Posts Tagged 'Jeet Heer'

Going Back in Time with “Walt and Skeezix: 1921 and 1922”

I was totally engrossed by Jeet Heer’s introduction to Walt and Skeezix: 1921 and 1922 (Drawn & Quarterly, 2010), and then spent the next three weeks trying to actually get into reading the cartoons themselves. Finally, it clicked. Maybe I was identifying with Frank King’s own struggle to build narrative momentum in the early days of the strip—but whatever the case, once over the hump, the ride was well worth it.

How little has changed in ninety years! Who knew that there were alarm clocks in 1921, that houses had thermostats even back when coal-fired furnaces were being used, or that roads were roughly patched over just as they are today, once natural gas lines to the houses were installed? These are but some of the small gifts that Walt & Skeezix inadvertently offers, simply as a lens into the past. Continue reading ‘Going Back in Time with “Walt and Skeezix: 1921 and 1922”’

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.

The beauty that is Inkstuds

It didn’t take me this long to read Inkstuds (Conundrum Press, 2010) because I found it tedious; on the contrary, I wanted to savour these interviews and read them in small doses, interspersed with the ongoing consumption of comics—many created by artists featured on the radio show. Kudos to McConnell: with all of the interviews he’s conducted, I don’t know how he decided which ones to put in this volume. I suspect that’s why there’s a “1” on the spine of the book!

In the introduction to Inkstuds, comics scholar Jeet Heer remarks, “McConnell takes a deceptively casual tack, winging his way like a student at an oral exam who is willing to make up for in gusto what he lacks in preparation (6).” This may be especially true when listening to McConnell’s show, but one feature of reading the interviews that I found interesting was how once transcribed on the page, these conversations take on a new life. Now edited, gone are the traces of improvisational filler, instead leaving only a fluid path of ideas. Continue reading ‘The beauty that is Inkstuds’

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’

Dwayne McDuffie: 1962-2011

In Memorium: Dwayne McDuffie

Dwayne McDuffie, the founder of Milestone Media, died Feb. 21, 2011 at age 49, after experiencing complications during emergency heart surgery.

Milestone Media was created in 1993 by a group of African American artists and writers whose mission was to increase the presence of minorities in American comics. Milestone’s work was distributed by DC Comics. McDuffie explains the inspiration for creating the company:

When he was a child in Detroit, McDuffie recalled in a 1996 interview with the Detroit Free Press, “there were only two comic strips that had black leading characters. When we got together to form our company, there were still only two—20 years later. We felt there should be more diversity.”

Los Angeles Times, Feb 24, 2011.

One of the most popular characters created by McDuffie and the Milestone group is Static, in the comic Static Shock, which inspired the animated cartoon of the same name.

McDuffie has also authored many screenplays, edited scripts and produced animated features for programs such as “What’s New, Scooby-Doo?,” “Teen Titans,” “Static Shock,” “Justice League,” “Ben 10: Alien Force.” McDuffie wrote the screenplay for the recently-released All-Star Superman.

McDuffie aspired to bring out the humanity of superheroes, through depicting them

“…in situations where being strong, or being able to fly or fight aren’t the answers,” McDuffie said. “We’ve dealt with teen pregnancy, abortion, racism and anti-Semitism. Being able to hit somebody harder doesn’t help you deal with that.”

Los Angeles Times, Feb 24, 2011. Continue reading ‘Dwayne McDuffie: 1962-2011’

Notes on Cole and the Plastic Arts

Jack Cole, 1914-1958

The Early Years

In 1940, Everett M. Arnold’s Quality Comics publishing was going strong, with Will Eisner’s Spirit in the limelight. The Spirit newsprint strips were being reprinted in Police Comics, to the delight of the public. Eisner was part-owner of the Quality line. In his capacity as editor, he hired Jack Cole to work on a string of titles including “Death Patrol.”

In 1943, a total of fifteen pages per issue of Police Comics were consecrated to Plastic Man. Consider that in the same year, both Superman in Action Comics and Batman in Detective Comics were only given thirteen pages per issue.

Splash for Plastic Man story in Police Comics #11

Also in 1943, Plastic Man was given his own comic, with four stories coming in at a total of 54 pages. The new book was not published by Quality Comics, but by the printer of Vital Books, named Julian Proskauer. During the war, Proskauer got into the comics and paperback business because he suspected he’d make more money at it. Vital published Plastic Man, The Spirit, and Nick Carter.

Cole was producing a higher volume of material with the increased page count. As a consequence, the amount of detail in his work diminished, particularly in terms of his backgrounds and his shading. Cole was receiving the highest page rate of any comic artist at the time, and received more than one bonus to the tune of $2500. Particularly for an artist who didn’t even own the copyright to his work, Cole was doing well for himself financially. Continue reading ‘Notes on Cole and the Plastic Arts’

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