Friday

Depression

I suffer from depression. And when I saw that, I mean that I regularly suffer from agonizing physical and emotional symptoms . And I've spent the majority of February in the midst of one of the more brutal bouts of depression I've ever experienced. There were a few days where I was unable to do much of anything besides boil water, and not go back to bed, because I was so overwhelmed with feelings of worthlessness. That I was a middle aged failure who is alone and will always be alone and that there's no reason to continue living.

This reinforced itself because I don't have anyone I could turn to who would lend a hand. And thus helping my sense of worthlessness. There is something about being alone which can be difficult. And of course being alone and depressed makes it difficult to go out and meet people which just means you're alone and so that.... It's a reinforcing loop.

And so I remain alone. I don't really see that changing any time soon, to be honest. But I have managed to get out of the brutal black pit of my depression. That's not to say that I'm a happy person. Though I have smiled this week.  That's a start.

Articles Published the Week of February 15th


http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=59475

Wednesday

February: Ray Billingsley

Ray Billingsley is the man behind Curtis, the daily comic strip that launched from King Features in 1988. Before that point the School of Visual Arts graduate had worked in animation, was a freelance illustrator, and had a short-lived syndicated strip in the early eighties. While in high school he worked for Kids magazine, which back in the 1970's was overseen by Jeanette Kahn before she went on to become President of DC Comics.

Curtis is a family strip for the most part. That's certainly not the only thing that the strip is, but I think I'm on safe ground as describing that as the typical strip. The story of Curtis, who is an eleven year old growing up dealing with a younger brother, two parents, and various strict teachers, bullies, girls who don't share his crushes, and various other friends, enemies and neighbors.

The strip remains primarily about family, and that is the center of the strip. Curtis' father was for many years a smoker, which was a running gag and source of frustration and education, until he finally quit. It does offer the sidestep into the fantastic from time to time. Curtis is a daydreamer and has his superhero fantasies. Additionally Curtis' best friend Gunk is from Flyspeck Island and his stories of what life is like or when the island's native creatures come to New York are much more surreal and fantastic than the ordinary life of the strip.

Billingsley has also made a point of using the strip as an educational tool, using the space to mark Kwanzaa each year by telling a fable in the tradition of old African folktales. He's used the strip to talk about the life and work of Dr. King, taking a look at influential or forgotten African-American figures. If seeing an African-American family on the comics pages isn't unusual enough, the ways that he tries to broaden the scope of the strip is even rarer.

It's clear that Billingsley designed a strip that would allow him to use his many creative muscles. After more than a quarter century, Curtis has become an institution on the comics page, but after years of reading the strip, it's clear that Billingsley is interested in more than just continuing to maintain his real estate on the comic pages. I don't know what he'll do in the years to come, and he may not either, but I'm sure he'll find a way to push against our expectations and experiment artistically.

February: Keith Knight

Keith Knight first got attention for his weekly comic The K Chronicles. The weekly strip varied a lot. At time it was political, at times focused on funny stories about "Keef" and his circle of friends and family, "Life's little victories" which were often submitted by readers. Like a lot of people, I first discovered the comic when it was a regular feature on salon.com

One weekly strip wasn't enough, so Knight created a second, (th)ink, which is more political and designed as a one panel cartoon that manages to be sharper and smarter than most political cartoons.

Knight also contributed to Mad Magazine and has been working on a graphic novel which would detail his brief stint as a Michael Jackson impersonator. Knight launched a kickstarter to help fund the book, and has since also crafted a guide to creating and running a successful kickstarter campaign.

The Knight Life is a syndicated daily strip from United Media that Knight started in 2008 which was focused on Keef and presented as a look at his daily life, and though it was clearly over the top in the same way that Louis CK's show is not an ordinary life, between the gag strips, Knight really managed to build characters and convey a real feel for ordinary life

Knight is a great political cartoonist and one of the main reasons for this is that he is very funny and he sees the world in a way that is funny and very political. But what really makes him stand out is the way that he is able to make the political part of daily life. He looks at the world through a political lens and if one approaches the world like that, it's not possible to ignore it. Knight manages to make a family strip that has politics baked into its very DNA, and yet it never becomes a political strip and it's very rarely a lecturing series. It's simply part of the strip's worldview and the characters' worldview in a way that's not seen a great deal, and done well even less.

Articles Published the Week of February 1st

Checking in with Dean Mullaney

I'm a big fan of Dean Mullaney and his publishing efforts at the Library of American Comics, where he's been reprinting some of the greatest comics ever made. This year he's launching a new imprint at IDW, EuroComics, which will reprint a number of series from Europe. It launches with Corto Maltese by Hugo Pratt, widely considered one of the great comics series of all time. In this interview we mostly spoke about two of the big releases he's putting out this month, the first collection of Corto Maltese, and Secret Agent X-9, which collects the first few years of the comic strip which was written and co-created by Dashiell Hammett and drawn and co-created by Alex Raymond. There's also talk of George Evans, Spider-Man, the second EuroComics series, and more.

http://www.tcj.com/checking-in-with-dean-mullaney/

February: Afua Richardson

Afua Richardson has drawn very few comics, which makes it all the more impressive that the ones she has drawn have been so good. It's not just a question of the fact that she seems to have emerged with a unique style of her own fully formed, but that she has a sense of storytelling, an understanding of how to tell a story in comics, which is of course a very different things form simply drawing well.

Wen Genius, which was first published by Top Cow Comics as part of their "First Look" the single issue made an impression. Written by Marc Bernadin and Adam Freeman, the book tells the story of the world's greatest military tactician, who is a teenage girl from a run down neighborhood in Los Angeles. She's not going to join the army, she's going to declare war on the United States.

It is not your typical comicbook, and so it seems appropriate that the artist of the book shouldn't easily fit into any box. There's a definite influence of anime and manga, but she has her own approach in a way that's really interesting.

Of course she's busy doing a lot of other things including making music, but hopefully comics will remain a major concern because while she's been putting out covers or some short work, it would be great to see so more longer work from her, where she really gets the chance to visually shape the world. Genius was very much set in the contemporary world, though she was able to still bring her own definite angle to the story. I'd be interested to see what she could do when given the opportunity to craft a world from the ground up. Hopefully we'll find out soon.

February: Jamal Igle

Jamal Igle's work is hard to sum up in a few sentences. A lot of that is intentional. He's spent much of his career over more than two decades trying to be indispensable, moving from one project to another, a lot of short runs and fill-ins for various companies. That didn't necessarily help him develop a style or a following among fans, but it did help him hone his skill and it made him a valuable artist to editors.

Igle's work has been defined by only a handful of long runs on books. With Firestorm and Supergirl, he was able to carve out a run on books where he was able to define the characters and the visual world. It was his run on Supergirl that really helped to establish him as a masterful artist. While his earlier work may not have had a particular "Igle style," the truth is that when given the room, Igle was able to demonstrate his skill and his style with ease.

Igle moved on to draw The Ray, a four issue miniseries from DC Comics written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, relaunching the Golden Age hero. The book was incredibly fun and the three managed to craft an incredible book, which unfortunately, has yet to be collected.

Since then Igle has been branching out. His book Molly Danger is  a passion project that he wrote and illustrated, was kickstarted by Igle and eventually published by Action Labs. Meanwhile Igle has also been working on various other work for hire projects including KISS and Terminator: Enemy of my Enemy. He's been talking about the next Molly Danger book as well as other creator owned projects he wants to work on in the next few years.

One of his goals with Molly Danger was to make a book that he could share with his young daughter. It's an interesting concept, though the first book only hints at what seems possible with this character and this world. The sense of fun and playfulness that Igle brinsg to his creations, and yet the seriousness with which he treats the characters' feelings and concerns, are very powerful, and something that we could use more of in comics.

Thursday

February: Shawn Martinbrough

Shawn Martinbrough was inking comics for many years on comics including "Static," "Shadow Cabinet," and others. As a penciler he first made a mark when he and writer Greg Rucka took over "Detective Comics" in 2000.

He drew the Gary Phillips-written miniseries "Angeltown," "Punisher: Hot Rods of Death," "Luke Cage Noir," "Bullseye: The Perfect Game," "Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive" and a number of other miniseries or short projects.

Along the way he also wrote the textbook, How To Draw Noir Comics: The Art and Technique of Visual Storytelling." As the subtitle suggests the book isn't about a style of drawing so much as it explores the thinking and approach behind the style to reveal more about possibilities and approaches to storytelling in a way that a lot of storytelling could benefit from even if noir isn't a style they utilize or even like.

When Robert Kirkman launched the series "Thief of Thieves" a lot of talk was about how a rotating series of writers would be working on the book, but Martinbrough has been on the series from the beginning. His masterful noir drawing style makes him a natural choice, but after twenty-something issues, it's clear that he's really defined the series in a way that I would argue no one else in the creative team has. Not that there any shortcomings on the team, but Martinbrough's style has really shaped the series as much as anything and the consistent style - and Martinbrough's skill at drawing the action scenes, the quiet interpersonal scenes, and everything in between, has made

I would really love to read a Martinbrough drawn comic that's printed in black and white. I think on "Thief of Thieves" the coloring is good, but I love his inked pages and while I certainly understand why the publisher would wnat a full color style, one of these years I would love to see how Martinbrough could utilize a black and white book. Ideally in an oversize format to show off his eye for detail a little more.

Martinbrough's other current project is "The Ren." A graphic novel coming out form First Second Books, Martinbrough is co-writing with Joseph Illidge and drawn by Grey Williamson.The book i set during the Harlem Renaissance and is about love and art and violence and young artists and it's a book I'm really looking forward to. Hopefully the first of many more books with a new take, a slightly different direction that we'll see from Martinbrough in the coming years.

Wednesday

February: Brian Stelfreeze

Brian Stelfreeze is one of those artists who's best known for his covers and design work more than his interior comics art. His covers to "Shadow of the Bat" were iconic and his fifty issue run covering the book certainly stands out both for that time period and since. The fact that there hasn't been a book which would collect the covers and various sketches, process drawings, and other "Batman" work that Stelfreeze has drawn seems idiotic.

Stelfreeze was a founding member of Gaijin Studio, which was home to a great lineup of artists including Cully Hamner, Tony Harris, Adam Hughes, Dave Johnson and Jason Pearson, among others.

For the most part, the projects that Stelfreeze has worked on are ones that he co-wrote or was deeply involved with the story process, which is not typical. He collaborated with Doug Wagner a number of times, writers like Joe Pruett and Devin Grayson, and more than just playing a role in the writing the projects he was often pencilling, inking and even coloring the stories.

In these projects he would alter his style to suit each project. He wasn't taking this heavy-handed approach to his career, but he was taking an interest in the work and being very proactive as a collaborator and storyteller. Some stories were more cartoony, some more realistic, some darker, some lighter. And at the same time, each story very much shows hallmarks of the writer's work. Matador feels like a Devin Grayson comic. "Gun Candy" feels like a Doug Wagner comic. The story in "Wednesday Comics" feels like something that Walt Simonson would write.

I've never met Stelfreeze, I don't know what it's like working with him, but as a reader, that is the definition of a good collaboration and a good collaborator.

Boom! made a splash when Stelfreeze signed onto draw the series "Day Men" for the publisher. Written by Michael Alan Nelson and Matt Gagnon, the book very much plays into Stelfreeze's strengths as an artist, and at a time when vampires have become almost ordinary, the book stands out with a very different take on the mythos, both in terms of the actual content of the series but also the ways that the series approaches it.

Boom launched a new occasional project, "Pen & Ink" last year where they print the inked pages of artists in an oversize format. It's not for everyone, but seeing two issues reproduced like this is an incredible thing for fans of artists and process junkies (and people who love looking at original art but can't afford them). Stelfreeze's first two issues of "Day Men" made up the first "Pen & Ink" and there will be a publication of the third and fourth issues coming up this year.

Stelfreeze is also a noted designer who is perhaps best known for his redesign of Nightwing many years ago, but he has posted online some sketches and redesigns over the years. His redesign of DC's Crime Syndicate was an elegant and interesting take on the characters which was done in a way that was really striking. Stelfreeze captured the essence of the characters while completing redesigning them from scratch and using a style that owed much more to people like Alex Toth than many of the overly busy designs that are so commonplace and popular nowadays.

"Day Men" has had some trouble keeping to a monthly schedule, but when I spoke with Stelfreeze last year he spoke about the lengthy back and forth that he and the writers engage in with every issue, making the book far more collaborative than most ongoing comic series, and it isn't shocking that the book doesn't come out monthly. This criticism is unfortunate because it is a beautiful book with a very unique take on the genre. It also spotlights just what Stelfreeze is able to do. Like a lot of artists, it's easy to forget about people and how good they are, when they haven't been producing a lot of work regularly. I get the sense that Stelfreeze understands this and that it was one of the reasons that he wanted to draw an ongoing series

I'm perfectly happy with the pace of "Day Men," though I'll be honest that I'm one who tends to read the collections of comics. In a more ideal world, I'd like many more issues of "Day Men" each year with a new "Pen & Ink" every year showcasing more of Stelfreeze's work. I'd also love to see him do more cover artwork and experiment with more styles and approaches. More than anything else, though, I want to see more Stelfreeze artwork. However it ends up looking.

February: Denys Cowan

Denys Cowan is a bit young to be a comic book legend, but for a lot of readers, it's hard to find another way to describe the man. He started working in comics as a teenager, working under Rick Buckler and Neal Adams. His first great comics work was "The Question." Written by Denny O'Neill, the series had a very different perspective on crime, corruption and city life than most comics. It was a much more nuanced and complicated notion of how cities function and what one man could do when confromnted with these concerns, particularly one who was enmeshed in the city. In that sense it was very much an assault on how comics have typically portrayed these issues and how to solve them.

Cowan went onto draw the "Blind Justice" story arc of Batman written by Sam Hamm (who scripted the 1989 Batman movie) and draw "Deathlok" at Marvel, which is how he met Dwayne McDuffie. Cowan was one of the founders of Milestone Media. While there he designed a number of characters, drew the zero issue of "Xombi" and is best known for the long run of "Hardware" that he drew. He went worked in animation for many years, producing shows like "Static Shock" and "Boondocks," working as an executive at BET where he oversaw the "Black Panther" and a series of animated shorts including the acclaimed and controversial "Read a Book" PSA.

In recent years he's drawn a lot more comics like the miniseries "Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of our Fathers," "Fight for Tomorrow," "Batman Confidential," various short comics, and the short-lived series "Dominique Leveau: Voodoo Child," which had a few problems but was a fascinating series with a lot of great texture and didn't feel like any other comic out there.

It was announced last month that Cowan and fellow Milestone co-founder Derek Dingle would be teaming up with Reginald Hudlin to form Milestone Media, or Milestone 2.0 as they've referred to it in various interviews. The two have spoken about a live action Static Shock project that's in development.

Another thing that I hope they look into and focus on is reprinting and making available the original Milestone books. Quality reprints of "Static Shock" and "Hardware," especially, would be much appreciated. There's a number of other quality books and story lines that I would love to see available both in digital forms and in quality trade paperback collections.

But as much as people want to see more stories of "Static" and many other characters, as much as they'll reinvent some of the old comics they did, which I think offer a lot of material, and have a lot of relevance to today, I do hope that they'll also make as much a push on new projects and new ideas. After all this was very much a company that came about because of how the creators were treated within the comics industry.

It doesn't take much imagination of insider knowledge to read "Hardware," which was written by McDuffie and drawn by Cowan, as an attack on how Marvel treated them. Image Comics may have talked about how they were treated horribly by Marvel and struck out on their own, but the creators at Milestone took what happened and turned it into art. McDuffie and Cowan and others tackled contemporary events and issues and made drama out of them. I hope that Milestone 2.0 will not shy away from this legacy at all. While other companies have run away from such things, I hope that they embrace it.

Denys Cowan has been a masterful artist and designer and storyteller for decades. How many pages of comics he's drawn has changed from year to year depending on what he's working on, but he's always been one of the great storytellers of his generation and I think that sense of storytelling, even more than his art (which I LOVE) is what has drawn so many people to his work and what has made so many writers excited about collaborating with him.

I'm excited about a live action "Static Shock," I want a beautiful series of books collecting the McDuffie-Cowan run of "Hardware," I want a masterful art book showcasing the work of Cowan in various fields. But what I want more than anything, is another new comic drawn by Denys Cowan. That has ALWAYS been worth the wait. And I have no doubt that it will continue to be so for years to come - and for a whole new generation of readers.

Tuesday

Articles Published the Week of January 25th

Two older articles were published online this week. I conducted both interviews way back in 2014 (which feels like it happened a very long time ago). They were with two men who are immensely talented.


Dylan Horrocks deconstructs the fantasy behind "Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen"

Horrocks' book isn't just one of the best graphic novels of the year (it is and I have yet to meet anyone who's read it who disagrees) but it's also a thoughtful and powerful look at story, fantasy and how they play out in our lives, both for good and ill.

http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=58848


Mark Evanier talks Groo, Garfield, and "The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio"

Mark Evanier doesn't need me to introduce him. He's a great writer, talented editor and as anyone who reads his blog knows, a man of impeccable taste. I spoke with him back in the fall about a number of different projects. One of the biggest was "The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio" from Abrams, which anyone who's seen the book knows is one of the most beautiful books to be published in 2014. Another is "Hollywood Superstars," a short-lived comic that was originally edited by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Dan Spiegle. The collection was published by About Comics last year. We also talked about Groo (which is back this year), Garfield, Stan Freberg and more.

http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=58876

Wednesday

Musing about Robin Williams, depression and suicide

In the course of cleaning through things, digitally and otherwise, I've been sorting through papers and came across this piece I wrote months ago shortly after Robin Williams committed suicide. I was a big fan of Williams. His comedy was great. His movies were admittedly uneven (like anyone who makes movies) and his most recent TV show, The Crazy Ones, wasn't a great show, but I watched it and I think it could have been better. Sadly it never got the chance.

It's not an optimistic essay. Sorry about that.



So Robin Williams killed himself.

When depressed people commit suicide, it tends to to have an impact. For those of us who deal with depression, we know a little of what he was going through. Often we've had those thoughts. Some people have even attempted suicide. But it hits close to the bone.

There are a few problems with how people have talked about his death. One is that people should get help. Well, Williams was getting help. He had gotten help. He had fought with this for decades, for his entire life, and he still couldn't get through it. He was 63 years old and he had been self-medicating and he went to rehab and he had family and friends and he was getting help. This idea that he was selfish and if only he could have gotten help, he would be alive, but that's just not true sadly.

Two is this idea that he's free. There's the obnoxious image on social media of the Genie and Aladdin from the animated movie where Aladdin tells the genie he's free now. The idea presumably being that now Williams is free from the pain and torment he went through in life. I fucking hate that sentiment.

Of course I find some people who talk about suicide to be agonizingly self-aggrandizing and obnoxious and painful to listen to. Not the medical professionals who do deal with patients, who see these symptoms, treat individuals and live with their illness. I think we don't appreciate that. How for many of the doctors who treat such conditions, they choose to live with this in a way that we don't - in a way that very people would. I'm talking about people who don't have medical training, who often don't have experience with depression and pain, but who feel the need to hector and lecture about how suicide is always wrong and I suppose it's no coincidence that many of these people are so narcissistic that they've had little self-doubt in their lives and tend not to be nice about their other opinions either. They may think they're important and doing good by taking such a hard line but the truth is they're just being un-empathetic.

Let me put it this way, if I tell you that I feel worthless and am in pain and thinking about suicide, should your response be, your thoughts and feelings are stupid and wrong? Then to badger and lecture me without an understanding of or concern for how I feel? Moreover so many of these people are selfish and casually cruel.

Depression is a strange thing because it attacks your very sense of sense. It does so in ways that you might not even think about because for some of they're such a common part of life. I'm not going to claim that my experience with depression is universal. In truth I have no idea just how universal my experience is.

It begins by telling you that you're a failure. That all you've done is fail and when you haven't actually failed, it's been because of dumb luck or something else that prevented you from being revealed a the complete worthless failure you are. You are one move from being revealed for what you really are. You know what you are, though. These are not thoughts that appear out of nowhere, they are thoughts that we've all had, the kinds of thoughts

Then it goes further and informs views of not just you but others. There's a reason you're alone. You have friends and acquaintances, sure, but only because they don't know you. The real you. If they did, they wouldn't want anything to do with you. Hell, some of them don't even bother to get back to you. They have a sense of what you are and what you're really like. That's why you're single. You sound fine on paper but once they get to know you, they run away.

These thoughts grow slowly and the chilling thing that depression offers you (or at least me) is something like satori. Or at least what i imagine satori to be like. For those who don't know, satori in Zen Buddhism is the experience of seeing one's true essence. The idea that you are seeing yourself clearly. Depression is dangerous and scary because these thoughts are not foreign to you. They are a part of you.

2.

I'd like to write something positive and hopeful and encouraging about depression. I can't.

I'm mildly successful in terms of work - which is to say that people tell me i have a cool job. I'm a joke financially. I've tried to sell out and get a boring office job with a steady paycheck and the possibility of not having to worry constantly about money, but no one's ever been interested in hiring me.

I'm alone. I often think - as most people who are single and over thirty do - that I'll be alone forever. It wouldn't surprise me if I never had a serious relationship - I've gotten this far without one. I haven't had a birthday party since elementary school. I stopped having them because I didn't think anyone would show up. I still don't think anyone would show up if I threw a party.

One thing that makes suicide relatively rare is the fact that it's so hard to pull off. I've often wished for a switch or level where I could just end it, shut down my heart and painlessly stop. Just stop. I suppose that makes a certain sense. I'm not a violent person. But stopping...that sounds like relief.

I'm writing this because I know that I have all the signs of depression. Some people would be troubled by all this. The truth is though that this part of my daily life. I live with these thoughts on an almost daily basis. I'm constantly unsatisfied with every piece of work I do. It's what keeps me trying new things. I'm constantly worried and frustrated. I'm alone - and I probably always will be.

In her magnificent book "Stay," Jennifer Michael Hecht writes about "hope for our future selves" and I understand that. I believe in that. But I also remember what it was like to be depressed. I remember what it was like to not feel as though I had a future self - there was only the present. The present was painful and the pain would never end.

I'm writing this to say that I have all these thoughts, but I'm staying. I'm not going anywhere. I don't know for how long. I'm going to try to stay for as long as I can. But if there comes a point where I can't stay anymore...please try to understand.