COMICS/POLITICS at Ryerson this weekend!

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This weekend (Thursday, July 25-Saturday, July 27) Mich and I will be traveling to Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada for COMICS/POLITICS, the 2nd Annual Conference of the Comics Studies Society. Man, I can hardly wait!

I served as Founding President of CSS from 2014 to Spring 2018, and continue to serve happily on the Society’s Executive Board. Brainstorming CSS with colleagues and helping the Society get started has been one of the most rewarding projects of my career — and now I get to go to a CSS conference and present a paper on Jack Kirby. My worlds are colliding. 🙂

This Friday, as part of Panel 7.4, War and Conflict Comics, I’ll be giving my paper, “Kirby’s Visions of War, Early and Late,” an outgrowth of my work at the Université de Lorraine symposium in 2017 and my ongoing interest in Kirby’s kid gang comics. Joining me on that panel will be fellow presenters Kaleb Knoblauch and Shawn Gilmore and moderator Martha Kuhlman—I expect to learn a lot! And ours is but one of many panels, roundtables, plenaries, and other gatherings that altogether will make up a jam-packed conference program. So many scholars, so many exciting perspectives on the art and culture of comics: a panel on indigenous comics with Tara Audibert, Camille Callison, Cole Paul, moderator Amy Dejarlais, and graphic recorder Sam Hester; a conversation with Fiona Smyth, Jillian Tamaki, and Qiana Whitted; a Canadian WW2 comics exhibition opening at the Ryerson Library, with guest speaker Hope Nicholson; a mixer at The Beguiling and Little Island Comics (just hanging out in one of the world’s greatest comics shops, no big deal); tons of papers, talks, and opportunities to interact and learn — yow, this is going to be something, a worthy continuation of the tradition begun last year in Champaign.

Plus, a pre-conference documentary film screening on Wednesday night (Drawn Together: Comics, Diversity, and Stereotypes, dir. Harleen Singh, 2018); a charitable comics drive in partnership with the Canada Comics Open Library; book signings with our plenary artists (and Michael DeForge! and Chester Brown!), thanks to exhibitors Drawn & Quarterly and Bedside Press; and, on Friday, a free and public Artists’ Alley featuring indy creators and publishers! PLUS, on Sunday, after the official close of the conference, a number of us will be making a field trip to the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario, to see the acclaimed exhibition, THIS IS SERIOUS: Canadian Indie Comics!

See why CSS has become one of my yearly “mountaintop” experiences?

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If you’re curious about CSS or comics studies, and close enough to get to Toronto, remember that our first day, Thursday, July 25, is Community Day, meaning that the morning events are free and open to the public. Plus, there will be single-day passes on Friday and Saturday for non-CSS members. Come check out what we’re doing!

All credit for the great program, its creativity, richness, accessibility, and relevance, goes to this year’s Conference Organizing Committee, helmed by co-chairs Candida Rifkind, who is CSS President, and Andrew O’Malley, and including Blair Davis, Biz Nijdam (representing the CSS Graduate Student Caucus), Nhora Lucia Serrano, Matt Smith, and past President Carol Tilley—a tireless team that has blended the best of the traditional conference model with new public-facing and creative elements. Looking forward to experiencing the results of their hard work!

Listen to Mythology in Newsprint on KUNV

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News: Audio of my Kirby talk “Mythology in Newsprint,” which I gave at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on April 26, is now up for listening online, thanks to KUNV, the Public Radio station at UNLV, and its program UNLV Speaks:

http://kunv.org/april-26-2019/

(Thanks in particular to KUNV’s Kevin Krall and Dave Nourse.)

This talk covers Kirby’s role in the creation of the Marvel Universe, the nature of “Marvel style” comic book production in the 1960s, and the importance of cartooning as narrative drawing (as opposed to illustration). It draws passages from Hand of Fire as well as the introductory essay to the Comic Book Apocalypse exhibit catalog that Ben Saunders and I wrote together. The talk concludes with some thoughts on the self-reflexive, sometimes self-questioning tendency in Kirby’s later work, and in particular a reading of Kamandi #29 (“The Legend,” May 1975), in which Kirby reflects on superheroes as mythic figures.

The talk incorporated scores of images (mostly drawn by Jack Kirby) timed to my comments, and unfortunately those aren’t visible through this radio broadcast — but I hope that the argument is clear and my enthusiasm carries over. At one or two points you can hear me refer to opening remarks by Ben Morse (Visiting Lecturer in Social Media at UNLV, and former Editorial Director of New Media at Marvel), who kindly introduced me. The audio here lasts an hour (though it does not include the post-talk Q&A that the audience and I had together).

This talk was part of the UNLV College of Liberal Arts’ University Forum Lecture Series (and ironically happened on the official opening day of Avengers: Endgame). Thanks to Ben and all who had a part in bringing me to UNLV and hosting me so graciously — including the institutional co-sponsors, UNLV’s Departments of English and History, World Literature Seminar, Great Works Academic Certificate Program, and College of Fine Arts. Most of all, I want to thank, again, my friend and fellow Kirby-head, Jarret Keene, poet, scholar, and Assistant Professor in Residence and World Literature Coordinator for the UNLV English Department. Jarret invited me out and made this gig possible — and his own insights about Kirby are provocative and important. Check out his work, and look forward to more of his writing on Kirby in the years ahead. He’ll open your eyes.

Thanks, Jarret!

PS. As I’ve said on this blog before, I met so many good people during that lightning trip to Vegas. My thanks to them all.

Mythology in Newsprint: PS

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The crowd awaits (John Hay and Jenessa Kenway in the foreground).

Last Friday I had an oh-so-brief but fantastic visit to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where I gave my talk “Mythology in Newsprint,” interacted (and talked Kirby!) with some wonderful people, and signed and sold copies of Hand of Fire. The talk happened at the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art (which is great—check out the current exhibition, Sorry for the Mess), as part of the UNLV College of Liberal Arts’ University Forum Lecture Series. We drew a full house on a Friday night—not too shabby for a university lecture! (Of course there were jokes about choosing between a lecture and Avengers: Endgame.)

I spoke at length—man, what a patient crowd—about Kirby’s co-authorship of the Marvel Universe in the 1960s, the primacy of narrative drawing in the Marvel production process, how Kirby changed the superhero genre, and finally, how his later work, starting in the 1970s, became increasingly self-reflexive, as Kirby ironically commented on his work, his field, and his fans—a point borne out by a brief reading of Kamandi #29 (1975), “The Legend.”

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The UNLV crowd was gracious, engaged, and delightful. Q&A was robust, the conversation in the lobby afterward was warm and welcoming, and the kind remarks and thought-provoking follow-up I received from so many people were profoundly encouraging. Thank you all!

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Getting started. Looping a couple of splash pages from THE NEW GODS just before the talk was a last-minute choice.

Particular thanks are due, once again, to organizer Jarret Keene, my fellow Kirby scholar and friend and a great writer:

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Jarret (Monster Fashion) Keene, without whom…

It was a delight to spend time with Jarret, after a gap of too many years, and to meet his partner Dr. Jennifer Keene, Interim Dean of Liberal Arts at UNLV, as well as their boys Dylan and Devon. Likewise, it was lovely to meet and talk to Jarret’s colleagues, among them Dr. John Hay (of the English Department, author of Postapocalyptic Fantasies in Antebellum American Literature) and Ben Morse (Visiting Lecturer in Social Media, and former Editorial Director of New Media at Marvel Entertainment), who kindly introduced my talk. Also, I got to meet and talk to creators Ariel Sparx and Edward Tyndall; members of the Barrick Museum team, including Deanne (D.K.) Sole and LeiAnn Huddleston, who helped me out a lot; and members of the UNLV English graduate student community, including Carly Hunter, Jenessa Kenway, and Gary Lindeburg—all of whom are doing mind-expanding research.

Finally, I have to say, it was a thrill to meet artist and author J.H. Williams III, whose conversation is as wide-ranging, joyful, and energetic as his work is brilliant, and the delightful team of Ralph Mathieu and his wife Katherine Keller, of Alternate Reality Comics—a great shop that, thanks to Jarret, I got to visit on Saturday before flying out. I regret that I didn’t get very many pictures of these fine people and spaces, but here’s one:

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Jarret Keene (left) and Ralph Mathieu in the middle of Ralph’s eye-boggling super-shop, Alternate Reality.

What a pleasure. I lead a charmed life. If my wife Michele could have joined me in Vegas, the experience would have been perfect! I look forward to visiting again—and to collaborating with Jarret Keene on other things Kirby-related (regarding which, watch this space for future announcements).

PS. I believe that KUNV (the Public Radio station at UNLV) will post audio of my talk in the coming weeks. I’ll link to that when it happens!

Mythology in Newsprint at UNLV!

Newsflash! Tomorrow, Friday, April 26, 2019, I’ll be at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, giving a talk titled “Mythology in Newsprint: Jack Kirby on Heroes, Demigods, and Comic Book Fandom,” as part of the UNLV College of Liberal Arts’ University Forum Lecture Series.

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This talk will take place from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. at the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art / Harry Reid Center, Room 135. It will focus on Kirby’s role in the revival and transformation of Marvel Comics in the 1960s, his mature turn toward myth fiction and epic fantasy, and, as I near the end, the self-reflexive questioning that marks his late work. Expect a ton of images, much talk about narrative drawing, and several minutes on Kamandi! Books will be sold and signed afterward.

I promise that this image will be involved (click for a better look):

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I owe this opportunity to the co-sponsorship of UNLV’s Departments of English and History, World Literature Second-Year Seminar, Great Works Academic Certificate Program, and College of Fine Arts — and to the generosity of my friend and fellow Kirby scholar, Jarret Keene, Assistant Professor in Residence and World Literature Coordinator for the UNLV English Department.

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Jarret is a widely published poet, a musician, a journalist, the author of Monster Fashion (2002), A Boy’s Guide to Arson (2009), and the rock band bio The Killers: Destiny Is Calling Me (2006), editor or co-editor of several Vegas-themed anthologies, and a fiercely original soul who is writing his own book about Kirby (I can’t wait!). Our friendship dates back to, I think, 1998, and he was one of the editorial voices who helped Hand of Fire become a better, more focused book, for which I can’t thank him enough.

Vegas, here I come!

RIP Greg Theakston (1953-2019)

Sad news: Greg Theakston—publisher, artist, former convention organizer (The Detroit Triple Fan Fair), longtime member of Neal Adams’s Continuity Studios, Kirby inker (The Hunger Dogs; Super Powers) and Kirby scholar—has passed away at the age of 65. My condolences to his colleagues and loved ones.

Theakston published, under his Pure Imagination imprint, a great many books of vintage comics and of comics history. For me, especially early on, his books on Kirby were valuable compendiums of comics and lore, anecdote and example. Especially important to me were the two volumes of his biographical  Jack Kirby Treasury (1982; 1991), the several volumes in his Complete Jack Kirby reprint project, and the second edition (2000) of his reprint of Kirby’s classic comic strip, Sky Masters of the Space Force. While the artwork in Theakston’s comic book reprints was typically drawn from published comics that had been stripped of color through a destructive chemical process nicknamed “Theakstonizing,” and thus did not quite do justice to the comics as originally printed, these collections did the great service of filling in what had been only vague outlines in my mind before. I got a hands-on feeling for Kirby’s early work from these tomes. In addition, Theakston’s two-volume biography of Kirby, Jack Magic (2011), is well worth seeking out, peppered as it is with insights and quoted remarks drawn from his personal acquaintance with Kirby. Along with biographers Mark Evanier, Ronin Ro, the late Stan Taylor, and Ray Wyman, Jr., Theakston sought to make sense of Kirby’s life and career, even as he sought to bring evidence of that career before our eyes via reprints. Beyond Kirby, too, Theakston provided such resources as his Pure Image magazine and various “readers” devoted to generally public-domain material by classic cartoonists like Jack Cole, Lou Fine, and Wally Wood. So, Theakston did a lot, and taught me and other readers a fair amount.

True, I learned to be critical of Theakston’s books. As I see them now, they tend to be haphazardly edited and aesthetically barren; the Pure Imagination “house style” is functional but graceless. Further, the books were high-priced, and aimed strictly at a captive audience of specialists. Most vanished quickly. Theakston moved on, his books seemingly a random scattering rather than any sort of coherent pattern. (His Complete Jack Kirby was anything but.) Moreover, Theakston became a vexing figure in recent years; in 2014, he publicly accused the Jack Kirby Museum of stealing more than 3000 photocopies of Kirby’s art from him (a claim disputed by the Kirby estate itself). That dustup caused some Kirby devotees to turn away from him, shaking their heads. I was one.

I never “got” Theakston artistically. Despite his enthusiasm for Kirby, aesthetically he seemed worlds away from what excited me about Kirby’s art. I gather that Theakston was a prolific magazine and paperback cover illustrator, but the samples of his work I’ve seen strike me as beholden to pulp nostalgia in ways that interest me no longer. He inked Kirby in ways that struck me as more tame than dynamic. What’s more, I have to admit I’m a skeptic when it comes to the brand of retro glam-cheesecake-pinup art that seemed to hold him in thrall and fueled some of his longest-lived publishing efforts (The Bettie Pages; Tease). Theakston’s way with paint seemed to have more to do with that kind of Vargas/Elvgren aesthetic than the rowdy cartooning of Kirby, and, well, I’m no convert. But it would be mean and foolish of me to deny that I benefited from his nostalgia, his enthusiasm, his immersion in vintage comic and pulp art. There was a time when I snagged every Pure Imagination book on Kirby that I could, and I see a bunch of them on my shelves, right here.

My one brief meeting with Greg Theakston (which convention was that at?) led to nothing; he seemed uninterested. But that makes no difference; the important thing to me is that he showed me aspects of Kirby I had never seen before, and helped me get a clearer picture. In particular, his 1982 Kirby Treasury meant a lot to me. So, thanks to Mr. Theakston for being a Kirby studies pioneer. RIP.