Given that I spend way too much time on twitter, I sort of prioritize announcing things like this in-the-moment there, and have neglected to update this blog with a few podcast appearances and interviews over the last little while. I actually just recorded an episode for a new podcast by Jeremy Melloul that’ll go up in early September, I believe, and it reminded me to update y’all here too!
Speech Bubble Podcast, with Aaron Broverman: I joined my friend and ex-employer Peter Birkemoe to do an exit-interview, of sorts, on leaving The Beguiling, and its recent move and upgrade. Apparently Peter and I play off of each other pretty well. 🙂
True North Country Comics Podcast, with John Swimmer: A short interview about the lead-up to TCAF 2018. I also did another short interview about TCAF’s many trips to Japan, and what we hope to accomplish there. [Link 2]
Interview at TCJ, with Kim Jooha: This one was a great, long, slightly rambling conversation with writer Kim Jooha. It was also a little bit weird because I’d already accepted the job offer from VIZ, but had to keep quiet about it… I think it turned out great though. It’s long! Settle in before reading. 😉
Hopefully in lieu of any fresh writing here, you will delight in and enjoy these other instances of me sharing my opinions about comics. For now, anyway. 🙂
Top photo by me, from Osaka, just cuz I thought it was a nice photo
Yikes. I can’t actually believe I didn’t update before TCAF this year, or at all in the last 8 months. I mean, I can, just like I can believe I’m coming up on one year working with VIZ even though that feels like just yesterday. But hey, time flies.
Anyway, TCAF was this past weekend, and pretty darned good. Thanks to all the amazing staff and volunteers, all of the great exhibiting creators and publishers, and to the 25k+ that showed up at TCAF events for 2018. 🙂
Here’s to hoping for more posting here over the next year.
The Problem with Marvel* is that there is no problem. Honestly. Marvel is, absolutely, integrally, Marvel, and not much is terribly different at the company now from the past 20 or so years that I’ve been paying attention.
However, for the sake of argument, if there is a problem with Marvel it’s that it’s still Marvel, and not, say, what people would prefer Marvel were. Which is to say, Marvel hasn’t significantly changed as a publishing entity in the past 20 years, despite being acquired by Disney, despite the aggressive movie slate creating millions of new fans worldwide. Marvel is Marvel in the face of enormous change around it. The fandom has changed (though there’s still about 30,000 old-timers hanging in there, the Marvel fauthful), the publishing industry isn’t the same publishing industry, and the discussion (‘the discourse’) is so very, very different too. Marvel largely can’t understand its new fandom, can’t understand the new publishing industry, and its certainly having a hard time understanding those with legitimate criticism as anything other than ‘internet complainers that we should not pay attention to.’ These changes didn’t happen overnight, they were gradual and consistent. The fan demographic has been shifting for years and the discussion has changed alongside it. There’ve always been voices of protest, but there are more of them and they are louder now, and there’s a much richer chorus. It’s harder to ignore.
Not, apparently, impossible though.
Speaking of ignoring dissenting voices. I have a lot of sympathy for comic shop retailers, having been a comic shop retailer for a few decades. Marvel, when the stars align, is tremendously easy to sell and a tremendously consistent seller. I’ll even go out on a limb here and say most direct market comic shop retailers would prefer to sell Marvel to anything else (including rivals at DC Comics), from my observations of them and discussions with them. Marvel is a tremendous part of their business, largely low-hanging fruit, and they understand it. They’re invested in it, and have been for a long time in most cases. When Marvel doesn’t sell well, when it’s out of sync with the world around it, retailers’ jobs become difficult, their thin margins evaporate, and their investment in Marvel is shown to have been a fool’s game.
I had a lot invested in Marvel for a long time. Now? Not so much. If this were five years ago I’d say I grew up, but I’m trying to be less inflammatory in my old age, so let me instead say simply that I moved on. Yes, these characters are [still] tremendously important to a number of people. Yes, there are touchstone moments from the history of Marvel comics that were tremendously important to me too–when Northstar came out in Alpha Flight I got to come out a little bit. But at a certain point I recognized that Marvel is Marvel, it’s designed to be (and stay) Marvel, and I’m not gonna be that closeted teen forever. I’m not gonna be that comic collector, I’m not gonna thrill to seeing Spider-Man web up Megatron, I’m not even gonna be awed viewing the 60s Marvel heroes through the lens of Phil Sheldon until the end of my days. I’m gonna move on and yeah, I’m still gonna enjoy a good yarn, but I probably won’t be able to enjoy it very much if I know that people are seriously hurt by it. It’s the difference between loving something, enjoying it, and being able to appreciate it despite its flaws. It’s being able to see that the emperor has no clothes but he’s still pretty hot if you squint and as long as he doesn’t open his mouth and ruin it.
In their most recent actions, Marvel more-or-less doubled down on being Marvel. I won’t get into specifics, but it looks like Marvel still doesn’t quite want to be anything other than Marvel. Or maybe it doesn’t know how? Regardless, they clearly see their standard operating procedure as no problem. So who am I to argue, right? We all want more of the same, slightly shifted. Heroes Reborn, Reborn, Reborn, Reborn. Alex Ross brought back to give us the old razzle-dazzle, to help us be awed by Superheroes again. Like I said, it’s not for me anymore, but Marvel seems convinced it’s going to work, that there are no problems that can’t be fixed by renumbering their books.
Ultimately Marvel is Marvel, and that ain’t mine anymore. Maybe after this it won’t be yours either? I just hope that in deciding to double down, in deciding to stay the course after years of growing dissatisfaction from the new fans of their characters, disenfranchised older fans of their comics, retailers who say that the product has stopped selling, and the people doing the work to try and illuminate issues around sensitivity and inclusion… well, honestly, I hope no one gets hurt, no one’s store closes, no one becomes disenfranchised by comics as a whole because the medium outside of Marvel is truly awesome. Heck, it’s even awesome AT Marvel every once in a while.
And if not, if Marvel means too much to you and you’re gonna hang in there regardless? I hope you can take solace in the fact that, at some point soon thanks to the movies and the cartoons and the merch, there are more people that wanna read the smooching-adventures of Steve and Bucky than want to see them on opposite sides of a dumb nazi brain-washing scheme, and I bet the folks at Disney will have no problem finding someone else to make that happen, because Marvel may be Marvel, but Money is Money.
*: Marvel Publishing, i.e.: Marvel Comics.
Here are some things I like about Christmas, and Christmas things from this year mostly. Pictures and Comics and Songs and things. I’ll keep them all on one post so I don’t push everything else off the front page. I might not update every day, but I’ll have something for every day from the 1st to the 25th. Merry Christmas. 🙂
December 19th: Christmas Lights
Jon Klassen posted this picture of one of his neighbours’ houses Christmas setups and it’s so, so good. I’m looking forward to getting in the car and driving through the fancy neighbourhoods to look at the lights. 🙂
Also, back when I had cable I was a sucker for those “Most Extreme Christmas Lights Ever!” shows.
Click for a larger version.
December 18th: Office Christmas Party (Kids in the Hall)
Actually now all I can think about are various Kids in the Hall Christmas skits.
December 17th: Did you know Dave Foley from Kids In The Hall did a Christmas Special? Called “The True Meaning of Christmas Specials?”
I DIDN’T KNOW THAT. I love the straight-up KITH Christmas Special (The Queen and Buddy Cole, I mean honestly), and I had no idea this existed until Dave Foley himself tweeted it, so I don’t feel that terrible about linking it on Youtube.
December 16th: How Many Of These Ways Have You Ruined Christmas?
Have you Hung Stockings By The Chimney Half-Assedly? Donated Blood to Toys for Tots? Or worse? Take this quiz to find out all of the ways you have royally fucked up Christmas over at Clickhole.
December 15th: Happy Snowflake Day! It’s The Clone High Holiday Special
My favourite contemporary Christmas television special is The Clone High Holiday Special, in which the characters celebrate the just-invented Snowflake Day, casting aside all of the “exclusionary” holiday celebrations that have preceded it. Today is the day of the first viewing of this contemporary classic, and it gets better every single time I see it.
December 14th: Christmas Cheer
We had a great event at Page & Panel on the 14th, with Jon Klassen, Matt Forsythe, Kyo Maclear, and John Martz at the shop talking about their new picture books. It was fantastically successful, but the best part was getting to hang out and have a drink and a bite to eat with some great folks afterwards. Andrew and I aren’t doing a Christmas Party this year cuz we’re just too busy to organize anything, so getting to socialize and raise a cup of cheer is just that much nicer, that much more important.
The evening before I got to have a very rare drink with Mark Askwith and Jim Zub, shooting the shit and ‘solving comics’ as Jim described, and while I had a few too many, it was just too good of a conversation to leave.
A couple of nice nights.
December 13th: Overwatch Winter Wonderland!
It’s really, really good you guys. 🙂 I’m playing on PS4 as Comics212 if you want to add me.
December 12th: It’s Andrew’s Birthday!
My husband Andrew was born today! Hooray! He is literally the first person I’ve encountered with a December birthday whose birthday didn’t get lumped in with Christmas. He is very well adjusted about this, actually. Still, shout out to all the December babies who got a ‘combination Christmas & Birthday gift’, that’s rough.
December 11th: Mariah Carey Wrote The Last Great Christmas Song: Deal With It.
“In 1994, I wrote the last good Christmas song. Deal with it, world.
“It’s called “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” I wrote it with a man named Walter Afanasieff, who went by the nickname “Baby Love” in the 80s. We won’t speak of him again.
“Back to the song. Not only was I on top of the damn world when I released it, but give it a listen. It’s got bell chimes. I do that “ooooohh hooooo oooooh baby” thing. There are so many octaves. The message that love matters more than gifts connects with everyone in a “nah, not really, but I’m not gonna disagree publicly with it” way.”
I love the Christmas episodes of Community. They’re always the right mix of incredibly heavy and blissfully light. This one struck a chord because I was bullied in school and the school bullies sort of brought that back, but I did love that the characters had each others’ backs. My favourite though is probably the GLEE send-up, though the best is obviously the Claymation one.
December 9th: Santas by Chris Schweizer!
Chris Schweizer, the creator of the “Crogan’s” series of graphic novels from Oni Press, came up with this cool idea for a bunch of the historically-informed real and mythical characters that informed our idea of the contemporary Santa Claus. You can buy some of the original art, as well as papercraft versions, at his online store: http://crogan.bigcartel.com/
I made my first Christmas mix CD back in 2003. It was themed around always having to work when I went home for Christmas, because deadlines. Some things never change.
I made an online version for people to download (PIRACY!) and I mailed out burned CDs to some of my friends too. I really massaged the hell out of it too, using a mixing software that had songs smoothly fading into one another, big volume changes to have songs start with a bang (the fanfare at the beginning of Baby It’s Cold Outside was particularly nice next to the jazzy fade on Ella’s Have Yourself…). I was so proud of this, and I think it still holds up.
I actually don’t have a copy of this anymore, James Lucas Jones might have the last copy in existence and was nice enough to send me this photo of it so I could see the track listing. I made a Spotify playlist of it too, so you could listen if you like: https://open.spotify.com/user/christopher.butcher/playlist/2zM1LeB1Vo0YRdXGyjCbqp . Sadly due to the music industry being weird and fucked, a bunch of songs on the list there aren’t on Spotify (although I get that Spotify itself is a sort of shitty service for musicians), so you’ll have to to pause the playlist and insert your own copies of Slade’s MERRY CHRISTMAS to kick things off, and the lovely tension of Bing and Bowie on Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy. It’s not the right version of Anne Murray’s Winter Wonderland either, I need the one from my youth, from the late 70s or early 80s. Ah well. Ah well.
I made maybe 3 or 4 of these mixes over the years, and I always think I’ll make another, and then I never get a chance to because Christmas has gotten too busy to even write these little blog updates, let alone actually spend 4 or 5 hours making the perfect Christmas mix. Maybe one day I’ll get to make another. 🙂
December 7th: Happy Holidays from Overwatch…?
I’ve been playing a lot of Overwatch on PS4 lately. It’s a nice easy way to get out of my own head for a while. I was delighted when I saw this posted, that there’ll be a special holiday event for the game, presumably with Christmas/Holiday-themed outfits for the characters and more. 🙂
December 6th: Michael DeForge and Jillian Tamaki’s Holiday Illustration
Released on Twitter and apparently printed and posted around the city. Love it. 🙂
December 5th: Krampusnacht
December 5th is Krampusnacht, or the night of the Krampus, when Santa’s dark twin comes to whip the bad children with a switch, or steal them away. So, you know. This particular Krampus illustration hangs on my wall at home, and it’s by Matt Forsythe. I got it from a Krampus art show in 2010, I think that’s where I maybe met Anne Koyama for real, for the first time? Anyway, she’s great, and Matt’s great, and this illustration is great too.
December 4th: Illumination in Japan
(Various Tokyo Illumination installations)
I’m not able to go to Japan this Christmas or New Years as I have for the past few years, although I did get a record three trips there this year and I realize how lucky I am for that. I still really miss it though, there’s something about Christmas there that’s very deeply different than here in Canada… but in this instance, I really like their Christmas Lights displays. They call them “illuminations” and they’re all over Tokyo and the biggest cities in Japan. Usually there’ll be 10-15 really high end, remarkable illuminations in Tokyo, with smaller ones dotted throughout the city at department stores and what not. It’s really beautiful, simultaneously over the top without being too gaudy. I used to stare at the lights on our Christmas tree for hours, back when I was a kid (and a teen), and this is like that but writ large across my favourite city.
The reason I thought of this today was because I bumped into my friend Robin Nishio, who IS planning a trip through Japan for the last half of December. I told him that the best thing I saw at Christmas time in Japan was probably “Lumiere”, the Kobe illumination display. It was and is a marvelous installation of lights, up and down the main streets of Kobe, nearly a kilometre long and ending in a giant part with huge structures seemingly comprised of nothing but light. It was a tradition begun following the great Kobe earthquake, an attempt to show the rest of Japan that Kobe was resilient, was rebuilding, and that they should come and support the city. Citizens and government banded together to create this and it added an amazing, poignant air to the already beautiful and affecting display. I was grinning ear to ear until it finally overwhelmed me and I teared up. It’s one of my favourite experiences and memories of Japan. I’m grateful to Emi and Graeme for showing it to me.
December 3rd: Christmas at Retail
Despite working in retail for most of my adult life, I actually really love how all-out retail establishments will go to celebrate Christmas and the holidays. Sure, it’s in the service of consumerism and capitalism, but if we can get stunning, beautiful things like this because people are encouraged to spend more, I’m personally willing to take that trade-off. This also marked a rare instance for Andrew and I to go and take in a little holiday spirit together, and that was lovely too.
December 2nd: Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time
On her Facebook, my friend Liz Clayton is holding here annual(?) Wonderful Christmastime Challenge. The rules for the challenge are simple, as Liz explains: “You enter by simply existing and lose by hearing this terrible song while just trying to go about your peaceable business. Covers count. Humming or someone singing it to knock you out does not count. Your goal is to survive unscathed for as long as you can: contest begins at 12:01am EST Thursday, November 17, one week before Thanksgiving.”
Andrew and I were both knocked out of the running on December 1st, basically the first real day of Christmas music. Me, earlier in the day, when I put on a spotify playlist that I was _sure_ didn’t include the song, and then him, later, as we stood in line at Shopper’s Drug Mart after an otherwise lovely evening out.
I used to truly hate this song, and it’s repetitive, droning nature. I’ve softened on it a lot of over the years though, as its early-days synthesizer noises are actually kind of incredible, and it doesn’t sound much like any other piece of Christmas pop that there is. It also doesn’t implore or demand anything of its listener (other than ‘Don’t Look Down’ at one point). It’s not telling you to deck anything, to carol, or warning you to watch out. It’s just Paul and the crew sitting around singing about how much fun they’re having, and that’s not so bad, is it?
I mean, it’s still a little bad.
December 1st: The STYLE Christmas Comic
Once upon a time I lived with Bryan Lee O’Malley, creator of Scott Pilgrim, and this other guy, and we used one of the rooms in the house for our office. It housed all of our computers. I was kind of poor, so I had a pair of hand-me-down speakers for my computer and no headphones, wheras Bryan and Other Guy both had pretty bitch’n headphones. So it made sense to me that I could just play the music I wanted because they couldn’t hear it anyway. About the time Christmas rolled around and I started listening to Christmas music 24 hours a day, I was informed that my music could in fact be heard, and was in fact intolerable.
That did not deter me. So Bryan made me a comic strip.
I still consider it a tribute, rather than a threat.
I posted this on Twitter on December 1st, at like 12:30am, and I was susprised how many people had never seen it, despite posting it here annually for a few years. A good reminder that if I ever start writing here regularly again, it’ll be to a bunch of new people. And I’ll be able to reuse a lot of old material. 😉
(That image is my favourite from the column. Augie colour-codes the new front-page of CBR. Red for Hollywood articles, Blue for Comics, Purple for a comic that’s just a hollywood shill).
Augie makes a strong case in the body of that article for both his pedigree in making such a bold claim and the essential problem of contemporary comics journalism–it’s more lucrative (in that it is lucrative at all) to write about the things around comics and inspired by comics than by the comics themselves, by a factor of 10 on comics’ absolutely best day and Hollywood’s worst. It’s why the criticisms of contemporary comics websites for their lack of coverage of comics have always seemed necessary to me, but also terribly naive. If you want to make a living writing about comics, you have to write about the TV and the movies and the merch because that’s what will draw in actual audiences. Criticizing how someone makes their living because it’s not what YOU want is kind of shitty of you, actually! If that criticism were reversed comics creators would be appalled that someone in comics had the gaul to question their life, business, or art choices, but if it’s about comic book web sites, it’s apparently fair game. Which isn’t to say I don’t understand looking at the current state of writing-about-comics and despairing; I do. I just think it’s sort of shitty to decide someone making a maximum of $10 for a 500 word article is a reasonable target for your ire. Even the editors of these sites largely have no say, as they’re owned by media conglomerates and people you’ll never get to see.
Sidebar: That’s why it’s also shitty to be shitty to Marvel Comics writers/editors because Marvel Comics CEO Ike Perlmuter donates to Donald Trump’s campaign for president. Yeah, that’s disgusting, but it’s not like they can do fuck all about it. Just don’t support Marvel if you feel that strongly about it, without being shitty to people with nothing to do with it. And while I’m ranting here, being shitty to a Marvel editor or creator doesn’t absolve you of your guilt for financially supporting the company (including promoting them) when they do something shitty, either. Own your actions, don’t try and bully your way to absolution.
Your mileage may vary.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about doing more writing-about-comics, or comics journalism if you like, every few months since I ‘took a break’ from PopImage in 2000 (sorry, Ed). Realistically, I think it’s more important to do the things I used to talk about, to put good and important things into the world than simply to talk about doing that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss talking about it, or thinking about talking about it. But as I sneak-up on middle age, the idea of loudly being right about comics on the internet has lost its lustre, partly because the lengths that people will go to to prove themselves and their beliefs correct (doxing, hacking, threats of violence, starting a ‘receipts’ blog to try and bully people into suicide) make the fight unappealing, and partly because being quietly right and seeing the good work you do ripple through the industry is much more satisfying.
It does mean that I try to support good writing more, where I can, though. For example, I linked to Augie’s new site above, and pretty much any time he’s expressed an aesthetic opinion I’ve disagreed with it, but I think he does know how to break an idea down in an interesting way, and looks at things other people don’t. I also really like Brigid Alverson’s hard journalistic approach to comics, and I was worried earlier this week when I thought she was done at CBR. I liked her COMICS A.M. posts for Robot 6 a great deal, and I’m happy to hear they’ll be continuing. She, along with Deb Aoki, is also doing a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to ‘giving a shit about Japanese comics within the larger comics industry,’ and that alone is worth buying both of them a dinner.
Probably one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most, comics journalism-wise, over the last little while has been the launch of IMAGE PLUS magazine from David Brothers, himself a formerrecovering comics journalist, working at Image, doing a house magazine, in print, focusing on what the company is putting out, and why it’s good and important. I’m sure that sounds suspect as hell to some of you out there, but it’s good stuff, honestly. And when you’re fighting over the ever-shrinking amount of blue boxes on Augie’s graphic up there, maybe it makes the absolute most sense in the world to be covering your own stuff, writing about your own stuff, promoting your own stuff, and getting smart writers to do it. Most of you reading here might not know that Marvel and DC both have staff writers for their websites, creating and running the sorts of content that online comics news sites used to. I’m actually happy to see Image doing the same, happier still to see it in print, which lends itself to better long-form work, and the whole thing is like $2 which is a steal.
Anyway, no grand statement here, I just think Augie’s right and we’re probably done on the whole, or at least very near the end of the line until something major changes. I think there’ll always be smart people running sites that pay almost nothing just on their sheer force of will, even as some of the more notable ones around us shut down. I think that, like this blog, many of us formerrecovering comics writers will keep spaces for the thoughts about comics that coalesce into something longer than a series of tweets. Hell, I’m supposed to write a couple of articles for ComicsAlliance that are a month late right now, so I don’t think it’s possible to shake it off entirely. And if you’re one of the folks running one of those sprawling comics news websites that might just be impossible these days–keep up the good fight. 🙂
While in Japan this fall, I was fortunate enough to take in a lovely exhibition of original comics artwork by two modern masters, Igort and Jiro Taniguchi. While I’m super behind on my Japan blogging, I wanted to mention this one because it ends on December 19th, and if you can attend you absolutely should, it’s wonderful and free!
My friend Jocelyne and I made the trek to Kudanshita, and then up the hill to the exhibition at The Italian Cultural Institute in Tokyo. We arrived just as the building was closing for the day and we had the place all to ourselves. So: a few pictures!
The exhibition featured lovely introductions for both artists, in Japanese and Italian, and the large printed materials really complimented the originals and helped fill the large, lovely space.
The exhibition featured Igort on the right (orange), and Taniguchi on the left (blue), and was about men taking a walk. Igort’s work was pulled primarily from his new book “Les Cahiers Japonais: Un voyage dans l’empire des signes”, a travelogue of sorts. The art was lovely and was very much the perspective of an outsider looking into Japan, lots of Japonisme to the work. I’m interested to read it now, and I hope it gets an English translation.
Taniguchi’s work was drawn from one of his newest projects, a gorgeous fully watercolour-painted travelogue of Venice, commissioned by Louis Vuitton(!) and available more-or-less exclusively through them. It’s a gorgeous book and the artwork itself is similarly beautiful, the details and sense of place very impressive indeed.
In addition to the originals from both books, the display cases also featured original artwork and books from different projects in the artists’ careers, going back almost to the beginning. It’s remarkable just how much Taniguchi’s style has changed, and how much it’s remained the same, over the years. The exhibition also featured 4 short films about the artists on a loop, and a selection of their graphic novels for visitors to browse (French, Italian, and Japanese).
The exhibition is free, and also features a small catalogue to go along with it. We got ours for free, which was a lovely treat! Unfortunately they’re still packed away, and I’ll see about uploading a photo or two of it when I unpack.
I wasn’t allowed to take close up pictures of the art, for obvious reasons, so I’ve included a few samples from both cartoonists below that I found on the web. Both books are lovely, and if you can track down that limited edition Taniguchi do so before it’s too late–it’ll set you back $80-$100.
So, I went to New York to interview Masashi Kishimoto, creator of Naruto, while he was there participating in New York Comic-Con. It was a really great experience–one of those once-in-a-lifetime things–and I found Kishimoto to be a really nice guy, and very passionate about manga. If you click above, you can see the highlights of the whole event, courtesy of VIZ.
My trip began, more-or-less, with this interview at the Apple Store, SoHo, a live on-stage interview. For this one, the questions had been prepped already and weren’t strictly my own. It was interesting as, frankly, it’s not the direction I would’ve gone in, but it was still solid. Since the interview would be recorded and included in their “Meet The Author” series of podcasts, the prepared questions felt as though they was designed to be open to folks who might be curious but weren’t die-hard fans, with the die-hard stuff coming in through the Question & Answer section instead. I’m happy to say that it was still an interesting discussion though, and I absolutely think it worked. You can judge for yourself and watch the video podcast on iTunes. I think you can access it at: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/naruto-naruto-kurietani-huiou/id266215977?i=355670682&mt=2. (you can also search “meet the author” in podcasts on itunes)
I don’t want to dig too much into the process and unravel the magic, but we did get to meet ahead of the talk, and I was grateful for the opportunity to see where he was at, mentally. Even though the Apple Store event was ‘small’, I was told there were a few hundred people there, and particularly for your first time in America, it can be a big thing to get up in front of people and talk for an hour to an audience who doesn’t speak your language. I think Kishimoto-sensei did an excellent job that night and all weekend though, which is really saying a lot considering just how in demand he was. On that note…
That’s the photograph of the crowd for our Thursday panel, over 2200 people in a room to see him. And I was up on stage in front of all of them, leading the crowd in rousing choruses of screams.
I had a lot of questions prepared, and even after we figured out what he’d be comfortable talking about and not talking about, I quickly realized that there was no way I was going to get through all of them. Also, while I’ve been on stage many times in the past and generally have that down, this was my first time in front of an audience this size (I think), and 2200 people is a lot of people! An audience that size has demands, and those demands tend to be questions that are fun, quick, and intimately about the series, rather than longer discussions on the nature of war and peace (for reals). As an interviewer, it was a really great experience to edit myself on the fly, keeping in mind not just the conversation with the creator, but also the conversation we were both having with the audience. It was a unique challenge, and I hope I get the opportunity to do so again one day.
If you want to watch the entire panel, VIZ recorded it (sadly no shots of the amazing, passionate, exceptionally loud crowd though) and you can just click the video below:
I have not watched it, because watching myself on video is profoundly uncomfortable, but yeah, it’s still worth watching because Kishimoto is honestly floored and humbled, and it’s charming, and he’s also a hell of an artist and draws a bunch in it.
Following the panel there was a short signing, and I have to admit to my one fanboy moment of the entire weekend, where I asked for his autograph. I’ve become quite a fan of the manga series since reading and re-reading it to properly prepare for the job of interviewing him, and it was nice to get a memento of the occasion–particularly while he was riding the adrenaline buzz of being on stage. 😉 I was probably annoying to the staff who were seeing to his event though, as me spending an additional 5 or 10 minutes hanging out with Kishimoto-sensei was not in the very metculous timetable, so I’d like to offer my apologies. Sorry folks! -___-;
I’ll share one more little thing. There was a private wrap-up party on October 10th for Kishimoto-sensei’s final New York event, and I was very lucky to be invited as it was rather intimate. I could tell he was a little tired from a very, very busy few days (not to mention the jetlag of coming here from Japan in the first place). So I quickly said my thank you’s to he and his editor Otsuki-san (nice guy, practical) and got out of the way, retreating to a corner to enjoy a drink with friends at VIZ. Then, a hush, and a call for attention, when Naruto’s Japanese voice actress Junko Takeuchi entered the space with a cake topped with lit candles. It was Naruto (the character)’s birthday! The assembled group sang Naruto Happy Birthday and closed out the weekend. It was a sweet moment, and a very nice ending to what must have been a very long week, month, quarter, etc. for Kishimoto and all of the VIZ and Shueisha folks who helped bring the event together. The people who make manga are real people, who pour enormous amounts of themselves into their work. It was a very human, very moving moment to see a creator thanked for their creation, a character who has touched and improved thousands of lives. I’m really glad I got to see it, and got to be a part of it.
So, again, my thanks to translator/interpreter Mari Morimoto who worked hard all weekend to help us all communicate, to Kishimoto-sensei for being so forthcoming, to Mr. Otsuki for his assistance and prudence, the staff at Shueisha, and especially the incredibly hard-working and talented staff at VIZ, including Jane, Ashlee, Hiromi, Yasue, Elizabeth, Anthony, Andy, and Leyla, for everything. Otsukaresamadeshita!
Hello! I am happy to say that I will once again be attending Comic-Con International: San Diego this year. I’ll mostly be stationed at the Drawn & Quarterly Booth, #1629, as the good folks there have given my erstwhile employer The Beguiling a small corner from which to sell a gorgeous array of original comics artwork. I’ll be helping Peter out there on and off through all five days of the show. If you want to say hello that’s not a bad place to look for me. You can also tweet me @comics212 to see what’s up.
I’m also happy to say that I have a very full panel and programming schedule this year, as I’ll be participating in or moderating 5 different programs at the big show. Every panel is very different from the other too, which is great. It’ll be a busy show. Here’s a quick run-down:
Emerging from the undergrounds and into the alt-comix of the 1980s, queer characters and voices have always been loud and proud in alternative and indie comics. GilbertHernandez and Jaime Hernandez were at the forefront of queer characters’ visibility with their groundbreaking and award-winning comic book series LOVE AND ROCKETS, featuring brilliant characters like Hopey, Maggie, Israel, and Julio. Contemporary authors Mariko Tamaki and Ed Luce have contributed new queer icons in their books SKIM and WUVABLE OAF. Join all four creators and moderator Christopher Butcher (Comics212.net, Toronto Comic Arts Festival) for a discussion of the history of queer character visibility in alt and indie comics.
How to Survive Conventions as an Indie Creator Friday, 7/10/15, 8:30p.m. – 9:30p.m. Room: 8
Calling all artists, small presses, and makers: Are you interested in or currently touring comics and pop culture conventions? Christopher Butcher (Toronto Comic Arts Festival) moderates a panel of experienced exhibitors Daniel Davis (Steam Crow, Booth Bastards), Shing Yin Khor (Sawdust Press), Paul Roman Martinez (The 19XX), and Geoffrey Golden and Amanda Meadows (The Devastator) to discuss making a full convention calendar work alongside a heavy production calendar. They’ll also answer questions raised by the Comics Beat + The Devastator 2014 Convention Survey –– what should creators expect from conventions and how can we make the most of them?
Saturday, July 11th
Kids Comics Summit
Saturday, 7/11/15, 11:00am – 12:00pm. San Diego Central Public Library – Shelley Special Events Suite
What’s the state of the children’s comics industry? Publishers talk about their publishing programs; discussing how kids comics have changed in the past decade and how they’ll change more in the decade to come. A conversation with Alex Segura (Archie Comics), Filip Sablik (Boom), Kuo-Yu Liang (Diamond), Gina Gagliano (First Second), Sven Larsen (Papercutz), and David Saylor (Scholastic). Moderated by Christopher Butcher (Toronto Comics Art Festival).
Best and WorstManga of 2015 Saturday, 7/11/15, 7:00p.m. – 8:00p.m., Room: 23ABC
I don’t have the official description for this one, but myself, Brigid Alverson, David Brothers, Eva Volin, and moderator Deb Aoki are once again participating in an hour of chaotic fun, as we run down our choices for some of the best and worst manga of the year. It’s gonna be fun, and it’s always a packed house!
Eric Esquivel (writer, Sanjay & Craig), Sam Spina (artist, Sanjay & Craig) and Jim Salicrup (editor-in-chief of Papercutz) plus special guests give you an inside look at how Nickelodeon’s hit properties Sanjay & Craig, Breadwinners and Harvey Beaks are being turned into Papercutz Graphic Novels. Featuring the editors, writers and artists who make comics out of these awesome shows! Moderated by Christopher Butcher (The Beguiling, Toronto Comic Arts Festival).
And that’s it for now… I think. I’m always terrified that I’ve agreed to be on a panel and then forgotten about it completely. Heh. Anyway, I really am looking forward to Comic-Con again this year, as even the years where I have a miserable time are also years where amazing things happen. It’s a neat show that way.
One of the ‘things’ we ‘did’ in Paris (I went to Paris, btw) was go to the Pompidou Centre, because it was recommended and in the guidebooks and it’s a neat building and Andrew and I like going to art galleries. They only had 1 of their 2 galleries open, which meant that we got to see only the most recent bits of modern art (1980s onwards) and the Jeff Koons retrospective, toured there from the Whitney in New York.
We took in the Koons retrospective first; Andrew didn’t really know much about Koons or the controversy surrounding him, and I’d heard enough to greet the entire thing somewhat suspiciously, but with as open a mind as I could muster.
Having just read this excoriation of Koons and this show published in The New York Times last year (good read, check it out), I think my opinion now is the same as when I walked out of the retrospective;Jeff Koons makes pretty delightful work. To explain further: he doesn’t seem to have very much to say, but he’s really interested in saying it in a big way that tries to delight onlookers. This has made him enormously wealthy and famous.
I know that in certain circles, calling it art intended to do no more than delight is a savage criticism, but I wonder if those folks have visited the permanent collection of the Pompidou Centre, not the dadists and surrealists, but the 1980s and beyond stuff? It’s dreary as fuck. It’s art that’s more complex, thoughtful, and even occasionally illuminating, but it’s also generally terribly dull, none of its conceptual nautre benefiting in any way from being realized in a museum (hat tip to Andrew for that observation). Gallery after gallery, so little of the work was playful, or fun, instead exclusively reflecting the darkest parts of the dark decades since the 70s, drawing connections between darknesses, moments of levity often coming only through depravity. It’s impossible not to view it as a counterpoint to Koons’ work from the same period, galleries upon galleries of aggressive and often political work, set against Koons’ outsized tchochkes, toys, and relics. It certainly made a statement.
I was lucky enough to visit an installation at The National Gallery of Canada last year, itself complex, thoughtful, illuminating, and dreary, that was excellent. It’s called …from the Transit Bar, by Vera Frenkel, link here. A functioning dive bar (with alcohol) (I had a bourbon), a working piano, and interviews with various people who’d had to leave their homes for various reasons, played on CRT monitors and TVs around the room. Newspapers in various languages printed, conversations in languages you couldn’t understand, ominously dark, foreboding, and all of it illuminating an experience and a feeling and many, many ideas. A place that you didn’t really like, and you stayed just long enough to figure out where to go next. The remnants of violence everywhere. Powerful stuff. Produced in 1992, roughly the median of the Pompidou collection artworks, this had a similar tone and feeling but was considerably more successful, and successful at imparting ideas about security, about travel, about borders and languages than anything I saw in the Pompidou collection… in particular the many works trying to do just that.
So, yeah, it was very interesting to me to come out of the Koons exhibit, which I’d been told I’d hate (because he’s a shallow, horrible man, and because his work is so thin of premise you could shave with it) and feel kind of elated, a little giddy at it. I kind of want a metal balloon dog for my shelf, or maybe one of those shiny Popeye’s. To then be confronted with reams and reams of work imbued with meaning that were frankly boring and said little that wasn’t painfully obvious, well, shit, I’ll take the reproduction of the 12 foot Hercules with the glass sphere, please.
So, here’s the thesis, at the end instead of the beginning since this is a bit freeform: I think society is in a tough place, and security and comfort are universal needs. We’re being offered security, in the west, primarily through consumerism, and Koons has been aware of that for a long time. Rather than being the angry artist painting Ronald McDonald with a gun and a money bag robbing America, he’s the one enshrining him as the head of our ideals in shiny steel. That’s a repugnant image for many, particularly in the art world, but it’s no less valid a realization of how society views and uses consumerism, and frankly, it’s delightful to look at.
I had a fun time at the Koons exhibit. I left the Pompidou Centre exhausted. Go see the show if you can, it’s worth seeing. Keep an open mind, and a skeptical eye, and skip the gift shop because they don’t have little metal balloon dogs or shiny Popeyes.
P.S.: It’s very difficult for me not to read any sprawling criticism of ‘low art’ see it as a criticism of comics, the lowest of low art and the most commercially compromised art there is, generally. I would’ve introduced this idea into the above, but I haven’t really thoroughly interrogated it yet, so here it is as a postscript.
The big news in the comics industry today is that IDW Publishing, known for its diverse lineup of periodicals and reprint projects, has acquired ‘indy’ publisher Top Shelf Productions. it’s an interesting fit, and after thinking about it all morning I think it’ll be a good one for both companies long-term, and I wish all involved well. I also want to send a special shout-out to my friend Brett Warnock, ex of Top Shelf, who announced his retirement from comics today. Best of luck, Brett.
Reading the press release, I could tell it was very, very well-crafted. This is a move that had seemingly been in the offing for a good long while, and from the extensive FAQ to the prepared quotes to seemingly covering every single base except one (Alan Moore-related), that this was a public-facing statement that all involved had given a good deal of thought to. In particular, I thought the listing of successful books from Top Shelf–March, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell, Blankets, Swallow Me Whole, and Essex County, was probably a smart move too. The books have all made a great sales impression in the marketplace, and all of the names and titles bandied about are likely to be familiar and have positive associations for booksellers (particularly the Direct Market)… but to me anyway, Top Shelf has always been a really diverse publisher, with some great books off the beaten path. I thought it might be nice to showcase a few picks from their catalogue by creators not featured in today’s press release, and tell you a little bit about why I think they’re worth your time. All of these books are still in print, and available from finer retailers and comic book shops.
Blue, by Pat Grant. $14.95.
It’s rare that a comic is genuinely and consistently unsettling, but Pat Grant’s Blue manages to accomplish just that in spades. While it can be easily reduced to a parable about race and assimilation–it reminded me a lot of the film District 9, which was released in close proximity to it–the narrative is very pointed, the characters embarassingly human. There’s some really brilliant cartooning in there as well, and the 2-colour presentation is the icing on the cake.
Chester 5000, by Jess Fink. $14.95.
I really love Chester 5000! This sensual and sexy wordless story about men and ladies and robot men in various romantic and sexual entanglements is a heck of a lot of fun, a bit of classy smut for your coffee table or bookshelf (depending on how ‘out’ you are about your classy smut). I particularly like how inventive it is–it feels unrestrained, like Fink is constantly upping the ante for her characters, her audience, and herself. The story has continued online past this first volume, so I hope a second volume is on the way soon!
Fox Bunny Funny, by Andy Hartzell. $10.
This one bypasses ‘unsettling’ and heads right into ‘disturbing’ territory, and makes the story all the better for it. This wordless parable about identity (sexuality? gender? class? race? all of that and more?) is made all the more visceral thanks to the anthropomorphics involved–you’re either a fox, or a bunny. Bunnies are society’s prey, and a good fox hunts and devours them. But when a young fox wants to BE one of the bunnies, it brings his whole world crash down. I’m still not entirely sure what to think of this one, but I think about it a lot.
Jack’s Luck Runs Out, by Jason Little. $3.50.
Wow, it may have actually been 8 or 9 years since I read Jack’s Luck Runs Out, but a quick refresher on Jason Little’s website beecomix.com I remember this story of a small-time screw-up pretty well. But what has stayed with me, and why I recommend it, is the absolutely incredible presentation of this comic, in bold primary colours and using the style and iconography of playing cards. It’s a perfect match to its Vegas setting, and now I wanna go read the whole thing again. Fun-fact: This project was the first full-colour project to be awarded a Xeric Grant.
Moving Pictures, by Kathryn & Stuart Immonen. $14.95.
This book has the honour of being one that, after I finished it, I started right back at the beginning and read it through again. With two timelines that converge on one another, very deft and clever dialogue, and so much of the story conveyed through the imagery, this is a book worth paying very close attention to. Twice. It’s ‘about’ hiding priceless works of art from the Nazi’s in occupied Paris, but there’s so much else going on too. A real gem.
Bonus: Superfuckers #1-7, by James Kochalka. $7.
This shit is awesome. James Kochalka comes up with a teen superhero team that actually look and sound like teens. They are appropriately reprehensible. It was recently animated into a Youtube series, but the comics are fucking hilarous. This was my favourite comic book series when it was coming out, I hope Kochalka goes back to it at some point.
Bonus #2: Mirror of Love, by Alan Moore and Jose Villarrubia. $19.95
This is not really a comic, and doesn’t count for my list since Alan Moore’s name is all over today’s press release, but I did want to mention this excellent ‘picture book for grownups’. The Mirror of Love matches Alan Moore’s epic poem about the history of homosexual attraction with the frankly beautiful photography of my friend Jose Villarrubia and creates a stunning package. A strange project for Top Shelf, and subsequently I don’t think it gets the attention it deserves, but excellent nonetheless.