G A N Z E E R . T O D A Y

work

Off to Oslo in a couple days which leaves me with the impossible task of attempting to ink 7 pages of comix in less than 48 hours. Get the entire batch of 14 pages scanned and ready for [digital] lettering on my flight (and maybe a little in my eventual hotel room) so I can send this project out and be done with it before prepping my keynote presentation, which luckily isn't until day 4 of the conference (June 30).

I've been riding the 1000mph wave for a good few months now and it looks like it is bound to continue for the remainder of the summer. It'd be nice to sit under a tree and watch the birds sometime.

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I recently learned that Alaa Abd El Fattah is really into comix. Not only that but he seems to have impeccable taste in the medium. One of his all-time favorite series is 90's era THE SANDMAN for example.

He is now on day 83 of hunger strike. The internet tells me that the human body can survive without food for up to two months. This puts Alaa's health well beyond the critical zone.

Here's a recent BBC article on Alaa's situation, and here's one from The Intercept. And here's a link to his book containing much of his insightful and incredibly clairvoyant writing from prison.

He is of dual Egyptian/British citizenship and has been denied access to a consular visit.

Those interested in helping and believe they live in a democratic society can contact their representatives. Alternatively (or simultaneously) you can raise hell on social media using the hashtag #SaveAlaa

I hope he doesn't mind my less than accurate depiction of him in this shortish piece of comix I've been working on, but more importantly: I hope he gets to see it at all.

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Start at 8:00am, end by 9:00pm. The time in between is spent drawing pages and little else more because my lost pages have been retrieved and I am now playing catch up. And although each day ends with a couple of pages penciled in, I find myself retiring to bed feeling frustrated because I know I still have quite a few pages ahead of me and still the entire lot to ink, and I'm so terribly behind schedule.

This is for a 14-page comix-essay thing (an essay told in comix format), which I'm now wishing I would've condensed into fewer pages, because working on it means time away from THE SOLAR GRID which I am also terribly behind on.

When you're behind, you find yourself working round the clock and never being satisfied with your output because no matter what you produce, you will still be behind schedule. It's an awful anxiety-ridden situation to be in and the only remedy in my mind is to develop better assessment abilities of how much time making something will require, in addition to accounting for potential mishaps/illnesses/special-circumstances that could delay production, and design your deadlines as such. Yet, I still plan everything according to best case scenarios which is wrong.

Also, one must account for doing other things. Ideally, you shouldn't have to spend your entire day at the drawing table (or writing table/computer desk/etc.). You want your day to be a good mix of work/exercise/reading/cooking/socializing, so best plan your deadlines with the idea of having only a handful of work-hours per day and definitely take weekends off. Be very vigilant about that.

Wife and kid in Mexico City for the summer. She made plans with the idea that I might be able to work remotely, which generally speaking is true (after all, this comix essay doesn't require me to be in Houston), but I do need my setup to be able to do what I do. Things like: drafting table, scanner, and all my tools and paperboards. But my plan is to catch up with them next month in time for my son's birthday. In the meantime, I have this comix essay to finish before Oslo which I still have to prepare a presentation for.

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AND FINISHED! Almost.

Notice how it is blank next to where it says “C (digital)”. That is the cover for the digital edition, which I approach differently to print editions for good reason.

Where I added “BM” slots at the very bottom? That's “Backmatter” which I realized I hadn't made much space for on my chart. I have it indicated as 3 pages there, but they actually ran to 9! All finished though. So yeah, this chapter runs quite long. I don't imagine the next three will need to run as long. 🤞

Saw Gaiman speak last night, part of a book tour apparently. Not sure I know of any other author who can fill a sizable auditorium with a paying audience for what is ostensibly a book promotion event. To Gaiman's credit though, he didn't read exclusively from his book, but read other stuff as well; a couple never published poems. He also includes little anecdotes and life stories between each reading. The entire event was 2 hours, Gaiman standing, never sitting, and never even moving around the stage. To be stationary for two solid hours, and do nothing but talk at a dimly lit crowd of some, I dunno, 2500 people and manage to be captivating, insightful, charming, and also damn funny the entire time is an immensely admirable feat. Again, I can't think of a single other author capable of pulling it off.

He even read a Batman poem.

A Batman poem.

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First day of one full week of solo parenting has commenced and I am already dead. And it just so happens to coincide with the week I'm determined to wrap up this chapter of TSG because it really has been an awful lot of time, hasn't it?

His mother though—gods bless her—did book a sitter for 2 days out of the week, and organized daycare transport for 3, so at least that's some of the load taken care of.🤞

Currently reading: BLOOD, SWEAT, & CHROME: THE WILD AND TRUE STORY OF MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, and the title does not lie. If half of what is recounted in this book is true, then the making of this film is truly mad and most certainly unlike that of any other film in history. The book reads fast and drops glorious little nuggets throughout along with much inspiration. And I'm willing to bet that the 384 pages dedicated to chronicling the movie's wild journey barely scratches the surface. I was only 50 pages in when I realized I had to go ahead and order THE ART OF MAD MAX: FURY ROAD immediately, which I'm actually surprised took me this long to get around to.

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This may just be the most agonizing part of graphic-noveling, when you're so close yet still so far. When you have an allotment of pages that are: penciled, inked, and lettered, ostensibly completely finished pages, exceeeeeept not quite. For this particular chapter I'm working on, the pages require a final sweep of touchups, halftones in some cases, and colors in others (sometimes a single tone of color, or two tones, or “full-color”, which in my case I have limited to 4 tones). The fact that each set of pages requires a different process to be brought to the finish line, means the amount of time each page requires is quite different, which makes it significantly hard to accurately assess the amount of time each page needs to finally be done-done. Which is frustrating.

New computer has arrived though and I'm finding that it is already helping speed up the process.

Prison Chart system: back-slashes for pencils, forward-slashes for inks, strike-through for letters, and then finally a blackout for pages that are done-done (like I said, some require various degrees of color and some don't).

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I am a poet.

Cranky this morning. Little sleep and little accomplished to show for it. Ordered new computer in futile attempt to save me from this machine's taunting ways. Doesn't arrive till next week and will have to put off a few tasks till then.

Never a good idea to spring straight from bed to work. Will now attempt to gave day its proper start: shower, shave, breakfast, coffee, proper clothes (underwear and t-shirt at the moment), and then back to dialoguing this thing.

Poetry, sheer poetry.

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Pages scanned in and now is time for the digital component of producing my comix otherwise known as troubleshooting.

Seriously, machines hate me and never work exactly like they're supposed to at least not 100% of the time and particularly at those times when I need them to work most. Now is no exception.

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Inks on current chapter finally complete, but it is not yet time to celebrate as there is still scanning, lettering, the addition of tones, and even color on a number of pages ahead of me. Battling cold for a couple days now with the aid of ramen, Irish coffee, and phenylephrine.

Youtube's algorithms decided to stream the Depp/Heard trial for my background listening, which has provided for some rather unexpected entertainment. The way each party attempts to portray themself as a saintly angel with the other being the monster is of course expected, but quite fascinating when the cross exams come into play and reveal otherwise. The entire fiasco is spawning a bajillion other biased “opinion clips” siding with one or the other, but watching the trial in its entirety rather than just the “highlights” reveals that both are quite terrible but Depp in particular is clearly very ill and quite possibly borderline psychotic. Genuinely flabbergasted by the strategy employed by him and his lawyers thus far, because all I'm seeing is a man digging deeper into what will inevitably become his own grave.

Attempting to get any work done today proving to be futile. Will instead read and think and laze around and swallow more meds in hopes of complete rejuvenation come tomorrow.

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Good gods, I've waited the better part of 7 years to draw this godforsaken panel. Would have loved to get to it while Steve was still among us. Though I'm not too sure how he would've felt about it. But I do hope he's cool with it now, wherever he is.

This, from Joe Biel's MAKE A ZINE, is new to me:

“Simultaneously in New York City, in a parallel world to the Beats, sci-fi fans, and West Coast hippie comix artists, was a teenager named John Holmstrom. Homstrom was a student at the School of Visual Arts who approached the dean and demanded a cartooning program. After his demand was met and world-famous cartoonists Harvey Kurtzman and Will Eisner were hired, Holmstrom dropped out and began working for Kurtzman and Eisner. Next Holmstrom did what any respectable twenty-something would”. He was, for the record, twenty-one. “In 1975 he created a national zine about the infant music movement that he and his friends were involved with.”

That zine was called PUNK, and as such christened the name that would be associated with the genre of music birthed out of that burgeoning scene.

“The inaugural issue featured an impulsive cover feature about The Ramones and a hilarious interview with Lou Reed.”

This connection between Punk and Comix—or Cartooning if you will—is new to me. In fact the connection is double pronged; Not only would the Kurtzman/Eisner-trained Holmstrom define the genre through his zine, but also through his later record-sleeve art for albums by The Ramones.

The connection is even stronger still, given that comicbooks themselves were birthed out of zine culture. After all, prior to the creation of Superman, Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel produced two zines: TIME TRAVELER and SCIENCE FICTION. Superman himself was conceived as a science fiction strip, but after failing to get any interest from the newspaper syndicates (considered the “proper” gatekeepers of the medium at the time), their only viable option was to put the work out in what was thought to be the “less-sophisticated” comic-book form, published through a company that had only been around for a mere four years* with the bulk of its output penned by the guy who founded it, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson who also wrote for the pulps (many of which shared their DNA with zine culture, especially compared to the more “professionally”-produced “slicks”).

Fast forward a few decades after Superman's National Periodical Publications becomes the biggest producer and distributor of comic-books across North America, three guys get together (Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko) and begin to put out one comic-book anthology after the next (the ideas of which all stem from science fiction) with far more personality and eccentricity than the cookie-cutter corporate stuff produced across the street and in so doing kick off “the Marvel Age of Comics”. What they created may not have been zines per se, but the approach to making the stuff had way more in common with zines than with the decision-by-committee method dominating comicbook corporations today, or heck National/DC at the time. Three dudes making shit up and interacting with their growing readers in the back pages? Sounds like a zine to me, with the single most significant difference being that they had the backing of a single financier who made his coin in the pulps.

A few years later, the underground comix movement would be kickstarted by Robert Crumb's legendary ZAP COMIX, sold on Haight/Ashbury out of a baby stroller. Most definitely a zine.

This inspires a 24-year old “hippie” in Milwaukee to start Kitchen Sink Press and publish other underground cartoonists before reviving Will Eisner's creator-owned THE SPIRIT and reintroducing it and its creator's pioneering genius to a whole new generation. (Eventually, the medium's most coveted award would be named after him.)

Five years later across the Atlantic, a music rag in London called SOUNDS (largely known for covering the rising punk scene) begins running a comicstrip by two art students: Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy. One of them would go on to leave his mark on America's two top comicbook corporations and the other would eventually end up co-creating MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. One year after Milligan and McCarthy's stint at SOUNDS, the magazine runs a strip by another young cartoonist by the name of Alan Moore.

One year later back in America, Francoise Mouly and Art Siegelman publish a comix anthology zine using a printing press set up in their residential loft. The hands-on approach to production allows them to experiment with binding, include stickers, and intentionally torn pages. They call it RAW and in its pages Spiegelman runs an odd-looking comix series about the holocaust that involves anthropomorphic animals. It is titled MAUS, and within 12 years becomes the first and only “graphic-novel” to win America's prestigious Pulitzer prize.

A couple years after RAW hits the scene, two Latino punks(!) out of southern California send their self-published zine to a comics journalism magazine (the majority of its content at the time written by the publisher himself) that literally started as an adzine. Hoping to get reviewed, they are instead offered a publishing deal, and LOVE & ROCKETS #1 is published and thus the mighty Fantagraphics is born (also, note the nod to sci-fi in “Love & Rockets”).

Two years later, a couple guys in New Hampshire get together and put out a very amateurish-looking black and white comicbook (practically a zine) filled with unhinged eccentric energy, evident even in the title: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES.

Two years after that a comicshop owner in Oregon starts a black and white comics anthology called DARK HORSE PRESENTS. Many years later, it's where Mike Mignola's HELLBOY and Frank Miller's SIN CITY make their first appearance.

Looking at the comix landscape today, it would seem that comicbooks are for the most part a corporate affair, the drive of which is purely capitalist with little to no substance. Examine history carefully though and it becomes evident that the DIY outsider energy we typically associate with zines and punk, combined with the visionary imagination we ascribe to science fiction, is what creates the special sauce that is the lifeblood of the comix medium.


(*) I lie a little, the history is somewhat more complex than that. Siegel and Shuster did indeed create strips for the Major's publications (Henri Duval, Doctor Occult, and Slam Bradley to name a few) but noticing Wheeler-Nicholson's shoestring operation and inability to make prompt payments, they decided to sit on Superman for a better opportunity, which came in an offer from M.C. Gaines and his plans to produce a weekly comics tabloid thing (so, closer in format to Sunday strips seen in the newspapers, considered the far more legitimate approach to engaging with the medium). Gaines' publication however never materialized, and he was approached by Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz who had bought Major Malcolm's operation and sought to utilize it with their hold on magazine distribution which they attained through mob and gang connections. They were planning to produce a new regular comic book and asked Gaines if he had any material for it. It was called ACTION COMICS, and the strip Gaines gave them was the first official installment of Superman (I say official because Siegel and Shuster had toyed with proto-Superman ideas well since high school, the first of which might have been the illustrated short story THE REIGN OF THE SUPERMAN published in issue #3 of their SCIENCE FICTION zine, circa January 1933).

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