Tuesday, 6 December 2016

We Told You So: Comics As Art

We Told You So: Comics as Art
An Oral History Of Fantagraphics Books
by Tom Spurgeon & Michael Dean
Fantagraphics Books, $49.99
On Sale: December 2016

Publisher's Description:
In 1976, a group of young men and women coalesced around a fledgling magazine and the idea that comics could be art. In 2016, comics intended for an adult readership are reviewed favorably in the New York Times, enjoy panels devoted to them at Book Expo America, and sell in bookstores comparable to prose efforts of similar weight and intent. We Told You So: Comics as Art tells of Fantagraphics Books' key role in helping build and shape an art movement around a discredited, ignored and fading expression of Americana the way insiders share the saga with one another other: in anecdotal form, in the words of the people who lived it and saw it happen. Comics historian and critic Tom Spurgeon and Michael Dean assemble an all-star cast of industry figures, critics, cartoonists, art objects, curios and groundbreaking publications to bring you a detailed account of Fantagraphics’ first 40 years. We Told You So is a detailed catalog of the look of a cultural awakening. It’s a story that includes appearances by Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, Harlan Ellison, Jim Shooter, Stan Lee, Daniel Clowes, Frank Miller, Peter Bagge, Jaime Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez, Dave Sim, Steve Geppi, Todd McFarlane and every other major figure in the arts or business end of modern comics. More than a corporate history or a fond look back, We Told You So: Comics as Art makes the warts and all case for Fantagraphics Books' position near the heart of the modern reclamation of the comics art form.


Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Be interesting to see whether and how much of Sean R.'s "status anxiety" we can find in the book.

-- Damian

Sean R said...

And not, say, in the title and description alone? ;)

Have you had a chance to read the Reads back matter, Damian? I'd be very curious to hear what your reactions are!

Unknown said...

"One another other". I'm not sure what that means, but I LIKE the cut of its jib!

Also: I'm trying to figure out what category I would be in as Fantagraphics "build and shape an art movement".

"Curio"? Yes, I think that would probably be a safe assessment of Dave Sim from the Fantagraphics side of the fence. "Dave Sim, Curio". "Excuse us, Curio -- can you move aside? We're building and shaping an art movement here!"

Travis Pelkie said...

I think I said this elsewhere, but I hope they don't sprain their elbows patting themselves on the back....

Slumbering Agartha said...

"We Told You So: Comics as Art makes the warts and all case for Fantagraphics Books' position near the heart of the modern reclamation of the comics art form."

Oh, please.

Fantagraphics was fortunate to have Chris Ware and Dan Clowes as artists in the fold, but making a case for the publisher itself to be recognized as 'special' by publishing a book to MAKE said case? That strikes me as very "Grothian".

Any inclusion of Dave Sim should be focused on his body of work and super-massive contribution to the industry and fans alike. Also, I would hope it would involve a long-overdue apology to the man. If it's a passive aggressive effort to further marginalize Dave by including him in some paltry, dismissive fashion? That would also be very Grothian.

Dominick Grace said...

Fantagraphics making its OWN case for how important it is does seem a little ... incestuous, to be sure, but otoh, there's not really any doubt that Fantagraphics was and arguably still is a major force/influence for legitimizing comics. Somebody should have done a book like this. I for one will reserve judgement on the book itself until I actually, you know, read it.

Jeff Seiler said...

I guess the bottom line is the old caveat: "Nobody likes a (we) told you so."

Unknown said...

Mike and Dominick - I was just having a little fun at their expense.

What it is that Fantagraphics did is kind of undefinable but I think we're all in agreement that Fantagraphics DID something in comics that hadn't been done before...or since. My personal favourites of their titles will always be Peter Bagge's NEAT STUFF/HATE and Roberta Gregory's NAUGHTY BITS but there's no question that ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY, LOVE & ROCKETS and EIGHTBALL (in that order) were the defining "avant garde" titles of the 1980s and 1990s. So, unquestionably, an amazing accomplishment that they were all done by the same publisher and over such an extended period of time.

I'll be interested to see what people have to say about the book when it comes out. There are lots of ways to do pop culture incestuous (and "incestuous") that are entertaining and informative. And lots of ways that are just incestuous.

Relative to me, I don't think much is going to change. Gary, as I recall, admitted -- many years later -- that something of mine should have been on their Top 100 or Top 300 or whatever it was. I'd be very surprised if he ever goes much further than that. But, you never know.

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

If you're interested, TCJ.com have an extract of the book posted today. Don't hold your breath for any glowing endorsement.of Cerebus, as this seems to be as good as it'll get...

GRAY GROTH: "Things were churning and changing. You had Raw and Weirdo, which came out in ’81. Love and Rockets came out in ’82. I was at least modestly enthusiastic about Cerebus. I was no longer utterly demoralized."

Slumbering Agartha said...


Tim - I think you meant "Gary Groth", not "Gray".

Slumbering Agartha said...

Dave -- Gary admitting that Cerebus should have been in the top 100 list is almost as good as admitting that he consciously omitted it, which is what I think happened, given what was 'going down' at the time.

That all said, and speaking of admissions - I admit to being absurdly (absurd on multiple levels, probably) Pro Dave Sim, to the degree of being crippled by bias. When that issue of TCJ came out attacking you (let's call it what it was), for me it completely soiled Fantagraphics (Groth in particular, not that he would give the vaguest f-word). So I'm glad to read your words, here, today, because it freed my eyes from the blindfold of bias (bias-fold?).

Fantagraphics really has been a monumental force in the industry.

Let's not forget Charles Burns and Joe Sacco and the totally amazing Jessica Abel, who I think might be the most underrated cartoonist in the business.

Wow, it feels amazing to finally be able to say nice things about Fantagraphics again. Thank you, Dave.

Tony Dunlop said...

Next to Cerebus, it was Love and Rockets and Weirdothat expanded my young adult horizons beyond the Marvel/DC wasteland...but I'm far more inclined to credit Los Bros. than their publisher.

Dominick Grace said...

Hy, Dave--fair enough, Fantagraphics deserves you having, at the elast, a little fun at their expense. I think it was Kim Thompson, though, not Groth, who eventually conceded, in a comments thread on the TCJ site before it got revamped (though I don't recall the context of the discussion), that a few things on the top 100 list should have been dropped or combined. I recall writing them a letter when the list was published critiquing its omissions--including Cerebus, the omission of which was, in fact, my primary reason for writing--and tweaking them for including Love and Rockets multiple times (at least three, as I recall) under different collected titles, and I think Thompson might have conceded that the multiple listings for L&R might better have been consolidated into a single listing --just like they gave only one slot to Barks, for instance, while alos admitting that Cerebus ought to have been concluded. This AMOC thread on the lsit and Cerebus's absence from it includes a bit in which Thompson addresses Cerebus's absence without saying it should have made the cut, but I am about 99% sure that somewhere else in another thread he did make that statement--possibly in the same comment thread from which this quotation is drawn, though I am not seeing it there.


Dominick Grace said...

Apologies for the typos and incoherence in my previous post,btw. Evidently, I was having a less than lucid evening when I wrote that.

Unknown said...

I think we all owe it to GRAY Groth to spare a kind word or two for his OWN efforts, as well. His famous elder brother gets all the self-awarded accolades (and a snazzy .357 by the looks of Clowes' cover illustration. Say, is that a DIRTY HARRY weapon-of-choice or are you just really glad to be here at AMOC?) but "they also serve who stand in gray" as the saying goes.

Seriously, there is a Gary Groth letter in the Correspondence Archive he probably wouldn't want to see the light of day because of its uncharacteristic enthusiasm for my work (which, even at the time, I thought was attributable far more to our not inconsiderable contribution to -- the first? -- of one of their many pleas for legal assistance funds to which he was replying) (to quote Alan Brady: "A little more snow in here and we could ski.").

"I was at least modestly enthusiastic about CEREBUS." Gray and/or Gary Groth

We've GOT to use that in an ad somewhere.

Unknown said...

And yes, Joe Sacco, Charles Burns and Jessica Abel. Avant Garde Headliners all.

Sean R said...

They were also the first to publish the fantastic Colleen Coover (as part of the Eros line.) First english publications of Moto Hagio, Yoshiharo Tsuge, about a half-dozen amazing European cartoonists.

If I'm not mistaken, the text of this book has been in the can for a really long time. I seem to remember Spurgeon discussing it on his blog a few years ago now, and referring to it as long in the past even then... though I could be wrong!

Slumbering Agartha said...

"I was at least modestly enthusiastic about CEREBUS" is one hell of a piece of sexy marketing waiting to happen. Get ready for a return to CHURCH & STATE era numbers if you put that baby into play, Dave. That's the magic of GandGroth the Gray (AKA 'Gray Groth') for you.

Kit said...

Gary admitting that Cerebus should have been in the top 100 list is almost as good as admitting that he consciously omitted it, which is what I think happened, given what was 'going down' at the time.

Groth couldn't have consciously omitted anything from a list that he did not edit, and that was created by compiling whatever the contributors chose to nominate.

(Things like "Uncle Scrooge by Carl Barks" and "Donald Duck by Carl Barks" being on the list, and individual collections by Xaime being on the list, were not due to self-bias [apart from anything else, most of the voters were not employees of Fanta], but coincidence of that being the way the voters chose to nominate. And that, is more likely a representation of the way those works were published: if there were twenty Scrooge graphic novels and 15 Donald graphic novels by Barks, maybe three or four would have been on the list. Or if it had been made after the Locas hardcover came out, maybe Xaime would have only been represented by that.)

If I'm not mistaken, the text of this book has been in the can for a really long time. I seem to remember Spurgeon discussing it on his blog a few years ago now, and referring to it as long in the past even then... though I could be wrong!

This was actually being serialised-in-excerpt in advance of publication over ten years ago; the previews ceased and the book itself was knocked off the schedule when Harlan Ellison sued Fantagraphics over a) covering the time they were sued together over an interview he gave TCJ, and b) printing his name on the cover of a collection of interviews that included that interview. By the time the dust settled, the 30th anniversary was lost in the rear view mirror, and Spurgeon had lost his taste for completing the book. Hence the shared byline on this now-for-the-fortieth-anniversary* publication: Dean has covered the intervening decade and done some reshaping of the existing material.

*Although one expects it may have been the death of Thompson that prompted the taking up of tools again, rather than a round number being an excuse to autohagiographise all over again / after all.

Back then it also had the funnier and less aggrandising title of "COMICS AS ART: We Told You So."

Barry Deutsch said...

The lack of Cerebus on the list was a result of the way the poll was designed making it possible for Cerebus fans to split their votes among different Cerebus books. I seriously doubt Groth or anyone else would have predicted that outcome before the voting took place.

For me, the most glaring omissions from the list were Cerebus and Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For. I suspect if the poll were run again today Bechdel would be on the list for Fun Home.

Cerebus might run into the same problem were the poll rerun today - it's my impression that Cerebus fans still don't have any consensus on which volume is their favorite. I'd probably vote for either Jaka's Story or Going Home (or both).

Slumbering Agartha said...

Thanks for the clarity, Barry.

The rhyming version: Thanks for the clarry, Barry.

I think a lot of the complaints might have just been from salty Cerebus superfans such as myself who think that Cerebus is the singular crowning achievement of the medium and expect industry experts to agree. Top 100 lists are, after all, merely opinions.

ChrisW said...

I know I posted this yesterday, but it seems to have vanished.

As far as I remember, it was Kim Thompson who said - either on Rick Veitch's comicon.com or in the Comics Journal's "TCJ contributors write about TCJ's Top 100 list" - that if he had to do it again, he'd have squished the Hernandez Brothers' contributions in a few items and filled the rest with "Cerebus" and (from memory) 'whatever you personally see as the most egregious omissions to the list.' It's nice, but it's not-nice at the same time.

On comicon.com, I asked Tom Spurgeon how the list was voted on in the first place, and (also from memory) he said he weighed votes differently according to an equation he no longer remembered, and then said 'maybe Kim remembers it better than I do.' Why didn't the Founding Fathers think of that when putting together the Electoral College?