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Two weeks from today, I will wake up as a full-time employee of Top Shelf Productions.

And the next day, I'll be flying to Orange County for the American Library Association's annual conference as the sole official Top Shelf representative (teamed with one of our breakout star creators, Jeff Lemire).

This is crazy (and, to be clear, awesome). I'm sure I'll have more thoughts on it later.

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read 12 × speak

Friday, May 16, 2008



American indie-comics publisher Top Shelf Productions launches today its new free digital comics initiative, playfully titled Top Shelf 2.0. Updated 5 days a week, the new program will showcase a huge variety of talent both old and new, introducing creators to new fans — and fans to new creators — with a constant stream of new stories.

Updates to the site, posted every weekday, will take many forms, ranging from one-page gags to short stories to chapters in an ongoing series. With each day’s new story, co-editors Brett Warnock and Leigh Walton will unveil another piece in a rolling assortment of previously featured artists and new debuts. As a special bonus for the site’s launch, the initial offering features ten stories by twelve creators, demonstrating the vast diversity of comics and cartoonists involved. According to the editors’ welcome message, “that’s just the tip of the iceberg!”

Among those currently or soon to be featured on Top Shelf 2.0 are:
  • the haunting avant-garde imagery of Bart Johnson and Ben Constantine…

  • the globe-spanning high-kicking funkadelic fury of Kagan McCloud, serializing his indie classic Infinite Kung Fu in preparation for the collected edition to be published by Top Shelf in 2009…

  • a stunning painted fable by John C. Ralston…

  • Jed McGowan working his color wizardry with a beautifully limited palette…

  • the freewheelin’ mythic imagination of the inimitable Bernie McGovern…

  • a pair of young artists whose energy and charm practically shines from every panel of their cartoony adventures: Chris “Elio” Eliopoulos and Michael DeForge…

  • the monumental TENTH 24-hour comic by the master of the form, David Chelsea (whose new book, 24x2, is on sale now from Top Shelf)…

  • an inky poetic parable from young Slovenian prodigy Domen Finžgar, and a Japan-flavored short from Belgian brush-master Stedho…

  • the brilliant wit and charm of notable webcomickers Jessica McLeod and Edward J Grug III…

  • the Ignatz-nominated architectural hijinks of Jeff Zwirek…

  • plus Aaron Navrady, Steve Lafler, Lizz Lunney, Sean T. Collins, Matt Wiegle, Matt Rota, Nik Daum, Will Dinski, Willow Dawson, Emily Block, and many more to be revealed as we keep rolling!

With its unique one-story-per-day format, Top Shelf 2.0 is a hybrid between a webcomics portal’s stable of ongoing strips and a print anthology’s stand-alone short stories. As Walton puts it, “We’re somewhere in between Keenspot and MOME." Similarly, Walton’s web-savvy youth, combined with Warnock’s decade of experience editing the Eisner- and Harvey-Award-nominated anthology Top Shelf, makes for a killer curatorial combo.

Of course, the new program is no replacement for Top Shelf’s primary business: the print publication of critically-acclaimed and popularly treasured graphic novels. “People will never stop wanting books,” says Walton, “especially when the books are as lovingly crafted as ours (and those of other alt-comix publishers). Rather, Top Shelf 2.0 is like a little online spin-off of the big Top Shelf brand, like MTV2 or BBC Two. To a certain extent, we see Top Shelf 2.0 as a laboratory for new ideas and new creators — any webcomic that gets an outstanding response will naturally suggest that we consider it for print publication, but in the meantime we’re happy to give these creators and fans an opportunity to discover each other. Throughout the process, I should add, creators fully own their work — it’s an experiment for them as well as for us. We’re all excited to see where it goes!”

Top Shelf 2.0 is live at http://www.topshelfcomix.com/ts2.0 and updates Monday through Friday

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Just look at that guest list! This might be the best Stumptown yet.

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Gonna be in Portland this weekend?

Kick off Official Comics Month in style, watching 20 of Portland's best tackle the ultimate sequential-art challenge: the 24-Hour Comic Book.

Check out the SWEET commercial we produced, starring David Chelsea and produced by local pro Bob Bates.

I'll be there the whole time (from Saturday to Sunday), snapping photos and liveblogging away!

Press release followsCollapse )

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The Wordstock Book Fair, sponsored by Wieden + Kennedy, will feature approximately 185 writers on 9 stages over two days with hundreds of exhibits, performances and more. Featured writers will include Dave Eggers, Jane Hamilton, Avi, Charles Baxter, Melissa Fay Greene, Roscoe Orman, Tom Spanbauer, Ehud Havazelet and many, many more.

And, of course, your favorite smiling representatives of Top Shelf Productions.

Plus Adrian Tomine, and the Fantagraphics gang!

Oregon Convention Center, Exhibit Hall A, A1, & B
10:00 AM – 6:00 PM Saturday & Sunday, November 10-11, 2007
$5 general admission. Free for kids 17 and under.

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I am a corporate shill.

But one who has figured out how to upload Flash videos! This one's for Korgi.

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The plan is to put all my comics stuff there from now on, leaving this one free to carry personal things.

(Detail from an illustration by Bernie Wrightson, whose gorgeous edition of Frankenstein is apparently maybe coming back into print soon.)

(Ladies are welcome too, of course. "Gentlemen... BEHOLD!" is from ATHF.)

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In case it was unclear: the distribution and retail network for comics is broken like whoa.

I can't argue with anything this guy says (except his particular taste in comics). Really, it"s a wonder the system hasn"t collapsed already.Collapse )
I want to support the comic industry as much as anyone. But you can't ask people to put up with this aggravation purely out of a sense of duty. It's frustrating that the market hasn't already been forced to grow in a more customer-friendly direction.

On the bright side, I have a new favorite beer!

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Current Location: NYPL

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That's the paragraph that follows a long list of random Favorite Things in Douglas Wolk's soon-to-be-released book Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean. Just from what I can scavenge from Amazon Reader, this is going to be a hell of a book.

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music: The Beatles "Please Please Me"

Greg Burgas has an interesting take on Darwyn Cooke's new series Will Eisner's The Spirit. The comment section includes this idea from David Wynne:

"If DC really wanted to honor Will Eisner, they’d start some sort of graphic novel imprint in his name and use it to showcase books like Fun Home. The new Spirit book strikes me as a blatant example of milking Eisner’s most famous property for a few more bucks ... especially since as far as I know, the last thing Eisner himself was interested in doing was reviving the Spirit."

I think David is right on the money here, actually. Warren Ellis, Paul O'Brien and others have been pointing out for years that because Marvel and DC cannot own creators -- they can only own characters -- they approach everything from the perspective of character.

From the CEO's chair, the big money comes from movies and toys and underpants featuring the characters, and publishing comics allows them to keep those characters alive. Here's Marvel in 2000: "The Company's strategy is to increase the media exposure of the Marvel characters through its media and promotional licensing activities, which it believes will create revenue opportunities for the Company through sales of toys and other licensed merchandise. In particular, the Company plans to focus its future toy business on marketing and distributing toys based on the Marvel characters, which provide the Company with higher margins because no license fees are required to be paid to third parties and, because of media exposure, require less promotion and advertising support than the Company's other toy categories. The Company intends to use comic book publishing to support consumer awareness of the Marvel characters and to develop new characters and storylines."

A rung down on the corporate ladder, the perspective is different, but conveniently works toward the same end. At the editorial level, it's an affection for the characters that drives every decision. Decades ago, Marvel and DC encouraged a fanbase to think about comic books in a character-based model, and the fans swallowed it. And then those fans grew up to be editors. So now the comic book company (a small subsidiary of a larger entertainment/media corporation, remember) is run by people like Quesada and DiDio who honestly believe they are undertaking a sacred trust -- to do their duty to Spider-Man and Green Lantern. They owe it to these characters to ensure that they are featured in cool and popular stories.

And the vast majority of the remaining readers feel the same way (because everyone who does not feel this way has been DRIVEN OUT). The "shared universe" concept -- the promise that all of these characters live in the same world and interact with each other -- is a brilliant strategy for encouraging character-based (and company-based) thinking. According to this concept, every comic book is an artifact from another world, depicting events that actually happened in that world. Everything that has ever been depicted in a Spider-Man comic book has actually happened to Spider-Man.


  • The remaining fanbase is extremely emotionally invested in the characters. If you put out a Batman comic book I don't like, you are insulting my friend Batman. If you write a comic book in which Sue Dibny is raped, then you have caused my friend Sue Dibny (or worse, my reader-avatar Sue Dibny) to be raped, and I am understandably hurt and furious.
  • Creators' rights are never a priority. Who the hell cares how you treat Bill Finger? What's important is how you treat Batman. Who created this story? Who cares? It's a "Marvel legend."
  • Non-fans are never welcome. Sorry, kid, Green Lantern and I have been friends for twenty years, and you can't just expect to barge in here and become a part of the relationship that we share.
  • The stories must be "realistic." I must take pains to carefully sort each story as "canonical" or "noncanonical" -- and which "universe" it belongs to -- and maintain an exact chronology of how all the stories interlock with each other.
  • Thanks to inept emulation of Watchmen and Dark Knight, "realistic" now also means "cynical," or possibly "miserable." Getting a reputation as a "fun" comic book will hurt your sales. No. Seriously.
  • Story ideas that contradict the established facts or tone of the Universe are rejected as impossible.
  • Story ideas that do not take place within the Universe are rejected as irrelevant.
  • The incredible schizophrenia which characterizes the modern superhero concept. 50 million people saw the first Spider-Man movie in US theaters, and millions more beyond that -- the concept is obviously tremendously popular. Millions of kids have the toothbrushes and the T-shirts and watch the TV shows. But the Spider-Man comics, none of which sell more than 50,000 issues, are full of juvenile attempts at "sophistication" and radical changes which are inevitably reset to the status quo within 6 months. Devin Grayson complains that she can't do anything interesting with Batman because at the end of the day Batman has to appear on Underoos, but nobody under the age of 16 is reading the fucking comics.

Oddly enough, the experience is remarkably similar when you try to read the Bible with the assumption that its separate parts cohere into a perfectly unified and consistent truth.

Anyway, I need to contextualize all this:
  • DC is more than just the backwards-looking nostalgia-rape cesspool called the "DC Universe." Thankfully, it has other branches: the theoretically-interesting but currently-lost "alt-superhero" line Wildstorm, the excellent and undercapitalized "nonsuperhero comics for grownups" line Vertigo, the very promising but not-linked-from-the-main-site teen-chick-lit line Minxthe screwed-up-once-but-came-back-better manga line CMX, and the I'm-told-they-exist-but-I've-never-seen-them DC Kids or possibly Johnny DC, it's unclear. Marvel, meanwhile, maintains a kids' line, Marvel Adventures, and the bizarre little imprint Icon, which you can only get into if Joe Quesada wants to make you happy -- i.e. you are a topselling creator on Marvel's superhero books or you have known Joe since old times.
  • Superheroes, while an appealing concept, are so poorly executed these days that I generally avoid focusing attention on them. The best superhero comic coming out today is Robert Kirkman's Invincible.
  • The comic industry is much, much bigger than just these two irritating companies, and they're probably going to be increasingly marginalized as the industry continues to evolve. I guess I'm just trying to more fully lay out what's so irritating about them, and why they are this way.
  • There are bigger concerns facing the industry, largely concerning distribution. The mechanisms aren't in place to get comics in front of people in a location and format that suits them. The infrastructure isn't in place to support creators while they create. There aren't enough comic stores in place that don't suck, and there are hardly any stores with enough cash to buck trends. There aren't enouch publishers who understand how to deal with bookstores. And so on, ad infinitum.
  • As always, Warren and Dirk have already said it.

Also, here are some Grant Morrison quotes, because it pleases me to quote them. I don't actually like many of his comics, but he sure as hell knows how to work a sound byte:

"My ideal comic is the one which perfectly expresses its moment and makes you want to dance like your favourite records do. The ideal comic is a holographic condensation out of pure zeitgeist. Pop is my god and goddess, Warren, and I believe comics should strive to be popper yet than Pop itself. I particularly despise the cynically perfect, utterly barren, ultimately charmless retro-pastiche of OTHER PEOPLE'S IDEAS which has come to characterize so much of the output of tired creators who should have had the dignity to move on when they ran out of words of their own."

"I'm doing MARVEL BOY and whatever else in a Utopian 21st century spirit - I'll aim the comics at a wide, media-literate mainstream audience and slowly but surely help generate that audience, just like you. I'll continue to act as if being a comic book writer is the same as being a pop star. I'll continue to learn from stuff I think breaks new ground. If at the moment I think comics aren't being sexy enough or FuturePop enough or incendiary enough, I'll attempt to fill the gap with the sort of thing I want to read. Whatever happens, I know I'll sell more comics than the crawling half-men who believe we're all doomed in a 'shrinking market'. Look out of the window at the planet you live on, morons! There are billions of those bipeds and they keep making more of them! How much bigger does the market have to get before we're eating Soylent fucking Green? Get out and sell comics to these people!"

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by Louise Simonson. From the trailblazing Wonder Woman of the 1940s to edgy, girl-power-driven comics series like Birds of Prey, DC Comics Covergirls takes a look at the female characters of DC Comics throughout the company's history, and features many of DC Comics' iconic comic book covers. Written by renowned comic book writer Louise Simonson, the book examines the evolution of the comic book women of DC Comics: the 1942 introduction of the most famous DC heroine, Wonder Woman, and her various incarnations up to the present; the creation of comic book spin-offs based on characters such as Lois Lane; and the recent wealth of fierce, female character-driven comics such as Supergirl, Birds of Prey, Batgirl, and Catwoman.

Somehow I feel this book would be more convincing if the cover weren't so... terrible. Conceptual issues aside (which are pretty obviously distasteful), what is going on with the execution? The bottom half is obviously Adam Hughes, which makes it more frustrating - he can do so much better than this!

Hang on, can we get a close-up?

Greaaaat. Thanks. So... what's up with the boob sock? What happened to the rest of the abdomen? And why opt for the empty-headed cum-catcher bimbo expression instead of, say, a satisfied grin reflecting the knowledge of how far we've supposedly come (, baby)? She's either a blow-up doll or horrified of her own history -- presumably not the message DC would like to send.

ETA: jbacardi clears up the source in the comments.

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My mother works in elementary schools coordinating efforts to help struggling readers. She was speaking to a coworker about comics, who then sent her this email: "I realized that I would like to get some information from your son on comic books (graphic novels) for elementary level students with African American or Hispanic male characters."

I honestly don't know what to tell her. I can't think of a single book.

--Runaways, in which SPOILERCollapse )
--Kyle Baker? Am I supposed to ask struggling readers to wade through the often dense and flowery text in Nat Turner?
--The animated Justice League books? And just hope there are some stories with lots of Green Lantern in them?
--JP Stassen's Deogratias? Waaaaay too intense.
--Will Eisner's The Last Knight: An Introduction to Don Quixote? I don't think so.
--Old Generation X, if it were in print and if it weren't of wildly unreliable quality.
--I don't think the hero of Rocketo is meant to be Hispanic, though its creator Frank Espinosa certainly is. Unfortunately, his writing is not easy to read.

This is terrible. I wish I could ask Joe Quesada why his company provides nothing for an eight-year-old boy who wants to see somebody with dark skin like himself.

Of course, hardly anybody is providing anything for eight-year-olds at all...

EDIT: Some research has turned up Satchel Paige, about the baseball player. But it's labeled "10 and up," I think.

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I came up with the idea to write SiP, where love is a war, and here are two of the casualties: One of them is very brave and is going to be a survivor, and another one is just getting the hell beat out of her.

There's a great interview with Terry Moore on AfterEllen.com, focusing on gender and sexuality in his comic Strangers in Paradise. He's one of the most sensitive and observant writers who's ever worked in comics (even if it took me a REALLY long time to accept his use of song lyrics as anything but trite), and you would all do well to read him -- this interview, but also his series.

The hefty paperback Pocket Book editions are less than $20 (less than $15 from Amazon). There are 6 total (though the 6th is still being finished).

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music: The Mountain Goats - "Old College Try" [in my head]

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I was amused by this exchange from this interview with the CEO of Digital Manga Publishing, publishers of a whole heap of yaoi and, uh, very little else. Except Bambi and her Pink Gun. But anyway:

  • Ginger Mayerson: Do you feel there's a contraction in the manga market in Japan? Is it shrinking?
  • Hikaru Sasahara: Yes, in the past couple of years it's been going down because the kids are spending more money on cell phones, games and stuff. The manga is going down. I think three years ago it used to be a six billion dollar business, but now I think it's about less than four billion.
  • GM: Ew. That's a third.
  • HS: A year, but it's still big.
  • GM: But it's booming here.
  • HS: I can see that Japan is going down, but the U.S. is going up. Based on the fact that I see merging of the culture between U.S. and Japan, I can see that manga is going to be really big.
  • GM: It's big already here.
  • HS: Not compared to-
  • GM: Marvel and DC?
  • HS: No, just manga in Japan. The whole revenue in America is only a little over two hundred million, compared to four billion in Japan. So it could grow that big in the future, I think, so I'm very excited. People are telling me that the market is being saturated here, and I have to tell them that they don't understand.

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music: Dark Tranquillity

Found via Dirk, this outsider's perspective on the superhero market by film critic Grady Hendrix is pretty dead-on accurate. Reedies, I like to think that this is what I'm protecting you from:

How do two companies control such an enormous slice of the pie? By bumming everyone out. In recent years, Spider-Man has killed Mary Jane with his carcinogenic spidersperm. Batman has become a single parent. Captain America and Iron Man are hashing out national security issues by hitting each other in the face while rounding up unregistered superheroes and sending them to a Gitmo-style prison camp after a superpowered September 11, 2001. The once cheerful Elongated Man saw his wife raped, then burned to death. And the new Batgirl is an evil, lesbian junkie. No wonder Superman has spent the past year with his forehead buried in his hands, weeping softly.

...With names like "Infinite Crisis," "Identity Crisis," "Secret Wars," "Civil Wars," "World War Hulk," and "World War III" their comic series have become an inaccessible haze of wars and crises only a true believer can follow.

In order to shoehorn 70 years of comics into one universe, DC Comics has had to invent over 30 different Earths, causing so much confusion that they eventually destroyed them all in the 1980s ("Crisis on Infinite Earths") and then recreated them all in 2005's "Infinite Crisis," which ended with Superboy punching reality so hard it broke. Fans love this kind of insular, self-referential story partly because familiarity with these details is what separates insiders from outsiders and insiders have their privileges.

Pretty trenchant analysis, for a short piece written for a general audience.

Luckily, "comics" as a field has completely outgrown such bullshit. We can quite easily spend thousands of dollars every semester on great comics that feature neither super-rape nor esoteric "continuity" handshakes.

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I suppose it's appropriate that the successor to Ernie Bushmiller, the man who gave us the most perfect panel in comics (above), should turn out to be the Gene Ray of comics. Guy Gilchrist, the current artist of Nancy, has written a delightfully insane essay titled ART IS THE LANGUAGE OF THE GLOBAL MARKETPLACE.

The 21st Century will be the greatest era for the Storytelling Arts in the History Of Mankind, and Those Who Master This Language Will Have No Limits To The Riches Placed Before Them.

That's right. You read that right.

"The 21st Century will be the greatest era for the Storytelling Arts in the History Of Mankind, and Those Who Master This Language Will Have No Limits To The Riches Placed Before Them!!"


One of these days I'll write a real entry.

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Eddie Campbell is pondering Lichtenstein, particularly the recent mini-furor over Lichtenstein's use of comic book art without crediting or consulting the original creators, which is the entire source of his fame. Johnny Walker in the comments links to this piece, on general trends of plagiarism in fine art and how the situation is treated differently than in, say, pop music.

I respond:
This Lawrence Alloway comment from Johnny's link is revealing: "Future research will no doubt come up with the names of the people who drew some of Lichtenstein’s originals, but so what? He was not engaged in mutual collaboration but acts of annexation."

There was a time when a respected entity was considered perfectly within its rights to commandeer a foreign, "primitive" entity and either seize its assets or remake that entity in its own image, in the name of "ennobling" the "savage." The White Man's Burden and all that. Nowadays such imperialism is condemned, and we emphasize indigenous sovereignty. I'm not surprised that people are seeing elitism and exploitation in Lichtenstein's work; I'm sort of surprised that it took this long.

Another metaphor: Lichtenstein as P.T. Barnum, putting the freaks and primitives on display for the amusement of the good white folks? Hmmm.

I'm writing a thesis this year on the translation of Greek poetry, so I'm quite interested in this topic of art, appropriation, and imperialism. In many respects I think a concern for faithfulness and authenticity has crippled classical translation for the last fifty years, and it's time for the pendulum to swing back...

Obviously I'm still kind of ambivalent about all this.

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In response to this post by Christopher Butcher, excerpted below:
I totally love comics, and the schizophrenic state of my bookshelves will explain that it is not a certain genre, style, or delivery format that I love, but comics as a medium.
This all-encompassing love of comics is not universally shared; I’ve known this for a very long time. I try not to let the clique-ism and self-consciousness bother me when it comes to people dismissing work out of hand, but honestly? I think about the same of someone who writes off manga as a whole as someone who writes off comics as a whole: not much. And it’s not just manga, but any genre/format/style/country’s work. It seems so completely limited in scope, and more often than not those words seem spoken from a position of ignorance rather than any considered or researched position.
My initial reaction is, I'm with Chris. I'm up for anything, in any style, on any topic, by anyone. Those of you who've tracked our institutional purchasing patterns over the last two years can testify to that. (Interestingly, I imagine a lot of that comes from my self-image as purchaser for a diverse group of readers and the possibility that I've subsumed my own interests as a reader to the simple question "will someone like it?" But that's a different topic.)

I often wonder at the disparity between the kind of comics reader I am (a fan of comics as a medium, interested in its possibilities of form and content, in every genre and style) and the kind of attitude I try to cultivate in others. I don't expect anyone else to be as all-inclusive as I am, and I don't mind when someone lacks interest in any particular title -- I just hope everyone finds things that they like. I try to cultivate the attitude that comics is a medium of art and entertainment, on par with any other medium, and that casual fans are normal and welcome.

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The Onion

New Archie Graphic Novel Explores Rich Inner Life Of Jughead

NEW YORK—Publisher Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. released a new Archie Comics graphic novel Tuesday, Heavy Is The Head That Wears The Crown, an examination of the complex inner workings of longtime Archie compatriot Forsythe "Jughead" Jones. "Readers will be fascinated by Forsythe's agonizing realization that his love of food was really just a substitute for loving himself, something he deems impossible due to his guilt over the premature death of his baby sister, Forsythia, and the predatory sexual overtures he suffers at the hands of Mr. Flutesnoot," author and cartoonist Adrian Tomine said. "The poignancy is further emphasized by the glimpses of Forsythe's future, as a divorced, self-doubting, alcoholic psychiatrist with an uncontrollable weight problem." A Knopf spokesman rejected allegations that the novel is nothing more than an apologia for the character's misogyny, saying that readers "will find the truth is rather more complicated."

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