Archive for the 'Comics History' Category

Falling into Place (Part III): Conversations with a Dead Man

"Colossal Head at Izamal" by Frederick Catherwood in the Casa Catherwood in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico.

“Colossal Head at Izamal” by Frederick Catherwood

Wayfinding with Malcolm Mc Neill and William S. Burroughs—Part the Third, wherein the narrative takes a turn and concentrates on:

  • John Stephens and Frederick Catherwood’s explorations in Honduras and Guatemala (1839-40) and the Yucatan region (1843)
  • Similarities between Frederick Catherwood’s life and Malcolm Mc Neill’s own
  • Thought control in the 21st century
  • Mayan and European conceptions of time
  • The “23 phenomenon”
  • Psychic mediums and communication with the dead
  • Burroughs’ interest in the sinking of the Titanic

Above: Ah Pook is Here stop-motion animated film by Philip Hunt, 1994. Reading excerpted from William S. Burroughs’ Dead City Radio. Music by John Cale.

Transcription of reading found below:

When I become Death, Death is the seed from which I grow…

Itzama, spirit of early mist and showers.
Ixtaub, goddess of ropes and snares.
Ixchel, the spider web, catcher of morning dew.
Zooheekock, virgin fire patroness of infants.
Adziz, the master of cold.
Kockupocket, who works in fire.
Ixtahdoom, she who spits out precious stones.
Ixchunchan, the dangerous one.
Ah Pook, the destroyer.

Hiroshima, 1945, August 6, sixteen minutes past 8 AM.

Who really gave that order?

Answer: Control.

Answer: The Ugly American.

Answer: The instrument of Control.

Question: If Control’s control is absolute, why does Control need to control?

Answer: Control… needs time.

Question: Is Control controlled by its need to control?

Answer: Yes.

Why does Control need humans, as you call them?

Answer: Wait… wait! Time, a landing field. Death needs time like a junkie needs junk.

And what does Death need time for?

Answer: The answer is sooo simple. Death needs time for what it kills to grow in, for Ah Pook’s sake.

Death needs time for what it kills to grow in, for Ah Pook’s sweet sake, you stupid vulgar greedy ugly American death-sucker.

Death needs time for what it kills to grow in, for Ah Pook’s sweet sake, you stupid vulgar greedy ugly American death-sucker… Like this.

We have a new type of rule now. Not one man rule, or rule of aristocracy, or plutocracy, but of small groups elevated to positions of absolute power by random pressures and subject to political and economic factors that leave little room for decision. They are representatives of abstract forces who’ve reached power through surrender of self. The iron-willed dictator is a thing of the past. There will be no more Stalins, no more Hitlers. The rulers of this most insecure of all worlds are rulers by accident inept, frightened pilots at the controls of a vast machine they cannot understand, calling in experts to tell them which buttons to push.

briggs_burroughs

Image by Paul Briggs. http://pbcbstudios.tumblr.com

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Falling into Place (Part II): Ah Pook is Here Play by Play

Image © Malcolm Mc Neill (LAAP, 91)

Image © Malcolm Mc Neill (LAAP, 91)

Part II of “Falling into Place,” an exploration of Ah Pook is Here, the word-image collaboration between artist Malcolm Mc Neill and author William S. Burroughs has now been published over at the Believer Logger. Ah Pook is Here, whose brilliance has only recently been introduced to the public imagination thanks to Fantagraphics Books, is long-form graphic narrative that was created long before the concept of the “graphic novel” was in widespread use.

OWF_Cover

Observed While Falling: Bill Burroughs, Ah Pook, and Me is author Malcolm Mc Neill’s memoir of his time working on Ah Pook is Here. It describes how the project irrevocably transformed his life.

Here’s the description of Observed While Falling from the Fantagraphics Books website:

Observed While Falling is an account of the personal and creative interaction that defined the collaboration between the writer William S. Burroughs and the artist Malcolm Mc Neill on the graphic novel Ah Pook Is Here. The memoir chronicles the events that surrounded it, the reasons it was abandoned and the unusual circumstances that brought it back to life. Mc Neill describes his growing friendship with Burroughs and how their personal relationship affected their creative partnership. The book is written with insight and humor, and is liberally sprinkled with the kind of outré anecdotes one would expect working with a writer as original and eccentric as Burroughs. It confirms Burroughs’ and Mc Neill’s prescience, the place of Ah Pook in relation to the contemporary graphic novel, and its anticipation of the events surrounding 2012. The book offers new insights into Burroughs’ working methods as well as how the two explored the possibilities of words and images working together to form the ambitious literary hybrid that they didn’t know, at the time, was a harbinger of the 21st century “graphic novel.” Mc Neill expounds on the lessons of that experience to bring Ah Pook into present time. In light of current events, Ah Pook is unquestionably Here now.

Observed While Falling presents a unique view of the creative process that will be of interest to artists, writers and general readers alike. A perspective evoked by a literary experiment that has endured for forty years and still continues to “happen.”

LAAP_Cover

Here is the Fantagraphics Books description of Mc Neill’s complementary volume of artwork from Ah Pook is Here, published as The Lost Art of Ah Pook is Here: Images from the Graphic Novel:

In 1970, William S. Burroughs and artist Malcolm Mc Neill began a small collaborative project on a comic entitled The Unspeakable Mr. Hart, which appeared in the first four issues of Cyclops, England’s first comics magazine for an adult readership. Soon after, Burroughs and Mc Neill agreed to collaborate on a book-length meditation on time, power, control, and corruption that evoked the Mayan codices and specifically, the Mayan god of death, Ah Pook. Ah Pook Is Here was to include their character Mr. Hart, but stray from the conventional comics form to explore different juxtapositions of images and words.

Ah Pook was never finished in its intended form. In a 1979 prose collection that included only the words from the collaboration, Ah Pook is Here and Other Texts (Calder, 1979), Burroughs explains in the preface that they envisioned the work to be “one that falls into neither the category of the conventional illustrated book nor that of a comix publication.” Rather, the work was to include “about a hundred pages of artwork with text (thirty in full-color) and about fifty pages of text alone.” The book was conceived as a single painting in which text and images were combined in whatever form seemed appropriate to the narrative. It was conceived as 120 continuous pages that would “fold out.” Such a book was, at the time, unprecedented, and no publisher was willing to take a chance and publish a “graphic novel.”

However, Malcolm Mc Neill created nearly a hundred paintings, illustrations, and sketches for the book, and these, finally, are seeing the light of day in The Lost Art of Ah Pook. (Burroughs’ text will not be included.) Mc Neill himself is an exemplary craftsman and visionary painter whose images have languished for over 30 years, unseen. Even in a context divorced from the words, they represent a stunning precursor to the graphic novel form to come.

Sara J. Van Ness contributes an historical essay chronicling the long history of Burroughs’ and Mc Neill’s work together, including its incomplete publishing history with Rolling Stone’s Straight Arrow Press, the excerpt that ran in Rush magazine, and the text that was published without pictures.

Sample excerpts from each book provided by Fantagraphics can be found below:

Excerpt from Observed While Falling
Excerpt from The Lost Art of Ah Pook

Falling into Place (Part I): Ah Pook is Still Here

Over at the Believer Logger, the first part of an extended exploration of the the never-published-in-full creative co-construction between Malcolm Mc Neill and William S. Burroughs, known as Ah Pook is Here, has just been published (October 28, 2014).

There were two smaller works that also profiled the Mc Neill- Burroughs collaboration prior to Mc Neill’s memoir, Observed While Falling: Bill Burroughs, Ah Pook and Me, and  The Lost Art of Ah Pook: Images from the Graphic Novel (Fantagraphics, 2012)The text included in both volumes was virtually identical, though the formats of each were quite different.

In 2009, the artwork designed by Mc Neill to accompany Burroughs’ text was exhibited at Track 16 Gallery in Los Angeles. This is where Gray Groth, co-founder of Fantagraphics Books, first saw Mc Neill’s art and consequently expressed an interest in publishing Mc Neill’s work in a more extensive publication. A hardcover volume called The Lost Art of Ah Pook is Here was published to accompany the show.

Lost Art of Ah Pook is Here

The Lost Artwork of Ah Pook is Here was published in a limited run of 125 copies in chapbook format by The Beat Scene Press.

The Lost Artwork of Ah Pook is Here

Here is the description of that work taken from the website:

Coventry, England: The Beat Scene Press, 2012. Limited First Edition. Staplebound. “In 1970 Malcolm McNeill [sic] received a phone call from a man who asked to meet “the guy who knows how to draw me.” The caller was William S. Burroughs. McNeill had recently illustrated a Burroughs text called “The Unspeakable Mr. Hart” for the underground paper Cyclops…(WSB & McNeill) discussed extending their collaboration into a book. McNeill was just 23, Burroughs was 56, and the project- tentatively titled Ah Puch- would last for seven more years.” (from the introduction).

In this booklet, Number 36 in the Beat Scene Press Pocket Book Series published in the UK by Kevin Ring, McNeill looks back on his experience working with WSB. The collaborative project ultimately failed, “but knowing and working with Bill Burroughs was above all characterized by its humor…he was simply the funniest guy I had ever met.” Published in August 2012 in an edition of 125 copies, this is copy #12. As new, a most important piece of the WSB puzzle for the scholar-collector. As New. [Item #1696]

Original cover art by Malcolm Mc Neill for Ah Pook is Here

Original cover art by Malcolm Mc Neill for Ah Pook is Here

Many thanks to Malcolm Mc Neill for drawing my attention to these works.

Daydreams and Nightmares with Winsor McCay

Winsor McCay (1869?-1934) is best known for Little Nemo in Slumberland (1905-1914, 1924-1927), a magnum opus by virtually any cartooning standard, and Gertie the Dinosaur (1909), acknowledged as one of the first great animated cartoons of his and any era.

Daydreams and Nightmares: The Fantastic Visions of Winsor McCay, 1898-1934 edited by Richard Marschall (Fantagraphics, 2005) features McCay’s additional contributions, with chapters on:

Krazy Kat goes a-wooing; Bugologist; and Ignatz Mouse at the Circus

This just in: I was looking for pictures of burgers and fries on Wikimedia Commons for a work-related project (seriously!) and today’s “Media of the day” was a 1916 Krazy Kat animation that has been made available in the Public Domain. Further investigation led to the discovery of an additional Krazy Kat animation also uploaded to the Commons this year. However, neither file included audio, and both were in an .ogv file format, which it would appear is not supported on WordPress without a video upgrade.

This led me to searching on YouTube for both videos, and both are there, as well as others! If you are a Krazy Kat fan then you may already know about these videos; it was news to me, so I’m sharing with you for your viewing pleasure. There is a good summary of Krazy Kat animations on the “Krazy Kat” page for Wikipedia.

Bill Blackbeard, Comics Historian: 1926-2011

I will only say this: I scoured the The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1977) as a young lad, and Blackbeard’s commentary in this volume and his essay in The Complete E.C. Segar Popeye (Volume One: Sundays, 1930-1932) were among the first extended historical treatments of comics I ever read. May Blackbeard’s contributions to comics long be remembered.

LINKS:

Bill Blackbeard, 1926-2011 (The Comics Reporter, April 25, 2011).

Bill Blackbeard, R.I.P. by Jeet Heer (The Comics Journal, April 25, 2011).

Bill Blackbeard: Tributes, edited by Dan Nadel (The Comics Journal, April 25, 2011).

Bill Blackbeard, the Man Who Saved Comics, Dead at 84 by R.C. Harvey

Bill Blackbeard Dies at 84; Saved Comic Strips, New York Times, April 29, 2011, by Margalit Fox.

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. Continue reading ‘Other Heroes and Other Notes’


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