Rackham: A Decade in Comics

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Around ten-and-a-half years ago, in April of 2000, the first issue of Rackham was released to a mostly indifferent Danish audience. The comics market had been in a slump for a decade, very few comics of interest were being published, the underground was struggling to find its sea legs after years of neglect, the comics internet was in its infancy, and there was no comics criticism to speak of. In its own hopelessly overblown fashion, Rackham was an attempt to set all that straight. How my co-editor, co-publisher and compadre Thomas Thorhauge and myself figured that was going to work, I don’t recall, and in any case I guess the ambition was mostly unacknowledged, even by ourselves.

Picks of the Week

“Modern American conservatism is, in large part, a movement shaped by billionaires and their bank accounts, and assured paychecks for the ideologically loyal are an important part of the system. Scientists willing to deny the existence of man-made climate change, economists willing to declare that tax cuts for the rich are essential to growth, strategic thinkers willing to provide rationales for wars of choice, lawyers willing to provide defenses of torture, all can count on support from a network of organizations that may seem independent on the surface but are largely financed by a handful of ultrawealthy families.”

— Paul Krugman

The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Paul Krugman on Fox News and the current state of the American Republican Party. This is great, politically indignant writing from one of our great political and economical analysts.
  • Ward Sutton doing Tea Party cartoons. Chameleon-like, Sutton transforms the American comic strip tradition into reflecting the current political climate on the American right wing. It’s very well done plus funny!
  • Richard Brody on Claude Chabrol. A bit old, but very fine essay remembering the recently passed New Wave-filmmaker.
  • Right Thing the Wrong Way. On the occasion of the current show in Boston, ComicsComics is running excerpts from the catalogue, an oral history of seminal early naughts art comics publisher Highwater Books. It’s pretty great. Part 1, Part 2, ongoing…
  • Plastic Fantastic

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    The Cambridge Film Festival is on at the moment and last night I attended one of its main events — a live interview with director Stephen Frears, followed by a screening of his latest film Tamara Drewe, adapted from the graphic novel by Posey Simmonds. It was a good time — Frears mixed self-deprecation and common sense in his short but thoughtful answers to the questions posed and shared a number of fine insights on filmmaking.

    Particularly interesting was his observation of Hollywood filmmaking as a cinema of close-ups, something he realised on the set of Dangeours Liasons (1988). He explained how he had initially planned the film to include a number of full shot longtakes à la Max Ophüls, but decided against it once he realised the actors we much more proficient in close-ups. He also described John Malkovich as completely unschooled, which drew laughs. He very much confirmed the impression left by his films: a director of solid middle-of-the-road films with a certain social involvement; an inspired caster and director of actors attentive to good scripts, but without much vision as a film director.

    He described the art of adaptation as that of achieving a general fidelity, not a literal one, saying that he strove to avoid going against the spirit of the source. In the case of Tamara Drewe, he further noted that he thought Moira Buffini’s adaptation of the graphic novel was ‘an improvement.’ Watching the film, however, it was hard to find justification for these statements.

    Basically he and Buffini have turned Simmonds caustic social satire into a largely feelgood comedy, introducing romance where there should be none, exchanging her troubled Wessex idyll for soft-focus Dorset fairyland, and rewriting her perceptive dialogue to stilting effect. Most critically, they have softened radically the story’s denoument, essentially neutering the force of Simmonds pessimism and social critique, while keeping just enough of it to destabilise the film’s otherwise delightfully executed comedy. It’s by no means unwatchable–the actors are almost uniformly excellent, despite the script–and its all very professionally done, but it essentially it reduces an affecting, trenchant work to a piece of inconsequential fluff.

    Above: Gemma Arterton is excellent as the title character.

    Picks of the Week

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    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Ray Davis: “High, Low and Lethem”. Great essay about the continuing confluence of high and low culture and the transformation of that modernist dichotomy, which touches upon auteur theory, copyright issues and much more. (Thanks Tim!)
  • Comics! Ron Regé’s great “We Must Know, We Will Know” now available for free at What Things Do. If you haven’t done so already, bookmark or feed this site now. Oh, and there’s one of Shigeru Mizuki’s fun GeGeGe no Kitaro stories up here — check it out. It’s in a different tenor than the more realistic, later Shigeru books currently in the works for the English readership at D&Q (I wrote about one of them here). (Thanks, Dirk!)
  • What Is “Mutant Pop”?

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    When I was in Denmark a few weeks ago, I got the chance to cross the sound to Malmö and see the Dearraindrop-curated Mutant Pop show at Gallery Loyal there. I took a number of photos, which you can see here.

    It was fun, but I’m somewhat sceptical of this contemporary iteration of post-pop art. Here, it’s dubbed ‘mutant pop’, which according to Brandon Joyce, writing in the press material (and I assume the catalogue) is characterised as follows:

    “The image, the symbol, the icon — and the whole plane of pop-mythos — have power, dignity, and even a biology of sorts. Cartoons, afterall [sic], have cells [sic]. Scrawls and sketches serve as little anatomies and dissections of the living image. And like human and animal life, the image can even experience a kind of image-death. Or an afterlife, a creepy kind of undeath as zombie symbols, afterimages, ghost images, or what have you.

    Mutant Pop occurs whenever whenever these symbols and symbologies outgrow their sources. When they take root and incubate in impressionable minds. When they turn weird and grow tails and even get worked into a fullblown [sic] mythos by nice people such as yourselves. Happy, harmless spokesthings assume a self-consciousness. Fleeting-or-forgotten cultural moments, like Max Headroom, like Count Duckula, live on and haunt us through an infectious and hysterical freak culture. And the life-feeling in these images will even, at times, take on mystic or animistic dimensions; as a way of seeing God in the television, so to speak. It amounts, in a way, to a belief in a new, and somewhat noisier, mythos.”

    Hype: WSO!

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    If you’re in Copenhagen, I urge you to visit the grand retrospective on William Skotte Olsen opening today at Kastrupgårdsamlingen and running till 2 January. Skotte Olsen (1945-2005) is one of the great painters of his generation in Denmark, and anywhere really.

    While his oeuvre was plagued somewhat by overproduction, especially in the later years, his best work is amongst the most beautiful and affecting to come out of the 60s generation, merging expressive exuberance with spirituality affect in pictures of rare compositional acuity and deep colouristic sensitivity. A true original.

    Full disclosure: the show is curated by my father, who has also written the catalogue, but don’t let that deter you. Go — you won’t regret it.

    William Skotte Olsen, Figures and Birds with a Sunset, 1984, oil on canvas, 86 x 116 cm., Foreningen Kunst på Arbejdspladsen.