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.

Monday, April 22, 2024

One of a Kind, Trina Robbins, 1938-2024

 

One of a Kind, Trina Robbins, 1938-2024

 John A. Lent

  

The first time I met Trina was in the 1990s, at a comics event of some sort, if I recall. It was then that I first experienced her feisty nature. She had just lambasted male cartoonists who portray women violently in their drawings; she, no doubt, blasted R. Crumb as one of the worst offenders. No argument from me so far; I agreed with what she said. But, when she excluded women cartoonists from mistreating men in their works, I countered that the castration of men seemed just a bit cruel, and I had seen a few such depictions by at least one woman artist. I don’t believe that rejoinder stopped her tirade, but I certainly admired her combativeness.

Trina and I became friends not too long after that and worked together on a few projects. When I started the International Journal of Comic Art, she readily accepted my invitation to join the advisory board. And, she contributed her “herstorian” writings to the journal on five occasions (mainly in the 2000s), always meeting deadlines with well-researched and interestingly-written articles. Trina congratulated IJOCA as it progressed over the years, once saying facetiously, “it’s never heavy enough!” She was happy to be published in IJOCA, and said so occasionally, even asking if it was all right for her to write up certain events she attended.

In a 2007 email, she wrote, “I am thrilled to write something for IJOCA…. The May 2008 deadline, like the baby bear’s porridge, is ju-u-u-ust right! Thank you for inviting me.” Ten years later, Trina wrote, “John, as the one contributor to IJOCA who is a college dropout, I love being part of the journal,” and I replied that I wished many of my university, senior-level, communications majors could write as well.

 

Fig. 1. John A. Lent introducing Trina Robbins.

Asian Popular Culture section, Popular Culture Association.

San Francisco, CA. 2008. Photo by Xu Ying.

 

Trina was eager to be in touch with academia. When she found out that the Popular Culture Association was holding its 2007 annual conference in San Francisco, she joined the association to be able to present a paper on a Chinese-American dance troupe with which she was in contact. After checking the PCA website, and finding that I headed the Asian Popular Culture section, Trina wrote, “and to my surprise, you are the person to whom I wish to submit a proposal.”

 

Fig. 2. Trina Robbins presenting her paper.

Asian Popular Culture section, Popular Culture Association.

San Francisco, CA. 2008. Photo by Xu Ying.

Out of that exchange, grew a few other projects. Together, we were able to secure a special space on the PCA schedule, featuring Trina’s presentation, followed by several dances by the Grant Avenue Follies. These dancers performed in Chinese nightclubs in the late 1950s and 1960s, and in their later years, danced free of charge in hospitals, senior centers, and veteran groups. Trina described them, “they have talent, style, and great legs, and they are proof that you’re never too old to rock them in the aisles.” Trina’s PowerPoint talk and the dances went over well and were somewhat precedent-setting in PCA’s long history.

 

Fig. 3. Trina Robbins and some Grant Avenue Follies’ dancers with manager.

Asian Popular Culture section, Popular Culture Association.

San Francisco, CA. 2008. Photo by Xu Ying.

 

Knowing Trina was writing a book on the Grant Avenue Follies, I invited her to submit a proposal to have it published in a book series I edited for Hampton Press, which she did. The proposal was accepted, sparking Trina to write, “I’m thrilled to be working with you…. Happy and excited, Trina,” and “Thank you so much for believing in this book…. Happy as a clam. Trina.” She threw in a bit of humor when she related that the guys at the copy center read the proposal and “were entranced, and told me they’d buy the book if it came out. (That’s 5 sales!)” Trina was satisfied with the illustration-filled, nicely-designed Forbidden City. The Golden Age of Chinese Nightclubs when it appeared in 2010, and was eager to have the book promoted and sold. I had warned her earlier that Hampton usually needed a shove to get it moving, which she discovered on her own, saying, at one point, that it seemed that the press had no interest in selling its books, and, later, that she did not want to deal with Hampton ever again.

 

Fig. 4. Trina Robbins and Steve Leialoha.

Jilin Animation Festival. Changchun, China. 2011.

Photo by John A. Lent.

 

I met Trina a few times during the following decade, twice in Changchun, China, where we both were invited to speak at the International Animation, Comics and Games Forum Jilin, China 2009. Trina said she loved China and always wanted to return; however, I believe she enjoyed more the experiences of different cultures, accepting invitations when they were received‒to Brazil, Russia, Japan, etc. Her eagerness to travel was borne out when I saw her in China in 2011; it was obvious she was recovering from cancer, which she acknowledged in an e-mail:  “Since I was almost bald as a cueball in China, it was pretty obvious that I was getting over something! (I wasn’t gonna turn down an invitation to China because of a little thing like having no hair.”) Trina was very curious, at the same time, a bit suspicious, while abroad. During one of our meetings in China, she complained that the student translator/guide assigned to her never left her side and she was not free to do what she wanted to do. I asked her what she wanted to do. “Go to Walmart,” Trina replied. Not one excited about anything to do with Walmart, I shot back, “Why in the hell would you come all the way to China to go to Walmart?” I told her to ask the guide to take her, which she did, and Trina was satisfied. However, she later asked if I was angry with her for making that request; I wasn’t; I just thought it was strange. I was also humbled that she cared about what I thought.

To call Trina “a character” is a major understatement. Who else do you know who crammed into 85 years a few lifetimes of precedent-setting achievements in underground comix, women’s comic books, and what she termed comics “herstory”? Who shut herself in a room with a sewing machine, learned how to make clothes, and decked out the likes of popular musicians Mama Cass, David Crosby, and Donovan? Who partied (heartily) with Jim Morrison, the rest of The Doors, and The Byrds? Who was the first woman to produce a “Wonder Woman” mini-series? The variety of Trina’s activities was wide, from supporting Pro Choice and Strip AIDS USA through her drawings to producing a woman’s erotic comics anthology for Denis Kitchen. She was known and admired worldwide; in life, being the subject of popular singer Joni Mitchell’s song, “Ladies of the Canyon,” and, after her death, on April 17, the subject of many reminiscing and laudatory articles, websites, blogs, and even a cartoon on the Daily Kos news and opinion site.



Fig. 5. Daily Kos cartoon posted by Keith Knight recalling

Trina’s insistence that work cannot be wordy.

There were many characteristics about Trina Robbins that I find extremely admirable. She was frank and honest, attested to in her memoirs, Last Girl Standing, where she did not shy from revealing her sexual activities, her getting a sexually-transmitted disease from a husband, or other experiences that a large part of society would consider repugnant. Trina did not beat around the bush; if something or someone offended her, she vociferously said so.

Trina recognized her shortcomings; one that she mentioned was her lack of a thorough knowledge of the use of a computer, once writing me that she was “so embarrassed to be so technologically inept”; a woman of my own heart since I have been labeled “technologically challenged.” She was adept at researching, evidenced by her “herstories,” and had the makings of an excellent journalist, with her investigative skills, concise writing, ability to meet deadlines, and keen editing.

Her cheerful disposition, reflected in her personality and creative work, was infectious; she accepted compliments gracefully and gave them freely. I always enjoyed her e-mail signoffs:  “Tired by happy,” “Happy and excited,” “Sigh!,” “Whew!,” “Recovering from Turkey” (after Thanksgiving), and “Thanks so much, you too are a trooper, Trina.”

The fields of comics creativity, fandom, and scholarship have lost one of a kind in Trina Robbins. I will miss her!

A version of this post will appear in IJOCA 26:1.

________________________

John A. Lent is the founder, publisher, and editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Comic Art and professor emeritus of communications, having taught in universities in Canada, China, Malaysia, Philippines, and the U.S., from 1960-2011.

Bob Beerbohm: 1952-2024

Bob Beerbohm:  1952-2024

John A. Lent

 

On March 14, I was pondering who should be invited to write about their experiences as a pioneer in comics scholarship for the ongoing series in the International Journal of Comic Art. Paul Gravett and Craig Yoe were thought of again; they had been asked previously but never got around to putting their remembrances on paper. And, then, Bob Beerbohm came to mind, probably prompted by my just having read and reviewed Alex Beringer’s Lost Literacies, for CHOICE. Beringer talked a bit about Bob and his revelations about 19th Century comics that existed long before “Yellow Kid.”

After getting Bob’s email address and phone number from “Mr. Resource Extraordinaire,” Mike Rhode, I called Bob. I asked him if he would recount his career as a comics researcher, and in a separate article, his findings concerning 19th Century comics. His response was that he had cancer and was told that he had six months to live. Bob agreed to write the article, but was agitated, complaining that he was not listened to when he told about “Obadiah Oldbuck” and other early comics; that he had not been appreciated. I told him that Beringer discussed his work, and I interrupted his tirade to read him what Beringer wrote. He continued his non-stop complaints, saying that those who now write about those comics pioneers got their information from Bob’s own writings. After more than a half hour, Bob said his daughter had just arrived and he had to go. Before hanging up, I said that perhaps if he does this writing and keeps busy, he might have some peace of mind. He agreed.

The same night, I wrote Bob an email, telling him that he had “so much information to share and you give it with so much enthusiasm,” repeated what we agreed to during our phone conversation, and ended with, “Keep busy, Bob.” On March 27, Bob succumbed to colon cancer at 71.

My thoughts have gone back to that telephone conversation a few times, not just because he did not live long enough to write the articles and share his vast knowledge with the comics community, but, regretfully, because he felt the way he did about the reception of his work.

Bob Beerbohm was a fountain of information about comics history, and, sadly, as Robert M. Overstreet, author and publisher of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, wrote, “He takes with him so many untold tales on which we can only speculate.”

Besides his important roles as historian and collector/preserver of comic books, he was an important player in the development of comic book shops, conventions, and underground comix. His career spanned a half century, beginning in junior high school, when he ran an advertisement in the fanzine, Rockets Blast Comicollector #47, announcing himself as a mail order buyer, seller, and trader of comic books. In 1972, at twenty years old, he moved from Nebraska to the San Francisco Bay Area, where with Bud Plant and John Barrett, he established Comics and Comix Store #1, which went on to host some of the earliest comics conventions, and become the first comic book store chain with seven locations. Beerbohm left Comics and Comix and started Best of Two Worlds in 1976. This store went out of business in 1987, after a huge flood destroyed most of its stock the year before.

Bob continued his research for the remainder of his life, posting his findings, corrections, and arguments on Facebook until the day he died. He never finished the ongoing book project, Comic Book Store Wars, which he worked on for decades. To the end, he stood his ground concerning his research findings, which often clashed with the norm, and on occasion, changed historical “facts.” He could be combative when he thought he was slighted and his research negated; and he was outspoken, which put some people off, but, he was generous, willing to share what he knew with those who would listen, and, there is no doubt, that he was one of the genuine lovers/champions of comics.

A version of this post will appear in IJOCA 26:1.

________________________

John A. Lent is the founder, publisher, and editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Comic Art and professor emeritus of communications, having taught in universities in Canada, China, Malaysia, Philippines, and the U.S., from 1960-2011.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Book Review: A Cultural History of The Punisher by Kent Worcester

A Cultural History of The Punisher by Kent Worcester, Intellect, 2023. https://www.intellectbooks.com/a-cultural-history-of-the-punisher

reviewed by CT Lim

 It is now almost a cliche to talk about how comics studies as a field has grown. There are numerous books being released almost every month - more than one can read to be updated about the latest research - a very different scenario from 20 years ago when one could possibly read every new book to keep up with the extent literature. But the more the merrier as the growth and diversity of the field can only be a good thing. Other than specific author studies (Brannon Costello on Howard Chaykin; Charles Hatfield on Jack Kirby), gendered readings (Ramzi Fawaz on The New Mutants; J. Andrew Deman on The Claremont Run) and transmedia and seriality surveys (Daniel Stein, Christina Meyer), one particular area that has expanded is the singular character studies. While most would approach a company-owned character via the lens of literature, history, cultural, and media studies, I would argue that the latest book to hit the shelves, A Cultural History of The Punisher by Kent Worcester is looking at the popular Marvel character from the refreshing perspective of political science, in spite of its title. Worcester has earlier co-edited A Comics Studies Reader (2008) and The Superhero Reader (2013). 

The breakdown of the chapters is as such: Chapter 1 asserts the importance of New York City in creating the Punisher and creating the milieu or conditions for his ascendency and popularity. I really enjoyed  the extracts from Welcome to Fear City: A Survival Guide for Visitors to the City of New York (1975). I first visited NYC in 2000 and my reference points were Lou Reed albums, but the 1986 Punisher miniseries by Steven Grant and Mike Zeck would not be far behind them. Worcester argued the latter could be read together with The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and Watchmen (1987) as “the turn in mainstream comics towards more adult-oriented offerings.” (p. 141) In hindsight, the NYC I visited in December 2000 was probably closer to the violent cartoony zaniness of Garth Ennis’ rendition of the character which started in that year. 

Chapter 2 sets out the difference between the trigger-happy Punisher and the grim and gritty Punisher. Not forgetting that the Punisher is still a corporate owned character, Chapter 3 examines his interactions with other Marvel characters. Chapter 4 gets into the meat of “the Punisher’s meteoric rise during the second half of the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s.” (p. 19) This was when the character started becoming a major revenue stream with multiple monthly titles and making real money for the company. Worcester incorporates the idea of production cycle (taken from film studies) and explains how and why the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s was the first of the two Punisher production cycles to date. The end of the first production cycle coincided with the burst of the collecting bubble in 1995. (p. 184)

Chapter 5 takes a step away from the official franchise and looks at the Punisher parodies since the mid 1970s and also the challenges writers have in writing the Punisher when violent crime declined in NYC in the late 1990s and early 2000s. What thus remains as his raison d'etre when the urban crisis and decay have rolled back? Chapter 6 brings us up to speed on the recent series of the last 24 years. Basically, the Garth Ennis stories starting from 2000 are the start of the second production cycle. 

Worcester explains:

While their version of Frank Castle still preferred decisive lethality over due process, the character now manifested an absurdist aspect that previous creators had eschewed. The first cycle achieves a kind of pulpish modernist realism, until its final act at least, whereas Ennis and (Steve) Dillon opt for cheeky jokes, glossy visuals, and postmodern bombast. Their story verse offers a giddy fantasia in which sadism, machoism, and gore serve comedic rather than ideological ends, and the grim and trigger-happy templates are fused. (p. 207) 

It is also during this production cycle that we see “the locus of production and consumption has migrated from print to screen, and from screen to iconography.” But Worcester’s main contention is that the Punisher “also embodies a raw, populist anger that presents an uncomfortable fit with business models and strategic plans.” (p. 20) In a way, this answers Worcester’s key research question: why are so many of us fascinated by the Punisher? (p. 20)

Witness the co-option of the Punisher by the alt-right, Trump supporters, Unite the Right and Blue Lives Matter. (p. 3) In fact, Worcester started this book in 2016 when Donald Trump was elected. (p. 239) In Southeast Asia, former Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte was known as the Punisher way back in 2002 when he was the mayor of Davao. He even used comics to spread his 'war on drugs' campaign in 2016. 

Where are the political science aspects I initially referred to? They are most evident in Chapter 1 where Worcester used a four-box matrix to study vigilantism - fiction, non-fiction, less violent and more violent. He concluded that this is inadequate in helping us understand the vigilante’s underlying goals and proposed an alternative typology taken from H. Jon Rosenbaum and Peter C. Sederberg’s Vigilante Politics (1973). There are three types of vigilantism - crime-control, social-group control and regime control. No surprise that the Punisher is a crime-control vigilante. (pp. 54 - 55) 

(a drawing Tan Eng Huat drew for me in 2009.
He was one of the artists for the
seventh series of The Punisher
written by Rick Remender between 2009 and 2010,
the second production cycle.)

Comics studies have incorporated trauma studies. (or is it vice versa?) Recent books include Documenting Trauma in Comics: Traumatic Pasts, Embodied Histories, and Graphic Reportage (2020), edited by Dominic Davies and Candida Rifkind. A more niche study is Visualising Small Traumas: Contemporary Portuguese Comics at the Intersection of Everyday Trauma (2022) by Pedro Moura. Worcester referenced Comics, Trauma, and the New Art of War (2017) by Harriet E. H. Earle in his first chapter on trauma culture. But the true strength and value of this book lies not in theories but Worcester’s close reading of the primary texts. He “harvested nearly five decades’ worth of comic books and graphic novels to show how a binary-minded rageaholic ended up with a lively, sometimes ridiculous, and often socially resonant storyverse.” (p. 14) Worcester took from political theorist John Gunnelll’s concept of internal history and also the late Martin Barker’s advice of needing subtle and cautious research instruments so as to be able to grasp the flow and stresses of the stories to bring out the maneuvers and moments of decision that make the stories meaningful. (p. 15)

In that sense, Worcester also dwells into the current approach of seriality as he does not just use the trade paperbacks and compilations, but the actual monthly floppies and the very useful letter columns to gauge readers’ sentiments and response to the Punisher’s body count and arsenal over the years. 

Another thing I like about the tone of this book is that Worcester is clearly a fan of what he writes about - comics and pop culture. You catch glimpses of it when he quotes Jane’s Addiction. (p. 236) 

Singular character studies in comics studies have been around for a while. From Will Brooker’s books on Batman to recent ones by Ian Gordon (Superman), Brian Cremins (Captain Marvel), Kevin Patrick (the Phantom), Paul Young (Daredevil) and Scott Bukutman (Hellboy). Worcester’s take on Punisher is a much welcomed addition. Now if only there is a good book on Judge Dredd…

(This review was edited on April 19th, after originally being posted by the author on April 11; a version of this review will appear in print in IJOCA 26:1)

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Sham's Smiles

by CT Lim


I first encountered the cartoons of Shamsuddin H. Akib (1933 - 2024) in 1995 when I was researching on the history of political cartoons in The Straits Times. Better known as Sham, he contributed cartoons to The Straits Times in the late 1970s. By that time, political cartooning had more or less come to standstill in the newspapers. While political cartooning was vibrant in the postwar years during the twilight years of British colonial rule, once Singapore became independent in 1965, political cartoons would appear less and less in the newspapers as the mass media was conscripted into agenda of nation-building and building consensus among the public. Politics was a serious business and armchair critics and artists should not snipe from the sidelines. Basically the message was get into the ring of political polls or get out. There was no direct censorship of cartoons but one gets the message from what happen to the Singapore Herald and the cartoons of Morgan Chua in the early 1970s. After the closure of the Singapore Herald, Morgan sought his fortunes and trade as a political cartoonist elsewhere - in Hong Kong, to be specific. 

This was the climate which Sham sent in his first cartoon to The Straits Times in June 1978. It was a sports cartoon about the singing soccer stars in Singapore. It was lighthearted, easy humour and something the editors of The Straits Times and its readers could accept. Sham continued to contribute cartoons to The Straits Times in a regular slot called Sham’s Saturday Smile. Later, after gaining the trust of the editors, he would venture into current affairs (Sham’s World) and also covered the 1979 by-elections in Singapore in a column called Sham’s Election Smile. 





Keep in mind that Sham was not a full-time cartoonist. He worked as a graphic artist throughout his life till his retirement in 1997. He had aspirations to be a fine art artist although he was not art trained but self-taught. As documented by his daughter, Dahlia Shamsuddin, her father was one of the two winners of the Paya Lebar Airport mural competition in 1963. Sham’s winning entry was “Cultural Dances of Malaysia”. 


https://biblioasia.nlb.gov.sg/vol-17/issue-2/jul-sep-2021/murals/


I will let Dahlia provide her father’s bio:


My father is a self-taught artist. Born in Singapore in 1933, he started out as a peon (office boy) in the Commissioner-General Office but realised advancement prospects were limited and that he was capable of more. He briefly joined The Straits Times as an apprentice artist before moving to Papineau Advertising as they were looking for someone who could write Jawi in a calligraphic style.


My father eventually left Papineau and joined publisher Donald Moore before working for various international advertising agencies in Singapore. In the 1980s, he became a freelance graphic artist and continued doing commissions until his late 60s. In 2015, he was awarded the Singapore Design Golden Jubilee Award for Visual Communication.


I got to know Dahlia as we were both members of the Singapore Heritage Society. Later, Dahlia would become the president of the society. She was the one who told me that Sham was her dad back in the 2000s. 


In recent years, Sham’s achievements as an artist and cartoonist have been documented by Justin Zhuang. 


http://justinzhuang.com/posts/shams-saturday-smile-one-illustrators-spectator-sport/


He has also been interviewed by Ho Chi Tim for the National Archives of Singapore Oral History Department. I hope the recordings will be made available soon.



(L-R: Koh Hong Teng, Sham, CT, Dahlia on 9 June 2022)


In 2022, artist Koh Hong Teng and I started on our book on pioneer cartoonists in Singapore, Drawn to Satire. With the help of Dahlia, we interviewed Sham at his home on 9 June. He told us many stories and anecdotes about growing up in Singapore in the 1930s, reading The Saint novels and comic strips like Tarzan (Burne Hogarth) and Dick Tracy and comics like Captain Marvel. He was an avid soccer fan and would bring the young Dahlia to football matches in the 1970s. What came across strongly in our afternoon with him was his easy going nature. 


“Maybe that’s life. I drew cartoons for fun. Sometimes they made some people angry - like my old neighbours! 


But it’s all for fun. No need to be too serious. Take things easy. Take things as they come.”


Our book came out in late 2023. I am glad I was able to give a copy to Sham.


Time and tide waits for no man. Sham has been suffering from poor health in the last few months and he passed way on 7 April 2024, during Ramadan, a holy month for the Muslims. May he continue to smile and to smile at us from wherever he is. 







Monday, April 8, 2024

Shamsuddin H. Akib (1933-2024) RIP

CT Lim is reporting on Facebook that Singaporean cartoonist Shamsuddin H. Akib AKA Sham (1933-2024) has passed away. We've reached out to him asking for more details to update this blog post.

This article provides information on Sham's cartooning career.

Spectator Sport: The Cartoons of Sham's Saturday Smile [Shamsuddin H Akib, Singapore]

Justin Zhuang

January 2, 2018

http://justinzhuang.com/posts/shams-saturday-smile-one-illustrators-spectator-sport/




Leela Corman on IJOCA posts reminder

Now that the book is out, we'd like to remind you that Hélène Tison did a couple of pieces for us earlier this year, which will also appear in print in a month or so.

"The Story of the Holocaust Is Not Pretty, And It's Not Redemptive": An Interview with Leela Corman

https://ijoca.blogspot.com/2023/12/the-story-of-holocaust-is-not-pretty.html

"The look of a ghost with ashes in her shoes." Review of Leela Corman's Victory Parade by Hélène Tison

https://ijoca.blogspot.com/2023/12/the-look-of-ghost-with-ashes-in-her.html

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Book Review: Black Panther: A Cultural Exploration by Ytasha L. Womack

 

reviewed by Charles W. Henebry, Boston University

Black Panther: A Cultural Exploration by Ytasha L. Womack. New York: Epic Ink, 2023. 176pp. https://www.quarto.com/books/9780760375617/black-panther

Judging by its cover, lavish illustrations, and meager page count, you wouldn’t think Black Panther: A Cultural Exploration lived up to the scholarly ambitions of its title. Yet Womack manages to pack a surprising wealth of cultural references and oral history into this slender volume. Having myself analyzed the Panther by reference to the aims of his creators, I was fascinated by Womack’s reader-centered approach to the character. Prior scholarship has problematized the Panther’s status as the “World’s First Black Superhero,” given Marvel’s all-white creative staff back in the sixties. Womack implicitly responds to this criticism with a moving account of the lived experience of the superhero’s African-American fans who, in that same era, encountered the new character at the newsstand and argued with their friends about how he was connected to the Black Panther Party. And she ties this oral history to developments in contemporary history and culture, from Kwame Nkrumah, the first Prime Minister of Ghana, to the cosmic jazz of Sun-Ra. In so doing, she encourages us to think of the Black Panther not as corporate IP, but as one of the shared myths of our culture: “I’d reason that the Black Panther myth is bigger than its creators, an idea held by fans, writers, pencilers, and the awed alike—a myth that channels love and liberation.” Having previously published a book on Afrofuturism, Womack is well situated to deliver in this effort to claim the Black Panther as a genuine expression of the African-American experience.

While the first chapter contextualizes the creation of the Black Panther in the ferment of the late 1960s, the book is organized not by timeline but by topic: “The Panther Mystique,” “The Wakandan Protopia,” “The Modern Goddess and Futuristic Warrior Queens,” etc. Throughout, Womack works suggestively rather than analytically: in the chapter on political power, for instance, she juxtaposes the Panther with real-world political figures ranging from MLK to Mandela, but does not explicitly argue any particular parallel or connection. Some may see this as a virtue, in that it invites the reader to take an active role in making sense of the Panther’s cultural resonance. But I would have liked a more detailed account, especially in regard to lesser-known figures like Kwame Nkrumah. Without such detail, the reader is hardly in a position to weigh the real significance of Womack’s musings.

The book’s greatest strength is its oral history of fans. Besides childhood memories, the interviews offer up a variety of insights as to the Panther’s political and cultural significance. A few of those interviewed are famous; many others are identified by Womack as authors or artists. In a few cases, we are provided with no more than a name, which left me wondering what principle Womack used in choosing whom to interview.

Another strength is the book’s format: lavish full-color images predominate throughout, ranging from comics panels to news photographs. Comics are a visual medium, and it’s wonderful to see scholarship illustrated in this way. Too often, due to the cost of permissions, comics scholars see their work go to print with no illustrations whatsoever. In Black Panther as well as in an earlier book on Spider-Man, Epic Ink neatly solved the permissions problem by partnering with Marvel Comics.

But I can’t help but worry that this cure is worse than the disease. Rights holders like Marvel are unlikely to partner with scholars who train a critical eye on their history, so in the marketplace of ideas, such scholarship will be text-only and hence at a disadvantage relative to visually attractive puff-pieces. Womack’s wholeheartedly celebratory account—which interrogates neither the politics of the characters early decades nor the politics of Marvels creative team—does little to allay such concerns. Interested readers will have to seek out that richly problematic history elsewhere.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Manga in Angouleme and Paris

So Angouleme Comics Festival / France / possibly most of Europe continues to focus on manga. It did not happen overnight and there was backlash. The same backlash happened in the Philippines in the 1990s but over time, manga style was accepted in most countries like in the case of Malaysia. 

I wrote about the Philippines' response to manga here.



And how Malaysian comic artists have also embraced manga style back in the 2000s. 


And of course, genres like BL / yaoi led the manga wave in Asia.


These days, Thai BL tv series are very popular in Southeast Asia. And at one time, China BL tv series too. (until they were 'banned')

Here's an interview with Bounthavy Suvilay who has insightful things to say about manga style.


But back to Angouleme Comics Festival 2024. There was this huge Moto Hagio retrospective of original art (you know the Japanese do not lend out their original art easily) which really helps one to reevaluate the importance of Moto Hagio in comics history. Reading her shojo manga now might be a bit underwhelming. But that's because so many of her innovations in manga have become common vocabulary in the medium. But looking at her original pages, you are reminded she is the pioneer in portraying what we take for granted now - how the inner worlds of characters are visualized on the manga page. She invented the language. That is the power of a good comic art exhibition. They make you think and reexamine your assumptions. 






I have written about Shin-ichi Sakamoto in a previous post. But I want to talk about Hiroaki Samura's Blade of the Immortal exhibition. Which is excellent, of course. That's not surprising. But what is shocking is that some of my friends from Japan (manga profs) are not familiar with Blade of the Immortal. To them, Hiroaki Samura is not a well known mangaka in Japan. This blew my mind as I thought Blade of the Immortal was a popular manga series in Japan. So I am dispelled of this belief. That led me to think that back in the 1990s, the kind of manga that gets translated and published in the West really depends on agents and the kind of rights that get bought and sold in the trade market. Blade of the Immortal is popular in America and France. It was well reviewed in The Comics Journal in the 1990s when manga reviews were not so common. But according to my friends, it is almost unknown in Japan. Today, the world is flat, to borrow a phrase. What is popular in Japan (One Piece, Naruto, Demons Slayer, etc) is also popular in the rest of the comics worlds. This is food for thought as this means the manga translated into English and published for the American comic book market in the 1980s and 1990s was something else altogether. I think it is a good thing to have such anomalies in history. It makes things more interesting.





Which reminds me I should be getting round to review The Early Reception of Manga in the West by Martin de la Iglesia soon. But do I have time to read the extant literature? Casey Brienza wrote an excellent book about Manga in America: Transnational Book Publishing and the Domestication of Japanese Comics (Bloomsbury 2016). She was also the editor of Global Manga: "Japanese" Comics without Japan? (Routledge 2015). I have gone through these books before a few years back but I doubt I have the time or energy to read them again. Maybe the easier way is to read back issues of Bubbles zine as they are also into 1980s and 1990s translated manga in America. 

I hope Iglesia's book will explain why Blade of the Immortal was picked up for translation and publication in America in the 1990s and what led to its success and popularity in the West. 

Talking about manga at Angouleme, my friends from Japan (Kazumi, Jessica and Fusami) had a panel about women manga in conjunction with the Moto Haigo exhibition, I think. 

Here's a photo of them. (i was appointed by Fusami to be the 'official' photographer)



(L-R: Kazumi Nagaike, Jessica Bauwens, Matthew Loux, Denson Abby, Fusami Ogi, moderator Xavier Guilbert)

I also had the chance to catch up with the ever popular Peach Momoko and her business partner Yo Mutsu in Manga City. The queues for her signing were less hectic than the Singapore Comic Con last December. So we had a nice chat. 



But it was a different story when she had an event at Pulp's Comics in Paris a few days later. You can see the long queue here. It went all the way till the end of the block. 



It was her first time at the Angouleme Comics Festival and in Paris and they were surprised by the warm welcome she received. I asked Yo Mutsu why was manga so popular in France and his reply was: "We don't know. Manga has just been the norm for us, so we don't know what sparked the popularity." 

Just goes to show how manga is ubiquitous in France / Europe now. 

Ok, I think that's all the Angouleme / Paris reports I have.

Oh yeah, Akira Toriyama passed away at the age of 68 a few days ago. Someone should translate and publish Bounthany Suvilay's book on Dragon Ball. 

(all photos by CT)

CT Lim

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Comics Happenings in Paris (post Angouleme)

Before Angouleme, fellow IJOCA exhibit reviewer Nick Nguyen and I saw the Dan Clowes show at Galerie Martel. Excellent show, even more excellent prices which we can't afford. Just look and weep. 

Here are some pics.
































Post Angouleme, I spent a few days in Paris and like my buddy Dean said in his own report, there are so. many. comics exhibitions in Paris.


I only saw a fraction of the events but what I saw (or failed to see) has a common thread - social satire in our times. If Dan Clowes is the contemporary social satirist of the 1990s and 2000s, then Gilbert Shelton is the satirist of the counterculture 1960s (together with Crumb and others in the underground comix crew). I met Lora Fountain at Angouleme and told her I will visit Gilbert's show (I last saw him in 2014 in London), but it was closed on the afternoon I visited. They were supposed to be opened.. 


Undeterred, I hit the underground again to Maison de Balzac to see the small but delightful / insightful Balzac, Daumier and the Parisians show. Honoré Daumier was of course the prominent social satirist of the 19th Century. Pairing him with Balzac makes sense. 

I'll let the collaterals do the explanation here:

Although Balzac and Daumier may not have known each other well, they did cross paths in newspaper rooms and publishing houses. Their connection lies mainly in their keen outlook on their contemporaries. As a writer, Balzac painted a broad overview of society, analysing the customs of both the provinces and Paris. Meanwhile, Daumier used drawing mainly as a way of studying the little people of Paris.

This similarity has often been pointed out, particularly by Charles Baudelaire, to the point of suggesting that the two men shared a kindred spirit. Concierges, errand boys, shopgirls, cooks, labourers and merchants all feature prominently in The Human Comedy and in Daumier’s engravings. In both instances, their observations reveal society’s peculiarities, small-mindedness and ridicule, with little room for benevolence but great attention to humanity. The exhibition will highlight both men’s interest in social classification and the accuracy of their analyses of the qualities and shortcomings of Parisians, which still hold true to this day. The exhibition ends with a small selection of “in the manner of” pieces by contemporary caricaturists, which show that while Parisians have indeed changed, Daumier and Balzac’s perspectives are still lenses through which one can observe and understand society.

Not many cartoon fans were aware of this show or visited it. When I was there, it was mainly old folks visiting the house and exhibition. 









Next, thanks to the recommendation of Harri Rompotti, I walked very fast to the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris before closing time to catch the Dana Schutz: The Visible World show. It is the first time that her work has been shown in France on this scale. While not a comic artist, I could clearly see the comics elements or influences in her paintings and sculptures. Her social commentary and satire of contemporary American life, society and politics reminded me of S Clay Wilson. 

To quote part of the collaterals:

Dana Schutz is a storyteller. Her work builds a world of unruly characters, human folly, deadpan predicaments and physical calamity. She often paints a dystopic portrait of today’s world, untethered to traditional notions of beauty... Recently her paintings have become more volumetric and allegorical, increasingly populated with clusters of colourful characters who may be floating through the night, perched upon an island of jawbones, or fighting to stand on top of a mountain. These visions of a post-apocalyptic world are influenced by her take on art history, from Bruegel to Alice Neel. They evoke the obsolescence of an ailing world, the vanity of contemporary mythologies and the breakdown of communication. 

I'll just let the photos do their job.


































Finally, another nudge from Harri and I was at Halle Saint Pierre, just below Sacré-Cœur. It is the home of art brut, art outsider and naive art in Paris. The current exhibition HEY! CERAMIQUE.S was very good, showing 34 artists from 13 countries and for some, this was their first presentation in Europe. 250 works were on display with one third of them produced for the show. A fascinating display of the fantastic and the grotesque, these works would not be out of place in underground comix pages and transgressive comic works. 


















































Another exhibition on the ground floor, At the Frontiers of Art Brut, was mind boggling as well. According to the website, this exhibition “Aux Frontières de l’art brut” (the title of the show in French) presents 15 artists, unclassifiable according to the criteria of art brut or traditional naive art. Most of them did not receive any artistic training but they presented dangerous visions. Roger Lorance is outstanding. Somehow he reminded me of the anarchic spirit of Fletcher Hanks. In fact, for both shows at Halle Saint Pierre, I was pairing the pieces with outsider art I know in Asia. It would make a fun comparative exhibition. 







Roger Lorance



















Okay there were way too many other events to talk about. Posy Simmonds at the Pompidou was good. She remains the predominant critic of our social mores, keeping us grounded. 










The major Joann Sfar show at the Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme was very, very impressive. 




















And then there were the signings at the comic shops. Wu Shih Hung was one of the breakout Taiwanese artists at this  year's Angouleme (together with Evergreen Yeh) and I managed to drop by his signing in Paris to give some support. 












To read about Wu:


All in all, I spent more days in Paris than I had expected, even giving up a side trip to Brussels for a NATO HQ tour. Thanks for the offer, Nick. Next time!

(all photos by CT)

CT Lim