A nerdy comics-centric project I’m working on has left me with a byproduct that I figured might be of interest to a few weirdos out there, so I’ve uploaded it to the internet.
The “byproduct” is a photoset containing a decent percentage of the covers to Chicago’s “NewCity” (A free arts weekly) published from 1992ish through 1997ish (Actually: the oldest cover is from 1991, and the most recent is from November 18th, 1999 – but there are gaps throughout). A wealth of 90’s design!
Why do I have these? Comic artist Chris Ware published much of his “Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth” graphic novel serially in the pages of NewCity throughout the 90’s, and I’ve been steadily accumulating issues for awhile now. The bulk of these issues were handed off by Steve Dalber, who will probably be shocked to see I’m finally doing something with them.
Some “highlights,” from my skewed perspective:
12/26/1991 – I think this cover is Ware’s first’s published work in Chicago?
5/21/1992 – “Acme Cartoons” officially starts running – teaser on the cover in vibrant magenta!
As I posted earlier, this week’s New Yorker magazine features four unique covers, one each by Alt Comics giants Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Adrian Tomine, and Ivan Brunetti (You can view them all here). According to The Beat, New Yorker Art Director Françoise Mouly let slip that there is a secret message hidden amongst the covers.
I spent a few minutes Googling the fragments of an address that appear in Tomine’s panels before giving up and checking the comments to see if anyone had figured it out (The address is that of The New Yorker’s Offices). An eagle-eyed reader of The Beat almost immediately identified that placing the four covers together creates a large image of New Yorker mascot Eustace Tilley, but even knowing that the image is there, it’s very subtle.
I’ve rigged an image of Eustace Tilley to overlay the four covers whenever you mouseover the image below. Switching back and forth between the overlay and the covers reveals some of the finer details of the disguised image: I particularly like how the scattered papers in Ware’s cover become fingers.
All told, we get a nice double fake:
An apparent break from the anniversary tradition of a reimagined Tilley illustration, instead offering an imagined ‘origin story’ for the first Tilley cover.
The whole of the story itself ends up being the Tilley cover.
Ware wrote up a nice appreciation of Rea Irvin (Creator of the original Eustace Tilley image) here.
Update: I’ve created a higher res version with opacity capability here.
There is a long history of Conan’s bumper art paying homage to disparate pieces of visual inspiration. Awhile back, there was a great website collecting all of these homage images here, but it looks like it’s fallen off the web. In a Metafilter discussion of that site, the name Kevin Frank is floated as the mastermind of all this, and following up on that lead brought me to his Flickr account, which has a gallery of all the bumpers with commentary. In case any are missing there, it looks like the content from the first site is also up here. The internet.
Another project I’ve been working on in my free time is ‘live’ for all intents and purposes. Awhile back, I linked to a posting on The Comics Journal Message Board by a guy named Jonathan Barli, in which he described his endeavor to digitize as many surviving turn-of-the-century newspaper comic strips as possible. This is necessary because many (bordering on most) libraries have sold or destroyed their original newspaper collections, effectively eliminating the most visible primary sources of comics history. See Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold and The World on Sunday for more thorough discussions of this.
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Barli sent me an email thanking me for the link. Since I think he’s doing something important, and I was working on a similar bit of coding for another project, I offered to throw together and host a quick, three template, database-driven site so he could showcase the results of his work, spread the word, and raise money to continue. Here ’tis: Digitalfunnies.com.
The work of Jason Shiga first came to my attention in 2003, when he won an Eisner award for “Talent most deserving of wider recognition.” A few months later, I read a write-up on his then-current interactive comic book, ‘Hello World,’ and immediately ordered it from the USS Catastrophe store, hoping for the best.
‘Hello World’ turned out to be a tour de force in the relatively uncrowded field of interactive sequential narrative. In concept, it’s a bit like a combination of the obsessive block diagramming of software development and the traditional comic book narrative. Put simply, it’s an ambitious, illustrated “Choose Your Own Adventure” story, complete with a self-contained inventory system. The pages of the book itself are cut into two halves – the upper half contains the narrative, the lower half displays your current inventory.
It’s a bit difficult to explain the function of the book without actually experiencing it or seeing it in action, so I’ve provided a short video clip below. It’s a must-see, if only to truly appreciate the complexity of the book Mr. Shiga has put together.
Hello World thoroughly blew my mind – when you think about the planning that went into executing such an idea, it’s just insane. I’m not sure how understandable the video above is, so I’ve pasted the official description, from the Shigabooks site, below:
“Hello World has two tiers that work independently of each other, not unlike the mix-n-match monster books of your childhood. Memory is stored in the bottom tier while the story takes place in the upper tier. The panels of the story are connected by a network of tubes. These tubes constantly dip in and out of the memory tier to determine what happens next in the story.”
Those familiar with my interests are by now realizing that this discovery — comic books that are NERDIER than NORMAL comic books?! — ranks pretty high on my list of best shit ever. Obviously, I had to find some of his other work. What follows are summaries of two of the other noteworthy books I eventually tracked down, as well as a ‘highlight reel’ of the new work that Jason recently added to his redesigned Shigabooks website. First though, some perspective on the guy behind these comics. Here’s the bio from his website:
“You could say that cartooning was in my blood. My father was an animator and worked on such shows as Obake no Q-taro and the legendary Bas Rankin Rudoph the Red Nosed Reindeer Christmas Special.”
“My parents have always been supportive of my interests. In highschool, I drew comic strips for the school newspaper and started to take up animation as well.
In 1998, I graduated from Cal with a degree in… Pure Mathematics. Why? Well, ever since I was ten years old, I had always thought that math was the best subject because even if you’re locked in a room for 25 years with no books you can still study it.”
“Currently, I work at the Oakland Public Library as a Library Aide and do freelance cartooning for magazines.”
‘Meanwhile’ is another interactive comic book that is less work-intensive on the part of the reader, and generally a much more readable iteration of the same ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ concept — a reversal in balance of plot and principle when compared with ‘Hello World.’
Like ‘Hello World,’ my first reaction to ‘Meanwhile’ was to marvel at the fact that someone was able to wrestle it all into a cohesive structure. The slightly-less-maniacally-detailed approach allows the plot to develop much more freely than in ‘Hello World.’ There’s a Mad scientist, a Time Machine, Secret Passwords, and Ice cream. All the good stuff. Shiga has actually isolated each panel, twist and turn contained in ‘Meanwhile’ and constructed a single ‘posterized’ version of the book, which he has exhibited at comic shows in the past. The finished product measures 5 feet by 5 feet, and can be seen here.
‘Fleep’ isn’t an interactive comic, but it managed to capture my interest nonetheless. While it doesn’t turn sequential narrative on its ear in the same way many of Shiga’s other works attempt to, it does have elements of logic and puzzle-solving built into the relatively straight-forward narrative, which will appeal to many of the same readers that would be enthused by his other efforts. The story begins with the main character waking up locked in a windowless phone booth with no memory of the events landing him in said situation. The rest of the plot consists of this character trying to piece together the specifics of his predicament, based on clues in the phone booth, information obtained using the telephone, deduction, and math. Awesome.
For those keeping score, the print version has the best production values of any of the books I’ve yet seen. Nice thick paper and better print quality than the interactive comics (Which I imagine are far more expensive to produce).
Further Online Works
I started piecing this entry together shortly after I originally ordered these books in early 2004. Research at the time seemed to indicate that Mr. Shiga had disappeared from the face of the earth shortly after winning the Eisner award. I emailed him in early 2005, asking about his next project and the availability of additional copies of “Hello World.” Here’s what he had to say:
“I’m currently working on a new
choose your own adventure type comic. The gimmick this time is that you get
to choose from 7-20 branches at every node (by the way, you only get to make
3 choices before a crazed gunman shoots you in the stomach). This project
should be finished within a couple months. I won’t make it in time for this
APE but it should be available by the next one.”
“As for obtaining a copy of
“Hello World”, you’re out of luck as usscatastrophe sold out recently. I’m not
selling any copies on my site because I get killed on the shipping. I will
be selling copies at APE so you should come down if you’re still in the area.
About a month ago, Mr. Shiga emerged from e-exile and completely revamped his website, adding all sorts of new content and revealing that he’s been doing interactive comics for Nickelodeon Magazine in the interim (“I started working for Nickelodeon Magazine in 2003. It is an awesome responsibility knowing that my comics could potentially corrupt over a million children across the country. I do mostly double page interactive spreads which the kids seem to love.”). Some other highlights from the newly updated site, in relative order of recommendation, include:
‘Dead Lock‘ – An absolutely great autobiographical story, illustrated by a friend. A glimpse into how the mind that creates these works functions in the real world. The story comes from an entry on his circa-2003 livejournal. Awesome.
‘Bookhunter‘ a new longform strip about crime and libraries. Super good.
When I went through the initial information-gathering that ended up producing the sadly neglected Acme Novelty Archive site, I contacted the student newspaper at the University of Texas to see if they had archives of back issues available for perusal. My plan was to scare up some of the student strips that Chris Ware had published in the paper while attending the University.
I love seeing the early work of cartoonists, as it adds the extra dimension of the craftsman’s learning curve to the narrative. A great example of what I’m poorly explaining can be found in the earliest volumes of Fantagraphics’ Complete Peanuts, and less-familiarly in “‘Lil Folks” and “It’s Only a Game” – collections of Charles Schulz’ pre-Peanuts and parrallel-to-Peanuts work, respectively.
Unfortunately, my communications with the staff at the Daily Texan never really went anywhere. One of the weird perks of writing about something on the internet, however, is that every so often, someone will read it and send you glimpses of exactly what you wanted to see in the first place. Such is the case with an anonymous gentleman who sent me the following scan of the original art for one of Mr. Ware’s Daily Texan strips.
“Here’s a scan of a strip Chris Ware did for the Daily Texan back in 1988. Sorry about the quality of the scan, but it was done through glass and in two parts. I’m not going to unmount it in order to scan it.”
“I’m pretty sure that “Bande” was the name of many of those Daily Texan strips, all of which featured the semi-circle head guy. Chris didn’t always put the word Bande as the title though. I have others with no title, and one that has the title “Komix”, but they all feature that same character.”
A huge thanks goes to David Pouchard for recording the program and sending me the tape (You can view David’s bibliography of Ware’s work in French publications here). I got the PAL videotape transferred to DVD (Expensive!), and am seeding a torrent of a small (but watchable) quicktime file containing the entire episode. Click here if you don’t know what a torrent is and follow the directions. Otherwise, you can grab the torrent file here. The show is mostly in English with french subtitles, so don’t worry too much about the language barrier!
Also – why the hell don’t we have Art TV here in the US? I’d happily watch it in french if it were available to me.
You can download the whole file the old-fashioned way here (it’s being used in a college course, so take advantage of the educational institution-sized bandwidth!), or view it in three parts here, here, and here.
Indie Comic artist Johnny Ryan, known for his ‘AngryYouth‘ Comics and general poor-taste, has been skewering the elder statesmen of indie comics in his ‘Shouldn’t You be Working?’ strip. These strips are mostly not safe for work, and are archived on his website, though some URL-archaeology was necessary to get to some of the older ones. You should probably have an unhealthy knowledge of the indie comics “scene,” and a high tolerance for extreme vulgarity to appreciate most of them. There’s an interview with Ryan (Conducted by Peter Bagge) here if you’d like some background.