Greatest Comics Show Ever?

Might the Egyptian Book of the Dead show at the British Museum be the best comics exhibition ever? It certainly contains some of the greatest comics I’ve ever read. It’s good sometimes just to forget about the historically determined understanding of comics as a modern art form and remember that humans have told stories in sequentially-arranged images and text for millennia. Irritating as Scott McCloud’s formalistic muddying of the waters in Understanding Comics might be, there is also something problematic about the dominant urge to isolate the modern mass-culture iteration of this practice from the larger history of word/image art.

Expertly presented, the exhibition itself merges sequence and repetition to evoke for the visitor the deceased’s journey through the afterlife as described in the official Egyptian guidebook, the collection of spells today known as the book of the dead. Drawing largely upon the Museum’s own astonishing collection of such ‘books’, it presents the narrative of what happens after death stage-by-stage, from mummification and burial to the perilous voyage through the netherworlds to the eternal fields of green beyond. Following us are sections of one extensive version that belonged to a scribe named Ani, which become our own guide through the show’s different rooms, in which examples from other Books of the Dead as well as objects related to death and burial in the Egyptian New Kingdom deepen the experience. Because the set of spells laid down in the Book are essentially the same, one is familiarised with their narrative, internalising it as one moves along.

L’Association strike lifted, but uncertainties remain

On 11 February the striking employees of seminal French comics publisher l’Association announced that they were lifting the strike that they had been conducting since 10 January. They are satisfied that efforts at mediation between them and directorial have led to the decision to hold a general assembly on 5 March where the problems plaguing the publisher will be addressed.

At the the heart of the conflict is the announcement of redundancies made by the direction in December, a decision the employees don’t believe is justified by the troubled financial situation the publisher finds itself in, in part due to the collapse of their distributor Le Comptoir des indépendants last fall, but primarily due to reduced sales in general. They have been insisting that there are other means of solving its current solvency issues, including reducing its enormously costly back catalogue storage (apparently, l’Association has never held a sale or eliminated inventory). They describe the decision to fire a number of employees as a “philosophical” one, meant to strengthen the publisher’s new line of radical but reduced output and express dissatisfaction with this decision having been made over their heads and without consulting the membership (remember, l’Association is not registered as a traditional business, but rather as an organisation).

Responding to this press release and to the events of the last month and a half in general, l’Association’s unofficial director and editorial and ideological centre, Jean-Christophe Menu has released a long letter, sharing his point of view on the affair. I won’t go into detail, but merely note the main points here:

Changes at The Comics Journal

dan_nadel.jpgBig changes coming at The Comics Journal — if the rumors are true, we’re going to see an amalgamation of that fine group blog ComicsComics and the venerable but these days somewhat faltering beast. The site has long needed an overhaul, both in terms of design and editorial direction, so I’m looking forward to what’s next, even if it may mean a consolidation of two sites that ideally would continue each on their own. There are precious few comics resources online of ComicsComics’ quality, so it’ll be somewhat sad to see it subsumed, even if it means a much better Comics Journal.

Anyway, one upshot of all this is that the subdomains at, the recently-launched Panelists group blog and The Hooded Utilitarian, to which I’ve been a contributor for a while now, are being cut loose. Apparently they don’t fit in the new scheme, which probably makes sense. Thankfully, they will both continue on their own at freshly acquired urls, and

Speaking as a contributor both to TCJ and HU, I think this is basically a positive development: from having delivered something like a third of the content at TCJ, HU is now free to evolve on its own, while the new Comics Journal will be able to develop its new direction without the distraction of having this eclectically evil twin intruding (Sean Collins’ dubbing it “The Reverse Comics Journal” is perhaps my favourite snub of our contentious little blog so far!).

So, all in all good news, even if there were bumps along the way. I’m looking forward to reading and hopefully contributing to the new, improved Journal, as well as to finally seeing the long-awaited print issue #301, which looks like it’s going to be pretty damn great.

Above: Dan Nadel, publisher at PictureBox and helmsman at ComicsComics… and now TCJ?

Hip Hop is Sick

Sadly, this is a familiar story. Another American cultural legend finds himself in ill health with no health coverage. Kool DJ Herc, the creator of the breakbeat and one of the godfathers of hip hop culture has come down with a bad case of gallstone and urgently needs help paying for treatment. His sister Cindy Campbell is seeking donations through his website, so I encourage you to consider contributing.

The questions are many, including why somebody who has contributed so much to American and world culture has to find himself essentially reduced to soliciting alms, why there isn’t a foundation of some sort to help out hip hop artists fallen on hard times, why some of the multi-millionaires of the industry who indirectly owe him their careers don’t seem to have stepped in to help, but the primary one is this: why doesn’t a country that rich have a decent health care system to take care of its citizens?

I know, this seems finally to be changing with the Obama administrations landmark, if still rather limited, health care bill, but with the Republican party and their House majority outrageously working to overturn it, its future still seems a little precarious. It boggles the mind that such a bill hasn’t been passed long ago and that anyone who considers the state of health care for most people in the US would still in all seriousness want to entrust the private sector exclusively with running such a vital component of any civilized society.

Hip hop activist Kevin Powell has more on Kool Herc’s situation.

Picks of the Week

“We tie ourselves in knots when we act as if democracy is good for the United States and Israel but not for the Arab world. For far too long, we’ve treated the Arab world as just an oil field.”

— Nicholas Kristof

The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Good commentary on Egypt and the US from New York Times columnists: Nicholas Kristof on lessons to be taken away from the Egyptian revolution and Bob Herbert reflecting bleakly on American democracy.
  • The Edge Question 2011. An incredible line-up of distinguished scientists, artists, philosophers, etc. give their answers to the question “What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?” I’m only discovering this for myself at the moment — amazing!
  • Richard McGuire’s “Here”. One of the seminal comics short stories of the past thirty years available online. If you’ve never read this you’re in for a treat. Ground zero Chris Ware… (thanks Sean!)
  • Inkstuds’ Robin McConnell interviews Al Columbia. I wasn’t a huge fan of the cartoonist’s cartoonist’s latest Pim & Francie book and generally find him overrated, but this amazingly candid interview is a keeper. (For Alan Moore fans: includes the story of the lost fourth issue of Big Numbers!)