Archive for April, 2011

A War with No Name

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Notes for a War Story by Gipi isn’t a work of nonfiction, but it was certainly inspired by real events—the author lives in northern Italy, right near the western border with Slovenia. If not for the fact that he lived in Italy, the fighting in the former Yugoslavia could have been his war, and his life. And the book is a reflection of that, the story of three teenagers lingering on the outskirts of war, never seeing it, but feeling its effects nonetheless.

Stefano/Little Killer, Christian, and Giuliano (the narrator) are three kids wandering through the countryside in an unnamed country, stealing stuff to sell and just looking to survive and maybe some day make it big. Giuliano is a bit of an outsider to the other two, because he was raised by two parents with good jobs, and really only left that life behind so he could fit in with his friends. He is filled with doubt about the things they do, but it is unclear to him—and even to us, the readers—if this is because these things are wrong, or because he “just doesn’t understand.”

We follow the trio as they become acquainted with a man named Felix, who pulls them into the business of organized crime and later into the war itself, in a reflection of the real-life connections between organized crime and factions in a civil war. The book doesn’t analyze or explain these connections—this is just the way it is, and when Giuliano actually has the intelligence and temerity to question that state of being, it separates him further from his friends.

The story itself can be a little hard to get into, but it quickly picks up and becomes a rather easy, though emotionally-detached read. The characters are designed with sketchy, awkward lines that succeed in illustrating the scene while generating feelings of unease. I appreciated how the protagonists looked like teenagers, even when their mood shifted from scared to sinister and points inbetween.

Notes for a War Story has had a share of accolades piled upon it, including the 2005 Goscinny Prize for Best Script and the honor of Best Book at Angoulême 2006. It’s a shame that we don’t see as much impact stateside, because this book has a lot to offer in terms of craft and subject.

Notes for a War Story
by Gipi
translated by Spectrum
published by First Second (New York, 2007)
ISBN 978-1-59643-261-1

A True Tale of Cheese

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Every year I go to MoCCA Fest with a new shopping objective, based on whatever I’m interested in and in the mood for that particular year. Sometimes I like to pick up books with great design, or hefty graphic novels, or maybe something completely different, like t-shirts or vinyl records (one year I even bought a card game). This year my focus was minicomics, which are a nice low-cost way to meet new artists. I especially focused on titles that were $1, which is how I was introduced to One Place, One Cheese: Making Vermont’s Real Cheese by Josh Kramer.

One Place, One Cheese documents a visit to Thistle Hill Farm in Pomfret, Vermont, where John and Janine Putnam make Tarentaise cheese. Kramer documents the process of making a wheel of cheese, illustrating the various steps, from milking all the way to the aging room, where the cheese wheels will rest for up to a year before being sold. The drawings are simple, but detailed enough to convey the process, and the narrative is told in a straightforward, non-opinionated manner. As Kramer states on the final page, “This comics is neither fiction nor autobiography. It is a work of journalism.”

This comic is but a “taster” of what Kramer has in store for the world, having also released the first issue of his Cartoon Picayune, a comic format periodical featuring journalistic stories. Josh actually studied journalism at American University, which makes him one of the few actual trained journalists in comics journalism. The first issue of Cartoon Picayune features a story about the Hanover High School ski jumping team, and is available in print and PDF from the website. He hopes to publish issue #2 in September.

Don’t Forget the Carters

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

The Carter Family are pretty important to the history of folk music in this country, and have been called “The First Family of Country Music,” but in today’s narrative they tend to get a bit lost, overshadowed by the story of June Carter’s relationship with Johnny Cash. David Lasky and Frank M. Young are working on a graphic biography to correct this oversight, chronicling their lives from birth through their careers and legacy.

They’ve been working on the book for a long time now—the idea first came up in 2002, and they started work on the book in 2008—and they’ve finally started posting full-color pages on their blog, where readers can follow the entire process of the book, from start to the eventual finish. Publication of Carter Family Comics – Don’t Forget This Song is tentatively set for 2012 from Abrams ComicArts.

(via The Ephemerist)

Accidents Don’t Just Happen

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

This series of safe sex ads from MTV Switzerland reminds me a lot of the ridiculous stories that patients will often tell doctors (many in the emergency room) about why they need medical treatment for some really messed up thing, like “I fell on the floor and landed on the TV remote which went into my rectum,” or the perennial favorite, “I was sitting on my porch at 2am reading a Bible minding my own business when some guy just came up and shot me.” All these scenarios are incredibly unlikely but the storyteller somehow thought it was less embarrassing or incriminating than the truth. Which is part of the point of this ad: you don’t have sex by accident unless you were already doing something that could be considered a precursor to sex. So play it safe and use a condom.

There are three of these ads over at AdFreak, but this is the only one where the woman is wearing underwear. That’s a good point too: always wear underwear, because you never know when you’re going to go flying crotch-first onto some random sunbather.

(via The Ephemerist)

The Lives of Cartoonists

Monday, April 25th, 2011

One of the features of the new, improved The Comics Journal website is the “A Cartoonist’s Diary” series of columns, where an artist is asked to create five entries, each one portraying a day in the life of. They’re given pretty free range of what to talk about and what format to present it in, so Vanessa Davis (of Make Me a Woman and Spaniel Rage) used this opportunity to talk about things like workout videos and recipes you can make with lemons, while Brandon Graham (of King City and Multiple Warheads) took a more mixed media approach, posting lots of original drawings and other art along with his photos and text.

For the third iteration of the diary Pascal Girard took the reins, going whole hog with the comic content and using his drawings to chronicle an event we’ve mentioned quite a bit around these parts: MoCCA Fest. In part one he spoke about the “magical sexual powers” of Brecht Evens (you can read a little more about him and the incident with the cops over at The Beat or on the D&Q blog), and part three was more of a general wrap-up of the show before he moved on to other matters.

I think the best part of these diaries is how they’re so down-to-earth. Cartoonists are people—and comics fans—too.

We've all had moments like this.

(via Robot 6)

Ask the Vegetable Garden

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

Viz only released seven volumes of Oishinbo A la Carte in the United States, despite there being about twenty volumes to draw from (as well as over 100 volumes of the unabridged manga, but it’s understandable that no one wants to go through the massive undertaking of translating and releasing the entire series). The A la Carte volumes draw from the entire back catalog of Oishinbo adventures, and thus can be read in any order, which is how “Vegetables” came to be the final volume that I read. And it’s a personal shame, because the vegetable volume is probably the weakest of the entire series as released in English.

Many of the stories presented in Oishinbo have a very technical minded focus—how to cut, season, boil, grill, and so forth—with the stated intent to bring the best flavor out of the ingredients. With a lot of the food presented, the flavor and texture were often dependent on well each dish was prepared. This was especially prominent in the volumes on fish (including sushi and sashimi), rice, and sake. But with vegetables, the emphasis switches more to the quality of the ingredients. It’s not that the quality didn’t matter before, but here it is paramount and almost a given. As long as the vegetables are native to the area and not treated with pesticides and herbicides—a point hammered forth repeatedly in this volume—the vegetables will be delicious, and the characters must learn to appreciate that. Most of the stories are about how the goodness and purity of vegetables will bring people together and solve their problems. That’s fine in small doses, but in succession it can get boring.

The best story in A la Carte Vegetables is an installment of the ongoing Ultimate Menu vs. Supreme Menu battle, where Yamaoka and Kaibara Yūzan do battle with cabbages and turnips. The battles are some of the most exciting  parts of Oishinbo, so it’s good that they included one here. But even that story comes down to the goodness and purity of vegetables, and the way Yamaoka is always missing or misunderstanding some key ingredient has become rather formulaic after reading seven (much less a hundred) volumes.

Even with that repetition I still find the series an enjoyable read, and am sad to see the English-speaking world denied any further volumes of this addictive and mouthwatering manga.

Oishinbo A la Carte: Vegetables
story by Tetsu Kariya
art by Akira Hanasaki
translated by Tetsuchiro Miyaki
edited by Leyla Aker and Jonathan Tarbox
published by Viz Signature (San Francisco, 2009)
ISBN 978-1-4215-2143-5

Editorial Wikigroaning

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Editorial cartooning has a long history here in the United States, going all the way back to Benjamin Franklin’s infamous “Join, or Die” cartoon that was published as a call to action during the French and Indian War. So in preparing my last post about editorial cartoons and graphic journalism, I decided to take a look at the Wikipedia page for some background information and examples. I was greeted by this:

That’s the meat of the article in total. The article is comprised of an introductory sentence, two short paragraphs, two images, and a “See also” list of 10 items. For this old, influential form of communication that, judging from the amount of hits on Google, has a pretty decent presence on the web. And yet, the Wikipedia page (which is third in a search for “editorial cartoon” and fifth for “political cartoon”) is only a paltry 4,247 bytes of data.

On the possibility that a once-long entry might have been cut down by judicious editing or vandalism, a look at the article’s history shows a creation date of April 3, 2003 and since then it has endured about 1000 edits, and for most of its history wavered between 2000 and 5000 bytes.

Wikipedia has been accused of systemic bias and some groups (including Wikipedia itself) have taken action to counter this bias, but subjects like politics (particularly when pertaining to English-speaking nations), comics, and newspapers are not subjects that traditionally suffer from this bias. Yet somehow, editorial cartoons, which lie at the intersection of these, have been left behind.

The Left Forum recently held their annual conference back in March, and as part of their schedule, held a panel called ”Political Cartoons: Resistance Through Ridicule.” Tim Kreider sat on the panel and later wrote a piece on The Comics Journal about the experience, describing it as ”marginal and loserish and sad” because,

The crowd seemed to consist largely of grizzled, embittered Marxists, and the tenor of questions spanned the range from aggrieved to despairing. Why isn’t the Left availing itself of the power of political cartoons in this post-literate culture? [...] Why is there no market for editorial cartoons anymore? [...] Why are mainstream newspaper editorial cartoons so bland and craven and bad? Why can’t we seem to communicate our message effectively?

He spends the rest of the feature talking about the lack of a future for editorial cartooning as we know it, and what the Internet means for cartooning. The title of the piece cames from another panel he saw on the schedule: “What Is to Be Done?”

Maybe they should update their Wikipedia page, for a start.

A Refuge for Graphic Journalism

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Political cartoons have been around for hundreds of years, and as such, are pretty familiar to anyone who has ever picked up a newspaper. Graphic journalism presents more long-form reports and observations about the world we live in, and it’s been picking up steam over the past decade or two. The Cartoon Movement seeks to be a portal for these two forms of nonfiction comics, publishing new material at least four times a week.

The site got a major push last Wednesday with the publication of Sarah Glidden’s The Waiting Room, a 21-page comic about the struggles of Iraqi refugees in Syria. The research for this one-shot comic came from her travels with the Common Language Project, which will be more fully covered in her upcoming book Stumbling Toward Damascus.

For those interested in graphic journalism, it’s also worth looking at this piece by Erin Polgreen over at The Hooded Utilitarian. She talks about the different formats and styles that graphic journalism can take, like travelogues and portraiture. The ideas presented are only a small part of a panel she presented at The National Conference for Media Reform earlier this month, and you can listen to the entirety of that panel on the NCMR site.

Polish Foreign Ministry Shocked by Chopin Bio

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Comics are a great way to teach kids about subjects that might otherwise be a bit dry for them, so The Polish Foreign Ministry and the Polish Embassy in Berlin commissioned a graphic biography about the life of composer Frederic Chopin to make his life more accessible to German students. Unfortunately, the actual work went beyond accessible into “highly inappropriate” territory: the book is peppered with profanity and homophobic remarks (sometimes appearing together, like “f@#%ing fag-holocaust”).

The entire print run was destroyed, and disciplinary action would have been taken against the person responsible but for one little detail:

“In reality it was a mistake made by an employee at the Embassy in Berlin,” Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski told Radio Zet mid-week.

“And the one thing that I regret is that I can’t fire that person for making such a scandalous decision, because [he or she] no longer works for the Foreign Ministry.”

With circumstances such as that, I’m left wondering if it was a genuine mistake, or an act of bitter malice by a departing employee.

(via Comics Alliance)

MoCCA Fest 2011: On the Floor

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

For its 10th anniversary edition, MoCCA Fest may not be in its original location or time of year—through 2008 it was held at the Puck Building and until last year it was always in June—but its spirit of comics and community remains. The crowd was a healthy mix of creators and fans, big names and unknowns, distinguished publishers and self-publishers, young (sometimes very young) and old (not that old).

I arrived at the Armory at 11:10am on Saturday to discover a long line that wrapped around the block. Not unusual for MoCCA, especially so close to the opening time of 11, except that the doors weren’t even open yet, and wouldn’t open for another 10–20 minutes. Moreover, many exhibitors were still entering the building. I later spoke to an exhibitor who said that it was unclear on when and where the exhibitors were supposed to show up, so hopefully that’s a line of communication that can be improved in the future.

After the Sequential Non-fiction panel on Saturday was a panel titled, “Building a Book, From Start to Finish.” Panelists were Ben Katchor, Stephen DeStefano, and Lauren Redniss. We didn’t stick around for the whole panel, but Redniss talked up her recent graphic biography, Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout. She mentions doing research for the book that included visiting nuclear sites (including, I believe, Three Mile Island) and attending a conference on nuclear power, where she received phone calls from the company (FirstEnergy) that owned the sites she visited.

Walking around the floor revealed a wide variety of styles and people, with some interesting booths.

(more…)