Archive for the 'Comics Studies' Category

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.


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:


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’

Kurtzman and the Comics

Crumb, Terry Gilliam, Art Spiegelman, Gilbert Shelton, Denis Kitchen. These and many other artists hail Harvey Kurtzman as a seminal influence on their cartooning careers. The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics (Abrams ComicArts, 2009) by Denis Kitchen and Paul Buhle demonstrates how Kurtzman transformed the comics landscape forever through his notable work on Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales, Mad and Help!, among other publications.

The Art of Harvey Kurtzman is visually stunning. It provides generous samplings of Kurtzman’s roughs, original line work, and colour reproductions, including:

  • The fully penciled layouts for “Corpse on the Imjun!” story from Two-Fisted Tales no. 25 (January-February, 1952)
  • Colour reproductions of the first 29 Mad covers
  • Colour reproductions of the full “Superduperman!” feature from Mad no. 4 (April-May 1953)
  • Colour reproductions of all nine Humbug covers
  • Eight pencilled sample pages from Kurtzman’s extended graphic narrative, “Marley’s Ghost”
  • Kurtzman’s solo story, “The Grasshopper and the Ant” from Esquire (May 1960)
  • All 26 Help! covers in colour
  • A detailed close-up of Little Annie Fanny’s breasts (!), and the never-before published Little Annie Fanny “origin story”
  • Reproductions of the four vellum roughs and final copy of a “Little Annie Fanny” splash page, demonstrating the level of painstaking detail that led to Hugh Hefner’s agreeing to a $3 000 page rate

The Art of Harvey Kurtzman is divided into five chapters, each of which coincides with Kurtzman’s involvement in various projects: his early army cartoons and “Hey Look!” strips of the 1940s; his E.C. work, in particular Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales; Mad; the relatively short-lived Trump, Humbug, and Help! magazines; and Playboy’s “Little Annie Fanny.” Continue reading ‘Kurtzman and the Comics’

Graphic Transformation: Stories to Change Your Life

Graphic Novels: Stories to Change Your Life by Paul Gravett

I first encountered comics historian Paul Gravett being interviewed for the DVD The Mindscape of Alan Moore. That led me to investigating his two compendia, Graphic Novels: Stories to Change Your Life (Aurum Press, 2005), and Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics (2004, Laurence King Publishing Ltd.). Oddly, in the US the book’s byline is “Everything You Need to Know,” while in the UK it’s “Stories to Change Your Life.”  In addition to these two works, Gravett has edited numerous other books and has an extensive website that includes reviews, various media interviews with Gravett, and links to other sites. Gravett’s site is tagged extensively, making it very user friendly, with the exception of a search field. This post is concerned solely with Graphic Novels: Stories to Change Your Life.


Happily, Graphic Novels: Stories to Change Your Life begins with the first two pages reprinting an absurdist cartoon initially published in the New York Times Magazine, authored by Chester Brown. In it, a New York Times Magazine staff member is interviewing Brown. Much to the featured talent’s indignation, the interviewer turns into a duck halfway through the interview. For a respected art form, Brown informs us, this is all too much!

Subsequently, Gravett includes a section entitled “Things to Hate About Comics,” a kind of FAQ for the absolute beginner who may challenge the medium by resorting to selected blanket statements such as “Comics are just funnybooks”; “They take no time to read”; “Comics leave nothing for the imagination”; “They’re so depressing”; etc. For each of these criticisms, a detailed response is provided, designed to dismantle the arguments. Continue reading ‘Graphic Transformation: Stories to Change Your Life’

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