Yellow Scholarship II

original_keed.jpgTom Spurgeon has responded to my rodomontade on the Yellow Kid from yesterday. He writes:

“I’m not all that convinced by Wivel’s restatement, and I find a lot of his rhetoric slippery. For one, I very obviously didn’t show in my original argument that Gary Groth is ignorant of 19th Century comics-making in favor of a view of Yellow Kid as the genesis of everything. What I pointed out is that Gary was unfairly portrayed that way in a film trailer when I thought it pretty clear he was looking at Yellow Kid as a landmark starting point in terms of industry impact and locking into place a firm path of development at that point forward — the way Christopher Columbus discovered America for modern Europe despite entire civilizations already being here, or the way you can point to seven or eight American college football games as the first one depending on your standards for doing so.

Yellow Scholarship

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Yesterday, Tom Spurgeon commented briefly on the statement in the opening paragraph of my review of David Kunzle’s Töpffer monograph that the latter “deserves a large part of the credit for debunking the myth of the Yellow Kid as the point of origin, and bringing the history of modern comics before Hogan’s Alley to light in a fledgling academic field, dominated for years by collective denial.” Tom writes:

“…did anyone worth considering ever really take the Yellow Kid seriously as an artistic starting point? I see that mentioned whenever someone brings up Topffer — Gary Groth gets beaten with that argument construction in this movie trailer as if the other comics people caught him in a goof-up. I remember writing about 19th century German cartooning as comics when I was a graduate student in 1992, and I wasn’t exactly rich in my comics knowledge. I always thought it was pretty clear that the Yellow Kid began comics the same way Christopher Columbus discovered America — not in any literal sense, but in a sense where the economic and cultural forces were now combined behind it to lock into place a certain kind of future development for the industry. Did anyone after 1974 or so think otherwise?”

Töpffer in Zigzag

father_of_the_comic_strip.jpgDavid Kunzle deserves a large part of the credit for debunking the myth of the Yellow Kid as the point of origin, and bringing the history of modern comics before Hogan’s Alley to light in a fledgling academic field, dominated for years by collective denial. A substantial part of that effort has been the reintroduction of Swiss comics pioneer Rodolphe Töpffer (1799-1846) to comics afficionados, initially in a couple of important articles, one on Töpffer’s strip M. Cryptogame in the journal Genava (no. 32, 1984) and another on the reception of his work by Goethe in the Journal of the Warburg and Cortauld Institute (vol. 48, 1985), and subsequently in a comprehensive chapter of his grand History of the Comic Strip vol. 2: The Nineteenth Century (1990). To have him return to Töpffer again, and finally see him publish a complete edition of the master’s strips, Rodolphe Töpffer : The Complete Comic Strips, as well as a monograph on Töpffer as a comics artist, Father of the Comic Strip – Rodolphe Töpffer, is therefore something of an event.

Not yet having seen the strip collection, which looks great, I will reserve judgement on that, but unfortunately the monograph, though full of interesting information, is not the book one could have hoped for from the world’s foremost authority on Töpffer’s comics. While up front about not wanting to cover the entirety of Töpffer’s life and work, but rather wanting to concentrate on his comics, it seems to me that Kunzle still wants to present us with something of an authoritative survey. The book is, however, rather a collection of more or less disparate essays. Instead of providing a thorough but accessible introduction to the man and his comics, it gets lost in detail and never achieves the sense of overarching structure the format traditionally suggests. It contains fine insights and presents a good deal of compelling research, but is at the same time confusingly structured, incoherently written and presumes prior knowledge to a self-defeating extent.

Comic Transformations РȚpffer and the Reinvention of Comics in the First Half of the 19th Century

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To mark the recent release of David Kunzle’s long-awaited collection of Swiss comics pioneer Rodolphe Töpffer’s comics work, as well as his monograph on Töpffer the cartoonist (read our review here), the Metabunker hereby presents the following introduction to the comics of Töpffer. It should be noted that the text is a slightly edited version of an essay I wrote as part of a class on the history of the print at the CUNY Graduate Center, Fall of 2004. It was supervised by Prof. Patricia Mainardi, who by the way recently wrote this informative article on the development of comics in the 19th Century.

Enjoy!

Chasing the Lead

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When one looks at the top stories in hip hop today, it is no wonder that sales are plummeting faster than in any other genre. While once the media were abuzz with Ice Cube’s at times ill-advised but nevertheless truly provocative statements, Biggie and Pac’s tragic feud which exposed the underbelly of ghetto fame, or even Eminem’s perceived threat to white suburbia, what we have today is mostly such nonsense as the latest shenanigans of that joke of an MC, 50 Cent, the latest on-going of which being his vow to stop recording solo if his upcoming third album, Curtis, doesn’t outsell toyboy Kanye West’s third release, Graduation, both of which “happen” to be dropping on September 11 (how poignant to pick that date, by the way, go PR!).

This story was made more “interesting” last Thursday when it became apparent that his next single, “Follow My Lead”, as well as the video for it – slated for release in October – had been leaked. 50 reportedly ‘erupted’ at this news, tore a 70″ plasma screen from the wall at the Interscope offices, and threw his Blackberry through the window. The best laid of plans and all that…

The Cartoon Crisis Comes to Sweden

vilks.jpgJeez, here we go again. Swedish artist Lars Wilks (pictured) has, during the course of the last three weeks, had a handful of drawings, amongst other things showing the Prophet Muhammed as a so-called ’roundabout dog’ rejected from two exhibitions in the province to which he had been invited to participate. A media storm has followed, and he has since then also submitted his drawings to Moderna Museet in Stockholm asking them to exhibit the drawings on principle. They also rejected them. Predictably, he is crying foul and berating Swedish political correctness and self-censorship, etc., and he is joined by other critics, amongst them Flemming Rose, who was the editor responsible for the commissioning and publication of the infamous Danish Muhammed cartoons in the Fall of 2005 (note that this is unfortunately the only link in English here).

Let’s see: Vilks explicitly draws these images to ‘test’ the ‘tolerance’ of the art institutions he is submitting them to and when they’re rejected he takes that as confirmation that something is rotten in Sweden. That may be the case, and it is certainly unacceptable that Vilks has received a couple of death threats over the last weeks. But on the other hand: can you blame an institution for not wanting to show what is evidently scribbled, substandard drawings done deliberately to provoke and not much else? And does such a rejection necessarily mean that free speech and civilization as we know it is in danger?

Watch This Hand!

Via Dirk, my attention was called to this analysis of the page pictured at left, from Darwyn Cooke’s characteristically bland revival of The Spirit, issue 5.

Now, I guess the criticism of the plot problems in the story is valid enough, although this is a broad, archetypical comic book story, not a realistic one. Cooke’s writing is invariably lacklustre. More glaring to me is the actual storytelling on the page. What’s up with the Cossack’s sleight of hand here? He makes the switch *three* times in one page (once while managing to fire a gun at the same time!) Not only is Cooke a sloppy writer, he’s a sloppy storyteller.

Nifty designer, of course.