The one question I keep on hoping someone will put to Dan Nadel in an interview about Picturebox: Has the shift he has engendered in the landscape of comics criticism led to a greater understanding of the cartoonists he publishes? A few years ago, when Powr Mastrs volume 1 came out, it was greeted as a weird comic by most people. In the introduction to Art Out Of Time, he talks about how he saw the cartoonists he published as being analogous to the artists in that book. Since then, many of the artists in that book have gotten their own solo spotlights, with at least the Fletcher Hanks books being huge hits. Has this broader vision of comics led to a more amenable market for, say, Brian Chippendale’s work? Or is it still assumed that many of the people buying If N’ Oof are people who listen to Lightning Bolt?
I also wonder how many people buying weird art-manga (however you would define that) are people who grew up reading Naruto and One Piece who started looking for other things or it’s still basically the same kind of weirdo that was reading it ten years ago: People who are interested in “comics as a whole,” seeking novelty.
I am really into that feature that runs on Pitchfork, and now on The Dissolve, 5-10-15-20, where they ask artists what work influenced them, throughout their lives. I like that there are some things that I associate with high school, that I think of as being “classics” that people come to at that age, that some people read when they were much older, because that was when that work came out for the first time. My own tastes follow what I would consider a typical arc, of mainstream comics to alternative comics, that people younger than me could’ve completely circumvented. If anyone wants to talk about how their tastes have changed over the years, what they were reading when, if anyone wants to tell their autobiography through the culture they consumed, I am interested in hearing it. It seems like my own narrative has been dominated, often, by a want for a paradigm shift, for things so exciting they leave previous interests in the dust.
I was born in 1985, and obviously my early childhood is fairly blurry. I was into Calvin And Hobbes, The Far Side, Fox Trot, Robotman. I remember seeing a Batman comic strip in the newspaper and seeing that Batman had a villain other than The Joker, blew my mind. I was used to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons, where there was only the one antagonist. I hadn’t seen the Tim Burton Batman movie but it was around, culturally ubiquitous, and it seems like maybe my brother would’ve had a poster of Jack Nicholson as The Joker. Also, owing to my shared last name, I think Jack Nicholson was maybe the first movie star actor I would’ve been aware of. I got more into comics in 1992, 1993, roughly concurrent with the release of Batman Returns, the Animated Series airing, and my parents getting separated. This would’ve been around the time of Image Comics, also, but that stuff never really appealed to me, aside from certain Sam Kieth drawings I saw in Marvel comics. Letters in Batman Adventures talked about those sorts of drawings and the “grim and gritty” style as dreck, longing for people to appreciate Jack Kirby and Alex Toth. I was really into Mike Parobeck, who drew The Batman Adventures, and before that The Fly for Impact Comics and a Justice Society miniseries I picked up random issues of.
My favorite comic at the age of ten was probably the Mark Waid/Humberto Ramos Impulse, published by DC. A lot of people had stopped reading comics by the mid-nineties, a lot of shops had closed. I was really into comics, though, and maybe the closing down of shops was what led me to shopping at a store that would give out the Previews catalog for free. I was pretty grossed out by all the “bad girl” comics that were really popular, but I was into superhero parodies. The Tick had been a cartoon by this point, and my brother had been into the comic, which still existed, being drawn by cartoonists other than the creator. I was really into Lethargic Lad, and all these black and white comics that were meant to be all-ages appropriate, like those published by an imprint of Caliber called Tapestry, or Moordam Comics, and The Copybook Tales. In retrospect, this period of interest is probably when my tastes were at their weirdest or most arbitrary. I drew my own comics around this time, also, in middle school. I had stopped trying to draw lumpy figures meant to approximate the human form and switched to stick figures. One character, Stickman Samurai, had swords and fought monsters. Later I did my own “humorous superhero” or parody comic. When I read the comic Kingdom Come, having gotten the collection for Christmas, I remember thinking I could do better and put the cast I had built up into my approximation of an epic. Also in middle school I was really into Scud The Disposable Assassin, some issues of Madman, Quantum And Woody, all meant to be vaguely humorous. Also the Grant Morrison superhero comics that were coming out at this time were a pretty big deal for me.
I read Watchmen the summer before ninth grade and it was a little much for me, a little too dark, made me feel pretty bad at some parts. High school would’ve been defined by the Alan Moore America’s Best Comics, particularly Promethea and Top Ten, and Warren Ellis doing Planetary. For a while I was afraid to try to buy Vertigo comics but then I wasn’t, realized it didn’t matter and no one cared. I borrowed 1980s Frank Miller stuff from a friend but that didn’t really do too much for me either, too much stink of unpleasantness in their tone, for the most part. I read The Invisibles and Peter Milligan’s Enigma. Some Nu-Marvel comics, I was really into the David Mack issues of Daredevil, and the X-Force comic Peter Milligan and Mike Allred did together. The alternative comics I read during this time would’ve been mostly put out by Oni Press, a borrowed copy of Ghost World, a few other issues of Eightball, the Jimmy Corrigan collection. Paul Pope’s 100% was a book I was really into. I often think about how weird it is that I read these comics that were like occult primers when I was in high school, and how now I’m completely over it- these things which are in some ways the definition of esoterica.
In college I would’ve still been into Paul Pope, but that was also when Bryan Lee O’Malley would’ve begun putting out books. I had his stuff as webcomics when I was in high school and was really excited when Lost At Sea came out. I went to school in the Pacific Northwest where Fantagraphics pretty much reigned supreme and the shop I went to was one that kept single issues of alternative comics in stock, so I read a lot of Love And Rockets and caught up on Black Hole before it finished its serialization. I don’t know why I’m writing about this: It seems like the most obvious thing in the world to anyone who would be reading this who would be around my age. The Super Mario Movie Paper Rad made in collaboration with Cory Arcangel was a mind-blower that led to me getting into Paper Rad, and I was doing animation at this point. It seemed important to think about myself, as someone who couldn’t really draw, in the context of an “artist” in the liberating sense, rather than just being a writer. Gary Panter was a big deal for me, especially once I ordered Jimbo: Adventures In Paradise. My roommate bought copies of the Kramers Ergot books.
Now it seems like I am pretty much talking about the present, or at least, the interests I talked about at the top of this post, or throughout this Tumblr- all this past still seems so close to me, inside my being, but I am imagining someone younger than myself reading this (although, would someone that much younger even make the effort? Why didn’t I just make this a massive image post that moved forward in time?) and while they might have read these comics in high school- My friend Chris who just turned 21 read Powr Mastrs in high school- the rate of turnover, the amount of things you are exposed to, in college or by an increasingly encompassing internet seems to point that there are people for whom these bolts of epiphany are things in the distant past, whereas for me I can’t think of much since that has supplanted their primacy. What comes the closest, I guess, would be Brandon Graham’s work, and how that highlights manga in general- I was aware of Taiyo Matsumoto in high school but the big collection of Tekkon Kinkreet made more of an impression than the digest I had then. Soon I should write about how incredible Sunny is. Time keeps moving forward, and aging feels insane. Anyone that wants to write a post like this for themselves, I will feel compelled to read it.
- Brian Nicholson