Doonesbury at 40

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I just wanted to take the time slight belatedly to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of Garry Trudeau’s now classic newspaper strip. I don’t see any need to list Trudeau’s accomplishments (Gary Willis provides a fine overview at the NYRB), nor to add much to the accolades that it has received, but merely wanted to emphasise how unique a realisation of the potential of comics Doonesbury really is.

Trudeau’s fairly early choice to have his characters age in real time, à la Frank King’s surprisingly congenial Gasoline Alley, has turned it into a generational narrative of mounting historic proportions — read as a whole, it offers a portrait of an American generation, as well as, increasingly, their children (Trudeau seems to understand his generation’s children better than most baby boomers who have tried something similar). It offers a greater realism of character than just about anything that has ever appeared on the comics page, while remaining acutely, and hilariously, satirical and never letting go of comics’ historically honed faculty for archetypical iconography and flights of fancy. Plus — as Trudeau notes in this smart interview — it has used the daily accrual to build the presence of its characters and satirical intentionality in ways that are nigh-impossible in just about any other form.

Yes, the drawing has remained staid, the visual characterisation repetitive, but the intelligence of the writing brings it alive to an extent where the cartooning appears sufficiently neutral in character to work as a kind of journalistic vernacular that lends it a natural authority and blends it with its immediate environment.

And it is still going strong. This past decade has seen some of the most powerful sequences and compellingly nuanced character moments yet. Maybe not as funny as it used to be — and where the hell is our Obama icon? — but thoughtful and resonant. More than anyone could ask for such a venerable strip. A great American comic.

Above: the Doonesbury strip for 21 April 2004. Read Doonesbury here.

Comics of the Decade: Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis

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This is part of a Metabunker series celebrating a great decade in comics with Rackham by reprinting select reviews of the decades’ best comics from the Rackham archive, along with a number of new pieces.

By Julie Paludan-Müller

Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is one of the most touching pieces of exile literature in recent memory, and a comic — as the French newspaper Libération has put it — so convincing that even the harshest sceptics of the genre cannot help but be seduced. It is a four-volume autobiography, telling the story of Satrapi’s childhood in Iran and, later, her life as a teenager and immigrant in Europe. In the fourth and final volume, she describes her tentative attempt to return to Islamic Iran in the beginning of the 90s.

Picks of the Week

“You’ve heard of Too Big to Fail — the foreclosure crisis is Too Big for Fraud. Think of the Bernie Madoff scam, only replicated tens of thousands of times over, infecting every corner of the financial universe. The underlying crime is so pervasive, we simply can’t admit to it — and so we are working feverishly to rubber-stamp the problem away, in sordid little backrooms in cities like Jacksonville, behind doors that shouldn’t be, but often are, closed.”

— Matt Taibbi

  • Matt Taibbi on the foreclosure crisis. Reporting for Rolling Stone from Florida, Taibbi investigates the system’s way of dealing with a problem that has grown too large to acknowledge.
  • John Cassidy asks “What Good Is Wall Street?” Fairly lucid and readable New Yorker-survey of the services banks provide the international community and why large parts of their actitivites today are entirely superfluous and put the same community at risk.
  • Slavoj Žižek reviews Richard McGregor’s The Party, about China’s Communist Party, and relays not only some of McGregor’s fascinating insights into how China’s political system works, but also his own always idiosyncratic but provocative perspective: “China is barely under control. It threatens to explode.”
  • Good comics pieces. Dan Nadel writes on Jack Kirby in the 70s for Vice Magazine and provides as good a short introduction to the King’s work as I’ve seen in a while, while Matt Seneca continues his ongoing reevaluation of the work of Jim Steranko in conversation with Sean Witzke.
  • Comics of the Decade: Sammy Harkham et. al., Kramers Ergot 4

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    This is part of a Metabunker series celebrating a great decade in comics with Rackham by reprinting select reviews of the decades’ best comics from the Rackham archive, along with a number of new pieces.

    Kramers Ergot #4, edited by the cartoonist Sammy Harkham, is an artistic and stylistic statement of a kind rarely seen in comics. Expansive of format, impressive in its editorial consistency and lavish in production, it presents a selection which forces one to consider — and perhaps revise — one’s formal and aesthetic conception of comics.

    In recent years, North America has seen the emergence of a benevolent laissez-faire attitude to creating comics, originating primarily in the continent’s extraordinarily lively minicomics scene. Decades after other visual arts, comics are finally mounting a concerted challenge to the reigning, self-imposed dogma of craft as an end in itself, with many young cartoonists prioritising instead a kind of ‘pure’, personal expression.

    Picks of the Week

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    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Rowan Williams and Terry Eagleton on “The New Atheism”. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the distinguished cultural critic met on Friday night here in Cambridge to discuss the resurgent, anti-religious strand of atheism (Dawkins, Hitchins, Harris, Dennet, etc.) so prevalent these days. Unsurprisingly it was an erudite, but also a lucid discussion, which can be listened to in its entirety here.
  • ‘Mindless Ones’ on Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz’ Big Numbers and Eddie Campbell’s How to Be an Artist. Excellent essay on how Moore’s great fractal torso of a work became the underpinning of Campbell’s disillusioned, fractured dissertation on the emergence and fall of the graphic novel.
  • Blaise Larmée on abstraction in comics. Interesting essay on how we look at and read comics. Good discussion in comments too.
  • Charlest Hatfield on Alternative Comics. The week before last, I mentioned that we had a roundtable on Hooded Utilitarian devoted to said book. Hatfield provided a number of thoughtful responses, both at HU and at his own site.
  • Comics of the Decade: Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again

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    This is part of a Metabunker series celebrating a great decade in comics with Rackham by reprinting select reviews of the decades’ best comics from the Rackham archive, along with a number of new pieces.

    By Thomas Thorhauge

    “Striking terror. Best part of the job”, says Batman somewhere in the first chapter of Frank Miller’s long-awaited sequel to The Dark Knight Returns (1986). The line makes sense coming from Miller, because “striking terror” is kind of what DK2/The Dark Knight Strikes Again has done with comic readers (if we keep the scare quotes, naturally).

    The New Zealand cartoonist Dylan Horrocks has described Frank Miller as an “internal writer”, i.e. a writer who composes from his gut, or perhaps more accurately his subconscious. By describing him thus, Horrocks wishes to emphasise that one never quite knows what to make of Miller’s stories. His “internal” approach results in ambiguous stories, in which the point is never really, well, the point. Actually, Miller does not seem really to have one most of the time. This, of course, is a characteristic shared by many artists, but it’s rare to see in comics the kind of creative rage Miller summons.

    At TCJ: What Is Finland Doing Right?

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    Over at The Comics Journal, I now have a report from last weekend’s Helsinki Book Fair online, in which I do some half-baked theorising about the artistic successes of Finland’s comics scene. Hop to it!

    More photos from the fair and around Helsinki, including the show of contemporary Sotuh African art (featuring Bitterkomix) currently running at the Tennis Palace downtown, to be found among the Bunker’s photosets.