International Journal of Comic Art blog

News about the premier academic journal devoted to all aspects of cartooning and comics -- the International Journal of Comic Art (ISSN 1531-6793) published and edited by John Lent.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Book Review - Black Panther: Interrogating a Cultural Phenomenon by Terence McSweeney

Reviewed by Jason D. DeHart, PhD

Terence McSweeney. Black Panther: Interrogating a Cultural Phenomenon, University Press of Mississippi. 978-1496836090. $20. https://www.upress.state.ms.us/Books/B/Black-Panther

I am not sure of the point at which I became acquainted with T’Challa, the Black Panther superhero and hereditary King of Wakanda. The character was introduced in a 1966 issue of Fantastic Four, as a support player whose unsteady allegiance was reflected in other characters such as Namor, but who was Marvel’s first black superhero. As originally created by Kirby & Lee, Black Panther’s interests have always been mostly closely aligned with Wakanda, his fictional futurist African nation; it is only when the concerns of this nation and the wider world intersect that he springs into action. He first battled the Fantastic Four, and then became a regular member of the Avengers. This was all established well before I was acquainted with the character, whose first introduction to me was likely through a collectible Marvel trading card or action figure.

            These days though everybody knows the Panther, largely due to the success of the 2018 film starring the late Chadwick Boseman which is the focus of this book. That is not a surprise as the film is amazingly well done, and addresses social and cultural issues whose resonance was only just beginning to spread in wider circles of white privileged culture. The original movie storyline, when pitched in the early 2000s, was going to be along the lines of an Indiana Jones adventure featuring a lost relic. In the film that was made, that lost relic McGuffin transformed into the interaction of Wakanda and the wider world as T’Challa sought to reconcile an unsteady and misrepresented past with the hope of being a good king.

            In spite of the title, much of the book’s focus is on the film, rather than the comic book origins of the character, reflecting the author’s interest and research. McSweeney knows the film world well, but this reviewer wonders to what degree can he speak to the vicissitudes of Black experience? In the first chapters, the reader is offered a brief history of the character with nods to the comics, as well as the story of the film’s opening. All of this sets the stage and provides the background knowledge that the reader needs, although more information from the comics would have been helpful for knowing more about the 50-year-old character, in terms of his origins, motivations, and changing interpretations over time.

            McSweeney also analyzes moments in the film featuring the supporting characters and villains, almost in summary form. Both the relatability and unappealing aspects of the characters, particularly in the Panther's rival and political antithesis, N’Jadaka, aka Eric Killmonger, are mentioned, but only briefly explored. McSweeny’s focusing on the film in itself reveals too much to uncover both in terms of historical context and character analysis – it seems each moment in the story deserves a full volume’s worth of summary and exploration, especially relating back to the foundational comic books.

            A reader will encounter the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s view of Wakanda’s world, leading to what will hopefully become a fuller view upon reading the comics and engaging with what will certainly be an entire film series (at the time of this review, production on the second film is well underway). In sum, what McSweeney offers is more than a primer or appetizer, but still not a full course on one particular aspect or dimension of this transmedia character. This is understandable given the depths of how much information would have to be consumed, summed up, and explained to produce a more complete treatment of the Black Panther. I recommend reading this book alongside a stack of Black Panther comics, including the work that has been done by writers Ta-Nehisi Coates, Christopher Priest, and Don McGregor who created much of the underlying sources of the stories that the film redevelops.

A version of this review will appear in print in IJOCA.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Maia Kobabe interview online, will appear in print in IJOCA

Maia Kobabe in Conversation: Banned Books, Queer Stories, and Gender Queer: A Memoir

conducted by Kathleen Breitenbach

ComicsDC blog July 21, 2022

https://comicsdc.blogspot.com/2022/07/maia-kobabe-in-conversation-banned.html

Monday, July 18, 2022

Goodbye, Bob (and thanks for all your words about pictures!): A Far Too Brief Appreciation of the Life and Times of Robert C. Harvey, Comics’ Premiere Pundit

Daniel F. Yezbick

 

This week, the verbal-visual clans of Comics Studies bid fond farewells to one of our most influential, persistent, and prolific pioneers.

On July 7, 2022, we lost the great Robert C. Harvey, who dedicated his professional writing and cartooning life to raising the quality of comic art and the criticism that encountered, critiqued, and conversed with it.  Even more directly, Bob Harvey brought so much joy, generosity, and knowledge to all who were fortunate to share his winning smile, hearty laughter, and earnest handshakes. Harvey’s engaging demeanor, infinite depth of interests, limitless zeal, and endless quest for the world’s driest martini, will be missed by hundreds of comics creators, critics, and companions.  Appreciative condolences, notices, and obituaries have clogged the comics-centered internet in the last few days, including my more officious send-off for The Comics Journal and Bob’s official obituary.  Still, thanks to the thoughtful Guardians of the IJOCA galaxy, I am glad to say that there is more to share, mourn, and remember about the passing of the comics’ most assiduously dedicated ace reporter, critic at large, and all-around gentleman agitator.

First, the necessaries.

Robert Harvey was an essential force in the rendering of Comics Studies, decades before it was even an inkling of a “thing.” As I have observed elsewhere, his The Art of the Funnies (1994) and The Art of the Comic-Book were pioneering University Press of Mississippi publications, among the first influential academic treatments of verbal-visual / iconotextual / imagetic narratives that would define not only the publisher’s seminal role in promoting quality comics research, but also in promoting the work and reputations of many leading scholars, past and present. Bob’s work with auteur-centered monographs like his Accidental Ambassador Gordo: The Comic Strip Art of Gus Arriola (Mississippi 2000) and The Life and Art of Murphy Anderson (TwoMorrows 2003) are also essential creator-focused explorations of important legacies. Even what will now stand as Harvey’s posthumous swan song, The Art of Popeye: A Masterwork of the Medium (Hermes Press 2022), is sure to provide us all with one final, very welcome dose of Bob’s unwavering regard for the creative influence of master cartoonists like E.C. Segar.

Aside from his criticism, Bob’s work as a comics historian is unprecedented in depth and breadth. Meanwhile, his 900+ page historical biography of Milton Caniff, testifies to the comprehensive impact one cartoonist can have on the full measure of his times. Harvey’s sweeping coverage not only details the lives of Caniff, his family, collaborators, and associates, but also encompasses how adventure strips like Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon were crucial to Depression Era and Cold War politics, aeronautics, mass media, popular fashion, and much more. Harvey’s framing of Caniff’s story speaks to the intertwining interests of disabled Americans, the expansion of the Boy Scouts, the nascent Air Force, and even Orson Welles and Gregg Toland’s conception of the Deep Focus chiaroscuro techniques of Citizen Kane. It is in some strange way rather fitting that Harvey should pass on the very week that the first volumes of Grove Press’ resplendent new archival printing of Terry and the Pirates are released into the comics ecosystem. Without Bob and his lifelong lobbying for the legitimate study, substantial recapitulation, and quality recompiling of comics in general, and Caniff’s comics in particular, I doubt we would have seen the popular and academic taste for complete runs of series like Terry, Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Pogo, Peanuts, and many more arise in quite the same way. It is no exaggeration to say that Bob’s lone hand, ebullient heart, and constant harangues in favor of the comics’ lively arts helped to change the medium’s critical and commercial landscape more than once.

Thus, epic undertakings like Meanwhile - which took Harvey the better part of three decades to compile and complete- may not serve the same historical benefit as his tireless efforts to give quality cartoonists, beloved and forgotten, current or defunct, the attention and regard he felt they deserved. Over more than half a century, Harvey developed hundreds of individual cartoonist entries for American National Biography and Cartoonist PROfiles, and produced a crucial collection of recuperated histories for the immensely rewarding U. of Mississippi title, Insider Histories of Cartooning: Rediscovering Forgotten Famous Comics and Their Creators (2014). Though his interviews, reviews, and articles sparked constant and sometimes colossal conversation across the comics continuum, it’s also important to recall that Bob was also a seasoned and celebrated cartoonist in his own right. His ongoing self-caricature with his animal companion, not-quite-named Cahoots (the rabbit’s really name is also Harvey – a sly allusion to Mary Chase’s beloved Jimmy Steward vehicle!), were essential to Happy Harv’s blustering blending of prose and pictorial personalities, especially on his obstreperously overstuffed website, RCHarvey.com.

I grew up a hopeless comics nerd, devoted to reading Harvey’s “rants and raves” across numerous fanzines and periodicals like The Comics Journal and Comic Buyer’s Guide, but I never imagined that fate would make us – for a time – the fastest of friends, confidants, and collaborators. I don’t think any other person gave me so much inspiration, insight, or enthusiasm for the many things that mutually fascinated us. Bob and I first met when I was bold enough to invite him to guest lecture about the language of comics in my Graphic Novel survey at the University of Illinois (The first of its kind at that institution, by the way!). I had always known that Bob lived in Champaign where he was an essential conference planner for the National Council for Teachers of English and I was an English/Film Studies graduate student, but the few folks I had met who knew or knew of him seemed resistant to the glimmer of his wit or intimidated by the depths of his conversation.

Still, I took a shot and invited R.C. Harvey to my course (which included in its roster the now celebrated graphic novelist, Damian Duffy – more on that connection later). Almost immediately, I received Bob's enthusiastic acceptance, and just a few days later, he delivered an even more impassioned and provocative guest lecture that had the room rollicking with learning and laughter. His parody of Scott McCloud’s famous two frame strip of a man tipping his hat made one student fall out of her seat in hysterics. In Bob’s view, we learned, McCloud’s iconic hat tipper is simply letting us know that he needs a haircut.

It’s worth noting that I always showed up about 45 minutes early to prepare for that class, and several diehard students were also in the habit of getting a good seat about 30 minutes before “Go” time to share, safely and gleefully, in some good comics chat. The day of Bob’s lecture, however, he beat us all there by almost 25 minutes and had already filled the white boards with elegant graphics, set up stacks of handouts, and compiled free samples of his work for every student. Such was his dedication to proselytizing and perfecting the many ways of appreciating cartoons, comics, and their contents. Needless to say, our pre-game debates were especially spirited thanks to Bob’s limitless love for the medium.

After class, Bob and I agreed to meet up for lunch in appreciation of his sharing his expertise with everyone. I had no inkling of what that first meeting at the broken-down White Horse Tavern in Champaign’s shabby campus town would yield. We met, fed, chatted, and shared stories of our cartooning interests and sequential preferences, then quickly agreed to mount a sequel in the not-too-distant future. That sequel led to our first early discussions of so many landmark creators and characters. Herrimann’s Krazy Kat, Swinnerton’s Mr. Jack, Caniff’s Terry, Eisner’s Spirit, Barks’ ducks, Waterson’s Hobbes, Knight’s K Chronicles, Robbins’ Wimmen’s Comix, and especially George Carlson’s Jingle Jangle tales which we both admired. A few weeks later, I showed Bob some of the Carlson art I had been hunting from the Fun-Time and Puzzle Fun series. He was overjoyed. “You’ve got to write a book about all of this,” he exclaimed. “We have to have a book on it all. Right now!” Before long, we hatched a plan, developed a proposal, and spent a blithe but costly afternoon color Xeroxing his substantial set of Jingle Jangle.  A few years later, Perfect Nonsense: The Chaotic Comics and Goofy Games of George Carlson arrives in the world.

In the meantime, our meetings became more frequent, our emails more abundant, and our laughter so much louder. We went from monthly to weekly, and even twice weekly meet-ups, mostly at Carmon’s in downtown Champaign. Bob’s favorite greasy spoon, now sadly defunct, was tricked out in vintage Coca-Cola advertisements, World War II relics, and the occasionally snarky warning signs meant to ward off fussy complaints or special substitutions. Bob especially loved that, at Carmon’s, he could indulge in his favorite verboten habit of buttering his saltines to the point of almost untouchable slickness. Even then, as he gleefully prepped his crackers, he would occasionally turn around and peek over his shoulder to make sure his kindly wife, Linda, wasn’t there to give him a disapproving glance.

Though cartoons, comics, and their creators were always at the heart of our meetings, our discussions expanded over the years to include some of the most important ponderings of my life. We talked at length about art and identity, marriage and family (as we chatted about his, he helped me strategize the proposal that led to my own!), history and democracy, justice and gender, learning and love, and especially about our own equally intense distaste for limitless greed and systemic hypocrisy. It turned out that Bob and I shared a frantic vigilance for free speech and artistic expression. His great love of cartooning was fueled, in part, by an urgent need to give voice to the contentious caricature, withering satire, and dynamic dissent that tested and guaranteed a truly free public forum. His best drawing, and writing about drawing, was always meant to sharpen, fortify, and inform others about how great art could speak meaningfully to a troubled world. As grimly aware and awake as our conversations could sometimes become; however, we always wound up laughing, especially when we were musing over the transformative power of a particularly evocative editorial cartoon or caricature.

Bob’s kindly nature, and his impish urge towards mockery, also provided me with an essential restorative oasis from the daily grind of graduate program politics and Midwestern provincialism. In exchange, I gave him an extra outlet for his own artistic musings, fresh discoveries, and potential raves-in-progress. When he slept on Murphy Anderson’s couch to finish his book, I was the first person he met to share his findings when he returned to Champaign. Whenever he located a forgotten cartoonist or managed to wrangle a treasured interview, we savored the results in early, urgent form together. He often asked me productive questions about my dissertation work on Orson Welles, and I often proofed and poked at his lastest insights into classic and current cartoonists.  Our mutual tastes were well matched and myriad, and I treasure every single one of those conversations more fully every day. In the nearly 20 years since they occurred, I have never known their equal.

Our dynamic debates led, of course, to the sharing of not just research, but also items and artifacts from our collections, and we indulged in many magnificent hours together pouring over Bob’s absolutely unparalleled archives. Together, we adored rare samplings of Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff, Caniff’s Canyon, Parker’s Mopsy, Cho’s Liberty Meadows, and so very many more. Once, when my miscreant meanderings unearthed a rare cache of hundreds of Chicago American Sunday sections in the disused vault of a derelict Illinois chicken farm turned flea market on rural Route 47, Bob strapped us into his sedan and sped like the Green Hornet over the prairie for a return visit. I nabbed a few obscure Alex Raymond features, Vargas pin-ups, and Dr. Seuss drawings, while Bob scoured the horde of hundreds of sections – page by page – rapturously discovering forgotten tidbits from John Held Jr., Lawson Wood, Vernon Grant, Nell Brinkley, and many more. I gladly departed with an armful of treasures. Bob left dancing and smiling with a full wheelbarrow of funny papers. We spent the rest of the week binging on his findings and scrutinizing every cartoon, illustration, and spot drawing.  These were among the happiest times we shared together.

One of our later merry meetings would prove essential to comics history in ways nobody could have anticipated. One morning, I was early to Carmon’s when Bob came in buzzing with enthusiasm. He had just received an email from Scott McCloud who was coming into town that day to guest lecture at the U of I Art school. The event was not well advertised, but Bob had made a few inquiries and earned us an invite if I wanted to come. Of course, I agreed and we planned to meet at the Art and Architecture Department that evening.

On my way to the presentation, I was stopped at a campus town light when I noticed Damian Duffy at the corner. I had not seen Damian since our course had ended, but his work had been far and away beyond any of his classmates in terms of depth and thoughtfulness (I will never forget his sequential adaptation of Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”!) Anyway, there I was looking at him on the corner. I took a chance, pulled over, and invited him along. He was glad to hop into my hand-me-down jalopy, and off we went. He and I and Bob were each welcomed warmly by one of U of I’s newest Art and Design professors, John Jennings, and we all enjoyed McCloud’s signature examination of comics forms and voices to no end.

Afterwards, John invited the lot of us to dinner at Biaggi’s, where Bob and Scott did their usual mad dance around the question of “What is comics?” That was fun, and possibly even important, but the meeting of John Jennings and Damian Duffy that night has led to some of the most provocative comics on Earth. It is one of my gladdest random encounters and none of it might have happened if Bob had not been the tireless, persevering advocate for comics art, history, and theory that he always was.

Years later, the benefits of Bob’s friendship remain just as plentiful. Without trusting Bob, I would never have gained the experience of a lifetime, editing down the manuscript of Meanwhile for publication. Without his trusting my condensing super-powers, he might not have finally faced completing the project with the same unrelenting zeal. Without Bob, I may not have managed to find my way to giving presentations on George Carlson, Carl Barks, and several others at the Ohio State University’s Festival of Cartoon Arts, a landmark scholarly event which has now evolved into the richly diversified Comics at the Crossroads celebrations. Thanks to his encouragements, I presented, wrote, taught, and published on comics for many years, and met many of the best friends and fascinating colleagues I have ever known, including especially Jonathan Alexandratos and Tracey Bealer, the Dynamic Duo of Denver’s once thriving Romococo/Page 23 Pop Culture Conference, whom Bob recommended so vehemently that I just had to go there and see for myself.

Most importantly, without Bob’s early encouragements, I know that Perfect Nonsense and the full story of George Carlson’s incredible career and even more inscrutable cartooning may not have been told. Bob Harvey himself was crucial in determining the fate of the Carlson estate, which led me to another kindred spirit and faultless friend, George Hagenauer, whose own writing and advocacy for comics creators and their histories is legendary in its own right.  George and Bob not only helped to facilitate the Carlson book, but also assisted in shepherding the bulk of Carlson’s papers to the D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University, where they continue to thrill students and scholars alike. All of this, and so much more, comes from Bob’s efforts, connections, and belief in what good people can do and say about each other.

There are so many more stories and joys that I could share about this outstanding man and his creativity, generosity, and love for art and laughter. With IJOCA’s permission, I would like to conclude by indulging in two more, one famously funny, the other somewhat more somber.

Some years ago, I found myself seated with Bob at an academic conference to remain nameless. We were both presenting on our recent research, but at the moment we were listening to a fairly intriguing but extremely theoretical presentation on an obscure Italian Funny Animal comic strip by a young, earnest, and brilliant Italian scholar.  Before I continue the tale, we need to remember two things about Bob. First, as many of his associates knew, he was slightly hard of hearing, and tended to sit as close as possible to presenters so that the microphone in his wickedly clever hearing aid watch could register what they were saying. In close conversation also, Bob was always edging just a little bit closer to you as he got more interested in the topic, which I always enjoyed but others who were new to his scooting enthusiasm were sometimes uncomfortably unaware that he was eager to hear more of what they had to say.  Anyways, that day, Bob was right up front, and I was right there next to him.

The other important detail is that Bob and I shared a healthy skepticism for heavily jargonized cultural theory.  Bob was a firm believer in the democratic politics of clear, direct language, though he - and obviously I also – could indulge in some fairly overblown rhetorics once we really got going.  In most cases though, Bob believed in George Orwell’s admonition that an honest writer will “never use a long word when a short one will do.” His “Rants and Raves” may have been composed of many, many words – but almost all of them were short, and his sentences, though sometimes serpentine, generally make direct sense.  But back to the presentation on the Italian mouse comic, which was a veritable vocabular pyrotechnic display of trendy buzz words, complex and confounding Cultural Studies concepts, and daringly applied deconstructive theory. Usually, such stuff would send Bob screaming from the intellectual buffet.

When he and I had encountered such work in previous situations, he would sigh to himself, switch off his hearing aid watch and get down to doodling in his sketch book- usually crafting a fairly unflattering caricature of the speaker and their pretentious pronouncements. This time, however, there was no such action. Bob seemed engaged and interested in the young scholar’s unique perspectives on cartooning and, despite the hefty tempest of French, Freudian, and philosophical name dropping, I saw him set down his drawing book and turn his microphone watch up rather than “off.”  With my special interest in anthropomorphic comics, I too was enjoying the presentation, and I looked forward to the discussion afterwards as it related to a fairly fun and sophisticated comic strip that was completely new to us both.

When the panel ended, and the applause died down, Bob’s hand shot up from the front row as if he had joined the color guard. The moderator smiled and acknowledged his question, to which Bob responded, “That was great. I had no idea about this particular comic and I am not aware of the ideas you are associating with it here. Thank you for this presentation. I have just one question.  Are you serious?”

For a moment, all speech, breath, and coronary function in the room ceased. The confused foreign presenter, who was brilliant but struggled occasionally with the meanings and purposes of American English cadences, teetered a bit like a tree about fall with the last whack of the axe. There were a few nervous chuckles somewhere in the distance, and then Bob repeated loudly: “Well? Really? Are You Serious?” Anyone who ever knew Bob Harvey well recognizes this turn of phrase as one of the finest compliments this brilliantly driven polymath could offer. To truly understand the tone in which Bob intended his question, you have to consider hearing the phrase in the context of watching your favorite baseball team beat the Yankees in the bottom of nineth with a grand slam when you are down by three. Or, perhaps your college aged child has just announced that they are engaged to a supermodel who recently also earned the Nobel Prize for Medicine?  In so many ways, this terrified speaker had managed to win the ultimate Bob Harvey lottery. He should have recognized that Bob was filled with regard and gratitude for introducing him to this new comic strip and its potential deconstructive values.

He didn’t. Instead, he more or less plopped down in his chair and looked, pathetically, at the moderator, who moved on discretely to the next question.  Bob turned and asked me what happened, and I told him that time was short and that they had to move on. He shrugged and said, “Huh, I guess I missed that. I turned my watch up too. That was great!”

I can say the story does have a happy ending. As it happened, Damian Duffy and I wound up sharing a hotel shuttle with the baffled Italian during a lunch break. We introduced ourselves as Bob’s friends, and for a moment, I think the poor man feared we were sent to kill him.  Instead, we gave solace and sanctuary, explaining the true meaning of Bob’s question, and that he would almost certainly love to chat with him over martinis later that evening at the conference happy hour. The man was nervous and skeptical, but he did join us, and over several chilled cocktails, Bob managed to smooth out the nearly disastrous international Comics Studies crisis with his infectious laughter and his irresistible witticisms. Bob even asked repeatedly for a copy of the presentation so that he could study it more closely; again, a sure sign that he was completely engaged by what he had heard.  I am unsure if Bob ever actually received the presentation, but I can gladly say that night Bob, Damian, myself, and several other creators, critics, and associated miscreants build several substantial bridges which still handle a great deal of Comics Studies traffic –a few still offer regular service to Italian fumetti as well. I also recall that Bob and the Italian were arm and arm singing (I think!) at one point in the hazy late hours of the symposium.

            My second and final memory is more truly tragic, but also indicative of Bob Harvey’s multifaceted brilliance and benevolence.  As grim fate would have it, years before “The Italian Job,” Bob and I were scheduled to meet at Carmon’s in the early afternoon of September 11, 2001. That morning I had my first shocking sight of the smoking Twin Towers on TV while waiting to drive Rosalie, my future spouse, to work at the U of I Writing Center. The car radio gave us worse and worse news as I made the brief circuit of campus to drop her off. When I headed to downtown Champaign towards Carmon’s, the first tower fell.  I got there a little early as usual, and a small crowd of diners were riveted to the tiny Trinitron TV in the corner of the café that was usually reserved for Cubs games. Like the rest of world, we all sat stunned and hushed seeing what we could not believe. Bob came in about 20 minutes later, visibly shaken and just as disturbed as everyone else. I remember I felt somewhat comforted that he had his usual leather satchel under his arm as he scooted up beside me and turned to the television.

Eventually, we talked a bit. Bob was proud veteran, an active and adamant journalist, and a bit of a patriot when it came to his great regard for the freedoms and benefits of the American way of life.  Again, I think he partially loved comics and cartoons because of their capacity to parody people in power and creatively criticize hierarchies of privilege.  He was a deeply socially conscious citizen and he, like all of us who were witness to the 9/11 tragedy, was deeply shaken. 

That morning, we spoke of many things, in more hushed and humbled voices than was our habit.  First, there were the compulsive questions, the admonitions of disbelief, and the repeated statements of sympathy and support for the victims, the responders, and New York City in general.  Bob loved New York, the center of American editorial cartooning, comic strip culture, and of course, mainstream comic books.  He and I both wondered out loud what this all might mean for those overlapping interests and industries. Ever the National Cartoonists Society member, Bob began to mention how some of his editorial cartoonist friends had already begun email discussions of how best to deal with the catastrophe that was less than 6 hours old.  He wondered aloud how different artists he knew might attempt to portray the World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty, and the city itself in the days ahead. 

I admit that I was rivetted as he continued on, comparing the preferences and potential choices that certain cartoonists might make once the world had some inkling of what was actually at stake in the aftermath.  He spoke compulsively but methodically without interruption, citing several examples from iconic illustrators who had dealt with similar disasters like Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, the Hindenburg, and the JFK and MLK assassinations.  It dawned on me that I was witness to an incredible intellect seeking context and comparison from his unique knowledge, an encyclopedic familiarity that might still stand as the single most comprehensive individual knowledge of editorial cartooning on the planet. It was a moving, masterful display of intellectual grief and I felt the incredible gravitas of every element of Bob’s searching catalog of examples of acute, unyielding art arising to confront unacceptable loss, sadness, and rage. Somehow, we ordered. Eventually, we ate, but we continued to share ideas about what it all might mean for the creators, journalists, and medias that we loved.

At some point, our conversation turned to the much-anticipated Sam Raimi Spider-Man adaptation set for release in a few months. The topic was not then as odd as it may seem now. Of course, there would have to be serious considerations for the 9/11 attacks across the comics community, but especially at Marvel where most of their iconic characters were situated in New York. At the same time, we both knew – as a prominent comics journalist and a media graduate scholar – that Raimi’s film was expected to include a climactic battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin at top of the World Trade Center. Of course, every significant publisher in comics did eventually develop meaningful specials, collections, and memorials to focus on the many heroes and victims of the 9/11 terror attacks. At Marvel, the sobering black cover of Amazing Spider-Man 36 would spark powerful debates about how fictional heroes must respond to actual horrors. Also, the climax of Raimi’s film was indeed greatly altered and reshot as a post-9/11 homage to the community solidarity of New York City responding to the most terrible day in its history.  At the time, however, I admit that our Spider-Man talk might have been a bit odd, as we both struggled to grasp the significance of what was unfolding around the country that afternoon.

As it turned out, at least one of Carmon’s customers found our speculations deeply offensive. As we were talking – we had been there for some time out of shock, uncertainty, and perhaps a mutual need to linger among friends in whom we could truly confide – an elderly woman who had been seated with her friend nearby arose and stood between us and the TV we had all turned our chairs to view.  She was visibly upset and spoke directly and forcibly to Bob, scolding him for somehow trivializing these terrible events with childish concerns and idiotic conversations about cartoons and super-heroes.  I understand and sympathize with her misunderstanding and her apparent outage which mirrored what millions were feeling across the nation, but I am sorry to say that she was not at all polite or responsible in her excoriation of the two men whom she perceived to be offensively ignorant of the need to take such news seriously. She lashed out especially harshly at Bob, perhaps because he was a bit closer to her age, and her lambast continued on for what felt like several minutes.  When she finished, she turned away in disgust and indignation, and marched out of Carmon’s with her lunch companion.

The next several seconds were a blur. I remember thinking that I wanted to try to explain our debates to her but that it was too late and probably a pointless endeavor, but my main concern was a deeply protective urge to justify and defend Bob Harvey’s incredibly unique and perceptive response to how comics and cartoons would engage with the century defining realities of 9/11. I rushed to try to assure or comfort him after hearing the screed that he must have found deeply unnerving and undeserved.

As I shook off my stunned state and looked up at him, I found him blithely buttering his crackers.  He smiled at me a little, tapped at his hearing aid and said, “Who was that person? Was she talking to me? This thing has been off kilter all day and I couldn’t hear a word she said.”  I admit that I almost choked on my own laughter.  On a day where humor of any stripe was almost certainly at its national nadir, Bob Harvey found a way to make me smile at the absolutely absurdity of our efforts to communicate meaningfully about the darkest of realities.   It took a little time, but I explained what had so upset her, and though he seemed to sympathize a little with her misunderstanding, he admitted, “Well, that’s kind of stupid. If she is so upset, why was she listening to us in the first place?” Then he got us right back into our debates about how the best comics of recovery might arise to inspire, support, and soothe a wounded culture in the tough times ahead.

There are so many more fond memories of my great days with Bob that I hope to share with his many friends and colleagues as we all pay our respects for the immeasurable good he brought into our lives, our arts, and our stories. For now, though, I will rest my voice in honor of his. Thank you, Bob, for every part of you that you shared so honestly and eagerly with me – and everyone else whose lives you nurtured, narrated, and renewed.  Your many legacies of love and laughter will keep us all constant in our sequential adventures to come.

A version of this remembrance will appear in a future print issue of IJOCA.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Exhibit Review Essay: European comics festivals return to Angouleme and Haarlem

By Barbara Postema

Angoulême: 49e Édition Festival Internationale de la Bande Dessinée, France, March 17-20, 2022. https://www.bdangouleme.com/

Stripdagen Haarlem, Netherlands, June 3-12, 2022. https://www.stripdagenhaarlem.nl/

        After several years of cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year comics festivals are willing to give it a go again, and exhibitors and attendees are eager to participate. Both of the  festivals under discussion here were held in a beautiful historic city at venues spread across the town center, showcasing the city as a whole as well as the comics, and giving attendees room to wander if they needed to escape the crowds.

The Angoulême festival, postponed from its usual dates, was held in March for this once, where the spring-like weather made for a nice change from the usual dreary weather conditions in January. It was the 49th edition, already raising some anticipation for its 50th edition next year, for example with the selection of Julie Doucet for the Grand Prix. Her selection ensures that the anniversary next year will be historic in a number of ways—with only the third female Grand Prix winner presiding, and with Doucet being the first Canadian to take the highest honor.

As usual the festival started with a preview day for the press (March 16th), where exhibitions could be visited before they were open to the general public, often with the creators and curators present to provide commentary on the themes of the exhibits. Press day was much appreciated this year in order to see exhibitions with fewer crowds around. Programming for the press and comics professionals continued during the other days of the festival, including the International Rights Market for negotiating translations as well as adaptations to film.

However, the bulk of the events are open to everyone (at the price of a day ticket), and this includes numerous exhibitions, entry to the tents where publishers and creators are selling their comics, kids events, and signings. I spent quite some time (and money) in the tents Le Nouveau Monde and Espace BD Alternative, where small-press and alternative publishers and cartoonists hocked their wares. These two tents showed evidence of a few empty tables, signals perhaps that the move to March meant that some publishers could not attend this year due to schedule clashes, or perhaps that there were fewer international publishers and guests due to continuing COVID-19 travel restrictions. This latter possibility was also supported by the reported lack of Japanese guests and creators present at the festival, a change from previous years. Other tents throughout the city included Le Monde des Bulles, for the mainstream French comics publishers, and Manga City, where manga-related publications could be found. There was also a tent for the collectors, specializing in original art, special editions and ephemera.

Chris Ware Exhibit

But perhaps the most important aspect of the festival is the exhibitions. Every year there is a big exhibit dedicated to the previous festival’s Grand Prix winner, who gets to showcase their work. Chris Ware was elected for the Grand Prix in 2021 and at this year’s festival he presented a retrospective of his work in the fairly intimate space of the basement of Espace Franquin. The exhibition included many original pages, some of which were astounding in their size, while also bearing witness to the cartoonist’s careful and precise creative process. The show also included various objects Ware had made, including wooden models made for various family members to commemorate birthdays and anniversaries, as well as some fully constructed versions of the paper models he included in the ACME Novelty Library books, though those may have been assembled by someone else. The exhibit gave a nice sense of the great care and attention Ware dedicates to his pages, though his creative process as a whole remained mostly invisible.

Loo Hui Phang exhibition in Espace Franquin

The festival included two exhibitions devoted to the writers of comics. One was in the same building as the Ware exhibition: “Loo Hui Phang, Écrire est un Métier” shed a light on Phang’s own writing process, but also that of many other people who write for comics. Her exhibition also created awareness of the working conditions for writers for comics, who often lack labor protections and are also shut out from certain other avenues for making money in the comics world, such as selling original art, even as they contributed to the characters or the story represented in that art. She drew much needed attention to the precarious nature of work in comics.

René Goscinny exhibition in Musée d’Angoulême
The other exhibition focused on writing for comics put the spotlight on a writing superstar, René Goscinny, who wrote scenarios for numerous series, of which Asterix and Lucky Luke are probably the best known in the English-speaking world. This exhibition, mounted in the Musée d’Angoulême, provided an overview of Goscinny’s life and career while also showing his creative process, which included research, coming up with the names of characters (on of the key elements of the humor in the Asterix series), creating narrative sequences and writing a synopsis. Eventually a full script including dialogue would go to the artist (Albert Uderzo in the case of Asterix, or Morris for Lucky Luke), and the exhibition included many examples where the script pages were displayed together with the finished art for the corresponding page of comics, shedding light on a fascinating aspect of comics creation. Since comics writers tend not to produce products that work well on museum walls, their contribution to comics is sometimes easy to lose track of (as Phang’s exhibit also demonstrated), but the Goscinny exhibition managed to make the highlight on writing both illuminating and visually interesting.

Shigeru Mizuki exhibition in Musée d’Angoulême

The Musée d’Angoulême also hosted an exhibition of the work of mangaka Shigeru Mizuki, on the occasion of his hundredth birthday. The retrospective included original art from his illustrations, his war comics and his horror comics, most notably the Kitaro series. The framed original art was hung in a somewhat maze-like set-up, sometimes making for uncomfortably close quarters with other viewers, but the large original drawings of Japanese landscapes and creatures from folklore were stunning and fascinating nonetheless. The festival included two further exhibits that focused on manga, which I did not manage to view. I also skipped two exhibitions on comics for children, since I was not familiar with the works and there was so much to see.

Christophe Blain exhibition in Vaisseau Moebius
Some of this year’s FIBD highlights for me were two exhibitions held in the Vaisseau Moebius, “Christophe Blain, Dessiner le Temps” and “Sous la Plume d’Aude Picault.” Blain is particularly well known for period comics about pirates and cowboys, the series Isaac le Pirate  and Gus. Many original pages from these works were included in the exhibit, as well as cover paintings, sketches, and originals from Blain’s many other comics and from his sketchbooks. His inspiration from and homage to other media, especially classic cinema, were a particular focus of the exhibition. Aude Picault’s work was a revelation to me, as I was previously unfamiliar with her work. She has made humorous slice of life comics about a nurse, as well as travel diaries, memoir work, and several erotic comics. The exhibition of inked pages, often from the stage before speech balloons and text were added, showed off her light and elegant linework, well suited to her breezy narratives that yet include touches of social commentary.
Aude Picault exhibition in Vaisseau Moebius

The Cité BD, across the river from the Vaisseau Moebius, is a set of converted 19th-century industrial buildings which now house the BD museum and archives, as well as a large comics store. It was buzzing with festival activities and crowded with school children on the Thursday when I visited. I visited three exhibitions there that were not specific to the Festival and were scheduled to run past the dates of the festival, namely, “De Popeye à Persepolis: Bande dessinée et cinéma d’animation”, “Baudoin: Dessiner la vie” and “La page manquante: Carte blanche à Wajdi Mouad.” The Popeye to

Wajdi Mouawad exhibition in Cité BD
Persepolis exhibition was a large-scale survey showing the cross-pollination between comics and animation over the course of more than a century, including some attention to technical features of animation as well as original pages and sketches by the creators involved. The exhibition on Baudoin showed a retrospective of his entire oeuvre, featuring hundreds of original pages that showcased the brushwork of his black and white art beautifully. The exhibition created by Wajdi Mouad was the smallest of the exhibitions in the Cité BD, taking up a single room only, but it was conceptually the most immersive, since it was set up as an installation which was meant to convey some sense of Mouad’s experience reading Tintin album L’Ile Noire in Lebanon, as well as his experience with war and displacement to France, changing his perceptions of the album over time. This small room provided a novel approach to comics-related exhibitions, presenting a reader’s very personal experience with a book.

         Like the Angoulême festival, the Stripdagen Haarlem was made up of exhibitions and events spread across the heart of the city. The bi-annual festival had intended to celebrate their 15th anniversary in 2020, but had to postpone and was finally able to observe the festivities two years later,
Small Press Award nominees in the Pop-Up Store
still using the same theme, world-building, and poster art by Dieter van de Ougstraete. Haarlem lacks the year-round comics presence that Angoulême is able to sustain, thanks to institutions like the Cité BD, so the festivities and exhibitions in Haarlem were hosted by a range of more traditional museums and galleries. The headquarters for the 10 days of the festival was a pop-up store which featured festival merchandise, books by artists involved in the festival, and, an important new addition to the festival, all the submission to the Small Press Award, which made its debut at this year’s festival. The works were displayed behind plastic in a large bookcase, but could be perused with the assistance of the pop-up store’s staff.

Rijkswachters X Stripmakers at Kunst Centrum Haarlem

While the Stripdagen lasted 10 days, the main events took place during the two weekends bookending the festival. Both weekends included lectures and workshops, while the opening long weekend also featured markets where publishers, creators and antiquarians could be found selling their wares. Unable to be there during the weekend, I attended the festival on a weekday and took in six of the 20 or so exhibitions. The decorated shop windows in the Kleine Houtstraat, around the epicenter of the festival at the pop-up store, were a nice touch, and the other exhibits I visited were all in close vicinity to the store. The venerable Teylers Museum, the oldest museum in the Netherlands, hosted the Joost Swarte exhibition “Ode aan het boek,” with all the included illustrations, sketches and pages related to books in some way. There was a lot to see, but the close proximity of the pages in a single room did not give the work much room to breathe. More of Swarte’s work was on display in Galerie Kruis-Weg68, but unfortunately the gallery had limited days.

Joost Swarte exhibition in Teylers Museum

Marcel Ruijters exhibition at Museum Haarlem

Some exhibitions nearby included “Gevangen in Dromen: Wonen, Bouwen, en Beleven bij Marc-Antoine Mathieu,” “Marcel Ruijters: Terug naar 1913”, “Rijkswachters x Stripmakers” and “Het Kleinste Museum van Haarlem.” Marc-Antoine Mathieu’s oeuvre is impressive, and the title, “Imprisoned in dreams” was evocative, but I found the exhibit a little underwhelming, since while it captured the promised themes, the included images and pages were photocopies pinned to walls and did not produce much new insight into the artist’s thought or creative process. However, Mathieu’s work has previously not been particularly well-known in the Netherlands, so perhaps the exhibition will bring some deserved broader attention to the French cartoonist’s work. The exhibition next door, devoted to Marcel Ruijters’ alternate world of 1913 proved more interesting, including original drawings as well as sketchbook pages. The exhibition paid a lot of attention to the world-building Ruijters put into his alternate history, so, like the Mathieu exhibit, the show fit in well

Haarlem’s smallest museum: SFF pocket covers

with the theme of the Stripdagen. These exhibits were to be found in the Museum Haarlem and ABC Architectuurcentrum respectively. Close by, in Kunst Centrum Haarlem, was an exhibition that was also a fundraiser. Just over 20 Dutch cartoonists had been invited to decorate a small wooden figurine, made from packing crates used in the Rijksmuseum, to capture the visual detail, style, or even the atmosphere of their work of choice from the Rijksmuseum collection. The resulting figurines were on sale. The most whimsical of the exhibitions I saw was to be found at the same address as the Rijkswachters. This “smallest museum in Haarlem” took the shape of a single shop window dressed with science fiction and fantasy pockets from the 1950s and 1960s, all chosen for their colorful and imaginative covers that evoked the contents of the novels in the most vivid and lurid ways possible, providing the first hints at the world-building inside the covers. The books were all taken from the collection of festival director Tonio van Vugt.

Cor Blok exhibition in Noord-Hollands Archief

The final exhibition I went to see, and which I perhaps enjoyed most of the ones I visited at the stripdagen, was also related to book covers. This exhibition, “De Wereld van Cor Blok,” was set up in the building of the Noord-Hollands Archief, and showcased the work of a Dutch artist and art historian who is best remembered for the covers he drew for the Dutch editions of The Lord of the Rings. The exhibition included some of his illustrations for Tolkien’s work, as well as maps and drawings of his own fantasy world Barbarusië, collaged and painted works that had never been exhibited before, and selections from his one and only comics work, The Iron Parachute, which Blok completed when he was 82 years old. This retrospective had been intended to honor the artist in 2020, but the festival and the exhibition were postponed due to the pandemic, and sadly Cor Blok died in 2021 before the exhibition came about. The exhibition was fascinating to see because it showed work in a great range of styles while also tied together by a consistent character. In addition, Blok’s work also simultaneously had an old fashioned quality harking back to the late 50s/early 60s when his Tolkien illustrations first appeared while also feeling fresh and timeless.

   The exhibitions of the Stripdagen were open for the 10 days of the festival (or longer in some cases, like Swarte’s Ode to the Book). However, the opening times were a little confusing, since especially the galleries kept their own hours,  mostly being open during the weekends of the festival, but with more hit and miss times on weekdays. As a result I found myself in front of a locked door when I tried to visit “Schaduw over Holland,” a joint exhibit by Guido van Driel and Milan Hulsing, drawing on their most recent graphic novels. Other exhibitions I had to miss due to time constraints included “Storm in de Geest,” which featured the world-building of the Pandarve, a fantasy world created by Don Lawrence and Martin Lodewijk which can be enjoyed in the series Storm, and also “De  Klaagzang van de Verloren Gewesten,” an epic fantasy series set in a medieval Celtic kingdom, written by Jean Dufaux and originally drawn by Grzegorz Rosinski. By all accounts, these exhibitions capture the theme of this year’s edition of the Stripdagen exceedingly well.

Both festivals offered a number of attractive publications related to the year’s festival and exhibitions: the FIBD has three published catalogs, for Goscinny, Mizuki, and Blain, as well as poster sets. Stripdagen Haarlem offered a catalog for the Joost Swarte exhibition “Ode to the Book”, a tie-in magazine called Wereldbouwers (world builders), which put a spotlight on the theme of the festival and the various featured artists, as well as posters and prints (some of them signed). These were available at the relevant exhibition venues as well as at the pop-up store.

 

Barbara Postema is Lecturer in English for Academic Purposes at Groningen University, a member of the History in Comics research project, and an honorary research fellow at Massey University New Zealand. Her book Narrative Structure in Comics was published in translation in Brazil in 2018. She has contributed work on narrative theory, wordless comics, and abstract comics to Image and Narrative, the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, and the International Journal of Comic Art, as well as collections such as The Routledge Companion to Comics and Graphic Novels, The Cambridge History of the Graphic Novel, and Abstraction and Comics. Dr. Postema is a former president of the Canadian Society for the Study of Comics (CSSC/SCEBD), and a current Member at Large of the Comics Studies Society (CSS). She is co-editor of Crossing Lines: Transcultural/Transnational Comics Studies, a book series from Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

 A version of this essay will appear in print in IJOCA.