The Week

The Week in Review.

As the Arab Spring is moving into its second, rather messy and somewhat disconcerting phase in certain countries, it figures that we would get another cartoon flareup. The firebombing of the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo is yet another low point in the ongoing and increasingly polarized discourse surrounding free speech and religious iconoclasm today. In this post-Danish cartoons landscape, the despicably violent response of the anonymous firebombers naturally tends to get all the attention, but it is also the easiest part of the event to deal with, in that it can be condemned outright.

The real question, as I see it, is why Charlie Hebdo figured it was a good idea once more to trot out the “likeness” of Muhammad. I found Luz’ cover, showing the prophet threatening a hundred lashes to whoever didn’t find it funny, worth a chuckle, but what purpose did it really serve? Why, exactly, did we need this piece of satire? The extra-legal power exercised by Islamic extremists deserves to be mocked and condemned, but it is also something most of us can easily agree to despise (stay safe Charlie!). It seems to me, however, that the blunt instrument of depicting the prophet merely further encourages these maniacs, while broadcasting once again that the beliefs of millions of non-violent Muslims is apparently not worthy of respect here in the West.

Satire has no prerogative to be constructive, but free speech is such a potent idea that ceding it to this kind of bullying is unfortunate. Yes, we are entitled to insult whatever belief we like, religious or otherwise — and that is how it should be (good on Libération to open their offices to Charlie) — but it would reflect well on our principles if we also employed them to speak out against the general coarsening of what was once civilized discourse.

Oh, yes, links:

  • Slavoj Žižek on the Arab Spring, the recession, Occupy Wall St., and everything else going on. Rambling and insightful as usual, Žižek is always good company. It all comes back to communism, of course…
  • Gary Groth interviews R. Crumb. This is perhaps the quintessential Comics Journal interviewer/ee constellation, and although this time around is a little light-weight, it’s still the good and fun read you’d expect from these guys.
  • A House Divided: The Crisis at L’Association

    Mattt Konture, Killoffer, Stanislas, Lewis Trondheim, Jean-Christophe Menu, David B., Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian in Angoulême in 1991. Photo Courtesy lewis Trondheim.


    I’ve spent some of the summer interviewing a number of the central figures in and around seminal French comics publisher L’Association (publishers of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and many other quality books) about the crisis they’ve been through over the last year or so. An interpersonal crisis that eventually led to a strike amongst the employees and resulted in the return of four of the publisher’s estranged co-founders as well as the departure of another, Jean-Christophe Menu, and his announcement of a new publishing house, L’Apocalypse. The first part is now up at The Comics Journal, with the second to follow soon.

    The Author’s Face?


    The Tintin movie makes good on the promise of not disgracing its august comics source. Spielberg is a pro and he delivers what he does best — a sense of adventure and possibility and a sufficiently sensitive approach to his film technology that his characters come alive despite the mo-cap plastic feel. The rewrite of the books (mainly The Secret of the Unicorn and The Crab with the Golden Claws) is well thought out and most of the characters are well realized, with good voice performances all round. The personal, slightly brooding and troubled subtext of Hergé’s work pretty much gets lost in the mix, but hey — this is a popcorn movie and a pretty good one.

    Spielberg hits a couple of false notes.

    The Week


    The Week in Review

    What a week. Starting with Fantask’s fortieth anniversary celebration last weekend and ending with my participation at NNCORE’s foundational meeting with a short Berlin jaunt to see the astonishing Renaissance portraits and Hokusai shows there. I hope to return a bit to the portraits (though I can’t promise anything), but just wanted to say a few words about Hokusai here.

    A huge retrospective covering the artist’s eighty-plus year career, the show really brought home just how prodigious an artist he was. He must have been drawing all the time. The kind of artist whose ambition is to understand no less than everything about the world through drawing, like Leonardo or Dürer. From the proliferating analytical notations in his manga and other instructional booklets to the elegant summaries of his brush paintings, his is a recording of human experience as such. Not the idea of it, and not really with an attempt to comment, but rather a continuous ambition to formulate a vision that suspends it within a order that grasps it all without reducing it to style. In a sense, what all cartooning should aspire toward.

    Some links:

  • Questlove’s Top 10 Life-Shaping Musical Moments. As always writing with passion and insight the Roots backbone takes us down memory lane through the songs that shaped his life and work.
  • Ben Katchor on picture stories. The great New York cartoonist does something similar, if less personal, for comics here. A fine thinker about comics, his recommendations contain plenty of nutrient for your dome.
  • Eddie Campbell on Simon and Kirby’s romance comics. The same goes for this, which serves as a reminder just how much of his career Kirby spent creating reality-based comics, and how important the romance genre used to be for comics.
  • Enter NNCORE

    British comics scholars Laurence Grove and Ann Miller at the meeting.


    These last three days saw the foundational meeting of the Nordic Comics Research Network (NNCORE) at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense.

    Initiated by lecturer at the Department of History, Culture and Society Anne Magnussen, and funded by a grant from the Danish Research Council, the network seeks to develop relations between comics scholars in the Nordic countries. It is overseen by an advisory board comprising some of the foremost international comics scholars today and at present has a membership of a few dozen.

    The meeting was characterized by optimism and friendliness and bodes well for the future of comics research in the region. Get in touch if you’re interested!

    Wanderlust : Ulli Lust’s Heute ist der letzte Tag vom Rest deines Lebens


    In 1984, when she was 17, Ulli Schneider went to Italy on a lark. She returned to Austria two months later, a changed woman. The following year she had a child and went on with life. She attended art school in Vienna, became an illustrator and produced several children’s books, eventually assuming her mother’s maiden name Lust. In 1995, she moved to Berlin to study graphic design. She fell in with the notable Berlin collective Monogatari and started drawing short comics, invariably in non-fiction: reportage, documentary, observational. She refrained from doing straight autobiography, however, regarding it as a somewhat hackneyed default shortcut for budding comics “auteurs.” But that defining journey through Italy evidently lurked somewhere, and in 2005 she decided to tell the story in comics form. She started serializing it on her online comics site, electrocomics, completing about half there before reworking it, adding a second color, and publishing to it great critical acclaim in Germany in 2009 as Heute ist der letzte Tag vom Rest deines Lebens (‘Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life’).

    Told with great confidence and uncomfortable frankness across a sprawling 450 pages, it is a coming-of-age narrative that inevitably places itself in the tradition of German travel literature, perhaps unwittingly joining the company of such august figures as Goethe and Hesse.

    Time Tripping


    That’s my man Lars in 1991 and this past Saturday, respectively. The fortieth anniversary of Fantask was a trip down memory lane for us kids, plus a milestone in Danish comics-, SF-, and gaming culture. Frederik Høyer-Christensen documented some of the day and you can see the results in his flickr stream (including a tour of the hidden corners of the store by Lars and yrs. truly.)

    Dues paid: top photo by Mark Borello, bottom one by Frederik Høyer-Christensen.

    Fantask at Forty


    Today the Copenhagen comics-, SF- and games store Fantask celebrates its fortieth anniversary. It is the oldest continually existing store of its kind in the world and an institution in Danish Danish comics, SF, and geek culture. An operation built from the ground up by its founders Søren Pedersen and Rolf Bülow (pictured) as well as the many people who have worked there or otherwise contributed over the years. It is currently being run by Marit Nim and Kenn Andersen, who are keeping the spirit alive. One of those businesses that remain a presence, because it has heart.

    Over at Nummer9 we’re celebrating forty years of Fantask. I’ve written my Fantask memoirs in shortform, while Thomas presents a gallery spanning the four decades of its existence. I’ve also interviewed Marit about the store, past, present, and future.

    Oh, and if you’re around today, do drop by the store. The gang is all going to be there (plus everything is 30% off). Here’s a drink *ting!

    Sowing the Wind — Nadia Raviscioni’s Vent frais, vent du matin


    Autobiography has been such a defining direction in comics’ new wave of the last 20 years, its innovation so consistent, that it is mystifying still to hear repeated the cliché that most of these new ‘indy’ comics proffer little more than solipsistic tales of melancholy and masturbation. If one considers the work, it is hard to find actual justification for this reactionary attitude—at best it describes a very brief period in the mid-90s, when the genre was dominated by that Canadian foursome of Julie Doucet, Chester Brown, Seth, and Joe Matt, and it may have served to describe some of their since-forgotten imitators of that time, but it is otherwise almost wholly inaccurate as a characterization.

    It makes even less sense in a European context, where autobiography was established early on as a kind of proving ground for innovative cartoonists and continues to be at the forefront of progressive comics.

    The Week

    The Week in Review (a.k.a. the feature formerly known as Picks of the Week).

    Over at Hooded Utilitarian this week, there’s been an interesting discussion of Orientalism in comics, prompted by the publication of Craig Thompson’s mammoth graphic novel Habibi. It’s an interesting issue and one that warrants attention like Nadim Damluji gave it here, but several HU writers’ sensitivity to offensive material — mostly racist or xenophobic in nature, but to an extent also sexism — is turning a bit predictable. There’s a tendency there to conflate ethics and aesthetics, which is threatening to make a contentious and thought-provoking site something it never was: boring.

    One of the sad consequences of this is that the good tends to get more attention than the better. Ng Suat Tong wrote an intelligent, but rather strongly-worded piece on Habibi, which irked cartoonist Eddie Campbell so that he raised the issue of decency in criticism on his blog. I understand and sympathize with this reaction, but don’t really agree with it — sometimes harsh language is the right way to go for a critic, although I’m not sure it was in this case. Anyway, this is my very long-winded way of calling attention to Suat’s other, and far superior recent piece at HU, an essay on Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions — one of the most interesting comics releases this year. So far it has netted all of four comments, and presumably far fewer readers, than the one on Habibi. I wish people would pay more attention to this kind of writing, even if it doesn’t push the hot buttons in the same way.

    All right, with that out of the way, here’s some other interesting stuff I came across this week:

  • Alex Pappademas on DC’s New 52. The best piece I seen so far on DC’s succesful new bottling of their old, stale wine. Hilarious and informative, even — I think — to readers unfamiliar with the minutiae of mainstream American comics publishing.
  • Jeffrey Kurtzman on the crisis of the humanities. A professor of musicology and recent visiting professor at Aarhus University, Kurtzman writes passionately and cogently the rise of theory and the devaluation of high culture in contemporary Western society. Highly recommended. (Via).