Tue, Jan. 31st, 2006, 07:58 pm
Happy New Year!
Still No Sound, i.e. I, Ben Cohen am slowly producing new comic work and updating the old website. A number of comic work is being contemplated, the format and which project to do first is still being debated. In addition some prints and novelty design ideas are being knocked around. I am currently producing an album cover for a Jordan Cohen (my brother, San Francisco guitarist) project. Then perhaps a number of murals in a collaborative effort with my studio partner, Jeweler E.E. Crandall. I will have visual updates of both, as they are finished. This should prove to be a productive year as time allows. I am returning to school, acceptance pending, to study Art Education in the hopes of landing a gig as a full time High School Art teacher to compliment my Cartoonist and College Professor carriers. I know it sounds impossible, even lame, but it will make me a better artist and teacher to focus equally on all three. These are my callings in life.
It is also time for the annual Ben Cohen Ten Best of Last Years lists.
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes- Bill Watterson
ACME Novelty Library # 16:“Rusty Brown” –Chris Ware
Why Are You Doing This? –Jason
Los Hernades Brothers-
Krazy and Ignatz-Design by Chris Ware
JLA Animated Series (Hay It’s Cartooning)
…Read some other’s even a few super titles, but nothing top ten.
40 Year-old Virgin… great pacing, story, character development… fucking funny as hell.
Family Stone… one of the great family comedies of all time… I hate sex in the City bitches. Coach gives the performance of his carrier.
Batman Begins… Should have been number one.
Elizabethtown… second place for family films.
Serenity… better story then star wars… fun if you have seen Firefly.
March of the Penguins… who knew?
Walk the Line… Interesting, enlightening and amazing acting.
Brokeback Mountain… pure…not best movie, but pure movie.
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith… take out the NOOOOO! And you almost forget about episode 1 and 2.
Not seen but could have made the list I suspect at 10 or higher.
FireCracker… best movie I was unable to see… on DVD this spring through Amazon… Co-Stars Mike Patton… YES THAT MIKE PATTON. Probably better then 40 Year old Vergin.
Capote… Oh I love Phillip.
Shopgirl… Steve Martin… you go banjo player.
North Country…maybe I like?
Paradise Now… best foreign film?
2046… preview was perfect.
Syriana… not sure?
Munich… really that good?
Match Point… my in-laws loved it…surprisingly.
Worst movie of the year:
King Kong… ok there were others, but this one really deserves it, the big Ape.
Mezmerize/Harmonize – System of a Down
Lullabies To Paralyze- Queens of the Stone Age
Crazy Price- Messer Chups
Church Gone Wild / Chirpin Hard- Hella
Demon Days- Garillaz
The Desert Sessions, Vols. 9 & 10- Desert Sessions
General Patton vs The X-ecutioners- General Patton vs The X-ecutioners
I am sure there are others but I gatta go…
Just wanted to let y'all know I am still alive. I have been revamping a number of things and working on developing a few projects... the biggest is our new studio. Finished the dry wall and spackling. Next painting and moving in... this should lead to some big things for 2006 and beyond.
Here is something to tide you over.
Tue, May. 24th, 2005, 11:34 am
As promised here are last years SnS Top Ten lists.
2004 Top Ten Comics
Eightball #23-Daniel Clowes
You Can't Get There From Here-Jason
Lost Buildings-Chris Ware & Ira Glass
Love & Rockets #12-Los Bros Hernandez
Optic Nerve #9-Adrian Tomine
McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern #13-Edited by Chris Ware
The Complete Penuts-Shultz/Seth 1950-54
In the Shadow of No Towers-Art Spiegleman
Be A Man-Jeffy Brown
2004 Top Ten Music
Peace Love Death Metal-Eagles of Death Metal
Book of Horizons-Secret Chiefs 3
Margarine Eclipse- Stereolab
Franz Ferdinand-Franz Ferdinand
Sister Phantom Owl Fish-Trevor Dunn's Trio Convulsant
Virginal Co Ordinates-Eyvind Kang
2004 Top Ten Movies
Kill Bill, Volume 2
The Girl Next Door
Meet the Fockers
In Good Company
Some brief notes on recently consumed items AKA what I recall since the election.
Royal Tenembalms is one of my favorite films, simply for the dialogue. But it is truly great because of all other aspects as well. You name the element and I will express love for it. With Bill coming off another favorite, Lost in Translation I had high hopes. Oh the disappointment, oh poor poor Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. It was all glitz and glamer. It was a Swiss cheese. I spent the whole time waiting to be convinced it was good… I am still waiting.
Sin City an excellent experiment in what would happen if we actually were faithful to the original in another medium. It highlighted the different elements between comics and film. I never laughed that hard while reading the comic. Over all it was a success. I would how ever like to express that it did not need the final chapter… it was done before the end. It was done before the sequels, which are coming down the pike as I write this.
Thank GOD AKA Lucas. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith was all I needed to have faith in the Force once more. For those who have known me since my first film watching experience Star Wars at Frank Londies Theater in Jackson Hole just before the age of 2, Star Wars was my primary interest till comics and music forced the trident of obsession. It was my childhood’s first true mythos. I played Star Wars before anything else. This film while flawed and easy to pick apart, does all that needs to be done to suspend disbelief and find that joy we all had before a more cynical time and before the horrors that were episode I and II. It answers questions and applies humor and violence in equal portion to reveal truths from a galaxy far, far away and deliver memorable lines we want to remember. I will view again and again without hesitation.
Mezmorize-System of a Down. With a highlight like B.Y.O.B. you can’t go wrong. Ironically, but guilt free dance in the desert to this album at Burning Man and bring your own beer.
Lullabies to Paralyze-Queens of the Stone Age. I was not sure what I thought of this album at first. Until the single Little Sister came on the radio and I said to Erin, “All I know is I need more Cow Bell.” She laughed. And the fallowing night as predicted Will Ferrow hosting SNL jump on stage with QOTSA and jammed with the Cow Bell just as he had obtusely and dangerously enthusiastically in one of SNL’s greatest moments the Christopher Walken “Cow Bell” demanding produced Blue Oyster Cult. A classic SNL moment. I have since been drawing to Lullabies almost the same way I did QOTSA’s second and third albums. I no longer care about the drama the band went through to make it.
General Patton vs The X-executioners is one of Mike Pattons best albums. As for the X-Men it is one of their greatest as well. Get Up Punk and L.O.L. are two of Patton’s greatest pop songs. The majority of the rest delivers diversity to its fullest. Go and enjoy this as much as you can.
Romances- Kaada / Patton did nothing for my romantic side. It may grow on me like Patton’s second solo album about food. But only time will tell. It is nice and all, but not something I would put at the top of the list if I was trying to showcase Patton to my friends.
I had barley any time to hear Fantômas- Suspended Animation when I was suddenly at the Fillmore watching Trevor Dunn’s Trio with my Brother guitarist Jordan Cohen
and a friend. The guitarist, drummer and Trevor shredded on the Jazz riffs like no one I had seen since seeing Massada back in 1996. The Drummers kit was falling all over the place as he hammered with his scrawny Indy mop flying chaotically. He would reach over the top of the ride smashing the backside in precise craze. The guitarist an ordinary red head girl just stood there her arms shredding with such control that a picture would depict neither the jazz precision of the metal ethics of her playing, because you would see only an Indy girl playing without a care for anything, barley noticing her own skill. Trevor struggled to reach over the top of his base, his bow and base showed the eternal battle he has had with the mammoth. The set refined the vision of their album for me and that it is why it is one of last years best. It truly is solid progressive Jazz to be noted. Then came Hella a band I had little knowledge of, there for I was suspicious. In the end there was a cross over between rage against the machine and various 80’s elements that was being preformed by Jesus on guitar, a hairy AC/DC guitarist on drums and some nerdy Jewish afro kid in my sequential art class on keys and vocals. I think there was a bassist. This drummer was so fucking out there that he actually turned his Ride inside out. Jesus just raped his guitar the hole time. I don’t know if I liked a single song, but I was entertained and in awe most of the time. Then a drum off between the two other drummers and Dave Lambardo (Slayer, Fantomas) Wholly shit!!! Then Fantomas. Which was clearly the best part of the show. I truly enjoyed the album now, because of the show. It is short hard, fast, with small high lights of songs. Mixed in with every sound you loved as a kid.
Next to see: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
I am lecturing for a high school drawing class in Colchester a week from Friday on cartooning. I will tell you about it after the event. It will give me taste of what I am getting myself into when I return to school to get my Art Education degree in a year plus. I am excited.
Mon, May. 9th, 2005, 03:27 pm
STILL NO SOUND
the website has been UPDATED! Hoorah!
My web site has been retooled, so enjoy. I sifted through nearly 30 years of art, some were around 500 pieces, and the result is 125 pieces dating back to 1982 when I was the spirited age of 7. The site is set up in a time progression, organized in reverse by page number. It is like reading a book backwards, but in chronological order. The oldest page link is a thumbnail in the lower right hand corner on all pages; this will connect you with page one. Page two is to the left ect… The most resent update will always be the top left thumbnail. Once you have perused page 1-125 in order you should find this more convenient should you check back regularly (say once a month).
The premise of the site as a piece of art and a historical/sociological document is to show the humble progression of a cartoonist (lil’ ol’ me). At its most basic level I thought this could be most public I could be about an essential principle hinted at in a quote at the bottom of the page from a former teacher of mine, with out taking away to much of the mystery and magic of the PROCESS one persons art.
There are some basic but very minor changes to all the pages still to be made and I am aware of a few kinks already, if you notice any problems feel free to let me know here and I will try and take care of it the next time I update.
You can always reach the blog by clicking on the STILL NO SOUND logo at the top of stillnosound.com comes pages. You may also click on my face to reach me by e-mail in the same place.
I look forward to your feedback and I will try to keep the blog and website updated more often then once every six months.
Now in other news…
In illustration news I have again joined up with Mojotown on their new non-profit organization The Mojotown Project
. It is a non-profit that donates a whole package approach of promotional and web survices to other non-profits. I have created their logo as seen at stillnosound
and their site. You will see more of my work there in the future. Please if you have the time or money contribute to this needed service.
All comics projects unfinished and mentioned prior are indefinitely put on hold in their current state ore have been consumed as a portion of a bigger project. Some were a notion, some were notes, some were thumbnails and some had finished inked panels. One such story is about a variety of trips we have been taking including a harrowing experience in Costa Rica. The story focuses in my increasing fear of flying. The other two tips were to Savannah/Knoxville and back home to Nor Cal. Savannah trip brings with it an excellent report on the state of affairs at SCAD’s Sequential Art department. I wish I were in school there now. I also wish I was in school this fall at the Center for Cartooning Studies here in Vermont or even SVA. All three programs are showing great promise right now. It is a great time to major in comics. I am going back to school but not for another year and it is to study Art Education and receive my license to teach art at the high school level. It will make me a better college professor and cartoonist. Plus I have always enjoyed the challenge of working with that developmental age.
This bigger project with the exception of some things of the past the have possibly weaseled their way into this new entity is in a plotting faze. All I am at liberty to say is the plot is actually a 12 pages and growing novella. Kids I do not recommend this as part of your process if you are here looking for guidance on how to make comics…one paragraph is fine and if you can summarize it in one sentence that is interesting then its better. I have written comics history and articles of this length, but I have never created a comic project of this magnitude. At this point I think it will be a 300-page tomb that should take about 5 years to illustrate. I can say this that at this point I think it will be worth taking on despite not having a publisher at this point. I expect once it is in its first ruffed out pencils there could be some interest after I shop it around. I will keep you up to date on the progress and process as things move along. If I kill the project you will know that here as well. This story is just flowing out of me, I am just starting to have a say in it. Lets hope I don’t ruin it.
My next blog update will include 2004 top ten lists and short opinions of stuff I have consumed since the election.
The writing is on the wall, sour grapes and all other clichés.
“Fear has won.” “Liars have won.” “Corruption has won.” “Sound bites have won.” “The elite has won.” “The STUPID HEADS won.” “I’m moving to Canada:” This is what we are telling our selves this morning in an “undecided election.”
The truth is that this election was never about; Florida, Ohio, 9/11, The War, Terrorism, The Economy, Education, The Deficit, The Environment, Energy Programs, Tax Cuts, Industry Scandal, Health Care, Abortion, Gay Marriage, Big Government, Corruption in Government, Honesty in Politics, Media Incompetence, Censorship, Civil Liberties, The Ten Commandments in a Government building, Fast-Food Nation, Immigration, Term Limits, The pledge of Allegiance, American War Crimes, Our relationship with the rest of the world, Voter Registration, Flip Flop Bull Shit or Pot Holes.
It’s the Culture War STUPID.
All of the above issues and almost all issues in ones life play a part in this culture war. But to honestly think that Bush was voted into office, because you shouldn’t change Presidencies in a time of a Bungled War is aside from being an lame reason (Are we to believe that if this had been his second term and Kerry was elected that things could actually get worse for our troops… Please. On the other side of that coin, Kerry may well have been confronted with something that no one can fix… look at Viet Nam or Israel/Palestine and the changes in administrations involved.) is simply not THE reason. It is the culture war, it is not a referendum on Bush and it is not Kerry’s fault for the loss.
Bush did squander good will after 9/11 and promote an agenda in support of a divided nation, but the work had already been started by others on both sides. A cultural shift had already begun, despite old labels to the contrary. The fiscal conservative is now the liberal elite ect… Decades ago the left parted ways with the religious and made it possible for the right to move in and create a culture of fear of change in the Church. No longer is there a partnership between good willed progressives and the good will of the Church. There is mistrust between the two most likely of allies.
I have stated this before, about Washington believing in a one party system that would divide issue by issue. Jefferson got his way and now America is dividing culturally. My family background is Southern Midwestern Christian and Northern Midwestern Jewish. Two worlds, but not divided like you would think. If my grandmother from the Southern state had lived till the election would have voted for Kerry, but maybe that is the influence living in California had on her, I chalk it up to wisdom. My step-grandmother from the Northern state voted for Bush, but she was married into a Secular Jewish family and kept much of her Christian culture. My parents are former hippies and live in the SF Bay Area so their politics have been consistent. But having grown up in Berkeley and that area the concepts held in the republican party all made no sense from my perspective, with the exception of apparent right to claim economic restraint over the democrats. Which never played out during the rising deficit of the Regan era and surplus of the Clinton Era. Some people would site the Democratic controlled Congress of the Regan years and the Republican controlled Congress of the Clinton years, but the presidents still sign the bills and propose budgets. Besides here we are with a new record in deficit spending with a Republican Congress and a Republican President. Oh yeah that’s right it’s the war. What BULL! I would have remained 3 hours behind the rest of the country if I had stayed in California, but I live in Savannah, Georgia and got a good dose of reality. Now I live in the most cemented liberal wilderness New England… I finally get why we haven’t gotten what’s going on. We thought we were the revolution in the 60’s, we may have been, but now we think we are the elite and the revolutionary. Mean while the right has become the revolutionary and the majority. We can no longer rely on the other side fallowing the believing in the ism’s (sexism, racism ect…) They have become inclusive and now we sound like the out of touch wiener on the school yard. It’s the Cultural War.
I use to think we needed the Green Party, The Progressive Party, The Independent Party and The Libertarian Party. Too much is a stake, the war is to close to vote on a pipe dream. Change from within. Create a base united as the Republicans do. 51% of this country has converted to Lemmings. But these lemmings aren’t to trifle with; they have conviction and unity no mater what the conflict in their ranks. And the conflicts stay in house. They stay close to the vest in secret and are hid under mantras, labels, platforms, slogans, one liners, caned speeches, false promises, falls beliefs and faith in something this secular Jew believes doesn’t exist and doesn’t belong in government. But I sure as do know they believe in it, beyond reason. With out a unity such as this, Democrats, Liberals, Progressives, Greens and the country is lost; you thought the fall of Rome was something, just wait. We must define for ourselves our moral values and faith. We must package them in a way that clarifies the truth of our convictions, the reality of our morality and the destiny of our path. We must contrast the other side with unified clarity that is so crystal and inviting that the Lemmings actually have a reason to second-guess, their own culture. Because they have been given very simple explanations for why our side is immoral and we have fought back in a way that simply sounds like French to them. We are convinced we are right, but we can’t communicate it in their language. Until this happens we will always sound like northeastern elites even us westerners from the south and Midwest. Its time we fight the Culture War and stop floundering in what we know is blatant corruption at the top of the other side’s leadership.
Now as John Stewart pleaded us to vote for Kerry, he did say if Bush won his next four years would become very easy. I am in a similar line of work and I too am looking forward to producing comics now that I know that the country is where it is this morning. It will do nothing for what I have stated above, but it will be a good ventilation system for me. Along with previous mentioned comics that will appear on this page over the course of the next four years Still No Sound will feature a semi regular comic called “Bushes Brain.” I have an sources into his brain that will bring quite the entertaining horror we all love as immoral liberals. It will utilize what I hope for the sake of the Democratic Party, my own interest and for poor fate of all of us will be the biggest blunder of a presidency ever, bushes second term, cause now he has no stupid reelection to hold him back.
Till next time, “Viva La Revolution.”
A few of the kinks have been worked out and as soon as some personal things get squared away I will be producing new work that will appear monthly perhaps even weekly at www.stillnosound.com. I will also finish up loading specially selected work that will date back to the time when I was a wee little tike. This should serve as a unique view into the development of a cartoonist. Some work in the past and in the future are for adults only and will be marked appropriately.
New work will usually come in one page comic installments, but also include freelance work and sketches. All comic work may eventually see the printed page in art book collectors additions. The design, print quality and extras will be held to very high standard. Don’t expect this until a volume of work deserving of such treatment is presented here at stillnosound.com.
Given that there is no upfront cost for the service I am providing, that there will be no actual comic books for sale (except copies still available of Ordinary Betty and Ted the Milkman) and no advertising dollars are coming in as of yet I ask for you help on two fronts. I would love for you to spread the word and view this page as often as you find it engaging. I also am accepting donations and will soon have available pay pal or some such so you can do that through the website. If you wish to send a donation through snail mail e-mail me and I will let you know how to accomplish this. Most of all I just want people to see my work so enjoy with no obligation required.
Hear are a few working titles of near future one pager comics to look forward to (Some are appearing here in this format instead of book for as promised at the end of Betty and Ted):
Incus Origin and Fall: Granddad Changes Carriers
Death of Ordinary Betty: True Ghosts of Savannah
Annana Kidwell Settles East: Reality TV V Extreme Sports
K.C. Anvil V Mama Mayor: A Reporters Honesty in Light of Super Cheese
A Series of Reflections on the Comics Biz: A Textbook for Cartoonist in Comic Form
Mama Mayor, Teacher Pet and Anana Kidwell: A Love Triangle
The Art of Mike Patton: An Obsessives Perspective
Failure in Investigative Cartooning: Search for and Arizona Inmate or a Story
Sterns Rat Tale: F the FCC
"A Connection Piece: C. Ware, I. Glass, M. Jones, E.E. Crandall, B Cohen, J. Sturm, Tim and Richard Share a Moment
The last is in response to a Lecture/Performance by Ira Glass and Chris Ware I saw this past weekend at Dartmouth. I recommend it should it come to a town near you.
Be Well Earthlings.
Wed, Sep. 29th, 2004, 04:44 pm
My Site has a new update stillnosound.com or press link to the right... more soon.
See previous entry if you missed it...
Tying Up Loose Strings to Create New Ones
By Benjamin Jones Cohen
“I really think that a form of music criticism has not yet been practiced which is suitable for chance-determined or indeterminate music----or even process music," (1) John Cage said in 1988, five years before his death. According to William Duckworth, the interviewer who’s question inspired Cage’s Statement: “…the year of his death may well become the “textbook” date for the end of the avant-garde…” (2) As the turn of the century came and went, his prediction rang true. In the artistic academic setting on the surface Cage existed in a vacuum. It appears that Cage has been sacked by his assumption that “most people don’t think.” (3) As the most visible artist in the Post-Modernist Avant-Garde musical movement his opinion may have contributed to the result that Duckworth predicted. That may also be why there were no critics that appeared suitable to Cage as a viable source of true intellectual critique. As the great vacuum sucked Cage up to the heavens, or wherever he went, if he went at all, at the time of his death the possibility for suitable criticism and “textbook” appreciation was sucked up with it. The avant-garde however was not killed in the process. No the resilience of art as a spirit of it’s seemingly own dictation had already set forth in executing a plan that would keep the avant-garde alive and even bring it to the people who Cage may or may not have had considered thinkers. Three musicians who are still working within Cages definition of music are, Mike Patton, Masami Akita and John Zorn.
A vehicle of the media Cage refused to even watch sparked the unlikely role of events that has lead the revolution to keep the Avant-Garde alive. A year after Duckworth’s interview, MTV began to play a video by the San Francisco band, Faith No More (FNM), entitled “Epic.” In the video prancing around like a clown, suited up in: oversized multicolor shorts, basketball sneakers, a staggered metal hair cut, and a tractor pull t-shirt promoting his high school band was Mike Patton. This is how most of the European and the US teenage population first became aware of FNM’s new lead vocalist. He would become the facilitator and “guardian of the bridge” to and for most new appreciators of Avant-Garde music.
By no means is he the leader to fill Cage’s shoes however. It may need to be someone who is purely concerned with noise, as Cage seemed to be. Japan has had a healthy and appreciated Noise movement for decades now. The leader of this movement hands down is a band called Merzbow, named in reference to the sculptural instillationist, Schwitters. Marzbow consists of one musician, Masami Akita. He however has trouble arriving at a Cage like level of artistic appreciation even in the Japanese advanced Avant-Garde movement by American standards.
The artist with the most potential to truly take what Cage started and spread it around the world as well as improve upon the theories Cage applied to music may be John Zorn. Zorn is a member of the Manhattan style contemporary jazz movement. He has a world wide following as well as two very successful Indy labels to promote and distribute the works of other artist. Zorn has the mind Cage was seeking to properly analyze Avant-Garde music. Zorn maybe too nice of a guy to be the critique Cage sought. So far he has not made it into those elusive textbooks.
Cage’s death may have freed the Avant-Garde movement to allow for Patton, Akita and Zorn to make serious steps in expanding Cage’s definition. Clarifying the ideas that he was unable to make clear to people outside the Avant-Garde circle he helped to form. They have certainly brought Avant-Garde to a sparse, but worldwide populace. Cage seemed to be fearful of vernacular music and the pop music world. Patton, Akita and Zorn in their own ways have helped to begin a healing of relations between the Avant-Garde and Pop, Rock and Jazz. In Cage’s life he may have been too pessimistic to desire a coming together of modern musical theologies. He may have felt the niche he carved was better off on it’s own, away from other contemporary musical movements. His passing has let the Avant-Garde out from under his shadow to intertwine with other music not as an influence, but as a public counterpart.
Along the California costal freeways winding their way North are signs for the last community before the Oregon border. The signs are a curiosity to most Californians growing up representing a destination that most never travel to. It has a lot to do with the name of the Humboldt County city on the sign, “Eureka.” Mike Patton was born in a neighboring town Arcata, CA, on January 27th, 1968. xIt is a good 8-hour drive north of San Francisco so there is a definite isolated sense that comes to people who live in Humboldt’s small mountain community. There is still a skeptical interest in life outside Eureka by the locals. Two questions are often asked by them, as the Arcata Avant-Garde folk/country band Dieselhed did in one of their songs: “Is there life outside, beyond Eureka? A better home?” Patton in hindsight said; “I didn’t even want to travel. I was scared, yet I hated Eureka and Humboldt County. It was very confusing, and everything wound up being a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. I just didn’t like it there at all. There was absolutely nothing to do; yet I knew I’d be leaving at some point in my life to do something. But there was a definite lack of ambition, and even having a band was an avoidance tactic. Avoiding making friends, avoiding girlfriends all that stuff. There was a huge fear of failure and anything I did was a replacement for something else.” (4)
Fear was the main component in Patton’s childhood. “I remember mostly just being scared of everything. Scared of not getting good grades, scared of not going to school, just a time spent jumping from security to security. Staying at home with my parents on Friday nights rather then going out with friends.” So Patton sought a path with the least risk, “…so that meant that mediocrity was a great place for me to be.” (5) His childhood choice for a carrier path was that of a Weatherman. His ticket out of the small town he was afraid to leave.
As exciting as the prospects of being the local weatherman or even a national weatherman would be, Patton would stumble upon the one thing he would find enough ambition in to use as a vehicle out of town. In 1985 he began to sing with three friends: Bassist; Trevor Dunn, Guitarist; Trey (Scummy) Spruance and Drummer; Jed Watts. Patton, whose main part in the ensemble, was at lead vocals is a natural built singer, able to mimic and work in an infinite range of sounds. They named themselves after a character in short 1950’s educational film, about manners in a grade school cafeteria. They saw it on an early episode of “the Pee Wee Herman show,” it was also part of Herman’s stage act. The name of the character was “Mr. Bungle.”
There is a small yet consistent supply of cultural diversity provided by the California State University, Humboldt State. Most of the college students were from the San Francisco Bay Area and were there to smoke local weed and listen to Reggae, along with their education. They were up in Humboldt, because they didn’t fit in with the Oakland hip-hop scene or with the gutter punks in the lower Height and Berkeley. The local community was a typical logging, post hippy, rural mountain, and cultural environment. For Eureka teens the best possible backlash against their parents and a College community, they viewed as a foreign invasion, was the escapism Heavy Metal provided. At first Mr. Bungle embraced this logic. After all Patton sought mediocrity and this was it as far as his community went.
So Bungle recorded the low-fi death metal demo “The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny.” The first track appropriately entitled “Grizzly Adams,” after the 1982 television program of the same name about a Mountain Man Grizzly Adams and his bear, was a melancholy introduction into typical North Eastern folk/country vernacular. Then the bottom drops out and a “Slayer” inspired metal and noise takes over. Halfway through the demo it seems that boredom takes over and elements of Ska, "Fishbone" influenced rap and kazoo inspired polka is force-fed in-between the hard grinding, hyper fast, gutsy yelling, guitars and drums. The patchwork, “LEGO” style displayed in their first recording would be the formula that would be a staple in their work through out their collaboration with each other. It would even become the basis for their philosophy that would lead to Patton specifically having a role in the Avant-Garde movement of the past decade.
Bungle followed up their first demo with three more over five years: “Bowls of Chili,” adding horns to help with the diverse demands of the different styles they were quilting together. “Goddammit I Love America,” according to the band this was “a Fishbone rip-off,” in reference to the black LA eclectic Ska band. “OU818,” most of which ended up in one form or another on Bungle’s first LP release from Warner Brother’s Records.
Music to them became a puzzle. In a single song you could find elements of Ska, Metal, Hip Hop, Funk, Polka, Clown Music, Swing, Rock ‘a Billy and Punk. Over the top and intertwined were the increasingly bizarre lyrics of Patton. As afraid as he had been growing up, he was equally forward and risky in his lyrics. He would consciously deal with the perverse use of sex and violence in pop culture. He was absurdly graphic and mutated in his lyrical content. He predated the gross saturation of sex and violence that was shown in the 1990’s media with a level of content that only now is beginning to be matched by the mainstream. Patton however maintains he was simply taking in the absurdity around him and spitting it out on the microphone: “The deviancy thing came by default, getting out seeing things, doing things, having people tell you things. Everything I did was normal to me.” (6) He was however recording these demos prior to the “gangster rap” movement in pop music and the heights of television’s Jerry Springer show.
Back in 1986 Faith No More was on a shoestring budget tour and hit Eureka to play at a pizza parlor in front of a crowed of six. After the show Patton gave FNM’s drummer Mike (Puffy) Bordin a copy of “The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny.” He said while handing it to Bordin, “This is what music around here sounds like, from this region.” From there it fell into the hands of Jim Martin FNM’s Guitarist. Martin would call Patton’s parent’s house and rave about the poor quality demo.
At the end of 1988 FNM, a now regular on College Radio in the US and a legitimate hit in Europe, had professional differences with lead vocalist Chuck Mosely. They auditioned other west coast singers such as Soundgarden front man Chris Cornel. Bordin put in a call to Patton, for him to come down to San Francisco and “practice,” under Martins insistence. Patton’s need some encouragement as well, because of his fear of leaving Humboldt County, which he received from Spruance.
Patton joined FNM with the condition that he can be given 6 months off every year to work with Bungle, a decision that would prove to have been shrewd and crucial. He had developed a diverse high quality singing style for a 21 year old. It was a surprise to FNM, because all they had ever herd was Bungles first demo. Patton wrote and sang the lyrics on the spot over the music, which had already been laid down. It was quite a different process from the “LEGO” style song writing Patton and Bungle had developed. With the addition of Patton, Faith No More was able to complete the recording their third album “The Real Thing” at Studio D in Sausalito, CA. A grueling tour schedule lay ahead for the naturally shy and reclusive Patton. Fame was not instantaneous. FNM was relying on their popularity in Europe to pay the bills. Their friendships and mini tours with other bands such as Metallica, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Soundgarden helped with their exposure in western States. It wasn’t until Warner Brother’s, owners of Slash records, FNM’s label, flexed their muscle with MTV to put “Epic” in heavy rotation that FNM became the 1990 sensation that turned Mike Patton into a teen idle. This happened in the midst of FNM’s second European tour in a year and the band had no idea that they had suddenly become an over night success. A concept that would fly in the face of all that the band stood for.
Mr. Bungle was not the only band in California that was experimenting with what would later be identified as anti-genre music. Bungle had admittedly appropriated concepts from Fishbone. Anthony Keddis of The Red Hot Chili Peppers accused Patton of stealing his act, although it was latter established that Keddis lacked the range of ability Patton possessed to threaten Patton’s carrier. FNM’s close proximity and relations with east bay weirdo funk rock band Primus also lead to a clumping of Bungle with these bands. FNM was already interested and established in the ideals of Anti-Genre rock, prior to Patton joining the band. That was one of the reason’s he joined in the first place. All of these bands along with lesser known bands such as Nuclear Rabbit were developing in ways that contradicted the ideals of the Pop music business. When FNM was suddenly propelled into MTV fame their seven years of work in the anti-genre philosophy was ripped away from them. They were considered an over night success and not only that, but they had a genre they belonged to, Funk Metal. A genre that has broadened into Hip Hop Metal, which now features such scapegoat’s for violence in America’s youth and money making non-artistic MTV bands such as Limp Bizket and Korn.
The weight of being MTV’s poster boy, weighed on Patton heavily and just as he had used his obtuse lyrical content in Bungle to counteract his fears and boredom, he would do the same thing on tour with FNM. Patton’s on stage antics began to become the main story, as appose to the musical performance. He would urinate, masturbate, and even cut himself, just to keep from falling under the spell of fear and boredom from the repetitive nature of touring. He would use his position to promote Mr. Bungle over Faith No More, which began to cause riffs in the bands cohesiveness. The time he set aside for Mr. Bungle would prove to change the relationships in the band and their artistic integrity, but not their new found pop music status. They would produce three other albums over the next seven years: “Angel Dust,” heavily influenced by Bungle’s “Lego” style of song writing; “King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime,” presenting FNM’s best song writing and greatest technical achievement; “Album of the Year,” a quality album, but a clear display that they had done all they could do as a group. After touring for Album of the year FNM released a Best of Album and thus nailing the coffin on the bands history. Most of the members of the band have gone on to work on uniquely diverse projects since.
After the touring for “The Real Thing,” Patton joined Bungle in taking a copy of “OU818” to a John Zorn’s Masada show and handed it to him hoping he would agree to produce their first self titled LP. Zorn enthusiastically agreed and with Patton’s newfound fame and the proven abilities of the great John Zorn as their producer, Bungle signed a long-term contract with Warner Brothers. The production process was heavily influenced by Zorn’s theological techniques he had developed as an Avant-Garde Noise and Jazz composer and musician. The process of working with Zorn opened the members of Bungle’s eyes to the diverse artistic integrity in the Avant-Garde movement. The ideals of the Avant-Garde complemented and clarified Bungles own philosophies. Spruance went on to articulate in two Manifestos’ of sorts entitled “First Grand Constitution and Bylaws” and “Second Grand Constitution and Bylaws.” The basic fundamental ideal presented behind the cryptic writing’s in the Constitution and Bylaws is that Bungle and the members of Bungle set out to discard the confines of Genre and the pre-Cage definition of music. The strongest statement musically in support of this theory is Mr. Bungle’s second album “Disco Volante.” The album rivals the diversity and lack of predictability of any anti-genre or noise musician to date. It is their tip of the hat to the Avant-Garde and their presentations of the “bird” to the mainstream music populous.
In between working with Bungle and FNM, Patton also began to deal with his individual theories pertaining to the Avant-Garde. He first worked with Zorn on a project entitled “Elegy.” This is were he learned to better interpret thematic concerns in other mediums as well as capture the feeling of these themes and present them in the musical context of the Avant-Garde. He then subsequently composed two solo projects on Zorn’s label, Tzadik. The first was recordings of 34 compositions in which Patton appropriated found sounds as Zorn does with his “File Card” method and mimicked them with the diverse range of his voice. It was appropriately entitled, “Adult Themes for Voice.” The second utilized Zorn’s “Game Piece,” method of composing and utilizing other musicians. The theme was that of food and he even used food or utensils in the preparation of food to produce the sense of an authentic five star meal. This album is entitled “Pranzo Oltranzista.” His work in a pure Avant-Garde manner would only be a precursor to his intentions musically once FNM disbanded.
Upon Faith No More’s brake up, Patton was left with an established place in the musical landscape and the funds to work within that realm freely. His primary focus would now be Mr. Bungle. The weight he had carried for years as FNM’s front man and the fear he had overcome by seeing the world through FNM’s success had created an instantaneous change in Patton. Mr. Bungle set out to produce an album that was thematic. They chose California tourism as their topic and painted with sound a landscape that reflected all aspects of their subject matter in a style and with the level of musicianship only Mr. Bungle could create. The album’s name reflected the simplistic design of the cover; they called it "California."
Patton, in addition, started an artist friendly label, Ipecac, with his personal manager and former Alternative Tactical Operational Manager, Greg Workmen, who also is the personal manager to Jello Biafra of the bay area punk gods the Dead Kennedys, owner of Alternative Tentacles and former Green Party Presidential Nominee. Ipecac’s first release was a project that merged the fundamental background of Patton’s musical history, Heavy Metal and the methods and ideals he had learned as an Avant-Garde composer. He composed 30 short pieces that were designed to contain the essence of scenes in the 1920 French crime novel series, “Fantomas.” He designed the songs to be presented as if they were panels constructed together on the page of a comic, each song representing a comics page. His passion for comics he found in hindsight had been an inspiration for the “Lego” method Bungle had taken on. He then cast, just as Zorn has done throughout his career, an ensemble of musicians he felt could properly perform his composition. He chose fellow Bungle mate Dunn, Ex-Slayer drummer Dave Lembardo and Melvin’s guitarist Buzzy Osborn. It was dubbed a super group by the press, but to the musicians it was a chance to take a style of music they loved to play and attach a level of artistic integrity to it that had never existed before.
Patton would then collaborate with Masami Akita on a project they would call Maldoror. The album was entitled “She” and it focused on both men’s career-long studies of the erotic. “She” is a pure Avant-Garde noise album in the style of Japanese Low-Fi. The relationship bridged a connection between the two pop icons of the Avant-Garde world.
Masami Akita is the premier Avant-Garde Noise musician in Japan. Akita considered noise to be the primitive and collective consciousness of music. Born in Tokyo in 1956, Akita graduated from the Tamagawa University, majoring in Painting and Art theory. He has used his degree as a foundation for his music and his main monetary career as a writer. He writes articles and books on Japanese historical architecture, Post Modernist Culture, Avant-Garde Music and Erotica.
Erotica is the main subject mater he chooses to influence his music. In 1981 Akita formed his solo project Merzbow. The name Merzbow was inspired by a series of work by a German collage Artist, Kurt Schwitters, entitled “The Cathedral of Erotic Misery.” Schwitters’ technique of collage has helped in giving Akita ideals for the process in which Merzbow’s music is created as well as sharing a common interest in the erotic. There is logic to his focus on the erotic and pornography as a basis for his work. He has been interested in and influenced by Surrealism and that movement’s embrace of the concept that "Everything is Erotic, Everywhere is Erotic". Akita strives to compose real surrealistic music in a non-musical way. He has said, "there is no difference between Noise and Music in my work. I have no idea what you term "Music" and "Noise". It's different depending on each person. If "Noise" means uncomfortable sound, then pop music is noise to me." This distaste of Pop music is in direct contrast with, Patton’s taste. It is unfounded whether or not this was an issue when they recorded “She” together. They do however share in exploring the concept of erotica and that was the primary focus of “She.” To Akita pornography is the unconsciousness of sex. Akita interprets noise to be the unconsciousness of music. Merzbow works on the fundamental belief that Noise is the most erotic form of sound. To Akita porn is much less the misogynist ideal of an expression of freedom, but more so a symbol of claustrophobia and oppression. Akita also shares in another of Patton’s passions although this came to him as an influence later in his career. "I'm influenced by death metal from the early '90s. My biggest influence was grind drumming. So, I liked bands with good drummers like Morbid Angel and early Napalm Death. For Merzbow, it's more abstract influenced as speed or grindcore, the edge guitar sound of death metal.” This has lead Akita to hope that his work is being picked up by “many pimply faced metal punks,” a concept that Patton expects more and fears more with regards to his own work.
As Merzbow, Akita, has produced over 50 albums to date. Merzbow produces work without the aid of a computer. Akita is concerned with the ideals found in DADA and the ready maid. Merzbow’s music consists of found sound recorded on low-fi audiocassettes. He began to get involved in international cassette trading as a way of acquiring various sounds. Akita would also make sounds from what he referred to as the “scum” that surrounds his life, a direct reaction to growing up in the overpopulated hustle and bustle of Tokyo. People who fall asleep in cities often have the experience that they need the noise outside their windows to fall asleep. It is a form of security. He wanted to react to that by creating silence through over running your senses with noise. This is what is called “White Noise.” For Akita he found pleasure in this kind of noise. He would use his anti-use of electrical equipment technique to acquire and create noise. He would use found objects such as a broken tape recorder or broken guitar and use these to recreate found noises. Akita also made sure he was incorporating his muscles and body movement into his compositions. He is against using computers as a tool to create his music. Akita considers his process of composing mechanical automatism, not improvisation. It is the result of strictly physical processes. Just as many modernists and postmodernists had before him, action became a critical element. Noise was his action.
Akita has preformed with the assistance of his wife, Reiko A, in four continents. There is a myth among the American noise audience that Japan has a large well-respected Noise scene. Akita would be able to pay his bills by a full time commitment to this medium if that were so. Japans Avant-Garde audiences have traditionally consisted of middle class men and just recently consisted of a growing younger underground music type crowd. Akita has said that American audiences are larger and much more receptive, as well as, more clever than Japanese audiences. This may be in part to Cage’s work over the past decades in America as the father of Western Avant-Garde. Frank Zappa who has been a huge influence on Akita also created a tolerance and understanding in U.S. audiences. It is, however, over the last decade a result of the work that Patton and Zorn have produced and performed in the U.S. that noise audiences have grown in size and sophistication. With the distribution opportunities that Patton’s label Ipecac and Zorn’s labels Avant and Tzadik have created for Merzbow. Zorn for example made 1930 available in the U.S., it is considered to be Merzbow’s most important work.
Avant and Tzadik were developed in early 1990’s to create a central hub for John Zorn to produce and distribute his own work as well as the work of various musicians in the worldwide contemporary Avant-Garde musical movement. The task of producing all of John Zorn’s work prior to both labels inception has just recently been completed, almost a decade later. Zorn was born in New York, NY on September 12th, 1953. Zorn by the age of ten was trained in the playing of piano, guitar and flute. Zorn had discovered traditional and Avant-Garde classical compositions and began composing his own at the age of 14. He has sighted Cage as an early influence along with other composers. By the age of 16 his parents had begun searching for psychological help for Zorn on account of his increasingly Avant-Garde compositional style.
Zorn has said it wasn’t until he picked up the Saxophone that he became interested in Jazz. He was a literal instantaneous natural with regards to this instrument. Just as Patton was built to sing, Zorn was built to play the Sax. Naturally, John Coltrane became a significant influence. He attended classes at Webster College in St. Louis were he discovered experimental Jazz, as well. He dropped out after a year and moved to Oregon to live with his brother. He spent his time staying in both San Francisco and Oregon developing his initial theory of composition, “The Game Theory.” He would perform his compositions in small venues to very miniscule crowds. “The Game Theory” is an experiment in a controlled process of improvisation. He would develop elaborate rules for musicians he would hand pick to perform these compositions. Usually musicians who were experienced improvisationist, as well as, musicians he was familiar enough with to predict a basic outcome to their production in the context of the improv. Zorn would use his rules as “on,” “off” switches. Dictating a basic outcome that he would envision ahead of time with a relatively accurate prediction. The style in which these compositions came across depended upon the musicians he selected, but were influenced heavily by Zorn’s obsessive appetite for television as a child, specifically Warner Brother cartoons and musical scores of these cartoons, composed by Carl Stalling. Zorn returned to New York after a few years on the west coast. This is where his work began to form a level of maturity that would lead him to larger crowds when performing these improvisational compositions. The primary purpose of the “Game Piece” theory was to tie up loose ends left by early Avant-Garde composers such as, Cage. It wasn’t till recently with his composition “Xu Feng,” a tribute to the Martial Arts actress of the same name, that he was able to truly begin tying up these loose ends. His work with Mills College percussion professor and sometimes Bungle support musician, William Winant and Dave Lembardo ex-Slayer drummer and current Fantomas drummer, on “Xu Feng” illustrates perfectly the control he has developed with his “Game Pieces.” His ability to illustrate the persona and environment created in Xu Feng’s work through the use of instrumental noise has developed into a style of composing that in many ways surpasses the conceptual maturity and intentional control that Cage had with his work.
In the mid 80’s Zorn developed another process theory he calls “File Card.” The first and clearest attempt at this new method of composition was on Zorn’s album “Spillane,” an interpretation of Mickey Spillane’s crime novels and Jean-Luc Godard’s films and their fragmented compositional style. The “File Card” method consists of appropriating found compositional segments from life around Zorn and transcribing them on file cards. He would then put them in an order that would suit the subject mater he was inspired by for that particular composition. Then he would sit down with hand picked musicians and record the replicated music in the order of the file cards. This would become a very important way for him to compose when he became more interested in Japanese culture and music. Spallini along with a “Game Piece” composition entitled “The Big Gundown” catapulted John Zorn into fame within the Avant-Garde music scene. With the new attention he was free to split his time in Japan and New York in the late 80’s.
In Japan he began an Eclectic Noise Ensemble with Japanese composer Yamanataka Eye called Naked City. Many consider Zorn and Eye to be twins separated at birth. Zorn’s “File Card” theory became the major way in which they composed music. The ensemble was much more Jazz and Rock influenced. The song structure and components had an uncanny similarity to the “Lego” method that bungle had developed, just a few years earlier. Naked City was heavily influenced by American and Japanese television, American death metal, Kabuki Theater, Contemporary Jazz and Noise. Through Zorn’s relationship with Bungle there would be a resurgence of appreciation for Naked City half a decade later that would help in producing the audience appreciation and size Merzbow would experience in the U.S. As well as, bring Zorn and Patton’s work along with other musicians produced on the Avant and Tzadik labels to the attention of a larger and more diverse American audience that had already been interested in Bungle and the more accessible of Patton’s previous works.
Zorn’s interest in television and subsequently film had lead him to begin writing “Film Works.” Compositions for films, some of which existed and some of which did not. The most important film he helped in creating and produced a soundtrack for was “Gene Tyranny,” a film documenting the experiences of Jews on Kristallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass. He would later on deal with other issues in thee Jewish community, the most controversial of which was Gay’s in an Orthodox community.
His focus on what he refers to as “Radical Jewish Culture,” lead him to team up with fellow Manhattan Style, Jewish, Jazz musicians Joey Barron, Greg Cohen and Dave Douglas to form Masada. Masada has since become an international success with it’s melting of traditional Yiddish music, Manhattan Jazz and Avant-Garde Noise. Masada has provided an opportunity for a permanent place in Jazz folklore along with Zorn’s Jazz heroes such as Coltrane.
His respect from a cross-section of the world Jazz and Avant-Garde audience, as well as, American experimental rock and Noise audiences has elevated him to a status as a spokesperson for a worldwide movement in the continuation of Cage’s theories. When he sheds light through his work, commentary or production of other artist and all mediums there is a respect that is instantaneously placed on the worldwide audience familiar with Zorn’s work. When he composes a piece that is dedicated to an individual he has the ability to capture the essence of that person as he did for the Poet, Marguerite Duras and the Visual Artist, Marcel Duchamp on “Duras:Duchamp.” Just as he is able to bring together a wide range of artists to perform a composition, he is able to bring a wide range of people to appreciate and understand the theories and works of other artist.
John Cage’s thoughts in 1988 were directed toward his contemporary music critics, but they were indications of an over all sense he seemed to project when it came to the understanding and development of the new definition of music he had fostered in the 1950’s. Fifty years after the fact there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Music that is being produced and audiences that are experiencing it contradicts at the very least the very bleakest of Cage’s predictions. As Cage’s thoughts relate to composers there are three musicians who are still working within Cages definition of music are, Mike Patton, Masami Akita and John Zorn.
Mike Patton has utilized his fear and boredom to create a stage persona that peaks the interest of a new consistently desensitized generation of audience members. He has exploited his fame to it’s fullest and still maintained a sense of artistic integrity. His work has embraced Cage’s theory and applied it to all genres of music intertwining them into a more pure definition, one without boundaries and walls. Patton’s work creates connections for members of society, Cage seemed to see as a lost cause when it came to understanding Avant-Garde music. Patton through his Lego method and iconic persona has created a bridge between Pop music and the Avant-Garde ideals Cage created.
Masami Akita as Merzbow has written and preformed music that is embedded in Cage’s concept of Avant-Garde. He has focused on a specific aspect of life, the erotic. He desires to take noise and create beauty as well. His work is very relevant today even after Cage’s death, perhaps even more so. Akita’s has been openly influenced by the culture Cage had a lack of faith in. This is a bridge into the Avant-Garde that feeds it new and relevant life.
John Zorn has been the ambassador in the US that guards Cage’s ideal and provides a safe haven for musicians and audiences in the Avant-Garde world. As well as, expanding the definition and making a contuse effort to deal with problems that Cage was directly interested in. His influx of Jewish, African, and Japanese musical dialogue has only helped in clarifying and expressing the ideals Cage set out to present in his expanded definition of music.
Patton, Zorn and Akita do understand the concepts presented in Cages work and they open the eyes of audiences and critics world wide daily. It is yet to be shown in our textbooks, but it is shown on the shelves of our music stores and home collections in a diverse cross-section of the population worldwide.
Hay Everybody! I am working on an update, but till then here is some past writings that may be of interest enjoy…
A HABITUAL LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEM:
THE ECONOMIC CONDITIONS OF THE
AMERICAN COMIC BOOK INDUSTRY
A THESIS SUBMITTED TO THE FACULTY OF
THE SEQUENTIAL ART DEPARTMENT
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR
THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF FINE ARTS FROM
THE SAVANNAH COLLEGE OF ART AND DESIGN
BENJAMIN JONES COHEN
Comic books are not born from artistic or literary initiative, but are the product of American economic enterprise. Ironically, the comic book remains indefinitely on life support due to economics. The frail economic condition of the comic book is directly a result of poor choices made by the American comics industry. These choices included focusing the comics market on one demographic group, failing to retain a satisfied talent pool, utilizing too few practical methods for product exposure.
COMIC BOOKS EQUAL KIDS' BOOKS
Internationally, especially in France, Belgium and Japan, comic books have grown from an imported medium for kids to a diversely consumed and admired medium for all ages. The content and craftsmanship of comic books have no boundaries in these cultures. However, in the American "collective consciousness" the comic book is primarily considered a childish medium. The American public has historically seen any divergence in comics from material appropriate for children as bad form. Obligingly responding to cultural pressures, the vast majority of comic books printed in the U.S. have been intended for kids under eighteen. The comic book industry thus has failed to compete for the American adults' arts and entertainment dollar.
In 1934, Eastern Color (later All-American) published Famous Funnies, the brainchild of publisher M. C. Gaines, bringing the first economic success to the comic book (Sabin 35). As its title suggests, it was a collection of already popular newspaper comic strips. The post-Victorian sentiment in America was reevaluating children and seeing them for the first time as other than little adults (Nyberg 6-7). Children were understood to have "developing psyches" that needed to be nurtured (Nyberg 47). Children were drawn to the comic strips in their father's newspapers, as was the entire family (Nyberg 47). Comic books born during the Great Depression were subject to the realities of the time. Their success was built on the affordability and availability of this escapist medium. Depression era sales figures for Famous Funnies showed a large market among children for the ten-cent comics magazines (Sabin 35). Comic book publishers began right off the bat to make material more focused on a youth market. By 1935 comic books were so successful that they inspired publisher, National Alliance, to hire freelance and in-house cartoonists who created original comics to compete with Gaines (Sabin 35). All-American and National Alliance joined to form National Periodicals (later DC) and Gaines quit to form Education Comics (EC) (von Bernewitz 10).
While humorous comic books were the mainstay of the early industry, two American Jews were to change that in 1938 (Sabin 57). Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel created the new genre of superhero comics when National Periodical's Action Comics featured their alien/immigrant hero, "Superman." National's domination of the market continued with the 1939 publishing of Detective Comics No. 27 featuring the first "Batman" appearance and the 1940 first appearance of "Wonder Woman" in All Star Comics (Sabin 61-2, 86). National filed lawsuits based on accusations of plagiarism against comic book publishing houses Fawcett (1941), Timely (1941), Vital (1943) and Paget (1948) due to their publishing of superhero comic books (Sabin 62,66, 79). Despite National's semi-successful lawsuits, superhero comics soon permeated the industry (Sabin 62,66, 79). Comic books began to sell in greater numbers than they ever had or, in fact, would for the remainder of the millennium (57-62 Sabin). At Timely Periodicals (later Marvel) under publisher Martin Goodman, editor/writer Joe Simonson, illustrator Jack Kirby and eventually editor/writer Stan Lee produced superhero comic books that focused directly on the war effort with characters such as, "Captain America." Along with other superhero comic book companies, Timely sold well to military personnel through the entire World War II campaign. The children's market was the driving factor, but an adult market also began to take hold (Sabin 66).
The industry adapted products to maintain a post war adult audience. In 1947 Bill Gaines inherited EC from his father, M.C. Gaines. Too late to take advantage of the WWII market, but clearly interested in exploring the possibilities of a more adult product, a newly recruited EC staff began to present a very well-crafted, more mature story within typical comic genres (von Bernewitz 10). The industry had, from its beginning, a tendency to steal ideas pertaining to genre, plot lines and even illustrations. Despite this copycat game, no other company focused on the adult market as effectively as EC, in part due to the industry-wide belief that comics were a children's medium (Infantino 44-5).
After the war, the copycat tendency led the comic book industry into a variety of genres to which they would rapidly over-expose the childhood audience. The popularity of cowboy comics would fizzle and be replaced with crime comics. The comic books industry would soon burn out on everything from fuzzy animals to horror. There was also a strong effort to cater to young and adolescent girls, starting with Bob Montana & Joe Edwards's Archie (Robbins 9). National kept "Superman," "Batman" and "Wonder Woman" going, but in the post-war era the superhero genre was no longer the sales leader (Infantino 50). All the attempts at new genres by comic book publishers, other than those by EC, were marketed to children.
By 1954, America's growing focus on child development was further influenced by the obsession to counteract communism and the resulting desire to homogenize American public attitudes and orchestrate moral unity (qtd. in Nyberg 20). A widespread sentiment was that a child's free time was properly spent with activities that furthered a youth's mental and physical growth (Nyberg 11). Previously not a cultural issue, "teenage delinquency," was identified and perceived to be on the rise (Nyberg 18). Comic books were seen as a crude medium that undermined true literature and art, contributing to the rise in delinquency (Nyberg 1-5, 18-21). A concerned citizens censoring campaign that attacked the comics industry spread this view of comics (Harvey 47). The opponents of comics were threatened by the 125 new comic books available each month at 100,000 newsstands nationwide, and sold for a dime each (Nyberg 7). Small studies indicated that as much as 90% of children and teens were reading comic books (Nyberg 1). It was believed that 75% of the free time available to American children for mental and physical conditioning was being consumed by the comic book (Nyberg 7).
The entire anti-comic book movement came to a head when psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham, author of The Seduction of the Innocent, led a crusade to the U.S. Senate floor (Nyberg 85-103). Sen. Estes Kefauver, head of the Senate hearing committee, enthusiastically railroaded the entire comic book industry (von Bernewitz 21). The result was a regulation system, The Comics Code Authority, which rated the books simply on whether or not they were suitable for children. The Comics Code seal of approval did nothing to describe the content or even provide standard categories of the maturity level for the consumer. Comic books equaled kids' books, and any material unsuited for children was found to be unsuited for comic books.
Comics marketed to children and/or produced with adolescent themes subsequently became the identity of comic books in the "collective consciousness" of America. Following the guidelines set by the Comics Code Authority, National and Timely had recreated the economic power of the superhero by the 1960's. In a phoenix-like rebirth they changed their names to DC and Marvel, respectively. With artists like Carmine Infantino, DC began to produce pure superhero stories with illustrative influences from contemporary graphic design (Infantino 50). Marvel, led by writer, Lee and veteran comic book illustrators, like Kirby, produced superheroes with real human dilemmas. Marvel and DC would dominate and define the comic book market through the limits of superhero comics for the remainder of the American century and into the next.
Since 1954, cartoonists and small press publishers have made a variety of attempts to break free of the limited children's market. EC publisher, Gaines, took most of his cartoonists and revamped their comic MAD, converting to a magazine format and abandoning the comic book market. Prior to being bought out by DC's parent company Time Warner in 1982, MAD became the most financially successful satirical humor magazine for all ages America has ever produced (von Bernewitz 218). From 1963 to 1975 the small press Underground Comix movement published comic books specifically unsuited for children. Underground Comix, whenever discovered, were met with parental disgust. Underground cartoonists like R. Crumb have since grown from cult status to integration into the elitist society of contemporary high art (Stoo 116). For the first time female cartoonists like Trina Robbins had begun to have a limited voice in the comic book market through the Underground Comix movement and eventually mainstream comic books ("Crumb"). Comic book reading by girls has been in a slump since the 1950s' when Robbins was a girl. Female readership has recently grown slightly due to influence from Japanese comic books and contemporary Indy (Independent) and Alternative comic book movements, outgrowths of the Underground Comix movement. Also emerging from the underground comix movement, Gary Groth developed The Comics Journal in 1976 ("About The Comics Journal"). As the leading magazine that reports on and critiques the Comics Industry with intellectual rigor, the Comics Journal has been chronicling the development of a truly diverse small press comic book market.
In1978 Will Eisner, one of comics' earliest cartoonists, with his attempts to publish the long format comic book A Contract with Gods, invented the graphic novel, a bookstore-friendly format intended for mature audiences (Poniewozik 78). Marvel and DC's domination of the comic book industry had initially dominated the graphic novel market as well. Superhero comics' significant contribution to the quantity of graphic novels available led to an isolated graphic novel section, usually next to Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels, in most bookstore chains. In 1986 Marvel and DC took advantage of a growth in sales due to an aging superhero comic book fan base and comic book specialty collectors market. However, these groups with more disposable income represented an isolating and terminal marketing path. The longtime comic book consumers were responsible for high sales of finely made, mature intelligent superhero graphic novels, like DC's Watchmen by Allen Moore and Dave Gibbons, intended to help diversify the market. The success of graphic novels of Watchmen and A Contract with Gods caliber, however, led to watered down anti-intellectual comic books, which borrowed elements of violence and sex without the adult context of the graphic novel ("In My World"). These poor efforts provided products that catered only to male adolescents, isolating the superhero market even more. The majority of the comic book audience remains young kids, adolescent boys and a dwindling population of adolescent minds in adult bodies.
In1992 a Pulitzer Prize was given to Underground Comix cartoonist Art Spieglman for his 1986 graphic novel, Maus (McCloud 12). Spieglman along with literary cartoonists like Chris Ware, Dan Clowes and Los Hernandez Brothers begun to gain small reliable adult audiences. Their work has opened doors for relatively new cartoonists such as Joe Sacco and Dave Cooper. Asked if the comic book industry was at a point of change in the balance in terms of the medium appealing to an intellectual adult audience, cartoonist Art Spieglman recently responded, "Yeah, something's really afoot" ("The Superheroes"). He seems to finally see his work as other than just an anomaly. Perhaps, as recent reports have suggested, America's perceptions of the comic book and graphic novel are being rewritten, and the appropriate audience for comic books is evolving to include mature intelligent adults ("Comic Books"). However, the economic history of "comic books equals children's books" makes that conclusion seem premature.
An important limit of the comic book market is diversification of product; whether it is diversification of audience demographic, diversification of format and medium, diversification of distribution and sales venues or diversification of subject mater. Diversification of product is influenced by quality of art and ideas. Quality comes down to two sequential factors, acquiring talent and keeping the talent content. The invention of comic books in the midst of the Great Depression conditioned the industry to treat comic book cartoonists like employees in a sweatshop (Goulart 71, 81). In fact the initial ideal of the publishers was to have no accomplished cartoonists at all. Small groups of second-rate, aspiring strip artists and writers from a mostly Jewish immigrant population became the first comic book writers and illustrators. A comprehensive Bachelor or Masters of Fine Art education program for aspiring comic book cartoonists wasn't available until the 1990s'. It was only in the late 1970's that the occasional course or technical degree was offered for students interested in a career in comic books. Comic book artists and writers were the "hacks" of the illustration industry, which as a whole received little consideration as a pure art form. Comic book artist were not respected and were paid accordingly (Infantino 44).
From the 1930s' through the mid-1980s' efforts by publishers to increase economic support of cartoonists were rare. Comic book publishers had no interest in depicting their artists and writers as celebrities. Then, at Marvel in the late-1980s', comic book pencilers like Todd Macfarlane, Rob Liefield and Jim Lee stole the attention of comic fandom from their superhero characters. They were the first to directly tap into the growing anti-intellectualism and moral relativism displayed in the entertainment industry and news media ("Interview Daniel Clowes"). Their comic books were the descendents of the Watchmen era, but had neither the insight nor discipline nor the literary and artistic intellectual rigor required of their predecessors ("In My World"). The newly empowered six figure celebrity cartoonists were put off by the tradition of "work for hire" contracts, which resulted in zero creators' rights to their intellectual property ("Todd Macfarlane Interview"). Marvel's promotional department also began to frustrate them, Macfarlane in particular, who saw his comic books being promoted by a department that simply had no idea how to promote to a broader appropriate audience pool ("Todd Macfarlane Interview"). Macfarlane's frustration applied to industry-wide advertising tactics, which by his time were focused on a boom market in a shrinking audience pool. Marvel's top celebrity comic book artists were driven to form a new company in 1992, Image Comics. Through Image Comics, Macfarlane marketed his characters to the film and animation media, and started Macfarlane Toys, which became a huge success. Economic progress for cartoonists had been achieved, but at a pace too slow and a cost too high not to be considered a factor in the indefinite mediocre economic condition of the comic book industry.
TRICKLE DOWN EXPOSURE
In its heyday, comic books' single demographic orientation and assembly line business model produced a product that was well known by and easily available to consumers. As TV and Film became more dominant, and print media developed into a test market for moving pictures, comic books found it harder to retain a large share of the entertainment dollar. A new isolationist distribution and retail model adopted by the comic book industry in the late 1970s', in conjunction with the development of new entertainment media like videogames in the 1980s' and the internet in the 1990s', left the comic book with a fraction of its earlier market share. The comic book industry seemed to rely on T.V. and film to draw in a "trickle down" audience.
In 1967 DC became a subsidiary of the film and animation company Warner Brothers, providing a very fruitful economic avenue for the DC characters (Infantino 100-104). DC had already delved into the potential for licensing its characters with a "Superman" television program, and the potential for similar resurgence by other superheroes was not lost on Warner Brothers. For the next four-decades, DC's "Superman," "Batman" and other characters would become highly successful live-action television series, blockbuster films and animation series. During this period, Warner Brothers merged numerous times, eventually becoming today's AOL Time Warner. These mergers provided additional media in which DC could freely diversify its consumer base. Just as "Mickey Mouse" is the iconic representative for Disney, AOL Time Warner has three iconic representatives "Bugs Bunny," "Batman" and "Superman." "Batman" and "Superman's" notoriety is a testament to a consistent effort to produce projects based on DC superheroes in a variety of media. The funds from these film and television successes have not been reinvested into a commercial campaign for television designed to promote the ongoing comic book projects featuring DC's superhero characters. Print advertisement has been limited to comic books and the small market of comic book magazines, like Wizard. There has been little to support the assertion that placement of DC characters in other media has led to a consistent and significant rise in sales for DC comic books featuring the same characters. Warner Brothers' priorities have slowly undermined the necessity for quality in DC's comic book product. Comic books have become a means to produce and test market characters in order to showcase them in more profitable media.
Stan Lee, as Editor in Chief then Publisher then in subsequent roles at Marvel, had a growing fanatic desire to see Marvel characters appear in motion pictures, due to the success his rival DC had achieved (Lee 202-216). A road laid with the corpses of a number of unpopular animated and live action series based on Marvel characters has led to widely popular cartoon shows: Spiderman, Spiderman & His Amazing Friends and The X-Man, as well as, one successful live action show The Incredible Hulk. All three Marvel animated successes had over a decade between them and The Incredible Hulk remains an isolated anomaly (Lenburg 413, 436-8, 458, 474, 509, 517-8, 549). In 1989 billionaire Ronald Perelman bought Marvel (Raviv 5). His personal day-to-day concern over Marvel was minima (Raviv 25). Under Perelman's disinterested ownership, Marvel lost their top artists to the formation of Image comics. Perelman's primary use for Marvel was to funnel money into his personal assets through the use of Junk Bonds (Raviv 29.) He had friends in Hollywood who could have helped Lee's quest in the film industry, but Perelman specifically desired not to do business with Hollywood friends (Raviv 8-9).
Since the end of the millennium, post-Perelman Marvel owners Toy Biz have developed blockbuster trilogies such as X-Men and the record breaking success of Spiderman, which sold over half a billion dollars worth of tickets and DVDs ("The Superheroes").Having not learned from DCs' lack of comic book sale success, Marvel seems to be focused on product placement as the primary source for comic book publicity. Non-superhero comic book adaptations to film such as Ghost World, From Hell, and Road to Perdition have been, or in the case of League of Extraordinary Gentleman, are expected to be critical and financial successes that translate into a rise in exposure for the cartoonist who's work the film is based on. However, films about cartoonists and comics culture, such as Crumb, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys and Chasing Amy, may only expose the general public to stereotypes many in the comics industry are trying to shed. Regardless, it should be of concern to the industry that for a comic book to reach its current potential it must first be embraced by the creators of another media.
Distribution to the comic book market has been the lynchpin to promotion and sales since the beginning. As long as the products were in newsstands, local markets, convenience stores and airports, comics would remain in the public view and thus sell. In recent years, Diamond Distribution, which has no true rival, dominates the market, distributing Marvel and DC books to most of the comic shops in North America. Diamond has caused small press graphic novel and comic book distributors like LPC to go out of business, often almost obliterating small press publishers like, Top Shelf Publications ("LPC's Chapter 11" 3-8). In the past it was unusual for distribution problems to arise; and when they did, friendly rivals would lend a hand. For example, in the early 1960's Marvel publisher Goodman lost his distributor, American News. DC's distributor and sister company Independent News stepped in to distribute Marvel's comic books until 1968 when Curtis Distribution took over (Infantino 58).
Around the same time Goodman sold Marvel to Perfect Film and Chemical Corporation (later Cadence Industries) (Lee 181). Marvel had dominated the comic book market from 1967 to 1973, due in part to a lack of opportunity for expansion into live action television and film (Infantino 99, 162-4). The domination led to the successful Spiderman animation series. But a lack of vision from Cadence Industries forced Marvel to slowly develop a more aggressive strategy in the comic book market.
In 1974 under now president Infantino, DC was able to fight Marvel for a fare share of the comic book market. In 1975 Marvel bluffed a comic book expansion scheme (Infantino 164). The bluff brought with it a prediction of a paper shortage (Infantino 164). Alarmed by the probable paper shortage Infantino had DC produce and print as many books as quickly as possible, saturating the market with a plethora of poor quality DC books (Infantino 164). By the year-end DC was faced with record low comic book sales (Infantino 164).
Marvel then took advantage of their dominant share of the market and offered a glorified subscription service called "direct distribution." The success of direct distribution was made possible by a growing popularity of Marvel characters. Lee's cultivated core fan base and the interwoven storylines of the "Marvel Universe" were what drove the comics book market. Marvels circumvention of the newsstand would cause DC to lose out on the large amounts of potential readers. Direct distribution, however, began isolating loyal Marvel readers, feeding the need for trade conventions and comic book shops, which provided a new community atmosphere. Comic book "fandom" transformed these trade conventions into comic book fan conventions, affectionately referred to as "Cons" (Lee 154). "Cons" and comic book shops would eventually pop up in most major cities in the US, England and Canada, crippling the remaining viability of the newsstand comic rack. At Cons and comic book shops, fans could view new comics, pick up back issues and subscribe to their favorites.
COLLECTORS' MARKETS BUBBLE BURST
A new consumer group emerged during this period, coinciding with increasing interest in buying back issues. Comics that had been discarded in heavy numbers thus became of high value, provided they had had initially high print runs. The rapidly growing collectors market eclipsed the shrinking children's market. By the early1980's comic books were predominantly sold in specialty shops and at conventions to a stagnant, isolated culture. Any new potential audiences were no longer being exposed to comic books, nor even enticed to try to become exposed.
As the collectors' market began to outgrow the shrinking children's market, the individual capital per consumer grew, as did the individual demand. Collectors presumed that work penciled by a celebrity would be the source of comic books' growth in value, much as the iconic character had been the element that produced increased value for comics published prior to the existence of a collectors' market. The Marvel promotional department's uninspired ideas led to such innovations as selling multiple styles of covers on comics with the same content to feed on the endless appetite of collectors. Marvel and DC began to raise the price of their comic books rapidly, due to the wealth of the collectors market, a rise in quality of production inspired by graphic novel sales and the constraints of an overall shrinking market. By 1989, a single 24-page comic book was over a dollar in price for the first time, a price that would triple in the following decade.
As the boom market dominated by Marvel approached its peek under Perelman, Marvel went public on the New York stock exchange in 1991 (Raviv 15). With help from the rising success of comic books driven by the collector market and the Macfarlane Marvel era talent pool, the stock grew (Raviv 41). Perelman had developed an arrangement with Toy Biz owners Ike Perlmutter and Avi Arid that provided Toy Biz an exclusive contract to manufacture Marvel toys and provided Perelman a 40% ownership of Toy Biz (Raviv 6). Marvel had become a licensing machine for comic book character intellectual property rights. Although Perelman was unconcerned, Perlmutter, who was an expert on trends in bankruptcy, began to suspect the Marvel stock was a disaster waiting to happen (Raviv 49). His predictions were based on the use of Junk Bonds and hundreds of millions in bank loans through Marvel received without question, due to the clout of Perelman's billions (Raviv 1-2). Perlmutter's prediction was not based on the state of the comics industry, which was far more fragile then either man cared to be aware of. But in the 1980's the collectors market bought the high print run comic books and preserved them too effectively to provide a substantial loss in the quality and number. The isolation of the comic book market had left little outside demand for the comic books preserved by collectors. Three years after Marvel lost the majority of its top artists in 1992 to Image, Perlmutter's concerns over Perelman's stock market tactics came to fruition (Raviv 53). Marvel's stock fell, the collectors' market bubble broke and comic shops closed ("State of the Comics" 6). Marvel found itself in bankruptcy court, crippling the entire industry (Raviv 95). A court battle ensued between the banks, the junk bond holders (led by the unscrupulous billionaire Carl Icahn) and Perelman over who would own Marvel and its subsidiaries (Raviv 97). Briefly, Icahn won (Raviv 182). Toy Biz, led by Perlmutter's frighteningly cool and calculating tactics, along with Arid's passion for Marvel characters, was able to out maneuver the billionaires (Raviv 248). Toy Biz's takeover of Marvel is what has led to recent Marvel film success, guided by Lee and Arid.
Marvel and the rest of the comic book market's pains have not led to a change in overall approach to promotion. Diversifying small press publishers have encouraged longer format comic books and graphic novels as well as sought out reliable book distributors to provide clout in the bookstore market. But even these publishers rely on licensing through film and television opportunities and lack the finances to produce television led commercial campaigns to promote the comic books themselves. Marvel, DC and the rest of the comic book industry have failed to resist the "carrot" of product placement in films and replace the comic book shop as the primary venue for sales.
The comic book industry has failed to act holistically with regards to the problems and solutions it has faced. The industry must not behave like lemmings. In order to reverse a century of conditioning, the comic book industry needs to change the structure of its business model. Comic books must resist the seduction of Hollywood, with its mercantile economics and creativity by popularity poll. True economic success does not lie in exposure of comic book stories and characters through a rival medium. Straightforward informative advertising campaigns in film, television, radio, the internet and print media, utilizing the cutting-edge communication techniques of its cartoonists will help and are helping a lot of cartoon images in all media influence the stature of comics universally. The industry must produce a majority of quality comics. Diversification of the stories must be a high priority. Promotional campaigns must be centered on attracting audiences that would be interested specifically in each particular story, while also providing the opportunity for these stories to be consumed by a public that was not part of the initial market demographic. These efforts will create a source of consistent economic growth for the industry.
Capitalist competition, informed by environmentally and socially conscious principles, needs to exist universally among the comic book publishers. Comic shops should consider merging with the struggling Indy music stores and bookstores to create community retail centers for pools of new trends and old knowledge. Competitive distribution would contribute to diversity of consumers in comic book shops. Large bookstore chains must be pressed to carry comics printed in graphic novel formats to be placed next to books on similar subjects in sections visited by adults. Films, videogames, TV programs, toys, accessories and web sights will still feature comic book product placement, but comic books should no longer rely on the success of these other media to provide the financial payoff through trickle-down economics. Eisner's father summed up his son's publishing business, "What you have there…is a wheelbarrow. Sure, it's a machine, but if you don't push it, it won't go" (Eisner 23). The Comic Book Industry must gather up the diversified yet unified courage to push in the correct direction up the mountain.
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I will return to the web waves as soon as the over joyed chaos that is my current existence subsides. I am getting married in a few week, closing on my first home and investment property 2 weeks after that, returning to school to pursue an art education degree, developing new comics courses for Burlington College and I am producing some new comic work that may actually see the light of day. As soon as a few of these things have past I will be back to comment on the world outside my little bubble in pleasant Vermont.
There are many great things to talk about... Spidy, Eightball, Fahrenheit, Mondo Generator, Venomous Concept, Love and Rockets, DQ feature in Canada Time MAg not US, TCJ, the election ect... but my real life takes precedence.
Best wishes to a great mid summer.
See you on the other side.