High and Low II

dream_lie.jpgBecause I think at least bits of it are worth a second look, this is just to follow up on the discussion about modernism, high and low in art, and how all of this pertains to comics that Comics Journal critic Noah Berlatsky and I, amongst others, have conducted here and on the Comics Journal messageboard. Noah answered my critique of his article on the Chicago comics scene with the following message board post:

“It’s not the rise to prominence among the artistic elite, but modernism itself that’s screwed over the novel (somewhat) and poetry (thoroughly and completely.)

I think you’re right when you say that high vs. low culture is a strawman; I just don’t think it’s my strawman. It’s modernism and its bastard children that are obsessed with the distinction; I’m just reporting.

Arnold Drake RIP

stradv205_t.jpgOne of the great originals of the American Silver Age, Arnold Drake, has passed away. Mark Evanier provides a both informative and touching obituary. To me, Drake is significant for the creation of a number of characters and stories that showed the obverse of the four-color universes of other superhero comics of his time. “The Doom Patrol”, a group of freaks doing their best to act the superhero bit, is a bizarrely unsettling series, as if Drake was taking the bourgeois weirdness of things like Mort Weisinger’s Superman dead serious. It is funny and entertaining, but not comforting in the same way most of the other DC stories done at the time were. And then there is of course “Deadman.” This is the original angsting “superhero”, and, again, his endless The Fugitive-like search for his faceless, prosthetic-fitted killer – a search which promises no redemption – was not your usual superhero yarn. To this eight-year old it was positively haunting. As if all bets were off.

Say hello to Boston Brand for me, Mr. Drake!

du9 in English!

The premier French site of comics criticism has now launched an English-language version, containing selected content in translation. This means, for example, that you can now read Xavier Guilbert’s review of Shigeru Mizuki’s masterly NonNonBâ (which I also reviewed a couple of days ago), as well as interviews with Edmond Baudoin and Lorenzo Mattotti, amongst other things.

Also, and completely unrelated, the high and low-discussion continues at the TCJ message board.

High and Low

clowes_murder.jpgOver on the TCJ message board, Noah Berlatsky replies to my criticism:

“Hi Matthias. You raised some interesting points in your review. For myself, though, when I was six or seven I thought Peanuts was hysterically, fall-down-on-the-floor funny. Still do, for that matter.

I didn’t talk more about Chris Ware in the Schulz essay in part because, at the time, I’d just written a piece sneering at him. It was a review of the Comix Chicago issue from a couple of years back, and it used to be on the now-defunct Bridge magazine website. Anyway, I thought I’d reprint it as well, since there seems to be some interest. It’s now on my blog here:


I’m not quite as high on Alan Moore as I was when I wrote this. I still think he’s pretty great, though.

And finally, in totally trivial and pointless quibbling, the Schulz essay was the first thing I wrote for the Journal, but it was actually published second. (It was in #265; the Spiegelman review was in #264.)”

Ghosts of the Past

azuki-harari.jpgMy first exposure to the work of Mizuki Shigeru was indirect, in the form of Miike Takashi’s wonderful 2005 film Yôkai daisensô (eng. The Great Yôkai War), which I saw last year. Amongst the most impressive aspects of that thoroughly enjoyable movie was the often iconically simple and inventive character designs given to the host of yôkai appearing throughout. Yôkai is the common term for the multitude of spirits and demons of Japanese folklore and author and mangaka Mizuki is probably their most significant ambassador to the world of 20th-century popular culture.

Mizuki being such a strong, simple stylist whose stories are celebrated widely in Japan, it was only natural that Miike would be drawing on his ideas and designs for his delirious yôkai epic. Now, however, Mizuki’s own work has at long last come to the west, and to great critical acclaim. His autobiographical masterwork NonNonBâ to Ore, in French just plain NonNonBâ, was recently recognised by perhaps the finest distinction a comic can be granted in the West – the Angoulême book of the year. And let it be said immediately: Mizuki, though far from epic in scope, does not let down the promise provided by Miike.

Puppy Love

anxiety_snoopy.gifThe most consistently readable, if also frustrating, new writer at the Comics Journal the last couple of years, Noah Berlatsky, has just put his first and best piece for the magazine, on the reception of Peanuts by today’s alt-cartoonists, online at the blog he contributes to. I often find myself disagreeing with Berlatsky, as will become apparent in the following, but the point is that he is worth spending some effort disagreeing with.

Petition to Maintain a Pluralistic Copenhagen

adrian_ungdomshus_nedrivning.jpgI have received this petition re: the closure and demolition of Ungdomshuset in Copenhagen, earlier in the week (as written about here and here). Thought I would pass it on to the readers:

The County of Copenhagen has deserted the occupants and users of ‘Ungdomshuset’ by not accepting responsibility for the city’s youth culture and leaving the future of the latter in the hands of private foundations.

By signing the petition, I urge the County to represent all adolescents, not only the adeptly adjusted.

I denounce the violent riots led by a small group of criminal elements.

Sign Here: http://www.mangfoldighed.underskrifter.dk/

Spread The Word. Take Care of Our City

In Danish:

Københavns kommune har svigtet brugerne af Ungdomshuset ved ikke at tage et fuldt ansvar for deres ungdomskultur og ved at overlade deres fremtid til private fonde.

Jeg opfordrer med min underskrift Københavns Kommune til at repræsentere alle unge og ikke kun de veltilpassede unge.

Jeg tager afstand fra de voldelige optøjer anført af en mindre kerne af kriminelle elementer.

Skriv Under Her: http://www.mangfoldighed.underskrifter.dk/

Spred ordet. Pas på vores by

Photo once again from Politiken, Joachim Adrian.

Support Fantagraphics!

harlan_ellison.jpgIt seems like everyone in the comics blogosphere by now knows about Fantagraphics’ new Defence Fund, launched to help them through the bullshit lawsuit they are facing from cranky has-been SF writer Harlan Ellison (pictured). However, I still gotta plug it here, just because. Concerning the merits of Ellison’s case, I’m sure Kim and Gary have not exactly been diplomatic in their dealings with him over the years (nor has he in his with them, I’m equally sure). In fact, they have probably been quite the pain in the ass, even probably unnecessarily so. However, this lawsuit is clearly crap, and potentially a threat to the 1st Amendment rights of publishers.

I won’t go into details, merely refer you to this news story on the Comics Journal website, from which several of the pertinent documents can be downloaded, this thread discussing the matter on their board, this thread on the Harlan Ellison board (where the man himself, amongst other things, compares Kim and Gary to “serial child molesters” – nice chap), and this repository of documents from his end.


By Emma Firestone

Samuel Beckett’s austere existential vision of the loneliness of the individual facing the inevitable—death—has become familiar. Not cosy, exactly, but familiar. For revivals of the best-known plays (Endgame, Happy Days, Krapp’s Last Tape ), I reckon, the consequences of this familiarity have mostly been positive: conceived for an audience not just prepared but eager to engage a bleakness once thought distasteful or performance-averse, these productions are free to explore the great range of tones and tenors present in Beckett’s marvelously variable prose. It is now standard, for example, for directors to articulate the humour and farce inherent in his character’s inexplicable conditions, as well as the anticipated tragedy.

In Defense of Negativity

steve_bell260603.jpgAttended a talk by Tony Blair’s former Press Director, the Alastair Campbell, at Pembroke College tonight. It was, unsurprisingly, a bravura performance – one of the most impressive displays of seamless rhetoric I have witnessed in a long time. Possibly best known, at least abroad, for his involvement in selling the Iraq War to the British People and his direct responsibility for the embarrassing concoction that was the so-called “dodgy dossier”, given to the press in February 2003 in support of the government’s claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and ties to international terrorism. Smartly, Campbell immediately diffused potential criticism from the audience by humorously outlining how he had garnered something of a reputation for being the Anti-Christ in person.