Sunday, February 14, 2016

Daniel Clowes - Coda

Alfred Stieglitz, Marcel Duchamp's Fountain, 1917.

Being completely defeated and tired of preaching in the desert (or, to quote Portugal's greatest writer, preaching to the fish), and don't get me wrong, I highly value all of you, my faithful followers, you know perfectly well who you are, I'm slowly on my way to complete silence and oblivion... That tendency is only thwarted by an occasional remark by one of this blog's readers. This time it was a comment by Marcos Farrajota (who you may know as "Marcos Pellojota" in Bart Beaty's Unpopular Culture, ix) that prompted me to write again.

Intro, or, a brief contextualization:

On my last post I quoted Robert Ito to say that comics and art changed places: the geek comics culture is now the mainstream pop culture while the adult graphic novel (the adjective should not be needed, but I don't want to go there right now...) was left in nowhere land. 
We all know the stereotype and Robert Ito does too:
[...] comics fans were geeks and losers, guys who lived in their moms’ basements and, once a year, trekked out to conventions.
While mainstream culture was reading Proust and Dostoyevsky, or, let's say, Hemingway, at least, and admired Picasso, or, let's say, Rembrandt, at least, kids and arrested development afflicted adults were reading Superman. How come, as Ito puts it, "audiences [are now]  flocking to superhero and sci-fi-themed movies in droves"? I've been claiming my explanation for 20 years now: there's a Peter Pan Syndrome Pandemic (or, as Marcos put it, a PPP). Link that to the destruction of the Education System and the Neocon views that put money before people shrinking the State, and, voilá... But, anyway, after my following comment "What about art in this unequal fight between art and ktsch? It retreated into the consumption of the elite and the upper strata of society proving that Capitalism, after all these centuries, turned back and became the Ancien Régime[,]" Marcos asked me (my translation): "you mean art in general, right? because, if we talk about gallery art and Conceptual art, etc... frankly, it's such a PPP that's an embarrassment..."
My answer was, Conceptual Art is all but PPP.

Let me explain why.

Conceptual Art is sometimes great comic art:

The above "work of art" by Marcel Duchamp will, as you can easily see, be 100 years old next year.
Now, compare Picasso's Les demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) with, say, the magnificent (you need to see it in person at the Louvre to believe it) Le sacre de Napoléon (1807) by Jacques-Louis David.

Pablo Picasso, Les demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907.

Jacques-Louis David, Le sacre de Napoléon, 1807.

Now let us compare Marcel Duchamp's Fountain to last year's Turner Prize, below:

Nicole Wermers, Infrastruktur, 2015.

Man, oh man! Marcos is right, what an embarrassment! (We've been doing the same shit for the last 100 years?)
But let us not haste in our opprobrium.

I'll deal with "haste" first: 

What we see on top of this post, in a photo by Alfred Stieglitz, is, of course, The Fountain, Marcel Duchamp's first readymade. I'm not going to bore you with a lecture about it. Let us just say, because this is a blog about comics, after all, that the pseudo-Mutt who supposedly signed the piece is none other than the Mutt in "Mutt & Jeff," of Bud Fisher's newspaper comic strip fame. (No one saw the irony in Duchamp, a chess player, quoting a cartoonist with a chess player's name, but that's just me trying, and failing miserably, as usual, to be funny - besides, "Fisher" is not exactly "Fischer.")

Augustus [not Robert] Mutt by Bud Fisher, 1913. Curiously the strip started its run in 1907.

The invention of the readymade was, with Picasso finally ending the slow agony of linear perspective, the most important and revolutionary gesture since, well, the invention of perpective by Alberti, or Caravaggio's introduction of Realism in painting, or Ticiano and Velasquez showing their brushstrokes. I mean, every time is marked by some significant innovation, but not many last for a century, least of all in our alleged fast changing times. 
The paradox is as follows: Dadaism is the last of a few ruptures we now call the avant-garde, but which avant-garde creates a tradition? Isn't this an oxymoron? I think so and that's why Neo-Dadaism (Pop Art) is Postmodern. 
The Turner Prize represents, as I see it, the establishment. It's the equivalent of the French Salon when compared to the Salon des Refusés, or something... This means that some Conceptual artists are the equivalent of the Pompier artists of old. 100 years later Duchamp's great great grandsons are the new Academic artists, of course, and I don't need to read Bourdieu to know it, but I'll quote him just the same (The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, 150; translation by Susan Emanuel):
Coinciding in the case of avant-garde painters (exhibited by Sonnabend and Templon), biological age and artistic age (of which the best measure would undoubtedly be the era of the appearance of the corresponding style in the relatively autonomous history of painting) can clash in the case of academic followers in all the formerly canonic styles who are exhibited, alongside the most famous painters of the last century, in the galleries of the Right Bank (often situated in the vicinity of luxury stores) such as Drouant and Durand-Ruel, the 'impressionist dealer'. Fossils of another age, these painters who do in the present what was done by the avan-garde of the past (just like forgers, but on their own account) make an art that is not, if one may say so, of their age.
Yup, but let us go now to the "opprobrium" part:

Saying that all Conceptual Art is like that would be to grossly misjudge it. That's the mistake many people do when talking about comics: the couple of comics that I read are crap, ergo all comics are crap.
Let me start with two names: Bruce Nauman and Sophie Calle.
Also, since Paul Cézanne's diatribe against literature in painting (he, or Joachim Gaschet fot him, called "literature" to anything that was vaguely narrative or expressionistic) that painters not trying to just explore their means of, dare I say it?, their means of ahem... expression were banned from the avant-garde. It was precisely in the midst of the Conceptual Art movement that Narrative Art was born with Christian Boltansky, Jochen Gerz, Jean Le Gac. All these are hardly PPP Marcos. On the contrary, they're great artists and some have even done great comics mixing photos and text, not text and drawings, but comics in my expanded field nonetheless...

Bruce Nauman, Carousel (Stainless steel version), 1988. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Daniel Clowes

Daniel Clowes by Rutu Modan, Seth and Anders Nielsen

Daniel Clowes was profiled at the California Sunday Magazine.

I especially liked the ending:
Back when the artist attended Pratt, comics fans were geeks and losers, guys who lived in their moms’ basements and, once a year, trekked out to conventions. “Now people think of graphic novels as the vital art form I thought it was when I first started out,” Clowes says. It’s a good thing, mostly, but also a little bittersweet. With audiences flocking to superhero and sci-fi-themed movies in droves, comic geekdom has been co-opted by the masses. What was once a badge of nerdish honor is the new normal. All of us are comic geeks now — which means, in a way, that none of us are. 
Robert Ito
That's the tragedy of comics and that's the tragedy of comics criticism. Just when the art form was accepted by the mainstream culture, said acceptance means nothing. As for criticism, is there a need to even mention its corpse?

Thursday, February 4, 2016


My Rajasthani Kaavad shrine.

A couple of weeks ago I received by mail the most peculiar comic of my comics collection: a Rajasthani Kaavad (see above).

Comics writer Vidyun Sabhaney talks about the Kaavad and two other visual narrative traditions of India below.

Friday, January 22, 2016


I continue to get rumors coming from the fantasyland that is the comics milieu saying that I'm too dogmatic. So, let me leave you with this tweet for the day: dogmatic is someone who doesn't agree with us.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

This Art Form Deserves To Die - Coda

Carlos Alberto Santos, Mundo de Aventuras (first series) # 1128: "Drama em Orchre [sic] Flat," May 6, 1971 (the issue reprints "Marshall of Ochre Flat," [London] Evening News, December 19, 1968 - April 18, 1969).

Nikai Andrews asked me: "How did you come across Matt Marriott anyway?"

Here's my answer:

A lot of the Matt Marriott story arcs were published in Portugal in a mag titled Mundo de Aventuras [a world of adventures]. The production values were as poor as poor can get: with pulp paper, layouts completely changed, drawings chopped up or expanded by some hack, ugly mech types, balloons all over the art, etc... Since I think that the series improved dramatically during the 1970s and production values in Mundo e Aventuras improved a lot, I was old enough to be impressed by such 1970s tales as "Mary A Pregadora" ("Gospel Mary") or "Uma Nota de Dez Dólares" ("A Ten Dollar Bill").

As you can see below the production values of the ADCCC (All Devon Comics Collectors Club) aren't stellar exactly (I would say that they are uneven, being the example at hand one of the worst).  

James Edgar (w), Tony Weare (a), Daily Strips # 144 published by the ADCCC (this issue reprints "Zincville Colorado," [London] Evening News, June 22, 1970 - October 10, 1970).

Even so, look at the strips above as a page in Mundo de Aventuras below. I don't even know where to start; I'll just say that the whole shebang is there and I don't need to repeat it.   

James Edgar (w) [translator ?], Tony Weare (a) [with some hack], Mundo de Aventuras (first   series) # 1201: "A História de Vinc Bill," [sic] September 28, 1972. 

Those who read The Crib regularly know that I don't have a lot of respect for comics publishers and comics editors (small wonder, with examples like these), but it goes without saying that there are some exceptions like the great Héctor Germán Oesterheld (let's not forget that he was also a publisher; that's, of course, the only explanation to the question: how is it even possible that such stories were published back in the 1950s?). Chris Oliveros is another one, and let's not forget those guys at L'Association and Sins Entido and Frémok and Christian Humbert-Droz and Gary Groth and Kim Thompson (I miss you Kim!) and... and... I would not put those responsible for the second series of Mundo de Aventuras in the same league (far from it), but the fact is that they were responsible, during the 1970s, for three Matt Marriott comic books that respected the original material denying Mundo de Aventuras' terrible past (see below). 

Tony Weare, Mundo de Aventuras (second series) # 23: "Uma Nota de Dez Dólares," March 7, 1974 (the issue reprints "A Ten Dollar Bill," [London] Evening News, May 9, 1972 - September 7, 1972). There's a Portuguese fanzine (or prozine) reprinting all the Matt Marriott strory arcs, but about that, the less said, the better.

When I was in my teens I loved Matt Marriott (strangely enough I loved Tony Weare's style - I also loved the work of Eric Parker, by the way), but I couldn't realize what to me today seems painfully obvious: as good as Eric Parker's drawings are Buck Jones isn't Matt Marriott. It's the difference between a childish, manichean, racist, comic book and an adult, complex comic strip. It's as simple as that.

Friday, January 15, 2016

This Art Form Deserves To Die

Advertising in the Previews Catalog for volume 27 (!) of the Modesty Blaise comic strip reprint collection by Titan Books, September 2015.

Imagine that all the world's museums (The National Gallery in London included) despised the work of Francisco de Goya or William Turner being full of mediocre crap instead. Imagine that publishers shunned the work of Marcel Proust or Virginia Woolf (that's... ahem... not that difficult to imagine because it's happening already). Imagine that the work of Ingmar Bergman or David Lean was completely ignored (again, that's... etc... etc...). You get my point. 

Impossible? That's exactly what happens in comics.

Apart from the amateur publications of the ADCCC (All Devon Comics Collector's Club) no one else but Titan Books is reprinting British newspaper comic strips. And what does Titan publish, I hear you asking? Great newspaper comics series like Carol Day or Matt Marriott? Not at all! What Titan Books is publishing is crap like the one that you can see above.

Maybe they thought something like: "OK, enough mediocre pap! Let's do things right and publish all the seventy Matt Marriott story arcs." Unfortunately, no, they added crap to their already existing pile of crap as you can see below. 

As I repeatedly said on this blog: this art form deserves to die!

Advertising in the Previews Catalog for a volume reprinting four James Bond comic strip story arcs published by Titan Books, October 2015.

Friday, December 18, 2015


Murió Elsa, allá en el ya lejano 21 de junio del año que ahora termina. Recién ahora me entero, pero bueno, lo que verdaderamente importa es que me viene a la memoria la única vez que la vi. Fue en Amadora, cuando conocí a sus nietos Martín y Fernando y, momento inolvidable, me presentaron a Elsa. Lo que en la ocasión le dije, lo que pude decirle por entre la emoción en un balbuceo fue "es un honor". Y sí que lo fue, y sí que lo es, uno de los más grandes de mi vida.