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: http://www.eyetrauma.net/brain/curation.htm

 

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.

In Heer’s post, he mentions E. Simms Campbell as the first African-American cartoonist to be employed by a major publisher. Campbell worked on the gag strip Cuties for 38 years for Esquire magazine, a remarkable achievement by any standard. There is an article about Campbell in Other Heroes called “E. Sims Campbell: Comics Pioneer,” by R. C. Harvey, which I found the most interesting of all the essays in the publication; it especially concentrated on Campbell’s close friendship with jazz musician Cab Calloway.

Visually, the Other Heroes catalogue has much to offer. And for anyone interested in what must be a fairly comprehensive digest of African-American comic book artists, I’m going to suggest that this is a good place to start.

After all, thanks to the Internet, it’s free! Unless you choose to purchase a copy of the book, with the proceeds going to a good cause…

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