I’m about to hop in a car with Zak Sally and drive to Toronto for TCAF. Please come to check out some new mini-comics from me, Gabrielle Bell, Jon Lewis and Dan Wieken (Me & Zak will be camped out at table 116).
On Sunday I’m also going to be participating in a panel on Print Culture (1:15 – 2:00). The panel will be moderated by Zak and will also include John Porcellino and Dylan Williams! See you in Toronto!
A few days ago I talked on the phone with Rina Ayuyang and Thien Pham. We talked about my new comic Trans-Utopia, Uncivilized Books, and many other comics related topics. It was pretty fun. The conversation was recorded. It’s now available here.
I meant to post this sooner but various things conspired to prevent it. This is just a brief note that new comics are now available on the Uncivilized Books site. All of these debuted at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival and are now available for purchase via the magic of the interwebs:
Diary is the follow up to Gabrielle Bell’s acclaimed L.A. Diary. This pamphlet continues Gabrielle’s autobiographical project with stories set in Minneapolis, New York and California. The star of the book is ‘Manifestation’, Gabrielle’s ‘adaptation’ of the notorious Scum Manifesto. Tom Kaczynski contributes a one-page introductory comic.
KLAGEN: A HORROR briefly considers the movements and practices of the death cult which has silently infiltrated every level of society throughout our world. Drawn in dirty gray and black, it sheds no more light than is prudent and gives no false hope. One closes this small book feeling that although we live in God’s house, God has not been home for a long, long time.
The long awaited fourth part of the well received Trans series of books (which includes Trans-Alaska, Trans-Siberia and Trans-Atlantis). The cartoon journey through philosophy, pop-culture, politics and the occult arrives at its destination: Utopia…
I’ll have a longer post on Trans-Utopia and utopias in general soon.
Lightning Bolt played at the Triple Rock. Seawhores opened. Apparently, Knife World was supposed to be there too, but I missed them. Knife World was also there and they were actually the band (see comment below) I drew along with Lightning Bolt. It was confusing… but, it was good. All the mayhem and chaos I expected materialized. Here are some drawings from the show:
The distance between the present and utopia is measured in centuries. We locate utopian societies in the future, and prefigure them with premonitions of apocalypse; the dysfunctional order of the present must be swept aside by some vaguely grasped apocalyptic event to allow a new and better world to emerge. Every generation faces their own unique brand of the end of the world: religious rapture, nuclear annihilation, natural disasters, clash of civilizations, Malthusian overpopulation, and so on. Ecological collapse caused by industrial pollution fuels the horror in Kazuo Umezu’s inventive, eleven-volume manga horror epic, The Drifting Classroom.
The titular classroom is actually Yamato Elementary School, which due to unknown circumstances finds itself ripped out of time and flung into a devastated future. The school, housing 863 students and teachers, becomes an ark adrift on the sea of toxic sand that covers the remains of Tokyo and the rest of the world. The school’s temporal realignment brings the kids and adults face to face with the deadly consequences of Japan’s famed ‚ “economic miracle.” They become the last remnants of civilization and, at the same time, the last hope for humanity’s survival. It’s clear that Umezu perceives adults as part of the problem, for he dispenses with the teachers early on. One by one the grown-ups succumb to madness and die off quickly. They can’t process what is happening to them‚ “the idea that the school might be in the future is utterly impossible,” and unable to imagine the impossible they have to die off, like dinosaurs. The children, not yet saddled with dogmas of adulthood, are able to imagine the possibility of time travel and thus grasp the reality of their predicament. Their capacity to imagine the impossible becomes their salvation, but also the source of the horrors to come.
A few weeks ago Throbbing Gristle played the US for the first time since 1981. I went to two shows: April 16th at Brooklyn Masonic Temple and April 25th at Logan Square Auditorium in Chicago. They didn’t disappoint. I liked the Brooklyn show a lot, despite the marginal sound of the Masonic Temple auditorium and the somewhat unrehearsed nature of the performance. TG is probably one of the few bands that still can sound great under those circumstances. In fact, in many ways, that is what their sound was built on in the early days. They were self-taught artists turned musicians. The Chicago performance was MUCH better. They clearly had several performances to get used to playing together again and it really came across.
The sound of the new TG has been swallowed whole by Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson. So much so, that the new incarnation sounds a lot like late Coil (Christopherson’s band with Jhon Balance, RIP) with Genesis on vocals. I’m not sure what Chris & Cosey have been up to lately but musically it really seemed like Peter’s show (at least to my ears). That was fine by me since Coil is quite possibly my favorite group of all time. But still, I missed the raw sound from TG’s early days.
The most interesting aspect of both shows (and I suspect the others as well) was their decision to leave the house lights on. This really didn’t please a certain segment of the audience. Responses ranged from the well-meaning “I think you forgot to turn the house lights off!” to the genuinely pissed-off “turn the fucking house lights off!!!!” It’s amazing how a small thing like that can really subvert audience expectations. Though they’re much older today, TG can still challenge the audience, not by balls-out outrageous behavior but by subtle trickery. I really got a kick out of Genesis’ outfit. It was really amazing to see a whole audience rocking out to a matronly, new-age housewife… but that’s Gen for you.
I didn’t know who Emeralds were when they opened for TG in Chicago, but their performance made me a lifelong fan.
Gary Panter has been very visible lately thanks to a couple of recent awe-inspiringbooks. Gary has renaissance-man-like abilities as a painter, cartoonist, TV art director, musician, light manipulator, etc. I’m sure this list of his talents is not exhaustive. I’m not going to add much to that list… except ‘postmodern conceptualist.’
I just received the new Jimbo mini-comic from Picturebox. It’s short, but full of deadpan funny non-sequiturs and great drawing. It’s another Gary Panter quality product. It contains one image-concept that encapsulates the Panter sensibility: Jimbo, cruising around on a Segway chariot! A Segway chariot! This post-apocalyptic vehicular imagination rivals Mad Max! It slices right through the Gordian Knot of late-capitalist, apocalyptic imagination: modern/ancient, primitive/advanced, peaceful/war-like, banal/sublime, etc.
In moments like this, I’m tempted to view Gary Panter as an unsung postmodern conceptualist masquerading as a cartoonist. I mean that in the best possible way! In any case, it’s time to dig out Gary’s Jimbo, a post-apocalyptic Gesamtkunstwerk, for a closer read.
A looooong time ago I promised a series of posts about Polish comics. I never got around to starting that until now. Without further delay, here’s the first installment about Zbigniew Lengren’s, Filutek, a long-running cartoon known to practically every Polish person.
The Polish Peanuts
One of the first comics I remember looking at was Professor Filutek by Zbigniew Lengren (1919-2003). It ran weekly in the Przekrój magazine for over 50 years, a record run in Polish comics. It was ubiquitous in Poland. The closest analog in the USA in terms of name recognition was probably Peanuts, though Filutek never achieved the kind of commercialized ubiquity of Peanuts merchandising. As far as I know, there were no Filutek toys. Perhaps that was just how things worked in Communist Poland. Or maybe it’s because Filutek had a more “New Yorker” sensibility and wasn’t translatable into plastic baubles. I don’t know. There was an animated cartoon though. I’ve never seen it.
I recently stumbled on a small collection of the Professor Filutek strips on Abe Books. I was struck by a kind of gentle modernism that’s rarely seen in western cartoons. The art is minimalist, with that 1950’s clean pen line. Lengren renders the characters and objects with precision and economy. Professor Filutek is a kind of cartoon version of Monsieur Hulot. Absent-minded, generous, Filutek resembles a child-at-heart full of wonder at the everyday chaos of a rapidly changing world.
How Old is Filutek?
The introduction to the book claims that Lengren himself didn’t know the age of Professor Filutek. According to the cartoonist, the character’s beard might not be real! He implied that Filutek glued it on!
Filutek often interacts with children. He waits in line with kids to see a Tarzan movie, buys art supplies to help a boy create better graffiti on a wall, or entertains a toddler with a bicycle pump. But this isn’t a simple endorsement of childishness. In a famous strip, Professor Filutek corrects the spelling of vulgar graffiti. Write on walls if you must, but at least learn how to spell! Break rules, but do it well.
Gentle Zen Master
In some ways he reminds me of eccentric Zen Masters; older than dirt, wise, but with the impishness of a child. The strip is playfully didactic in ways similar to other cultural products of Eastern Europe of that time (for example, the Czechoslovak Krtek and Russian Cheburashka cartoons). It encourages playful co-operation, generosity, and good manners. It punishes selfishness, greed, and rudeness. The possibility of human progress and betterment is palpable in every frame.
I’m not sure if that’s true of all Filutek cartoons. The collection I have is from 1957. At that point in time, the communist project in Poland was still young. It was a few years after Stalin’s death and a only year after the death of Poland’s Stalinist Prime Minister Boleslaw Bierut. These were the early years of the cultural thaw, de-Stalinization, and Roman Polanski‘s early films. It was an optimistic time. It would be interesting to compare Lengren’s work from the 50 years of its existence. I wonder if Poland’s numerous political shifts would be detectable in the absent-minded life of Professor Filutek? The center cartoon above may be a playful reminder of the frequent power outages that plagued Poland during various periods of its Communist history. Or maybe it is just a general comment on man vs. technology?
Zbigniew Lengren’s memorial featuring Filutek’s dog Fafik, his umbrella, and hat in the Old Town in Toruń, Poland. Fafik joined the cast of characters later after the collection pictured above appeared. Photo from Wikipedia.
I meant to post this sooner but the Yokoyama essay has been quite a distraction. Anyway, since the Daily Cross Hatch has deemed me a subject worthy of an interview, I suppose I should at least link to it: here’s Part 1 and Part 2. The interview was ably conducted by the intrepid Sarah Morean. Ok, this piece of shameless self-promotion done with, the blog can return to it’s semi-regular service…