Nick Gazin's Comic Book Love-In #115

VICE art editor Nick Gazin tells us what's good in the world of comics and collectibles, from Anna Haifisch's 'The Artist' to a new Beetlejuice doll.

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Mar 31 2017, 3:43pm

Hey everybody,

I'm Nick Gazin and this is my weekly comics column in which I discuss and review comics, toys, art books, illustration, zines, and anything related to paper, art, or nerdery. How are you? I am fine.

I forgot to do a best comics of 2016 list. If you want it, here it is.

  1. Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam and Other Stories by Simon Hanselmann (Fantagraphics)
  2. Panther by Brecht Evens (Drawn & Quarterly)
  3. The Artist by Anna Haifisch (Breakdown Press)
  4. Patience by Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics)
  5. Epoxy Cartoon Magazine by John Pham (self-published)
  6. Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus by Chester Brown (Drawn & Quarterly) 
  7. Cat Rackham by Steve Wolfhard (Koyama Press)
  8. Real Deal by Lawrence Hubbard and H. P. McElwee (Fantagraphics) 
  9. Last Look by Charles Burns (Random House) 
  10. Boy's Club by Matt Furie (Fantagraphics)

As an honorable mention I would like to mention Michael by Stephen Maurice Graham from Spaceface Books, which I edited.

Beetlejuice by Sideshow Collectibles

Have you ever seen an action figure or doll so beautiful and perfect, it made you weep? I have. They're made by Sideshow Collectibles. Sideshow's new Beetlejuice arrived at my home and I made an unboxing video since it's easier to film myself opening a box than it is to write a review.

If you're too busy to watch a video of a grown man opening up a box with a doll inside, you should maybe rethink your priorities. Make time for what's really important. I will say that this is an almost perfect doll. Sideshow gave him a chubby gut and specially produced hands that are all gnarled; they even included the rhinestones on his toe that are easily missed if you've only watched the movie on VHS.

The only thing that keeps this doll from being perfect is the handling of its hair and the creeping rot around the edge of Beetlejuice's face. The hair is too dark and the same color as Beetlejuice's face mold. The mold should be less prominent and darker and the hair should appear wispier and lighter. If the hair were handled more accurately, this doll would be perfect, but as it is I give it a B+.

It's still worth owning if you have $240 and love Beetlejuice. There's no better Beetlejuice doll out there waiting for you to scoop him up.

Buy Beetlejuice.

The Artist by Anna Haifisch

Anna Haifisch is perhaps my first or second favorite breakout comics artist of the last couple years. I first saw her work when she drew a Blobby Boys comic for VICE, subbing in for the churlish and talented Alex Schubert towards the end of his Blobby Boys comic series. I hired her to make a weekly comic for this site, and she created a special thing. Her bird person character, the Artist, perfectly encapsulated a different facet of what it means to be a young/broke artist trying to survive in this often brutal world.

You can still read the Artist comics on this site, but nothing beats print and this book is a beautiful little hardcover that merits ownership. I interviewed her about The Artist. Here it is. If any of Anna's phrasings seem odd it's because she's German and English is a second language.

VICE: When did you come up with the character of the Artist?
Anna Haifisch: It was after you asked me to make a comic for VICE. I got very nervous because for a weekly comic I needed a topic I have an idea about. Being an artist is probably the only one.

Is the Artist supposed to be you?
I'm pretty much looking like the Artist but I do have more than four hairs.

Do people assume the artist is supposed to be you?
Oh, yeah, a lot of people ask me after some of the most depressing Artist episodes if I am OK. It's weird when this is coming from total strangers. But they're not completely wrong, though. As I am writing the Artist every week, it has a lot to do with my own life. But none of the stories happened to me like they occur online. I need a certain level of abstraction and exaggeration. Reading diary comics often make me feel uncomfortable and I don't want my readers to feel embarrassed or something.

How do you feel about the Artist?
I really feel for the Artist. I like him a lot. Writing and drawing that character is a lot of fun. He is a little Jesus—I am dumping all the horrible things about being an artist with full force on him. Every week I sacrifice him until he will eventually be our savior. I really hope that the readers feel for him and hopefully for artists IRL, too.

Do you have a favorite story? 
From the new season it's the haiku episode. It's the most abstract one of all of them. It's showing the Artist's true loving character.

Is anything that's appeared in the Artist directly taken from your own life?
The only episode that is pretty much taken from my own life is this one. But the level of abstraction is too low—and bam!—I consider this episode as the weakest one I've ever drawn. (But these fucks have to stop writing those kinds of emails, though.)

Why does the Artist love to paint snakes?
Watching the Artist drawing the same thing over and over again without any sign of success is very tragic and therefore funny. Everything the Artist creates is a placeholder for contemporary art. His art has to be extremely nonsensical so that the readers know: "This must be art. Badly drawn snakes must be art."

Why are most of your people birds? Where did your love of drawing people as birds stem from?
My parents look like birds—me and my brothers, too. I draw what I know. Birds have such a great tradition in comics and cartoons it's almost stupid to add another bird. I drew that Artist interlude on birds to strip down my own respect for iconic birds in comics. It made me feel less small drawing The Artist. I like the fact that birds are so fragile. Also beaks are a great thing to draw, a nice combination of nose and mouth leading to a very distinct form. Just perfect.

I usually think that comics that rely on narration are lazy and aren't embracing the strength of the comics medium. You use a lot of narration boxes but your comics work really well. It's like you have two parallel ways to experience the story or are telling two stories at once.
This is exactly what I am trying to do. I really like writing this off-voice (it's either the Artist himself, his inner monologue, god, or me). I find it way more difficult to narrate through dialogues in word bubbles.

How did you develop your storytelling approach?
It came with the weekly schedule for VICE. With the deadline on Mondays, I cannot afford accidental overdrawing. Before I even pick up the nib pen, I am writing the complete episode. That takes up most of the time. I am doing that with the note function on my phone so I can shove words and sentences around wherever I am. I am going through "the lyrics" at least ten times until it feels finished to me. My friend and studiomate James (who's American) usually double-checks on the grammar. Then I start drawing and the Artist emerges.

I want to be able to nurture and hug the Artist and give him a bowl of Froot Loops. Is this a common reaction?
A lot of readers feel the same way. They want to mother him. The Artist raises compassion.

That's cool!
I sometimes feel like a little vicious sadist when I'm writing the episodes. Nothing ever goes well in the Artist's life. But disaster is funny. That can as well be a law carved into the "constitution of comics."

How do you feel about this book?
Oh, I'm very happy with it. It was the idea of Breakdown Press to make it a hardcover. Now it's kinda like a weird object—I love it. I was a bit worried that the short episodes (one after another) won't work very well in a real book. But I got proven wrong. It works!

How's the reaction to this book been? I see myself in a lot of the Artist comics.
People wrote me that it made them cry. That's touching and flattering. The only bad reaction I got so far was on amazon for the German edition. Some old fuck wrote that I can't draw and that it's badly printed because of the smudgy panel borders. How dumb can one be?

Buy The Artist.

That's it for this week. See you next week!

Follow Nick Gazin on Instagram.

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