Sunday, December 23, 2012

"I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Baked Goods!"

A cartoonist at the dawn of the comic book creates savage and graphically masterful stories of brutal retribution that are promptly forgotten. For decades the stories are ignored. 70 years later the stories are reprinted in deluxe format, become cult hits, and secure an Eisner Award for the editor. Subsequently, imagery from the stories has popped up as Facebook avatars, tattoos, proposed scale models, t-shirts worn by celebrities in movies, and now… but I get ahead of myself.

Fletcher Hanks ( was a golden age comic book artist, creator of mythic figures including Stardust and Fantomah who some (really smart) people think was the greatest superhero cartoonist of all time and whom other (really stupid) people assess as the most inept superhero cartoonist of all time.

A typical Stardust story might involve a simian-like thug plotting to rid the Earth of its gravity but by page two, Stardust comes along to stop the guy and spends the next seven pages torturing him in an inventive, poetically just fashion.  If you’ve been following this blog over the years (?!?), you probably know that I compiled Hanks’ work into two collections, to which I added material about how I found the work and the story behind the work.

Of course I made t-shirts to promote the book. And I’ve seen Hanks’ work appear in different places. Just six months ago, my car battery went dead in the parking lot behind a suburban hotel where I was attending a comics convention. When the young cartoonist who gave me a jump, Josh Bayer, heard my name he rolled down his shirt to show me this:

Another fan preferred Fantomah:

But I think I was even more surprised when I discovered that Hanks’ drawings now appear on cookies.

Sylvia Toth is the baker at located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. No matter where you live, however, you can order cookies from Golden Age Bakery featuring your favorite panels from your favorite golden age (public domain) comics. The Fletcher Hanks cookies have been the most requested items so far. Ms. Toth says that she has made hundreds of them.

If you choose, Ms. Toth will bake you up an entire story in edible form panel by panel (full pages are possible, but too fragile to ship safely). Particular panels that you find distasteful may turn out to be delicious!

The cookies are made from all organic, local ingredients (whenever possible). She has replaced her printer’s ink cartridges with food dye cartridges, so that after designing a cookie on her computer, she simply sends the image to her printer—and voila!—sheets of thin, edible paper-thin icing are covered with accurate reproductions of old comics. Ms. Toth explained to me that the icing is sweet but bland so as not to mask the delicate flavor of the cookie itself.

I can attest to the fact that the cookies look really cool, but…

I confessed to Ms. Toth over the phone that I could not bring myself to eat one. Evidently I am not alone. Ms. Toth said, with a baker’s sigh, that she hears this a lot. Why is this? Because people like me, who know enough about vintage comics to want to buy a Hanks cookie, also see these as collectibles—and therefore, not something you’d want to eat.

This, of course, is crazy thinking. Sooner or later an organic cookie is going to get green and fuzzy and illegible. Like any ink jet printing, Ms. Toth explained, in time these panels fade.

With these cookies, each representing a single panel, you can rearrange the story to your liking. Unkink twists in the plot. Let evildoers go unpunished.

Does this make his work better—or does it drain the work of its magical irrational integrity? Using tiles provided by Ms. Toth, I deleted random panels of a typical Fletcher Hanks story, “The Anti-Gravity Ray,” and then randomly rearranged them. The plot suddenly resembled that of “Jane Eyre.”

I ate the panels that did not really move me (or the plot).

I rearranged the remaining panels with other cookie panels from other stories. And ate a few more extraneous frames.

Eat. Rearrange. Eat a few more.

Until, I was finally left with a single cookie…perhaps the greatest cookie ever baked:

Friday, July 06, 2012

Amazing Link Discovered Between Eisner Awards & Donuts!!!

Master Class in Comics Narrative
with Paul Karasik
@ the Center for Cartoon Studies, White River Junction, VT


For details go here:

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Master Class in Comics Narrative

Wouldn't it be great to put everything else aside and only work on your comics for a few days? Do you have the beginnings of a graphic novel but need some help getting it off the ground? Is your cartooning stuck in a rut, ready to move up to another level?

Those might be reasons for you to consider taking my course this summer: The Master Class in Comics Narrative at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, August 20-24.

Here are some of the reasons that I am looking forward to the class: 

1. I like to teach.
At the moment I am wrapping up a spring semester at RISD and it is thrilling to come in weekly to see what my students have wrought on so little sleep.

2. Fresh donuts.
Baked daily at the Polka Dot Diner two blocks from The Center for Cartoon Studies.

3. Intensive.
The group will be doing nothing but discussing, reading, and making comics except for when we are eating fresh donuts at the Polka Dot Diner.

4. The Jump-Start approach
Students will be developing work for a long project. If you have been waiting for the opportunity to start or finish that graphic novel project, this is it!

5. The Long Haul
But the fun does not end after five days: we continue to work as a group on-line for another two months, refining and improving work.

6. Guest star cameos by some of today’s most fascinating talents of Comicdom!!!
I am hoping that we will have visits and lectures from the likes of cartoonists Steve Bissette,  Jason Lutes, and James Sturm because while they yap I can run down to the Polka Dot Diner for a fresh you-know-what.

If you take this class, I can pretty much guarantee that you will be a better cartoonist leaving my class than when you begin.

Plus: it will be lots of fun.

Any level of cartoonist may apply, but bear in mind, this is a MASTER Class. Unpublished cartoonists should have solid drawing and humility skills. Published cartoonists may just need their asses kicked for which I will be only too happy to oblige. Comics boot camp!

The only real requirement is that you come to class willing to work very hard...and like donuts.

If you want more info, go here:

If you want less info, go here:

If you want a donut go here:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Graphic Novel Realism: Backstage at the Comics

I have just returned from DeKalb, Illinois, the home Northern Illinois University. It is also the home of barbed wire and there is a Barbed Wire Museum in town. Need I say more? No. Go.

There are several Antique Stores in town. Mostly they are the kind that smell like candles scented with a secret recipe combining lavender and stomach acid. Handsome overpriced vintage ceramic bowls and lard tins mingle with folksy hand made 100% American knick-knacks that keep factories in China churning out bolts of calico.

But there is one true junk store in town that really has junk. The front of the store is chock-a-block with hand tools, some of which might have actually worked 30 years ago. I really liked this store and wish that I had the time to go through the box of vacuum hose attachments I saw in a corner.

There were lots of LPs in and out of their sleeves, pre-scratched to save you the trouble. I was very impressed to find a coagulation of five copies of Vaughn Meader’s “The First Family”. Actually, there was a sixth copy, too, but it was out of its sleeve moonlighting in a box of Frisbees.

Several times a day, a train rolls through town and the mournful whistle blows to remind you that you are in the heartland of America, though you could remind yourself easily by a glance down Main Street at the empty storefronts since all the commercial action is at the mall just outside of town.

I gave three lectures in two days at NIU and spent a third day critiquing 15 graduate painting students of my pal, Katie Kahn. I saw some very good painting by these hard working young people and I feel privileged that I had the chance to encourage them. I was also thrilled as hell to get paid to tell other people what to do with their work. Ooo-whee, doggie! Ain’t that a kick!

The Museum at the University asked me to curate an exhibition that I had originally titled, “Hey, Stoopid! Comix R Cool!”, but which is now called, “Graphic Novel Realism: Backstage at the Comics” (whatever that means!).

Josephine Burke, the Director of the Museum and her crew magically transformed my exacting and intricate floor plan written in crayon on the back of a cocktail napkin, into a very handsome exhibit that I encourage you to go see before the end of May, 2012 featuring the work of Joyce Farmer, Jaime Hernandez, Jason Lutes, Mark Newgarden & Megan Montague Cash, Seth, James Sturm and myself. For those looking for something a bit more lowbrow, there is an exhibit across the hall of Goya’s Los Caprichos.

Here is a link to entire NIU Comics “Suite”, including an upcoming lecture on Rudolphe Toppfer by French Language professor, Philippe Willems:

And here's a video tour of the exhibit:

Friday, February 03, 2012

Angouleme 2012

Angoulême Report 2012

The poster by Art Spiegelman was hung everywhere...
and I mean EVERYwhere.
Located as it is in France, Angoulême is nothing like any American town. For instance, unlike, say, Philadelphia, Angoulême has no nickname for outsiders to rattle off under the mistaken impression that this makes them seem like insiders. One does not travel to “Anggie”. Hmm… Do any European cities even have nicknames? How sad? Without nicknames how can any European town ever achieve the excellence of something like the Philly Cheese Steak.

I began my two-week stay there teaching a group of bright, skillful students at the EESI Masters Program. Yes, a MASTERS Program in CARTOONING! I know that this may seem an alien concept to many of you who think of Masters Programs in terms of Law, Medicine, and Pink Floyd studies.

Each year the Festival committee chooses some famous cartoonist to be President of the Festival. They make their choice based on the systematic American Electoral College model meaning that systematically nobody understands how it is done. This year Art Spiegelman was chosen to be Grand Pooh-Bah.

To appropriate W.C. Fields’ epitaph, on the whole, Art Spiegelman, from the moment he was selected, claimed that he would rather be in Philadelphia. In the first sign of cultural rift, he referred to it as Philly.

Art said that after a day of being hounded by paparazzi he, "understood why Jim Morrison killed himself".

Too bad for him. For a guy who professes to not wanting to be part of a club that would have him for a member, my chum, Art, has a lot of membership cards. This is good for me, ‘cause when it came time for him to get a very private showing in the very private museum archives with his own very private film crew, I was invited to tag along as long as I behaved myself and did not drool all over the original artwork (too much).
Hillary Chute, Art Spiegelman and I enjoy the original art of Calvo.
(keep your eyes peeled for my upcoming ebay auctions)

It’s a good thing that the Angoulême Comics Festival is an annual event. If it occurred only once you would not know if it was worse than the years before…and hence you would not have anything to reference for complaining. And complain-we-must at the Angoulême Comics Festival because mixing equal parts of “Cartoonists” with “France” creates the perfect Kvetch Cocktail. I had many conversations this past weekend with people trying to find things to complain about, including the usual subjects:

The Crowds?  
Maybe the price of gas lowered the number of school groups in attendance, but in past years the sheer number of jeunne filles and garçons made even slogging through the streets impossible. The best you could do was stand still and hope that the human tide would carry you downstream to an exhibit that you wanted to see or maybe to a bakery. I suspect that teachers finally wised-up to the fact that a comics festival makes a lousy field trip. I, for one, would prefer to take a field trip with my class to the beach where if mon petit Jacques is being eaten by a shark at least I can see him disappear.

Inside those white tents thousands of comics await purchasing.
Outside, the locals curse the extra five minutes it takes to cross the damn street.
Above, a gargoyle finds it all amusing (look closely).

The Weather?  
Who doesn’t like to bitch about the weather? In Italy, university courses are given on Weather Critique, yet even my ol’ Italian amici, with whom I had dinner with on Friday night, could find nothing to criticize about the Angoulême weather. This led to a very dull table conversation. They perked up, though, when the French-style coffee was plunked down and they finally REALLY had something to complain about.

There was a very cool show of cartoonists' paintings. Here is Cowboy Henk in oils by Herr Seele.
My favorite exhibit of new work was by Vincente Perriot
in part because to get there you had to climb a tight 300 year-old stone staircase.

The Exhibitions?  
You may not give a damn about the work of Art Spiegelman but you would be in the minority at Angoulême last week judging by the throngs at the Musée de Cite. Like it or not, you cannot find fault in the installation of this massive display of his work. Last year’s Baru exhibit (see previous blog below) left people with plenty to complain about from their hospital beds while recovering from fractures received stumbling around in the darkness. Much of Art’s work works well on a wall due to its graphic appeal, confrontational content, and the fact that scientific studies have proven that people really, really like art that has plenty of cats and mice.

But his secret weapon in this case was that all the framing and hanging had been supervised by Rina Mattotti who hangs comic art for fun and profit at the Gallerie Martel in Paris. Rina is a genius when it comes to this sort of thing. She is also very nice, smart, and, being the wife of Italy’s greatest arbiter of female beauty, Lorenzo Mattotti, she is also beautiful. Many women want to kill her. (But oddly, no men do, for some reason that my wife will not allow me to understand.)

Rina is also a very good person to sit next to during a Festival Official Opening Ceremony because she has a nice fluffy coat that doubles as a pillow. You do not want to ever miss the Festival Official Opening Ceremony if you happen to be a 2 X 4 block of wood. All others should head to the bar. Let’s put it this way, if you were to take a vote as to what the high point of this ceremony was, the audience favorite would surely be the elderly Taiwanese man in a crisp grey suit who performed a brisk incomprehensible show with two traditionally dressed hand puppets that would not be out of place at a birthday party for six year-olds.

Across the river from the Spiegelman retrospective, is another Musée de Bande Designee (which roughly translates as the “Museum of Band Aids”) that housed the “Musée Privé de Art Spiegelman”, Art’s hand-picked version of the best and most important comics culled from museums, collectors, and dumpsters from all over the world. Rather than describe the show, I’ll just offer up a few pix of what you missed so that at least YOU will have something to complain about.

Chester Gould 
Harold Gray
Kurtzman and Elder

Preliminary sketch by Caran D'ache
Milt Gross 

• The Programming?
What follows is my in depth coverage of several excellent panels:
• Whatever Eddie Campbell says is wonderful because he has got the coolest accent of anyone in comics. He comes from the Sean Connery neighborhood of Scotland.

• Lorenzo Mattotti and Jacques de Loustal like to work for the New Yorker because they can make jokes with their editor, Françoise Mouly, in French about the editorial policy without anyone understanding what they are saying.

• After books detailing the Bosnian war and the Palestinian conflict, Joe Sacco’s next book will be about Pink Floyd, or maybe it was the history of the Philly Cheese Steak. Sorry, Joe, these panels began to kinda run together.

• Hillary Chute’s in depth interview with Art Spiegleman revealed that as a youth Art had learned about Elliot Alfred Caplin changing his Jewish-sounding name to Al Capp and so Art tried out several nom-de-plumes before settling on art spiegelman. His real name is Reginald Potterby.

Angoulême may be small but it appears impossible to start from any given point and actually arrive in time for any given event. However I did manage to arrive 20 minutes early to a RAW magazine panel. The place was packed so I sat in the only remaining available chair which happened to be on Charles Burns’ lap...not so good since he was one of the speakers.
Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Françoise Mouly, Charles Burns
(not shown 257 audience members in a room meant for 35)

It was the Year of the Spiegelman, right? So it might be expected that many Festival attendees might be interested in a RAW panel with Charles, Françoise Mouly, and Aline Kominsky-Crumb. The organizers’ brilliant strategy was to stage the panel in the Hotel du Palais. Sounds like it must be a grande palace with a ballroom, right? Nope. Hotel de Sardine Can had a lobby that sat about 35 people uncomfortably. This way everyone turned away would have to…go out and spend more money on comics! Formidable, oui?

O.K., so let’s see where was I on the complaint list?

Crowds? NO.

Weather? NO.

Exhibits? NO.

Programming? NO (sort of).

That leaves the Food and the Company (highly subjective subjects) to complain about. I know that many of my cartoonist pals do not really care much about food since they live on coffee and twigs, so they can skip this part and go out to forage but be sure to come back in a few paragraphs.

Centuries ahead of America, the French have discovered a way
to make a grilled cheese sandwich with the cheese in side AND outside!

I made it a point to eat duck at least once a day, a feat impossible in the U.S…especially if your goal is to eat duck prepared a DIFERENT WAY at least once a day. I had breast of duck with green pepper cream sauce, grilled duck, duck Pate de Grandmere (basically ground-up duck and ground-up grandmother mixed-together), duck with orange sauce, braised duck with rosemary drizzled with fig sauce, duck crepes, and duck tartar (duck mixed with tar, twice). I also had a sandwich on fresh baguette with spinach, goat cheese and honey. I though that I was ordering a duck sandwich but this actually turned out to be delicious and I recommend it. Much better than the Anggie Cheese Steak.

And as for the company? Well, take away everything to complain about and cartoonists are kind of somewhat nice people. Here are pix of me with cool cartoonists that I shamelessly display in the vain hope that you will think that I, too, am really cool, and will invite me to your birthday party. I’ll even bring the traditionally dressed hand puppets.

Kriota Willberg, Bill Kartalopoulos, Bob Sikoryak and I
built our own table at Le Chat Noir out of popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners

Kai Pfeiffer and Ulli Lust are three sets of twins.
There can be no other explanation for the fact that every time I turned around: there they were.

Philippe Dupuy, Theirry Smolderen and I
 "coincidently" meet on this  bridge every year to have our picture taken.
(I am not supposed to know that Philippe actually lives on the bridge)

If you want to learn how to make comics and you are Italian get in touch with
Marco Bianchini and Graziela Santinelli of the Scuola Internazionale di Comics.

Bill Kartalopoulos left his hat at home. And what is Art doing?! Smoking?!?!

The Angoulême police are after Igort for breaking the law; Cartoonists are not allowed to look like movie stars.

Dang! Missed this!