In the year spanning Fall 2009 and Fall 2010, the Grand Old Men and Women of Comics unleashed what strikes me as an all but unprecedented onslaught of major graphic novels. Joe Sacco and Footnotes in Gaza. Robert Crumb and The Book of Genesis Illustrated. Gilbert Hernandez and High Soft Lisp. Daniel Clowes and Wilson. Jim Woodring and Weathercraft. Kim Deitch and The Search for Smilin’ Ed. Chris Ware and The ACME Novelty Library #20: Lint. Lynda Barry and Picture This. Charles Burns and X’d Out. Joyce Farmer and Special Exits. Seth and Palookaville #20. Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez and Love and Rockets: New Stories #3. Stretching from the underground comix era of the mid-to-late ’60s all the way through the great alternative-comics wave that first crested in the early ’90s, the O.G.s arrived en masse to show the whippersnappers how it’s done.
Unsurprisingly, the creators themselves seem aware of this, too. In the interviews with Daniel Clowes and Jaime Hernandez that closed out his excellent annual Holiday Interview Series, Tom Spurgeon got the two comics legends to talk a bit about their peers. In addition to talking about how the cancellation by their creators of Los Bros Hernandez’ Love and Rockets Vol. 1 and Peter Bagge’s Neat Stuff and Hate spurred him to continue his own Eightball series beyond the point where it was a practical mode of delivery for his comics, Clowes addressed the recent wave of major comics from his generation very specifically:
SPURGEON: One more thing I wanted to ask you about. You published a major work this year; a lot of guys in sort of your generation of cartoonists had major works out this year.
SPURGEON: Do you have a sense of being a part of this wider group of cartoonists?
CLOWES: I would hope. I sort of feel like it’s those great guys and then there’s me. [Spurgeon laughs]
SPURGEON: Is there a competitive streak that reveals itself in terms of you and your peers?
CLOWES: There used to be when we were younger. And in a good way. I think we were all just trying to show each other what we could do. “He did that; I can do that, too.” I certainly don’t feel it any more at all. I just feel a deep appreciation for the stuff and I love that it exists. I try not to take it for granted, the fact that it’s out there in the world and it very easily could not be. These guys can all decide to do something else, or could have decided that a long time ago. To have more new stuff that makes life better, I don’t want to feel anything but utterly appreciative of it.
Meanwhile, Jaime relates that when it came time to both create a new locale and delve into darker material than usual in his L&R stories “Browntown” and “The Love Bunglers,” his brother Gilbert, creator of the “Palomar” stories, was the person he turned to:
Gilbert and me always ask each other, “So, what do you got in the new issue? What’s coming up?” And I go, “Well, I got this one story about Maggie, blah blah blah…” and I called it “Maggie in Palomar.”
SPURGEON: Speaking of degree of difficulty issues, “Browntown” deals in straight-forward fashion with serial child sex abuse. There is a lot of bad art made about devastating issues like that. How wary were you having that be part of your story? How do you treat subject matter like that so it doesn’t get reduced to talking about an issue. Is it a focus on an individual character? Were you worried that it might be taken the wrong way or otherwise capsize the story?
HERNANDEZ: The one thing I was worried about I asked Gilbert’s advice on because he does this stuff every issue. [laughter] He’s a pro.
I was a little scared to do it. I wondered if all the pedophiles were going to be my fans. I was scared of that, because I’ve been removed from that stuff for a long time. My stuff has mellowed out a lot compared to Gilbert’s. Every once in a while I want to break free, and that’s how this came about.
I fully support comics’ great talents leapfrogging over one another to better and better books. If you do as well, you’ll want to read both interviews in their entirety. (SPOILER WARNING for the Hernandez one, so make sure to read Love and Rockets: New Stories #3 first!)