Sunday, January 12, 2020

Revised Best Comics of the Decade Lists

Robert Boyd

At the beginning of the year, I conflated 6 best-of-the-decade lists into one list (two actually--one for publications, one for artists). I figured my work was done. Then this week, I heard about another list that intrigued me, so I wrote about it. At the risk of beating a dead horse, the site that published Kim Jooha's list also published best-of lists from its other contributors. So there were five best-comics-of-the-decade list on this site, a new comics news and criticism site called Solrad. The lists were by:
  • Ryan Carey
  • Rob Clough
  • Daniel Elkins
  • Alex Hoffman
  • Kim Jooha
I liked their lists because they were closer to my tastes. (I have since discovered other best-of lists that were pretty much all superheroes, which I have chosen to ignore.) So I decided to update my list taking into account the five Solrad lists.

Best publications

Titles author Number of times ranked
Daytripper Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon 4
Hawkeye Matt Fraction and David Aja 4
My Favorite Thing Is Monsters Emil Ferris 4
Prince Of Cats Ron Wimberly 4
You & A Bike & A Road Eleanor Davis 4
Girl Town Carolyn Nowak 3
Hark! A Vagrant! Kate Beaton 3
Lumberjanes Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Brooklyn A. Allen, Carolyn Nowak, Carey Pietsch, Ayme Sotuyo, Maarta Laiho, Aubrey Aiese 3
Mister Miracle Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Clayton Cowles 3
Saga Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples 3
The Love Bunglers Jaime Hernandez 3
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Ryan North, Erica Henderson, Derek Charm 3
A Bride’s Story Kaoru Mori 2
Alienation  Inés Estrada 2
Batman Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo 2
Berlin Jason Lutes 2
Big Kids Michael DeForge 2
Black Hammer Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston 2
Copra Michel Fiffe 2
Everything Is Flammable Gabrielle Bell 2
Giant Days John Allison, Max Sarin, Lissa Treiman, Whitney Cogar, and Jim Campbell 2
Goodnight Punpun Inio Asano 2
Grip Lale Westvind 2
House Of X/Powers Of X Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, R.B. Silva, Marte Gracia, Clayton Cowles, and Tom Muller 2
Julio's Day Gilbert Hernandez 2
Last Look Charles Burns 2
Monstress Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda, and Rus Wooton 2
O Human Star Blue Delliquanti 2
The Immortal Hulk  Al Ewing, Joe Bennett 2
The Nib Mat Bors and a cast of thousands 2
The River At Night  Kevin Huizenga 2
The Wicked + The Divine Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie 2
This One Summer Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki 2
Thor Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman 2




As you can see, the top titles of this revised list are quite different than the previous list. As for the best-ranked artists, the new list looks like this:

author Number of times ranked
Eleanor Davis 7
Matt Fraction 7
Carolyn Nowak 6
Fábio Moon 5
Gabriel Bá 5
Jaime Hernandez 5
Jillian Tamaki 5
Brian K. Vaughan 4
David Aja 4
Emil Ferris 4
Emily Carroll 4
Noelle Stevenson 4
Ron Wimberly 4
Scott Snyder 4
Tom King 4
Alan Moore 3
Aubrey Aiese 3
Ayme Sotuyo 3
Blue Delliquanti 3
Brooklyn A. Allen 3
Carey Pietsch 3
Derek Charm 3
Erica Henderson 3
Fiona Staples 3
Gilbert Hernandez 3
Grace Ellis 3
Greg Capullo 3
Inio Asano 3
Jason Aaron 3
Kat Leyh 3
Kate Beaton 3
Lale Westvind 3
Maarta Laiho 3
Mariko Tamaki 3
Michael DeForge 3
Mitch Gerads 3
Ryan North 3
Shannon Watters 3
Tillie Walden 3
Tom Muller 3
Aidan Koch 2
Al Ewing 2
Ben Mendelewicz 2
Charles Burns 2
Chris Ware 2
David Hine 2
Dean Ormston 2
Francesco Francavilla 2
Gabrielle Bell 2
Gina Wynbrandt 2
Inés Estrada 2
Jamie McKelvie 2
Jason Latour 2
Jason Lutes 2
Jeff Lemire 2
Jim Campbell 2
Joe Bennett 2
Joe Caramagna 2
John Allison 2
John Porcellino 2
Jonathan Hickman 2
Kaoru Mori 2
Kevin Huizenga 2
Kieron Gillen 2
Kyoko Okazaki 2
Lissa Treiman 2
Marco Failla 2
Margot Ferrick 2
Marjorie Liu 2
Marte Gracia 2
Mat Bors 2
Max Sarin 2
Michel Fiffe 2
Olivier Schrauwen 2
Pepe Larraz 2
R.B. Silva 2
Raina Telgemeier 2
Rus Wooton 2
Russell Dauterman 2
Sam Alden 2
Sana Takeda 2
Sarah Glidden 2
Shaky Kane 2
Simon Hanselmann 2
Walden Wong 2
Whitney Cogar 2

The addition of the Solrad lists moves Carolyn Nowak way up on the lists, and adds a lot of artists not present on the previous list.

Solrad is brand new. Their first post was on January 1. Tom Spurgeon's sudden, unexpected death has ended his site, The Comics Reporter. I don't think Solrad will replace it--their focus is a lot more art comics, whereas Tom was kind of an open filter.  But art comics are my interest, so I am looking forward to what they publish. If they display a weakness in their first week of existence, it's that their 5 best-of lists were produced by four white guys and one woman (who I think is of Korean ancestry--at least Jooha seems to be a Korean name). Dudes--this is 2020!

Friday, January 10, 2020

One More List

Robert Boyd

This list comes from Kim Jooha, who was the associate publisher of 2dcloud and is a writer about comics. 2dcloud is one of the most adventurous publishers of comics today, which gives you an idea of where Jooha is coming from. (She's the kind of person who uses the adjective "Deleuzian.") She expresses an ambivalence about lists, quoting from Elena Gorfinkel's manifesto "Against Lists":
Lists aggregate the already known and consolidate power… 
Lists pretend to make a claim about the present and the past, but are anti-historical, obsessed with their own moment, with the narrow horizon and tyranny of contemporaneity. They consolidate and reaffirm the hidebound tastes of the already heard... 
Lists will always disappoint… 
Torch your list. If you must count, write as many words about any film not on your list. Read as many words about a woman filmmaker or filmmaker from the global south. Or convert those words and characters into units of time, watching a film never on your list…
What makes her list different than the ones I analyzed in my last post (and my own list that was included therein) is that she lists artists rather than works. Here are the artists she put on her "Best Comics of the Decade" list:

Lale Westvind. (Who was also on the Comic Books Are Burning in Hell list.)
Jillian Tamaki (highly ranked on many best-of lists)
Patrick Kyle (who I don't think featured on anyone's list that I have seen)
Ilan Manouach (ditto)
Francesc Ruiz (whose work is somewhat conceptual)
Mushbuh (not on anyone's list)
Char Esme (ditto)
Ben Mendelewicz (ditto)
Gina Wynbrandt (ditto, but her work has been widely discussed outside of "best comics" lists)
Aidan Koch (She didn't make any of this year's lists that I noticed, but she made my personal 2015 list.)
Margot Ferrick (as far as I can tell, she is not on any other lists)
Aurélie William Levaux (Her works are not what I'd call comics, but I welcome an expansive definition)
Rantan (A Korean artist whose work has not been published in English as far as I know)
Tillie Walden (as far as I can tell, she is not on any other lists)
Some of the reprint projects of Sunday Press Books (kind of a cheat, since all these comics are nearly 100 years old).
Reprints of women cartoonist. Also kind of a cheat, but surely there should be a "best of the decade" list for archival and translation projects of comics that are older than 10-years-old.
Super-Structure. A Franco-Belgian anthology.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Best Comics of The Decade

Robert Boyd

In 1990, I worked on one of my favorite publishing projects, a two-volume anthology called The Best Comics of the Decade, published by Fantagraphics Books and co-edited with Gary Groth and Kim Thompson. The thesis behind these volumes was that the 80s had seen an explosion of great comics in anthologies (like RAW and Weirdo), in newspapers (specifically in alternative newsweeklies), and in what at the time was called alternative comics (which included publishers like us, Fantagraphics Books). Another part of our thesis was that most of the greatest works had been in short stories. The age of the graphic novel hadn't yet arrived, although Maus volume 1 had been published in 1986.

Our volumes excluded superheroes from Marvel and DC, partly because we were snobs about mainstream comics, but partly because we didn't have access to that material. If we had, would we have included something? Maybe an excerpt from Watchmen? We did include an Alan Moore story which we loved, called "Pictopia," which is a weird story about how the innocent fun of old-time heroes in comics had been replaced by a grim and cynical type of superhero--one that Alan Moore himself is partly responsible for (along with Frank Miller).

The thing about assembling this volume was that we editors felt that knowing what comics actually were published in the 80s was a doable task. We had each read thousands of pages of comics and felt like we had a grasp of what had been published. (Because we thought that book buyers back then would never shell out for a 240-page book of comics, we published it in two volumes. That's another thing that has changes a lot in the past 30 years.)

Things have changed. Back then, "alternative comics" (i.e., anything that wasn't super-hero comics) were eking out an existence on the fringes. While superheroes now dominate our pop culture, in the world of comics, they are no longer utterly dominate comics mind-space as they once did. They still do to a certain extent--I know when I tell someone I am interested in comics, they usually ask about superheroes. As I have pointed out many times before, I am interested in comics as a category of art, like literature, theater, music, film, visual art. (To limit it to one genre or format is something I am not willing to do, especially a genre controlled by two large entertainment megacorporations, Warner Brothers--which owns DC Comics and all its properties--and Disney--which owns Marvel and all its properties.)

But in the 2010s, so many comics have been published that there is almost no way one person could have read them all. (I would fear for the sanity of anyone who tried.) Nonetheless, some brave souls have attempted to construct their own "best of the decade" lists. This decade has been dominated by book-sized publications, which is reflected in their lists. The lists I looked at were:
The best list in my opinion is Comic Books Are Burning in Hell's, and it is also the shortest. The Beat's is the longest. The total of all five lists is 130 titles (or 129, because there is some overlap on a Batman title). The lists are mostly unranked. (I'll put the whole list at the bottom of this post.)

It occurred to me that one way to rank the comics would be to look at which ones appeared on multiple lists. So with a long morning of Excel-ery, I have made a list of the most highly regarded comics of the decade by that criterion (appearing on multiple best-of lists).

Here are all the titles that appeared on at least two lists:
  • Hawkeye, Matt Fraction and David Aja, 4
  • Mister Miracle, Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Clayton Cowles, 3
  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Ryan North, Erica Henderson, Derek Charm, 3
  • Prince Of Cats, Ron Wimberly, 3
  • Hark! A Vagrant!, Kate Beaton, 3
  • Lumberjanes, Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Brooklyn A. Allen, Carolyn Nowak, Carey Pietsch, Ayme Sotuyo, Maarta Laiho, Aubrey Aiese, with Brittney Williams, Faith Erin Hicks, Aimee Fleck, Rebecca Tobin, Felicia Choo, and T. Zysk, 3
  • Daytripper, Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, 3
  • My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Emil Ferris, 3
  • Saga, Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, 3
  • Batman, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, 2
  • Copra, Michel Fiffe, 2
  • The Nib, Matt Bors and a cast of thousands, 2
  • Monstress, Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda, and Rus Wooton, 2
  • This One Summer, Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, 2
  • The Wicked + The Divine, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, 2
  • The River At Night , Kevin Huizenga, 2
  • House Of X/Powers Of X, Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, R.B. Silva, Marte Gracia, Clayton Cowles, and Tom Muller, 2
  • Giant Days, John Allison, Max Sarin, Lissa Treiman, Whitney Cogar, and Jim Campbell, 2
  • Black Hammer, Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, 2
  • Thor, Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, 2
  • The Love Bunglers, Jaime Hernandez, 2
  • Goodnight Punpun, Inio Asano, 2
  • You & A Bike & A Road, Eleanor Davis, 2
  • Last Look, Charles Burns, 2
  • O Human Star, Blue Delliquanti, 2 
I have only read six of these in their entirety. The Nib would be difficult to read all of--it's a political comics site that one dives in in bits and pieces. But I've read a LOT of the comics there; I highly recommend it. I've read a bit of Lumberjanes and Copra, but didn't really connect with them. I haven't read any of the superhero titles because that's a genre I've outgrown in comics. And as for the rest, I've heard of most of them...

Perhaps a better way to look at it would be to see which authors and artists were referenced most frequently by appearing on multiple lists with multiple titles. Of course, I made a similar list.
The number refers to the number of times a person appeared anywhere on any of the lists. Several appeared in anthologies that made the list (Mould Map 3 and Smut Peddler 2012 Edition, specifically).

I'm willing to agree with the consensus in one small way: Eleanor Davis is the comics artist of the decade. What a privilege is has been to see her blossom as a cartoonist.

It is interesting to look at this list and see who among them were also in The Best Comics of the Decade in 1990. The only three who made both were Charles Burns, Jaime Hernandez and Alan Moore (three giants, to be sure).

OK, given that I have read only a small fraction of the comics that were published between 2010 and 2019 (and given that I have only read some on the master list that I will reproduce below), here are my favorites, selected by perusing my bookshelves 10 minutes ago:

  • Over Easy by Mimi Pond (Drawn & Quarterly, 2014)

  • Berlin by Jason Lutes (Drawn & Quarterly, 2018)

I have personal connections with many of the artists here, and I've met all of them except for Julia Wertz and David B.

This is the most I've thought about comics in one sustained burst in a long time.  I wish I had insights about the past decade to share. I don't except to note how that book has become the dominant form and that female artists and artists of color are now the dominant figures in art of comics. They make up more than 50% of my personal list, at least. That's a big shift.

I want to dedicate this post to the memory of my friend Tom Spurgeon, who died in November.

Addendum: Some additional best-of lists made me want to revise these compiled lists, which I have done here.

Here is the combined best-of list mentioned above:
  • “Time” by Randall Munroe
  • 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa
  • A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Olma and Steven LeCroy
  • Afterlife With Archie by Robert Aguirre-Sacasa, Francesco Francavilla, and Jack Morelli
  • All-New Wolverine by Tom Taylor, David Lopez, David Navarrot, Marcio Takara, IG Guara, Bob Wiacek, Victor Olazaba, Walden Wong, Nik Virella, Scott Hanna, Djibril Morissette-Phan, Leonard Kirk, Cory Hamscher, Marc Deering, Terry Pallot, Juann Cabal, Marco Failla, Ramon Rosanas, Nathan Fairbairn, Jordan Boyd, Mat Lopes, John Rauch, Michael Garland, Jesus Aburtov, Erick Arciniega, Nolan Woodard, and Cory Petit
  • Archival Quality by Ivy Noelle Weir and Christina “Steenz” Stewart
  • Arsène Schrauwen by Olivier Schrauwen
  • Basquiat by Julian Voloj and Søren Mosdal
  • Batman by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
  • Batman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder, Jock, Francesco Francavilla, David Baron, Jared K. Fletcher, and Sal Cipriano
  • Batman: The Court of Owls by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
  • Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët
  • Becoming Unbecoming by Una
  • Berlin by Jason Lutes
  • Big Kids by Michael DeForge
  • Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine DeLandro, Cris Peters, Kelly Fitzpatrick, and Clayton Cowles
  • Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston
  • Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze
  • Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang and Lark Pien
  • Brazen by Pénélope Bagieu
  • Building Stories by Chris Ware
  • Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu
  • Clyde Fans by Seth
  • Copra by Michel Fiffe
  • Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
  • Daredevil by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, Javier Rodriguez, Matt Wilson, and Joe Caramagna
  • Daytripper by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon
  • Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary M. Talbot and Bryan Talbot
  • Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles by Mark Russell, Mike Feehan, Mark Morales, Sean Parsons, Howard Porter, Jose Marzan Jr., Paul Mounts, and Dave Sharpe
  • Fatherland: A Family History by Nina Bunjevac
  • FF by Matt Fraction and Mike Allred
  • Frontier #7 by Jillian Tamaki
  • Gawain’s Girlfriend and the Green Knight by Polly Guo
  • Generous Bosom by Conor Stechshulte
  • Giant Days by John Allison, Max Sarin, Lissa Treiman, Whitney Cogar, and Jim Campbell
  • Girl Town by Carolyn Nowak
  • Goodnight Punpun by Inio Asano
  • Grip by Lale Westvind
  • Guts by Raina Telgemeier
  • Hark! A Vagrant! by Kate Beaton
  • Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja
  • Hellboy in Hell by Mike Mignola
  • Helter Skelter by Kyoko Okazaki
  • Here by Richard McGuire
  • Hilda & The Black Hound by Luke Pearson
  • Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor
  • Hot Comb by Ebony Flowers
  • House Of X/Powers Of X by Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, R.B. Silva, Marte Gracia, Clayton Cowles, and Tom Muller
  • How To Be Happy by Eleanor Davis
  • How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden
  • Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
  • Is This How You See Me? by Jaime Hernandez
  • It Never Happened Again by Sam Alden
  • Julio's Day by Gilbert Hernandez
  • Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine
  • Last Look by Charles Burns
  • Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valerio-O’Connell
  • Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe
  • Lumberjanes by Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Brooklyn A. Allen, Carolyn Nowak, Carey Pietsch, Ayme Sotuyo, Maarta Laiho, Aubrey Aiese, with Brittney Williams, Faith Erin Hicks, Aimee Fleck, Rebecca Tobin, Felicia Choo, and T. Zysk
  • March by Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
  • Margot’s Room by Emily Carroll
  • Mister Miracle by Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Clayton Cowles
  • Monstress by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda, and Rus Wooton
  • Mould Map 3 by Aidan Koch, Amalia Ulman, Angie Wang, Ben Mendelewicz, Blaise Larmee, Brenna Murphy, CF, Cody Cobb, Daniel Swan, Dmitry Sergeev, Gabriel Corbera, GHXYK2, Hugh Frost, Jacob Ciocci, James Jarvis, Joseph Kelly, Jonas Delaborde, Jonathan Chandler, Jonny Negron, Julien Ceccaldi, Karn Piana, Kilian Eng, Lala Albert, Lando, Leon Sadler, Matthew Lock, Noel Freibert, Olivier Schrauwen, Robert Beatty, Sam Alden, Sammy Harkham, Simon Hanselmann, Stefan Sadler, Viktor Hachmang & Yuichi Yokoyama
  • Ms Marvel by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Jacob Wyatt, Elmo Bondoc, Takeshi Miyazawa, Nico Leon, Francesco Gaston, Marco Failla, Diego Olortegui, Ian Herring, Irma Knivila, and Joe Caramagna, with Saladin Ahmed, Rainbow Rowell, Hasan Minhaj, Devin Grayson, Eve L. Ewing, Jim Zub, Gustavo Duarte, Joey Vazquez, Kevin Libranda, Minkyu Jung, Juan Vlasco, and Bob Quinn
  • My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris
  • My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
  • My Hero Academia by Kohei Horikoshi, Caleb Cook, and John Hunt
  • My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Kabi Nagata
  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
  • O Human Star by Blue Delliquanti
  • Octopus Pie by Meredith Gran
  • On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
  • Patience by Daniel Clowes
  • Peplum by Blutch
  • Poochytown by Jim Woodring
  • Prince Of Cats by Ron Wimberly
  • Prison Pit by Johnny Ryan
  • Providence by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows
  • Rock Candy Mountain by Kyle Starks and Chris Schweizer
  • Sabrina by Nick Drnaso
  • Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
  • Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O’Malley
  • Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
  • Sex Fantasy by Sophia Foster Dimino
  • Silver Surfer by Dan Slott and Michael Allred
  • Sir Alfred no. 3 by Tim Hensley
  • Smile by Raina Telgemeier
  • Smut Peddler 2012 Edition by Rebecca Ruby, Megan Furesz, Trisha L. Sebastian, Erin Basie, M. Magdalene, Mr. Darcy, Betty Jean Doe, Nora Riley, Kel McDonald, Rennie Kingsley, Erika Moen, Leia Weathington, Algesiras, Dwam, Argets, Ursula Wood, Jennifer Doyle, E.K. Weaver, Magnolia Porter, Shari Hes, Steve Horton, Erica Leigh Currey, Alice Fox, B. White, Ambrosia, Alice Hunt, Dechanique, Carla Speed McNeil, Karate McDanger, Jess Fink, Blue Delliquanti, Nechama Frier, Pupcake Jones, Lee Blauersouth, Abby Lark, Theo Lorenz, C. Spike Trotman, Diana Nock, Amanda Lafrenais
  • Southern Bastards by Jason Aaron, Jason Latour
  • Spider-Gwen by Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez
  • Sunburning by Keiler Robert
  • Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto
  • Super Late Bloomer by Julia Kaye
  • The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew
  • The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
  • The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg
  • The End of the F@(U$*#+g World by Charles Forsman
  • The Fifth Beatle by Vivek Tiwary, Andrew Robinson
  • The Hard Tomorrow by Eleanor Davis
  • The Hospital Suite by John Porcellino
  • The Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing, Joe Bennett
  • The Love Bunglers by Jaime Hernandez
  • The Multiversity by Grant Morrison, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Walden Wong, Ben Oliver, Frank Quitely
  • The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon
  • Nemo by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
  • The Nib by Matt Bors and a cast of thousands
  • The Oven by Sophie Goldstein
  • The Passion Of Gengoroh Tagame by Bruno Gmuender
  • The Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin
  • The Property by Rutu Modan
  • The River At Night by Kevin Huizenga
  • The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman, JH Williams III and Dave Stewart
  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North, Erica Henderson, Derek Charm
  • The Vision by Tom King, Gabriel Walta, Jordie Bellaire
  • The Walking Dead #193 by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard
  • The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie
  • This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
  • Thor by Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Friday, October 25, 2019

Tod und Verklärung

Robert Boyd

Today I went to a lunch lecture put on by the Houston Symphony for the education of those of us who work for Symphony. Calvin Dotsey, the editor of our program magazine, InTune, gives talks over lunch about upcoming classical concerts. (He is perfect for these talks because his knowledge of classical music is staggering and his passion for it is unmistakable.) Today he spoke of Trifonov Plays Tchaikovsky, three concerts happening in late November, and A Musical Feast: All-Strauss Thanksgiving, which is happening the three days after Thanksgiving. As he spoke, I found myself thinking of Michael Galbreth, who died last Saturday, October 19.

The first concert includes Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (composed for piano in 1874, and orchestrated by Maurice Ravel in 1922). The story of its origin is well-known. Mussorgsky was friends with a painter/architect named Viktor Hartmann, who like Mussorgsky was kind of a Russian nationalist when it came to art. They both advocated for an authentically Russian art. (Such artistic nationalism was common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially in music.) Hartmann died quite young of an aneurysm and after his death, his friends put on a memorial exhibition at the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg. It was while walking through this exhibit that Mussorgsky was moved to write a tribute to his dead friend. Each section of the piece refers to specific Hartmann paintings or drawings. By now, of course, the music is much better known than the artwork.

I was moved by the idea of a composer paying tribute to his dead friend. I hope that someone organizes a memorial exhibit of Michael Galbreth's work. Because so much of it was in the form of performance, such an exhibit would necessarily contain a lot of video and other documentation.

I know Galbreth knew composers--in 1986 he helped organize and stage the New Music America festival in Houston, a festival of experimental music. He wrote about it:
We received 719 proposals for New Music America 1986. In the end, the 10-day festival comprised of more than 200 participants spread out over 50 events at almost as many venues and locations. In numerical terms alone, there was nothing like it before in Houston, and there hasn't been anything like it since.
This festival was right up Michael's alley. He wrote:
At that time, most of my work was devoted to experimental music. I had presented work at Lawndale, DiverseWorks, various other alternative spaces, and on KPFT radio. I was among a tiny handful of Houston practitioners of this esoteric form of music. To work with some of the world's greatest composers, many of whose work I revered, would be the chance of a lifetime.
Imagine one of those composers dedicating a work of experimental music to Michael. I think of Morton Feldman composing a 4 hour tribute to his friend Philip Guston.

Michael Galbreth deserves his own Mussorgsky or Feldman.

Then Dotsey spoke of our upcoming all-Richard Strauss program, which includes Tod und Verklärung (aka Death and Transfiguration) from 1890 as well as Strauss's Four Last Songs. Dotsey narrated excerpts from Tod und Verklärung. An artist lays dying, has a vision of transfiguration, dreams about his life, experiences pain then ends with a glimpse of transfiguration. Strauss was agnostic and completely secular, so I wonder what he imagined transfiguration would be.

Then fast-forward to 1948, and the elderly Strauss embarks on his last musical journey with songs based on poems by Joseph von Eichendorff and Hermann Hesse. Dotsey, who has heard everything and has an encyclopedic knowledge of orchestral music, called them the most beautiful pieces of music ever composed. Strauss died before they could be performed, but they seem to describe the autumn and winter of life.

I couldn't hear these two pieces (and Dotsey's erudite descriptions of them) without thinking of Michael. May your transfiguration be glorious.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Michael Galbreth, RIP

Michael Galbreth, the tall half of the Art Guys, died yesterday. I'm staggering under this news. There is much to say about this man and his work. Perhaps once I have collected my thoughts, I will write something. For now, I thought I'd publish some of the photos I've taken of Michael over the years, usually while he and fellow Art Guy Jack Massing were doing a performance.

These were all taken at a performance the Art Guys did at Notsuoh in July, 2013.


A month later, they did this performance in front of City Hall.

This is from a performance they did in November, 2013. 

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Dispossession by Simon Grennan

Dispossession by Simon Grennan (Jonathan Cape, 2014)

Adaptations of classic literature into comics form are almost universally terrible, so one would be forgiven for imagining that this adaptation of Anthony Trollope's novel John Caldigate would be similarly bad. But I was very pleasantly surprised. Grennan (best known for his collaborations with Christopher Sperandio) manages to take this 600-page Victorian novel and condense it convincingly into 93 pages. How does he manage it? He does it by a careful elliptical construction. He lets the pictures tell the story and skips anything unnecessary to the telling. (It helps if you know the outline of the novel before you read it.)

This approach allows him to add a subplot not present in the Trollope novel--a story of an aboriginal second wife who leaves her husband as they interact with the European city dwellers and miners of the story. Their dialogue is in the Wiradjuri language. The Wiradjuri are an ethnic group of Aboriginal people who lived in New South Wales. This subplot seems kind of tacked on, as if Grennan thought it necessary to remind readers that John Caldgate and his companions were all extracting wealth from Australia as colonizers, but it has parallels to the story in Trollope's novel. Caldigate essentially has two wives, which causes him much trouble, as does Gulpilil, the Aboriginal man in the Wiradjuri subplot.

If you had seen Grennan's photo-based comics done with Sperandio, you will be surprised by the artwork here. He has a very loose style, that recalls Blutch's comics. He tells the story in a rigid 9-panel grid on the page, and the work is uncinematic. There are no close ups and the angles are usually straight-on. Most of the characters are shown in full-figure, which reminds me of Gabrielle Bell's work.

The format is quite lovely. 9" x 11" trim-size with glossy, full-color pages. The edition I have is a hard-cover, but Amazon has a Kindle version available as well.