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Comicgate interviews JAMES STURM in Munich

Updated August 1, 2011


"Don't worry," Reprodukt's press contact Jutta Harms told us, calmly, "he's very reliable. He'll be here on time." And, sure enough, just before the agreed time of the interview, James Sturm showed up at the Künstlerhaus am Lenbachplatz, the location of this year's Munich Comics Festival, back from exploring the city on his own.

The American cartoonist and Eisner Award winner had begun his first visit to Germany with a stop in Berlin a few days before. The occasion was Sturm's inaugural German release, Markttag, a translated edition of his 2010 book Market Day. Released by Reprodukt, whose head honcho Dirk Rehm was just given the ICOM Independent Special Award for Remarkable Accomplishments, Markttag is in the company of high-quality bookshelf editions of the works of Arne Bellstorf, Joann Sfar and Craig Thompson, among others.

But though we were only going to have half an hour to talk before a scheduled signing, there were no worries that Sturm might be late. I had seen his lecture and subsequent panel talk with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung editor Andreas Platthaus at the Amerika Haus the night before, and the man's appearance-eyes smart and alert, his face shaved clean, the gray on his head trimmed to a neat stubble-radiated an air of solidity. Sturm's voice is soft but firm, and while he is the kind of speaker who tends to intone statements as if they were questions, it's pretty clear that he doesn't do it out of insecurity, but because he is, quite simply, aware that he doesn't have all the answers.

In short, even if you are not familiar with Sturm or his work, it's obvious he's a well-adjusted individual who has found a way to reconcile his muse with the necessities of life. And if you are, seeing Sturm in the flesh will only confirm what you probably suspected about a 45-year-old husband, father and teacher who in 2004 founded his own school, the renowned Center for Cartoon Studies in Hartford, Vermont, and whose works are historically grounded explorations of themes such as faith (The Revival), the gold rush (Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight) and Jewish identity (The Golem's Mighty Swing; all three of which collected in James Sturm's America: God, Gold and Golems) or, like Market Day, deal with the struggle of finding a middleground between, duh, making art and making a living.

Somewhat appropriately, perhaps, the location we secured for our talk ended up being not hundreds of feet below daylight, but quite a few all the same, down in a remote corner in the labyrinthine basement of the Künstlerhaus, a building opened in the year 1900, at the far end of a dark historic bowling alley mildly reminiscent of the one from There Will Be Blood. After repeatedly reassuring a concerned Mr. Sturm that murder was not on our minds, he was game for a quick photo session, and then we finally sat down to talk.

COMICGATE: Let's start with a really simple question: If one of your students walked up to you and asked you, "Why make art?", what would you tell them?

JAMES STURM: (laughs) I'd be surprised if one of my students did ask that question because, by the time you get to be one of my students, it's a moot point, because you know that you are compelled to do it. And the answer to that is a mystery beyond mysteries. It's something that emerges... that's contained in your very deepest place, and you have to do this thing. And these are the type of students that we try to get. In that field it's an imperative to make art. I would not even offer an explanation. I mean... You know, there's all kinds of things you could say that sound lofty and significant, but at the end of the day, for an individual, "Why make art?" Because you have to.

COMICGATE: I'm asking because, in Market Day, the protagonist, Mendleman, is weaving rugs, and his friend makes chairs. But those are items of daily use, and even for them it's a challenge to juggle art and commerce. So, I imagine with comics it's even harder to justify, because there is no tangible daily benefit to "using" them.

JAMES STURM: I think the discipline of making art, for me... It helps me understand the world. It's my way of arranging all the images, all the impressions that I get, and trying to find some type of through-line, some type of theme, so when I start getting lost in this world, I can start drawing. And that helps me create some type of schematic, where I can get grounded again. And I think, ultimately, this is the benefit for me of making art. It allows me to feel I have some type of understanding. Sometimes it allows me to feel I have some type of control, which is important. And I derive a lot of satisfaction, both from the hard work and the process of working towards something, and then, of course, from meeting a goal and creating a book that is a result from my own toil and search and aspirations.

COMICGATE: In an interview in 1999, you said that you won't tailor your work towards attaining a massive audience.

JAMES STURM: Hmm. Yeah, I might have changed that since I said that. Well, I tailor my work... I think I'm more conscious of an audience. I think since I've become a father, I know that you have to tailor how you express yourself to your children. And as a teacher, you have to be more careful, because your students see you as this authority sometimes, even though you don't feel like an authority. So you have to be a little less flippant. And, you know, I've created some childrens' books and books for younger audiences. And I think, with those books, I feel like I'm still trying to create something authentic and meaningful, but I'm also aware of an audience in trying to tailor it a little bit so it's appropriate for that group. So a book that I did for six-year-olds is gonna be very different than, you know, Market Day or Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight.

COMICGATE: Also, your students need to go out in the world and find a way to benefit from their work...

JAMES STURM: Yeah.

COMICGATE: ...so I imagine that you needed to reconsider, because you probably can't tell them that they shouldn't compromise at any stage.

JAMES STURM: Well. "Compromise" is an interesting word. I think it's okay to compromise, but it's not okay to... to be compromised. I don't know if that makes a distinction in German, but...

COMICGATE: It does.

JAMES STURM: ...if you compromise yourself, then you give away some of your dignity. It's not good. But a give-and-take is healthy, too. So I think... I did projects and worked on things as I was discovering myself as a cartoonist, and even now, where it maybe wasn't the work that was an ultimate expression of who I was or anything, but it gave me an opportunity to work with certain people, or collaborate, or be in a position where I felt I would grow from the experience. And that was good. I mean, sometimes I don't mind putting myself in a position if I feel I'm going to get something out of it, as well.

And with the students, with the cartooning, you know, you teach them all these skills. They learn to write, to draw, to design, all the posting their comics on the Internet in design. So, they have a lot of skills, so they might not sell a graphic novel for many years, or make a living in cartooning, but I feel that the creative skills that you develop in your ambition to be a cartoonist are commercial and marketable.

COMICGATE: You've been referred to as a "cartoonists' cartoonist," which...

JAMES STURM: Which means I don't sell enough books (laughs). I don't know if...

COMICGATE: No, the way I took it was that your characters and settings seem to be getting less specific-you've said that Market Day could be set at any time and in any place. Meanwhile, the concerns and themes are getting more specific, because now you're tackling this artists' dilemma-unlike in The Revival (1996), for instance, which is set at a very specific place and time and deals with this very universal concern of people looking to God for help. Would you agree that's a direction you're going in?

JAMES STURM: It's hard to see it from where I am... If I feel like making art in some type of spiritual dimension or questions I see in my own work, I try to figure that out in the work. The Revival is about a very specific meeting that actually took place at a specific date. Market Day was broader, but there was a point in history that I was looking at. You know, it couldn't have been any place. It's obviously Eastern Europe, and it's obviously the early 1900s. But no country is named, no town is named, it's somewhere in this settlement of the pal... that could be anywhere, of course.

COMICGATE: In the way it's told, the book is almost like a parable, but unlike most parables, it doesn't have a moral-it's left open. What's your take on the idea of commenting on the work in the work itself? Do you consciously try to avoid it, generally?

JAMES STURM: I feel that the book is about showing this crossroads and this dilemma and... I think sometimes these big schisms are really false, because anywhere you look you can find something meaningful and fulfilling, but this person, Mendleman, yes, he comes to this crossroads, and I didn't want to spell out his choice. I want the reader to take away what they take away. Some readers are very adamant that he should keep making his rugs no matter what, and others that he's obligated to his family first. And the same with The Revival. I didn't want to say that this faith restored this girl. I wanted to leave it more up in the air. And the response is good. I like that. I like literature or plays that people can enter and pull... sort of like Antigone. They showed that in occupied Paris, and the Germans leave thinking that was about the state over the individual, while the Parisian underground takes something else from it. I like work that can almost do that, to a certain extent.

COMICGATE: In one of the interviews you've done, you almost offer a solution to Mendleman's dilemma. You said that he maybe just needs to accept that the true worth of art isn't determined by the market, that it's two different things, so...

JAMES STURM: Right, and he does not see that yet.

COMICGATE: ...would you ever consider including that solution in the work itself?

JAMES STURM: No. I think I would consider doing another book that features Mendleman, many years later, and show him in his life, and by just depicting what he's doing, you would illustrate the choices that he made and the consequences of those choices. Because I feel that, whichever choice you make, there are consequences, and I don't think there are safe choices. I have friends from college who were very good writers, talented artists, and they gave up their work, because they had more middle-class aspirations, or upper-class aspirations. And I think they gave up a lot to get that. They thought it was a safe choice, but then you run into them and... they're not happy, they're restless. They've made some good money, but there's something that they miss.

COMICGATE: They chose stability over fulfillment.

JAMES STURM: Right. But I don't know how stable, because sometimes we sabotage ourselves at certain points. And now that I'm 40, I see people who were hardcore bohemians, and "Art!", and they're gonna keep squatting and live that way. And now they're in their 40s, and they're getting worried as their health starts to give and they don't have health insurance, and... with some, you get the sense that they wish they'd maybe planned a little better, as well, because they were so hardcore the other way. So, I don't know. It's hard to say. I mean, it's a very tricky thing, you know. I think, as an artist, you have to really commit fully, and I think this is one of the reasons that artists oftentimes don't function so well in this world. Because you have to put some blinders on, and you have to be totally committed to the work, and sometimes that's at the expense of other areas of your life.

COMICGATE: Another thing from the '99 interview that I could identify with is, you said you didn't enjoy comics as much as you do novels, and that you didn't think the problem was the medium itself, but that prose novelists were just producing material that's more resonant and deeper. I was wondering if you still feel that's the case.

JAMES STURM: That's a good question. Well, it is comparing apples and oranges, but I feel like I could lose myself in a novel for a longer, more sustained time. You know, a novel takes a week, two weeks to read as you move through it, and it's very absorbing in a way. And there are very few comics out there-very few comics-that accommodate that, that create that spell for me. You know, I find myself looking at a lot of comics, and enjoying the art, or there's something about the gesture or the illustrations that is appealing to me. But in terms of then having that pull me in in a way that I'm as absorbed as I am when I'm reading a novel. Not many comics do that for me. There's few cartoonists whose work hits me the same way.

COMICGATE: Why do you think that's the case?

JAMES STURM: Well, it's probably just my own composition, or my own constitution... I don't know (laughs).

COMICGATE: Do you think maybe cartoonists neglect the writing aspect?

JAMES STURM: I'm hesitant to say, because I feel that, with some cartoonists, that's not what their work is about. It's more about gesture, and creating... transmitting a certain energy to the reader, and it's not about narrative. And I think that's a very valid approach to comics, you know. It's a visually driven medium. Those types of works I appreciate, but they don't sing to me on that deeper level all the time, like some other people may appreciate that work. And again, that's just an individual taste thing for myself. So I don't wanna damn those kinds of comics, because I actually like looking at them, to a certain extent. So I look at them and enjoy them, but they don't stick with me and resonate in me as deeply or for any great length of time.

COMICGATE: Yesterday at the lecture, someone in the audience asked if you'd consider doing something like Unstable Molecules again, your Eisner-winning 2003 Marvel miniseries with the Fantastic Four, and you laid out this very intriguing project starring Thor and Hercules, who ride across America on bikes to learn humility after their fathers Odin and Zeus took away their powers...

JAMES STURM: Yeah, that was just me... blahblahblah, you know... (laughs)

COMCGATE: ...with Steve Rude drawing. That sounds very appealing.

JAMES STURM: Oh, yeah. Maybe he'll read this interview and then call me... (laughs)

COMICGATE: Right, that's what I was hoping... (laughter) Would you consider doing something like that on your own time, because...

JAMES STURM: Well, I couldn't do that on my own time, because this is a property that is owned by a big [company], you know...

COMICGATE: Yeah, but "Thor" and "Hercules," they're [not necessarily Marvel properties]...

JAMES STURM: Oh, I mean, with the Fantastic Four, the stars aligned at Marvel, and it was easy. It wasn't a big hassle to get through the door, and I was left to make the work I wanted to make. This isn't a project that I'd fight too hard to make happen, do you know what I mean? And so much of this is timing. I'm in the middle of many big projects. If the stars aligned in the right way, maybe, but I won't die upset if it never happens.

COMICGATE: Unstable Molecules almost was an "all-star" indie kind of project...

JAMES STURM: Oh well...

COMICGATE: ...with you writing and Craig Thompson doing covers. Did you take that package to Marvel?

JAMES STURM: I approached Craig about doing the whole book. He was finishing up Blankets at the time, and he actually drew a page of it, but I had these very specific layouts, and I think Craig felt constricted by them a little bit. And, you know, he's really a genius, when it comes to his artwork. It's just so expressive. And he felt it would be too constrictive for him. He did a few pages, and I didn't want to be in the position to say, "Can you change that?", "Could you move that?", you know. It wouldn't have been good. So, very early on, it was obvious to both of us that he shouldn't bother with this. But I said, "Hey, how about doing the covers?", and he was, like, "Sure," and that was great. And then I think someone at Marvel... I wasn't that familiar with Guy Davis's work, but someone at Marvel recommended him. And once I saw his work, I really liked it, and he was a great pleasure to work with.

COMICGATE: Well, I'm glad you did the book, because that's how I discovered your work...

JAMES STURM: Okay, good.

COMICGATE: ...and, after your lecture yesterday, it occurred to me that superheroes aren't actually that far out, in terms of your work... I mean, in your America trilogy, you did faith, and the gold rush, and baseball, which are all very American themes, and superheroes are another very American genre...

JAMES STURM: Yeah, I love superheroes.

COMICGATE: ...so it's not as jarring as it probably seems to most people when they think of your work.

JAMES STURM: No, I'm actually working with another artist right now doing a science-fiction story, and part of that is inspired by my love of early Marvel comics and my childhood '70s. In it, you know, people have super-powers, and it's fun to work on. It's still kind of in development right now.

And, with that, my watch told me that it was two minutes to three-time for us to re-emerge from the depths of the Künstlerhaus, so the fans standing in line and waiting for signatures and sketches upstairs wouldn't have to be kept waiting. Suffice it to say, James Sturm was right on time.

 
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Market Day




  SEE Magazine plunges into DENYS WORTMAN'S NEW YORK

Updated March 11, 2011


What a headlong plunge into a mad, vibrant whirlpool this cartoon collection is.

Denys Wortman’s New York: Portrait of the City in the 1930s and 1940s celebrates the titular artist, who was not only a contributor to The Saturday Evening Post, Life Magazine, and The New Yorker, but also produced over 9,000 drawings for the New York World newspaper over 30 years, from the 1920s to the 1950s.

As art historian Robert W. Snyder points out in an introduction, Wortman spanned eras. He captured, in visual form, New York from the Depression through World War II to the post-war boom. Like the Impressionists, he was a chronicler of his time and place; his collected work is a remarkable time capsule.

If Wortman was never recognized by art historians, as editor James Sturm declares in an afterword, then this volume demands attention simply on that level. Yet in no way is Wortman’s work drily archival — it pulsates with vitality. Its overarching subject is nothing less than the Life of the City.

There seems no social class, milieu or activity left untouched by Wortman: his subjects include men, women and children of all ages and backgrounds, the High and the Low, at both work and play. (One glaring omission is the shortgage and depictions of African-Americans, who appear only rarely as The Help.)

And we see them everywhere imaginable — in apartments, penthouses, bars, restaurants, rooftops, offices, the subway, workshops, clinics, hospitals, the theatre (both backstage and otherwise), diners, soup kitchens, the docks, construction sites, beaches, classrooms, train stations, movie palaces and the circus. The breadth of setting evokes the familiar saying about a million stories.

Appropriately then, Wortman’s incredible draftsmanship breathe monumentality into his tableaus. Some of this most dramatic compositions involve high and low angles of women on fire escapes — or one awesome image of window washers descending in front of a massive clock tower face.

In Wortman’s city, the epic is everyday. Sometimes it’s as simple as incorporating architectural details like Neo-Classical arches and soaring skyscrapers into the frame. The book’s larger-format presentation is thus fitting; as Sturm notes, Wortman’s art is best appreciated before reduction.

Yet Wortman’s own reductive powers lend his compositions focused power.

Like Joe Sacco (Footnotes in Gaza), Wortman adroitly balances realistic, observable details with the economy demanded of cartoon art on the page; never do his scenes seem busy or overcrowded. There’s a beautiful symmetry to how he orders the elements of every frame.

As Sturm points out, Wortman’s cartoons don’t’ function like typical, one-panel, captioned gag cartoons: rather, the art functions as completely independent. Wortman’s would draw first, and supply captions later; the panels are hence more akin to New Yorker caption contest winners.

(Of course, the contrast is sometimes precisely from where the humour derives, as when a woman tells a gin-blossomed panhandler: “What! Don’t you know coffee is bad for you?”)

One should also consider Wortman’s approach to faces: they’re the one thing not presented realistically, but rather as caricature. They’re the most direct visual link to the comical captions, slyly undercutting the bold visuals to remind us of humanity’s inherent clownishness.

Denys Wortman’s New York not only makes the case for Wortman as an important twentieth-century artist, as Sturm argues — but also for the tremendous, central importance of comics to our shared visual history over the past hundred years.

One need not be either an art or cartooning aficionado, however, to powerfully engage with this volume. Like good fiction, it pulls us through a breathless tour of a fully realized, fully real world.

This is a New York of flesh and blood as much as concrete and steel. And its chest rises and falls with the breath of life.
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James Sturm
Denys Wortman

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Denys Wortman's New York




HeroesOnline reviews DENYS WORTMAN'S NEW YORK

Updated March 4, 2011


Among the staff members at Heroes I’m likely the one with the least background in visual art. My creative tendencies tend more toward music and the written word. Strange then that my first review of 2011 concerns one of 2010′s most dynamic art books. Denys Wortman’s New York is a fascinating book however you look at it. For me, the real hook of this publication lies in its stranger than fiction backstory. Noted cartoonist James Sturm (James Sturm’s America: Gods, Gold, and Golems) apparently came across a single strip of Wortman’s, grew curious, and set out to find out more about this largely forgotten artist. As luck would have it Sturm was able to find Wortman’s son who had a shed full of his father’s art that was in danger of succumbing to the elements. Sturm’s good timing led to our good fortune.

On one hand, the fact that an artist of Wortman’s caliber was nearly lost to the ages is a pox on the comics community. How could the industry forget work like this? On the other hand, it might be a simple case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just as you have to possess luck along with talent to break into this industry, I guess to some degree the same can hold true for cementing one’s legacy. Wortman lived and worked in New York City in the ’30′s and ’40′s, and most of the strips in this book act as a document of those times and places. There are sarcastic one liners being lobbed back and forth from women out on their apartment balconies, visages of streets with horse-drawn carriages and early automobiles packed together like sardines, and charcoal renderings of Coney Island’s Cyclone roller coaster.

Was Wortman trying to consciously play the role of zeitgeist-catcher? I’m not sure if any artist of any genre can really achieve that measure by his own will. On the off chance that he succeeds, it usually falls upon future generations to determine the successes or failings of a work. More likely, Wortman was creating these strips for his own pleasure as much as anyone else’s. And somewhere between the conversations and the gags, the bricks and the pushcarts, we as readers in 2011 open up Wortman’s book as if it were a time capsule. And like Canadian cartoonist Seth’s fictional story It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken, sometimes we inadvertently stumble upon the work of an artist that grabs us, sits us down, and instantly etches itself upon our consciousness. So it has been for me in my encounters with Denys Wortman’s New York.
 
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James Sturm
Denys Wortman

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  DENYS WORTMAN'S NEW YORK in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Updated March 4, 2011


If the articles and stories of the great New Yorker writers of the first half of the previous century -- Joseph Mitchell, A.J. Liebling and, especially, John McNulty -- had been illustrated, no more appropriate artist could have been chosen for them than Denys Wortman.

He captured in line, white space and shadow the lives of ordinary New Yorkers that the writers captured in words.

You might ask, Denys Who? Mr. Wortman's cartoons and illustrations, for all their remarkable skill, are nearly forgotten today. Yet for three decades he produced a panel cartoon six days a week for the New York World and Sun and did illustrations for other publications, including The New Yorker.

His feature, "Metropolitan Movies," ran from 1924-54; this terrific collection of cartoons focuses on 1930-45, a period of cultural, political and visual continuity for New York, particularly the Lower East Side.

The Museum of the City of New York is currently exhibiting a selection of Mr. Wortman's cartoons titled "Denys Wortman Rediscovered: Drawings for the World-Telegram and Sun, 1930-1953."

The show runs through March 20 (www.mcny.org).

In it are careworn housewives chatting on fire escapes or on adjacent buildings, young women sunning themselves on tar-covered rooftops, con men, sandwich-board men, sailors, store owners haggling on the streets with customers, front-stoop loungers, Coney Island fun-seekers, the out-of-work, embarrassed "relief" applicants, and many more.

They are rendered with superb draftsmanship -- strong lines that swoop and slash but are controlled, not careless. Like the artists of the Ashcan School, he has observed everything closely. He gives the viewer real people, real faces, real situations.

They are called "cartoons" but are really slices of life, or snapshots. While nearly all are humorous, the humor is gentle and charming; he did not strive for a joke.

"I try to draw contemporary life," Mr. Wortman said. Captions were often added afterward, sometimes suggested by others.

Women predominate, from housewives sitting in kitchens next to their Glenwood-style gas ranges to society ladies in nightclubs. A wife, sitting with her husband at a stage play, says, "I say things like that at home, but you don't laugh at them."

A young woman in jeans says to her mother at a sewing machine, "Mother, I wish you'd make that evening dress of mine so darn seductive that everybody'll say I wouldn't let my daughter wear that."

And occasionally the melancholy, the touching, the sad. A little girl to her exhausted mother with her face down on the kitchen table: "Don't cry, be little, and I'll be your mother."

At heart, however, what Mr. Wortman caught was the feel of a time and a place -- and its inhabitants.
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James Sturm
Denys Wortman

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Denys Wortman's New York




Playback lists MARKET DAY in its Top Graphic Novels of 2010

Updated February 18, 2011


A beautiful story both artistically and tonally, Market Day reminds me of the kind of story you would see in Dubliners, a small-scale human drama with larger metaphorical ramifications.
 
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James Sturm

          



  JAMES STURM to speak at Johns Hopkins University on March 7th

Updated February 18, 2011


Cartoonist and graphic novelist James Sturm will present a slide talk on his work on Monday, March 7, at The Johns Hopkins University. “Cartooning, Internet Addiction, Religion, and Starting a College” will begin at 5:30 p.m. in Room 101 of the F. Ross Jones Building, Mattin Center, on the Homewood campus at 3400 N. Charles St. in Baltimore. A book-signing will follow.

In addition to his ground-breaking books Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, James Sturm’s America: God, Gold, and Golems, Market Day, and the Eisner Award-winning The Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules, Sturm’s comics, writing, and illustrations have appeared in scores of national and regional publications including The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Onion, The New York Times, and on the cover of The New Yorker.

As the director and co-founder of The Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS), a two-year MFA program in cartooning in White River Junction, Vermont, Sturm is also a noted educator. CCS brings together top-tier faculty and the country’s most talented cartoonists to work with the field’s up-and-coming artists and is the only higher educational institution of its kind in North America.
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PopMatters gives DENYS WORTMAN a 9 out of 10!

Updated February 18, 2011


In a single panel a street vendor, rendered in the most basic details, looks up at a woman standing on a fire escape. A cart of something indistinct is sketched behind him, his hands are on his hips. The woman says to him, “I have to come down to buy them, you’ll have to come down in your prices.” The man is only a couple of circles, with dots and lines for his features, shading for his clothes. The reader has to have to dive into the image, walk the street a little and smell the flowers or produce on his cart, the salted meats in the nearby butcher shop, before reaching the vendor. The background is mostly simple lines or smudges, but the eye fills in the missing details, searches for those too subtle to see at first, and is consistently rewarded.

Thus rendered and imagined, the single panel becomes an entire story, its modest dimensions an entire world. The story is the day to day life of New Yorkers in the ‘30s and ‘40s, and the world is Denys Wortman’s.

Wortman worked as a cartoonist for New York’s World Telegram and Sun, among other papers, from the ‘20s until his death in the 1958. Wortman’s work has remained under appreciated and largely unknown to readers in the years since his death, but this book by editors James Sturm and Brandon Elston should change that. Sturm, author of The Golem’s Mighty Swing and cofounder/director of the Center for Cartoon Studies, began this project after happening upon an out of print copy of Wortman’s Mopey Dick and the Duke, a collection of his work featuring two hobos that were recurring characters in his “Metropolitan Movies” strip. Sturm contact Wortman’s son, and discovered an archive of the artist’s work and correspondence, much of which was stored in less than desirable conditions.

The book is presented as a single day in New York City, but there’s no central narrative that ties the pieces together, and many of the strips were published years apart from one another. The main thread is the city itself, and her people. Wortman’s New York is the classic version of the city that lives in the imaginations of those of us who have never lived there. There are crowded streets and beaches, people sunbathing on rooftops in the summer, hanging out on the stoop in front of tenement buildings, businessmen barely scraping by as the Depression rages on. Wortman’s soft lines give every image an unfinished quality, keeping their story in motion rather than freezing it in time.

Some panels are staggering in their use of perspective, with buildings rising to the sky and fire escapes jutting out from the brick facades in precise proportions. Wortman’s captions, too, are marvels of construction, each just a sentence or two that captures not just the action in the image, but everything that came before and after. In one panel a woman, standing above her friend on the fire escape outside her apartment, says, “I haven’t had a vacation since I was married, except for those times I was operated on.” It’s a mildly humorous remark that hints at an unknown tragedy, the kind of thing that might create an awkward silence, even between good friends.

Many of Wortman’s cartoons were drawn with no captions in mind. That job often fell to his wife, Hilda, who also took countless reference photos used in his work. In his essay at the beginning of the book, Robert W. Snyder writes that Wortman’s work portrays the vital role women played in every facet of life in New York City, a idea further reinforced by Hilda Wortman’s involvement in her husband’s work.

Sturm notes that, though many of the cartoons are funny, humor wasn’t the primary intent. There are scenes of elderly couples, their faces lined with age and worry, wondering how they’ll pay all their bills, and the sacrifices families had to make during the hardest years of the ‘30s. There are scenes of the city’s nightlife, children at play and people standing in bread lines. It’s a staggering experience, much like living in the city at the time must have been.

Another favorite is a drawing of two women knitting as they ride the subway to work. “It’s ten rows to the office and half a sleeve from there to Harry’s.” One imagines Wortman and Hilda walking around the city, sketchbook and camera at the ready, writing down scraps of conversation, getting lost in the city. They were listening to people, getting to know them bit by bit. This book has the positive effect of making one feel bad, at times; bad for popping in the ear buds or talking on the phone, bad for ignoring the rich, wide world that’s right in front of us, each step of our journey, each day.

Rating: 9/10
 
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Featured artists

James Sturm
Denys Wortman

           Featured product

Denys Wortman's New York




  NPR Best Comics of 2010 Roundup Features Acme 20, Wilson, and Market Day

Updated February 9, 2011


The Most Memorable Comics and Graphic Novels of 2010, With Caveats
by Glen Weldon
December 29, 2010

I know, I know. Still yet another list, this one appearing during the last week of the year, a time when the national incidence of list-fatigue reaches its annual zenith.

Look, I’ll make you deal. I’ll keep this short. Ish.

If I’ve already written about a book, I’ll just link to it. If I haven’t, I’ll say a few words and link to someone who has.

The usual caveats apply, here: This list is not meant to be definitive – I haven’t read everything. And it’s not even intended as a "best of" list, as my personal reaction to a given comic's style and subject will likely have little to do with yours.

Because the metric I'm using is one of indelibility: The books below are the ones that I found myself thinking about for days, weeks and (on several occasions) months after I finished them. Several very good books that will surely turn up on other "Best of 2010" lists – Darwyn Cooke’s Parker: The Outfit; Greg Rucka and JH Williams’ Batwoman: Elegy; Marvel’s Strange Tales, Volume II; Jim Woodring’s Weathercraft and many more – didn’t quite make the final cut because, for whatever reason, they didn’t linger in my memory after I closed their covers. (I liked the first chapter of Charles Burns' X'ed Out, but its frustrating slimness (just 50 or so pages) prevented it from making a lasting impression.)

So: Here are the books that got their hooks into me this year; I'm reasonably certain they'll do the same for you.


New Work from Old … er, Experienced Hands

Market Day, by James Sturm. I loved this quiet, wistful, elegaic tale of a turn-of-the-century rugmaker finding himself, and his craft, suddenly obsolete.

Not Love but Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! by Fumi Yoshinaga. I devoured the Oishinbo books, which turn Japanese cuisine into hugely entertaining narratives full of high-stakes culinary showdowns. This slim, delightfully manic book by the creator of the gender-flipped samurai series Ooku filled the hole those book left. Johanna Draper Carlson, over at Manga Worth Reading, praised the author's expressive style and recommended that food lovers pick it up.

Werewolves of Montpelier, by Jason. The deadest of deadpan cartoonists returns with a meditation on relationships, burglary and lycanthropy. In France. Rob Clough of The Comics Journal called it "a pitch-perfect, expertly-crafted story by an artist who is clearly working in his comfort zone."

Acme Novelty Library No. 20, by Chris Ware. I agree with critic Douglas Wolk: this latest edition finds Ware stretching himself further than he as in some time. It's exciting to see a master like Ware, known for his exacting, precise technique, loosening himself up, even if he does so with his characteristic deliberateness.

Special Exits, by Joyce Farmer. Yeah, this one got to me.

Wilson, by Daniel Clowes. A portrait of the artist as a middle-aged jerkface. Mordant, darkly funny, with a deliberately fractured approach that keeps Clowes' tone gratifyingly varied and surprising.

Heartening Debuts

Temperance, by Cathy Malkasian. I've said my piece on this ambitious, wonderfully unpredictable fantasy epic grounded in very real, and not altogether pleasant, emotions.

Make Me a Woman, by Vanessa Davis. Davis is my favorite discovery of the year, though I'm a bit ashamed to say that, as I should have known about her before. You'll see the influence of Lynda Barry and Roz Chast, but Davis' voice has a satisfyingly spiky, take-no-prisoners wryness that's all her own.

Set to Sea, by Drew Weing. Weing's largely wordless pages of maritime adventure are gorgeous things, and the tale they tell unfolds with the lulling, implacable rhythm of the sea.

Artichoke Tales, by Megan Kelso. Kelso sets up an intriguing tension between the cartooniness of her art and the serious, adult themes of war and racism that fuel her thoughtful story.

Drinking at the Movies, by Julia Wertz. A funny, smart, self-lacerating book about the kind of growing up that happens after you've told yourself your a grown-up. In the LA Times, David Ulin summed it up nicely: "...a quiet triumph, a portrait of the artist in the act of becoming, a story with heart and soul."

The Troll King, by Kolbeinn Karlsson. You haven't seen anything like this. Trust me.

Axe Cop, by Malachi Nicolle and Ethan Nicolle. "Axe ... Cop?" Yes. Axe Cop. For reminding us of comics' enormous, all-too-often untapped potential for Big Craziness.

Neko Ramen, by Kenji Sonishi. There's this cat, see. He's surly, scheming. Also, he's a cook. That runs a noodle shop. Critic Deb Aoki, who should know, dubs it "a kooky but likeable comic snack for cat-lovers (and maybe cat haters too)." Sonishi doesn't really deviate from a simple, light set-up/punchline formula, but it worked on me.

Write These Names Down: Creators You Should Know

Body World, by Dash Shaw. Shaw produces hugely inventive, very funny and thought-provoking work, whether it's this webcomic-turned-book about a small town caught in the grip of a mysterious drug, or the slightly less accessible weirdness of the Unclothed Man in the 35th Century and, especially, Bottomless Belly Button.

Blammo, by Noah Van Sciver. Inside Van Sciver's anything-for-a-laugh approach lies a smart and sometimes suprisingly poignant writer. I'll let The Daily Cross Hatch's Brian Heater tell you more.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle, by Michael Kupperman. I attempted to verbalize my deep, abiding love for Kupperman's series on one of the first episodes of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Not sure I did it justice, so let me take another whack at it: PICK UP THIS BOOK. VOLUME ONE IS ONCE AGAIN IN PRINT. IT IS FUNNY. BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT.

Wild Kingdom, by Kevin Huizenga. This is some high-wire, risky storytelling, the kind that leaves you convinced another reading will deepen your experience. NOT UNRELATED: In terms of sheer number of times I've returned to a given book this year, Wild Kingdom is the winner, hands down.

You’ll Never Know, Volume II, by C. Tyler. Volume I of Tyler's comics memoir was one of the books I singled out for praise last year at this time, and the next volume only deepens and enriches the work she did in that book. What's more, volume II sees her opening up her scrapbook-style approach, pushing at its boundaries in small, satisfying ways.

Meanwhile, by Jason Shiga. Man, I loved this book, a dizzying, recursive cross between Choose Your Own Adventure and a Richard Feynman lecture.

Ax Volume I: A Collection of Alternative Manga, by various artists. What's "alternative manga," you ask? Damned if I can say. I can, however, point you to this huge, sprawling, dynamic anthology, full of distinctive voices, art that bleeds off the page, and new ideas. The Manga Curmudgeon and several other mangaphiles held a lively and thoughtful discussion of the book on Twitter earlier this year — you can check a transcript on his site.

Revolver, by Matt Kindt. Kindt's story of a man shifting between parallel realities is an exquisitely constructed, ruminative piece of work with something to say about how tragedy changes us — or doesn't.
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Featured artists

James Sturm
Chris Ware
Daniel Clowes

           Featured products

Wilson
Market Day
Acme Novelty Library Volume 20




D+Q titles top the Daily Cross Hatch Best Comics of 2010 Chosen by the Artists

Updated December 21, 2010


The Best Damn Comics of 2010 Chosen by the Artists

This year-end list my be my favorite annual Cross Hatch feature, if only for the fairly consistent complaints I receive from a litany of prominent cartoonists, writers, publishers, journalists, museum curators, and other industry folks. It’s always the same thing: how dare I ask them to boil down a year’s worth of comics into a list of five books? Don’t I know that we’re in the middle of a sequential art renaissance?

Fair enough, but let’s be honest, given the sheer number of folks who respond to this list each year, five seems like a pretty good cap—it took me a few hours to piece this thing together, as it is.

The other reason I love compiling this list is the opportunity to spot trends amongst those surveyed—do any books seem to stand out as clear favorites? Last year that title belonged to David Mazzucchelli’s modern sequential masterpiece, Asterios Polyp. The year prior, it was a four-way tie with Bottomless Belly Button, What it Is, Swallow Me Whole, and Skyscrapers of the Midwest all nabbing high marks.

While I wouldn’t go so far as choosing a clear “winner” for 2010, Chris Ware really did sneak in last second with the latest issue of Acme Novelty, a book that has blown away nearly everyone who has cracked open its cloth cover, your humble blogger included.

As always, I encourage readers and artists alike to contribute their own lists to the comment section below. Let’s keep the conversation going.

Ellen Abramowitz (MoCCA)
1. Body World by Dash Shaw
2. Acme Novelty Library #20 by Chris Ware
3. Artichoke Tales by Megan Kelso
4. 75 Years of DC Comics The Art of Modern Mythmaking by Paul Levitz
5. To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher by William Ayers

...

Box Brown (Everything Dies)
1. ACME Novelty Library #20 by Chris Ware-I can’t be too hyperbolic when talking about this book. It should be standard reading for everyone alive. It’s perfect.
2. X’ed Out by Charles Burns-Charles Burns in color? My only problem with this book (series?) is that they need to come out at least twice a year and probably won’t.
3. Pterodactyl Hunters by Brendan Leach-Best “mini-comic” I read this year. Printed on newsprint, which fits with the theme of the story.
4. Lemon Styles by David King-I’ve read through this book a number of times each time I’m equally baffled and fascinated and occasionally I laugh!
5. Pictures for Sad Children-My favorite webcomic. John Campbell innovates where others stagnate.

Jeffrey Brown (Funny Misshapen Body)
1. Acme Novelty #20 by Chris Ware-The latest by the best.
2. h day by Renee French-Normally I’m not a big fan of wordless comics, or one panel a page comics, but this book actually warrants multiple readings, and manages to convey more story and emotion than many comics with lots of words and panels in them.
3. The Playwright by Eddie Campbell and Daren White-A funny and well thought out booked that wraps up neatly but not too neatly, brilliantly drawn by Campbell. The only reason I’m not putting the Alec collection in this spot is because… well, I don’t know why. I just didn’t.
4. Market Day by James Sturm-Sturm’s art is minimal and elegant, pacing a thoughtful story that’s sad, occasionally humorous, but all in all meaningful.
5. Inside Moebius Volume 6 by Moebius-The latest volume of Moebius’s stream-of-conscious semi-autobiographical surreal books. Absolutely beautiful, and unfortunately for me, in French. Why there isn’t more Moebius available in English, I don’t know.

...

Josh Frankel (Zip Comics)
1.Market Day by James Sturm-I once had a professor who told me that progress has a tendency to destroy people as well as create new opportunities. Market Day is such a beautiful example of that sad truth that affects us to this day. That alone warrants a position on my top five list plus James Sturm’s amazing art does not hurt either.
2.The Search For Smilin Ed by Kim Deitch-Kim Deitch consistently puts out some of the most interesting and well-drawn comics out there. The Search For Smilin Ed is one the weirdest Deitch books, with aliens, demon, and pygmies. It also captures Deitch’s interest in preserving the old culture of television perfectly. Top that off with Deitch’s classic cartoon on acid trip visuals and it is a winner of a book.
3. Acme Novelty Library 20 by Chris Ware-Ware has long shown the suffering of the outcast; while that has been amazing in it’s own way, the new Acme Novelty Library departs a bit. It shows the suffering of the charismatic and somewhat likable Jordan Lint, but that in reality he is as miserable as any of Ware’s usual cast
4.Wilson by Daniel Clowes-Wilson is about a near-sociopathic curmudgeon. While the story is interesting enough, the art is the best reason to pay the price of admission. Clowes changes art styles on every page; while this may seem like a gimmick he does it so masterfully it is actually a selling point.
5. Blindspot by Joseph Remnant-(Disclosure: Joseph is illustrating Harvey
Pekar’s Cleveland, which I am publishing) Blindspot is 30 pages of amazingly witty vignettes. My personal favorite being that of Ace Goddard, a washed-up rock star. Remnant’s art is reminiscent of R. Crumb in the best of ways and is much a reason to buy as the intelligent script.

...

Brian Heater (The Daily Cross Hatch)
1. Acme Novelty Library #20 by Chris Ware
2. Afrodisiac by Brian Maruca and Jim Rugg
3. The Search for Smilin’ Ed by Kim Deitch
4. Weathercraft by Jim Woodring
5. Make Me a Woman by Vanessa Davis

...
 
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Featured artists

James Sturm
Chris Ware
Vanessa Davis

           Featured products

Market Day
Acme Novelty Library Volume 20
Make Me A Woman




  The Montreal Gazette lists ACME NOVELTY 20, PALOOKAVILLE 20 and MARKET DAY as top comics of 2010!

Updated December 14, 2010


Pictures help tell the story

Graphic novels and classic comics cover a wide range

By IAN MCGILLIS, The Gazette December 11, 2010

When it's done right, graphic literature combines the best qualities of books and film to produce a reading experience of unique immediacy. Here are some of 2010's best titles, suitable for adepts and newcomers alike.

Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth was the Citizen Kane of graphic novels, breaking new ground in form and content, and creating a legion of followers for whom the latest Ware instalment is a bona fide event. The Acme Novelty Library 20: Lint ( Drawn & Quarterly, 72 pages, $24.95) follows the life of the titular Jordan Wellington Lint of Omaha, Neb., from the womb to his last ride on a hospital gurney. Ware is a chronicler of unremarkable, even stunted lives. Lint's story offers little if anything in the way of conventional redemption; the uplift comes with Ware's implicit statement that no life, in the end, is unworthy of close attention. While Ware doesn't make it easy on the reader -lettering sometimes shrinks to sizes requiring a magnifying glass, and the sequence of the panels is at times intentionally unclear -the sense of being in the hands of a master, and of holding a book that's a thing of beauty in itself, never wavers.

Guelph-based Seth, recognizable even to non-comics followers through commissions ranging from New Yorker covers to Stuart McLean book jackets, now presents the sumptuously designed Palookaville 20 (Drawn & Quarterly, 88 pages, $20.95), the first hardcover instalment in his long-running series of works-in-progress and sketchbook fragments. Seth's aesthetic, in person as on the page, is that of a 1950s man chafing in a 21st-century context. He's a poet of the things we tend to pass without a second look: dying towns off the main highways, doomed small businesses, ungainly loners. He can invest more character and poignancy in a drawing of a gas station than most artists can in a human portrait.

Market Day, by James Sturm (Drawn & Quarterly, 96 pages, $23.95) tells the story of the rug weaver Mendleman, a proud young artisan and father-to-be who arrives in his local market one day to find that his longtime buyer is no longer there, replaced by someone with no appreciation of his work. Sturm renders the lost world of early 20th-century Eastern European Jewry with sombre-hued economy; as a writer, he unfolds his narrative with the deft, unforced momentum of an Isaac Bashevis Singer story. A story of this time and setting carries the unavoidable and awful knowledge of what came not long after; Sturm lets that knowledge stand as given and presents a moving tale of one man caught up in historical forces beyond his control. Market Day gets this reviewer's vote as graphic novel of the year.
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Featured artists

Seth
James Sturm
Chris Ware

           Featured products

Market Day
Palookaville Volume 20
Acme Novelty Library Volume 20




Al Jaffee loves JAMES STURM's MARKET DAY

Updated December 2, 2010


A Year in Reading: Al Jaffee

by Al Jaffee
The Millions

I thought I would write about a graphic novel that came out this year and impressed me enormously. Its title is Market Day, written and illustrated by James Sturm. It particularly affected me because I spent my childhood between the ages of six and twelve in an environment that was very much like the one in the book. James Sturm, who was not old enough to have lived in these circumstances, somehow has managed to capture the day-to-day dealings in was a typical the market place in Eastern Europe. The atmosphere he has created in his drawings is entirely accurate. The architecture and the clothing of the people rings true. To me the characters became three dimensional and were living life as I remembered it.

The poignancy is underlined because most of this was wiped out by the Nazi invasion. It was a vibrant society which would have changed with the times but instead was cruelly destroyed in a heartbeat. The end of that era was predicted in the book but no one could imagine how fast it would be done away with in actuality.

The atmosphere created in the drawings, which are primarily in subdued earth tones, is extremely effective because it realistically recreates the drabness of such towns in that era. At the same time, it manages to show the vibrant, colorful lives led by the people in this society. Maybe it’s personal for me because of my own experience in such a town, but I feel that this story should have wide appeal because it is interesting and well told.
 
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Featured artist

James Sturm

           Featured product

Market Day




  Forbidden Planet calls MARKET DAY a "quiet, thoughtful, understated classic of a book."

Updated November 25, 2010


A life quietly destroyed in just one day – Market Day

by Richard Bruton

In James Sturm’s quiet melodrama, he captures the exact moment of a revolution occuring. Not a revolution of violence or civil unrest, but a revolution of change, a moment where craft and artistry succumb to manufactured product. And although Sturm sets his tale in some vaguely Eastern European town in something that feels vaguely early 20th Century this small, quiet revolution not only looks at the transition from art and craft to commercial mass manufacture but more importantly it drills tightly down into the life of one particular artisan as he experiences his life disintegrate in just one day – Market Day.
Sturm’s lead character Mendleman leads a life of blissful, fulfilled simplicity. He’s a rug maker by trade, but it’s more than a simple craft – the way he thinks of his work is more akin to an artist and his rugs are beautiful, exotic, things, works of art in themselves.

The rugs are taken to market, atop a donkey drawn cart, and sold at Finkler’s Store, where the owner values quality and craft above all things. This has been going on for many, many years, with Mendleman’s journey to market taking on an aspect of pilgrimage, to have his rugs assessed – joyous eleation or terrible rejection sure to follow dependent on Finkler’s judgement.

And it is on his early morning journey to market that we join Mendleman, up well before the dawn, with the darkness weighing heavy upon this melancholic man’s soul. His wife, usually his companion on the journey, is eight months pregnant and the darkness brings on terrible thoughts of death and misery.

The weight upon his soul only lifts as the sun rises, new light giving his mind room to roam, a time this artist dreamer uses to imagine the subtle patterns of the world around him and the colours of everything he sees reimagined in thread and interpreted through his loom.

His world, so simple, so insular, is wrapped up in the rhythm of creativity; the artist imagines, the loom produces, the donkey walks, the rugs are sold, the cycle begins anew. The art is the thing that gives his life meaning, far more than his wife or unborn child. And selling his rugs seems far more than a commercial act, it’s the validation of his art, his reason for continuing.

But this time, something has changed. Mendleman’s principal buyer has sold his shop, and the new owner fills his shop with poor quality, cheaply manufactured stock. In an instant Mendleman’s world disintegrates and he finds himself lost and wandering through the market, unable to sell anything.

Hope springs eternal, but the promise of a new emporium in another town is an empty one. His work has even less value here, simply destined to join the pile of high quality goods sold so cheaply, supply outstripping demand as the new industrialised revolution robs the artists and the craftsmen of their livelihoods. His work depended upon one wealthy patron and with him gone the rug maker’s world seems destined to disappear along with him.

In absolute despair Mendleman sells up, and takes the long walk through the darkness home. To Rachel, to the impending fatherhood that terrifies him so, to a little community that will know of his terrible failure. His journey home is one of despair, and thoughts of a doomed future.

Sturm leaves his ending open – Mendleman returns to his village, having already sold his donkey and cart he pledges to sell his loom, but his welcome back into the village is warm, a return home, to his wife and their child. But in the end the artist seems doomed to conflict, torn between the world of his work, of his ego, and the world of his wife, his child, his home. No-one, not Sturm, not us, not Mendleman himself knows which he will choose:
“This is my dilemma. I am a citizen of two nations that are suddenly at war. My loyalties should be obvious. I have been exiled from one country and welcomed back to the other. I will pledge my allegiance, do what is required and pray I do not turn traitor”

What he does next is never covered, it’s left to us to complete Mendleman’s tale, which is very much a traditional, allegorical folk tale. And Sturm’s beautifully restrained storytelling, coupled with his spare, simple lines, plays on this, giving the terrible reality of Mendleman’s tale a vaguely otherworldy sense, as we observe both the terrible reality of the man and his wonderful dreams and artistry.

And then there’s the unspoken, yet obvious connection between Mendleman and Sturm. The world of the artisan rug-maker and the cartoonist really proves to be not all that different. The obsessional drive to perfecting the art, the imagery, the isolation, the market place with a sudden rush of friendships re-established mimics the convention circuit of comic artists perfectly. The ancient craft of the loom and thread shares so much with the cartoonist making art with pencil and paper, including the threat of encroaching technology and an ever uncertain future.

In Market Day, Sturm creates something memorable in it’s quiet power. The story, so simple, so everyday, so ordinary, is incredibly moving and powerful, packing a massive emotional punch in the latter stages of Mendelman’s despair that surprised me greatly.

And Sturm’s art is spectacular in it’s perfect restraint. From the very first few pages, of a melancholy Mendleman trudging through the darkness at the start of his journey to market, the subtlety and beauty in Sturm’s line is so impressive. It’s not showy, it’s not brash, but this quiet, restraint creates page after page of artwork that smoulders on the page, artwork to linger over, to luxuriate in.

Market Day is a book that stays with you well after the final page, it’s power and heart lies in the beautifully observed character studies Sturm creates through some wonderfully powerful artwork. A quiet, thoughtful, understated classic of a book.
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Featured artist

James Sturm

           Featured product

Market Day




The New York Times names MARKET DAY and WILSON as highlights of the year 2010

Updated November 16, 2010


Graphic Books

by George Gene Gustines
November 12, 2010

It’s been another exciting year for graphic books. It began in January, when Yen Press announced it would print 350,000 copies of its adaptation of the novel “Twilight” by Stephenie Meyer. Readers later witnessed the struggles of a Jewish rug maker in “Market Day,” by James Sturm. They were treated to Dash Shaw’s stylized “Bodyworld.” And they met the misanthrope known as “Wilson” in the latest from Daniel Clowes. The year closes with a mix of social issues, superheroes, slackers and Shakespeare.
Holiday Gift Guide

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The 33 pages of story in THE NIGHT BOOKMOBILE (Abrams ComicArts, $19.95) leave one longing for more. The story, written and illustrated by Audrey Niffenegger, the novelist behind “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” is about a woman who stumbles upon an old Winnebago filled with everything she has ever read. The volumes conjure long-forgotten memories — “Here was ‘A Distant Mirror,’ by Barbara Tuchman, which I remembered reading in a coffee shop while waiting for a blind date that never showed up” — that are sure to be echoed by readers when they ruminate on their own experiences with books. The author plans to explore the world of the bookmobile, and its enigmatic librarian, further in “The Library.”

KILL SHAKESPEARE (IDW, $19.99) Volume 1 brings together the playwright’s heroes, including Hamlet and Juliet, and pits them against a pack of adversaries led by Richard III and Lady Macbeth, all of whom want to find a wizard named William Shakespeare. The story, written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col, with art by Andy Belanger, is gripping, violent and dark fun, even if you’re not fully versed in Shakespearean lore. If you are — as one of my colleagues, Steven McElroy, is — rejoice: “There is the allure of familiarity and the joy of being on the lookout for who might show up next — even Parolles (still a coward) makes an appearance,” he said.

Societal woes are deftly handled in THE ADVENTURES OF UNEMPLOYED MAN (Little, Brown, $14.99) and HEART TRANSPLANT (Dark Horse, $24.99). “Unemployed Man,” written by Erich Origen and Gan Golan, and illustrated by a legion of artists, is a satirical look at politics, the economy and superheroes — though not necessarily in that order. One of the highlights is a parody of the origin of the Incredible Hulk: David Tanner is bombarded with Fox News rays and transforms into White Rage. “Heart Transplant,” written by the crime novelist Andrew Vachss with artwork by Frank Caruso, tells the story of Sean, a boy from a broken home who is bullied at school. His father figure teaches him to fight back. Their relationship is tender and richly conveyed in the words and images.

My experience with manga has largely failed to yield great fruit. However, that was not the case with Moto Hagio’s DRUNKEN DREAM AND OTHER STORIES (Fantagraphics Books, $24.99). This 10-story anthology shifts from young romance to supernatural mystery to kitchen-sink drama, so there will probably be a touchstone tale for everyone. “Iguana Girl” — about two sisters, one human and one reptilian — is oddly appealing and surprisingly bittersweet. And its message about acceptance is subtle, not saccharine. The stories are black and white, save for the science-fiction tale “A Drunken Dream,” which is rendered in muted watercolors.

Superman’s beginnings have been revisited many times, in comics, film and television, so aside from his downtown threads, SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE (DC Comics, $19.99), by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis, is not breaking a lot of new ground in showing a younger Clark Kent, unsure of his place in the world. But this adventure does put an aggressive spin on his origin (Krypton’s explosion was intentional, not accidental) that gives Superman new interstellar enemies and a fresh mission: to avenge his home world. What’s best is DC’s commitment to producing an original graphic novel rather than releasing this story in single issues. The Earth One line is introducing a number of DC’s heroes to a new generation, and next year Batman will receive its treatment from Geoff Johns and Gary Frank.

RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN (Archaia, $24.95), by Jim McCann and Janet Lee, takes place in a world named Anorev, which is inhabited by robots and children and where the concept of time has been forgotten. Ayden, a boy, and Zoe, a robot, realize their destiny when 314 mysterious Dapper Men descend upon them. Some of the writing is lyrical and reads like a forgotten fairy tale: “Until, one day, there was no tock. With no tock, there could be no tick. And all that was left was no.” The artwork is often stunning, with a texture and depth that, according to a how-to section at the end of the book, reflects Ms. Lee’s use of decoupage, a combination of paper-doll-like cutouts and wood boards.

It is a testament to the writing ability of Scott Snyder that his story in AMERICAN VAMPIRE (Vertigo, $24.99), illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque, is more compelling than one in the same volume written by the master of the macabre Stephen King. Thank goodness it’s not a competition. Mr. Snyder is chronicling the life of Pearl Jones in 1920s Los Angeles; she longs to be an actress but finds herself turned into a bloodsucker. The old rules are invalid, because of new vampires who are not put off by sunlight. Mr. King takes on the story of Skinner Sweet, the first of the new breed that causes the evolutionary shift, set in the days of the Wild West. Pearl is an engaging character, and the series, particularly with its ability to peek at different generations, seems like the next franchise possibility for the DC imprint Vertigo.

If you enjoyed the criminally underappreciated film SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, you’ll love the source series. SCOTT PILGRIM’S FINEST HOUR (Oni Press, $11.99), the last of six installments by Bryan Lee O’Malley, finds the title hero mourning his lost love, Ramona, and acting as immature as ever. He tells his other love interest, Knives, who has recently turned 18: “Do you want to have sex? I think we should have sex. Casual sex.” Despite his many flaws, Scott remains a character you want to see succeed. The final volume is filled with the video-game imagery and breaking-the-fourth-wall asides that were evident in the previous tales. During his confrontation with Gideon, his ultimate barrier in reuniting with Ramona, Scott says: “I don’t even want to fight you! The secondary characters made me do it!” The complete series is available in SCOTT PILGRIM’S PRECIOUS LITTLE BOXSET for $72.

Darwyn Cooke revisits Parker, the antihero created by the novelist Richard Stark, in THE OUTFIT (IDW, $24.99). This book has everything the first had: tough guys, capers and a 1960s vibe that feels like an underworld version of “Mad Men.” Among the high points of this installment — Mr. Cooke plans to adapt four Parker novels in all — are the heists arranged against the criminal syndicate Parker despises. The six-page sequence about a heroin operation wonderfully, and incongruously, juxtaposes tense Mamet-like verbal sparring grit with an almost whimsical visual style. The coda promises “Parker will return in 2012.” Let the countdown begin.
 
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James Sturm
Daniel Clowes

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Wilson
Market Day




  School Library Journal reviews MARKET DAY

Updated November 16, 2010


by Melissa Houlroyd
Library Journal

STURM, James. Market Day. illus. by author. unpaged. Drawn & Quarterly. 2010. Tr $21.95. ISBN 978-1-897299-97-5. LC number unavailable.

Gr 10 Up–Mendleman is a Jewish rug maker in early-20th-century Eastern Europe. His wife is pregnant with their first child and due any minute, but he must go to the market to make money for his family to survive. He attempts to sell his wares to no avail. The shop he frequented in the past has changed owners and no longer carries quality items like his. Mendleman presses on and attempts to sell his rugs at the emporium, where they are willing to pay a fraction of what he used to make, and his pieces are thrown onto a heap of other rugs for sale. Mendleman feels he has no choice and completes the sale. This catalyzes an existential crisis for him. His work used to give him so much pride, but he is forced to surrender for money. With expressive and moody imagery, Sturm’s story is at once original and universal. The struggle to maintain one’s identity after losing a job is a tough one, and the author does an excellent job conveying it. With some obscene language, nudity, and brief mention of sex, this graphic novel is for mature readers.
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Market Day




Halifax's The Coast reviews MARKET DAY

Updated November 9, 2010


Market Day
James Sturm (Drawn and Quarterly)

by Laura Kenins

Mendleman, a young rug weaver waiting for his first child’s arrival, has his life thrown in disarray when he finds out the salesman he relied on has closed up shop and he can no longer get a decent price for his rugs. The story unfolds from the daybreak of one day until the next, slowly and elegantly depicted, as Mendleman leaves his pregnant wife and heads to the market. Sturm’s illustrations of the marketplace in an eastern European town are evocative and bring the market to life. Sombre browns and greys manage to show both the liveliness of the market and the heartache Mendleman feels learning that his craft will no longer make him a viable living, on the verge of starting a family. Sturm’s previous books depicted Jewish culture in early 20th-century America; with this trip to the old country, he masterfully lays out the countryside and cobblestone streets of a village in eastern Europe.
 
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James Sturm

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Market Day




  STL Today reviews WILSON and MARKET DAY

Updated September 28, 2010


Wealth of comic novels compete for shelf space

by Cliff Froehlich

A loud drumbeat of mainstream critical praise has made even casual observers aware of comics' maturation in recent decades, but some readers remain skeptical: Comics may not be kids' stuff anymore, but don't they still appeal to a narrow range of tastes? Well, no. Contemporary comics offer something for everyone, as a survey of titles released within the past few months clearly attests.

Daniel Clowes' "Wilson" (Drawn & Quarterly, 80 pages, $21.95), a black-comic portrait of an emotionally needy curmudgeon, is itself a case study in diversity, periodically shifting from flat full color to moody duotones to stark black-and-white and employing a full spectrum of cartooning styles that encompasses everything from big-foot exaggeration to subtle naturalism.

On the surface, the book appears to be a simple collection of one-page gag strips, often tracing the same dramatic arc: Wilson presses himself on a hapless bystander, discourses passionately on a subject, becomes enraged by a perceived failing in the person he's haranguing and then ends the "conversation" with an obscene insult.

Read individually and at random, many of these strips prove howlingly funny, but they also make up a larger narrative that's far more bleak than amusing, as Wilson copes with the death of his father and reconnects — in typically fraught and disastrous fashion — with his ex-wife and recently discovered daughter.

Most remarkably, Clowes manages the near-impossible by winning a real measure of sympathy for his outrageously provocative character. Far from the one-note caricature he initially seems, Wilson keeps revealing new, humanizing facets without ever abandoning his exasperating misbehavior and prickly nature.

Clowes ranks with Chris Ware and the Hernandez Brothers at the top of the alt-comics hierarchy, but there are now dozens of extraordinary cartoonists working regularly, and two other stalwarts of the literary graphic novel have also produced fine new books.

James Sturm's "Market Day" (Drawn & Quarterly, 96 pages, $21.95) offers a richly detailed look at life in an Eastern European shtetl at the turn of the 20th century. Schlepping his artful hand-woven rugs to market, Mendleman finds his metaphoric cart suddenly upturned when he discovers that the discerning merchant who has long purchased his goods has turned over his shop to a bottom-line trader with no use for connoisseurship. Fearful he won't be able to support his pregnant wife, Mendleman spends a drunken night on the road home, beset by existential doubts.

Although a sober work, "Market Day's" overall gloom is relieved by earthy humor, and the gorgeous artwork, with its muted colors and evocative landscapes and street scenes, conjures a world as beautiful as it is believable.
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James Sturm
Daniel Clowes

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Wilson
Market Day




The Coast reviews MARKET DAY

Updated September 1, 2010


Market Day

by Laura Kenins

Mendleman, a young rug weaver waiting for his first child’s arrival, has his life thrown in disarray when he finds out the salesman he relied on has closed up shop and he can no longer get a decent price for his rugs. The story unfolds from the daybreak of one day until the next, slowly and elegantly depicted, as Mendleman leaves his pregnant wife and heads to the market. Sturm’s illustrations of the marketplace in an eastern European town are evocative and bring the market to life. Sombre browns and greys manage to show both the liveliness of the market and the heartache Mendleman feels learning that his craft will no longer make him a viable living, on the verge of starting a family. Sturm’s previous books depicted Jewish culture in early 20th-century America; with this trip to the old country, he masterfully lays out the countryside and cobblestone streets of a village in eastern Europe.
 
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Market Day




  JAMES STURM's MARKET DAY is one of NPR's "Books We Like"

Updated August 31, 2010


'Market Day': Beauty And History In Handmade Art

by Glen Weldon

Award-winning cartoonist James Sturm heads the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt., where he (and a visiting faculty of comics luminaries) instruct graduate students on the history and craft of the comics form. Sturm's role as a teacher will come as no surprise to readers of indie comics anthologies like Drawn and Quarterly and Art Speigelman's RAW, where Sturm's spare, elegant pieces of historical fiction appeared for years.

These pieces — three of which were collected in the 2007 book James Sturm's America: God, Gold and Golems — do what the best teachers do: They reveal the story in history, shaping rote facts into textured tales that engage the spirit even as they enlighten the mind. Whether writing about the largest religious gathering in American history ("The Revival"), depicting a frontier town caught in the grip of gold fever ("Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight"), or crafting a clever fable about an all-Jewish Roaring '20s baseball team ("The Golem's Mighty Swing"), he keeps the focus tight on characters and events, content to let his readers sort out the larger thematic stuff for themselves.

Since those pieces first appeared, Sturm has written a children's book (Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow), collaborated on an anthology (Adventures in Cartooning) and even produced a mainstream superhero comic, albeit one characteristically steeped in historical detail (Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules).

His latest book, Market Day, marks a return to the historical fiction that put him on the map. Set in the Eastern Europe of the late 19th/early 20th century, Market Day follows Mendleman, a maker of lovingly crafted rugs, over the course of 24 hours. We watch him arise before dawn, load up his cart and make the long trek from his small shtetl to the bustling market of a larger village. By the time the sun sets, he will be forced to confront a hard truth: His world has changed. Cheap, shoddily made goods now glut the marketplace, leaving no room for his rugs — or for him.

The echoes of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Sholem Aleichem you hear are intentional, but Sturm's thorough knowledge of what his chosen medium can do allows him to accomplish something that's all his own. Over the course of the day, Mendleman's artist's eye alights on various scenes — the first golden light of day on the horizon, the teeming crowds around a fruit stand — and Sturm shows us the world as Mendleman sees it, dissolving into shapes and patterns he resolves to incorporate into his next rug.

At moments like these, in the span of only two or three gracefully composed panels, Sturm captures the thrill of artistic inspiration with a directness and economy only possible in comics.

That directness, and the way Sturm locates his tale so thoroughly and vividly inside Mendleman's head, ensure that the book never devolves into the simple thesis on art vs. commerce that a summary of its plot might threaten.

Throughout, Sturm's prose is straightforward, his art spare and deceptively simple; together, however, his words and images achieve the quiet lyricism of the folktale, the fable. And like many fables, the feeling Market Day leaves on us is one that's quiet, wistful and elegiac, one that even offers — though you really have to look for it — the slenderest thread of something like hope.
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Market Day




Comic Book Resources interviews JAMES STURM

Updated May 12, 2010


JAMES STURM HEADS TO THE "MARKET"

by Chris Mautner

James Sturm's "Market Day," published by Drawn & Quarterly, follows a day in the life of Mendleman, a Jewish rug maker living in Europe in the early 1900s. Proud of his work and utterly devoted to it, Mendleman heads to the local market, full of vigor and life, eager to visit the merchant who serves as his patron of sorts. And then...something happens that alters Mendleman's world view entirely, forcing him to question not only his choice of career but determine the future for his rapidly growing family. The end result is a compelling, breathtaking comic that explores the cruel interplay between art and commerce that can often affect our lives in ways we'd often prefer not to think about.

Sturm, of course, is no stranger to these issues, or to comics in general. Having made a name for himself with such stunning works as "The Revival," "Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight" and "The Golem's Mighty Swing" (all of which are collected in D&Q's "James Sturm's America"), he's also the co-founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies, a two-year school situated in White River Junction, Vermont, that is devoted to teaching the creation and science of comics, and has become one of the "go to" places for college-age students eager to become cartoonists.

CBR News spoke with Sturm last month about his newest book and how the school is doing. Since then, his book "Adventures in Cartooning," which he did with Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick-Frost, won the 2010 Gryphon Award for Children's Literature. All of which suggests that no tea leaves are necessary to say that this year will be a banner one for the author and educator.

Story continues below

CBR News: Market Day seems to take place in a very specific time and place - late 19th or early 20th century Eastern Europe - but I thought it was interesting that you don't specifically name the country or the year or anything like that. Can talk about why you chose this setting for the book and why you decided to not reveal specific details about it.

James Sturm: Part of the inspiration of the book...it was originally intended to be a children's book, and I think that comes through with the lack of density of pages and the big spreads and such. I wanted to tell a fable-like story and there's a certain nonspecificity that goes along with that. The book was intended in part as a cautionary tale for myself.


James Sturm's "Market Day" arrives on March 30, 2010
Also by not grounding it in a specific location and date I wouldn't be held accountable for historical accuracy. When Mendelman goes off to this emporium I have no idea if places like this actually existed -- an early 20th century Eastern. I kind of doubt it did. In my other books, like the work in "James Sturm's America," all those stories are historically plausible, whereas this one may not be.

Let's go back a bit - you say that this was originally intended to be a chiildren's book. Where did the inspiration for "Market Day" come from?

Drawn and Quarterly, my publisher, actually played an important role in the book itself. There was a point when they hooked up with a national distributor - they were distributed by Chronicle Books at one point.

I don't think that worked out as well as their current partner [Farrar, Straus & Giroux], but when they first hooked up, they felt this would open up a lot more markets, and after the deal happened [publisher] Chris [Oliveros] sent an email to his stable of artists at D&Q saying "One of the things I'm considering is doing a children's book line. If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them."

So, in my sketchbook, I conceived a story about a rug weaver. In that version of the story, the focus wasn't so much on the main character but more about how important one individual's commitment and support can be for somebody. In "Market Day," when the Finkler character disappears, it sets off this bad chain of events for Mendleman. In my mind I thought of Chris as the Finkler character and how important my own relationship with D&Q was for my own artistic development. The actual book plays out differently - but I did want to get that across and a sense of camraderie between artists who share a an aesthetic and committment to a certain type of work.

Camraderie and commitment seem to be running themes in your books - I'm thinking of the baseball team in "The Golem's Mighty Swing," but also the relationship between father and son in the Satchel Paige book, and in "The Revival," there's a sense of a community gathering. Are those issues you're interested in?

I just read "Market Day" before it was sent to the printer. I hadn't read the whole thing through in several months. I found some pretty obvioius stuff that I was oblivious to as I was making it. So, in terms of what I think about when I work on the book, I don't know how relevent that is...not to dodge your question.

How Mendleman sees the larger world certainly changes once he feels cast out of his community. He goes to the market and he's very excited and then, pardon the pun, the carpet gets taken out from underneath him, and all of a sudden, he's in the same market but all of his observations are negative. He notices the crying kids and the hungry dogs and the beggars. In the beginning, he's only noticing the smell of chicken and how delightful everything is. So much of how I'm relating to a book has to do with my blood sugar or if Mars is retrograde with Venus for that week. My sense of the work constantly changes. Clearly, there's some very deliberate themes I'm exploring, but there's also other stuff that just kind of works its way into the book independent of any intent.


The day starts early for Mendleman
Another thing that's striking about "Market Day" is that it's your first book to be published in full color. Can you talk about how that opened the book up for you? What did working in full color give you?

I started working in color when I got to Vermont - 2001 or 2002. Everything I ever touched when I worked in color just turned to brown when I was an art student or learning how to paint. It was the computer that really liberated me in some ways to approach color and not have everything become this sloppy brown mess. And since I got my coloring sea legs on the computer, I'm more confident working in more traditional coloring techniques like watercolor.

A lot of what I was using for reference were old black and white photos, and the thing about black and white photos is they come with their own sense of nostalgia and and you experience them at a remove. They seem past tense. It's like that old joke that kids used to look at a black and white photo and think the world was black and white until color was invented. I didn't want Mendleman's world to be at a remove. The Jewish shetl is already mythologized. Color made it seem a little more contemporary. When I actually came across some color photos of Eastern Europe in the '30s, I was so struck by seeing that world in color. It really made an impression on me. And once I decided to do it in color, then color becomes another tool. I felt color had to have it's own narrative arc in terms of the narrative.

Speaking of issues of ethnicity and identity, it seems like there have been a couple of books - I don't want to say a rash - but books and comics that explore issues of Jewish identity. I'm thinking of Sammy Harkham's work, and also Klezmer by Joann Sfar that was recently translated. And also all the books that have come out recently about the history of comics and exploring the importance of Jewish identity in creating the comic book market in America. Where do you see this book fitting in? Do you see it tying into any of these other works?

I'm certainly conscious of the history of comics and the history of Jews in comics, and a lot has been made of that by historians. I don't think I'm consciously trying to march in that procession. I was actually surprised that "Market Day" is the book that I started working on. What had happened was, at the time - this won't answer your question directly - I was setting up the Center for Cartoon Studies, and for two years [I was] working on a book about art design students. It was an overly ambitious work, in terms of page count. There was a point where I realized I was never going to get this thing done. It was just too large and too sprawling. And after being around students all day long, it was getting harder and harder to muster the energy to sit down and spend another 3-4 hours a night entering that world again. I needed a break.

With "Market Day," I returned to the the initial ideas I had in my sketchbook almost a year later. I started working on it every Sunday morning. It was a simple kids story, it seemed doable. Of course, it took me years to finish and it became a book for adults. But it was doable. Years ago I did this graphic novel, "The Cereal Killings" for Fantagraphics, and it was kind of a mess. After I finished, it I thought, "I just want to do something I can get in and get out." There seems to be a little bit of a pattern where I overextend, fall on my face, pick myself back up and then reel it back a little bit. With "The Cereal Killings," I followed up with "The Revival," which put me back on some kind of track. The failure of art and design graphic novel, like the failure of "Cereal Killings," brought me to another place and put me in another direction.

I keep hoping to see a "Cereal Killings" collection one day.

You'd be sorely disappointed.

One of the things "Market Day" reminded me a lot of was Kevin Huizenga's work, particularily "Ganges," in that both takes place over a very short period of time, the main character narrates his innermost thoughts and it delves into abstract images at times to reveal the character's inner emotional state. Was that an influence at all?


Mendleman's wife's pregnancy was added to "Market Day" in order to "up the stakes"
Well, in terms of the aspects that you just mentioned, a far bigger influence in terms of structuring the book the way I did was the novelist Richard Ford. He wrote "The Sports Writer," "Independence Day" and "Lay of the Land." It was a trilogy about this former writer/real estate man. Ford is one of my favorite American novelists. "Independence Day" was over the course of a July Fourth weekend. I think the "Sports Writer" was over Easter weekend. "Lay of the Land" was over Thanksgiving weekend. he really delves into this moment of time, this moment of transition in the character's life. That certainly is what inspired me to go in that direction.

In regards to Kevin, he's a brilliant cartoonist, but no, he was not an influence. He's able to run with abstraction in a way that I am not capable of. I'm a big fan of his, and we actually we colaborated on the Center for Cartoon Studies brochure. It was inspiring working with him, but above and beyond just that sense of inspiration, I didn't take anything specifically from his work.

I have my own limited tool box as a cartoonist, and I might have more tools than a few but far less tools than a lot. I can only create comics with this tool box. In your 20s, it seems like every new book you pick up makes you want to re-evaluate how you approach your own work. As you get older, you certainly admire certain cartoonists and think what they're doing is fantastic, but you realize no matter how hard you try, you'll never draw like R. Crumb.

One of the things that struck me as a central theme of "Market Day" is the idea of the artist vs. the marketplace. Was that a conscious thing you wanted to explore?

That was certainly a deliberate area I was thinking about and exploring.

The reason I bring it up is, you could look at it as very cynical as far as the book's ending. There's this possibility that he has to give up his dream.

There is a sense of that. I said earlier it's a little bit of a cautionary tale. One of the reasons I made his wife pregnant was to up the stakes a little. This is something that, as I got busy with the Center for Cartoon Studies and other obligations, plus two kids, it gets harder to muster the energy and focus to create books. There is a sense where you feel like you're being pulled in two. I tried to get that tension in the work.

I don't want to assume, but the character seems like such a dreamer that he gives up a little too quickly...

Keep in mind, there were a lot of mood swings in the books. As his friend, whose known Mendleman all his life tells him, "Get a good night's sleep." Bad decisions are made when you are tired. One of the things I hope to do is pick the story up many years later to see what decisions were actually made and where that led him.

The most obvious parallel I came to was the comics industry and how the book was almost a warning about wanting to work in this incredibly awesome medium, but the fact that there was just no money in it.

But you could say the same thing for poetry and painting and sculpture and contemporary literature. I don't think comics has any personal claim to that phenomenon. Yeah, he goes into the book thinking he can support himself with his work and he realizes Finkler was his patron and Finkler wasn't necessarily making smart business decisions, he was supporting work that he liked. And learning that, Mendleman's own view of himself changes. Mendleman's craft and the discipline he brings to making work informs the way he sees the world. So the value of his work extends far beyond whatever price tag that the marketplace places on his work. If he doesn't see it that way and turns his back, there might be disasterous consequences for that decision.


Mendleman's day turns from good to bad
You founded this school that is very much focused on teaching students to use comics to explore their own artistic paths. I read the book and thought some of your students might read the book and think, "Aw man, what is he telling me here?"

I don't make any promises to students or anybody. You'd be hard pressed to find anywhere in CCS literature saying, "Hey, come here and learn how to make comics and earn a living." All along, I've always said that if you can have a MFA program in poetry and sculpture and painting, why can't you have a similar approach to comics? That was the thinking in setting up CCS.

By the same token, what's fortunate about comics is that you learn a varied skill set that's embedded in our curriculum - computer/production skills, drawing, and writing - these are skills that are transferable to the marketplace. If I calculated all the hours I put into cartooning and what that hourly wage would be, it would be insanely small. But by the same token, that's what's shaped my world view. That's how I've learned to learn.

How is the school doing these days?

The school is doing really well. Our timing was very good. Had we gotten going earlier, we might have gotten a little too fat, and when the economic crash hit the country, it would have been in trouble - like if we had an endowment or had puchased buildings that had to be paid off. A year or two later, there would have been no way we could have raised the money to get up and running. So we are at a place where we're a lean and efficent oganization. We are at capacity in terms of student body - and from top to bottom, we've never had a stronger student body. And there is an amazing faculty and staff that really make CCS hum.

There's a real feeling of community here in Vermont. I know it's kind of a tough word for some people, but there does seem to be a community here. Students, alumni, faculty are all really dedicated to making comics and inspire one another. There are less distractions in little White River Junction than larger urban areas. The average age of our students is a little older than most programs - it's more of a graduate program. I talk to my friends at other comic art programs, and in a course with about 20 students in the class, if you have five students ready to go, you consider it a really good class. Here, pretty much every student is really bringing something to the table. That just raises the bar for everyone involved.

One of the things I understand is that the school has really helped White River Junction, that it's been an economic boon for them. Is that accurate?

Yeah, that's very accurate. White River Junction is actually a village - one of five villages in the town of Hartford. And the whole population of White River Junction is about 2,500. The main street - south main and north main - it's a few square blocks. If this school opened in Seattle or New York City or Portland, it wouldn't have such a profound impact. In terms of hotel occupancy, car rentals and traffic it brings to the eatery, it makes a big difference. CCS provides some street life with all these interesting young artists in town. It brings something special to this region.
 
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Featured artist

James Sturm

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Market Day




  Comic Book Resources interviews JAMES STURM

Updated May 12, 2010


JAMES STURM HEADS TO THE "MARKET"

by Chris Mautner

James Sturm's "Market Day," published by Drawn & Quarterly, follows a day in the life of Mendleman, a Jewish rug maker living in Europe in the early 1900s. Proud of his work and utterly devoted to it, Mendleman heads to the local market, full of vigor and life, eager to visit the merchant who serves as his patron of sorts. And then...something happens that alters Mendleman's world view entirely, forcing him to question not only his choice of career but determine the future for his rapidly growing family. The end result is a compelling, breathtaking comic that explores the cruel interplay between art and commerce that can often affect our lives in ways we'd often prefer not to think about.

Sturm, of course, is no stranger to these issues, or to comics in general. Having made a name for himself with such stunning works as "The Revival," "Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight" and "The Golem's Mighty Swing" (all of which are collected in D&Q's "James Sturm's America"), he's also the co-founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies, a two-year school situated in White River Junction, Vermont, that is devoted to teaching the creation and science of comics, and has become one of the "go to" places for college-age students eager to become cartoonists.

CBR News spoke with Sturm last month about his newest book and how the school is doing. Since then, his book "Adventures in Cartooning," which he did with Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick-Frost, won the 2010 Gryphon Award for Children's Literature. All of which suggests that no tea leaves are necessary to say that this year will be a banner one for the author and educator.

Story continues below

CBR News: Market Day seems to take place in a very specific time and place - late 19th or early 20th century Eastern Europe - but I thought it was interesting that you don't specifically name the country or the year or anything like that. Can talk about why you chose this setting for the book and why you decided to not reveal specific details about it.

James Sturm: Part of the inspiration of the book...it was originally intended to be a children's book, and I think that comes through with the lack of density of pages and the big spreads and such. I wanted to tell a fable-like story and there's a certain nonspecificity that goes along with that. The book was intended in part as a cautionary tale for myself.


James Sturm's "Market Day" arrives on March 30, 2010
Also by not grounding it in a specific location and date I wouldn't be held accountable for historical accuracy. When Mendelman goes off to this emporium I have no idea if places like this actually existed -- an early 20th century Eastern. I kind of doubt it did. In my other books, like the work in "James Sturm's America," all those stories are historically plausible, whereas this one may not be.

Let's go back a bit - you say that this was originally intended to be a chiildren's book. Where did the inspiration for "Market Day" come from?

Drawn and Quarterly, my publisher, actually played an important role in the book itself. There was a point when they hooked up with a national distributor - they were distributed by Chronicle Books at one point.

I don't think that worked out as well as their current partner [Farrar, Straus & Giroux], but when they first hooked up, they felt this would open up a lot more markets, and after the deal happened [publisher] Chris [Oliveros] sent an email to his stable of artists at D&Q saying "One of the things I'm considering is doing a children's book line. If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them."

So, in my sketchbook, I conceived a story about a rug weaver. In that version of the story, the focus wasn't so much on the main character but more about how important one individual's commitment and support can be for somebody. In "Market Day," when the Finkler character disappears, it sets off this bad chain of events for Mendleman. In my mind I thought of Chris as the Finkler character and how important my own relationship with D&Q was for my own artistic development. The actual book plays out differently - but I did want to get that across and a sense of camraderie between artists who share a an aesthetic and committment to a certain type of work.

Camraderie and commitment seem to be running themes in your books - I'm thinking of the baseball team in "The Golem's Mighty Swing," but also the relationship between father and son in the Satchel Paige book, and in "The Revival," there's a sense of a community gathering. Are those issues you're interested in?

I just read "Market Day" before it was sent to the printer. I hadn't read the whole thing through in several months. I found some pretty obvioius stuff that I was oblivious to as I was making it. So, in terms of what I think about when I work on the book, I don't know how relevent that is...not to dodge your question.

How Mendleman sees the larger world certainly changes once he feels cast out of his community. He goes to the market and he's very excited and then, pardon the pun, the carpet gets taken out from underneath him, and all of a sudden, he's in the same market but all of his observations are negative. He notices the crying kids and the hungry dogs and the beggars. In the beginning, he's only noticing the smell of chicken and how delightful everything is. So much of how I'm relating to a book has to do with my blood sugar or if Mars is retrograde with Venus for that week. My sense of the work constantly changes. Clearly, there's some very deliberate themes I'm exploring, but there's also other stuff that just kind of works its way into the book independent of any intent.


The day starts early for Mendleman
Another thing that's striking about "Market Day" is that it's your first book to be published in full color. Can you talk about how that opened the book up for you? What did working in full color give you?

I started working in color when I got to Vermont - 2001 or 2002. Everything I ever touched when I worked in color just turned to brown when I was an art student or learning how to paint. It was the computer that really liberated me in some ways to approach color and not have everything become this sloppy brown mess. And since I got my coloring sea legs on the computer, I'm more confident working in more traditional coloring techniques like watercolor.

A lot of what I was using for reference were old black and white photos, and the thing about black and white photos is they come with their own sense of nostalgia and and you experience them at a remove. They seem past tense. It's like that old joke that kids used to look at a black and white photo and think the world was black and white until color was invented. I didn't want Mendleman's world to be at a remove. The Jewish shetl is already mythologized. Color made it seem a little more contemporary. When I actually came across some color photos of Eastern Europe in the '30s, I was so struck by seeing that world in color. It really made an impression on me. And once I decided to do it in color, then color becomes another tool. I felt color had to have it's own narrative arc in terms of the narrative.

Speaking of issues of ethnicity and identity, it seems like there have been a couple of books - I don't want to say a rash - but books and comics that explore issues of Jewish identity. I'm thinking of Sammy Harkham's work, and also Klezmer by Joann Sfar that was recently translated. And also all the books that have come out recently about the history of comics and exploring the importance of Jewish identity in creating the comic book market in America. Where do you see this book fitting in? Do you see it tying into any of these other works?

I'm certainly conscious of the history of comics and the history of Jews in comics, and a lot has been made of that by historians. I don't think I'm consciously trying to march in that procession. I was actually surprised that "Market Day" is the book that I started working on. What had happened was, at the time - this won't answer your question directly - I was setting up the Center for Cartoon Studies, and for two years [I was] working on a book about art design students. It was an overly ambitious work, in terms of page count. There was a point where I realized I was never going to get this thing done. It was just too large and too sprawling. And after being around students all day long, it was getting harder and harder to muster the energy to sit down and spend another 3-4 hours a night entering that world again. I needed a break.

With "Market Day," I returned to the the initial ideas I had in my sketchbook almost a year later. I started working on it every Sunday morning. It was a simple kids story, it seemed doable. Of course, it took me years to finish and it became a book for adults. But it was doable. Years ago I did this graphic novel, "The Cereal Killings" for Fantagraphics, and it was kind of a mess. After I finished, it I thought, "I just want to do something I can get in and get out." There seems to be a little bit of a pattern where I overextend, fall on my face, pick myself back up and then reel it back a little bit. With "The Cereal Killings," I followed up with "The Revival," which put me back on some kind of track. The failure of art and design graphic novel, like the failure of "Cereal Killings," brought me to another place and put me in another direction.

I keep hoping to see a "Cereal Killings" collection one day.

You'd be sorely disappointed.

One of the things "Market Day" reminded me a lot of was Kevin Huizenga's work, particularily "Ganges," in that both takes place over a very short period of time, the main character narrates his innermost thoughts and it delves into abstract images at times to reveal the character's inner emotional state. Was that an influence at all?


Mendleman's wife's pregnancy was added to "Market Day" in order to "up the stakes"
Well, in terms of the aspects that you just mentioned, a far bigger influence in terms of structuring the book the way I did was the novelist Richard Ford. He wrote "The Sports Writer," "Independence Day" and "Lay of the Land." It was a trilogy about this former writer/real estate man. Ford is one of my favorite American novelists. "Independence Day" was over the course of a July Fourth weekend. I think the "Sports Writer" was over Easter weekend. "Lay of the Land" was over Thanksgiving weekend. he really delves into this moment of time, this moment of transition in the character's life. That certainly is what inspired me to go in that direction.

In regards to Kevin, he's a brilliant cartoonist, but no, he was not an influence. He's able to run with abstraction in a way that I am not capable of. I'm a big fan of his, and we actually we colaborated on the Center for Cartoon Studies brochure. It was inspiring working with him, but above and beyond just that sense of inspiration, I didn't take anything specifically from his work.

I have my own limited tool box as a cartoonist, and I might have more tools than a few but far less tools than a lot. I can only create comics with this tool box. In your 20s, it seems like every new book you pick up makes you want to re-evaluate how you approach your own work. As you get older, you certainly admire certain cartoonists and think what they're doing is fantastic, but you realize no matter how hard you try, you'll never draw like R. Crumb.

One of the things that struck me as a central theme of "Market Day" is the idea of the artist vs. the marketplace. Was that a conscious thing you wanted to explore?

That was certainly a deliberate area I was thinking about and exploring.

The reason I bring it up is, you could look at it as very cynical as far as the book's ending. There's this possibility that he has to give up his dream.

There is a sense of that. I said earlier it's a little bit of a cautionary tale. One of the reasons I made his wife pregnant was to up the stakes a little. This is something that, as I got busy with the Center for Cartoon Studies and other obligations, plus two kids, it gets harder to muster the energy and focus to create books. There is a sense where you feel like you're being pulled in two. I tried to get that tension in the work.

I don't want to assume, but the character seems like such a dreamer that he gives up a little too quickly...

Keep in mind, there were a lot of mood swings in the books. As his friend, whose known Mendleman all his life tells him, "Get a good night's sleep." Bad decisions are made when you are tired. One of the things I hope to do is pick the story up many years later to see what decisions were actually made and where that led him.

The most obvious parallel I came to was the comics industry and how the book was almost a warning about wanting to work in this incredibly awesome medium, but the fact that there was just no money in it.

But you could say the same thing for poetry and painting and sculpture and contemporary literature. I don't think comics has any personal claim to that phenomenon. Yeah, he goes into the book thinking he can support himself with his work and he realizes Finkler was his patron and Finkler wasn't necessarily making smart business decisions, he was supporting work that he liked. And learning that, Mendleman's own view of himself changes. Mendleman's craft and the discipline he brings to making work informs the way he sees the world. So the value of his work extends far beyond whatever price tag that the marketplace places on his work. If he doesn't see it that way and turns his back, there might be disasterous consequences for that decision.


Mendleman's day turns from good to bad
You founded this school that is very much focused on teaching students to use comics to explore their own artistic paths. I read the book and thought some of your students might read the book and think, "Aw man, what is he telling me here?"

I don't make any promises to students or anybody. You'd be hard pressed to find anywhere in CCS literature saying, "Hey, come here and learn how to make comics and earn a living." All along, I've always said that if you can have a MFA program in poetry and sculpture and painting, why can't you have a similar approach to comics? That was the thinking in setting up CCS.

By the same token, what's fortunate about comics is that you learn a varied skill set that's embedded in our curriculum - computer/production skills, drawing, and writing - these are skills that are transferable to the marketplace. If I calculated all the hours I put into cartooning and what that hourly wage would be, it would be insanely small. But by the same token, that's what's shaped my world view. That's how I've learned to learn.

How is the school doing these days?

The school is doing really well. Our timing was very good. Had we gotten going earlier, we might have gotten a little too fat, and when the economic crash hit the country, it would have been in trouble - like if we had an endowment or had puchased buildings that had to be paid off. A year or two later, there would have been no way we could have raised the money to get up and running. So we are at a place where we're a lean and efficent oganization. We are at capacity in terms of student body - and from top to bottom, we've never had a stronger student body. And there is an amazing faculty and staff that really make CCS hum.

There's a real feeling of community here in Vermont. I know it's kind of a tough word for some people, but there does seem to be a community here. Students, alumni, faculty are all really dedicated to making comics and inspire one another. There are less distractions in little White River Junction than larger urban areas. The average age of our students is a little older than most programs - it's more of a graduate program. I talk to my friends at other comic art programs, and in a course with about 20 students in the class, if you have five students ready to go, you consider it a really good class. Here, pretty much every student is really bringing something to the table. That just raises the bar for everyone involved.

One of the things I understand is that the school has really helped White River Junction, that it's been an economic boon for them. Is that accurate?

Yeah, that's very accurate. White River Junction is actually a village - one of five villages in the town of Hartford. And the whole population of White River Junction is about 2,500. The main street - south main and north main - it's a few square blocks. If this school opened in Seattle or New York City or Portland, it wouldn't have such a profound impact. In terms of hotel occupancy, car rentals and traffic it brings to the eatery, it makes a big difference. CCS provides some street life with all these interesting young artists in town. It brings something special to this region.
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James Sturm

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Market Day




Torontoist interviews JAMES STURM

Updated May 12, 2010


An Interview with James Sturm

by Dave Howard

James Sturm is an internationally acclaimed comics artist who has created such influential works as The Revival and The Golem’s Mighty Swing; he also helped to found The Stranger in Seattle, the National Association of Comics Art Educators (NACAE), and the Center for Cartoon Studies. His most recent work, Market Day (reviewed here), is a parable-like tale about Mendelman, a rug maker in turn-of-the-century Europe whose sole proprietor mysteriously disappears, forcing Mendelman to find a new buyer or give up his beloved craft.

Sturm is in Toronto this week, where he’ll be speaking at numerous TCAF panels (we especially recommend the feature panel with Dan Clowes, Jim Woodring, Seth, and Chester Brown). Sturm will also be appearing tomorrow night (Thursday May 6th) at The Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre to talk about and read from Market Day (for event details go here). Torontoist’s comics columnist Dave Howard spoke to Sturm over the phone earlier this week.

Dave Howard: When I read Market Day, I was really struck by the analogy between the Mendelmen’s craft–rug making–and comics. Am I correct in that?

James Sturm: Absolutely. Mendelman weaves a lot of different things together–both thematically and literally–to make his rugs.

Howard: I really connected to the moments when he sees a situation and transforms it into an image for one of his rugs. He’s in that mindspace, living that all the time.

Sturm: There’s a moment when he’s under the bridge with the “poet” and his mind starts drifting–oh, how will this work as a rug? In the last panel he literally cuts himself off and is not allowing himself to do that anymore. In some ways that’s the tragedy of the book.


Howard: I don’t want to spoil it for readers, but it seemed fairly clear to me that he was choosing the way of his family–the traditional way–over his craft in the end. Is that true?

Sturm: I feel the book has a lot of different things that people can pull out of it. I’m hesitant to say it’s the definitive thing. I will say he has ups and downs depending on his moods. He didn’t have lunch during the day, and at the end of that day he’s slept only an hour out in the wood. It has’t been a very long time, he’d been drinking the night before, and even his friend says, “You know what? Why don’t you get a good night’s sleep?” I don’t think he’s in a really good place to make that choice right then and there. So I think that what happens is the reader can project a certain amount into that ending. I don’t think that’s necessarily my intent to say that he gives up his art for this family, but, if that’s what people see, that’s fine. It’s similar to an earlier piece I’d done, The Revival. I got a lot of letters from people who had deeply help religious beliefs, thinking the work was a real statement about the power of faith, but I had an equal amount of comments from people telling me it was a piece about the fallacy of faith.

Howard: So you’re comfortable in that area.

Sturm: I’m very comfortable. I kind of feel that I’m doing something right, I’m not being didactic, spelling something out so clearly that there’s a message there that I’m trying to get across.

Howard: Is that how you like to approach your art? To lead people along and let them draw from what you are creating what they will, to make their own decisions?

Sturm: Well I’m trying to raise some questions and explore some areas and themes, and hopefully do it in way that dramatizes those things. I’m certainly not trying to create some propaganda, or be purely didactic in my approach. I’m not trying to create a message or an After School Special–you know, “Up with art!” So yeah, in that sense, yeah, I want the reader to find their own place in the work.

Howard: Is the setting intended to be a real place to you? Is it supposed to exist in a real place in time? I seems like a generic village to me from somewhere like Eastern Europe

Sturm: I purposely didn’t name specifics in order to give story a little bit more of a fable-like quality. But, in my mind, when I was doing it, I was definitely thinking early 2oth century, first decade, Eastern Europe. So it could be in parts of Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, Austria. There’s a lot of different areas it could be, but within that region. And for the most part I think it’s historically plausible. I mean, there’s an emporium, and I’m not quite sure those places existed. But I tried to imagine it and I felt comfortable in that environment. My other historical pieces, which took place in America, those other pieces were really historically plausible–they could have happened. I’m not one hundred percent sure Market Day could have happened. Maybe it could have?

Howard: It’s not that important to the story really?

Sturm: Weather something like Suskin’s Emporium could or couldn’t have happened seemed like a moot point. I didn’t want to be held down by historical accuracy for this piece.

Howard: There’s so much internal monologue in Market Day, and I really liked that. There seems to be real evocation of the inner world through the visuals alone. I’ve heard from other cartoonists that one of the differences between comics and prose is that the prose medium can be much more internal. I tend to push away from that idea. Do you feel comics can be an internal medium, or is it predominantly external?

Sturm: As a visual medium, historically, certainly, I think it has lent itself to more action and movement and external things. But I think we’ve seen in the last decade or so–more than a decade–we’re seeing an exploration of the more subtle uses of the medium, moving inward and creating interior spaces. I think it’s just as capable of doing that as any medium.

Howard: Was that something you wanted to explore in Market Day?

Sturm: I didn’t set out to make an interior piece, but it seemed the appropriate tone to take. It is a more meditative piece, a more reflective piece than some of the other work I’ve done. And that’s basically where I was at, as a creator, when I was working on it.

Howard: Can I ask how long it took you to complete?

Sturm: I think, when I finally made the book my focus of what I wanted to do, maybe two and half years or so? But there were seeds, references I’d collected over a decade ago. Maybe in the early nineties I was looking at photos, and looking at other artists who were drawing at that time. Definitely it was percolating back there, but when I decided that this was going to happen, it took about two and a half years.

Howard: I had read in an interview that you are making an analogy in the supportive merchant who disappears in Market Day to Drawn and Quarterly, to Chris Oliveros, to the idea of a single publisher. It seems very much that what you’re saying is that one single person can have a big effect in a complex, capitalistic world.

Sturm: Oh, absolutely. In my relationship with Drawn and Quarterly I never felt it was solely defined by the bottom line. And I don’t think this is unique to Drawn and Quarterly, there are other publishers out there. And there were people early in my career like that, and that was a huge boost. And to create relationships with people like Chester Brown and Seth, to have their interest in my work and their support, certainly it provides a certain degree of validation, which in turn give you little bit more wind in your sails. It keeps you grounded when it doesn’t seem that anyone really cares. It’s a real struggle to get the work done. That a single person can help someone along in that way is…pretty remarkable. Although Market Day does have a few depressing notes or tones, one of the things I felt was really hopeful about the work is that one person can help somebody shape a personal vision. And I think the mistake that Mendelman really makes in the piece–and maybe he’ll come to realize it–is that the value of art isn’t necessarily whatever the current market value of it happens to be.

Howard: That’s a very clear message: that the rugs become less an art than a product.

Sturm: It is a product as well. Navigating between trying to make a living and art at the same time is one of these timeless struggles.

Howard: I take it then that community support and support from others is something that’s really touched on here. It’s a novella and there’s a fair amount of time spent in the story with the other merchants. So I get the sense that the idea of community, of connecting with others is an important part of being able to do your art.

Sturm: I think it is an important part, to sustain yourself as an artist. Certainly as I’ve gotten older, with children and a mortgage, and a really great day job that I truly love, it makes it harder and harder to carve out that time and space to make the work. I feel there’s real peril for an artist if you don’t carve out that space.
 
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James Sturm

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Market Day




  MARKET DAY reviewed by the New York Times

Updated April 27, 2010


In One Sad Day, an Old World Artisan Confronts a New World

by George Gene Gustines

In “Market Day,” by the cartoonist James Sturm, Mendleman, a Jewish rug maker in Eastern Europe during the early 1900s, experiences a momentous 24 hours. Mendleman, who fashions his wares by hand, realizes change is in the air (cheaply made goods are beginning to rule the day), and one of the many strengths of this graphic novel is its ability to convey the rug maker’s highs and lows during this transition.

Mr. Sturm’s other explorations of times past — whether the American frontier in the early 1800s or a Jewish baseball team in the 1920s — have always made tumultuous events feel personal. “Market Day” is no exception.

The melancholy photographs of shtetl life by Roman Vishniac became Mr. Sturm’s inspiration. And in conducting his research he found echoes of his own family in the cast of characters who inhabited the market stalls of yore. Readers will find their own connection established from the title page, which shows Mendleman (we know only his last name) lying in bed, eyes open with worry, as his wife, Rachel, sleeps soundly. He sets off in the predawn hours with his donkey cart carrying his wares. Rachel is eight months pregnant and remains at home, making dark thoughts his only companion. He fears his wife will die in labor; he imagines her fate if death comes to him; he envisions his newborn reared as a street urchin or in a terrible orphanage.

Mendleman’s somber musings seem capable of paralyzing him. Thankfully, a strong wind blows off his hat and snaps him to attention. He shakes off his foreboding with a familiar coping mechanism. “As I have done since childhood, I compulsively count my footsteps,” he thinks. “It is not unlike weaving — the counting, the measuring. A reassuring rhythm that protects from uncertainty.”

Mr. Sturm’s images — a human step here, a donkey clop there, the turn of the cart’s wheel — are as palpably calming as the regularity of the ritualistic counting.

The splendid artwork in “Market Day” manages to evoke — depending on the scene — wonder or sadness, though the color palette mostly stays muted. Mendleman has the soul and vision of an artist. He constantly observes, absorbs and converts the chaos of life around him into patterns for his rugs. In one early scene, as day begins to break, Mendleman sees “a sliver of pink framed by the gray earth and clouds,” which he imagines, and Mr. Sturm depicts, as a simple rug.

A glimpse into Mendleman’s creative process is found in a two-page spread after he observes the bustling market crowd. Over four panels the people and buildings become less defined and more cartoony, then represented as shapes and silhouettes, then depicted as large swaths of positive-and-negative space. The first three panels could be wonderful tapestries. The final panel, filled with Rorschach-type blobs, might be better suited for a therapist’s office.

Mr. Sturm knows when to let the images speak for themselves. There is a lovely spread with Mendleman crossing a bridge with hints of light as the sun begins to rise. The colors of the afternoon are brighter in a scene of two men sawing wood in a field. The image would be positively pastoral, if not for poor Mendleman slouching along in the distance. A final spread, of the market well after business hours, is desolate, save for Mendleman and a stray dog scavenging in the night.

But “Market Day” is not all doom and gloom. Earlier in the day, when Mendleman runs into Rabbi Soyer, a friend, he beams at the rabbi’s compliment: “My son and I should both study the Talmud with the same devotion and thoughtfulness that you apply to your rugs.”

The men had previously debated when Sabbath begins and wondered about the precise moment of the setting sun. Mendleman divined the answer in a rug, of course, colored black and deep purple. “When the light faded enough, and one could no longer tell the difference between the two colors,” he thinks, “then Sabbath had begun and prayers could be made.” The exchange with the rabbi puts a strut in Mendleman’s step that is delectable.

One can’t help smile when Mendleman succeeds; the drawings show him aglow. And when he fails, the hovering storm clouds are both literal and metaphorical. When disaster strikes, the rug maker finds himself weighed down with unsold goods and despair, and the reader is pulled right along. The market becomes less cheerful. Where earlier there was an airy lightness — children playing, bushels of fresh food and excitement — now there is a heavy darkness, filled with grim realities like a blind, disfigured beggar and an elderly porter barely upright as he struggles with his burden.

Mr. Sturm, with Michelle Ollie, founded the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt. That he is overseeing the next generation of graphic novelists posits an exciting future for the medium, particularly if he can impart his mastery at codas. The ending of “Market Day” is superb in its uncertainty.

As Mendleman resolves, “I will pledge my allegiance, do what is required and pray I do not turn traitor.” The final image perfectly captures his struggle: The sky is bright with possibilities, but his home shows no signs of life.
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James Sturm

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Market Day




The Wall Street Journal interviews JAMES STURM

Updated April 27, 2010


James Sturm: A Cartoonist with an Eye on History

By Jamin Brophy-Warren

Many think of comics as a forward-looking medium primarily concerned with the worlds of super-heroes and space travel. But for some cartoonists, like James Sturm, the past holds as much potential as the future. His works include “Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow” and “James Sturm’s America: God, Gold and Golems.” Several years ago, he co-founded the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. His newest book, “Market Day,” examines the life of an Eastern European rugmaker struggling to sell his wares in the early 20th century. Speakeasy had a talk with Sturm about his book and creating historical fiction:

The Wall Street Journal: You recently decided to quit the Internet and draw about it for Slate. How did that affect your work?

James Sturm: “Market Day” was done for a while so the decision to go offline was during the initial book launch. Part of it was by design. I find myself getting worked up when a new book comes into the world. You get into a frenzy reading reviews and listening to podcasts and a lot of this diminishes the enjoyment of the book coming out. You start with the noblest of intentions and you end up feeling like a door-to-door salesman. There’s so much push to tweet and push your book. Ironically, the attention of the Slate piece gives me a platform that reaches a lot more readers more than anyone could imagine.

How did the idea for the book come about?

You could trace these things to a lot of sources. I always wanted to set the book against Eastern European Jewry. The story is recognizing the dilemma of making a living and making art and how debilitating it can be when they feel like diametrically opposed.

Sounds like the life of a cartoonist.

If you ask an artist especially at a certain age, when you’re younger and you don’t have the same responsibilities with no children or mortgage, they think you’ll live forever. It gets harder and harder to carve out that time to work. The work is so crucial if you’re lucky enough to be cursed to be a writer and an artist. The motivation of the book is being between the two worlds. Sometimes I’ve got to shut down and pick up a kid from school. Other times, the opposite’s true and you’re studying and you’d rather be reading to your kids and hanging out.

Does Eastern Europe have a personal connection for you?

That is where I can trace my ancestry. I love documentary photographs because there’s something very poignant and sad about that time and place. There’s this moment in time that doesn’t exist any more. The photos of Eastern European life seem doubly sad and tragic as that world was obliterated. As a result of having this knowledge of history, you see photos with a veneer of sadness. You see all of these people as victims. That always bugged me that I couldn’t look at these photos without feeling like they were victims. With my work I could reassign another narrative by creating a new world.

Do you think the ending of “Market Day” is dour?

More than few people say it’s bit of a depressing book and I can see that. This is a challenge and I didn’t want to shy away from what it requires and the consequences of pursuing your work. But there’s the role of Finkler, this guy who was a patron. It took one person to encourage this whole group of artisans to make fine work and by developing this craft in a way, it shaped the way they saw the world. They were more cohesive and whole. That’s a very hopeful thought.
 
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James Sturm

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Market Day




  MARKET DAY, BLACK BLIZZARD, and MASTERPIECE COMICS on the Willamette Week favorites list

Updated April 27, 2010


Collect Them All!
Our six favorite books you’ll find at the Stumptown Comics Festival.

by Casey Jarman and Ben Waterhouse

Think of your favorite comic book or graphic novel. Got it? Now think of the book’s creator(s)—what do they look like?

Unless you’re a comics-industry insider—or the book in question is an autobiographical one—that second question is a little harder to answer. And comic-book creators generally like it that way: Unlike actors or musicians, they work in isolation, and their art gets to speak for itself.

Major conventions, then, can be awkward affairs. But the Stumptown Comics Fest is special. In its intimate space, Stumptown feels more like a farmers market for artists than those ugly events we disparagingly call “Cons.” While special guests (the great Paul Pope and Portland favorite Craig Thompson among them this year) abound, it’s a low-key environment that largely keeps the spotlight off of big-name guests and right where it belongs—on the books.

To honor that workmanlike spirit, we’ve chosen six recent works we’re really excited about. Some of the creators—those marked with the icon—will be on hand at Stumptown. Stay cool about that.

Market Day, James Sturm
A lyrical vignette that feels like Samuel Beckett by way of Hergé, Market Day follows an introspective rug-maker who’s trying to balance dreams and responsibility. Sturm’s bulbous, cartoony lines combine with the book’s muted, sepia-toned color scheme to give it a real sense of mood, and its story—while abbreviated—is strong and relatable.

The 120 Days of Simon, Simon Gärdenfors
The most visually striking in Portland/Georgia imprint Top Shelf’s recent Swedish Invasion series, The 120 Days of Simon follows the artist as he travels throughout his home country. The book’s two-panel page design and deceptively cute South Park-ian artwork make it an easy read, and Gärdenfors—kind of an asshole—proves adept at getting into major trouble wherever he goes.

Black Blizzard, Yoshihiro Tatsumi
If you read Tatsumi’s sprawling, 856-page memoir, A Drifting Life, you’ll remember Black Blizzard as one of his early masterpieces. Amazingly, the Hitchcockian 1956 murder mystery novel holds up—Tatsumi’s protagonists—two runaway convicts attached via handcuffs—may be the focus, but it’s his sprawling backgrounds (of snowstorms, cityscapes and circus tents) that really steal the show.

Stumptown, Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth
An easy sell: Portlanders Rucka (writer of Whiteout) and Southworth’s crime drama follows a gambling-addicted P.I. named Dex as she hunts down criminal scum in picturesque Portland locales, from Old Town to the St. Johns Bridge, rendered with heavy shadows and intense splashes of color.

Mercury, Hope Larson
Larson is one of the most innovative artists working in comics today, but she doesn’t flaunt it: At first glance, her stories of adolescent girls confronting change—she definitely has a theme—are engagingly drawn and pleasing to read. But upon closer examination, her art astonishes—every frame appears to be in motion, right down to the speech bubbles, which seem to fly rather than float. Her new novel tells parallel stories of girls in Nova Scotia in 1859 and the present day, with a spooky supernatural touch.

Masterpiece Comics, R. Sikoryak
One of the weirder projects we’ve read recently, this collection by frequent New Yorker cover illustrator Sikoryak mashes up classic literature and classic comics to delightful effect: Crime and Punishment as a Batman adventure; Metamorphosis as Peanuts; Candide as Ziggy; Waiting for Godot as Beavis and Butt-head. This book’s catnip for comics-loving English majors.

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Featured artists

James Sturm
Yoshihiro Tatsumi
R. Sikoryak

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Masterpiece Comics
Market Day




The Portland Mercury reviews MARKET DAY

Updated April 27, 2010


Rug Dealer
Market Day's Grim Look at Art and Commerce

by Alison Hallett

A STOMACH-DROPPING PARABLE crammed into a slim hardback graphic novel, James Sturm's Market Day distills anxieties about art and commerce, supporting a family, and how precarious life in a market economy can be.

The book opens on rug-maker Mendleman, as he hauls his cart of hand-woven rugs to the market to sell—his rugs have "16 ends per inch!," he proudly insists, not 12 ends like other rug makers. On the way, he marvels at the sunrise, tries to imagine using its colors in a rug; and later, mentally translates the clamor of vendors and shoppers into a rug pattern. (Sturm shows off a little on these full-page spreads, allowing the colors and geometries of reality to slowly bleed into Mendleman's rug designs.)

The rug-maker's optimism is shot, though, when he realizes that the vendor to whom he usually sells, a man known for selling quality products, has retired. Suddenly the market for Mendleman's rugs has disappeared—and with it, the means by which he'd planned to support his wife and imminent child.

Market Day is grim but not entirely joyless, and Sturm renders Mendleman's optimism and despair efficiently, in a palette of murky grays, greens, and browns. The ultimate question posed, though, is a heartbreaking one: What happens when the market has no room for beauty and care in craftsmanship—no room for "16 ends per inch"?
 
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  Omnivoracious interviews JAMES STURM

Updated April 27, 2010


Graphic Novel Friday: The Emotional Landscape with James Sturm

by Alex Carr

Cartoonist James Sturm recently stopped in Seattle for an extended stay to promote his new graphic novel, Market Day, and revisit old haunts. Since leaving Seattle in 1996, James has had a busy, varied career, publishing several acclaimed comics, including The Golem's Mighty Swing, which Time magazine named the Best Graphic Novel of 2001. In addition to writing and drawing comics, James also co-founded the Center for Cartoon Studies, a two-year college in White River Junction, Vermont, in 2004. While in Seattle, James was nice enough to share his lunch with me and discuss the inspiration for his latest work, his school, and his recent decision to "quit the Internet."

Amazon.com: Last weekend, Fantagraphics held an event for you and Peter Bagge, and, in your case, it felt like a homecoming. Have you noticed a change in Seattle's comics scene since you left in the mid-to-late 1990s?

James Sturm: Well, of course when I was here, I was in my 20s, and there were a lot of underemployed cartoonists. In fact, we used to joke that you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a cartoonist. There certainly was a feeling that cartooning was unexplored territory; it was wide open--and of course, that [general] feeling was prevalent in Seattle at that time. People were launching Microsoft, internet start-ups, and what-not in the early 1990s. There was that spirit of, "Whoo-hoo! Let's go!" And some of that was directed towards, yeah, becoming a millionaire [laughs] through technology, and some of it was like, "I'm going to make my graphic novel." Maybe I should have hooked my wagon to a different horse [laughs].

But now I'm in my 40s, and there is still that fervent scene out there, but in talking to my students [at the Center for Cartoon Studies], people are saying, "Oh, I'm thinking of moving to Brooklyn or Portland." So I hear that Portland scene, at least for that [cartooning community], is more of what Seattle was like a short time ago. Probably owing to cheaper rent as much as anything.

Amazon.com: When introduced at the Fantagraphics event, it was noted that this was your first full-length work since The Golem's Mighty Swing, which was published almost ten years ago.

James Sturm: Right, in 2001 I did The Golem's Mighty Swing, and since then, I've done a lot of books, but this is the first thing I wrote and drew myself. In that sense, it feels a lot more intimate, more personal. [It was] a little more nerve-wracking because you can't point to anybody else [laughs].

But that said, I wrote Satchel Paige, which is for a YA audience, or at least that's how I think it was marketed, not necessarily how it was written. And then I did Adventures in Cartooning for young readers, and I'm as proud of that as anything I've ever done in my life. It was really fun to work on, and still, like a year later, it's going great guns; a lot of good word-of-mouth on that book. Plus, I got to work with two former students, so that was a really fun experience, collaborating with alumni of Center for Cartoon Studies in a way I hadn't done before.

Amazon.com: Has Market Day been gestating since The Golem's Mighty Swing, or was this a newer idea?


James Sturm: Well, it some ways, the gestation of it is over a decade-and-a-half long, or decades long. I was in The Strand Book Store in New York City, and I bought four or five books: [one by] Roman Vishniac, Alter Kacyzne's Polyn, Lionel Reiss' A World of Twilight. So I had this little stack of books where I always intended to set a graphic novel; I'd always been drawn to that imagery and trying to figure out my relationship to that imagery. When you're looking at Roman Vishniac's photos or Alter Kacyzne's, you don't necessarily see the dignity as much. You see more, like, these are victims, and [in] this world, these people either died in the Holocaust or their world was just wiped away. I wanted to approach the material not [only] through this prism of seeing them as victims. That was part of it.

At one point, my publisher, Drawn and Quarterly--this was years ago--was thinking about doing a line of children's books. So I came up with an idea of a rug weaver, and it was a simple children's book. I'd written some notes--and this was probably 2004, maybe--and they never did that line of books

I was able to revisit all these photos from years ago and start crafting something that was no longer a children’s book but kind of had, in its DNA, aspects of the children’s book. It was a little more fable-like; it wasn’t as dense--a lot of my favorite cartoonists, people like Chris Ware and Seth, they work with these really dense pages of information. I wanted to open it up a little bit. I was very much influenced by printmakers from the 1920s and 30s, and I loved looking at those images and letting each image have its own luster or integrity. And even though my own images do get boiled down a little bit, I feel like that all played into the final look and feel of Market Day as well. I didn’t realize the answer to that question was going to be so long [laughs].

Amazon.com: Early in Market Day, Mendleman walks to the market, and readers are given insight into his creative mind’s eye. He sees images and patterns in the world and turns them into rug weavings. What were you hoping to achieve with this morphing of life into art?

James Sturm: What I wanted to get at was how his discipline and craft really shaped the way he saw the world. Through his art, he was able to take all these various experiences and make them cohesive. I feel like this is what art gives to somebody. To me, that is what being a cartoonist, an artist, is about. Even later in the book, when he talks about his mother passing on, it wasn’t sitting shiva that grounds him; it’s going back to the loom—his art and craft being his spiritual discipline.

Amazon.com: When Mendleman arrives at the market, he finds that the trade dynamic has shifted, and it is not in favor of the craftsman. “Nothing is as it was before.” Was this in response to a trend you’ve noticed in comics? Why tell this story now?

James Sturm: I’ve gotten a lot of nice feedback on the book, which is good. People have noticed that there is a dark, ominous tone to it. But I also saw the book as hopeful in a sense. The Finkler character—before he retired—was a patron, one man who was able to bring together all these craftsmen and help them develop their work and shape their vision. [For one] one person to have the ability to do that, I felt was a very positive message for people who are patrons of the arts, for donors to schools, so in that sense, I think it has a very positive message. [Mendleman’s] dilemma is the dilemma of every artist: trying to make work that feels meaningful and uncompromised, and given the amount of time and effort it take to create that type of work, the financial rewards just aren’t there. There are some writers—God bless them—who are really pursuing a vision, and they also happen to have commercial success--you know, Michael Chabon or [Jonathan] Lethem--but these people are the exceptions, not the rules. I guess in this story, Mendleman starts as the exception and becomes the rule [laughs]. He sees his rugs in the remainder bin.


Amazon.com: Early on and then towards the end, you incorporate two-page spreads that are moody and contemplative. How did you come to weave them in where you did, or was this placement natural?

James Sturm: I was going for a very deliberate pace and trying to capture the ups and downs of any given day. I find that as dramatic as anything: your day’s emotional landscape. If you receive a compliment, you gain a stride in your step, but if somebody bumps into you or gives you an off-hand insult—especially for someone like Mendleman—your mood swings. I was certainly trying to capture the way we move through one day, trying to pace it and leave it open. I think those panels allowed some of the emotion to sink in, allowing the reader to settle in, perhaps.

Amazon.com: My favorite line appears when we first meet Mendleman on his early morning journey to the market. As he walks into the sunrise, his inspiration mounts, and he thinks, “So many of my rugs are born from moments like these.” This felt so truthful. Are there rituals or routines that similarly spur your creativity?

James Sturm: Well…[James pulls out a small black notebook and flips through it.] Most cartoonists have one of these, and you fill it with little doodles or faces, and ideas from things you read. This is it, right? A to-do list, a lyric to a country western song, the shape of somebody’s butt [laughs]. All these things can spin out into the telling of a story, and you don’t know where those things are going to come from.

Amazon.com: In 2004, you co-founded the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. How in the world did this happen?

James Sturm: [Laughs.] A brief bout of insanity. Well, I came out with The Golem’s Mighty Swing in 2001 and was living in Savannah, Georgia, where I was teaching at an art design school. I was burning out a bit, teaching at that school. I had a vision—I hate to use that word—of how I thought a curriculum in school could go, and if I went to another school, it would be a dog-fight to get the resources, because you’re competing with the printing department and the new media department. Or, would I just rather start my own school?

I came from a tradition in comics where there was a self-published, do-it-yourself mentality. If you want to be a published cartoonist, you don’t wait for Marvel or DC to publish you. You draw your comic and you go to Kinko’s, and you put it together and you sell it. I just transferred that mentality to education.

There was one moment where I thought we were going to get some funding, and it fell through. The week before, I was at a comics festival in New York, and I ran into Art Spiegelman. I was telling him about the school, and he said, “Well, if you need any help, just give me a call.” A lot of people say that, but not everyone means it, you know? So, when the funding fell through, I thought, “Oh man, what am I going to do?” I called Art: “Art, remember when you said ‘any time’? Well, how about next week? How about a fundraiser?” [Laughs.] And he was like, “Sure.”

So, he came up, and Garry Trudeau’s been up for a fundraiser to speak to students. Mo Willems is coming up next week, and Charles Burns was just in. We have faculty like Jason Lutes, Stephen Bissette, and that certainly adds a lot of legitimacy. You know, Seth did our first brochure and has been to [the school] like three times now, and Chris Ware’s come through. It really helps to make it into a dynamic place.

Amazon.com: You recently wrote an article for Slate.com where you announced you were quitting the Internet. How is this possible in today’s world that’s so readily tied to online activity? How are you going to do it?

James Sturm: How do you do it? Well, you just do it. As a cartoonist, I’ve always tried to set up my life where I have chunks of time to myself, because you need that. I don’t think I could have done it a few years ago. I never could have done it while starting the school, ever. I certainly don’t mean to shoot the horse I rode in on. I don’t think we can go backwards. I think [the Internet] is absolutely necessary. But I felt like I had to give it up, because I had to detox. It’s really been an eventful ten years: starting the school, having two kids, doing all these books. I think I just needed to unplug. Reboot, so to speak [laughs].

Amazon.com: For how long are you planning to quit?

James Sturm: I’m off for four months. Anything less, and it wouldn’t work, and anything more, I’d be burned at the stake by coworkers. No email, no being online. When people email me, they get an email that says, “Assume I’m not going to read this. Here’s my cell phone number. Call me.”

In some ways, Market Day was the reason I went offline. I can get obsessive sometimes when I’m online, and I knew if I had a book out, I’d be looking at my Amazon ranking, and I’d be re-reading interviews, and, you know, “What does Chewbacca45 think of my book?” Like Mendleman, every one of those things would be either an ego puff, or a little arrow. As I’ve gotten older and done a few books now, I’ve realized how fleeting this moment is…and by not being online, I feel like I can enjoy this very brief window. I feel like I have a healthier relationship with the book.
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Radio interview with JAMES STURM on The Take Away

Updated April 21, 2010


The Unconnected Life: James Sturm on Living Without the Web

For this week's tech segment, we talk with esteemed graphic novelist James Sturm about his attempts to live without Web access.
Sturm is the author of the graphic novel “Market Day,” and the director of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. After realizing that his hours spent online every day were robbing him of real-life experiences, he recently decided to give up the Internet for four months, and blog (in his own way, on paper) for Slate.com about the experience.
We talk with him about how the web-free life is going, and what lessons he’s learned in the first three weeks of his experiment.

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  The Stranger reviews MARKET DAY

Updated April 21, 2010


Cartooning About Art and Commerce

by PAUL CONSTANT

Now is the time for an admission: Though I've never met him, James Sturm is a cofounder of The Stranger. He was the first artistic director this paper ever had, and he was responsible for our publishing some of the world's best cartoonists: Chris Ware, Jim Woodring, Jason Lutes, and Ellen Forney were all recruited by Sturm.

Since he left The Stranger, Sturm has ascended to a comfortable level of cartoonist fame. His Jewish-baseball-history comic novella The Golem's Mighty Swing is one of the best comics of the last decade, and he's currently on Slate, where he's publishing cartoon dispatches about not using the internet for three months.

Sturm's newest book, Market Day, is a short, bittersweet story about an Eastern European rug weaver named Mendleman at the beginning of the 20th century who learns that he'll no longer be able to support his new family by selling his creations. While the message—that life is a series of compromises for artists, a battle between craft and reality and eating and starvation—is nothing new, Sturm's circumstances make this book especially personal.

Five years ago, Sturm helped found the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. It's one of the world's first intensive schools for cartoonists, and despite the playful name, which conjures delightful images of eager students in lab coats surrounding a Peanuts strip submerged in water and connected to electrodes, the center is becoming an internationally recognized institution. Teaching at the school has helped Sturm better communicate about and with cartooning.

Over the phone, Sturm speaks with the clear and precise language of a teacher. He admits that Market Day could be "an odd message to be sending to my students," but he shrugs the idea off: "Maybe it's a cautionary tale for the people who are just in it for the money." (You can find a complete transcript of my interview with Sturm at thestranger.com/books.)

Whatever the message, Market Day is a sublime bit of cartooning. Passages of large, postcard-sized panels stretch Mendleman's long walk to and from the marketplace into a picturesque journey. He looks into the yellow ribbon of the rising sun on the horizon and sees inspiration for a new pattern. And as he gossips among the merchants and craftsmen at the market, the panels break into smaller and smaller pieces, cracking Mendleman's simple, contemplative world into a complex web of information. The book is a masterpiece of craftsmanship.

Sturm will be giving a free talk at Fantagraphics Books (1201 S Vale St, 658-0110) on Saturday, April 17, at 6:00 p.m., along with local cartoonist Peter Bagge (whose newest book, Other Lives, is the best work he's produced in well over a decade). It's far and away the most exciting reading of the week.
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Seven Days talks to JAMES STURM about MARKET DAY and giving up the internet

Updated April 20, 2010


Cartoon School Cofounder Markets New Book, Goes Offline

by Megan James

As Vermont-based cartoonist James Sturm’s new graphic novel, Market Day, begins, the sun hasn’t risen yet, a bearded man has just woken up, and his wife is still in bed. The man slices bread, pours coffee, buttons his coat and steps into the yard, bleary-eyed and slouched. Those few first panels have no text, but they set the mood for the rest of the novel: quiet, reflective and a little dark.

Market Day tells the story of Mendleman, a Jewish rug maker and soon-to-be father in early-1900s Eastern Europe, who discovers he can no longer make a living from his art. On a trip to the market one day, he learns that the owner of a distinctive shop — and sole patron of his work — has retired without warning, leaving the business in the hands of his son-in-law, who is only interested in cheaply manufactured merchandise.

Mendleman, a proud artisan, spends the rest of the day trying to sell his handwoven rugs elsewhere, swallowing his pride and coming to terms with a new reality: He may have to give up his art.

“Art shaped the way Mendleman saw the world; it forged a community for him,” Sturm says in a phone interview. “I thought of the book as a cautionary tale, too — how critical it is to keep making work. It’s the thing that helps you bring the world together, understand the world. When you stop making art,” he adds, “there is a part of you that starts giving up those things that are fundamental to living a healthy life.”

A lot has happened for Sturm in the nearly 10 years since the release of his graphic novel The Golem’s Mighty Swing. He moved to Vermont and had two children, cofounded the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction and worked on various collaborative projects.

Sturm has long been fascinated with Eastern European Jewish life before World War II. Over the last 15 years or so he has collected images from that time that infuse his work. For Market Day, Sturm was particularly influenced by Russian American photographer Roman Vishniac, famous for his intimate portraits of Jews in the villages and ghettos of Eastern Europe in the years leading up to the Holocaust, and by Alter Kacyzne, another Russian photographer whose portraits capture Jewish life in Poland after World War I.

In Market Day, Sturm says, he wanted to avoid showing his characters through the prism of the Holocaust tragedy, because “There’s something about that that robs these people of a certain dignity.” But that’s not to say the story isn’t bleak at times. “Even before the Holocaust, it was no picnic for the Jews in the settlements,” Sturm says.

Still, he holds on to a sense of lightheartedness even when Mendleman’s fate seems grim. In addition to a few great jokes peppered into the story, Sturm’s drawing style keeps the novel from feeling too heavy. He manages to marry the solemn intimacy of those Eastern European photos with the spare, clean style of one of his favorite comics, “Little Lulu,” which he still reads with his children.

“It’s kind of a struggle to bring those two things together, in a way, because they are just so far apart aesthetically,” he notes. “But I think the book itself is about trying to reckon polarizing influences, making a living versus making art. Up until this eventful day, [Mendleman] lived a kind of charmed life: Making a living and making art were one and the same for him. This day those two things kind of come apart.”

Whether they come apart forever is left a mystery.

“At the end, he’s kind of saying he is giving up his art, when he says to [his friends], ‘I’m going to sell my loom,’” Sturm says. “But his friends know him better than that.”

Wonder what Sturm’s friends are saying about his recent decision to give up the Internet? In a cartoon essay published in Slate last Wednesday, he explains his admittedly ambivalent resolution to slow his life down. The irony did not escape him, Sturm wrote, that he will be “documenting the no-fi experience with words and pictures” … on a blog. Check Slate every couple of weeks for a new post. Otherwise, Sturm can be reached via snail mail c/o The Center for Cartoon Studies, P.O. Box 125, White River Junction, VT 05001.
 
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  MARKET DAY mentioned in The American Jewish World

Updated April 20, 2010


James Sturm illustrates bad old days in the shtetl

BY M.S.

In his graphic novel, Market Day (Drawn & Quarterly), James Sturm illustrates a day in the life of Mendleman, a rug weaver who struggles to sell his quality wares in a marketplace that no longer needs such handcrafted goods. Set in an early 20th century eastern European shtetl, the story of Mendleman’s uncertain fate, with a pregnant wife waiting at home, resonates in our angst-ridden times of economic downturn and deprivation. Sturm is the author of The Golem’s Mighty Swing and edits a series of graphic novels about the lives of famous Americans. — M.S.


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Zeek calls MARKET DAY "a masterpiece in miniature."

Updated April 20, 2010



James Sturm's Market Day

by Paul Buhle

It is difficult to think of a more quietly influential figure in North American comic art today than James Sturm. Co-founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont, also the founder of the National Association of Comics Art Educators, he is hard at work shaping the next generations of artists.

Sturm is still known best, outside comics educational circles, for the hard-won beauty of his own books, few in number (he is a painstakingly slow worker) but dauntingly detailed, plotted and drawn. The Golem’s Mighty Swing, a novelette considered one of the most influential volumes marking (along with Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home), the turn of a new century in making comic art acceptable as an art, treated a traveling Jewish baseball team of the 1920s. The teammates—including one Black slugger, their own Golem–face anti-Semitism, of course, among other, more personal conflicts and assorted woes, but the genius of the work was the care that Sturm took panel-by-panel, especially (in my view) with the human gesture.

The artist followed this volume up, several years later with James Sturm’s America: God, Gold and Golems, including a reprint of the novelette. Market Day is his first effort at pre-emigration Jewish history, and reminds us at once of Yiddish-American stories and novels about the Old World nineteenth century, seeking to recapture the sense of embattled community but also the disruption of centuries’-old lifestyles by the emergence of industrialism and urbanization. This was, after all, the era when youngsters turned secular and left the shtetl for the city, while a different kind of modernization sought to stamp out what was considered religious backwardness and Yiddish with it, failing miserably on both counts.

Market Day, Sturm’s first color book, tells us nothing by way of prose narration, not the region (but it must be Eastern Europe) nor the date (but it looks like the second half of the nineteenth century), nor even the particular market town to which the title refers. He chooses not to offer those kinds of hints at particularities, focusing instead upon the visual detail and the suggested mental world of the protagonist.


He is for sure an everyman, young husband with a pregnant wife, fretful of many things including some tragic accident to himself, bringing disaster to wife (driven to exploitation and perhaps sexual abuse by the authorities) and child. So he goes to market, on foot with his donkey and wagon behind, bearing the fruit of his labor: rugs.

Sammy Harkham, younger than Sturm and best noted as a comics editor/publisher, chooses occasionally to depict a mezuza maker in the shtetl, the prototype folk artist of the Jewish artist in our own time; surely, Sturm’s rugmaker is a similar prototype, the more so because he is an exacting artist. He believes supremely in his skill.

Strum’s everyman, the artist, also deeply enjoys the sociality of the market town, rejoicing as soon as he enters the marketplace at the abundance of fruit, vegetables, candy, boots and all kinds of goods, the variety of faces (all apparently Jewish), the rough joking of fellow tradesmen, and evident among these earthly pleasures, the dignity of the rabbis.

But times are not good. His favorite buyer has been replaced, prices are down (along with quality) and from our protagonists, no rugs are needed at all. Now everything in the market town looks grim and he spends his last coins futilely, on a fortune teller. Now, “noting is as it was before,” and he travels onward to a wholesaler, a little slice of the nearly modern world of business.

It would be unfair to the reader to go any further with this plot summary, but the artful depiction of this Jewish angst, the mixture of community and alienation, the reality that commercial life among fellow Jews can be (in this generation, at any rate) as cruel as persecution by the Gentiles and the distance between the shtetl and the market town are all seen as if never before…at least never in comic art. At 88 pages Sturm’s book may be small, but it is a masterpiece in miniature.
 
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  Techland gives MARKET DAY a beautiful review

Updated April 13, 2010


Emanata: A Sense of Where You Are

by Douglas Wolk

James Sturm's splendid new graphic novel Market Day also makes a great deal of its sense of place and time, although it doesn't specify exactly when and where it's set--it's a fable, rather than a piece of invented history--and Sturm takes a radically different approach from Weaver in drawing its settings. It's about a weaver named Mendleman, evidently an Eastern European Jew sometime around a century ago, going to the market to sell the beautiful rugs he's been making. He's a slow, painstaking worker who's constantly imagining how to turn the experiences that affect him most powerfully into abstract designs, woven sixteen ends per inch. The market, on the other hand, has no use for beautiful, expensive, handmade things, and Mendleman discovers that the forces that made it possible for him to survive as an artist have suddenly ceased to function the way they used to. (In other words, Market Day could just as well be a story about a modern-day artist and Walmart.)
The book's setting is circumscribed by a few hours' walk, and the sort of technology its characters care about most might be a well-made pair of boots. Sturm draws houses as a few straight lines, as simple as wooden planks; a field is an expanse of empty space punctuated by a few scribbles of grass (the sort Charles Schulz used to draw in "Peanuts"), or the silhouetted brambles of a bush. A grandfather clock made by the hand of a master is drawn with perhaps a dozen strokes of Sturm's pen--Mendleman understands its craftsmanship, so Sturm doesn't have to prove it to us. There are a few big, full-bleed, two-page establishing shots in Market Day, which also underscore the book's quiet tone: a man and his mule and cart silently crossing a stone bridge just before dawn, a flat field where two men are sawing wood, a few dingy market stalls at night. Mostly, they show us space and color, the openness of the world where Mendleman lives and the way the rise and fall of the sun sets the pace of his days.

That simplicity is the link between Sturm's art and his protagonist's. One of the book's most thrilling passages comes early on: as Mendleman strolls through the marketplace, he imagines how its visual chaos could "all come together as a single rug." Over the next few pages, Sturm simplifies the scene before his weaver's eyes, makes it symmetrical, turns it into a geometrical design (with its black areas drawn line by tiny line, like a rug's threads, rather than simply filled in), and then follows Mendleman's consciousness as he returns to what's actually in front of his eyes. The weaver's wife, he says, "teases me that I live more fully in the world I imagine than the world I live in."
They're the same, of course--the one he imagines is the one he lives in, transformed by his prayerful art. Everything we can see of Mendleman's little world is a place, real or hypothetical, turned into a few carefully placed lines, a matrix of colors as evocative as a weaver's design, a composition that can be glanced at for a moment like a rug on the floor or lingered over with the care of a rabbi contemplating the Talmud.



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MARKET DAY receives an A- from the A.V. Club

Updated April 13, 2010


COMICS PANEL
April 9, 2010

By Zack Handlen, Jason Heller, Noel Murray, Leonard Pierce, And Tasha Robinson

There’s a sense of foreboding in James Sturm’s new graphic novel Market Day (Drawn And Quarterly) that borders on the overwhelming, but Sturm is such a gifted artist and storyteller that the book never becomes an outright wallow. Set in an unnamed European community in the early 20th century, Market Day follows a young rug-maker named Mendleman as he carts his wares to town, leaving his pregnant wife behind. Sturm conveys Mendelman’s thoughts in first-person, real-time monologue, and even when Mendelman lies to himself about his prospects, Sturm allows his hero’s posture and the darkening skies above him to reveal what’s really going on. Market Day is a meditation on the commercial concerns of artists, and how the industrial revolution made some craftsmen obsolete too soon, robbing them of their dignity. But it’s also about the joys and pains of creation itself, and how that sometimes trumps the need to make money. The book ends in an ambiguous place, but not an entirely hopeless one. Artists and art-lovers alike will rally around any glimmer… A-
 
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  The Burlington Free Press discusses MARKET DAY

Updated April 6, 2010


Book note: 'Market Day' explores timely themes

by Modisane Kwanza

The setting is Old World Europe, but the themes are timeless and topical in cartoonist James Sturm’s new graphic novel.

Rug-maker Mendleman is forced to confront his place in a new economy, one that seems to favor cheaply manufactured merchandise over his hand made, well-crafted product.

Not only has his livelihood been threatened, the rugs also define Mendleman making the struggle that much more personal.

Already on edge as an expectant father, Mendleman arrives at the market to find a significant change. The frayed edges of his existence really start to un ravel after another stunning revelation. We follow Mendleman on his introspective journey as he questions his approach as a craftsman, and his roles as a father and husband.

Why does the artist create? How much can one day change an entire life? In what or who should we place our faith? These questions all arise on one trip to the market.
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Torontoist reviews MARKET DAY

Updated April 6, 2010


A Look at Market Day, James Sturm’s New Graphic Novel

by Dave Howard

James Sturm is one of a handful of cartoonists who, in the 1990s, helped build the foundations of a system to support and grow a better cartoonist and, hopefully, a more appreciative comics-reading public. First Sturm founded the National Association of Comics Art Educators (NACAE) in order to help facilitate educators who wanted to teach comics as a legitimate art form in their classrooms or to use comics as a way to teach other studies. Then he co-founded the very successful Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont (a short eight-hour drive from Toronto), a college for cartoonists to learn to express their graphic work in personal, innovative ways.

During this time Sturm was also able to publish, among other things, three award-winning novellas and recently a book on how to draw comics. This year he is releasing an 88-page novella called Market Day, a quiet story about Mendleman, a pensive artisan in turn-of-the-20th-century rural Europe who is turned inside out when he finds that the single outlet who sells his expensive quality rugs has unexpectedly changed owners and is no longer willing to stock his wares. As a nervous expectant father without the calming influence of his wife on this visit, Mendleman quickly falls into despair at this turn of events, and the welcome excitement of the market turns sinister.

As the day turns to night, he is invited by some derelicts to drink with them under a bridge. One old man around the fire is referred to as a poet, and as he’s called on to recite a poem for the rest of the men, they begin to shout him down with obscenities. Mendleman leaves them, drunk, and wanders into the night, consumed by monstrous fantasies of leaving his pregnant wife, for which he is ashamed.

As daylight reemerges, the real life that is waiting for Mendleman is summed up so eloquently in the last few pages: he is a citizen of two nations suddenly at war, facing instability in his passion for making art and an impending need for security for his family.

There is an excellent interview here in which Sturm reveals some of the allegorical threads in the story, the main illustrating how the removal of one seemingly insignificant person can have a big and cascading effect on the lives of so many others. Sturm is drawing a parallel here to his own comics-championing publisher, Chris Oliveros. One can easily see a correlation between the rug maker and the cartoonist, but we also see, as in Sturm’s previous work, a larger commentary on how market forces impact the lives of individuals.

It’s interesting to note the unreliability of the main character – one moment all is well, and the next the world is against him. His moodiness is established at the beginning of the book, and when we are warned that his wife is not coming with him to the market, we are set up to expect a problem that will play out later. Mendleman lacks his partner’s calming influence, and he is tossed to and fro at the whim of his needy and unstable emotions. That a small business owner like himself has only one real client, and that because of the not uncommon situation where such a client disappears, Mendleman goes on to make such rash decisions in a single day, belying his foolishness.

The book cover notes that the protagonist/artisan’s inability to find work is a sign of the beginning of industrialized modernity. This is true, but I also found it interesting that Mendleman is quite a bad business person. His whole livelihood is based on one merchant. That he later decides after one day – one day of not selling his rugs – that he is going to give it all up left me feeling the protagonist is also at fault. There’s more going on here than just the fall-out of a changing society.

Sturm’s style is economic and simple – there isn’t a great deal of play with texture or foreground/background relationships. Sturm gives us a single point of view and focus, as if we are watching a play. Movement always goes left to right, even when Mendleman travels back home. But what is drawn is very expressive. Sturm’s style has evolved to use body language and objects to convey the characters’ feelings: Mendleman’s hat, the way it sits way high up at the back of his crown; the folds of a leather boot on a merchant’s table; the different caricature drawings of minor characters, with pushed-in noses, long faces, round eyes as dots, all very simple, but evocative. The economic use of colour stands out. There is a fantastical atmosphere – despite the starkness of the drawing style, there is a sense of the unreal.

Interestingly, Sturm says he started this work with the idea of making it a children’s book. It’s only 88 pages, and he’s taken a long time to write it, but with running the School of Cartooning in Vermont, teaching courses, helping students, and helping raise his own two children, how else could he have got it done?

Thank goodness Sturm refers to Market Day a cautionary tale. His merchant has so many others depending on his, and when he disappears, so many people are effected. We, too, would all be a lot worse off if Sturm were to abandon us.
 
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  Tablet interviews JAMES STURM

Updated April 6, 2010


Art Market

Graphic novelist James Sturm turns his attention to a struggling Eastern European rug maker

by Vox Tablet

With his graphic-novel trilogy James Sturm’s America, comic-book artist James Sturm gained a devoted following for his skillful storytelling, sharp eye, and deft hand. The books examined 18th- and 19th-century America through the lens of religious revivalists, desperate gold miners, and a scrappy team of Jewish (and presumed to be Jewish) baseball players. Now, in Market Day, Sturm imagines Jewish life in industrializing Europe, following 24 hours in the life of Mendelman, a highly skilled rug maker who confronts economic changes that might destroy his livelihood—and with it, the pleasure he takes in seeing the world through his craft. Influenced by Art Spiegelman and R. Crumb, among others, Sturm is not only a cartoonist but also the director and co-founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. He spoke to Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry about his introduction to shtetl life, his grim (or, he argues, not so grim) choice of subject matter, and his Center’s spiritual founder, Inky Solomon.

(click on the link below to hear the interview)




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The Oregonian declares MARKET DAY the "best graphic novel, to date, of 2010"

Updated March 23, 2010


Graphic Novel Review: 'Market Day'

by Steve Duin

We barely glimpse the face of the wife, eight months pregnant, that Mendleman leaves on market day, his cart filled with rugs, his heart with dread. We never get comfortable in the "sacred space" of the homeland he abandons as he points his horse into the darkness and puts his shoulder to the wind.

And so it is that we never know how securely Mendleman is anchored as he trudges into the grim dawn of a day that will test his endurance, his faith and his soul.

Market Day -- a James Sturm epiphany from Drawn & Quarterly -- is a memorable graphic novel that follows a man down the thin line between lost and found. Mendleman is a craftsman who still believes that "something as common as a rug can indeed embody the gifts and miracles of God -- the first steps of one's child, the moment Sabbath begins ...."

"When is the precise moment of the setting sun? So I made a rug weaving together black and deep purple. When the light faded enough, and one could no longer tell the difference between the two colors, then Sabbath had begun and prayers could be made."

But on this market day, the sun seems to be setting on everything Mendleman holds holy. At A. Finkler & Sons, "a shrine to all things well made," Mr. Finkler has retired and his son-in-law, the new owner, insists the shop has all the rugs they need. When he marches an hour down the road to Suzkin's Emporium, he discovers store room upon store room of furniture and clocks and, yes, rugs, that men devoted their lives to, piled in dark, cramped corners. There is, suddenly, no market and no future for his craft and his passion. Mendleman is surrounded, instead, by the lottery ticket seller, the blind, disfigured beggars, the fortune tellers and the most sordid temptations, and there is no certainty that he can find his way home.

Sturm illuminates the rug maker's exile and his odyssey with sobering eloquence, and the detailing of the book reminds us that Drawn & Quarterly still cares about quality, even if Finkler's son-in-law doesn't. This is the best graphic novel, to date, of 2010, and Portland comics fans will have two opportunities to talk to Sturm about it: at Powell's Books on April 22 and at the Stumptown Comics Fest the following weekend.
 
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  PW Gives Market Day a Starred Review!

Updated March 16, 2010


★Market Day James Sturm. Drawn & Quarterly, $21.95 (96p) ISBN 978-1-897299-97-5

Cartoonist and educator Sturm turns in a tightly woven graphic novella about a shtetl craftsman whose life and livelihood shatter against the rising industrial behemoth of the early 20th century. Mendleman is a nervous rug weaver with a child on the way. His devotion to his craft brings him to the brink of art, but when he suddenly loses his major client to modernization, he finds himself, effectively, patronless. Suddenly a castaway amid economic forces that render his virtues meaningless, he collapses as his previously unnamable anxieties find specific and destructive form. Sturm's tale comprises a day's cycle, and the magnitude of Mendleman's radical descent must sometimes be stated or inferred. But most of the book's important details are effectively portrayed as part of the quotidian warp and woof of life's patterns and relationships. Sturm has infused his reliably disciplined storytelling style with slow pacing and spare graphics, but some bravura sequences give the story impact. Although the details of rural Eastern European Jewish life at the turn of the century ring true, the book is less rooted in a specifically explicated setting than some of Sturm's previous historical fictions, allowing Mendleman's dilemma to function as a broader metaphor for the perpetual struggle between independent creativity and impersonal market forces. (Apr.)
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Newsarama interviews JAMES STURM

Updated March 16, 2010


JAMES STURM Explores the Life of An Artist in MARKET DAY

by Michael C. Lorah

With his busy schedule at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, any new comic from James Sturm is always good news. He's won awards and acclaim for The Golem's Mighty Swing, Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules, Adventures in Cartooning and Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow.

His latest book, recently/soon to be released from Drawn & Quarterly, is Market Day, a chronicle of a day in the life of a Jewish rug weaver in Europe shortly after the turn of the Twentieth Century.

We caught Sturm between classes to discuss Market Day and the fascination with the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Newsarama: James, give us a quick snapshot of what Market Day is about?

James Sturm: Market Day is about a rug weaver, who travels to a market. The book follows him through the course of a single day. Um... he tries to – boy, I need to get better at describing the book before it comes out... I should just read the back of the book. Yeah, a day in the life of a rug weaver in Europe in the early 1900s, and the book focuses on this character trying to reconcile his own artistic pursuits with his need to make a living.

Nrama: Nicely played. And where did the basic idea for Market Day come from?

Sturm: Part of it is just living the life of an artist, trying to make work that is meaningful, and sustain you while earning a living at the same time. When those things are at odds, you can really feel torn apart.

Nrama: Can you tell us a little bit more about the protagonist of Market Day?

Sturm: He’s about to have a child, which certainly ratchets up the pressure in terms of his feeling that he has to become a provider. He is a dreamy character, like a lot of artists are. The discipline and craft that he has honed while making his work has shaped the way he sees the world.

Nrama: The rug weaver is Jewish, correct?

Sturm: Yeah, and the book feels like a Jewish folktale. He leaves his shtetl and goes to a bustling marketplace among the rabbis, longcoats, merchants, beards and shawls. You can smell the Gefilte fish in the air.

Nrama: You’ve explored bias against Jews in The Golem’s Mighty Swing and examined pre-industrial life in Above and Below. What makes pre-industrial life from the vantage point such fertile creative ground for you?

Sturm: I don’t think it’s necessarily the specific era. Not working in the present gives me a healthy distance from myself. With all my books, I’m usually working through certain questions and issues and if I set them in the present, it would be a little too close for comfort and I’d be wrestling with issues of how to portray myself. How to fictionalize myself. But when they take place in another era, whether the early 1900s or the year 3000, it gives me a little bit more distance in terms of figuring out the story I want to tell while helping me get beyond myself.

Nrama: And the character being Jewish, like the cast of The Golem’s Mighty Swing, is that another aspect that comes through from your life?

Sturm: I guess I just didn’t want to run away from the Judaism as a knee-jerk reaction, because I happen to be Jewish. When I started writing this piece I briefly considered setting it in an African or Turkish marketplace. But at the end of the day, I can’t run away from this connection that I feel toward my own history. When I was looking at old photos that I used as reference, like photographer Roman Vishniac, they struck such a familiar and intense chord in me; I looked at the people at the market stalls and the young boys studying and the girls sewing, and I recognized in those photos family members. And when I say family members, I don’t mean my great, great aunt; more in the way somebody smiled or the shape of a fingernail reminded me of my family. There is an added layer of resonance setting it where I did.

Nrama: No, I understand totally. As you’ve written more stories set in the pre-industrial history of America, does the research become easier, or does each project have its own hurdles?

Sturm: Well, this book takes place in Europe. I don’t think it becomes easier. No. No, each book is its own little nightmare. It was very exciting having it done. I just received an advanced copy and I’m pretty pumped. It’s incredibly thrilling to see it printed and come together; it feels very rewarding because these things are a bear to produce and it’s only more difficult as you get older with the added responsibilities of work and family. There is so much time and energy invested in a book and the rewards in the marketplace are meager. Even the amount of time a book isn’t ignored is so fleeting so I’m enjoying this brief window while it lasts!

I am especially excited with this book because it really came together as a book. I’ve seen it as a .pdf and proofed the colors, text, and art countless times and seeing it on the screen is one thing but after working through the production concerns (and I was lucky enough to work with Tom Devlin on this) and turning in the In Design file to the printer I pray that all these elements of the book, the drawings, the size of the book, the stock of the paper, all these countless little decisions that go into making a decent book somehow all coalesce and become greater than the sum of the parts. Right now, I’m really happy with the way the book looks and feels, and at this point, whatever happens with it is almost gravy.

Nrama: Your last couple books, Satchel Paige and Adventures in Cartooning, were created in collaboration, so this is your first full-length, self-illustrated book since Golem. In no way to discount the contribution of your past collaborators, but is there a satisfaction in having completed your vision by your own hand?

Sturm: Oh, absolutely. The work feels much more intimate. You feel much more vulnerable in presenting it to the world too. If the book sucks there’s only one reason— me! Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of the other work that I did but the collaborations are a different beast. When you’re handcrafting every panel and making every decision there’s a special satisfaction that goes along with that.

Nrama: And on the art vs. commerce theme, how’s the CCS doing these days?

Sturm: CCS is doing great. We have our fifth class in right now, so we’ve recruited five full classes. We’re at record enrollment; the faculty is firing on all cylinders. We’re at a really high level in terms of students, so yeah, no complaints.

Nrama: What’s next for you?

Sturm: I have a couple things in the hopper. One will be released this fall. I’m editing with Brandon Elston a collection of drawings by Denys Wortman. He was an artist from first half of the twentieth century. It’s called Denys Wortman’s New York, and it’s drawings of the city. That’ll be coming out from Drawn & Quarterly too.

I’m also working on four books that are follow-ups to Adventures in Cartooning: Adventures in Opposites, Adventures in Color, Adventures in Bedtime, and Adventures in Counting. These are children’s books, 24 pages, still in a cartoon format. But it’s the same team, me, Alexis Frederick-Frost and Andrew Arnold; it’s kind of like the three musketeers there. We’re all in it together; it’s not even something that I could do without either of them. I’m also editing a book on Helen Keller with a very talented young cartoonist named Joe Lambert. This book will really drop some jaws. All those things are brewing, and a couple other projects that are a little too early to talk about.
 
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  The Jewish Press reviews MARKET DAY

Updated March 9, 2010


Unraveling Jewish Threads: James Sturm's Graphic Novel Market Day

by Menachem Wecker

Greek and Roman mythology envisioned the fates -- the Moirae or the Parcae -- as spinners of thread. Clotho (Nona) wove life's threads; Lachesis (Decima) measured; and Atropos (Morta) cut. To the Greeks and Romans, the cosmos was artfully woven by deities, but was also unstable and liable to fray or to unwind piece by piece. Given the Greco-Roman gods' tendencies to act like children, the pattern of life was particularly chaotic.

In Judaism we understand that God weaves the various strands of life together. Many readers will recall the famous story of the heretic who approached Rabbi Akiva asking for proof that God created the world. Rabbi Akiva counters with his own question: "Who made your cloak?" The heretic is forced to admit there was an artist involved in the manufacture. By way of theological induction, Rabbi Akiva argues the same could be said of the world, which implies God the Weaver.

In its examination of the increasingly difficult life of an Eastern European Jewish weaver in an early 1900s shtetl, James Sturm's new graphic novel Market Day (April, 2010) is part of a larger religious and literary tradition of examining the intersection of faith and the loom. But Sturm's bleak narrative is unique in its introduction of a sort of "reader response theory" into the mix.

In Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost (Harvard UP, 1967), Stanley Fish, Davidson-Kahn distinguished university professor of humanities and law at Florida International University, argues that John Milton intended readers of Paradise Lost (1667) to undergo an experience of reading that paralleled Adam's experience. Readers, according to Fish, discover themselves unconsciously sympathizing with Satan's character, and upon realizing their "sin," they (like Adam) seek to repent. Readers don't passively read about Adam's story so much as they "experience" it -- thus the theory of the reader's response.

Sturm offers readers the same sort of close identification with his character Mendleman. Mendleman is a master rug-maker, who leaves his eight-month pregnant wife Rachel at home while he travels to the market to hawk his woven wares. Echoing what is doubtless a common sentiment among artists who spend most of their time in the studio, Mendleman observes, "For one who spends the majority of his time working in solitude, the market is intoxicating."

Although he enjoys the anonymity that the market offers -- a drastic change from the prying neighbors' eyes and ears in a small village -- Mendleman also likes meeting up with acquaintances like Rabbi Soyer. Sporting a new pair of eyeglasses, the rabbi observes, "My son and I should both study the Talmud with the same devotion and thoughtfulness that you apply to your rugs."

It turns out that Mendleman's rugs have helped the rabbi and his son in their religious observance. One particular rug he made of black and deep purple helps the rabbi determine when the Sabbath starts; when he cannot distinguish between the two colors it is dark enough for the Sabbath to begin. (This seems to be an adaptation of Berachot 9B, where one can tell when to say a morning prayer based on one's ability to differentiate between blue and white wool.)

"Something as common as a rug," Mendleman continues, "can indeed embody the gifts and miracles of God -- the first steps of one's child, the moment Sabbath begins, or the glorious bustle of the market day." One is reminded of the women who spun the goat hairs for the Tabernacle in Exodus 35:26 with "wise hearts."

Unfortunately for Mendleman, if God resides also in rugs, the divine does not sell. The specialty shop that has sold Mendleman's rugs in the past -- the sort of shop every artist hopes for, where the man behind the counter has such a discerning eye that the artist confuses him with a critic -- is under new ownership. The new management is a businessman who is more interested in lucrative kitsch than art that will stick to the shelves, so Mendleman needs to choose between settling for a cheaper price for his rugs and returning home without any sales.

But seen through Fish's reader response theory, even as Mendleman loses his clientele and his patron-critic, he gains a new set of viewers for his work: Sturm's readers. Sturm draws Mendleman's experiences in the marketplace and his frustrations not only from a removed, objective perspective, but also through Mendleman's perspective. On several occasions, Sturm shows the rugs Mendleman is imagining as he looks at the rising sun or the busyness of the marketplace. Even if Mendleman's rugs fail to sell, the graphic novel is perhaps his greatest work. (Unfortunately, the advanced reader's copy of the book I received is black-and-white, but it cautions, "Please note that final book will be full color.")

Sturm is also a master of suggestion. On the first page, as Mendleman is leaving his house before dawn to head to the market, Sturm shows the mezuzah filling one cartoon frame. Although Mendleman does not appear in the frame, Sturm suggests Mendleman reaching out his hand to touch the mezuzah and then to kiss his finger in reverence. I find it interesting that this implication is probably lost on readers who are not familiar with what a mezuzah is, so perhaps Sturm has an intended, initiated Jewish audience. Needless to say, this is a rare and risky sort of move from a publisher like Drawn & Quarterly.

Although I do look forward to seeing the final color version, I suspect I may end up preferring the black and white version in the end. A quick glance on the publisher's website reveals a PDF version of some of the colored pages, which are effective mostly because they rely on very little color. Mendleman's world is too dreary to admit too much color. And in the black-and-white version, his masterful rugs become more ironic or Absurdist, almost like the emperor's new clothes. Could there be a better metaphor for the struggles of the shtetl than a rug maker, so proud of the gorgeous detail of his black, white and gray rugs?

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Booklist reviews MARKET DAY

Updated February 24, 2010


Market Day. By James Sturm.

by Gordon Flagg

The timeless dilemma of balancing artistic integrity and the dictates of the marketplace is addressed with compassion and sensitivity in this recounting of an eventful 24 hours in the life of a rug maker in eastern Europe in the early 1900s. Carting his lovingly handcrafted rugs to town, Mendleman discovers that the shop that carried his wares has been taken over by a new, bottom-line-oriented owner who stocks only cheaply made merchandise. With the disappearance of his patron, Mendleman’s world is upended. His only recourse is to sell his rugs for a pittance to a grand new emporium, the Wal-Mart of its age. Although he must accept the insult for the survival of his young family, the blow drives the sensitive artist to the breaking point. Sturm is Mendleman’s ideal champion. For nearly two decades, he’s been drawing masterful graphic stories that, however elegant in their visual simplicity, have failed to garner the attention given to louder, flashier comics. The creator of a work as rich as Market Day deserves a better fate than Mendleman’s.
 

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  JAMES STURM is interviewed by the Daily Cross Hatch

Updated February 17, 2010


Interview: James Sturm Parts 1&2

by Brian Heater

Arriving in spring of this year, Market Day marks James Sturm’s first major solo work since founding the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT. Though set in a turn-of-the-century Eastern European market, it doesn’t take too much digging to surmise that the book is as much a comment on life as an artist in modern America as anything that might have affected the lives of artisans 100 years ago and half a world away.

Sturm, now a father of two, clearly invested much of his own life into the story of a rug weaver forced to make a choice between his art and his growing family. Happily, however, the author seems to have largely avoided such forced choices. In 2001, Sturm moved his young family to Vermont. Three years later, CCS was opened in an abandoned department store in downtown White River.

All the while, Sturm has been steadily releasing titles, including 2007’s children’s book, Saitchel Page: Striking Out Jim Crow, and last year’s Adventures in Cartooning, a how-to book co-authored by two CCS students.


You’re in Vermont full-time?

Yep, I live in White River Junction. Moved here in 2001.

Did the location of the school come out of your residency there, or were you really looking for a spot to open it when you moved?

In 2001, The Golem’s Mighty Swing had just been published, and I’d left my job at the Savannah School of Art and Design. My in-laws had a second home in Hartland, Vermont. They rented it out over the years. The tenant was leaving, and my father-in-law was retiring, and it was going to be vacant. We moved in until we figured out what we wanted to do. We really liked this area. I couldn’t find an opportunity to teach that I really felt comfortable with, so the opportunity to start a school here came up.

When you say “opportunity,” you mean in the sense that it was presented to you?

Well, opportunity in terms of there was this great little village I fell in love with, White River Junction. In terms of space that was available. I had a good friend who was a state senator, who is actually now running for governor. He was able to plug me in to the Vermont legislature, in order to restore an old dilapidated department store on Main st. he introduced me to other people in the area to help build an organization.

Unlike a graphic novel, you can’t just sit down and do it. You’ve got to bring together a lot of resources. You need people and money and even institutions to help you do such a thing. That all just started coming together up here. in 2002, my youngest daughter was born, so that’s when I moved out of the very rural home I was living in in Hartland. When my second was born, there was just no way in the world I was going to get any artwork done. I got a studio in White River Junction, and started working out of there. I really just began this love affair with the village.

So, in a sense the school was born out of the studio?

It wasn’t born out of the studio so much as it was born out of this perfect storm. White River was a depressed village that was very welcoming—a small art school was a perfect fit. It already this artistic community thing going on, but it was a struggling down town, so I think they were very open to that. Another domino that was in place was, this 2002-2003, when graphic novel fever had hit the country. Everyone had that feeling that comics had finally arrived. It wasn’t so outlandish to think that there could be a college devoted to comics—that you could get an MFA program in comics. It made sense.

So, in terms of the national mood regarding comics, and this local mood towards economic development at White River Junction, those two stars aligned. And there’s still this idea that’s discussed with economists about the “creative economy,” and how factors like investing in the arts is almost as important as investing in the physical infrastructure. There were studies being commissioned then that said, if you invest in zones that are rent-free for artists and try to subsidize small businesses—it’s like, once upon a time, Greenwich Village wasn’t a nice neighborhood. The artists move in, and then the rents go higher.

Gentrification.

Yeah [laughs]. Though back in White River, I don’t think we’re ready for that quite yet. So that idea certainly felt very pertainant, at the time.

There’s clearly a difference between starting a school like SVA in New York, versus starting CCS in a small town in Vermont. Do you feel like the area is more conducive to academics, in terms of removing the distractions and making people almost band together?

I certainly think that’s a big element to it. it is a bit more isolated, so it does breed a sense of community. If you’re an undergraduate, let’s say, at SVA, after class is over, the city just kind of swallows you up. I actually went to graduate school at the School of Visual Arts—you have a friend in Queens and you live in Brooklyn or Manhattan, months go by where you don’t see somebody. That’s normal. Even though you live I the same city, you don’t feel like you’re crossing paths all that much. But in a place like White River Junction, everybody is everybody’s neighbor in a very intense sense.

Are you finding that people are sticking around the town after graduation?

Yeah. Every year there’s two or three or four people that just wind up staying. Some stay for a few years. The school’s only been here since 2005, but we people from that graduating class that still live in town. So, yeah. There are a lot of cartoonists now that are either alumni or just came to White River because it seemed like a cool place. So that’s kind of neat. And of course there’s faculty. Jason Lutes moved out here to teach. Steve Bissette moved closer.

It’s funny, you hear about planned communities—pre-fabricated suburbs developed after World War II. It sounds almost as if you’re creating an artistic enclave version of that.

Well, the community is almost a bi-product of creating the school. Almost in the same way that, when Fantagraphics moved to Seattle, a bunch of cartoonists moved with them, and it because this really great cartooning town. But I don’t think Fantagraphics set out to create a community of cartoonists. They just wanted to publish more books, and it made more sense to move out to Seattle, for whatever reason. So, I mean, I love the fact that there’s a really rich community of alumni and graduates and just local artists that all play and work together and share studio space. I think that’s terrific.

I never said, “how do I plan a community?” I’m just trying to put together the best curriculum together. That said, we try to have this major production lab in our flagship building, and we make sure out alumni have access to it. Alumni are encouraged to attend presentations by the visiting artists. And I’m working with four alumni on various projects. It’s fun having everybody around, so I guess we do try to encourage community in that sense.

In this second part of our interview with the Market Day author, we discuss the factors that brought Sturm, then fresh out of SVA’s graduate program, to Seattle. While in the Emerald City, the artist helped co-found the alternative weekly, The Stranger, alongside Tim Keck, one of the founders of The Onion. Sturm now has another prominent cartooning-centric day job, as the founder of the Center for Cartooning Studies in his current home of White River Junction, Vermont.

We discuss the importance of such labors of love on the life and career of an artist, and whether or not its worth giving it all for a She-Hulk mini-series.

[Part One]


Was it Fantagraphics and the subsequent cartooning scene that originally brought you to Seattle?

Yeah. Three things brought me to Seattle. One is that I had finished SVA. My studio space in Manhattan was no longer going to be available to me. I was feeling kind of isolated in this little apartment in Astoria, Queens. I like collaboration and I like working with other people—and I also like spending hours and hours by myself at the drawing table.

You picked the right career.

Yeah [laughs]. So I moved to Seattle because I had finished school. Fantagraphics had just started publishing The Cereal Killings, which was my first attempt a graphic novel. And a friend of mine from my undergraduate days at the University of Wisconsin was starting his second newspaper—he had already started The Onion. He was starting a newspaper in Seattle called The Stranger. He asked me if I would come out and be his first art director. So, between Fantagraphics and The Stranger and having graduated, it was an easy decision.

We you working on The Stranger in the capacity of being a cartoonist?

Yeah, I edited all of the comics and tried to get as many in the pages as possible. I featured a lot of cartoonists on the cover. Any cartoonist that was willing, we’d put on the cover of The Stranger in the mid-90s, from Jim Woodring to Chris Ware to Llyod Dangle—the list goes on and on. We got all of them involved in the paper, in one way or another. We published early Michael Kupperman, when he was known as P. Revess. Early Snake n’ Bacon and Sam Henderson strips, Tony Millionaire and Kaz. I did that, I wrote for them. I was their theater reviewer, for a really short period of time.

That’s what really fun about startups. You have to wear a lot of hats and think on your feet. I sold advertisements, I distributed papers, when need be. You do a little bit of everything. You lend the paper money, just to keep it running. At the same time, I was working on The Cereal Killings book for Fantagraphics. So it was a very intense part of my life, but when you’re young and in your 20s, you can do that.

You were doing all of those things then and now you’re running the school and still making books. Do you foresee a point when you’re working on your comics full-time?

I kind of feel like I need both of these things. Maybe I could make a living doing comics right now, if I wanted to write a She-Hulk mini-series, or something [laughs]. I’m not interested in that. Not that I wouldn’t work for Marvel. I have and, who knows, I wouldn’t rule anything out in the future with them or DC or any of these publishers who would pay you to do a series like that.

The kind of comics I really enjoy working on and doing, they don’t necessarily pay any bills. And I don’t want to do that work just for the money. I guess, in some ways, working at CCS feels like a real privilege and an honor, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that, on certain days, it feels just like a day job, and I’d rather be in my studio, working. That sounds a little like whining, doesn’t it [laughs]?

Does the day job detract from your ability to make books?

It’s so hard to say. I try to have the work I actually produce be shaped by my life and my interior temperature. Something like Adventures in Cartooning, which, at least from a commercial standpoint, might be the most successful book I’ve done, I couldn’t have done that without my two collaborators, who are first year students at CCS. That book is as much theirs as mind. So to say that, had I taken the school out of the equation, would I have been more prolific, well, that book would have never gotten done.

It’s clear how a book like is that pulled from your real life, but many of your books are period pieces. The new one is old eastern European. Are you still drawing from every day life for those?

Yeah, absolutely. I feel like any of those books I’ve ever done could have been an autobiographical comic. If I would have put me in the middle of it, it would have felt too self-serving. I would have had to deal with all of the issues with how I present myself. By fictionalizing aspects of it, it gives me a certain distance from the material, where I’m in a better position to shape the material.

The book clearly parallels the life of the modern artist. It speaks to something we were just discussing—not being able to support a family on an artist’s wages. Was that your life at one point?

Sure. It’s still my life. How many graphic novels are there out there that are best sellers in the way that literary best sellers are? Like Jonathan Lethem—something that’s published as a book, and you know it’s going to sell 50,000 or 100,000 copies. It almost feels like I’m entering an issue of What If? I don’t know how to respond to it, because that isn’t what happened. Could it have better? Could it have been worse? I know I wouldn’t have had as many rich experiences in terms of starting the school.

It’s been fantastic, in terms of the relationships that have been forged with faculty members and people that helped start the school with me. Learning so much about cartooning from all of the visiting artists that we’ve had. Feeling for the first time in my life like I’m a good citizen and having a stake in my community. All of that stuff is wonderful. When you come of age as an artist, you feel like it’s so devalued by society that you get into this kneejerk response of protecting every moment, that the time is a precious commodity. You just want to protect it and barricade yourself into your studio cave. I feel like I was reacting from that place from a very long time.

Now I realize that there’s something that you’re shutting yourself out of, when you do that. It’s another thing when you have kids, as well. You can’t just be functioning on everything is going to be funneled toward my art. It’s a position that you can’t sustain for many reasons.
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The Daily Cross Hatch reviews MARKET DAY

Updated February 17, 2010


Market Day by James Sturm

by Brian Heater

“How would all of this come together as a single rug?” Mendleman asks himself, wandering through the bustling rows of his local market, in search of some place that might purchase the hand-woven goods slung over his should. At this moment, it becomes clear that Market Day is more than simply a story about a struggling craftsman in early 20th century eastern Europe. It’s the story of an artist—an allegory, really, for the seemingly perpetual struggle of the artist community. It’s a struggle which author James Sturm—and, likely nearly every other 21st century cartoonist—has no doubt grappled with at some point in his career.

The next two pages form a spread, in which the market’s bodies and buildings melt away, forming a rug pattern. Mendleman draws the inspiration for his craft from the world around him, and his reward is the admiration of his peers-it’s a currency that serves little use when there is a pregnant wife to support at home—one whose physical shortcomings assure that she’ll never be able to contribute meaningfully to the economic well-being of the couple’s growing family.


“Why bring life into this world?” Mendleman asks himself in another internal monolog. He’s a worrier by nature, a man who clearly lives much of his life in his own head, with distressing thought processes that intensify in quiet early morning walks to work. Such internalization monopolizes much of Market Day, which is largely split between Mendleman’s narration, and wordless atmospheric spreads as the rug maker travels from one unsuccessful sale to the next.

In Mendleman we find a sensitive soul in the grips of depression, as it becomes ever more painfully clear that the job he was clearly born to perform will never be enough. “I keep moving, to what end?” the rug maker asks himself, slouched over, with an unsold rug on each shoulder.

Sturm offers no solutions for his protagonist’s plight, only more walking. For a solitary man in search of council, there is symbolism in everything—hungry dogs, crooked fortunetellers—but answers in nothing. Sturm’s own storytelling is sparse—both visually and textually, and while he offers up the possibility of emotional reprieve in certain objects, they are quickly deconstructed by his pessimistic narrator, who moves forward until he can walk no more.

For a brief moment, another world opens up to Mendleman. On the way home from an unsuccessful market day, a group of men huddle around a fire beneath bridge. Men without obligations, it seems. Self-proclaimed artists who revel in drink and dirty jokes. It’s an opening into a world in which Mendleman no longer belongs, and thus his walking must commence.

In the end, Sturm refuses to tie up unraveled ends. It’s not his style. He does, however, offer his character the sunrise of another day. Sometimes that’s the best anyone can ask for.
 
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  Beautiful review of MARKET DAY by The Comics Reporter

Updated February 17, 2010


Market Day

by Tom Spurgeon

James Sturm's new graphic novella Market Day did a fair job of breaking my heart. That it did so in a way I saw coming pages and pages off failed to lessen the blow. It is an elegant, slow-motion tumble into despair, a timely rumination on the lives of artists and a fine addition to Sturm's historical fiction oeuvre.

Market Day tracks the story of carpet weaver Mendelman as he attempts to sell his wares near his home in early 20th Century Russia. Mendelman's day starts out with a litany of worries, concerns that are plainly expressed but buoyed by a fragile sense of hope. You believe that the carpet maker is concerned about his wife and child. Yet he also takes great delight in each of the quotidian, happenstance charms of commercial exchange: the freedom of a day away from one's labor, the camaraderie of the artisan class, the mix of comfortable routine and fresh discovery. When he's complimented, he nearly swoons with joy. Mendelman also assures us that these pleasures run right back to his home and to his seat at the loom, a place he apparently feels as close as he can to whole.

And then, in the most banal and unspectacular way, Mendelman's fragile existence slips sideways. Sturm allows historical circumstance to shift under his protagonist's feet in a way that's bewildering to him and obvious to us. The first flutterings of the global economy, the coarsening step that comes with market development place to place, these are the things that have settled onto Mendelman's life in a way that will likely change it for the worst. Sturm is as unsparing in showing us the tidal wave of misery, terror, false starts, decisive action, coping and resignation that Mendelman experiences in furtively reshaping his day to fit the necessities of this sudden, new reality. He even heads back home, in a public, embarrassing and even unsuccessful way that makes a terrific contrast with our relatively serene memory of his morning walk. Nothing good waits for Mendelman there, not in terms of the problems that now confront him, and Sturm deserves accolades for refusing to suggest there are answers waiting beyond a certain level of domestic comfort that he leaves behind when on the road. It won't be enough.

What's horrifying about this scenario is that it should resonate for any artist in any time, particularly those that have counted on a single relationship or working arrangement to be the difference between being able to pursue their art and having to give it up altogether, with considerable pain and potential suffering called on in making that transition. It's not very difficult to see Mendelman as a cartoonist traveling to a comics convention or an actor hitting a paid-for showcase appearance in front of several casting directors or a painter pacing and smoking outside a crucial gallery opening. In fact, the comparisons are almost encouraged via a taut presentational style subtly shorn of extras. Sturm's work is cleaner than ever here, losing some of the illustrator's flourishes and scene-setting pyrotechnics of past historical works in favor of a calm, semi-stylized march into cold reality. That shift in tone could be the influence of the work Sturm's been doing for younger readers through Hyperion; it could be a natural progression of the kind of work he's done in the past. There are scenes here that may remind one of The Golem's Mighty Swing, the atmospheric sequences set in small, forgotten towns, characters walking from one place to another. The unease Market Day should wring from just about anyone who reads it is a major artistic accomplishment. I had a history professor who used to joke that history was written by the victors because history written by anyone else would be intolerable. This is a handwritten note from the back of that class, depicting a circumstance as brutal as he suggests but also necessary that we witness.
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Publishers Weekly interviews JAMES STURM

Updated February 9, 2010


Teaching and Drawing: James Sturm Returns with Market Day

by Sasha Watson

Like so many creative professionals, James Sturm wears more than one hat. Both a dedicated comics educator and a critically acclaimed cartoonist, Sturm is publishing a new work of fiction, Market Day, which will be released this spring by Drawn and Quarterly. The book is set in an Eastern European Jewish community in the early 1900s and turns on the difficulty of balancing creation with commerce.

Sturm co-founded The Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS), a unique M.F.A. and certificate program in White River Junction, Vermont, which he now runs and where he teaches. If it’s hard to balance these activities, that doesn’t make him any less successful at them. His comic The Fantastic Four, Unstable Molecules, which used a heightented sense of realism to reimagines the Fantastic Four with new backgrounds, won the 2004 Eisner Award for Best Limited Series; Adventures in Cartooning: How to Turn Your Doodles Into Comics, a teaching tool for children, which he co-wrote with former students Alexis Frederick-Frost and Andrew Arnold, is in its fourth printing from First Second. CCS attracts some of the best talents in cartooning, as both students and teachers.

The main character in Sturm’s new book, Market Day, Mendleman, is a rug-maker. Mendleman’s plaintive “how I long to be in my studio surrendering to the steady rhythms of the work” will feel familiar to any artist who has struggled, as Mendleman does, to sell his works in the marketplace. The quiet starkness of Sturm’s drawings depicting the landscape in which Mendleman’s story takes place contrasts with the emotional rollercoaster he rides during the 24 hours of the tale. Sturm talked with PW Comics Week by phone from White River Junction about the book, the challenges of the creative life, and CCS.

PWCW: How did you come to set Market Day in this particular place and time of Eastern Europe in the early 1900s?

JS: I was in grad school in New York in the early 90’s, and I remember picking up books of Roman Vishniac photos and another book called A World at Twilight: A Portrait of the Jewish Communities of Eastern Europe Before the Holocaust by Lyonel Reiss, and knowing I wanted to set something in that environment. There's something about photography in general that’s very evocative, and I was fascinated by the material I found. As I flip through the photos, someone's smile will remind me of my wife or her cousin. You realize that you are related in some way to these people. Knowing what happened to them makes it even more poignant, and you want to bring that lost world back to life in some way.

PWCW: And yet the story’s themes feel very contemporary, too. Mendleman’s issues are also those of a contemporary artist.

JS: The only way for me to bring it back to life was not to make it a folktale but to overlay my own issues on it and make it pertinent that way. And, yes, these are my challenges, how to follow my own muse and do this work that sustains me spiritually and also attend to my other responsibilities of teaching and running a school and being a parent to two small children.

PWCW: So how do you pull off doing all that?

JS: It’s a constant balancing act, and it changes as you get older. When you're younger you can live and breathe it; you can wake up and roll to your drawing table or stay up working until three in the morning. Now I have to get up and get my kids to school and you can bet, if I stayed up until three the night before, I'll have a big fight with one of my children. I did go to MacDowell about a year and a half ago and two weeks there was like six months of work. It set me up for the next year and a half. I went there with a stack of penciled pages and I just started inking. There was nobody knocking on my door, no email, I was just inking all day. I did like forty pages. Having the time to sink into the work that way was just an amazing opportunity.

PWCW: Do you find it difficult specifically to balance your teaching and your own cartooning work?

JS: Well, it’s a double-edged sword because the difficulty of teaching is that it takes time away from your work, but I started a school because I love teaching. And I do believe that there's a place for teaching art, for creating an environment where students can learn from one another. I think being a working artist, that brings a lot into the classroom. The teaching can energize my work, too. It holds me to a higher standard.

PWCW: What made you decide to found CCS? Were you responding to a specific need you saw out there?

JS: At the time, I was attending small press expos, like SPX in Maryland, and there'd be all these cartoonists creating comics there. These were real auteurs with the same passion and intent as a poet or a sculptor would take to their medium, but none of them did this work in their classes, it was all outside their art department curriculum. There were only a couple of schools that taught cartooning and they were mostly part of bigger art and design schools. I just thought that curriculum could be done a lot better.

PWCW: I imagine your students really thrive in that environment.

JS: I’m really thrilled by the quality of the students. When the majority, if not all of your classmates, are mature and ready to learn and engaged, the work is better all around because you’re challenging each other. I think the isolation of White River Junction with its long winters, builds a certain kind of solidarity among the students. Everyone’s waiting out the winter and buckling down. There’s no Starbucks to sit around and people watch. For the most part, the people who come here are serious about working. The students really are inspiring for me.
 
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  MARKET DAY in Tablet

Updated February 2, 2010


On the Bookshelf
Graphic novels and vivid memoirs

by Josh Lambert

Writing fiction about writing fiction can be a tricky business, so novelists often substitute an artist of another sort—most typically, a painter—as their protagonists, examining through them the vicissitudes of a creative vocation. James Sturm, creator of the critically acclaimed graphic novel The Golem’s Mighty Swing and a founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, chooses an unusual craftsman as his alter ego for an extraordinary graphic-novel-style künstlerroman. In Market Day (Drawn & Quarterly, March), Sturm’s stand-in, challenged to balance commitment to his craft against financial responsibilities, is a Jewish rug weaver in early 20th-century Eastern Europe. Sturm illustrates this milieu with precise, somber drawings based in part on the photographs of Roman Vishniac and Alter Kacyzne.

Sturm’s protagonist struggles with the commercial constraints on his skilled labor, a problem grounded in the historical experiences of Jewish artisans. In a classic 1970 study of labor activism in Eastern Europe, now back in print as a paperback—Class Struggle in the Pale: The Formative Years of the Jewish Worker’s Movement in Tsarist Russia (Cambridge, February)—the historian Ezra Mendelsohn remarks that by the late 19th century, “the Jewish weaver in Bialystock was in a sorry plight. By the end of the century, it was obvious that hand looms were no longer profitable.” Mendelsohn analyzes efforts by the Jewish proletariat to organize and assesses the consequences of those campaigns.
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JAMES STURM interviewed by BOOKLIST

Updated March 20, 2008


Booklist Interview: James Sturm: Comic Visionary (Eye of the Sturm).
Karp, Jesse (author).


FEATURE. First published March 15, 2008 (Booklist).
Comics visionary James Sturm gives his work an emotional depth and complexity that allow “small” stories to capture the significance of entire historical eras. An Eisner Award winner, he is director and cofounder of the Vermont-based Center for Cartoon Studies, a school devoted exclusively to cartooning and sequential storytelling.

BKL: What comic books in your early life made you sit up and take notice?

STURM: I was introduced to comics in our local newspaper. It wasn’t long after that I began accumulating Fawcett Peanuts paperback collections. You can’t overestimate the impact Charles Schulz had on my generation of cartoonists. My next big discovery was The Fantastic Four, which led me to other Marvel comics. I had an incredibly intense relationship with those comics. They were a crucial part of my childhood.

BKL: Weren’t you a production assistant on RAW, Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly’s generation-defining alternative comic?

STURM: My time at RAW was one of the most important parts of my cartooning education. I was exposed to some amazing books and cartoonists. One of my tasks was to shoot photostats of a chapter of MAUS—there were no desktop scanners in those days. I would go into the darkroom and pull a MAUS page from a plastic sleeve. Underneath that page would be the previous draft, and beneath that, another. This was before most cartoonists were doing graphic novels, and I was struggling with the process, trying to figure out how to work through a longer story. Being exposed to Art’s process was a revelation.

BKL: What authors do you count among your great inspirations?

STURM: I love Steven Millhauser. He’s really interested in underlying mysteries and structures, and he poetically articulates the creative process. I like Russell Banks and Allegra Goodman; both craft fantastic stories in which neither a character nor fate seems to have the upper hand. And Richard Ford, for the way he weaves the mundane into the larger social fabric (and he’s the master of the parenthetical comment). I’m also a huge fan of Paul Auster, whose unpretentiousness allows him to take the reader into some wild places, and also Philip Roth, for his total commitment to interpreting his world through the novel.

BKL: In Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow and The Golem’s Mighty Swing, you produced suspenseful and exciting baseball sequences. What would you tell a student of cartooning who wanted to create the same effect?

STURM: Try to capture the feel and rhythm of the game and pay attention to its subtleties. Of course, it helps if you like baseball. But I would also recommend looking at Japanese baseball manga. American baseball comics have been pretty bad, always halting and truncated. The Japanese get it right; they let baseball unfold at a leisurely pace.

BKL: What place do graphic novels have as educational tools?

STURM: My hope is that Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow is so visually engaging that the issues of racism, education, and violence it deals with emerge naturally from the story. Nothing will turn readers off faster than material that comes across as pedantic or preachy. Compelling stories make readers want to learn or do more. I remember as a kid watching the bike-racing movie Breaking Away. The next day, I was on my bike, inspired to ride. I hope kids get a glimpse of real life in the biographical books, feel how compelling the person’s world was, and want to explore more of it on their own. Google and Wikipedia can provide a biography in seconds. It’s stories that give information meaning. It was after Columbine when reactionary forces started blaming and destroying computer games and DVDs that I realized comics were finally off the hook and free to roam classrooms and libraries.

Was it so long ago that comics were considered detrimental to a child’s educational development? Now teachers and librarians are thrilled to see students turn away from a computer to read.

BKL: Does the Center have many women students?

STURM: More than I saw in my other teaching gigs, but still far too few. Although historically women have not had the same impact on comics as men, it’s wrong to see their contributions to visual narratives only through the prism of comics. I’m more inspired and influenced by the work of Virginia Lee Burton and Marie Hall Ets than, say, Milton Caniff. Their work flows so effortlessly and has a spellbinding emotional core. Burton’s page designs are as revelatory as Will Eisner’s. Ets’ gentle stories and expressive drawings are positively enchanting. Male cartoonists of the same era seem crass and constipated by comparison. I’m pleased to see a lot of great female cartoonists emerging right now—Eleanor Davis (Bugbear), Rutu Modan (Exit Wounds), and Gabrielle Bell (Book of Ordinary Things). Their work is as exciting as anyone’s out there.

BKL: How do you expect to see the art form evolving over the next decade?

STURM: The work that ushered in this new era of graphic novels was inspired by comic books and reflects their influence on density and page layout. In the coming years, I think we’ll see more graphic novels shaped from an aesthetic informed from children’s picture books, graphic design, and painting. Drawn & Quarterly just released White Rapids, which is more influenced by graphic design than traditional comic books. Some of the work featured in the Kramer’s Ergot anthology appears to be informed by a sensibility not derived from comic books.

BKL: What graphic novels are you reading now, and what excites you as a creator?

STURM: I most recently read Israeli cartoonist Rutu Modan’s Exit Wounds. Adriane Tomine’s Shortcomings was excellent. I read Sardine, Moomin, and Little Lulu to my kids. I also get excited seeing CCS students grow over the course of the two years they are in school. I have a front-row seat to the creative journeys of talented, young cartoonists. A few years from now, many of these students will have lots of readers turning pages.
 
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  JAMES STURM interviewed by Inkstuds

Updated February 21, 2008


James Sturm
INKSTUDS
Feb. 14, 2008

James Sturm is a man of many talents. He is the skilled cartoonist behind the Golems Mighty Swing (collected in the swell D&Q book: Gods, Gold and Golems). His latest book is Satchel Paige, a unique story using the life of a pioneering baseball player to explore a difficult time for African Americans in the south. James is also the founder of The Center for Cartoon Studies, helping a whole new generation of comix folks create some comiky goodness.

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JAMES STURM'S AMERICA reviewed by The North Adams Transcript

Updated January 10, 2008


Hidden American stories revealed
By John E. Mitchell
01/03/2008
NORTH ADAMS TRANSCRIPT

In James Sturm's "America: God, Gold and Golems," the United States is portrayed in a trilogy of tales that draw from its excesses in fervor, greed and bigotry through a lens of acceptability.

"The Revival" tells of a Kentucky revival meeting in 1801, where true believers gather to create an atmosphere more like a refugee camp than anything else. Joseph and Sarah are traveling to meet healer Elijah Young, on whom they've placed desperate faith to solve their problems. What Sturm understands is that as destructive as the old-time religious fire could be, it was also the fuel of change — somehow in their reckless search for a brush with a miracle, Joseph and Sarah find the real meaning of spiritual rebirth in context of a new country to be created.

In "Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight," a mine in 1886 Idaho becomes the center point of hate and greed. Built on the ashes of a lynching of Chinese miners, Soloman's Gulch is the place where misguided mine owner Ned Weeks is fixated on a payload of treasure and a workers' revolt peppers the turgid camp dramas that will overtake his greedy quest.

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"The Golem's Mighty Swing" introduces the Stars of David, a traveling, all-Jewish baseball team that goes from town to town playing local clubs in exhibition games and struggling for to live. It's a tale of immigrants walking that tightrope to assimilate while still retaining some of their culture. What ends up happening too often is that the assimilation compromises their beliefs — team leader Noah Strauss points out in the beginning that they play on the Sabbath and that's just the way it has to be in America.
There are larger challenges to fitting in, however — most notably a hovering bigotry that seems to be constantly swooping down for the kill. There are also the more subtle ones, such as the opportunity to sell out their culture. When a promoter offers them the chance for big money by having one team member dress up as the creature of Jewish legend, the Golem, the team at first turns it down, but then changes their mind when they find themselves stranded in a small town. With the introduction of the Golem to the team, though, the crowds get rowdier — and more hateful.

Sturm has a great talent for emotionally honest stories told through straightforward means — his no-nonsense style, with its clean black lines and olive washes, portray the faces and architecture of times gone by with a simplicity that doubles as power.

Sturm's vision of America is one of crowds where individuals must duck in and out according to the movement of the overwhelming throngs. Decisions are made by the mob, though change often happens despite the stifling movement meant to stomp progress dead in its tracks. Sturm also presents America as a country of outsiders bumping up against other outsiders — and the frictions from those interactions. In this way, the country is a chemical reaction, but once the initial explosion passes, more subtle changes take place, and this understanding of the delicacy past the bombast is at the center Sturm's mastery.
 
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  ACME NOVELTY DATEBOOK: VOL. 2, JAMES STURM'S AMERICA reviewed by Metro Boston News

Updated December 21, 2007


Picture pages
Last-minute gifts for the comic-book nerd in your life
ROUNDUP. No gift says, “I’m going to make broad assumptions about how you enjoy spending your time,” quite like a book. If you’re going to go there, why not give the gift of a graphic novel? It’s like a book, but with pictures. Everybody loves pictures.

For the artsy-fartsy giftee:
‘The Acme Novelty Datebook, Vol. 2,’ Chris Ware
(Drawn & Quarterly, $40)
Chris Ware is the most celebrated artiste among contemporary cartoonists. (That’s what happens when you guest edit an issue of McSweeney’s and become the first cartoonist ever to have his work serialized in the New York Times.) The “Datebook” series gathers selections from his sketchbooks, giving an absolutely miserable (and lovely) portrait of what life drawing pictures for a living is like.

For the giftee who missed it the first time:
‘James Sturm’s America: God, Gold and Golems,’ James Sturm
(Drawn & Quarterly, $25)
Before he became the grand high muckity-muck at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, Sturm authored “The Golem’s Mighty Swing,” a gorgeous book about a barnstorming, all-Jewish baseball team set in the 1920s. This new volume also includes two of the artist’s earlier cracks at historical-fiction comics, the graphic novellas “Hundreds of Feet Before Daylight” and “The Revival.”

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JAMES STURM'S AMERICA and WHITE RAPIDS in the Edmonton Journal

Updated December 21, 2007


Save bookshelf space for graphic novels
From Popeye to James Sturm, 2007 saw steady flow of high-quality titles with great artwork and writing
Gilbert A. Bouchard
Wednesday, December 19
EDMONTON JOURNAL

- James Sturm's America (Drawn & Quarterly Press, hardcover). While a bit on the dark side, James Sturm's America was undoubtedbly one of the best things (in any medium) I read this year. This talented trio of period narratives ranges from a heartbreaking story of pioneer hardship set in an early 19th-century evangelical revival meeting to a quirky tale about itinerant Jewish baseball players in the 1920s.

- White Rapids by Pascal Blanchet (Drawn & Quarterly Press, tradepaper). Words don't do justice to this quirky tome by Canada's Pascal Blanchet, but if I had to pick two, I'd settle for "heartwarming" and "funky." Using a nostalgically laden visual vocabulary that evokes mid-century advertising illustration, this book tells the compelling rise-and-fall story of the tiny, titular White Rapids, a hamlet built to service a huge Quebec hydro-project.

 
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White Rapids




  JAMES STURM'S AMERICA recommended by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Updated December 10, 2007


Give comics lovers something to laugh about
By ED HALL, KHARI J. SAMPSON
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 12/08/07

Feeling troubled because you've got no idea what to get that comics connoisseur or nostalgia nut on your gift list?
Let the AJC's comics reviewers come to the rescue with a few suggestions:


Two shorter tales open James Sturm's America: God, Gold and Golems (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95), but what makes the book indispensable is its revival of Sturm's out-of-print instant classic "The Golem's Mighty Swing." That story, about a fictitious 1920s minor league baseball team whose gimmick is dressing one of its players like the monster-hero from Jewish folklore, brings to sepia-toned life an obscure American past.
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JAMES STURM'S AMERICA in The Santa Fe New Mexican

Updated December 4, 2007


Comics old and new explore basic themes
By Brandon Garcia
10/28/2007
SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN

Going deeper into history is James Sturm's America, God, Gold and Golems (Drawn & Quarterly), a collection of three gorgeous stories spanning from 1801 to the 1920s, each one presenting a unique slice of Americana with its rewards and consequences.

Starting with a revival shortly after the nation's founding — the 19th-century's Coachella festival, apparently — Sturm presents a rough America, dangerous to her citizens. As a vocal portion of Americans likes to say, the nation has always been religious and this story illustrates that. It is easy to imagine with such uncomfortable surroundings the respite availed to them by faith but Sturm also presents this with caution, showing how, while tempting, reliance on faith alone can be unrewarding.

From there, he segues to a boomtown, with its promise of riches, demonstrating how although the nation may have been wild and filled with opportunity, it often came with a human cost. Sturm seems to be saying that humans succumb to greed and a nation like this one provides a dangerous number of opportunities for us to indulge in it.

The first two stories are fairly simple morality plays. But the third and longest, about a traveling Jewish baseball team, is considerably more ambiguous. Figuring out how the unremitting anti-Semitism the team faces and the gimmicky minstrel show it uses to draw in crowds work in concert seems to be key, but I haven't quite figured it out. Certainly, America has had plenty of race problems and, with equal certainty, sport is one of the great equalizers. That Sturm used baseball is also certainly significant. Somehow bigotry, capitalism and baseball became entwined in this story and as enjoyable as it was to read, its puzzling nature is another reason why I recommend it.

But that's America: Just when I think I have the country figured out, someone like Sturm throws me a curve.
 
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  JAMES STURM'S AMERICA reviewed by Seven Days

Updated November 22, 2007


Moving Pictures
Book Review: James Sturm's America: God, Gold, and Golems
BY MATT FRASSICA
11.14.07
SEVEN DAYS

I'd bet anything that James Sturm is a picker of scabs. The part-time Vermont resident and director of White River Junction's Center for Cartoon Studies specializes in graphic novels chronicling historical wounds, from scrapes to gashes. Like humorist and National Public Radio commentator Sarah Vowell, Sturm is interested in the personal stories that combine to make up a big historical fact. But Sturm's fictional tales, in their particular tragic absurdity, give us more than social history — they give us art.

Sturm's America: God, Gold, and Golems aims to be a history of the United States in three chapters, each of which was originally published on its own. Through these three stories, the author's America emerges as a place of racial violence, religious fervor, exploitation and cruelty — but also generosity, humanity and humor. In other words, he paints an immediately recognizable portrait of our national character.

The first story, "The Revival,‚" opens in a dark, leafless wood in Kentucky at the turn of the 19th century. An exhausted couple trudges toward a revival camp meeting. They have walked, sleepless, for days in order to hear the preacher Elijah Young. They carry with them nothing but their faith — and the body of their daughter, dead from a snakebite. Since they have heard that "the stricken heal and the fallen rise‚" when Young preaches, they expect a miracle. But what they find at the Cane Ridge camp meeting is a grotesque millenarian spectacle: Zealous preachers threaten end times, while their listeners fall into fits and speak in tongues. After Young fails to return the girl to life, her mother holds the body aloft and, in four excruciating panels, implores her God to do the job.

To do justice to scenes like this, Sturm employs a powerful visual technique. He sustains moments of high emotion through a series of frames that differ from one another only in small increments, as if we were observing a scene lit by a strobe light, or looking at a flipbook one page at a time.

The second story, "Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight,‚" documents desperation and madness in a mining town in 1880s Idaho. In the opening section, two white business partners, Jem and Ned, lead a massacre of the town's Chinese residents and claim holders. Sturm renders this violence with unflinching intensity. After Jem dies in a mining accident, Ned is left with the burden of operating a barren mine — and managing impatient workers. These pressures, added to the grief of losing his beloved Jem, drive Ned to binge drinking, violent outbursts and worse. Sturm's talent for economical evocation of atmosphere lets him conjure the abandoned-carnival eeriness of the town in every frame. His rendering of imagination and dreams is creepily effective — as befits a story about the delusions of the gold rush.

But the story is about more than the ineluctable return of violence to a town consecrated by bloodshed. A second story line, in which a dying man in the care of Jem's widow turns out to possess a sack full of money, entwines with the main plot. This subplot reveals that the town's non-mining residents — women — are no less trapped than the men who blast tunnels out of the earth.

The final story, "The Golem's Mighty Swing," takes up more than half the book. Golems, soulless creatures made from mud by rabbis, have been lumbering through popular culture recently as Jewish avengers. In Sturm's take on the golem myth, a barnstorming baseball team of the 1920s called the Stars of David decide to costume their lone black player, Henry Bell, as a golem of swat. They hire a publicist to hype the game, and the golem gimmick fills the stands. But, as with the legendary Golem of Prague, their creation has unintended, violent consequences.

The graphic novelist, like a film director, tells a story through images as much as words. And reading Sturm is a little like watching Alfred Hitchcock direct a Todd Solondz script — he's got the eye-catching compositions of the auteur and the intense, painful curiosity of the squirm-inducing indie. His landscapes are particularly expressive: When the Stars of David bus wends through hilly country at night, the queasy, improbable topography calls to mind Krazy Kat and Van Gogh in equal parts. Sturm makes us feel by making us see — especially when his characters fall silent. His use of atmospheric detail, montage and body language turns speechless sequences into chamber dramas.

The power of Sturm's graphic novels comes from his use of this cinematic technique to tell complex stories. And, like most good historical fiction, from his insights into plausibly human characters. By illustrating historical moments through flawed, sympathetic figures, he gives his stories literary depth. Like many authors of historical fiction, Sturm's really writing about our present. After all, what's more American than baseball, greed and bigotry?
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JAMES STURM'S AMERICA reviewed by The Hartford Advocate blog

Updated October 25, 2007


Wednesday, October 24, 2007
World Serious
Alan Bisbort
HARTFORD ADVOCATE blog

On the verge of the World Series, I’m going to recommend a book that seems to have little connection to baseball—America: God, Gold and Golems by James Sturm (Drawn & Quarterly). Sturm, cofounder and director of the Center For Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont, is a graphic novelist. Judging from the way he depicts the National Pastime—in the third segment of this saga, “The Golem’s Mighty Swing”—he also loves baseball, deeply and poetically. Given that he lives in New England, Sturm is probably a Boston Red Sox fan. [And, since this entry is ostensibly about the World Series, here’s my prediction: Red Sox sweep.]

With three seemingly disparate segments—settlers and holy rollers in Kentucky, 1801; gold prospectors and coal miners in the American West, 1886; itinerant Jewish baseball team from New York, 1920s—Sturm weaves nothing less than a tapestry of the North American continent. It’s not an altogether pretty picture: The theft of the land from the indigenous peoples; the desecration of the land in search of wealth; and yet it also offers moments of redemption, using the “National Pastime” as a stand-in for all things that fill Americans with joy and wonder. All of these themes are stitched together in the book’s extraordinary cover image, a breathtaking panorama worthy of William Blake.

Baseball! Relief from mere survival in America! Let's enjoy the next week
 
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  JAMES STURM'S AMERICA reviewed by Las Vegas Weekly

Updated October 25, 2007


[Comics] America: The Comic Book
October 18, 2007
by J. Caleb Mozzocco

James Sturm writes the history of a nation with three short stories
The stories composing America, the new collection of cartoonist James Sturm’s work, were previously published individually, but when they’re gathered together between the same set of covers like this, each takes on a greater meaning. Not only is the whole greater than the sum of its parts, but, in this case, the parts are also greater now that they’re part of a whole.

Each is set in a different, influential period of American history, recognizably distinct enough that it would have its own chapter in a high-school textbook. While the stories each encapsulate that period and thus reflect on the concept of America to a certain extent, they’re also small, intimate tales about fictional, unfamous characters. Sturm makes no grand statements about what America is or why it’s that way. (Such contextualization is left to the reader, after he or she closes the book and ruminates on it.)

The first is “The Revival,” set at an 1801 religious revival in frontier Kentucky, the biggest such meeting in history. It follows a desperate couple into the sea of the devout, seeking a miracle. To say much more would spoil the plot, but Sturm winds up for a mighty gut punch halfway through, toying with the limits of faith ... and how you can believe in God, but you can’t test him.

That’s followed by “Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight,” a longer, grittier tale of a late-19th-century mining town’s rise and fall. Finding some Chinamen making a living off an abandoned mine, some gruff entrepreneurs slaughter them, seize the mine and then find a hard time living off the increasingly meager yield, right up to the dark punchline of an ending.

The third and final tale is also the longest and most polished, “The Golem’s Mighty Swing.” It’s also the one that tackles the most obviously “American” topic, as it deals with our national pastime, back when it really was our national pastime.
It stars the Stars of David, a traveling, all-Jewish baseball team that packs into a cramped bus and travels around small-town 1920s America taking on local teams, with each match having an undercurrent of rooting against the Jews, something the team trades on in an attempt to scrape by, eventually going so far as to dress one of their members in a secondhand Hollywood golem costume.

Sturm’s art style progresses through the eras, beginning very rough and very dark before emerging into the brighter, cleaner look of the baseball story, which adds brown shading to the panels, where previously they were stark black and white.
All too often our history gets reduced to a series of wars, discoveries and presidencies, so Sturm bringing life to the relatively quieter moments here is particularly interesting, and what better medium to dramatize such stories in than an all-American one like comics?
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JAMES STURM'S AMERICA reviewed by The Onion A.V. Club

Updated October 18, 2007


Comics Panel, October 11, 2007

More than half of James Sturm's America: God, Gold, And Golems (D&Q) is taken up by "The Golem's Mighty Swing," an acclaimed graphic novella about the barnstorming Stars Of David all-Jewish baseball team. While a lot of comics fans already own "Golem" (or should), the book's remaining two stories deserve more attention. "The Revival" takes place in the early 18th century, and explores the limits of faith, while "Hundreds Of Feet Below Daylight" examines the after-effects of greed and racism in an 1880s mining community. All three stories use Sturm's thick-lined, almost archaic-looking style to create an atmosphere of plainness and historical verisimilitude, which Sturm subverts with scenes of pure fantasy or extreme emotion, before returning to an eerie hush. These three stories represent some of the best American comics of the past decade, which makes James Sturm's America an essential volume for any serious comics library… A
 
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  JAMES STURM'S AMERICA reviewed by ComicMix

Updated October 4, 2007


Tue Oct 2, 2007 — by Andrew Wheeler
GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: James Sturm's America

The subtitle says it all

The first thing to note is that America collects three previously-published stories: The Revival, Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight, and The Golem’s Mighty Swing. Sturm’s end-notes don’t make it clear where the 24-page Revival or the 44-page Hundreds of Feet were originally published, but Golem was a stand-alone graphic novel from Drawn & Quarterly in 2001. So if you’re a huge James Sturm fan – and there have to be a couple of them – you probably have all of this already.

Enough with the consumer report, though – what about the stories? All three are historical fiction, set in little-examined, unspectacular times in America. There are no wars, no famous people – none of the usual hoo-hah of historical stories. Sturm concentrates on ordinary people living ordinary lives, in what were fairly ordinary times for the people living them.

The Revival is set in eastern Kentucky in 1801 – as the first caption helpfully tells us. A married couple, Joseph and Sarah Bainbridge, are traveling to Caine Ridge to see the revival preacher Elijah Young. They arrive in the camp, meeting a niece, and are soon caught up in the religious fervor. They do see Young preach, on their second night there, but I don’t think I should tell you what Joseph and Sarah are praying for, nor whether they get it.

Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight takes place at the other end of the nineteenth century in a gold mine, presumably in California. A group of locals slaughter the Chinese workers running the mine and take it over – but it’s still not very successful. Tensions rise between the owners and the workers, exacerbated by the discovery that one dying, incoherent miner is secretly rich.

And The Golem’s Mighty Swing is the best-known work in the book, a story of a Jewish barnstorming baseball team in the ‘20s that signs up with a promoter to add a “golem” to their team to increase interest. This story is the most topical, since it’s partially about prejudice and hatred – not that those things aren’t eternal, of course.

Sturm has a good eye for detail, and strong, naturalistic dialogue throughout all three stories. His art style changes and evolves as the three stories go along – Revival is full of fiddly little pen-lines, while Daylight sees more large areas of black and more nuanced lines, and Golem has even cleaner, fatter lines and lots of grey tones for shading.

Golem is the best-realized and most successful of the three stories, but the earlier two are still compelling story-telling. He has a real gift for the rhythms of language, and for distinguishing between people of different backgrounds and educational levels by their dialogue.

I suspect the audience for this book will mostly be people like me who own and enjoyed Golem, and those people will have to decide if they want to buy that book over again to get two slightly less polished stories that add up to about as long as Golem. But for people who don’t own Golem, and have enjoyed things like Joe Sacco’s reportage comics, Moore & Campbell’s From Hell, and Craig Thompson’s Blankets, Sturm could be a real discovery.
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JAMES STURM'S AMERICA in Resonance

Updated September 7, 2007


RESONANCE
Fall 2007
 
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  JAMES STURM'S AMERICA in The San Francisco Chronicle

Updated September 6, 2007


Review: 'James Sturm's America'
Paul Buhle
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE


Comic art has come a long, long way during the past few years, as most Chronicle readers know - whether they applaud or wince at the new visual reality.
Newspaper comic strips have been around for more than a century, of course, and long since proclaimed a distinctly American art form. Comic books emerged 70 years ago. But something new and remarkable happened in Berkeley and San Francisco from the end of the 1960s to the middle 1970s, and we are only now seeing the implications play out in some of the most remarkable books of our time.
Comics, at least the avant-garde variety, suddenly stopped being censored for politics or sex, and with the same logic, ceased being created only for preadolescent and adolescent readers. These breakthroughs foreshadowed others over several decades and led to a vernacular postmodernism - art never intended for museum walls. (Ironically, museum shows of comics history now garner serious critical praise.) Meanwhile, the graphic novel has skyrocketed in sales and respect.
Cut to James Sturm, born in 1965. Not only does he represent a 21st century comic art reality, but he is also shaping that reality himself. His mini-academy, the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt., is turning out the newest prospects.
Sturm was a college newspaper cartoonist in countercultural Madison, Wis., then a production assistant at the first European-style comics publication produced on this side of the ocean, Art Spiegelman's Raw magazine. Sturm is not a particularly political person, and this sets him apart from the underground generation as well as mainstream survivors of the 1970s, such as Bill Griffith and Garry Trudeau. What interests Sturm most is the art form and its uses to tell very specific stories in which historical fiction and nonfiction merge.
"The Golem's Mighty Swing," a comic novelette included in his new volume, "James Sturm's America: God, Gold and Golems," is doubtless Sturm's magnum opus - at least so far. It first appeared several years ago, bound separately, but achieves here its proper context.
The story is pure 1920s Americana, the era of traveling baseball teams playing locals for personal glory and a little cash. Few of the players will ever make the majors. Most certainly not the superb nonwhite athletes.
Our protagonists, the bearded Stars of David, offer one example of these low-cost operations. They are up-front Jews in a nation where anti-Semitism was open and aggressive, where the KKK held power in at least a half dozen states and where not even a Catholic could be elected president. The Stars have only one real star: a huge, veteran black hitter passing as Jewish. At the urging of an enterprising PR man, he becomes the Golem.
What's most interesting here is hardly the story, though well told and realistic, but the art. The people and the industrial small-town setting are captured with a starkness that recalls the 1930s-'50s Canada drawn by the acclaimed comic artist Seth, whose work appeared serially in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. One could call it flat, but that would mistake affect for intention. Sturm, like Seth, mostly avoids melodrama, even amid violence.
Well, not always.
"The Revival" and "Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight" offer lesser looks at the American 1830s and 1890s, respectively, frontier tales of deluded faith and of greed that lead to assorted grotesqueries. There are victims here, no heroes, and death is an ever-present shadow driving the actors beyond the bounds of what we hope to call civilization.
Living in highly stressful conditions of geographical and social uncertainties, having perhaps convinced themselves that migrating west would bring them to an earthly paradise, they panic or turn brutal at the emerging reality. No one would claim that this is the whole story, of course, but social historians in recent decades have not shied away from the darker side of the frontier experience.
Were they about to create an unprecedented prosperity, at least for their own descendants, out of the resources newly at hand? Yes, but the cost is still being calculated. Without a shred of didacticism, Sturm is perhaps political despite himself, but not on any map of left and right. Like every fine artist, he has created his own world out of ours.
Sturm is one of those who, like Joe Sacco, Peter Kuper, Marjane Satrapi and 1960s veterans such as Spain Rodriguez, are at long last succeeding in bringing a large movement in popular art front and center. For that, they deserve great credit - with a tip of the hat to the Bay Area, where so much of that movement took a historic leap forward.
Paul Buhle is a senior lecturer at Brown University and editor of several comic art volumes in preparation.
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D+Q at San Diego Comicon

Updated July 20, 2007


D+Q @ San Diego Comic-Con

Miriam Katin, Joe Matt, Guy Delisle (making his first U.S. appearance!), and James Sturm are D+Q's guest artists at San Diego this year. They'll be on various panels and signing at our booth #1529. The schedule is as follows:

Thursday, July 26

1:00 - 3:00 Miriam Katin signing

3:00 - 5:00 Joe Matt signing

4:00 - 5:00 Room 3 "Spotlight on Guy Delisle." Moderated by Tom Spurgeon.

5:15 - 7:00 Guy Delisle signing

Friday, July 27

11:30 - 12:30 Room 3 "Spotlight on Joe Matt"

12:45 - 2:45 Joe Matt signing

1:30 - 2:30 Room 3 "Spotlight on Miriam Katin" Slide Show and moderated by Shaenon Garrity.

2:45 - 4:00 Miriam Katin signing

4:00 - 5:45 Guy Delisle signing

4:30 - 5:30 Room 4 "New Voices in Graphic Novels"
with Miriam Katin, Christian Slade, David Peterson, George O'Connor, Jamie Tanner, and Leland Myrick.

4:30 - 5:30 Room 24A "Center for Cartoon Studies"
with James Sturm and Tom Devlin

5:45 - 7:00 James Sturm signing

Saturday, July 28

11:00 - 1:00 James Sturm signing

11:30 - 12:30 Room 3 "Reality-Based Graphic Novels"
with Joe Matt, Guy Delisle, Miriam Katin, Rick Geary and Alison Bechdel.

1:00 - 3:00 Joe Matt signing

1:30 - 2:30 Room 4 "Great American Comic Strips"
with Drawn & Quarterly, Fantagraphics, IDW, and Classic Comics Press

3:00 - 5:00 Guy Delisle signing

5:00 - 7:00 Miriam Katin signing

Sunday, July 29

10:00 - 12:00 Miriam Katin signing

12:00 - 2:00 Joe Matt signing

2:00 - 4:00 Guy Delisle signing

PLUS, the D+Q booth will have a ton of great convention deals as usual, and every purchase gets a FREE Shortcomings poster, in anticipation of Adrian Tomine's long-awaited graphic novel, coming in October. We'll have lots of postcards & Lynda Barry's Free Comic Book Day Activity Book as well, so come say hello to friendly D+Q-ers Jessica, Rebecca and Tom, and check out our new stuff, and the classics too.

DEBUT titles will include Berlin #13 by Jason Lutes, and James Sturm's America: God, Gold, and Golems.

 

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  THE GOLEM'S MIGHTY SWING in New York Magazine

Updated June 19, 2007


Every week, the Comics Page introduces you to brand-new graphic novels by the world's best artists and writers. Manga, superheroes, indie comix — we'll cover them all as our editors select the best the exploding comics world has to offer.

The Stars of David, an all-Jewish barnstorming baseball team, travels across twenties America. When a promoter offers them a chance to attract a bigger audience than ever before, the team's captain must make a difficult decision: Should the Golem walk on the field?

All week on the Comics Page, we're excerpting "The Golem's Mighty Swing," one of the three clear-eyed short stories in James Sturm's America, coming in August from Drawn & Quarterly.
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JAMES STURM'S AMERICA in Jewish Book World

Updated June 18, 2007


Jewish Book World
Summer 5767/2007
JAMES STURM’S AMERICA: GOD, GOLD, AND GOLEMS
James Sturm

Using the themes of faith, greed, and entertainment, this new compilation of three previously published graphic novels by James Sturm, founder and director of the Center for Cartoon Studies, offers readers a unique view of American history. The Revival takes place in the early 1800’s, during a time when religious sects flourished in the shifting boundaries of the American frontier. The second story, Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight, takes place in the late 1800’s, and shows the effects of greed on the lives of miners who have lost everything to find gold.

The final story in the trilogy, The Golem’s Mighty Swing, is the only one with any Jewish content. Originally published in 1998, it follows a traveling baseball team, The Stars of David, on their journey through Midwest America during the 1920’s. Faced with growing anti-Semitism, a broken bus, and no money, the captain of the team, Noah “The Zion Lion” Strauss, agrees to try a promotional stunt. By suiting up their only African-American player as a golem, the team’s gimmick not only draws crowds, but also violence stemming from fear and prejudice. Notes and sources for further reading round out this interesting trilogy. WW
 

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  JAMES STURM'S AMERICA, KING-CAT CLASSIX, SPENT and EXIT WOUNDS in The Globe & Mail

Updated June 18, 2007


GRAPHICA
Art imitating life imitating ... well, you get the idea
Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso, God and golem, doodled cats and suicide bombers
NATHALIE ATKINSON
June 9, 2007
THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Exploring the darker side of the supernatural, from acts of blind faith and men driven insane by guilt, James Sturm's America: God, Gold, and Golems (Drawn & Quarterly, 190 pages, $27.95) brings together the cartoonist's American trilogy, previously unavailable in its entirety in book form. Sturm chooses a drawing style unique to each story's period and setting. First, he looks heavenward in The Revival, imagining thousands of pioneer settlers attending an impromptu gospel meeting in Cane Ridge, Ky., in 1801, with finely detailed line work that evokes various illustration styles of early American broadsheets.

Turning to a heavier use of black, Sturm moves underground with Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight for the tale of a 19th-century mining town and the greed that only gold can breed, playing with darkness and contrast on the page.

Then, as he moves into the 20th century for the final and strongest novella, The Golem's Mighty Swing, he employs a more simplified and modern cartooning style. A barnstorming Jewish baseball team called the Stars of David travels through Depression-era middle America and exploits the public's interest in the supernatural - specifically, the golem legend. They use their giant baseball player, who happens to be black (a "member of the lost tribe"), to draw a crowd in the stands, until at one game, faced with extreme anti-Semitism, they only narrowly escape a bloodthirsty mob: "It's no surprise things got out of hand. That is the nature of the golem."
...
In stark contrast, John Porcellino's King-Cat Classix (D&Q, 383 pages, $33.95) is a collection of his self-published, photocopied and folded comic zines (1989-1996). Even assembled in a slick hardcover format, the stories retain the folksy, DIY charm of the original.

Porcellino's short stories and observations about his life and the nature around him are simple and spare, but manage to capture his awe at the world, and this sensibility is echoed in his minimalist drawing style: a haiku or Zen parable told in the cartoon shorthand of artful doodles. They have the deceptively simple allure of a Ron Sexsmith song.

Another long-time comics insider, the pathetic, self-deprecating Joe Matt, finds himself exhausted financially, sexually and creatively in Spent (D&Q, 120 pages, $22.95), the latest instalment in his series of ever-more-confessional autobiographical comics. The infamous cartoon onanist is a mix of Harvey Pekar and Larry David (if they peed in a jar, watched porn all day, obsessed over past injustices, girlfriends and money, and then watched more porn), and Matt's style does what classical American cartooning is supposed to do: tell the story without drawing attention to itself.

But the marrying of tone, content and drawing style is perhaps most elegantly accomplished in Exit Wounds (D&Q, 172 pages, $21.95), the first long work by Israeli cartoonist Rutu Modan (a member of the publishing collective Actus Tragicus, a dominant force in Israeli comics). After a young man learns that his estranged father may be the unidentified victim of a suicide bombing, a female soldier drags him on her search for answers. But it is not the outcome that matters. The political conflict and the tension of everyday life in Israel introduced by the bombing contribute to the tone of the story like any other background detail, but are not part of the puzzle. Instead, Modan uses the situation to create relationships between characters and then explore them, without any trace of sentimentality. Her main characters are fallible, at times unappealing, selfish or duplicitous, but these flaws are mundane rather than crucial.

Modan's art, too, is dispassionate. Using largely flat, watercolour hues and a consistent clear line, she creates an effect that is subdued and subtle. Elements of her style echo Hergé, but she eschews his right angles - people are realistically lumpy, not geometric - and her panels more tightly frame the characters. In the end, that's where the real story lies: There is no resolution, only the banal, sometimes petty, powerfully understated elements of human relationships.
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JAMES STURM'S AMERICA in Kirkus

Updated May 11, 2007


Sturm, James
JAMES STURM’S AMERICA: God, Gold, and Golems
Kirkus Reviews
April 15, 2007


The interplay of darkness and light distinguishes this three-part graphic narrative that probes the seamier recesses of the American soul.

The alliterative subtitle provides an apt description of the contents of this historical volume from award-winning artist Sturm (Unstable Molecules, 2003). The “God” section, titled “The Revival,” launches the narrative in the frontier of the early 1800s, when Missouri and Ohio were still the untamed West, and pilgrims proceeded through a wilderness of sin for the promise of salvation. It’s hard to sustain the faith amid the drinking, gambling and rampant fornication, with God’s absence felt more strongly than his presence. Meanwhile, the “Gold” section takes place “Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight,” which provides metaphoric resonance as well as a literal description of a hellhole mine marked by greed and betrayal. The narrative then flashes forward to the 1920s with “The Golem’s Mighty Swing,” the longest and most ambitious of the chapters and the one that finally allows some daylight. Here, the ethnic divisiveness that has been simmering through the earlier chapters comes to a boil, as the barnstorming Stars of David baseball team (“The Bearded Wandering Wonders”) experiences ridicule and hostility as its novelty value packs parks across the country. The Jewish squad features an African- merican ringer, transformed into “the Golem” by an unscrupulous promoter. Sturm captures the essence of the country as reflected in the all- merican pastime.

It doesn’t take many words or strokes for Sturm’s graphic artistry to leave a lasting impression.
 

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  JAMES STURM'S AMERICA in Publishers Weekly

Updated April 4, 2007


James Sturm's America: God, Gold, and Golems
JAMES STURM
Publishers Weekly

Three of Sturm's previously released graphic novels are gathered to create a Howard Zinn–like look at lesser-known episodes of America's past. "The Revival" is a short, sharp piece dramatizing the massive 1801 religious revival meeting in Cane Ridge, Ky. (the country's biggest ever), with the story of a traveling couple who arrive at the meeting with fire in their eyes and a dark secret pushing them on. In "Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight," successive waves of greed, racism and blind folly swamp a Western mining town in the late 19th century. Because the allegory for the evils of Western expansion is so blatantly rendered, it's by far the weakest segment. The strongest is the last and longest, "The Golem's Mighty Swing," which adds a welcome dose of lyricism. Building on scraps of early baseball history, the Negro Leagues and Jewish mysticism, Sturm weaves a parable on racism and spectacle around a barnstorming, supposedly all-Jewish team in the 1920s called the Stars of David. The more the players parody themselves as mystical Hebrews, the more they earn. Sturm's art changes with the time period, moving from the dark gothic style of "The Revival" to the last story's clean and airy nostalgia. (June)

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James Sturm's America: God, Gold, and Golems




Newsarama interviews James Sturm

Updated March 16, 2007


ENTERING JAMES STURM'S AMERICA
by Daniel Robert Epstein

James Sturm's three books: The Revival, Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight, and The Golem's Mighty Swing have been collected into one edition called James Sturm's America. It’s 2007 and it still feels like we are living in his books. The first one, The Revival, examines the tent revival meetings in 1801 Kentucky, and with preachers talking fire and brimstone and “healing” the sick it has great relevance to people like Pat Robertson and The 700 Club. Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight looks at companies who will do anything, even sacrifice human life, for a buck and of course Sturm’s most famous book, The Golem's Mighty Swing, is about a Jewish baseball facing tension and racism as they travel through the American Midwest. I got a chance to talk with Sturm from his office at The Center for Cartoon Studies, which he co-founded.

Newsarama: Who's idea was it to package all three of your Drawn & Quarterly books into James Sturm's America?

James Sturm: From early on in the process I saw all three stories as being an interrelated single piece. That was something that [Drawn & Quarterly publisher] Chris [Oliveros] and I discussed many years ago. Then it was just a matter of timing. He has his concerns about the publisher in terms of selling through Golem books. When he switched distributors, there was a little window where D & Q wasn't putting out many books. The timing seems right now; because all the books are out and are more or less in print. Tom Devlin, who does a lot of the book design at Drawn & Quarterly, had been working through the book design and I couldn't be more thrilled to be working with Tom. I have a tremendous amount of admiration for all the books that he did at Highwater Books and all the books he's doing with Drawn & Quarterly. I just love working with people who know what they're doing [laughs].

NRAMA: Did you know it was going to end up being a trilogy?

JS: I didn't know it was going to be a trilogy when I did The Revival but I was doing Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight and I was really having a hard time figuring out what that piece was about and how it was going to proceed. Then I started writing The Golem's Mighty Swing and that started really moving along at a faster clip. It was at that point I realized, “Wow this is a trilogy.” Then Hundreds of Feet clicked. I went back to do that first, because I knew if I did the baseball book first, I probably wouldn't go back [laughs].

NRAMA: With having done Golem and this upcoming Satchel Paige book, I have to ask - is baseball is something you have an real affinity for, or just a subject to explore?

JS: I like baseball as much as the next baseball fan. I don't think I've watched a full baseball game in two years. I listen to them on the radio. My kitchen is never cleaner than during baseball season because I can just listen while I do stuff. But I had really no intention of doing the Satchel Paige book because of another project I was working on and I was getting the school up and running. It was really on the insistence of Brenda Bowen at Hyperion. She felt pretty strongly that I do this Satchel Paige book. I did it because I wanted the series to happen and I'm so glad I did. I got the sense that it was important that I do this book [laughs].

NRAMA: Better to do it than not do it is what you're saying.

JS: Well, I'm saying that Brenda was pretty insistent about me working on the Satchel Paige book. That was fine because I love baseball. It's funny because I did the Golem book, I did a New Yorker cover with a baseball theme and now I'm the baseball guy, but that's fine. This new book, even though there's baseball themes and all that, it's really different than the Golem book. You could probably tell a hundred baseball stories, one could be about racism, one could be about closeted issues of sexual identity and another one could be about corporate corruption. I love doing the research and it is very rewarding and fulfilling. I read narratives of folks who lived during the Jim Crow era and weaved that into the story. One of my favorite parts of creating books is the research and looking at all the old WPA [Works Progress Administration] era photographs and prints by Thomas Hart Benton and just interfacing with all this rich visual material and incorporating it into the book. One of the real pleasures for me in making comics is that research stage and all the things I have to immerse myself in before I feel like I'm making an authentic story.

NRAMA: How did you get interested in the pre-war American period?

JS: Many years ago, when I was just a young, hungry cartoonist [laughs], I did a series for Fantagraphics called The Cereal Killings. It was about breakfast cereal mascots and I was trying to explore questions I had about the way that culture and agriculture and food and entertainment, mix and mingle. When I did research about the breakfast cereal industry, that led me to the history of Kellogg's. The Kelloggs were Seventh Day Adventists and a lot of early American religion sprang out of this area in Western New York called the Burned Over District. I got very interested in how the origin of Kelloggs is so deeply rooted in early American religious movements. I was very drawn to the idea of breakfast cereal characters as commercial deities. When I was in graduate school, I traveled to India and in these villages there are parades with floating Ganesh and other indigenous deities.

Then you come down Fifth Avenue for Thanksgiving and what we have is not giant blowup Jesuses, but Ronald McDonald and Hello Kitty. I was thinking about what American figures do we have that aren't commercial legends and myths and I started thinking about Johnny Appleseed. Johnny Appleseed was a part of the Church of the New Jerusalem and he was a missionary. I started researching Johnny Appleseed and that led me to all these amazing accounts of the Cambridge Revival and when I read about those, I realized that that was what my book was about, not Johnny Appleseed. The Cambridge Revival sounded like a really intense affair, which I describe in the book. For someone living in Seattle during the 90’s, it struck a nerve because it was the intoxicating effect of the frontier of technology and how it was going to deliver us from all the ills of our world and bring us closer together and what could be accomplished if the whole world is connected together via the world wide web. It's a very similar vibe as the religious fervor that was happening in Kentucky in 1801 [laughs]. Also as someone that has gone to like 40 to 50 Grateful Dead shows, the descriptions really could have been right out of a Grateful Dead parking lot. People were just tripping back then, running around, barking, drumming, chasing imaginary animals up trees, speaking in tongues, dancing, ecstatic worship. This was really exciting stuff to read and think about, such as what are the powers and limitations of faith and how do we construct a reality through our belief system.

NRAMA: It seems like the second story in the book, Hundreds of Feet Below, seems less specific than The Revival, were you trying to make it more of a personal story?

JS: It's funny because I feel like The Revival is my high watermark in writing as a cartoonist whereas Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight, although just as thoroughly researched, was a fictional town and wasn't based on real events. So I guess maybe I don't necessarily share in your interpretation, but that's fine [laughs].

NRAMA: What made you keep going in that vein?

JS: I guess with Revival, you have this community that's looking up towards God for salvation, and Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight, asked what happens if instead of looking for spiritual salvation, instead of looking upward for God, you're looking straight down, literally into the ground for gold. The Revival is hopeful but with they move on. There are dark clouds but a sliver of light. But I feel like with Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight it's almost like a morality play. It is like what results from the profane pursuit of material wealth and how does that play out.

NRAMA: Touching upon some of your other work, speaking of Unstable Molecules which you did for Marvel, do you feel like doing that miniseries has satisfied your need to work with superheroes?

JS: [laughs] Did I deal with superheroes in that book?

NRAMA: Well, you dealt with the idea of them existing.

JS: Going back to Johnny Appleseed. Johnny Chapman was the real figure and Johnny Appleseed was the myth. In that sense, that's what the Unstable Molecules was. The Fantastic Four that exists at Marvel is Johnny Appleseed, my story was Johnny Chapman.

NRAMA: I know you were a fan of superheroes when you were younger, do you have any desire to do more with the mainstream heroes you grew up with?

JS: I don't think I would necessarily reject the opportunity if it was under the right circumstances. It has to be on terms I'm comfortable with but if it never happened, I'd be able to live with that. I don't think I'd lose a night's sleep or anything. There are a couple of characters or ideas that if the timing was right I'd say, "Yeah, I can work on this a little bit." But Marvel and DC have a lot of stake invested in these characters and they're very mindful of their own resources, so it's not always easy to do those kinds of things with them. Unstable Molecules editor Tom Brevoort gave me that space to do what I wanted to do and I appreciate that.

NRAMA: Did you see the Fantastic Four movie?

JS: I rented it about four or five months ago. Jaime Hernandez recommended it to me [laughs]. I asked him what he thought and he said it was a pretty good time, so on his recommendation I went and saw it. I thought it was fun. I saw the preview for the sequel online with the Silver Surfer being chased by Human Torch. It looks cool.

NRAMA: From what I’ve read it seems like things are going well at The Center [for Cartoon Studies]?

JS: This morning I got the school's first book. We're doing a book called Houdini: The Handcuff King with Hyperion that Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi wrote and drew. I edited it and co-designed it. It's a hardcover book. It looks really nice. You are always really afraid at the point you hand it to the printer. It's like your job is done in a way. I guess you could press check but there's a point where the book is going to be what it is. There's a huge feeling of dread right before I see the printed book because if something's wrong, there's no revision [laughs]. I got this book and it was a huge relief because it looks really nice with beautiful dust jacket and hardcover and the art is nice. I'm really thrilled to do these three books with Hyperion.

NRAMA: I didn't know The Center was going to be doing actual books. Was that always the plan?

JS: Yeah, we've been working on them the last few years.

NRAMA: How is it working with Hyperion?

JS: I was the series editor and I worked with an editor at Hyperion by the name of Brenda Bowen, who's is the Vice-President at Hyperion Books for Children.

NRAMA: How did you decide to do the Houdini book first?

JS: Basically Hyperion had an idea for doing biographies and they asked me to do a biography and they suggested Houdini. I knew that we needed Jason Lutes to work on that book. We decided the school could actually produce and package these books, working with Hyperion so that's what happened. Brenda is a really astute editor who really cares about making really nice books.

With startup business, you vacillate between incredible excitement and mild despair [laughs]. Actually, I shouldn't say that. That's not true. Not that much despair. I should say weariness sometimes, because we're doing these books with Hyperion, we're teaching, you recruit and you raise money and you're doing events and all these projects, but it's all good. I've got nothing to complain about.

NRAMA: Are you doing a book?

JS: I'm doing one that I wrote about Satchel Paige and Jim Crow. Rich Tommaso wrote it, drew it and inked it, and I did the layouts and design.
Then the third book is about Thoreau, by John Porcellino. It's a good marriage of artist and subject [laughs].

NRAMA: What's the application process like for The Center?

JS: They have to do a comic book featuring themselves, a piece of fruit, a robot and a snowman [laughs].

NRAMA: Those must be fun to read.

JS: They really are. The school just partnered with Diamond Comics, and we do a "Diamond in the rough" scholarship that Diamond promoted. The deadline was postmarked by February 1, so we're getting dozens of these applications from all over the country and I think we're going to announce the winner soon. But it's been great seeing all those come in and Diamond was great to work with. They really helped us. They sent packets out to all our accounts, all their stores, announcing the competition and follow stuff up with Diamond previews. It was good. They helped spread the word and sponsored the scholarship.

NRAMA: Do you have any ideas for where you’ll go after Satchel Paige?

JS: With two CCS students, I'm working on a how to make comics book for very young readers, five to ten year olds. It's partially inspired by [children's book author and illustrator] Ed Emberley. We've found a publisher but we can't announce it quite yet. Also Norton is reissuing all of Will Eisner’s instructional books and CCS is redesigning those. We're not going to be changing the content of his stuff or anything like that but just redesigning it to hopefully enhance what's already there. So between this how-to book for young kids and these instructional books and the how-to thing the school did with Kevin Huizenga, we're doing a lot of instructional books. But I guess that makes sense because we're a cartooning school.
 
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  James Sturm's America reviewed by Booklist

Updated February 28, 2007


Sturm, James. James Sturm’s America: God, Gold, and Golems. June 2007. 192p. illus. Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95 (9781897299050). 741.5.

Three of Sturm’s stories drawing on American history are here brought together in a compilation that enhances each one’s historicity. The briefest, “The Revival,” portrays frontier life in the early nineteenth century. “Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight” is set in Gold Rush country after the initial euphoria has waned, and only the patient and the stubborn vie for the mineral and the wealth it could bring. “The Golem’s Mighty Swing,” the best known of the three (it was published as a graphic novel in 2001), concerns professional baseball outside of the major and minor leagues in the 1920s. Social issues, including racial prejudice and intolerance, poverty, and family dynamics, are broached via both plot and character. Sturm provides excellent facial and physical expressions as well as good architectural and civic detail, making this is an easy crossover graphic novel for readers who enjoy American history made into well-told stories. Meanwhile, graphic novel stalwarts familiar with some but not all of Sturm’s work will be most pleased. ––Francisca Goldsmith

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CCS in the Boston Globe

Updated February 3, 2006


Best of the New: Ideas
January 29, 2006

Cartoonist College

What do an Ivy League graduate and a former college basketball player from Texas have in common with a few art-school types? They're members of the first class at The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont, which opened last fall. Cofounder James Sturm believes his is the only institution of higher learning where applicants submit a comic featuring themselves, a snowman, and a robot. But it's not all fun; tuition alone is $14,000 - and that doesn't include colored pencils. Results from the first semester look good: "It's a pass/no credit system," says Sturm, "just like Harvard Medical School."
 
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  Center for Cartoon Studies in the Village Voice

Updated January 19, 2006


The Interview

Picture This

Talking with James Sturm, co-founder of the nation's first school for cartoon studies

by Nick Mamatas
January 18th, 2006

"As soon as we are no longer a vital institution we shut our doors."

James Sturm planned to give up reading comics when he started college at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1980s, but exposure to underground gods like R. Crumb and Kim Deitch changed his life. Sturm attended the School of Visual Arts in New York and worked with the seminal comic magazine RAW before moving on to co-found Seattle's alternative weekly, The Stranger. Acclaimed for his graphic novel The Golem's Mighty Swing, Sturm recently co-founded the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont, to train the next generation of comics creators. CCS doesn't yet have degree-granting status, but is pursuing accreditation.

Generations of cartoonists are self-taught. Why found the Center?

I wanted to teach and create a cartooning program that was more reflective of comics as an art form and not just a commercial art. From The Iowa Writers' Workshop to the NYU Film School to Yale's Painting department so many of our country's finest artists have attended schools.

And schooling has been heavily criticized as well. The "workshopped" short story scrubbed clean of anything interesting is almost a cliché, as were "calling card" independent films for hopeful hacks in the 1990s.

The anti-school sentiment you are expressing is fairly common, and I suppose many schools are guilty of encouraging that criticism. However, I think there are a lot of frustrated young cartoonists in art departments throughout the country who want have a meaningful dialogue about their work. For the most part they won't find that at art schools and universities. My hope is that CCS functions as some sort of cartooning Black Mountain College. As soon as we are no longer a vital institution we shut our doors.

Are comics being taken more seriously now, or is every mainstream article still "Zap! Bam! Pow! Comics Grow Up!"?

It seems like comics have come of age in regards to how they are presented in the press. The current "Masters of American Cartooning Show" at The Hammer Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A. demands that comics be considered as thoughtfully as other art forms.

Where does this new seriousness come from, especially given the dominance of superheroes and newspaper strips?

I think it comes from the amazing comics being produced over the last several years. Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Seth, Marjane Satrapi, Charles Burns, Craig Thompson to name just a few that are producing work that can no longer be readily dismissed as an anomaly. I remember when Spiegelman's Maus first started showing up on people's radar, reviewers would say that it really wasn't a comic!

What about manga? Are you getting manga-influenced students?

Absolutely. I see a lot of bad manga-inspired work but I don't think manga is to blame. Young artists are more often drawn to style over substance and manga just happens to be the style of the day. On the plus side manga readership seems more gender balanced, which hopefully will get more women thinking about making comics themselves.

CSS's mission statement says that it is committed to "socially responsible business", yet it's a truism that the work-for-hire contracts the big companies offer are horrid, and that sexism is rife in the field. Lea Hernandez recently quit the comics scene; a giant ass-shot in All-Star Batman was the last straw for her. What's the gender/political mix of CSS faculty and students?

Eight out of CCS's first 20 students are women. Less than half but twice as many as I would find in a class room when I taught cartooning at other schools. Comics having been historically a "boys club" and that fact has certainly contributed to the medium's arrested development.

I think the type of student that CCS is attracting is more of an auteur and less concerned with finding a job penciling Iron Man. Our five female faculty members logged significant time in front of students. We've already have had visits from Alison Bechdel and Ariel Bordeux and look forward to a visit from Trina Robbins and novelist Myla Goldberg. If CCS's first students are any indication they certainly are a socially concerned do-gooder bunch.
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Publisher's Weekly Comics Week - CCS feature

Updated November 28, 2005


The Center for Cartoon Studies—More Than Just a School
This story originally appeared in PW Comics Week on Nov. 22, 2005

By Douglas Wolk -- 11/22/2005


Cartoonist Ed Koren Speaks; James Sturm Looks on
"You know what I got in the mail today?" James Sturm says excitedly. "All the preliminary sketches that Al Jaffee does when he does a Mad fold-in," he says referring to long-time Mad magazine cartoonist. Sturm, a cartoonist whose books include the critically acclaimed graphic novels The Golem's Mighty Swing and Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules, is the founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies, a new institution that's rapidly turning White River Junction, Vt., into a comics nexus.

The CCS features a cartooning school (which admitted its first students this fall), rotating exhibitions (most recently New Yorker cartoonist Edward Koren) and, now, in an old firehouse that's a short walk from its main building, the Schulz Library—a collection of thousands of comics-related books, pamphlets and ephemera, funded by Charles Schulz's widow, Jean Schulz, to which Jaffee and many other cartoonists have contributed original work. This summer, the school will offer a series of one-week workshops.

In addition, the Center has a deal with Hyperion Books for Children to produce a series of comics biographies; as Sturm points out, "We're called the Center for Cartoon Studies—we're not just a school." The first two titles under the Hyperion deal will appear next fall. The first book will be about Harry Houdini, written by Sturm and Jason Lutes and drawn by Nick Bertozzi, with an introduction by Glen David Gold. The other book will be on Satchel Paige and will be written by Sturm and drawn by Rich Tommaso, who just moved to White River Junction himself, and will include an introduction by African-American studies professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. Next in line is Henry David Thoreau, by minimalist cartoonist John Porcellino (Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man).

On Mondays, the Center's 20 students have drawing classes (taught by cartoonists James Kochalka and Steve Bissette, among others); on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they have classes on writing (taught by Peter Money and Sarah Stewart Taylor) and the history of comics. On Wednesdays, former Highwater Books publisher Tom Devlin teaches a production and design class. All of their assignments are designed to allow students to work toward publication in some form. "Right now it's our first semester ever—we're just kind of feeling out the whole process and how the school's going to function," Sturm says. "We're going to offer a one-year certificate and a two-year MFA once we gain our degree-granting authority, which we do not have yet." Alison Bechdel (Dykes to Watch Out For), Barron Storey and Alec Longstreth have already been visiting artists at the school, and Chris Ware, Kevin Huizenga and Bill Griffith are scheduled to visit soon.

The Schulz Library (whose core is Sturm's personal collection from the past 30 years) is rapidly expanding; a few comics publishers, like Drawn & Quarterly, have sent their entire catalogues. And the students (who range in age from 19 to 32) are a close-knit group, Sturm reports; many of them live in the Hotel Coolidge, across the street from the school.

Any big surprises that have come out of the program so far? "In the back alley behind the school, we've put up a basketball net," he says. "It turns out that these geeky cartoonists are pretty good basketball players."
 
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  Boston Globe Education Section Spotlights CCS

Updated January 25, 2005


FRONT OF THE CLASS

Cartooning with class
January 23, 2005

James Sturm, 39, has loved comics since before he could read. Born in New York City, he had the chance to take cartooning courses in college, but never took one, thinking it was kid stuff. Later, Sturm, who wrote the graphic novel, "The Golem's Mighty Swing," changed his thinking about cartooning classes and began teaching others the craft. He founded the National Association of Comics Art Educators to urge more schools to include cartooning in their curricula, and last year, decided to start his own school. The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt., will begin classes in September and open with 20 students.

ON BEING A CARTOONIST: I don't think that anyone really decides to become a cartoonist; I think it's more of a calling than a decision. . . . I do comics for adults, for a more mature readership, which only now is becoming culturally accepted.

LESSONS TO LEARN IN CARTOON SCHOOL: If you're a competent cartoonist, you have to learn how to draw, you have to learn to design. If you're going to disseminate your work, which our curriculum covers, you have to learn how to scan your pages in, or create your work on the computer perhaps. . . . You have to learn the skills of desktop publishing. You have to learn research skills, let's say if you're writing historical fiction. . . . Costume design. Lighting. Staging. There's so much that goes into making a comic.

WHY WHITE RIVER JUNCTION? It's a place where obviously a lot of people have passed through over the years. We were able to find affordable space and long-term leases. It's just a neat old town that people just have very strong feelings about.

CARTOONS DESERVE RESPECT: I just think because they are so immediately accessible, they are easier to dismiss. Somehow we associate them with juveniles, that they're for kids. I don't know. . . . People were a little bit afraid of comics for a while. In the '50s they would throw them on the bonfires and burn them because they thought they were rotting the brains of America's youth. There were Senate subcommittee hearings, and comics were seen as an impediment to education, whereas today comics are [seen as] a great way to get kids excited about reading. In the '50s, they just thought that there were all these horror comics, and that there were homosexual underpinnings to Batman and Robin, and there was this backlash against them. The comics industry started self-policing, self-censoring, and it really put the medium back quite a bit in terms of its development.

GOAL FOR STUDENTS: Ultimately you want students to become intimate with their own creative process and learn how to ask the right questions. You just want to help them learn to problem-solve, to tell stories, to string images together in a way that creates meaning.

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HOW Mag features Sturm & CCS!

Updated January 18, 2005


PDF attached.
 
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  Washington Post Features Front Page Article of Sturm's CCS!

Updated January 10, 2005



washingtonpost.com

Town Sees Its Revival in Art
School for Cartoonists Is Key to Vermont Community's Plans

By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 9, 2005; Page A03


WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, Vt. -- The changing face of this gritty hamlet appears in the form of a glossy poster mounted under a tattered green awning in the Main Street window of the Colodny's Surprise Department Store, which closed more than a decade ago.

Pen-and-ink illustrations of a woman smoking a cigarette, a baby with a sailor's hat and a menacing-looking robot adorn the advertisement for the future home of the Center for Cartoon Studies. "All Types Welcome," it reads. "Opening Fall 2005."

"No one has ever tried anything quite like this," said James Sturm, the school's founder and a cartoonist who has taught and practiced his craft from Seattle to Savannah, Ga. "There are some programs within larger art schools or places where they train you to get work at Marvel or D.C. Comics. But I envision this as more of an art school than a trade school, a place where cartoonists can be intimate with the creative process."

At first glance, it would be hard to imagine a less likely home for what Sturm said will be one of just two academic institutions in the country devoted solely to cartooning. (The other is the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, founded in 1976 in Dover, N.J.) The heyday of White River Junction came and went almost a century ago. The downtown of brick storefronts once bustled as about 50 passenger trains a day rumbled through what was the busiest New England train station north of Boston.

"Then, after World War II, the interstate highway came along," said Gayle Ottmann, executive director of the local chamber of commerce. "And just like that, people didn't have much reason to come here anymore."

Like many New England towns, White River Junction, with a population of about 2,500, over the past century, found itself the victim of changing economic forces.

"We're not terribly different from a lot of industrial-age mill towns, except our mill was the railroad," said David Briggs, proprietor of the Hotel Coolidge, which has dominated much of Main Street since 1925. "The challenge for a long time has been trying to figure out how to make a transition to new uses."

While some communities facing a similar problem have turned to new industries, White River Junction is emerging as a vibrant artists' enclave. Local leaders created studios and galleries in dormant buildings and tapped a small but active arts community as a catalyst. The town's location near the intersection of two major highways -- as well as being five miles from Dartmouth College -- has helped attract new talent.

Among the recent additions to the town are the highly regarded Northern Stage theater company, staffed by a rotating troupe of professional actors from Broadway and London's West End; the quirky and avant-garde Main Street Museum, which boasts an exhibit devoted to "modern art created by accident" and a "hall of industrial antiquities"; and a former bread factory that has been transformed into thousands of square feet of affordable studio and retail space for more than 40 local artists and craftspeople.

More than 300 people attended a "Creative Economy Summit" that Briggs and other civic leaders helped organize last year to emphasize the economic potential of the community's new niche.

George Mason University public policy professor Richard Florida -- whose 2002 book "Rise of the Creative Class" argued that municipalities capable of attracting and retaining creative thinkers and entrepreneurs can boost slumping economic fortunes -- said that such community involvement is critical to the success of revival efforts.

"Cities and towns all over are undergoing similar creative rehabilitations, whether it's fixing up urban warehouse districts or renovating old rural downtowns," he wrote in an e-mail message. "There's no reason this project can't work, so long as people on all sides become genuinely involved in the town's social and cultural life."

Town officials say the cartooning school, which is slated to open in September, is the centerpiece of their development plan. Sturm, who selected White River Junction almost by accident, after moving north from Georgia to live with relatives in nearby Hartland, Vt., is reviewing applications for an inaugural class of 20 students.

"Because of some of the problems they have had here, it is the perfect place for a school like this," he said. "The issues and conflicts that make for great literature are all here."

The school is arriving at a time when cartooning itself is undergoing something of a renaissance. Mass-produced and mainstream superhero comic books have been adapted into Hollywood hits such as "X-Men" and "Spiderman." Graphic novels, the name given to more high-brow illustrated literature, have earned broad critical acclaim.

"This is a calling, like any other medium," said Sturm, whose own graphic novel about Jewish baseball players, "The Golem's Mighty Swing," came out in 2001 and sold about 10,000 copies.

He has already begun attracting the giants of the field to White River Junction, conferring legitimacy, he said, on the fledgling institution.

Art Spiegelman, author of "MAUS: A Survivor's Tale," an award-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, gave a lecture here last month and is on the new school's advisory board.

Matt Groening, creator of "The Simpsons" television program, which began as a comic book, donated animation cells to be auctioned off to raise money for the school.

And Peter Laird, co-creator of the popular "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" series that spawned a television show and movies, donated $150,000 last month to help remodel the Colodny building to create classroom and studio space.

Renovations of the storefront, which had not been consistently occupied since the early 1990s, began about six weeks ago. Sturm has also raised money from a mix of private donors, state and local foundations, and government sources. He plans to spend about $250,000 on renovations, plus another $150,000 installing a computer lab in the basement.

Some store owners are skeptical that the changes will help the town regain its status as a commercial center. "Not unless you lower the sales tax," said Jeremy Dixon, who owns Professional Camera.

Still, seven cartooning students, who were required to submit a portfolio, have been admitted to the two-year program here, and five have made deposits. The annual tuition is $14,000.

In its first year, the school will offer five courses to be taught by Sturm and more than 20 local and visiting practitioners. He is seeking state accreditation to confer associate degrees. Eventually, he plans to expand the student body.

Ottmann said it may be years before a quantifiable economic impact on the town can be felt, but she has already noticed one major difference on Main Street since the artists began arriving a few years ago.

"You used to have no trouble finding a place to park, because no one was around," she said. "Now you have to drive around a little bit, but it's not a bad problem to have."


© 2005 The Washington Post Company




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USATODAY.com's HipClix Spotlights CCS

Updated January 4, 2005


What classes are taught at comics college?

Welcome to my entertainment blog. I update it throughout each weekday, so bookmark this page. E-mail comments and suggestions to wmatheson@usatoday.com. If you like what you see, try my weekly column, Pop Candy.

Happy Tuesday: I just came across this story about the new Center for Cartoon Studies, the first college dedicated to comics. Classes include "Introduction to Graphic Narratives" and "Survey of the Drawn Story." My goal is to visit sometime in 2005, maybe after they open in the fall. Posted 8:29 a.m.

 
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  Boston Globe features Sturm and the Center for Cartoon Studies!

Updated January 3, 2005



James Sturm (at right) with cartoonist Art Spiegelman and Dartmouth comics scholar Ana Merino, at the Center for Cartoon Studies' future home in White River Junction, Vt.

School for sketchers

A new cartooning college wants to promote the spirit of independent comics -- and help enliven a Vermont town.

By Jeet Heer  |  January 2, 2005

IN THE OLD DAYS, the only thing an aspiring cartoonist needed was a mailbox, a few stamps, and a dream. Throughout the early 20th century, a surprising number of successful cartoonists (and countless hopefuls) learned the basics through correspondence courses advertised in comic books and on books of matches. During the Depression, the teenage Charles Schulz learned lettering and perspective through the mail-based Federal School (where the future creator of "Peanuts" received a C+ in "drawing for children"). The mail-order schools also graduated such distinguished cartoonists as Winsor McCay ("Little Nemo"), Chester Gould ("Dick Tracy"), and E.C. Segar ("Popeye").

Others were lucky enough to get their start apprenticing themselves to the masters. After World War II, Jules Feiffer, then still a high-school student, badgered his way into a gofer job at the studio of Will Eisner, creator of the comic book detective the Spirit. "He kept me around for $10 a week, just to fill in, to do blacks and rule borders and things like that," he later recalled in The Comics Journal. Within a year of working for Eisner, Feiffer was writing the scripts for "The Spirit," often laced with an ironic wit that prefigured his subsequent career as a satirical cartoonist in The Village Voice.

In recent years, as cartooning has become more self-conscious as a distinct art form with its own traditions, the ad hoc tradition of mail-order schooling and apprenticeship is giving way to more formal education, from full-fledged MFA programs to courses on the history of comics in mainstream curricula from MIT to California State University.

Now, in an era in which maverick artists like Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware have created prize-winning and critically celebrated graphic novels, cartoonist and impresario James Sturm thinks it's time for a school where students master the craft and ethos of independent comics.

The Center For Cartoon Studies (CCS), which Sturm is setting up in an old storefront in White River Junction, Vt., won't be the first college dedicated entirely to comics. (The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, N.J., founded by cartoonist Joe Kubert ("Hawkman," "Sgt. Rock") in 1977, admits some four dozen students a year, some of whom have ended up drawing comics for industry mainstays like DC and Marvel.) But Sturm sees his own academy -- which will open its doors to its first 20 students next fall -- as something different.

Sturm's school will take its lead from "cartoonists who consider themselves artists rather than just craftsmen," he says. "I see it as an Iowa Writer's Workshop or New York University Film School equivalent to cartooning. We're geared more towards the auteur."

. . .

In appropriating the highbrow -- and much debated -- film term "auteur" (coined in the 1950s by Francois Truffaut to describe the distinctive stylistic stamp that great directors put on all aspects of their projects), Sturm is placing himself firmly on one side of a fissure that divides the comics world. For most of the 20th century, comics -- whether newspaper strips or newsstand titles from "Superman" to "Garfield" -- have been thoroughly governed by the rules of mass production. Some supremely talented creators like Schulz and George Herriman ("Krazy Kat") created their own characters and worked with minimal assistance. But almost invariably, comics have been produced in an assembly-line fashion, with a sharp division of labor between the writer, artist, inker, letterer, and colorer.

It wasn't until the late 1960s that there first emerged a cohort of cartoonists for whom artistic self-expression and a fierce do-it-yourself ethic was valued as an end in itself. Instead of passing tasks like penciling, inking, coloring, and lettering to different hands, artists like R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman did everything themselves -- while telling stories that ranged from well-grounded biographies of blues musicians to harrowing autobiographical accounts of failed suicides.

Born in New York in 1965, Sturm belongs to the second generation of underground cartoonists, who inherited the self-sufficient ethos of the pioneers while doing more thoughtful work than the early underground comics, many of which were just extended sex-and-drugs joke books. Drawn with woodcut starkness, Sturm's graphic novels and shorter works offer an odd-angled view of American history. One Sturm story, "The Revival," is set in the Kentucky frontier of 1801, where a forlorn family is looking for religious redemption at a open-air revival meeting. "The Golem's Mighty Swing," his prize-winning 2001 graphic novel, records the misadventures of a Jewish baseball team barnstorming through early 20th-century America, where they come up against heartland anti-Semitism.

For Sturm, the essence of his new school is the integration of all aspects of cartooning, from the writing of the original idea to inking the finished work to the nuts and bolts of self-publishing, including haggling with printers and distributors.

"Traditionally the greatest comics, whether Spiegelman's `Maus' or Herriman's `Krazy Kat' are generally the result of one person's vision," argues Sturm, who studied with Spiegelman at the School of Visual Arts' MFA program in the early 1990s. "When you are teaching comics, you can't separate the writing and the drawing. I think other programs try and do that, so you have a course that is called `comics script-writing.' I don't think we'd ever have a course called `comics script-writing' because when you are writing with pictures and doing thumbnail drafts, you can't separate those two things."

CCS will have 20 students in its first class next fall, with an eventual goal of 80 students per term. Tuition is $14,000 a year for the two-year program. (The school is in the process of gaining accreditation, which will allow it to grant degrees and help students get financial aid.) In addition to its full-time faculty of five, the school has an all-star roster of visiting faculty that will include Spiegelman, Ware, Vermont's James Kochalka ("American Elf"), and Canadian cartoonist Seth ("Clyde Fans").

In setting up the school, Sturm has been helped by the fact that White River Junction, in economic decline since its heyday as a railway hub, is trying to revitalize itself by luring the so-called "creative economy." The state of Vermont has given the school a grant of $30,000 and leased them the former Colodny Surprise Department Store at a below-market price. Local businesses, ranging from lawyers and accountants to a cafe, have chipped in with in-kind gifts, often of services done pro bono.

The school has also received a $150,000 donation from Peter Laird, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- and a man who understands the value of self-publishing. Laird and partner Kevin Eastman wisely decided to self-publish the initial comic books about their famous shelled heroes, thereby earning a fortune denied to the creators of Superman and Captain America.

. . .

Paul Karasik, a Martha's Vineyard-based cartoonist who studied with Spiegelman in the early 1980s, is enthusiastic about the possibilities offered by Sturm's school. But he does sound one note of warning: Cartoonists who shell out $14,000 a year to study there shouldn't expect to earn a living through comics afterwards.

"The practicalities of cartooning as a career are simple -- it is very impractical," Karasik notes. "How many cartoonists make a good enough living to sustain themselves, let alone a family? Very, very few."

While artists like Spiegelman, Ware, and Daniel Clowes ("Ghost World") have achieved big sales figures and a crossover audience, the vast majority of alternative cartoonists haven't been anywhere nearly as successful. Despite publishing (with coauthor David Mazzucchelli) an acclaimed adaptation of Paul Auster's experimentalist novel "City of Glass" and (with his sister Judy Karasik) a comic book about having an autistic sibling, Karasik hasn't been able to make a full-time career of cartooning. Today, he earns his living as development director of a charter school he helped found on the Vineyard.

Sturm (who previously supported himself by teaching at the College of Art and Design in Savannah and working as art director for The Stranger, Seattle's alternative weekly) acknowledges that it's very difficult to make money as an alternative cartoonist. But he insists that the skills that will be taught in his school do have some practical value.

"Spiegelman was just up here for a fundraiser and he talked about how the skills you develop as a cartoonist are very transferable to other mediums," Sturm observes. "It's not just illustration. It's distilling down images and using them to tell stories. You are really creating a visual language, learning how to balance words and pictures in meaningful ways in order to communicate. . .. I [have done] storyboarding and toy design. Any work like this is a manifestation of the skills you develop as a cartoonist."

Yet for incoming students, the pragmatic question of how to make a living at cartooning is less important than finding a supportive environment for honing their skills. "I've done the academic route and while some places are open to work with comics there were a lot of people who were skeptical about it," says Anne Thalheimer, who wrote her 2002 doctoral dissertation in the English department at the University of Delaware on lesbian alternative comics.

Thalheimer was attracted to the opportunity to learn from CCS's high-wattage faculty and visiting lecturers. "The thought of being able to work one-on-one with the people whose work I've read and admired was so captivating," she says. And then there's the chance for ordinary shop-talk. "It'll be helpful even to talk about the basics, like `Do you use a Bristol board? What kind of pen do you use? Is it Micron?"'

Talking to Thalheimer, it's clear that, for all its novelty, part of the appeal of Sturm's school is that it will recreate something that had been lost in recent years: the community of mentors and apprentices that has allowed the cartooning craft to survive from one generation to the next.

Jeet Heer is the coeditor of "Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium," which has just been published by the University of Mississippi Press. 


© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
 


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Boston Phoenix features Sturm events as Editor's pick!

Updated November 12, 2004


TUESDAY AND WEDNESDAY: One of the foremost literary cartoonists on the scene, James Sturm is preparing to open the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont; it will start up in the fall of 2005 with a faculty to include Art Spiegelman (with whom Sturm worked at Raw magazine), Chris Ware, Seth, and Craig Thompson. Sturm himself is the author of the highly regarded The Golem's Mighty Swing (about a barnstorming Jewish baseball team of the 1920s) and the forthcoming Above & Below (both from Drawn & Quarterly). On Tuesday at 5 p.m., Sturm will do a one-hour presentation of The Golem's Mighty Swing at Congregation Mishkahn Tefila, 300 Hammmond Pond Parkway in Chestnut Hill; call (617) 332-7770. And on Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m. at Comicopia, 464 Commonwealth Avenue in Kenmore Square, he'll sign books and review portfolios of candidates for the two-year intensive-study program at his new school; call (617) 266-4266.
 
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  James Sturm Events In Boston 11/16 & 11/17!

Updated November 3, 2004


James Sturm, of the critically acclaimed graphic novels THE GOLEM'S MIGHTY SWING and Eisner-winning UNSTABLE MOLECULES, will be making special appearances in the Boston area in November to promote his new D+Q comic book release of ABOVE & BELOW.

Also, James will be reviewing portfolios for the Fall 2005 class at the Center for Cartoon Studies a new graduate art school devoted to the medium of sequential arts in White River Junction, Vermont.

11/16/04 - 5:00 PM
A one-hour presentation on THE GOLEM'S MIGHTY SWING at Congregation Mishkan Tefila, 300 Hammond Pond Parkway, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467 on Tuesday, November 16, 2004, at 5:00 pm. Signing to follow.

11/17/04 - 4:00 PM & 6:00 PM
4:00 PM Portfolio review at Comicopia in Boston. 6:00 PM signing. 464 Commonwealth Ave, Kenmore Square Boston, MA 02215

For more information visit:

www.drawnandquarterly.com

www.comicopia.com

www.cartoonstudies.org

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James Sturm Comic in the Boston Globe!

Updated November 1, 2004


James Strum creates an original comic about the Red Sox Curse for the Boston Globe!
 
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  James Sturm Answers Five Questions on Newsarama!

Updated October 8, 2004



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EW Reviews The Golem's Mighty Swing

Updated September 16, 2004


Entertainment Weekly reviews James Sturm's THE GOLEM's MIGHTY SWING!


THE GOLEM'S MIGHTY SWING (Drawn and Quarterly, $16.95)

James Sturm's newly reprinted graphic novel reads like the movie John Sayles should've made instead of Eight Men Out: In the 1920s, a Jewish baseball team barnstorms the heartland, content to play for love of the game. But when they allow a slick promoter to tweak their gimmick with a golem--the cabalistic automaton of Hebrew myth- -foretold chaos ensues. Sturm's prose is as elegantly understated as his line work. And every now and then he throws the heater: "They've been waiting for their Messiah a thousand years," says one opponent. "So they know how to wait on a curveball." A- --Tom Russo
 

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  Edmonton Journal on The Golem's Mighty Swing

Updated August 27, 2003


This item from The Edmonton Journal dates from April 27, 2003, but was only recently brought to our attention.
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D+Q at MOCCA in NYC and Library convention in Toronto this weekend

Updated July 1, 2003


Although D+Q is temporarily a one man operation once again the company will still manage to be in two different cities at the same time this weekend. Amazing! In Toronto on Saturday and Sunday The American and Canadian Library Associations join forces for the first time since 1960 to host the biggest library convention on the continent. Publisher Chris Oliveros will be representing D+Q at the Chronicle Books booth. Meanwhile in New York City, D+Q will be in attendence at the MOCCA comic art show, with Peter Birkemoe (the owner of The Beguiling, one of the world's best comic stores), representing the company. MOCCA runs all day Sunday at the Puck building on Lafayette street.

In person at the Toronto Library convention: Seth and Chester Brown signing at 3:30 pm, Sunday June 22nd in the Chronicle Books booth.

At MOCCA, in New York, James Sturm and R. Sikoryak will be signing at the D+Q booth in the early afternoon.
 

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Sturm's Baseball issue New Yorker cover

Updated May 1, 2003


James Sturm's art graces the cover of the April 29th, 2003 New Yorker issue, the issue which celebrates baseball in the USA.

Congrats to James.

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The Comics Journal interview with James Sturm

Updated April 13, 2003


James Sturm
Interviewed by Tom Spurgeon
excerpted from The Comics Journal #251
Illustration from The Comics Journal #211, © 1999 James Sturm and Art Baxter

Still Understanding

TOM SPURGEON: Let me ask you about the McCloud comic essay that you and Art Baxter did for an issue of the Journal. You very recently made a positive reference to McCloud's book, even after the thousands of words that have been written either disparaging or picking over Scott's work. You referred to it as the seminal text for teaching comics.

JAMES STURM: Understanding Comics is a great text for teaching comics. Is it the Bible? No. But it's a way of initiating discussion. At least it's something there that you can respond to. I hear far more praise for it than I do criticism. I don't understand why people disparage it.

SPURGEON: Has it been useful to you as a teaching tool?

STURM: Yeah. It's wonderful. My intro class, there's so much studio work so there was not much time to read, but we read that, we read Maus, and we read On Directing Film by David Mamet. And these three texts give a pretty solid, at least a jumping-off point to talk about most things that I want to discuss or things that I feel should be brought up.

SPURGEON: Maus because of its understated formalism?

STURM: That for sure, and just how accomplished it is in every respect. Art is someone who thinks through every line he puts on paper and has a reason for it being there. I think the best cartoonists are very deliberate; nothing's an accident. Until Jimmy Corrigan came out, maybe, you'd be hard-pressed to compare anything to Maus in terms of what it accomplished. I'm sure you could, but I can't think of anything off the top of my head.

SPURGEON: You lay the responsibility for better work at the artist's feet.

STURM: Sure. You can complain all that you want about comics and how horrible the industry is and a lot of cartoonists are so defeatist about it. How do you change people's minds? How do you offer evidence to the contrary? You have to make good work. And you can't wait until someone publishes you. You have to have that faith that this will find a place. And if there's enough of this stuff, people will start recognizing it.

SPURGEON: Art Spiegelman said on Sixty Minutes II recently that he's almost come to a different opinion in the last six months to a year as to how many artists were taking up this responsibility to produce good work. Has your opinion changed as to how much good work is being done?

STURM: I think there's a tremendous amount of work, really interesting and good work being done. I think that a lot of these people are relatively young. People need to stick with it for longer. When I went to SPX and saw Kevin Huizenga's work or Clumsy I was blown away. There's a lot of people I think doing good work right now.

SPURGEON: And that's different from what you saw four or five years ago, when you wrote the piece?

STURM: I was supposed to respond to a specific chapter of Understanding Comics. I think I was reacting to something in Scott's general enthusiasm: "The medium itself was jet-propelled -- just strap it on!" I don't think he meant that, of course, but you know what I mean. Unbridled optimism is one of Scott's gifts and perhaps I was unfairly trying to balance that with some pessimism.

SPURGEON: You seem to have a very different opinion now than you did then. As an art form, you said back then comics are in a state of arrested development.

STURM: I still think that. I'm excited about it, but 99 percent of the stuff being done is still garbage. Isn't it?

SPURGEON: It seems to me that there is a definite increase in the amount of considerable work, maybe not great work, but stuff that you'd even consider to be decent work or worth looking at.

STURM: I agree with that. Just think of all of these cartoonists that saw Maus in their high-school and college years who are now coming of age. And now, think of all of those kids that are in high school and college who are coming across not just Crumb and Spiegelman but Seth, Ware, Clowes, etc. I'm optimistic about comics. I think there are always going to be people that want to do it. The general skill level is pretty high. With desktop publishing as well, people are able to make these beautifully designed things and make it look like something substantial rather quickly. Hopefully some of these people will have something to say. I'm optimistic. Yeah
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