You can watch mini-Peter come to life in our Best Book video, which was written and produced by the awesome guys at Smiley Guy Studios (yay Denny!):

As for the DWAs, I think it was great this year. The feedback was encouraging; one attendee told me it was "touching, classy and well-executed" while a few Quebec audience members said it was the best comics' awards ceremony they had ever attended.

Everything chugged along nicely, the winners were gracious and Marc Bell's trophy fit him perfectly. More later! I am going to go catch up on Lost....

A world-class blabbermouth

No - this is not a confessional post. This weekend's Globe and Mail featured my review of Wilson, Dan Clowes's new graphic novel, and that's a snippet from it. The short version? I like it,and you should too.

The review (with what looks to be a Ghost-World era photo) is here. Please read it and tell me what you think.

A short Clowes story before I pass out from exhaustion. Clowes was in Toronto this weekend as the special guest at TCAF (aka the Toronto Comic Arts Festival). I attended his talk with the eloquent and well-prepared Mark Medley, during which the cartoonist talked about his dislike of reading reviews of his work. There was a brief discussion of Harry Naybors, Clowes' obnoxious Comic Critic character, which appears in issues of Eightball and later in his book Ice Haven.

The next day I saw that my review was in The Globe and immediately dreaded that i was to be Naybor-fied. Anyways, I bumped into Clowes at The Doug Wright Awards later that night and he made a point of saying he really liked the review and appreciated my take on the book.

Yes -- I know this sounds like Harry Naybors' wet-dream, but it was, in a weekend of great moments, the best one by far. 

Monday 5 April 2010

Swipe File: Special Spiegelman Edition

One of the best things about the once-great but now mediocre Comics Journal, was their monthly Swipe File column in which they exposed de facto comics plagiarism -- a practice that was, in fact, quite common among superhero cartoonists. Regardless of this, it was always fun and eye-opening to witness the inspiration behind some of your favourite comics, while visualizing a coffee-addicted cartoonist cribbing from an old pulp novel in an effort to meet deadline. 

This all came to mind thanks to this still photo in the New York Times, which I saw yesterday. It's taken from a London play called Enron that's debuting on Broadway later this week. The play is about the financial disaster that was Enron, the once-great and greatly-troubled American energy company. Is it just me, or does it look like someone in set design was a big fan of Maus?:


I mean, these two mouse-men are dead-ringers for Vladek and crew, don't you think?

I hereby proclaim this a stone-cold swipe!  

Wednesday 31 March 2010

Chet's new poster

Not sure how I missed this, but Chester Brown has contributed the artwork for the poster for a new film by CBC Radio personality (and actor, musician, director) Sook-Yin Lee called Year of the Carnivore. And it's pretty great:

Personally, I think Chester's style would have been better suited to the previous SYL-vehicle Shortbus, but what do I know about marketing films?

Wednesday 17 February 2010

The Qs and the As

Dave Howard, of Torontoist's new comics blog, interviewed me about comics, awards, Canadians and Doug Wright (the awards and the Collected) and has posted the results. Unlike me, Dave is a very smart and thoughtful guy and this interview follows in the footsteps of ones with fellow writer and Wright Awards co-conspirator Jeet Heer and blogger/Beguiling/TCAF Grand Wizard, Chris Butcher

What can I say? I'm proud to appear in such sterling company -- keep it coming Dave! 

Friday 22 January 2010

The anxious mind and me

It may come as a surprise to people who know me, but I am a very anxious guy. Always have been, since I was a toddler, but I think I've learned to cope with it over the years. Still, I'm the person who is up at night thanks to a revolving door of worry: Is my daughter going to do okay in Grade 1? Is my son's cough more than just a cough? Will I meet that deadline at work? Am I writing enough freelance articles? Am I worrying too much? (That last one always makes me laugh.)

I try my best to talk myself out of these worry cycles, but I've just come to accept that there are days (or weeks) where I'll lose sleep and fret the night away. I've never really given this much thought until I picked up a recent issue of the New York Times Magazine and spied the cover story by Robin Marants Henig called "Understanding the Anxious Mind."

Henig's lenghty yet thoroughly engaging article explores the research done into the neuorological and biological roots of people with "high-reactive temperaments"; essentially those who have over-active amygdalas, the tiny part of the brain that oversees our reaction to fear and novelty.

There's so much in this piece that rings true for me, but the section about the purpose of high-anxiety was pretty swell:

In the modern world, the anxious temperament does offer certain benefits: caution, introspection, the capacity to work alone. These can be adaptive qualities. Kagan has observed that the high-reactives in his sample tend to avoid the traditional hazards of adolescence. Because they are more restrained than their wilder peers, he says, high-reactive kids are less likely to experiment with drugs, to get pregnant or to drive recklessly. They grow up to be the Felix Ungers of the world, he says, clearing a safe, neat path for the Oscar Madisons.

People with a high-reactive temperament — as long as it doesn’t show itself as a clinical disorder — are generally conscientious and almost obsessively well-prepared. Worriers are likely to be the most thorough workers and the most attentive friends. Someone who worries about being late will plan to get to places early. Someone anxious about giving a public lecture will work harder to prepare for it. Test-taking anxiety can lead to better studying; fear of traveling can lead to careful mapping of transit routes.

That is 100% me, btw. He continues:

An anxious temperament might serve a more exalted function too. “Our culture has this illusion that anxiety is toxic,” Kagan said. But without inner-directed people who prefer solitude, where would we get the writers and artists and scientists and computer programmers who make society hum? Kagan likes to point out that T. S. Eliot suffered from anxiety, and that biographies indicate that he was a typical high-reactive baby. “That line ‘I will show you fear in a handful of dust’ — he couldn’t have written that without feeling the tension and dysphoria he did,” Kagan said.

If you have any of these characteristics, or live with someone who does, i strongly recommend that you read the piece all the way through. That's right: don't skip over anything, or skim it -- all the way through!!!