Where Are They Now? An Animated Mockumentary Reveals What Happened to Your Favorite 1980s Cartoon Characters After Their Heyday

It's a cautionary tale about what happens when the world you prepared yourself for changes and leaves you behind. Coldly, and sometimes without warning.

Above, watch Steve Cutts' 2014 animated mockumentary, "Where Are They Now?". Starring Roger and Jessica Rabbit, and featuring cameos by Garfield and The Smurfs, the short film revisits cartoon characters who had it all in the 1980s. Then hit the skids in the early 90s. Hard. "We had done our jobs," says an aged Jessica Rabbit. "Now we were forgotten about. Obsolete." It's a bleak picture that Cutts paints. But, it's not all bad. He-Man became a wealthy lingerie designer. We could all use a well-thought-out Plan B.

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How to Draw in the Style of Japanese Manga: A Series of Free & Wildly Popular Video Tutorials from Artist Mark Crilley

In Japan, the word manga refers broadly to the art form we know in English as comics. But as used in the West, it refers to a comic art style with distinctive aesthetic and storytelling conventions of its own, originating from but now no longer limited to Japan. Just as the past century or so has seen the emergence of Western masters of such things thoroughly Japanese as sushi, judo, and even tea ceremony, the past few decades brought us the work of the Western mangaka, or manga artist. Mark Crilley stands as one of the best-known practitioners of that short tradition, thanks not only to his art but to his efforts to teach fans how to draw in the style of Japanese manga themselves as well.

Apart from comic-book series like Akiko, Miki Falls, and Brody's Ghost, the Detroit-born Crilley has also published a trilogy of Mastering Manga instructional books. In an interview with Wired, he frames his own manga-mastering process as a project similar to language-learning: "When I went to Taiwan to teach English after graduating from college, I threw myself into learning Chinese with a real 'tunnel vision' kind of dedication. As a result I became conversational in Mandarin within about a year. More recently I decided to teach myself how to draw in a manga-influenced style and thus focused exclusively on that for many months."

Crilley first took to Youtube to promote his then-new manga series, but he "soon found that people were watching my videos as drawing lessons. As more people watched I got hooked on passing on drawing tips to the next generation, and so I continued producing more and more instructional videos."




More youngsters seem to have an interest in drawing in the style of Japanese comics and animation than ever (at least if my friends' kids are generationally representative), and Crilley finds that they "appreciate having an art teacher who takes manga seriously, and doesn’t dismiss it as an inferior art form. I’m sure plenty of art teachers are all, 'Stop drawing those saucer-eyed characters! Draw this still life instead!'"

Not to say that Crilley doesn't appreciate realism: he's put out a whole book on the subject, and some of his instructional videos cover how to draw lifelike eyes (a tutorial that has drawn 27 million views and counting), leopards, mushrooms, and much else besides. But for the aspiring mangaka of any nationality, his Youtube channel offers a wealth of lessons on how to draw everything from faces to clothes to figures in motion to big eyes in the manga aesthetic. But as he surely knows — having cited in the Wired interview a wide range of influences from Star Wars to Mad magazine to Monty Python's Flying Circus — if you want to truly find your own style, you can't limit yourself to any one source of inspiration. Acquire the skills, of course, but then take them to new places.

You can see a playlist of 256 how-to-draw videos by Crilley here. Or a series of smaller drawing playlists here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Underground Cartoonist Robert Crumb Creates an Illustrated Introduction to Franz Kafka’s Life and Work

The use of an author’s name as an adjective to describe some kind of general style can seem, well, lazy, in a wink-wink, “you know what I mean,” kind of way. One must leave it to readers to decide whether deploying a “Baldwinian” or a “Woolfian," or an “Orwellian” or “Dickensian," is justified. When it comes to “Kafkaesque,” we may find reason to consider abandoning the word altogether. Not because we don’t know what it means, but because we think it means what Kafka meant, rather than what he wrote. Maybe turning him into shorthand, “a clever reference,” writes Chris Barsanti, prepares us to seriously misunderstand his work.

The problem motivated author David Zane Mairowitz and underground comics legend Robert Crumb to create a graphic biography, first published in 1990 as Kafka for Beginners. “The book,” writes Barsanti of a 2007 Fantographics edition called Kafka, “states its case rather plain: ‘No writer of our time, and probably none since Shakespeare, has been so widely over-interpreted and pigeon holed… [Kafkaesque] is an adjective that takes on almost mythic proportions in our time, irrevocably tied to fantasies of doom and gloom, ignoring the intricate Jewish Joke that weaves itself through the bulk of Kafka’s work.’” Or, as Maria Popova puts it, “Kafka’s stories, however grim, are nearly always also… funny.”

Much of that humor derives from “the author’s coping mechanisms amid Prague’s anti-Semitic cultural climate.” Mairowitz describes Kafka’s Jewish humor as “healthy anti-Semitism.... but sooner or later, even the most hateful of Jewish self-hatreds has to turn around and laugh at itself.” Crumb provides graphic illustrations of Kafka’s especially mordant, absurdist humor in adaptations of The Metamorphosis, A Hunger Artist, In the Penal Colony, and The Judgement and brief sketches from The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika. These illustrations draw out the grotesque nature of Kafka’s humor from the start, Barstanti notes, “with a gruesome graphic rendering of Kafka’s nightmares of his own death.”

Kafka’s self-violence leaps out at us in its incredible specificity, which can produce horrors, like the ghoulish execution of “In the Penal Colony," and darkly funny fantasies like a “pork butcher’s knife” sending thin slices of Kafka flying around the room, "due to the speed of the work.” Turned into cold cuts, as it were. Crumb’s illustration (top), imagines this grisly joke with exquisite glee—halo of blood spurts like squiggly exclamation marks and bowler hat taking flight. Along with Mairowitz’s literary analysis and biographical detail, Crumb’s finely rendered illustrations make Kafka an “invaluable book,” Barsanti writes, one that gives Kafka “back his soul.”

One only wishes they had paid more attention to Kafka’s weird animal stories, some of the funniest he ever wrote. Stories like “Investigations of a Dog” and “In Our Synagogue” express with more vivid imagination and wicked humor Kafka's profoundly ambivalent relationship to Judaism and to himself as a “tortured, gentle, cruel, and brilliant," and yet very funny, outsider.

via Brain Pickings

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Art Spiegelman Designs Comic Books: A Breakdown of His Masterpiece, Maus

Maus, cartoonist Art Spiegelman’s groundbreaking, Pulitzer Prize-winning account of his complicated relationship with his Holocaust survivor father, is a story that lingers.

Spiegelman famously chose to depict the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats. Non-Jewish civilians of his father’s native Poland were rendered as pigs. He flirted with the idea of depicting his French-born wife, the New Yorker’s art editor, Françoise Mouly, as a frog or a poodle, until she convinced him that her conversion to Judaism merited mousehood, too.




The characters’ anthropomorphism is not the only visual innovation, as the Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak, points out above.

Drawing on interviews in MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, taped conversations with Neil Gaiman, and the University of Washington’s Marcia Alvar, and other sources, the Nerdwriter pans an eight-panel page from the first chapter for maximum meaning.

On first glance, nothing much appears to be happening on that page—hoping to convince his elderly father to submit to interviews for the book that would eventually become Maus, Spiegelman trails him to his childhood bedroom, which the older man has equipped with an exercise bike that he pedals in dress shoes and black socks.

But, as Spiegelman himself once pointed out:

Those panels are each units of time. You see them simultaneously, so you have various moments in time simultaneously made present. 

Readers must force themselves to proceed slowly in order to fully appreciate the coexistence of all those moments.

Left to our own devices, we might pick up on the senior Spiegelman’s concentration camp tattoo, or the introduction of Art’s late mother via the framed photo he shows himself picking up.

But Puschak takes us on an even deeper dive, noting the significance of Art’s placement in the long mid-page panel. Watch out for the 4:30 mark, another visual stunner is teased out in a manner reminiscent of the revelation of a message written in invisible ink.

So Maus conferred commercial success upon its creator, while hanging onto some of the bold visual experiments from earlier in his career, when he and Mouly helped drive the underground comix scene—the past and present entwined yet again.

And this is just one page. Should you venture forth in search of further visual cues later in the text, please use the comments section to share your discoveries.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Philosophy of Rick and Morty: What Everyone’s New Favorite Cartoon Has in Common with Albert Camus

"Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody's gonna die." So, in one episode of Rick and Morty, says the fourteen-year-old Morty Smith, one of the show's titular co-protagonists. With the other, a mad scientist by the name of Rick Sanchez, who also happens to be Morty's grandfather, he constitutes the animated team that has entertained thousands and thousands of viewers — and made insatiable fans of seemingly all of them — over the past four years. To those few who haven't yet seen the show, it may just look like a silly cartoon, but the true fans understand that underneath all of the memorable gags and quotable lines lies an unusual philosophical depth.

"The human desire to fulfill some special existential purpose has existed throughout history," says video essayist Will Schoder in his analysis of the philosophy of Rick and Morty. But the titular duo's adventures through all possible realities of the "multiverse" ensure that they experience firsthand the utter meaninglessness of each individual reality.




When Morty breaks that bleak-sounding news to his sister Summer with the now oft-quoted line above, he actually delivers a "comforting message": once you confront the randomness of the universe, as Rick and Morty constantly do, "the only option is to find importance in the stuff right in front of you," and their adventures show that "friends, family, and doing what we enjoy are far more important than any unsolvable questions about existence."

Schoder, also the author of a video essay on Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon's mythological storytelling technique as well as one we've previously featured about David Foster Wallace's critique of postmodernism, makes the clear philosophical connection to Albert Camus. The philosopher and author of The Stranger wrote and thought a great deal about the "contradiction between humans' desire to find meaning in life and the meaninglessness of the universe," and the absurdity that results, a notion the cartoon has dramatized over and over again, with an ever-heightening absurdity. We must, like Sisyphus eternally pushing his rock uphill, recognize the true nature of our situation yet defiantly continue "to explore and search for meaning." Morty, as any fan well knows, offers Summer another solution to her despair: "Come watch TV."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Alan Watts Explains the Meaning of the Tao, with the Help of the Greatest Nancy Panel Ever Drawn

A Nancy panel is an irreducible concept, an atom, and the comic strip is a molecule. - comics theorist Scott McCloud

A little over ten years ago, cartoonist Jim Woodring isolated a single image from Ernie Bushmiller’s long-running and deeply polarizing Nancy comic strip, celebrating it on his blog, the Woodring Monitor, as "the greatest Nancy panel ever drawn.”

What makes this panel the greatest? Woodring declined to elaborate, though his readers eagerly shared theories—and some befuddlement—in the comments section:

Sluggo has reached the perfect state of no-effort, the satori-like denial of the "small mind" and all of the suffering that comes with it.

… it's the comic equivalent of a koan—something designed to tie our rational mind in knots so that we can glimpse enlightenment.

Sluggo smiles because he knows a secret. He says no because he rejects consensus reality. He floats along because he doesn’t fight life—he sees the maintenance of the harmony and is one with that harmony. He knows all paths lead away from home. Instead he goes within and knows freedom.

"I am content. I need nothing, I will do nothing, I am fine as I am.”

Another fan, Glyph Jockey’s Lex 10, took it one step further, removing the speech bubble before taking Sluggo on an animated trip through the cosmos, narrated by philosopher Alan Watts:

In the state of being in accordance with the Tao, there is a certain feeling of weightlessness, parallel to the weightlessness that people feel when they get into outer space or when they go deep into the ocean.

Gabby Pahinui's “Pu’uanahulu” and Ramayana imagery bestow added hypnotic appeal.




Revisit this strange little animated gem the next time your head's about to explode from stress. Don’t question or get too hung up on meanings, just go with the flow, like Sluggo and Watts.

Could other Nancy panels serve as vehicles for Taoist enlightenment? Mayhaps:

Bushmiller’s strong point was never the content of his comic strip's jokey plots—a friend once described him as 'a moron on an acid trip.' In fact, the gags were even simpler than was necessary for a 'children's' strip. That's because they were just a vehicle for the controlled and brilliant manipulation of repetition and variety that gave the strip its unique visual rhythm and composition. Bushmiller choreographed his familiar formal elements inside the tightest frame of any major strip, and that helped make it the most beautiful, as a whole, of any in the papers.” - Tom Smucker, The Village Voice, 1982

Recently, Bushmiller’s Nancy has been enjoying a renaissance. The strip that many casual readers of the funny pages dismissed as boring or dumb is revered by many celebrated cartoonists, including Bill Griffith, Daniel Clowes, and Art Spiegelman.

This month sees the publication of Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden’s How to Read Nancy, a book length analysis of one single strip, which also functions as a how-to and history of the comic medium. This hotly anticipated volume has in turn given rise to a lively online How To Read Nancy Reading Group, a hotbed of fan art, altered panels, and Nancy strips from around the world.

Invite your pals over to play comic theorist Scott McCloud’s Dadaist game Five Card Nancy or take the online version for a solo spin.

And for those who require context, here is the original strip from which the floating Sluggo panel is drawn.

Apparently the key to the Tao is a plastic hammock…

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Download Theft! A History of Music, a New Free Graphic Novel Exploring 2,000 Years of Musical Borrowing

From the team behind the 2006 fair use comic Bound by Law comes a new fair use comic, Theft! A History of MusicCreated by James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins, two law school profs from Duke University, Theft! A History of Music is "a graphic novel laying out a 2000-year long history of musical borrowing from Plato to rap." The book's blurb adds:

This comic lays out 2000 years of musical history. ... Again and again there have been attempts to police music; to restrict borrowing and cultural cross-fertilization. But music builds on itself. To those who think that mash-ups and sampling started with YouTube or the DJ’s turntables, it might be shocking to find that musicians have been borrowing – extensively borrowing – from each other since music began. Then why try to stop that process? The reasons varied. Philosophy, religion, politics, race – again and again, race – and law. And because music affects us so deeply, those struggles were passionate ones. They still are.

The history in this book runs from Plato to Blurred Lines and beyond. You will read about the Holy Roman Empire’s attempts to standardize religious music using the first great musical technology (notation) and the inevitable backfire of that attempt. You will read about troubadours and church composers, swapping tunes (and remarkably profane lyrics), changing both religion and music in the process. You will see diatribes against jazz for corrupting musical culture, against rock and roll for breaching the color-line. You will learn about the lawsuits that, surprisingly, shaped rap. You will read the story of some of music’s iconoclasts – from Handel and Beethoven to Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Ray Charles, the British Invasion and Public Enemy.

To understand this history fully, one has to roam wider still – into musical technologies from notation to the sample deck, aesthetics, the incentive systems that got musicians paid, and law’s 250 year struggle to assimilate music, without destroying it in the process. Would jazz, soul or rock and roll be legal if they were reinvented today? We are not sure. Which as you will read, is profoundly worrying because today, more than ever, we need the arts.

All of this makes up our story. It is assuredly not the only history of music. But it is definitely a part – and a fascinating part – of that history...

Released under a Creative Commons license, the book is free to download online. Or you can buy a nice paperback version on Amazon.

The video above offers another introduction to the graphic novel. And you can read an interview with the authors over on the Creative Commons website.

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