Jacques Martin RIP

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One of the grand old men of Franco-Belgian comics, Jacques Martin just died at age 88. One of Hergé’s most important assistants through the 1950s and 60s (notably on the South Sea Sharks and Tintin in Tibet) and one of the pillars of Tintin Magazine, he acrimoniously struck out on his own in 1972 to concentrate on his own comics, which in some ways owed more to the other great master of Belgian adventure comics of the time, E. P. Jacobs.

A kind of illustrative elaboration of the ligne claire, Martin’s style was somewhat dry but worked perfectly well for the kind of historical reconstructions he so loved. His best series, Alix (1948-2009), narrates the adventures of a young Gaul and his friend, the former slave boy Enak, around the Antique world c. 50 BC. The earliest stories, especially, combine edifying archeological accuracy with a perilous sense of edginess to create a unique storybook-as-pulp feel. And the sublimated homoeroticism between the two central characters lends the work a valuable extra dimension. His other main series, Lefranc (1952-2009), is a contemporary SF/suspense affair that always seemed a little too retrograde to quite take off, a kind of nostalgic update of 1930s SF clichés.

Later he created a number of additional historical series, all of them mostly executed by assistants. In this, he was following in the footsteps of his great mentor, creating his comics as head of a studio, populated by people dedicated to his house style. Already an anachronism in the 1980s, it only got duller as it went on, but the fact remains that he was one of the great craftsmen of the post-war generation and an important ambassador of old school literary values in comics.

For me, however, his works soars highest in the sense of precision and freezing solitude he brings to the Tibetan landscape in Hergé’s 1958 masterpiece.
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Picks of the Week

“one reason there are so many dead in Haiti is that agriculture in the countryside was no longer providing a livelihood for Haitian peasants; they moved in the thousands to the capital, they built shanties on the sides of canyons; all gone now. I won’t go over the arguments against globalization for countries like Haiti here. Suffice it to say that Haiti, once the Pearl of the Antilles, once France’s most valuable and productive colony, and still into the 19th century at least an important provider of the world’s sugar, rum, and coffee, is now a net importer.”

— Amy Wilentz

The picks of the week from around the web.

All right, back to this, which will be the first picks of the year, not to mention the first for a long time.

  • Haiti. While we hope for all good things for Haiti’s future, Amy Wilentz and Tracy Kidder explain how it is an even greater tragedy than it could have been.
  • Comics criticism. There last few weeks have been great for people who like reading about comics. In addition to the selection of the year’s “best” that I participated in, there has been Tom Spurgeon’s overall excellent interviews with a number of critics about the books of the decade, and on TCJ R. Fiore has resurrected his half-a-decade old, still fine essay on the Simpsons and Mad. Oh, and the great David Levine gets his due with the re-up of Gary Groth’s great decade-and-a-half old interview with him.
  • David Foster Wallace on “how to think”. Read this inspiring commencement address of 2005 by the sadly departed author for an a slight injection of optimism at this otherwise bleak moment. (Suggested by Emma.)
  • 2009 — The Year in Comics Criticism

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    As the more assiduous comics internauts will already have noticed, I took part in the recent selection of the year’s best comics criticism hosted at The Hooded Utilitarian. Run by Ng Suat Tong, it was put together by a panel that also included head utilitarian Noah Berlatsky, cartoonist and commentator Frank Santoro, and the critic Tucker Stone (as well as a sixth judge who unfortunately had to withdraw). For more on the process itself, see Suat’s explanation in the posting of the final results.

    Although conceived as a list of ten, we could only agree on seven pieces in the time allotted. They are as follows:

    Muhammed at the Met

    Just like Yale University Press’ disgraceful censorship of Jytte Klausen’s book on the Muhammed cartoons, it seems the august Metropolitan Museum in New York is set to muddy the waters of history by pulling from their display ancient images of the prophet, made by Muslims and considering not putting them back on display once the renovation of the gallery is completed in 2011. Apparently they are also changing the designation of the Islamic Art galleries from the accurately descriptive ‘Islamic’ to a prolix geographical designation.

    As I’ve written before, occluding the fact that Muslims have in the past, actually, depicted their prophet is highly problematic in that it feeds attempts by certain parties to write it out of history, in order to bolster an often destructive agenda. As for the change in designation, it strikes me as silly, but also quite disturbing — is ‘Islamic’ now an inflammatory term? Emblematic, perhaps, of how seriously unsettled from our common history we have become by the sad events of the last decade.

    Of course, this is all based on a story in the anything but unbiased New York Post, so let’s take it all with a grain of salt for the time being.

    Hype: Min Fjerne barndomsby

    barndomsby_t.jpgForlaget Fahrenheit udgiver i morgen den første manga for voksne på dansk, Jiro Taniguchis Min fjerne barndomsby. Det fejres med en reception i Thimers Magasin, Tullinsgade 24, København, kl. 16.30-18.00. Oversætter Mette Holm vil sige et par ord om arbejdet med oversættelsen og forlægger Paw Mathiasen om selve udgivelsen af en japansk tegneserie. Mød op og læs endelig tegneserien — den er fremragende!
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Læs mere om udgivelsen på Fahrenheits hjemmeside, og check undertegnedes anmeldelse af en række værker af Taniguchi, inkl. Min fjerne barndomsby, fra 2003 ovre på Rackham.

    Danish Comics of the Year/Planet Comics 2009

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    For this year’s wrap-up season, Paul Gravett repeats last year’s great idea of asking comics connoisseurs and professionals all over the world to write a few words on the year’s most notable comics from their respective country. He graciously asked me to talk about the best in Danish comics, so my selections appear in part one, now online, along with ones from Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, & Sweden. Stay tuned for the followup.

    Here’s my selection, by the way:

    Rapspot’s 2009 Rap-Up

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    As per tradition over at rapspot.dk, us contributors have curated our annual awards show for our favorite hip hop music of the past year, plus miscellaneous foolishness. Although I can’t say many of my personal favourites made it to the final list, it’s still a pretty great compilation of quality hip hop music released in 2009, so skip over there and check it out. Meanwhile I’ll try to get my act together a write about my year of listening. Or just listen to the track of the year, from the Mighty Mos Def.

    David Levine RIP

    levine_nixon_lbj_vietnam.gifI just briefly wanted to pay homage to the recently passed master cartoonist. Possibly the most recognisable caricaturist of the past 40 years, Levine has come almost to incarnate the discipline, especially with his withering cartoons of the main players in the Nixon administration and of other unsavoury world leaders of that era.

    Contrary to assertions I’ve heard made, he was far from single-mindedly, or even reductively, acerbic (his most vicious caricatures are indeed pretty fierce, but are also animated by the kind of outrage necessary to political cartooning); he was rather a finely rounded cartoonist. His portraits are more often than not reverent, humanising their subjects with humor and verve. With thousands of such cartoons under his belt (most of them for the New York Review of Books) he ranks, rather, amongst the most significant portraitists of the last forty years.

    Read Michael Kimmelman’s appreciation here.