Picks of the Week

“I heard something recently by Richard Feynman, and he said that understanding the way the universe works is like extrapolating a huge checkers game from a regular game of checkers. Checkers is an easy game to play, but if the board were huge and you had many, many checkers, it wouldn’t be easy to play anymore. While you can understand the universe somewhat while examining a small component, when it’s right in front of you, when you think about the extent of it and how it all works together, it completely escapes you. Trying to think about the moral universe, the political universe, the nature of consciousness, the question of what consciousness is—all that stuff is easy to do if you create a small system that’s got tight borders and contains a limited sphere of action. That’s what the Unifactor is for me—a little thought laboratory, with just a few characters in it and a limited number of forces, and those forces have a limited range. Even though they all correspond to things that I see existing in the real world, they’ve been reduced to a size that allows me to play with them and think about them and mix them up and see how they react with each other.”

— Jim Woodring

The picks of the week from around the web.

Recovering from the long weekend, I have a quick bunch of comics links. Some of them are old news, but so good that I still want to call attention to them:

  • Jim Woodring interview by Nicole Rudick at The Comics Journal. One of the greatest interviews in comics, Woodring delivers one of his most thoughtful and inspiring interviews so far. A must-read.
  • Grant Morrison interview at Mindless Ones. Another of the great interviews in comics delivers meatier-than-usual talk here. Check it out.
  • Comicalités. New online journal for comics scholarship Not all that much there yet, but it’s interesting material. Bookmarkable!
  • Ng Suat Tong on Chester Brown’s Gospel adaptations. This is an archival item, but still worth noting in case you missed it. Brown is the hottest name in comics right now, and this is an in-depth examination of one of his great, unfinished projects.
  • Merwyn Peake at 100. Michael Moorcock leads a handful of writers in a thoughtful look back.
  • Roskilde Festival 2011: No Hangover

    Yes, I missed the festival this year, damn it. Would have loved to wyle out with the Odd Future crew, peeped Atmosphere doing their new sh*t, and checked for the Big Boi/Janelle Monáe double feature, etc. And just to have been there, as usual. But it was not to be.

    Fortunately, others were, and as usual my peeps at Rapspot delivered comprehensive coverage of the hip hop and -related events at the festival, with more to come in the next few days. Drop by there and check it out.

    Photo of Tyler the Creator (OFWGKTA) by Kenneth Nguyen for Rapspot.

    Get yer Faves!

    Today I received Favorites, the zine Craig Fischer has put together to benefit Team Cul de Sac’s fundraising to support research into Parkinson’s disease. It’s a great little thing I encourage you to buy and read, and not — really! — just because I have a piece in it on Carl Barks.

    You see, Team Cul de Sac is run by Chris Sparks, friend to the great cartoonist behind the comic strip of the same name, Richard Thompson, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2009. Its main project is a massive art book with contributions from a wide range of cartoonists to be published by Andrews McMeel in 2012.

    Favorites is Craig’s and a bunch of other writers about comics’ way of contributing to this worthy cause. It unites thirty-odd such people, each of us writing about “our favorite comic”, whatever that may mean. Here’s the list of contributors: Derek Badman, David Bordwell, Noah Berlatsky, Alex Boney, Matthew J. Brady, Scott Bukatman, Joanna Draper Carlson, Isaac Cates, Rob Clough, Corey Creekmur, Andrew Farago, Craig Fischer, Shaenon K. Garrity, Dustin Harbin, Charles Hatfield, Jeet Heer, Gene Kanneberg Jr., Abhay Khosla, Susan Kirtley, Sean Kleefeld, Costa Koutsoutis, Andrew Mansell, Robert Stanley Martin, Chris Mautner, Joe McCulloch, Anna Merino, Mike Rhode, Jim Rugg, Frank Santoro, Chris Schweizer, Caroline Small, Tom Spurgeon, Ben Towle, and myself.

    Favorites is $5. You can buy it through Team Cul de Sac.

    Cover illo from Favorites by Richard Thompson.

    Gene Colan RIP

    From Doctor Strange #14 (1976), inked by Tom Palmer

    I was sad to learn on Friday that the great silver-age cartoonist Gene Colan, known primarily for late 60s and 70s Marvel Comics like Iron Man, Howard the Duck, and above all Tomb of Dracula, passed away after several years of battling liver disease and cancer. He was one of the great stylists of his era, standing apart from his more classically oriented peers in the Marvel Bullpen with an open, expressive idiom — sort of like “Ghastly” Graham Ingels did at EC roughly a decade and a half earlier.

    Unusually for a comic book artist, Colan’s drawing was defined less by contour and more by open, enveloping areas of dark. A dynamic chiaroscuro, his approach was less about the contrasting of forms than about their mutability.

    The kind of smoky chiaroscuro — sfumato — developed by Leonardo in the late 15th century was a means of representing the fact that physical form is not clearly demarcated in space, there is no such thing as contour, but rather joined together infinitesimally. Colan’s drawing works a kinetic interpretation of this principle — hands disappear in blasts of energy, legs careen off wildly, facial features dissolve smokily, and forms undulate mercurially. Eschewing the solidity of the Kirby school of action cartooning, Colan created a thrilling alternative, painting with his pencil.

    Take Two — An Interview with Ruppert/Mulot

    From Sol Carrelus

    The cartooning duo Florent Ruppert and Jérôme Mulot are amongst the most remarkable emerging talents on the Francophone comics scene. A two-headed cartoon beast, theirs is an organic collaboration, melding writing and drawing. Their comics are possessed of a strong experimental formalism — elaborate analytical constructions, in which characters move and interact for our entertainment, as if in a petri dish.

    Picks of the Week

    RIP Gil Scott-Heron & Geronimo Pratt.

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • “How America Screws Its Soldiers,” writing on Memorial Day, Andrew J. Bacevich explains how perpetual war comes at a huge cost to the country and especially its soldiers. Nothing new here, but the argument is well-made and passionate (thanks, Noah!).
  • On the topic of Memorial Day, David J. Blight’s history lesson in the New York Times, unearthing a spectacular commemoration made by Union soldiers and freedmen in Charleston, SC, in 1865, is a fascinating read.
  • “Sex Trafficking: The Girls Next Door,” writing for Vanity Fair, Amy Fine Collins examines a particular series of sex trafficking cases in Hartford, CN. A harrowing piece.
  • Geronimo Pratt RIP

    Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, or rather Geronimo Ji Jaga, passed away in his adopted home in Tanzania yesterday. His death should give us pause to reflect upon a largely forgotten, but no less disgraceful passage in American history. A Vietnam vet and Black Panther, he was convicted of a murder he didn’t commit and imprisoned for 27 years on charges fabricated by the FBI. He is one of a large number of black, Latino, and American Indian activists and revolutionaries — some of the most visible “terrorists” of the day — subjected to gross miscarriage of justice at the hands of the government, its COINTELPRO, and other institutions, from the 1960s onward.

    Here’s a short primer, from a 1984 episode of 60 Minutes:

    His life was both an object lesson in the history of American institutional racism and suppression of dissent, and a rare example of transcending suffering. He never gave up, and when the conviction was finally reversed in 1999, he was unwavering in commitment to his cause without showing any despondency, bitterness, or resentment. This man’s story should be taught in schools.

    And let us not forget that there’s still a large number of people in America serving long prison terms on dubious convictions. Mumia Abu-Jamal, on death row for almost 30 years, is but the most famous and visible of them. Whether guilty or not, many of them have not been given the fair trials promised in the Constitution. Why does it seem the book has been closed on them?

    On the Real — An Interview with Chester Brown

    This interview with Chester Brown, who is currently garnering much attention for his extraordinary new book Paying for It, was conducted at the 2004 MoCCA Arts Fest in a small storage room where they kept the boxed-up Harvey Awards, a couple of hours before the ceremony was to start. Brown had recently released the collected edition of Louis Riel, which naturally became the main subject of our conversation.

    As should be evident from my 2005 review, I consider this a remarkable book in a remarkable oeuvre. I never thought the interview rendered Brown nor the book justice, consisting mostly of dead ends and leads left unpursued, but I still think the artist makes a number of interesting points and observations and foregrounds the motivations that led him to write Paying for It. I am in any case grateful that Mr. Brown took the time.

    The interview was published at Rackham in 2004. This is its first publication in English. I hope you enjoy it, despite its shortcomings.