TCJ 300: Conversations (Introduction)

Posted by on December 31st, 2009 at 3:24 AM


300 issues, 33 years.*

If the concept of 300 issues of this magazine sets you reeling in a fog of disbelief, horror, and awe, imagine what it does to me. When I co-founded The Comics Journal in 1976, I hadn’t the slightest idea what lay ahead; I was always too busy working on the next issue, or obsessing over that month’s affront to taste and morality (which I spent quite a bit of time doing — but I had the time). But, what lay ahead, almost inconceivable at the time, was that the magazine’s dogmatic mandate would become the new reality. As an art, comics has matured and evolved more between then and now than it has in any other stretch of its history. It’s more widely recognized throughout the general culture as a bona fide art form now — albeit at a time when pop culture standards have, perhaps not coincidentally, become a joke, but one takes what one can get when one can get it. Cartoonists are now more aesthetically ambitious than ever, more aware of their artistic antecedents, more interested in using a wide range of artistic and literary influences to express themselves, better educated and versed in other artforms and more literate than their mainstream predecessors, and — equally important — have the publishing opportunities even maverick members of the previous generation didn’t have.

It occurred to me during one of our editorial kibitzing sessions that the Journal‘s been around so long that there are now cartoonists doing serious creative work who weren’t even alive when the magazine began — and doing what young artists in every form ought to be doing (aside from making me feel ancient): learning from the past, adjusting traditional modes to serve their needs, engaging in radical experiments, and pushing the form in new directions. How do these cartoonists see comics differently from the previous generation? How does temporal happenstance shape an artist’s outlook, how are techniques refined, assimilated, or discarded?

Long interviews that wrestle with big questions have been one of the hallmarks of the magazine, at least as long ago as our first Gil Kane interview (#38, 1978) I realized that a variation of this, infrequently appearing in the magazine (I cajoled Denny O’Neil and Gil Kane into a long talk in 1982 and, more recently, wrangled Jules Feiffer and Chris Ware into sitting down together) would be artists talking to each other. Oddly, this is rarely done by magazines or wesbsites, in or out of comics; yet, wouldn’t it be fascinating to read a conversation between Sidney Lumet and Paul Thomas Anderson, Steve Reich and Elvis Costello, Maria Lassnig and Peter Doig, Harry Matthews and Carter Scholz? (Or, crossing genres but keeping it in the family, wouldn’t it have been a kick to read a conversation between Harry Partch and Virgil Partch?) Conversations between two generations could, I reasoned, offer insight into how comics has evolved over the the last 30 odd years, and because the Journal is always ahead of the curve, we decided to make it happen. What could be more apropos than an over-sized issue full of talk about what’s happened over the life of the magazine?

We tried to cover every “branch” of cartooning, from mainstream to alternative, from political cartooning to newspaper strips. We asked the artists to focus on aesthetics, though they often range into how the commercial side has changed as well. I hope this gives the reader a deeper understanding of the role recent history has played in forging the contemporary comics scene.


* Technically, 274 issues because we started publishing the Journal with #27. But, who’s counting?


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