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

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.


Chasing the Lead

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.

Travelogue: Berlin, August 2007

neurotitan_heiner.jpgSince my recent trip to Berlin mostly consisted of looking at drawings and prints in the Kupferstichkabinett, I unfortunately didn’t get much time to take in the city this time around. I however did make it to Neurotitan in Haus Schwarzenberg, nested in the alt. culture oasis of Hackescher Höfe in Berlin Mitte. Haus Schwarzenberg is a must for anyone interested in contemporary art, comics, design and all of that Ringling Brothers shit.

Mike Weiringo 1963-2007

This is some sad news to come home to. Comics artist Mike Weiringo died of a heart attack Sunday. He brought a nice and friendly attitude and a sleek energy to American mainstream comics art. The fun of children’s comics wedded to the coolness of those for adolescents, and a joy to behold. Rest in Peace.

Memorial Day sketch by Weiringo. More here.

Save Storyville!

It has come to my attention that a petition to prevent the BBC from cutting the budget of their documentary department, Storyville, by c. 60%, has been launched a while back. The BBC has a world-class history of documentary production and remains one of the important guarantors of innovation an quality in the field. To see such a substantial reduction in their budget would be sad indeed. Go, sign the petition.

Read more here and here.

The Ellison-Fantagraphics Settlement

ellison.jpgJust got back and have a million things I wanna do here, so what better than to comment on the recently released documents of the settlement between writer Harlan Ellison and publisher Fantagraphics? (the document is available here) Well, I guess there’s lots, but here we go. While it is obviously the most practicable reason for all involved, and eminently understandable that both parties wished to settle – Fantagraphics not wanting to spend a fortune in legal fees and Ellison basically just wanting to obtain some kind of redress he could subsequently hang his Phrygian cap on, like he did with his settlement with AOL a few years back. Congratulations all round on putting this matter behind you.

groth.jpgHowever, it is nevertheless sad to see what is essentially bullying tactics on the part of self-styled free-speech champion Ellison have an effect, no matter how diffuse. The major concession here is that Fantagraphics have conceded to remove the offending parts of their upcoming 30th anniversary book and company history, Comics as Art – We Told You So, despite having maintained and gone far to prove that these allegedly libelous statements are substantially true. Ellison has produced nothing that refutes the clear evidence backing up their statements in the book, provided by Fantagraphics in their motion to dismiss, and while he naturally should not necessarily be expected to do so in public and should therefore perhaps be given the benefit of the doubt, the evidence against him is substantial.