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Comics As Art: We Told You So

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A rollicking oral history of Fantagraphics' first three decades. In 1976, a group of young men and women coalesced around a fledgling magazine and the idea that comics could be art. In 2006, comics intended for an adult readership are reviewed favorably in the "New York Times," enjoy panels devoted to them at Book Expo America, and sell in bookstores comparable to prose ef A rollicking oral history of Fantagraphics' first three decades. In 1976, a group of young men and women coalesced around a fledgling magazine and the idea that comics could be art. In 2006, comics intended for an adult readership are reviewed favorably in the "New York Times," enjoy panels devoted to them at Book Expo America, and sell in bookstores comparable to prose efforts of similar weight and intent. "Comics As Art: We Told You So" tells of Fantagraphics Books' key role in helping build and shape an art movement around a discredited, ignored and fading expression of Americana the way insiders share the saga with one another other: in anecdotal form, in the words of the people who lived it and saw it happen. Comics historian and critic Tom Spurgeon ("Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book") and designer Jacob Covey ("The Complete Dennis the Menace") assemble an all-star cast of industry figures, critics, cartoonists, art objects, curios and groundbreaking publications to bring you a detailed account of Fantagraphics' first thirty years. It's the story of fans who looked at the objects of their affection and demanded something more. It's a saga of scratched-together office spaces, mounting debts, public feuds, lawsuits, acrimony, office pranks and last-minute fundraisers. It's a description of how a fanzine becomes a magazine becomes a movement becomes a touchstone. It's a detailed catalog of the look of a cultural awakening. It's a story that includes appearances by Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, Harlan Ellison, Jim Shooter, Stan Lee, Dan Clowes, Frank Miller, Peter Bagge, Jaime Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez, Dave Sim, Steve Geppi, Todd McFarlane andevery other major figure in the arts or business end of modern comics. More than a corporate history or a fond look back, "Comics As Art: We Told You So" makes the warts-and-all case for Fantagraphics Books' position near the heart of the modern reclamation of the comics art form.


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A rollicking oral history of Fantagraphics' first three decades. In 1976, a group of young men and women coalesced around a fledgling magazine and the idea that comics could be art. In 2006, comics intended for an adult readership are reviewed favorably in the "New York Times," enjoy panels devoted to them at Book Expo America, and sell in bookstores comparable to prose ef A rollicking oral history of Fantagraphics' first three decades. In 1976, a group of young men and women coalesced around a fledgling magazine and the idea that comics could be art. In 2006, comics intended for an adult readership are reviewed favorably in the "New York Times," enjoy panels devoted to them at Book Expo America, and sell in bookstores comparable to prose efforts of similar weight and intent. "Comics As Art: We Told You So" tells of Fantagraphics Books' key role in helping build and shape an art movement around a discredited, ignored and fading expression of Americana the way insiders share the saga with one another other: in anecdotal form, in the words of the people who lived it and saw it happen. Comics historian and critic Tom Spurgeon ("Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book") and designer Jacob Covey ("The Complete Dennis the Menace") assemble an all-star cast of industry figures, critics, cartoonists, art objects, curios and groundbreaking publications to bring you a detailed account of Fantagraphics' first thirty years. It's the story of fans who looked at the objects of their affection and demanded something more. It's a saga of scratched-together office spaces, mounting debts, public feuds, lawsuits, acrimony, office pranks and last-minute fundraisers. It's a description of how a fanzine becomes a magazine becomes a movement becomes a touchstone. It's a detailed catalog of the look of a cultural awakening. It's a story that includes appearances by Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, Harlan Ellison, Jim Shooter, Stan Lee, Dan Clowes, Frank Miller, Peter Bagge, Jaime Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez, Dave Sim, Steve Geppi, Todd McFarlane andevery other major figure in the arts or business end of modern comics. More than a corporate history or a fond look back, "Comics As Art: We Told You So" makes the warts-and-all case for Fantagraphics Books' position near the heart of the modern reclamation of the comics art form.

30 review for Comics As Art: We Told You So

  1. 4 out of 5

    ΕyesNEiN|v|EisΝinΕ

    This is Actually 2 Reviews in One: The 1st Review is for the HC Edition (0.5/5.0 STARs); The 2nd Review is for the e-Book Edition, or the Material Itself (4.5/5.0 STARS) This review fucking sucks. Writing it, I mean... though it might end up being an all-around black hole of Goodreads suckage; I'm only two sentences in, so we'll see, I guess. In case you've read some of my earlier reviews and thought I came off as an angry motherfucker who frequently drenches his reviews in twisted and vaguel This is Actually 2 Reviews in One: The 1st Review is for the HC Edition (0.5/5.0 STARs); The 2nd Review is for the e-Book Edition, or the Material Itself (4.5/5.0 STARS) This review fucking sucks. Writing it, I mean... though it might end up being an all-around black hole of Goodreads suckage; I'm only two sentences in, so we'll see, I guess. In case you've read some of my earlier reviews and thought I came off as an angry motherfucker who frequently drenches his reviews in twisted and vaguely threatening hyperbole, only to be slightly baffled about why the fuck this idiot who's cursing and frothing like a maniac-on-crack maniacally-mainlining a neuron-devouring solution of refined bat-guano and cheap filthy Mexican steroids... is... smothering all these books with tender five-star love?! ... that's a fair question. The truth is, I find the over-the-top babble funny. Even the most vicious, Aqua Regia-grade Vitriol is typed-out with the feather-lite touch of a Pianist... and not by some inexplicably angry Cro-Mag freak slamming the keyboard with his Penis. [NOTE: I've got no problems with Cro-Mags, and whatever typing method works for you is FINE.] This time, however... I actually am a little bit angry. Somewhat. Irritated, more like. After D & Q released Drawn & Quarterly: Twenty-five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics, and Graphic Novels , an entertaining and nostalgic look at one of the two most significant alternative comic publishers in North America, I was pleased to see solicitations for 'We Told You So: Comics as Art', which is almost a companion volume, providing an 'oral history' for the much more tumultuous and controversial history of 'Fantagraphics', and the place from whence the idea of taking sequential art seriously came, 'The Comics Journal'. It was Fantagraphics that provided a publishing home for a huge swathe of the world's greatest cartoonists, beginning with Jack Jackson's post-underground historical work 'Los Tejanos', an obscure funny-animal book with dark, misogynistic undertones called 'Hugo', and most importantly, Los Bros. Hernandez' 'Love and Rockets'. The 'Comics Journal', and in particular its prime motive force and mouthpiece, Gary Groth, had been blasting Marvel and DC, occasionally praising the artists and writers who were able to create something worthwhile under the boot-heel of two companies who cared nothing for creativity and based everything on the bottom line. While they talked about the possibilities of comics as a medium, they had very little they could hold up as an example of these vague possibilities. After years of going to war with the industry over its deliberate creative stagnation, their uncensored interviews and editorials were fucking great for inspiring feuds and lawsuits and fistfights, but the comics still kind of sucked. Marvel and DC weren't going to change, so they'd have to do it themselves. And thus 'Fantagraphics' became the anti-Marvel, anti-DC comic publisher that would give talented and unconventional cartoonists the platform to create comics that would achieve all those fancy fuckin' 'possibilities' The Comics Journal was always blathering on about. The common perception at the time saw Gary Groth - quite accurately - as a muck-raking, rabble-rousing, shit-disturbing demagogue fighting for a cause so obscure there wasn't any rabble to rouse or demas to gogue. The switch to publishing comics no one else wanted to touch proved he really did give a fuck about comics, and didn't give a fuck about money... which is cool... unless you're trying to keep a business going. Groth and his partners, the cerebral and multi-lingual Kim Thompson and Groth's childhood pal Mike Catron, were shitty businessmen to begin with, and more or less remained shitty businessmen. But they were fair and honest and they were on a fucking crusade. 'Love and Rockets' became the Fantagraphics flagship, but Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez were soon joined by some other names that loom large today: Robert Crumb, Bill Griffith, Pete Bagge, Kim Deitch, Kaz, Charles Burns, Jim Woodring, Dan Clowes, Dave Cooper, Chris Ware, Joe Sacco, Tony Millionaire... and we know the ending, more or less. Time has vindicated Groth, Thompson, and Catron's belief that comics were an artform, and they played a pivotal role in the current 'golden age' of comics. How it all played out, if you have even the tiniest particle of interest in the nerds who make all this magic happen behind the scenes, the artists, the writers, the publishers, the journalists, is fucking fascinating shit. On a Kindle: 4.5-stars. As for the hardcover... When the Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly started making their name with an impressive stable of largely Canadian artists - Chester Brown, Seth, Julie Doucet, Joe Matt, Jason Lutes, and Archer Prewitt - they were quite obviously and openly continuing the mission that The Comics Journal and Fantagraphics had first embarked on. But D & Q founder Chris Oliveros was running a tighter ship; they were the new guys, but as an informal partnership began to emerge between companies, it wasn't a clear mentor-protege relationship. D & Q introduced a sophisticated approach to design, and had a more hands-on involvement when it came to the details of binding, covers, paper-stock... some of the older Fantagraphics books look pretty fucking ugly in comparison. By the late 90's, the D & Q influence was having a very positive result, but D & Q still had the better-looking... and better promoted books. The one criticism that comes up again and again with cartoonists is that Fantagraphics never promoted their books correctly, unless your last name was Hernandez, Clowes or Sacco. The Drawn & Quarterly/Fantagraphics contrast is unfortunately illustrated in miniature with the differences between and ... All that need be said about the former is that, as usual, it's brilliantly executed, in terms of content and construction. The latter, on the other hand... PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: If you happen to buy books like this in the dead tree format, you might want to avoid this one... I ordered 'We Told You So' through 'amazon.ca'. I was pleased with the look of it. The paper-stock wasn't great, but it was a 600-page book, and they were trying to replicate the 'little-big-book' feel of the D & Q tome. Then I noticed how loose the binding felt, and discovered that the endpapers had torn away at the crease on both sides of the book, leaving the page-block to hang loosely by the webbing. That sucked. So, I ordered another. What the FLACK?! I mean FUCK?! (I'm so pussed I can't frippin' swear right. SUCK!) This time the book came with air-cushions and shlap, but it was damaged in exactly the same way. But I was liking it, and Amazon returns are relatively pain-free, so I said 'fuck it, third times the charm. Send another, motherfucker' (Ah. That's better). Well, of course, that one arrived exactly the same way, and I'm not going to try again. Clearly, the end-paper material is too fragile for a page-block this large, and a drop of 3 inches is enough for the binding to self-destruct. That, or my mailmen hate me, and decided to play football with my packages. IF YOU'RE ORDERING THE HARDCOVER EDITION OF THIS BOOK ONLINE, EXPECT IT TO ARRIVE WITH THE COVER HANGING LITERALLY BY A THREAD, AND THE ENDPAPERS TORN IN TWO AT THE GUTTER CREASE. IF YOU DECIDE TO ORDER 'WE TOLD YOU SO' ANYWAY, AND IT SHOWS UP THE SAME WAY: I TOLD YOU SO. I know I marked it as 'read', but I'm actually still reading. I know one day I'll face justice for that crime. If I get through this book before that terrible accounting, I might add to the jabbering. Pictures and whatnot. It's exciting, I know.

  2. 5 out of 5

    J.T.

    I have no idea if this book would appeal to anyone outside the comics industry, but it sure as hell appealed to me! This oral history of Fantagraphics interviews Fantagraphics founders, Fantagraphics employees past & present, cartoonists published by Fantagraphics, cartoonists within the industry, both alternative, underground and mainstream and more to give a comprehensive history. This is not a dry telling of the facts, though. Tom Spurgeon (who worked for Fantagraphics) was encouraged not to I have no idea if this book would appeal to anyone outside the comics industry, but it sure as hell appealed to me! This oral history of Fantagraphics interviews Fantagraphics founders, Fantagraphics employees past & present, cartoonists published by Fantagraphics, cartoonists within the industry, both alternative, underground and mainstream and more to give a comprehensive history. This is not a dry telling of the facts, though. Tom Spurgeon (who worked for Fantagraphics) was encouraged not to edit out anything unflattering, so there's some really great stories in here (and photos). Although I've been a rabid consumer of Fantagraphics' publications for decades, I honestly didn't know much of their backstory. I found it truly engrossing and wanted more even after 500+ pages.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Joe Crawford

    I love a good oral history, and Comics history is a passion of mine. From fanzines to the founding of alternative comics, Fantagraphics has always been tastemakers. Well worth the time this monster of a tome took me to read. 4.75

  4. 5 out of 5

    Brent

    Great review from NPR at http://www.npr.org/2016/12/17/5055925... Great review from NPR at http://www.npr.org/2016/12/17/5055925...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Stewart Tame

    Wow, this took a while to get through. It's huge and unwieldy to read, and there are definitely problems, as another reviewer noted, with the binding--the pages are heavy enough to start coming loose from the binding, which is a problem, but since I didn't buy this myself, just checked it out from the library, this didn't affect my enjoyment nearly as much as it seemed to affect theirs. Keep in mind that it's an issue when deciding whether or not to purchase a physical copy of this book. Being a Wow, this took a while to get through. It's huge and unwieldy to read, and there are definitely problems, as another reviewer noted, with the binding--the pages are heavy enough to start coming loose from the binding, which is a problem, but since I didn't buy this myself, just checked it out from the library, this didn't affect my enjoyment nearly as much as it seemed to affect theirs. Keep in mind that it's an issue when deciding whether or not to purchase a physical copy of this book. Being a long time fan of Fantagraphics, and the Comics Journal in particular, I was looking forward to reading this glorious, sprawling history of the company. The title is so Comics Journal that it made me grin in anticipation the moment I first heard about it. While there are titles that Fantagraphics has published over the years that don't get mentioned in the text--Christopher Priest's The Book on the Edge of Forever, for instance--there sure aren't many of them. Obviously Gary Groth and Kim Thompson get quoted extensively, but countless others were as well. Just about everyone who ever worked for and/or had work published by Fanta was interviewed for this project. When I first heard about this, I assumed that many articles from the Journal would be reprinted to fill it out, but actually very few were--just one or two short bits that had direct bearing on the story being related. Fantagraphics' longevity and editorial reputation have always impressed me, and, love them or hate them, they definitely had a sizeable impact on comics history. There are also many pages of stories drawn for the company's 40th anniversary by people who've been published by Fanta over the years: Simon Hanselmann, Bill Griffith, Roberta Gregory, Daniel Clowes, etc. The back of the book contains a list of just about everything Fantagraphics has published over the years, alphabetically organized by creator. They left out all the Eros titles, but it's still an awe-inspiringly long list. This is a glorious book for anyone interested in comics history and/or Fantagraphics in particular. Highly recommended!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    What better way to honour the publishers of The Comics Journal than with one giant overlong interview?

  7. 5 out of 5

    Forest Juziuk

    I can't believe how quickly I finished this beast – I finished it a lot faster than that Atlas Shrugged, I'll tell you what! Thankfully Comics As Art: We Told You So isn't just a long book that's essentially about whether you actually have the wherewithal to finish reading it (for the record, I gave up 30 pages from the end of John Galt's radio rant – which SPOLER ALERT – is just the same fucking paragraph re-written 400+ times over). Perhaps I'm making my way through my own history of interests I can't believe how quickly I finished this beast – I finished it a lot faster than that Atlas Shrugged, I'll tell you what! Thankfully Comics As Art: We Told You So isn't just a long book that's essentially about whether you actually have the wherewithal to finish reading it (for the record, I gave up 30 pages from the end of John Galt's radio rant – which SPOLER ALERT – is just the same fucking paragraph re-written 400+ times over). Perhaps I'm making my way through my own history of interests as I finished that Marvel book not long before this (this would be my pre-teens) and the Fanta book now (teen land and beyond!). I'm terrified to see what's next but I digress... That Marvel book was fuggin' BRUTAL – 90% of those guys fought dirty, had shitty ideas, and also sucked. The thing that really struck me is that the Marvel characters I loved as a virginal dork are NOTHING. They are dots on paper, nothing more. They're stand-ins for crummy ideas whose histories have been rewritten multiple times since I stopped looking. I will admit though, the whole section of the Marvel book where those guys were dropping acid and wandering around 70s or 80s NY or whatever was hilarious. At any rate, this idea of characters-as-commodity is completely contrary to the side of comics history of which Fantagraphics has ultimately become the custodian. Boy, I almost started bawlin' at the end. I'll admit I've been somewhat distant from Fanta in the last ten or so years so the catch-up and introduction to new stuff was wholly welcome and exciting. I got real excited at mention of their mail order catalog which I'm SHOCKED I don't have copies of saved somewhere. Mostly, this book rules. I almost gave this book 3 stars (and not because of the same inner-cover tearing issue that other dorks have complained about here – I'm pretty sure this isn't the Yelp of books – find someone to fix your fucking binding or watch a YouTube how-to tutorial). The editing could *definitely* been better (I'm sorry, RIP Tom Spurgeon). There were many pages that could have been cut by 1/4 or a 1/3 by removing excess, repetitive lines without impacting the story. And I'm almost certain there was one paragraph repeated twice. Ultimately, this didn't make it a slog per se, but did drive me a little crazy. Not gonna get this shit elsewhere though although I would LOVE a Fantagraphics Vs. Kitchen Sink book like you wouldn't believe.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tim Lapetino

    This voluminous oral history of legendary independent comic book publisher Fantagraphics is no joke. At a hefty 650+ pages, it’s not for the faint of heart. But it does give a history lesson in modern indie comics and how the field has evolved, often with Fantagraphics at the center of it. I feel like I went from having a passing knowledge of Fantagraphics to getting a real sense of the founders, their mission and the approach they’ve taken in 40 years of writing and publishing. It’s impressive This voluminous oral history of legendary independent comic book publisher Fantagraphics is no joke. At a hefty 650+ pages, it’s not for the faint of heart. But it does give a history lesson in modern indie comics and how the field has evolved, often with Fantagraphics at the center of it. I feel like I went from having a passing knowledge of Fantagraphics to getting a real sense of the founders, their mission and the approach they’ve taken in 40 years of writing and publishing. It’s impressive not just for the company’s quality and output, but for also remaining true to the company’s ideals, when other routes would have surely been more profitable and easier. But like Sinatra, the crew at FG has done it their way, and lovers of the medium and visual culture are surely better for it. A great read, but the marathon-like length undoubtedly narrows its audience to the die-hards. But that’s not so bad.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kurt

    It was a little too long on the back end, but as a reader of The Comics Journal since the 80s and a huge Fantagraphics fan, I thought this was an amazing book/retrospective. I recommend it for anyone interested in underground/alternative comics, or just any comics that aren't the crap published by Marvel and D.C. I also recommend it for anyone who likes books about books, like I do. It really makes the reader appreciate how much work goes into creating a comic or graphic novel and how much goes It was a little too long on the back end, but as a reader of The Comics Journal since the 80s and a huge Fantagraphics fan, I thought this was an amazing book/retrospective. I recommend it for anyone interested in underground/alternative comics, or just any comics that aren't the crap published by Marvel and D.C. I also recommend it for anyone who likes books about books, like I do. It really makes the reader appreciate how much work goes into creating a comic or graphic novel and how much goes into publishing those works. The book also contains hundreds (thousands? I'm not about to count them all) of photos of creators and of their work.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rory Toohey

    This book was years in the making, and the result is something that takes potentially years in the reading. While there's a glut of oral histories out there, this one is pretty strong, in that, no matter where the story goes (from mundane business details to pissy inter-industry fights), it maintains the charming arrogance set forth from the title. Like any good oral history, it makes you wish you were there. (Although the last 100 pages or so are pretty unfocused and unnecessary.) This book was years in the making, and the result is something that takes potentially years in the reading. While there's a glut of oral histories out there, this one is pretty strong, in that, no matter where the story goes (from mundane business details to pissy inter-industry fights), it maintains the charming arrogance set forth from the title. Like any good oral history, it makes you wish you were there. (Although the last 100 pages or so are pretty unfocused and unnecessary.)

  11. 5 out of 5

    Scott Campbell

    Insanely self-indulgent. At over 600 pages, it would have improved immensely by pruning about 200 of them. But if anyone deserves a victory lap, it's these guys. And despite the excess, there is plenty of history, gossip and art to make this a worthwhile read. Insanely self-indulgent. At over 600 pages, it would have improved immensely by pruning about 200 of them. But if anyone deserves a victory lap, it's these guys. And despite the excess, there is plenty of history, gossip and art to make this a worthwhile read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Hal Johnson

    Completely inaccessible; it filled me with a white light.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Veronika

    "In 1976, three young adults barely out of their teens rallied around the seemingly preposterous idea that comics could be art....As it turned out, we were right" <3 "In 1976, three young adults barely out of their teens rallied around the seemingly preposterous idea that comics could be art....As it turned out, we were right" <3

  14. 4 out of 5

    Dr. Detroit

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tucker Stone

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alex Scales

  17. 4 out of 5

    Oliver Grainger

  18. 5 out of 5

    Antoine

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sean McOmber

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mike

  21. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  22. 5 out of 5

    Brannon

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dylan Posa

  24. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin C

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ilja Rautsi

  26. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Bedford

  27. 4 out of 5

    Hendroid

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bernardo Mozelli

  29. 5 out of 5

    Book Club of One

  30. 5 out of 5

    Cris

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