Benjamen Walker: TMI is dead, Long Live TOE!

Monday night Benjamen Walker signed off from his radio show on WFMU. Too Much Information started in late 2009 and it was always a great strange show. There were a few bars of music, but no other sign that the show had begun, it would merely fade in on the sound of Walker's voice or someone else's. There were conspiracy theories, these odd stories where one was never quite sure where the line between fiction and nonfiction was–assuming there was a line. It was a strange sometimes dream-like hour of radio. It covered Walker's obsessions which ranged from photography to comics, there were great monologues and stories.

I'm sad to see the show end, but I know there's a reason for it. Walker said in the show that he plans to move to the web and focus more on his podcast The Theory of Everything, which PRX is distributing. It's a lot easier to come up with something as strange and often complicated as this at a much slower rate and Walker said he's shooting for two episodes of TOE each month, each episode around half an hour.

I do wonder if this is a sign of where audio is going. Right now some of the most inventive and dynamic work happening is happening in podcasting. The people making it are often trained in radio at places like Transom or Salt or Duke or elsewhere, a lot of them may get their start in radio, but they're thinking about audio differently.

For example Planet Money, which is a podcast and website which contributes to This American Life and NPR, but they're not bound by the constraints of TAL or any particular NPR program. The story can dictate the length and design and shape of the story.

Tiny Spark, which is a great podcast by Amy Costello that's some great investigative work has set up a relationship with PRI's The World. Lea Thau's great podcast The Strangers is a project that came out of KCRW's Independent Producers Project but lives online and not in a time slot on the station.

There are also a lot of great podcasts like 99% Invisible from Roman Mars, The Conversation by Aengus Anderson, The Truth by Jonathan Mitchell, The Longest Shortest Time by Hillary Frank, The Memory Palace by Nate DiMeo, Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, and so many others (and it should go without saying that I am not mentioning the many credits of all the other people involved out of callousness, but out of space and time concerns) and they are originating from radio equipment but they're taking shape online.

I think there's a very serious question for public radio going forward. Public radio has managed to maintain a key role in journalism and in the public conversation, and not simply by having a loyal older audience, but by having a lot of young people (like myself). But what people like are programs like Radiolab or This American Life. We're not really listening to Morning Edition or All Things Considered or Here and Now.

How does NPR find a way to stay relevant and find a way to harness this energy and great work that independent producers are making? What does NPR have that they can offer such producers? It would have been interesting if after NPR ended Talk of the Nation, they had replaced it with a magazine style show with a host who could have responded to breaking news, but to actively seek out and play the work of producers from all over the country and all over the world


“I Was Convinced that Beirut Stopped at that Wall”: An interview with Zeina Abirached

I'm a huge fan of Zeina Abirached's graphic novel A Game for Swallows. It didn't catch on when it came out last year - and I was sad to see did not end up nominated for an Eisner Award. It's a great book. It's a wonderful child's view of the Lebanese Civil War as experienced in Beirut - but more than the story of that specific conflict, Abirached does a masterful job through the artwork of conveying a sense of being trapped in a city, of the violence happening around, that sense of claustrophobia and atmosphere of fear. It is a book that's a beautifully drawn as it is wonderfully written about a thoughtful, important topic.

I cannot recommend A Game for Swallows highly enough.

Reed Waller, James Vance and Denis Kitchen on "Omaha the Cat Dancer"

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to talk with Reed Waller for an hour. For people who don't know, he's the cartoonist responsible for creating Omaha the Cat Dancer, a famous (some might say infamous) comic book. I also spoke with James Vance and Denis Kitchen, whoc are two of the three other people responsible for the book over the years (the third, Kate Worley died a few years, an issue that was discussed in the article).

In the week before I spoke with Waller, I read the entirety of Omaha, which comes to just over one thousand pages and is available in seven volumes from NBM. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. Read sequentially, in its entirety, it's an incredible work. There's plenty of melodrama, but at its heart it's about relationships. It's also a very political book. And though the book became known for the fake that it contains nudity and sex, it never felt salacious.

I'm already on record as saying how much I think about writer James Vance, but I was really happy to do this piece. Omaha is a book that deserves a lot more attention and should hopefully in the coming years be an example of what comics can do - and should do more of.


Colleen Coover unmasking Bandette and Batman '66

I'm a big fan of Colleen Coover's work from Small Favors to Banana Sunday to Gingerbread Girl to her short comics for Marvel Comics and elsewhere (she has some great ones in the recent release "Marvel Now What?!" She also drew a story for "Batman '66."

Her big project now is Bandette, the digital comic from Monkeybrain that won the Eisner Award for best digital comic this year. There's now a print edition of the book out from Dark Horse Comics in a very nice hardcover. (Also funny enough the interview runs just a few days after I met Ms Coover in person for the first time)

Bob Bolling on "Little Archie" and more

Bob Bolling is one of the most talented and beloved artists in the history of comics, and certainly at Archie (a company which has no shortage of great cartoonists in its past). Bolling worked at the company for decades but he's best known for creating "Little Archie" and writing and drawing the series for eight years. It's hard to describe many of the stories that he made because the emotional stories sound as if they might be annoyingly sentimental (because that's how so much work created "for children" is) but Bolling managed to infuse his stories with emotion and affection for childhood, but they were also layered and thoughtful stories that worked on many levels.

Bolling has been retired for many years, though he remains an influence on the many cartoonists who have followed him at Archie and across the medium. "Love and Rockets" creators Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez have repeatedly cited him as one of the great cartoonists and a major influence on their work. Archie has announced plans for an animated project, "It's Archie," which features the kids in middle school and draws heavily on Bolling's work and designs. On November 15, Archie is releasing a book-length digital exclusive collection of Bolling's "Little Archie" stories from throughout his career.

There are few interviews with a man this influential and I'm proud to have had the chance.

Stefano Gaudiano joins "The Walking Dead" to ink "All Out War"

I spoke recently with Stefano Gaudiano, a comics artist who's best known as an inker. He's worked on a lot of projects. There's Gotham Central, a long run on Daredevil, he's played a major role in the new Valiant Comics and now he's inking over Charlie Adlard's work on The Walking Dead. He's a fan of the series so he didn't spill much but we talked a lot about art and what an inker does and it was a great conversation I'm glad we could have.

"The Cute Girl Network" goes live

I had the chance to talk with the trio behind the new graphic novel out from First Second Books, The Cute Girl Network. MK Reed (who wrote the recent 01 book "Americus" which I know has many fans), Greg Means (who runs Tugboat Press based in Portland) and Joe Flood (who i spoke with when his previous books Orcs came out) collaborated on this romantic comedy between two people who aren't the types who usually star in romantic comedies, which was a very nice touch I enjoyed.


Women in Comics Criticism

There's been a kerfluffle of sorts this week about a comment made in an article on The Comics Journal website. (When I type out that phrase, it makes any concern or any comment made seem very minor). In a conversation between Frank Santoro and Sean T. Collins (disclosure: I've met both, don't claim to know either well and to my knowledge we've never shared a meal). Collins made a remark, which in the context of the article I felt was more offhand and less a thoughtful considered analysis (which he has written in the past for various publications) about what he perceives a lack of female critics in comics.

I'm not sure I would have phrased it as such, but I have to admit that I know more men who write about comics than women. At the same time I would hesitate to say that there is a shortage of women who write about such a topic. Moreover I think that part of the problem with this comment is that Sean and Frank are writing from a certain perspective, men who write about comics, not exclusively but that is a primarily interest of their work.

Of course I disagree with or am indifferent to many of Santoro's comments as well. For example his argument that many of the younger cartoonists are not properly covered, I think has some truth but at the same time I disagree.

Regardless this comment that Sean made about a lack of women has been taken up by some - including most prominently Heidi Macdonald who wrote a lengthy post titled "So What Does a Gal Have To Do To Get Into The Comics Journal Anyway?" In the spirit of the internet, it's a hyperbolic title.

I find a few problems with her article. First, she condemns the print edition of The Comics Journal which is edited by Gary Groth and has excluded coverage of female cartoonists and female writers, which I think is bizarre and odd and I have defense for. Second, she condemns the online edition of The Comics Journal (which is edited by Dan Nadel and Tim Hodler) and argues that they share the ideas and values she reads into Sean and Frank based on that conversation. That's unfair. Ms. Macdonald knows that the editor does not share the opinions of everyone published by a site - at least I would pray that an editor of Publishers Weekly knows that. Also there is a difference between the print and online editions of the magazine, having different editors and similar but different approaches.

I do think there is an argument that the print TCJ - being a more formal exploration of "canon" comics and graphic literature - particularly considering the last annual featured a lengthy interview with Maurice Sendak conducted shortly before he died and by excluding women creators and cartoonists is deeply troubling.

I think there are a number of female creators who have not gotten their due - Diane Noomin, Joyce Farmer, Trina Robbins, Lee Marrs, Dale Messick, Louise Simonson, Marie Severin, Lynda Barry, Roberta Gregory, Carol Tyler, Carol Lay, Mary Fleener, Kate Worley, Jennifer Camper, Sarah Dyer, Elaine Lee. I think Rutu Modan has made one of if not the best comic of the year. I think Alison Bechdel is an immensely important creator both within and without comics. I think Phoebe Gloeckner and Debbie Dreschler are giants. I think Tove Jansson needs much greater attention (and I'm hoping someone will let me write a lengthy piece on her work next year for her centennial).

I think that if we list the best cartoonists working today the list has many many women - if not dominated by women. Looking at my own writing at Comic Book Resources, which I'll argue is one of–if not the best–website about comics online., I've written longer profiles of many women for the site in 2013 including  Anya Davidson, Kate Leth, Dylan Meconis, Rutu Modan, Ramona Fradon, Fiona Staples, Emma Vieceli, Lucy Bellwood, C. Spike Trotman, Maris Wicks, Lisa Hanawalt, Miriam Katin, Joelle Jones, Genevieve Castree.

This doesn't include women I've mentioned or included in conventions reports from MoCCA, NYCC, SPX and such. This doesn't include people I've written about for other publications including TCJ and Suicidegirls. This isn't because I make an effort to find female creators. I make an effort to keep an eye out for new books, new creators, work that pops up on tumblr and twitter. Some of those happen to be women. In that list I just had are veteran artists (Ms. Fradon), webcartoonists, people starting out in their careers, people releasing books. Regardless of whether or not I personally spoke with them, these are among the people that any website that sought to comprehensively cover the comics industry would have to talk with.

In short, I think that Ms. Macdonald is mostly right. Gary Groth needs to take off his blinders and there needs to be an awareness that The Comics Journal and he have blinders on as far as the canon, as far as personal taste, and that it can be problematic as far as the rest of us in terms of trying to think about a canon of graphic literature. Mr. Groth doesn't seem to be awareness of his own flaws, so we need to point them out. We need to find a way to work around them. If he won't let female writers work for the print edition or let female cartoonists be covered, then we need to find a way to write about such people and enshrine a canon outside of TCJ.

In one sense, Ms Macdonald and I are on the same page but I think we're going about it in very different ways. Our goal is the same, though. we know that there have been many great female cartoonists and that they deserve attention.  We want to make sure that not being a CIS-gendered white male doesn't keep anyone from reading or making comics.

There are a few ways I'd like to see that, besides more articles about many of the women I mentioned above. Those include collections of some of them. I know that Trina Robbins is assembling a collection of Lily Renee's comics work, which should make a nice companion to the two volume Miss Fury collection that Robbins has edited. I'd love to see some nice collections of Brenda Starr by Dale Messick. Also of the Dale Messick-Ramona Fradon years of the strip (shouldn't those two names be able to guarantee some sales).

I have a few other ideas and suggestions that I won't get into, but I think it's important to note that Gary Groth has hired some great women who work at Fantagraphics and he publishes a lot of great cartoonists there. That in such a context, he doesn't think there are any women cartoonists of the past worth discussing or women today to write about well says something. I don't know what, honestly, but it's something to consider.

Rob Thomas developing an "iZombie" television show

I'm a fan of Rob Thomas, whose the man responsible for "Veronica Mars" and "Party Down" and "Cupid" and other television shows. He's also making the new movie "Veronica Mars." It was announced yesterday that he's developing the Vertigo comic series "iZombie" from writer Chris Roberson and artist Mike Allred into a television series. I was a big fan of comic, which ended far too soon.

I think it's a great concept and Roberson and Allred did great work on the series. It also happens to be a great idea for a television series. After all it does concern a young woman protagonist, zombies, various supernatural creatures. That makes it a good choice for a tv show and a good one that Rob Thomas good kick some serious ass with. Her's to hoping something happens with it.

Though I hope that they'll change the title to "I, Zombie" or something similar. The small i in front of things is annoying the hell out of me...

John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell on Rachel Maddow

I don't watch Rachel Maddow much - I don't have a television, but she's one of those handful of people on tv news who I respect the hell out of because of the work she's done. She's also something of a geek. She's talked about comics in the past, but last night she had Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell on to talk about the book "March". Admittedly I think it's the second best interview with the three that you'll ever see (this is what you get form an opinionated writer who has interviewed them before, so I admit that I may be biased)

All that aside, it's a great book – important and well-written and beautifully made. Also right now (and I hate sounding like an ad or a paid shill) but Top Shelf is offering a digital bundle where you can buy both March and the great old comic book "Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story" with the proceeds going to the Fellowship of Reconciliation, which continues to promote pacifism in the world today.

John Lewis is one of the great American heroes and he and his work and life deserve all the attention they get and then some.


The end of "Fables"

Bill Willingham announced that he'll be ending his long running series "Fables" with issue #150 in early 2015. The companion series "Fairest" will also be wrapping up just before then.

According to Willingham:

"I’ve decided to retire from a great deal of my comics work.

"Retirement in the storytelling trade means, still working and writing every day, but being a bit more selective in what projects I take on. Pushing 60, I thought it would be a good time to start making concrete plans for those remaining good writing years."

I'm sad that the series will be coming to a close. I've loved many of the stories that have been told and liked just about all of them and it's no exaggeration to say that the book has been one of the best comics of the 21st Century. But I do understand Willingham's thinking. Hell, I'm half his age and I'm thinking in such terms recently.

When I interviewed him earlier this year, Willingham mentioned that he and Matt Sturges were hoping to collaborate again on a project - and possibly a Babe the Blue Ox comic. He's also working on a few other novels, which sound very cool. Plus we'll hopefully see a collection of Beowulf stories he wrote. I hope that we'll see Willingham write and draw a comic again.

I think a great deal of Willingham as a creator for many reasons and he's a great person to talk to. He consistently runs one of the most entertaining and fun panels you'll ever attend - if you're at a convention, make a point of going to a Bill Willingham panel. And I'm excited that there will plenty of new Willingham stories - maybe not Fables, maybe not comics - but plenty of stories in the years to come.

Person of Interest Cast and Showrunner

While I was at New York Comic Con last month I got to sit down and talk with the cast and showrunner of the show Person of Interest. I'm a fan of the show for many reasons and was thrilled to sit down with the cast and showrunner Greg Plageman to talk about the show and their characters and it was a great thrill.

They're arguably the most talented (not to mention best looking) casts on television. They're also a lot of fun to talk to and I could've spent the afternoon chatting with them.

Some Reflections: Or, Moving

I moved recently, which is always a complicated experience. It's always a tiring experience. The fact that I've moved and am still missing things. I don't have some furniture because I need to pick some things up. I'm sleeping on a mattress on the floor. I don't write any of this to complain, but it leaves one weary.

It comes on the heels on a very long October which included a week in New York including a few days at the New York Comic Con, which was both fun and exhausting. This also came a month after SPX.

All of that plus the move, the sense of starting over in some small way, adjusting one's life trajectory or however one wants to describe such a thing. Plus November is my birthday. I dislike birthdays. I have said, more than once over the years, that I'm happy to celebrate when I do something worth commemorating, but I don't think there's a point to celebrating getting a year older. Now admittedly, I don't take compliments well, so I likely would not be willing to celebrate something, but that's a separate issue.

Still, it all makes one thing about work and what I do and how I spend my days and what I want to do in the days to come. When I was at NYCC I had the chance to sit down with Mark Duplass and Katie Aselton separately. The reason they were there - and why I was there - was to talk about the show The League on FXX. I'm a fan of the show, but more than that I'm a fan of both of them and their more personal work that they do. Duplass in particular has been a real inspiration with his films including The Puffy Chair.

I spend much of my day writing nonfiction and writing about other people and events that are going on and I've been thinking more about what I want to do next. What I want to do more of. Where I want to be a few years from now. What I want to spend my days doing. And I know the answer to that question. I just need to make it happen.

R.I.P. Nick Cardy

Like everyone else, I was saddened to hear that Nick Cardy passed away yesterday at the age of 93. Cardy was one of the great comics artists of the 1950s-1970s, primarily at DC Comics where he was one of the great cover artists in that period and of all time in the comics field. Cardy went onto become a major movie poster artist before mostly retiring. Cardy was a largely self-taught artist who began working in comics and illustration while still a teenager before being drafted. He was a decorated World War II veteran and for decades has been known as one of the nicest people you'll meet.

Born in 1920, Cardy began working in comics at the age of 18 for the Eisner/Iger Studio (founded by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger). He worked on a variety of projects but most notably "Lady Luck" which he drew as a backup for Eisner's "The Spirit" section. After about a year, Cardy left Eisner's studio for Fiction House.

Cardy was later drafted and fought in World War II. He was originally assigned to the 66th Infantry Division - The Black Panther Division - and Cardy designed the unit's insignia. Cardy later became an Assistant Tank Driver in the Third Armored Division and served in the European Theater. While there he kept a sketchpad and his sketches were collected in the book "Nick Cardy: The Artist at War" which was originally published by Eva Ink Publishing and this year was printed in a new edition from Titan Books.

After the war he worked in illustration, comic strips and other fields before he ended up in comic books. He began a long association with DC Comics initially working on series like "Tomahawk" and "Congo Bill."

His greatest success in comics was in the sixties. Cardy took over drawing "Aquaman" and odds are that for many comics readers they know Cardy's version of the character. Cardy went onto draw "Teen Titans" for the publisher before moving onto the short-lived (but much loved by many people including myself) Western series "Bat Lash." There was also a long run on "The Brave and the Bold" where Batman teamed up with various others from the DC Universe. Cardy was also a major cover artist at DC, drawing hundreds of covers for the company.

Cardy was a skilled artist and many have commented on his great skill at drawing women. Reading comics he drew it's easy to see why. Of course many others have mentioned that Cardy was no slouch in drawing men, either. In this sense Cardy was perhaps the aesthetic ideal for many comics fans, with attractive men and women populating a world of fantastic derring-do.

It was Cardy's covers though that perhaps attracted the most attention and should still be examined by artists today. Cardy played with design and style, he often drew cover images that were more interesting and had more story in that single image than the comic itself had. Moreover he was able to attract the reader's attention.

Cardy went on to focus on movie posters, something that he admitted was much more lucrative and drew posters for movies including "The Streetfighter" with Sonny Chiba, "Movie Movie" with George C. Scott, "California Suite," "Meatballs 2," "Apocalypse Now."

I had the opportunity to talk with Cardy two years ago and at the beginning he joked about his age and apologized for whatever I would ask him that he couldn't remember, but even in his nineties, he was a funny, engaging man who was happy to spend an hour talking with a writer a third of his age about events that for the most part happened long before I was born.

He was a fine artist, a kind man, and he'll be missed.


Anya Davidson has "School Spirits"

I didn't know Anya Davidson's work that well when I read her book "School Spirits." I read her short comic in the last volume of "Kramers Ergot," but that was it. I did love her debut graphic novel, though. It's a great book that reminded me about being a teenager in the best sense. That way we thought, the way we daydreamed, the intense emotions which take over our lives, our friendships which define our lives. It's a beautiful book, a great read, though it's also hard to explain. Just check it out.

The Cast and Creators of "The League"

I'm a fan of the show "The League." It's funny, it's weird. It manages to capture the craziness and inventiveness of improv, but it's also a well-written, well-structured show. One of the creators, Jeff Schaeffer, is a veteran comedy writer who worked on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and it has a great cast. Of course the best known person (and the guy in the cast I honestly admire the hell out of) is Mark Duplass, but then there's also Katie Aselton, Paul Scheer, Nick Kroll, Jon Lajoie, Stephen Rannazzisi and Jason Mantzoukas. It was great to sit down with the cast and a lot of fun.

Kate Leth on "Kate or Die," "Adventure Time" and more

I'm a big fan of Kate Leth. I think her cartoons are good and in the past year they've only gotten better as she's experimented more with her art, but still been just as funny and inventive. She's had a great year with appearances in various anthologies including "Anything That Loves," her contributions to "Adventure Time" and her own work on her blog.

She's also done some work for "Welcome to Night Vale," she's in the midst of a few other things and I know that Kate is going to do some amazing things in the next few years. I can't wait to see what she has in store for us.

The cast and showrunner of "Person of Interest" at NYCC

I'm a big fan of the television show "Person of Interest." I think that the writers and directors, led by creator Jonathan Nolan, have done something really interesting. I think it's possible to look at the show on many levels. It's an old fashioned action show, it's a science fiction show, it's a meditation of human behavior and meaning and purpose, it's a meditation on rights, it's a parable of the 21st century, it's about privacy and what it means. It has a very old school approach to heroism and redemption and the fight to do the right thing. It's also a very subversive show. The cops aren't necessarily good guys. Corruption isn't about one bad egg, it's endemic.

I got to spend some time at NYCC sitting in as Showrunner and Executive Producer Greg Plageman and cast members Jim Caviezel, Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Chapman, Sarah Shahi and Amy Acker sat and answered questions before an audience.

Ted Naifeh announces "Princess Ugg"

I'm a huge fan of Ted Naifeh. He's one of those people I've met a few times, interviewed a few times, and before that I was reading him and it's been exciting to watch him get bigger over time, because I certainly believe that he deserves it. Anyway I was thrilled to get to talk to him again and that he's announcing his brand new project, an ongoing series that launches next year from Oni Press.

Princess Ugg sounds interesting and has a lot of potential to be something different. I'm excited.

Covering New York Comic Con

New York Comic Con is always an exhausting experience but I had the chance to sit in on some interesting panels when I was there.

I covered Kieron Gillen, Canaan White and William Christensen talking about "Uber," the big new series from Avatar Press. I'm a big fan of Kieron Gillen and honestly I would have liked to have a longer conversation about World War II and recent historical revision and rethinking, but that's a very different conversation for another time.

I sat in on Kate Beaton, Ryan North and Chris Hastings talking about webcomics and their work outside of webcomics. Hell, that's a great conversation right there. Also, Ms Beaton talked about (and signed) her contract with Scholastic for a picture book starring the fat pony

Buddy Scalera talked with Jimmy Palmiotti for an hour and a half reviewing his life and work and it was a great conversation. If you've ever met Palmiotti you know he's a great conversationalist and it was a fun time.

One of the last panels of the con was about graphic noir with Jules Feiffer and Darwyn Cooke, moderated by Paul Levitz. What more can I say?

Dylan Meconis: From "Family Man" to "PVP"

I'm a huge fan of Dylan Meconis. I liked her first major webcomic, "Bite Me!" which was set in the French revolution and involved - yes, you guessed it - vampires. She's made a number of other short comics and different projects including the Eisner nominated short comic "Outfoxed" but the work that's really made me and many others sit up an take notice of her immense talent as a cartoonist is "Family Man." The comic, which is being serialized online at is an incredibly story that I think is coming out far too slowly. I kid, but Dylan knows what I mean (I hope). It's a great story and I can't wait to see where she's going with it.

Dylan is also co-writing and occasionally contributing to "PVP," Scott Kurtz's long-running webcomic. It is about as far from "Family Man" as one could imagine. We also had the chance to meet briefly at SPX last year and she was as charming as she is talented. Go read her!