Hey there folks! I’m just sitting in the airport getting ready for my flight to London, where upon landing I will hop on a train northward, past Manchester, to the beautiful town of Kendal, gateway to the Lakes District, and home of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival.
I’ve actually been fortunate enough to attend LICAF every year since its inception, and I’m really impressed with its growth and ambition as an event. As someone who puts on a Festival in the shadow of giant hulking comic book cities like Chicago and New York (Metropolis and Gotham, respectively) I know that it can be difficult to get people to make the extra trip Northward for a comics event, and for that reason, and many others it, has a place in my heart. Of course, they also work their butts off every year to have incredible comics guests, and this year’s first-time attendees include Edmond Baudoin (who attended the very first TCAF in 2003!), Jordi Bernet(!), Canadians Bryan Lee O’Malley and John Martz, Benoit Peeters, and more besides. Their programme is really something, I recommend checking it out.
Speaking of which, I’m kind of a guest of the Festival myself this year, and will be moderating a few events including an on-stage interview with my pal Bryan Lee O’Malley, and hosting a Ghibli-themed live-drawing event with O’Malley, Jonath Edwards (UK), Ken Niimura (Japan/Spain), Miki Yamamoto (Japan), and Emma Viceli (UK) which should be a lot of fun too.
Tickets for all events are available now at https://www.breweryarts.co.uk/events-and-festivals/category/the-lakes-international-comic-art-festival-2016
And if I don’t see you at the events, please do track me down at the pub, it’ll be great to say hello to some of the people I don’t get to see very often.
(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. 🙂
Every year I try to write a little bit about an artist whose work I particularly enjoy that is attending TCAF as one of our guests. As Festival Director, I realize that it’s a bit treacherous to play favourites with the attending artists, and I generally don’t. If anything, I try to write about an artist whose work I love, but who might not be that well known to the general public, and who could use the ‘boost’ in notoriety before they get to the festival itself.
This year I was going to write about Shintaro Kago, Japanese gag cartoonist, pornographer, and comics formalist–a really interesting guy with really interesting work. I’d been thinking about the blog post I would make, here, on the blog, and maybe I’d also remind whatever readership I have left about TCAF coming up and all that, and it woulda been a nice post. A funny thing happened though, as I was composing that article in my head (I compose a lot of articles in my head that never make it here), I was approached by Kago’s Italian Publisher, Hollow Press, to write the introduction to TRACT, an original graphic novella of Kago’s work that would be debuting at TCAF 2016. I thought to myself that writing the introduction to that book would be just like writing an introduction to the cartoonist on my blog, more or less, so I happily accepted their offer and wrote my (short) introduction to the work of Shintaro Kago. It appeared in the new graphic novel TRACT, which as far as I can tell will not be distributed to North America through normal channels (The Beguiling has it, though, and it sold out at TCAF!).
And now I got a blog post out of it too:
INTRODUCTION TO SHINTARO KAGO’S TRACT
I have liked the work of Shintaro Kago for a very long time.
Since seeing his beautiful, perverse, inventive story Punctures in the year 2000 anthology Secret Comics Japan, I’ve been fascinated by a creator seemingly obsessed with comics formalism, the kind of work that could only be made because of the strengths of the comics medium, while simultaneously being draped with eroticism and grotesquery. These things don’t really exist in the American comics market, and this story (and really that whole anthology) was a revelation. I scrounged to find other works by Kago, some illegally (to my great shame), and each time I’d be thrilled and awed by comics that would push at the boundaries of the storytelling medium, while simultaneously being very explicitly sexual, and often quite disturbingly so. Pages and panels would rotate, spin, and fold on themselves and back again, all while distended genitalia would skitter along the gutters, having grown tiny limbs and minds of their own. Incredible stuff, reinforcing my idea that Japan was a land of unfettered experimentation within their comics industry, that manga was willing to truly expand the language of the form.
When I began to travel to Japan and to interview manga-ka, meeting Shintaro Kago and asking him about his groundbreaking work was at the top of my list. I finally got my chance on one trip, interviewing him about his long career in manga. After expressing my admiration (with examples!) I asked him why his incredible, experimental comics were so pornographic?
“Because adult magazines are the only places I can get published,” he answered. “As long as a story has some kind of sex, or even sex and grotesqueness, I can do whatever experiments I like.”
It was not the answer I was expecting, both disheartening and inspiring. It seems that even in Japan, the innovators of the industry must take work where they can find it, creators struggling to find their audience however they can, to connect with people. Much of Kago’s recent career has become trying to make these connections outside of the manga industry, through original toys, commissioned personal and professional illustrations, whatever it takes. I admire his dedication, and thank those that have seen the value in his work and published him.
To that end, I’m very grateful to Hollow Press for commissioning and publishing this second original work by Shintaro Kago, free from the bonds of genre and manga magazines, so that he might communicate his ideas on formalism, on storytelling, on comics to the wider world.
Christopher Butcher, comics212.net & TCAF
TRACT is available for sale online from Hollow Press, and in-store at
The Beguiling and Page & Panel: The TCAF Shop. Shintaro Kago has a neat website you should check out.
At the end of August, Heidi MacDonald and Calvin Reid from Publisher’s Weekly asked me to participate in a survey about the decade of growth in comics and graphic novels, and mine and my colleagues’ responses are in an article that just went live on the PW site.
As the introduction says, in 2005 there were no ebooks or iPads, we were firmly in the middle of the graphic novel (and manga) boom, and even then it was clear that things were changing rapidly. For me, I’d been at The Beguiling a few years, we were just holding the second TCAF in Honest Ed’s Parking Lot, and Scott Pilgrim Volume 2 was debuting (I went to the printer and picked up the TCAF copies myself). I also blogged a lot more back then, just making the transition from writing about the way the industry to be, to doing all the work that I felt needed to be done. It was an interesting time.
For my part, in August when I was asked to participate in this survey, I’d spent the summer penning a few essays and participating in some panels that resonated with a lot of folks working in the industry, and really got under the skin of others. Essays about how, essentially, the graphic novel & manga boom really occurred largely outside of the purview of the medium’s then-gatekeepers, in both the superhero and art comics camps. I really feel the growth was almost entirely from new audiences, from work that was either ignored or denegrated, and I still do, so, it helps maybe explain where my head was at in general when answering. I also thought, and still think, that with more money coming into the industry, and more opportunities, it behooves those of us with a voice and a say in how the playing field is shaped to try and address some of the imbalances in the industry.
It’s a pretty good survey article, and the folks participating are generally the folks I’ve seen gain the most out of the growing graphic novel industry. I think I would like to have seen a few answers from the superhero folks and the artcomics folks, but perhaps representatives were invited and declined to participate. Despite 7 different people all answering from their perspectives, I don’t think there’s much in there I disagree with (at least from the perspectives of those answering), and my friend Librarian Eva Volin in particular ends the article with a great mic-drop. If you have the opportunity, go check it out, let me know what you think in the comments.
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!
Hey there! So I gotta say, I’m honoured and more than a little humbled to have been asked by VIZ Media to interview Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto live in front of an audience for two of his biggest events at New York Comic Con this year. So, I’ll be in New York (with Andrew, YAY!) next week for the Comic Con, which is always an interesting affair. I don’t think Andrew has ever actually been to a real Convention before? This will be a whole thing.
Anyway! The big news. First up, I’ll be interviewing Kishimoto-sensei at the Apple Store in SoHo, Wednesday, October 7th, at 7pm. Tickets to this event are free, but you need to register ahead of time with your Apple account at https://s.apple.com/dE4R6Z9o6N. This interview is going to focus mainly on creative process. I’m excited to see how it goes. I’m told that this interview will be filmed too, so I’ll live on forever in infamy (and people not in New York might be able to see it).
The second event I’ll be hosting is the big one, where 2000 members of the general public will see me ask Kishimoto-sensei about everything under the sun, including what it’s like to end a massive international entertainment franchise. I will seriously be hosting an event with 2000 Naruto fans in the audience, it’s crazy to me. This event is Thursday, October 8th, from 5:30pm to 6:30pm, on the Main Stage at the Javits Center. Honestly the process to get in sounds a little complicated, so if you really wanna see it, you can figure out how at http://nycc15.mapyourshow.com/6_0/sessions/session-details.cfm?ScheduleID=164. You need an NYCC badge to get into this one.
So, yeah. This is an incredible opportunity, and I’ve already written up all my questions for him and what not, and I’m just hoping we get to ask all of them. I mean, this guy created something like 14,000 pages of manga on one series, not to mention the global media empire and Naruto effectively leading the charge in the This really is an unprecedented opportunity for me and I’m grateful to have been asked. I believe it’s his first time in the U.S., and he’s one of the bestselling and most popular comics creators in the world, and yeah, it’s gonna be a whole thing.
“When Maggie sees Hopey, I know exactly how she feels. This story I’m doing right now is Maggie trying to figure out what boundaries she has with Hopey now that they are both with different people, and she’s kind of like, ‘We used to play around, can we still play around? Are we not supposed to play around?’ … Maggie is getting frustrated, and I’m just learning all this stuff about what Maggie is thinking about their relationship while they are together.
– Jaime Hernandez, on his current Love & Rockets story
I was so happy to be able to host a panel on queer comics at San Diego Comic Con this year. When I first started going to Comic-Con, it was important to me to attend the annual Gays In Comics panel at the show. The larger queer fandom wasn’t really accessible to me at the time, either online or in person (though I had some wonderful friends I could talk comics with), and sitting in the big room full of other people ‘like me’ was exciting. I’d dreamed of being on that panel for years, until the interests of the folks running that panel and my own interests as a reader and critic diverged to the point that I stopped attending… which meant that hosting a smaller queer comix panel with four comics authors whom I respect immensely–Mariko Tamaki, Gilbert Hernandez, Jamie Hernandez, and Ed Luce–was pretty much that dream come true. Thanks to Julia from D&Q for thinking of me to moderate.
The wonderful Brigid Alverson has a thorough write-up of the panel over at ComicBookResources. I thought it went really well, and I was happy to see that on reading Brigid’s article my memory lived up to the actuality of it! There’s some great commentary there on the importance of queer comix, but also, queer comix as they exist within the continuum of ‘alternative’ comics. Alternative comics and the scene around them have a really checkered history when it comes to queer representation. I got into it a little at the beginning of the panel, but basically while the undergrounds and early alt comix were certainly transgressive, queer narratives tended to be pushed to the side. The excellent anthology and history book No Straight Lines, edited by Justin Hall, does a great job at drawing connections between important works and putting together an overview of the queer alt-comix scene in the 70s, 80s, and 90s for contemporary readers. I recommended it on panel, and I’ll recommend it again here. But yeah, it was awesome to have Jaime and Gilbert on the panel just come right out and say “No one was doing this,” when talking about their roles as straight creators of queer characters in the alt comix scene. They added a lot of continuity to the discussion! Having two out-and-proud creators on panel was also wonderful, particularly as Ed and Mariko have entered the field relatively recently and later in their lives, and they brought some amazing insight to the panel. It was amazing, and I could’ve talked to all four of them for another hour at least.
So yeah, please go check out the article! And the work of all four wonderful creators!
My thanks to Brigid Alverson for transcribing so much of the panel and writing it up, and sharing it with the readership of CBR.
P.S.: I originally posted a draft of this, and then finished it about an hour later. It may still be the old version in the RSS feed, sorry about that!
“When I look at gay art in comics as a critic, I get really anxious about that division precisely because the simplistic way of dividing it is that BL represents more romance, narratives, thinner body types, more effeminate characters. And then so-called gay manga would be just more diesel, big guys and more hardcore sex, etc.
“But what happens when the creator is a woman doing more hardcore work? Is that considered gay? Is it BL just because she’s female? Is it about the audience, or is it about the creators?”
– Gengoroh Tagame
I’m so thrilled to see that the transcript from the TCAF panel on Gay Manga and BL manga has been posted at Deb Aoki’s MangaComicsManga. Thanks to Deb for hosting it, to Shaindle Minuk for the transcription, and Deb and Graham for the edits.
The actual panel title was “Gay Comics Art Japan”, and it talks about not just gay manga, not just BL, but gay identity as it’s expressed through art, and the identities of its creators. It is exactly what I hoped it would be when I helped put it together, and Graham Kolbeins (Massive), Leyla Aker (VIZ/SuBLime), Gengoroh Tagame, and especially host, translator, and panelist Anne Ishii, all did an incredible job. I’m so proud of them and grateful to them.
This is a wonderful look at many of the facets of homosexual desire as expressed through Japanese manga, and I hope you’ll take the time to read it.