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Barbie Time coverJust as the March issue of Playboy hit the stands last year, re-defining the magazine as a no-nudes (and — sob! — no cartoons) periodical, Barbie, the other definer of the feminine form, made the cover of Time with her make-over. The Barbie folk have decided that their iconic figure is no longer good for little girls. The classic Barbie doll is still available, but so are three new “body types” that are intended to make little girls feel okay about their bodies. The classic, it has been long established, makes girls aspire to impossibly thin and busty bodies. The new body types have been artfully labeled — petite, tall, and curvy.

The words were chosen with great care — not to offend anyone nor to suggest to any little girl that whatever her body type, it is somehow wrong. But if you look at their silhouettes, you can easily tell that “curvy” is a euphemism for chubby, or plump. Thick through the hips, slightly protruding belly, and with a booty of distinction, the “curvy Barbie” is undoubtedly modeled on today’s teenager, who is veering off, continually, in the direction of obesity. So rather than curb girls’ appetites to help them achieve a healthier life style, Barbie simply enables the current trend. Sigh.Barbie's Got a New body

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For the past forty years, NBM Publishing, America's first publisher of graphic novels, pioneered the translation and release of such foreign works as those by Enki Bilal and Hugo Pratt, and was the first to collect classic comic strips such as Terry and The Pirates in hardcover volumes. To celebrate its 40th anniversary last year, NBM unveiled a new logo, and branding, as NBM Graphic Novels. In addition, a new website has launched, improving on functionality and navigation. Also, the ComicsLit imprint has been dissolved, folding into the NBM brand. The adult graphic novel imprint, Eurotica, will remain independent and separate.



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Hebdo Anniversary CoverFor the first anniversary of the murders at its offices on January 7, 2015, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo issued a special commemorative issue. On the cover, another of the scabrous sort of cartoon for which Charlie is famous: a crazy-eyed, bloodied god-figure with a Kalashnikov strapped to his back. The headline reads: “One year on: the assassin is still on the run.”

The message: it was, after all, the Islamic hooligans’ religious convictions (against depicting Muhammad) that caused the massacre — hence, God is, by extension, the assassin. The unmistakable insinuation doubtless caused the usual cascade of strenuous disapproval from religious enthusiasts, regardless of their persuasion. But they can scarcely deny that religious zealotry pulled the triggers.

The issue includes drawings by the murdered cartoonists and various contributions from noted personalities. The main editorial is by the magazine’s current editorial director, the cartoonist Laurent Sourisseau, Riss, who, wounded in the shoulder, survived the slaughter. He writes:

“In 2006, when Charlie published caricatures of Muhammad, nobody seriously thought that this one day would end in violence. We saw France as a secular island, where it was possible to joke around, to draw, to laugh, without worrying about dogmas. The truth is that since then, many hoped that one day someone would come put us in our place. Yes, many hoped we would get killed. KILLED. Among them, fanatics stunted by the Quran, but also many holy rollers from other religions. ... The convictions of the laity and of atheists can move more mountains that the faith of believers.”



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Another Woman in Comics' Ancient History

Before we abandon this expedition into early women cartoonists, let me mention Marly Darly, who, with her husband Matthew, played a prominent role in the birth of caricature in England. They operated a couple print shops in London, dominating the market in the 1750s and 1760s, printing and selling single sheet prints, images both serious and comic. According to Mike Rendell (.com), “Mary developed the idea of producing small engravings with satirical sketches on them — the size of a playing card — which would be sent through the mail. They became collectors’ items and from 1756 were then bound up and published as an annual review under the title of A Political and Satyrical History of the Year. Mary describes the political sketches as ‘caricatures’ — the first time the description had been applied in this way.”

Rendell continues: “Mary also taught drawing and caricture-making to ‘suitable’ Ladies and Gentlemen, and in 1762, published the first guide book to the subject under the title of A Book of Caricaturas on 59 Copper Plates with ye Principles of Designing in the Droll & Pleasing Manner. It contained just three pages of instruction, but also set out numerous examples of her technique.”

In the late 1770s, James Gillray worked with the Darlys, but it was later that his association with the print shop of Hannah Humphrey in the 1790s and early 1800s that Gillray achieved lasting fame.

Examples of Marly Darly’s work can be found under her name on the Web; they are not clear enough images that I felt I could use here. But I was intrigued by the name Florence Cestac in connection with Angouleme. I know nothing of it and had never heard of her, so I plied the Web and discovered a few of her efforts, which I’ve scanned here.



Her work has an engaging slap-dash quality, exuberant and appealing.

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A Woman in Comics' Ancient History

Most of the women cartoonist names cited by Laurenn McCubbin are familiar to me, but the historic passions of their advocates do not, apparently, carry them much further into the past than the Twentieth Century. Among the names sidelined in this hasty fashion is Marie Duval, pen name of Isabelle Emilie de Tessier, a teenage French woman who was largely responsible for drawing the adventures of Britain’s Ally Sloper (1867 - 1923), who was the world’s first regular comic strip hero. The character’s name suggests his function: in Victorian England slang, “to ‘slope’ meant to abscond without paying, especially the rent (‘slope down the alley’),” according to comics historian David Kunzle in his monumental History of the Comic Strip. Kunzle continues:

“Ally Sloper first trod the boards in the form he was basically to retain all his long life of 66 years: elderly and gangly, bald, disheveled, with a bulbous potato nose, and often flushed as with drink. He bore two sartorial hallmarks, which were almost characters in themselves with adventures of their own: a bizarre and battered stovepipe hat and an outrageous umbrella. The degraded symbols of bourgeois respectability, they became on the head and in the hand of Sloper symbols of disreputability.”

Possibly inspired by Charles Dickens’ Mr. Micawber (in David Copperfield, 1849), Sloper was a blowhard and a poseur; but he was much more in that line—a knave, a coward, a cheat, a thief and a con man, living by his so-called wits. He first appeared in the August 14, 1867 issue of Judy, a weekly cheap rival to Punch, appealing, as its name implies, to women. (At least two of the staff cartoonists, Kunzle says, were women; alas, he doesn’t name them.) Sloper appeared in four more issues of Judy, then disappeared after October 9. He reappeared, however, two years later on December 1, 1869, and he continued thereafter in various kindred publications until 1923.

Although some details of Ally Sloper’s conception and development have been disputed, his creation is usually credited to Charles Henry Ross, a comic novelist and former civil servant, who may (or may not) have been editor of Judy at the magazine’s debut. By the time of Sloper’s return to the magazine in 1869, Ross had assumed editorial control of Judy, and he was married to Tessier, who, according to Kunzle, took over the drawing of Sloper.

Among the competing contentions is the one that maintains Ross both wrote and drew the early Sloper, relinquishing the art chores to Tessier in 1869 but continuing to contribute storylines. The other view is that Tessier was the principal artist from the very beginning. Some misguided souls maintain that Tessier “inked” Ross, difficult to do at the time, when artists drew on woodblocks that were then turned over to engravers to prepare for printing.

But whether Tessier — or, to use her pen name, Duval— solo’d on the first five Sloper strips or not is almost beside the point: no one questions that she drew him after his 1869 return, during his most formative period from 1870 to 1872, a total of 60 distinct appearances. After that, Sloper showed up only about a dozen times a year until about 1877, when, Kunzle says, he began to fade from view.

Still presumably drawn by Duval, Sloper appeared in various annual collections or anthologies (like Ally Sloper’s Comic Kalendar) until 1884, when he was taken over by the Dalziel engraving firm (owners of Judy), which produced Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday for the next eon or so.

Duval died in 1890, but she had presumably surrendered the drawing chores on Sloper about the time Dalziel took over. Dalziel’s Sloper was drawn, starting July 1884, by W.G. Baxter, until his death June 2, 1888, after which W.F. Thomas drew the character for years thereafter.  

Without much dispute, however, Duval was the shaping genius behind Britain’s first continuing comic character, whether or not she worked with her husband on storylines; her name appeared as the byline more often than her husband’s.


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Some Women for Angouleme

In the midst of last winter's brouhaha, as if conspiring to make matters worse, the executive officer of the festival, Franck Bondoux, in a remarkably tone-deaf interview, claimed that there was a very simple reason no women were included among the nominees for the Grand Prix. Discrimination was not to blame, he said. Instead, it was because of a lack of qualified women. “The Festival likes women, but cannot rewrite the history of comics,” he said, going on to cite the history of art: “If you go to the Louvre,” he said, “you will find few women artists.”

This statement inspired Laurenn McCubbin at theguardian.com to an extensive response, which we now quote from:

Miss Fury coverBondoux’s lame excuse to the contrary notwithstanding, the art world knows there are historic reasons for a lack of women in the limited period that the art at the Louvre represents. Women were barred from the academic training that was considered necessary for success. But when you look at the modern artistic landscape, it’s impossible not to see that the art world is trying to correct this oversight.

“For over 100 years, we have seen the presence of women in the American comics,” Caitlin McGurk, the associate curator of Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum (which houses the largest collection of comics and comic-related history in the world), said. “For the first half of the 20th century, many female cartoonists wrote under ambiguous or masculine names, just to increase their likeliness for publication.”

Among McGurk’s many examples: June Mills, who went by a version of her middle name, “Tarpé”, when she created the great Miss Fury in 1941. Miss Fury, in fact, was the first female action hero created by a woman; and she predates Wonder Woman.

“The early days of the comic strips saw national syndication for artists like Grace Drayton, Rose O’Neill, Nell Brinkley, Ethel Hays, and more who created, published and thrived even under their given name in the first few years of the 1900s,” McGurk continued. She also cited Edwina Dumm, the first female political cartoonist in the United States, who was working long before suffrage had even been extended to women, and Lou Rogers, the art director for Margaret Sanger’s groundbreaking and controversial Birth Control Review.

Bechdel panelsWomen were also a substantial presence in the underground comics movement, she said. “How can we dismiss the liberating works of Trina Robbins, Joyce Farmer, Carol Tyler, Roberta Gregory, Diane Noomin? And so many who have followed in their footsteps — from Lynda Barry to Phoebe Gloeckner, Marjane Sartrapi and more. These women paved the way for the substantial variety of female cartoonists whom we see working in the field today—their presence is not a token anomaly.

"What frightens and disappoints me most about the lack of recognition these women have received, however, is actually the lack of education and historical familiarity present in those who are given the power to bestow such acknowledgements.” ...

Glitz-2-Go coverOff the top of my head [McCubbin continues], I can give you the names of a dozen female comics writers deserving of a lifetime achievement award right now. There are the women of the Japanese manga collective Clamp, whose work ranges from the mythic shojo (girls manga) RG Veda to the seinen manga (adult men’s manga) Chobits. Their output dwarfs all but the most prolific of creators, with their influence seen in comics and cartoons worldwide.

There’s also Alison Bechdel, whose 30 years of weekly Dykes To Watch Out For strips stand next to her two bestselling graphic novels, her MacArthur Genius award and the Broadway musical based on her work.

And closer to the festival’s home there’s French comics titan Claire Bretécher whose work skewering outdated gender stereotypes has appeared in French humor magazines, in 23 published collections and on French television. (She received a special award from FIBD in 1983, but has never been given the actual Grand Prix.)

Other areas of the comics world have managed to get past attitudes like Bondoux’s. The Eisner Awards, awarded at the San Diego Comic Con since 1988 and often referred to as “the Oscars of the comics industry,” had its first female winner in 1992, when Karen Berger won for her work as editor on Sandman.

In fact, many modern comics festivals have fallen over themselves to award female comics creators. Just in the last year, an all-female slate swept the Ignatz awards at the Small Press Expo in Maryland. If anything, the number of female award winners at festivals in the last few years has been overwhelming.

The one bright light to this whole affair is that Bondoux’s blind spot to women’s contributions to comics history may end up costing FIBD more than just their reputation.

As author Bart Beaty pointed out, the Grand Prix winner stands for more than just merit. It’s risky for any festival to ignore 50% of the population when it comes to its greatest prize.

Even a prestigious festival may have problems attracting a modern audience with such retrograde ideas. To represent the best of comics today, people whose history may have been ignored or discounted needs to be included. Hopefully Bondoux and the FIBD will see this controversy as a reason to change course and embrace the diversity of comics, past and present.”

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McIntyre poster AngoulemeNo Women at Angouleme

The diversity wars broke out last winter in Angouleme, France. Just as the most recent Oscars was marred by the failure of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to include any people of color among the acting nominees for the golden statuette, so has Europe’s most prestigious festival of cartooning failed to come up with any women among the 30 cartoonists nominated for the Grand Prix. And so up went the boycott barricades.

Usually, reported Laurenn McCubbin at theguardian.com, there are “at least a few women on the long list for the Angoulême International Comics Festival (known in French as the Festival international de la bande dessinée or FIBD).” This year, nothing. But the previous year, the list included only Marjane Sartrapi. “In fact, in the festival’s 43-year history, there has only been one female Grand Prix winner: Florence Cestac, who got the prize in 2000.”

Not even Claire Brétecher, pillar of the 9th Art, has ever received the Grand Prix. She was awarded the “10th Anniversary Prize” in 1983 (a prize which does not prevent its winner from qualifying for the Grand Prix as well).

But this time, McCubbin said, “there was a swift reaction” to the snubbing of women cartoonists.

Inspired by the French group BD Égalité, or Women in Comics Collective Against Sexism, some nominees on the list immediately protested by dropping out of consideration. Bestselling French cartoonist Riad Sattouf (The Arab of the Future) was the first to demand that his name be withdrawn from contention, reported Calvin Reid at publishersweekly.com. Other French cartoonists — among them Milo Manara, Joann Sfar, Pierre Cristin, Etienne Davodeau and Christophe Blaine — quickly followed. A number of American cartoonists who were also nominated, such as Chris Ware, Charles Burns and Dan Clowes, joined the French boycott and asked to be removed from the list.

Sattouf on Facebook listed a number of female cartoonists he would "prefer to cede my place to", including Rumiko Takahashi, Julie Doucet, Anouk Ricard, Marjane Satrapi and Catherine Meurisse.

Said Clowes in a statement released by his publisher, Fantagraphics: “I support the boycott of Angoulême and am withdrawing my name from any consideration for what is now a totally meaningless ‘honor.’ What a ridiculous, embarrassing debacle.”

The Grand Prix d’Angoulême is the festival's lifetime achievement award, and highest literary honor. With the prize comes the distinction of being president of the festival the next year with a full exhibition of one’s works, extensive media attention and, in most cases, a boost in big book sales. American honorees include Will Eisner, Robert Crumb, Bill Watterson and Art Spiegelman.

Angouleme posterIn response to the boycott, festival organizers initially offered to add six women to the list of nominees. Then the FIBD withdrew the list completely, declaring that academy members could vote for whomever they chose, and the festival would “submit to the absolute free will” of its members. The new nomination process did little, though, to halt the chorus of voices that spoke out against the prize.

By the time the FIBD convened at the end of January, three artists had been named as finalists — Hermann Huppen, renowned comics writer Alan Moore, and the much-admired if lesser-known illustrator Claire Wendling. All initially declined to accept the award. Hermann, who has been nominated multiple times for the award, was ultimately persuaded to accept the prize, Reid reported, though the entire episode seems to have devalued the award's standing. In the U.S., Hermann’s post-apocalyptic science-fiction series Jeremiah is published by Dark Horse.

Reid continued: “Aside from the troubles the show had with the Grand Prix, Angoulême remains an extraordinary show. Taking over the historic medieval-era city of Angoulême completely, the programs and exhibitions seemingly occupy every venue in the city. And, unlike American comics conventions, Angoulême is a monument to book publishing. There are no blockbuster movies, video games, or transmedia projects on display, and virtually no American-style periodical comics. It’s all books at Angoulême — hardcovers and trade paperbacks — from more than 300 publishers.”

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Stan Lee photoStan Lee said in an interview last year that he can no longer read comics. Interviewed by radiotimes.com, 93-year-old Lee said: “My eyesight has gotten terrible and I can’t read comic books any more. The print is too small. Not only a comic book, but I can’t read the newspaper or a novel or anything. I miss reading 100 per cent. It’s my biggest miss in the world.”

Lee has come a long way from the man who was once ashamed of his medium. “When I was young, I was embarrassed to tell people that I wrote comic books,” he admits. “I even changed my name because people hated them so much. My name used to be Stanley Martin Lieber. I was saving it for the great American novel, which I never wrote.”

Still, he is clearly immensely proud of his legacy, and his sight difficulties haven’t stopped him from continuing to produce and create adventure stories.

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BordertownThe timing may be a little off — maybe it would have been better to have debuted just as The Donald began trumpeting about Mexican rapists and murderers surging across the border — but “Bordertown,” the animated prime-time series created by “Family Guy’s” Mark Hentemann and produced by FG’s Seth MacFarlane (with La Cucaracha’s Lalo Alcaraz as a consultant), began last January on Fox. From a review that came via Internet over the Rancid Raves transom:

If you thought the political debate over immigration has devolved into a cartoon, “Bordertown” finishes the job. This animated sitcom on Fox is as subtle and amusing as a brick border wall.

In the Southwestern town of Mexifornia, a Border Patrol agent, Bud Buckwald (Hank Azaria of “The Simpsons”), works ineptly to secure the national boundary and his own sense of primacy in his country. His next-door neighbor Ernesto Gonzalez (Nicholas Gonzalez) laughs off Bud’s casual racism, but tensions are about to rise as Mexifornia considers a draconian anti-immigration bill.

As in the political diatribes, “Bordertown” casts both sides in extremes. There are the Hispanic caricatures, like the tot at a barbecue who spikes Bud’s food with a blazing hot chili pepper from a bag marked Extra Caliente. There are the white caricatures, like Bud’s 5-year-old daughter, Gert (Missi Pyle), a pageant contestant who, for some reason, has a pronounced Honey Boo Boo Southern accent. Nearly everyone, white and brown, is drawn in a similar bulbous avocado shape.

Bordertown PostcardLike MacFarlane’s other animated shows, “Bordertown” aspires to the issues-based comedy of Norman Lear. When Becky gets engaged to Ernesto’s liberal nephew, J. C. (Mr. Gonzalez), it feels like a tribute to the Archie-versus-Gloria-and-Meathead sparring of “All in the Family.”

But despite the show’s apt timing, the satire gets swallowed up by the hyperactive joke engine. There are so many cutaway gags that the show feels bored with itself. The social humor is curdled and mean, and the non sequitur jokes — like a visit to “Goofy’s rape room” at a knockoff version of Disneyland — play like “Family Guy” outtakes.

The show’s most distinctive, slapstick running joke imagines the border battle as a Looney Tunes cartoon, where the roadrunner is a coyote: El Coyote, a wily immigrant smuggler who frustrates Bud’s elaborate attempts to capture him. (One involves a giant-spring contraption that might as well have ACME stamped on it.)

It’s pointedly silly stuff, but also a sign of the anarchic comedy “Bordertown” could be if it could escape the shadow of Peter Griffin, the father on “Family Guy.” As it is, the show may appeal to “Family Guy” die-hards, but mostly gives viewers of all persuasions cause to run from the border.


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Princeless coverDiamond Book Distributors, the book trade unit of Diamond Comics Distributors and one of the largest distributors of graphic novels and pop culture merchandise to bookstores and the school and library market, reports that 2015 was the “second best year” in the history of DBD. Better than the somewhat lack-luster 2014. “And we expect 2016 to be our best year ever” DBD vice president Kuo-Yu Liang told Calvin Reid at publishersweekly.com. The graphic novel market overall is improving: U.S. graphic novel print unit sales rose 22% in 2015 over 2014, according to Nielsen Bookscan, which reports on sales in about 80% the bookstore market.

“Last year was very good. And our sales were not driven by any one title or publisher but by everything, a wide range of titles and genres,” Liang said. Reid reports that among the big sellers for DBD publishers in 2015 were the Saga series, Walking Dead compendiums, March Books One and Two, and kids series such as My Little Pony, Grumpy Cat, and Princeless.

“Consumer interest in graphic novels keeps rising. That’s been a trend over the last 10 years,” Liang said, noting the impact of demands for diversity. “And there were lots of new customers — including women and minorities — asking about graphic novels in bookstores. The more people talk about graphic novels, the more people want to try one out.”

The diversification of genres beyond the superhero category is also a big factor, Liang added. “There’s a graphic novel for everyone these days, crime, romance, adventure, kids books,” he said. “And graphic novels are now sold in museums, parks, the Smithsonian, and colleges. They’re sold in so many places beyond just bookstores.”

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By November 1, 2016, Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid books had achieved a global in-print total of more than 180 million copies of all books in the series, according to publishersweekly.com. Author Kinney will be touring North America to support the release of the eleventh entry in the series, Double Down, later this fall.

Double Down Book author and kids

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In its “Politics 2016" issue (on newsstands Oct. 11), Mad offers its madcap look at “The Last 100 Days of the Obama Presidency.” In envisioning Obama teaming with Putin on a TV show (a buddy-cop series?) and sitting for a portrait by George W. Bush, Michael Cavna at ComicRiffs.com reports that “Mad writers Jeff Kruse and Kenny Keil (working with caricaturist Tom Richmond) map out Obama’s lame-duck high jinks before he boards Air Force One for the final time.”

Cavna asked the writers: “Who would be more fun to satirize come January — Trump or Clinton?” Keil said: “Oh, dear God, I hope we’re all writing Hillary jokes by then.” Said Kruse: “Tough call. They’ve each been satirized so much by Mad and every cartoonist, comic, and guy around the water cooler in every workplace in America, I’d think it’s a draw. That’s why I’m pulling for Gary Johnson.”


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In honor of the 90th anniversary of the publication of A.A. Milne’s first Winnie the Pooh book, saith Time, the current series author Brian Sibley is introducing a new character in the Hundred Acre Wood. Geez: I didn’t know there was a “current series” or a new stand-in author. Nobody ever tells me anything.

Pooh and Penguin

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