Archive for March, 2011

Other Heroes and Other Notes

What did we do before the Internet? I can’t remember.

I’ve been reading the book Indie Publishing: How to Design and Produce Your Own Book (Princeton Architectural Press, 2004) by Ellen Lupton.

I was drawn to the book initially because I noticed it in a bookstore and it featured both McSweeney’s and Drawn & Quarterly in a section called “Indie Inspiration: Designers as Publisher—Artists’ Books as Indie Publishing.” Since the book wasn’t readily available at the library, I decided to read two other books by Lupton that were—Thinking with Type: a Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors & Students (Princeton Architectural Press, 2004), and Graphic Design: The New Basics (Princeton Architectural Press, 2008).

I’ve found all three extremely instructive, with lots of visual examples and variety in the page layouts. Good primers for anyone interested independent publishing, typography and visual design, respectively.

But that’s not what I want to talk about right now.

In Indie Publishing, one of the examples provided of a print on demand (POD) book available on Lulu is called Other Heroes: African-American Comic Book Creators, Characters and Archetypes:


The catalog from the 2007 Jackson State University art exhibition featuring a who’s who of famous and award winning African American comics creators and characters. Preface by Dwayne McDuffie, essays by RC Harvey, Turtel Onli, Alex Simmons, Nancy Goldstein, William Foster, and curators John Jennings & Damian Duffy. All profits past printing costs are donated to the Scholarship America Disaster Relief Fund to help Hurricane Katrina and Rita survivors seek post-secondary education. For more information go to:


I went on the Lulu site, and I’ll be gosh-darned if the book isn’t available for free as a PDF download!

“Racism as a Stylistic Choice and Other Notes” by Jeet Heer

Earlier this week (March 14), Jeet Heer published a post on the Comics Journal website called “Racism as a Stylistic Choice and Other Notes.” The article was timely for me, since only recently I wrote on the subject of Dwayne McDuffie and the minstrelsy tradition in comics in a post of my own.

But of course, Heer’s insights and information put my own to shame, which is fine. After all, I am not a scholar. If you are at all interested in this kind of thing, it is definitely worth taking a boo. I’m going to limit myself to just one quote from his notes:

Caricature Country.

Nineteenth- and early 20th-century comics dealt in caricature, not characters, and not just in ethnic and racial matters…Racial and ethnic stereotypes grew out of this larger tendency to caricature. This is not to deny the racism or malevolence of the stereotype but rather to link it to the formal practices of the cartoonists. It’s not just that cartoonists lived in a racist time but also that the affinity of comics for caricature meant that the early comic strips took the existing racism of society and gave it vicious and virulent visual life. Form and content came together in an especially unfortunate way.

My only complaint: I have now read through the nested conversation between Heer and “Ulandk” twice. I feel as though these two guys are so smart, it makes what they’re saying hard to understand, since they are drawing references from a huge number of sources. Continue reading ‘Other Heroes and Other Notes’


A Thousand Words per Page: the Wordless Novel

Close Cousins or Distant Family?

In the Afterword to George Walker’s Graphic Witness: Four Wordless Graphic Novels by Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward, Giacomo Patri, Laurence Hyde (Firefly Books, 2007), Seth suggests that although the wordless novels which began to gain notoriety at the beginning of the 20th century are now being hailed as close cousins to the graphic novel, there are important fundamental differences between the two forms.

Seth maintains that the wordless novel pays homage more to silent film than to the comic strip. In spite of their widespread popularity, many readers would have considered comic strips of the day simplistic—as is still the case today. Silent film, however, was in its heyday as an emerging and sophisticated art form. If the artists creating wordless novels had felt that comic strips were an elevated art form, why would they not have included speech balloons and more than one image per page in their works? Continue reading ‘A Thousand Words per Page: the Wordless Novel’

Point No Point

Point No Point, March 12, 2011

Tucked away on the west coast of Vancouver Island. No telephone, no cell phone reception, no Internet connection, no neighbours to speak of.  The drawing comes across as cold and mechanical, when actually the atmosphere was warm and inviting. Fourth try. But the point is that I did a drawing. I found lots of inspiration in Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Datebook: Volume Two, 1995 – 2002. I even bought a magnifying glass at the dollar store to read his godforsakenly infintessimal print!

The End of the Art Book?

I’m being dramatic, I know. But will more consumers be downloading an art app in the future and viewing works on their iPads, instead of purchasing unwieldy coffee table tomes (the one featured above is a brick, coming in at 688 pages!)? Surely Google’s Art Project will change the digital landscape, with users being able to virtually navigate some of the world’s finest art museums.

At the beginning of the 1900s, publishers Joseph Pulitzer (New York World) and William Randolph Hearst (New York Journal) were engrossed in a distribution war. Pulitzer’s aim was to outsell his rival by bringing fine art reproductions to a wide readership. As it turned out, the first colour presses were not up to the task, but were well suited for less detail-oriented printing, such as cartoons. Hence the introduction of R. F. Outcault’s The Yellow Kid, the first newspaper comic strip printed in colour.

Over one hundred years later, thanks to a collaboration between Google and a consortium of museums, fine art reproductions can now be scrutinized down to the megaopixel.

In “A new way of seeing,” (National Post, March 1, 2011), Robert Fulford comments on the latest Google publicity campaign in relation to the live museum experience:

Of course, googleartproject. com doesn’t replace the museum experience. Nothing in the way of reproduction, digitalized or printed, can do for us what the thing itself does.

And, of course, enjoying art this way lacks the social dimension of a museum exhibit. But in certain ways it improves on museums: There’s no waiting, it’s free, no one steps in front of you while you contemplate Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, and, in some obscure way, you do end up feeling rather closer to a masterpiece than you might otherwise.

There are strengths and weaknesses to viewing an artwork on-screen and in its physically incarnate form. And similarly, for all the benefits of the finger swipe, it will never replace the tactile experience of flipping the page—even if the book is more expensive, heavier and takes up more space. Call me old-fashioned.

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