Tuesday, June 30, 2009
QUIETLY SURE--LIKE THE KEEPER OF A GREAT SECRET, by Jo Dery. This is another beautiful book from Little Otsu: well-crafted, well-designed and lovely to look at. Dery's art has a slightly immersive quality (not unlike Theo Ellsworth's approach) but also makes the reader look at the page perhaps more than read it. There's a loose narrative about a series of creatures searching for meaning or solutions to their woes, all of which wind up eventually crossing over into each other. There are actually some quite clever narrative touches to be found that coalesce after a couple of readings that evoke a certain wistfulness. Dery has the rare skill of being able to modulate the story's emotional content purely through her use of decorative flourishes. A shadow here, a lonely tree there and a set of background designs all serve to move the reader's feelings rather than just one's eye. This is a book about seeking what's missing in one's life: sight, a true home, knowledge, and how finding them is sometimes a matter of letting them find you. This is a book that in many ways is incredibly slight and manipulative by turns, yet is ultimately redeemed by an almost palpable sincerity that matches the artist's skill.
SLEAZY SLICE #3, edited by Robin Bougie. It's a Robin Bougie-led project, which means three things: 1) It will be impeccably drawn, with an emphasis on detailed linework; 2) It will have lots of sex; 3) It will be incredibly violent. Bougie's "Human Cows" gleefully shatters any number of taboos with this story of women used to pump milk to feed to cows in a world where cows are dying and the rich still need meat. Like most of the stories in this comic, there's a real bleakness and cynicism regarding sex and human relations. The brutal ending of this story reminded me a bit of what the Marquis DeSade used to do in his stories, but the upbeat Bougie still manages a nod and a wink in acknowledging the source material for this particular kink. Josh Simmons' "Cockbone" is no less brutal a story, but is filtered through his own surreal sensibility. Simmons creates worlds with his story that run on dark magic and dream logic as much as they do on rationality. He especially loves to play out twisted, hillbilly family dynamics in the form of a Candide-like innocent forced to run a gauntlet of misery. The story I enjoyed most was husband-wife team SCAR's "Wild Bessi", a bizarre and hilarious mix of wild west tropes and pornapocalyptic weirdness. A man on the run in the wild west encounters all sorts of weird and dangerous sex-related creatures: cowgirls who are part cow and part girl, centaur women with multiple genitalia, sex-crazed horses, dickworms, etc. It's the funniest story in the book, in large part because it plays it straight. Like most of the things Bougie publishes, the audience for this one is largely self-selecting: one look, and you'll know whether or not it's for you.
THE LOST COLONY, VOLUME 3, by Grady Klein. I hadn't read the first two volumes of this series and was prepared to be baffled and/or disinterested. Klein is also an animator by trade and it shows in his exaggerated character design, thickness of line and dependence on color for storytelling. When I often see a comic done by an animator, it's usually too slick-looking for my eyes to latch onto. I didn't find that to be the case with Klein's work, however, in part because of the eccentricity of his characters and the surprisingly dark story that he tells here. It's sort of like BONE meets NAT TURNER in this comic, dealing with a mysterious, hidden land teeming with secrets that happens to be a haven for escaped slaves, mystics and other outsiders. Like BONE, the central character is an innocent with a strong will who has some unusual connections to her home. However, the racial tensions in the story are always simmering and come to a head at the end of this story.
Klein pulls it off because of the way he positions Birdy, the little girl who is central to the story. Like most of the story's protagonists, she is not entirely sympathetic as a character, even though her heart's in the right place. She has a certain Dennis the Menace quality to her, especially when Klein draws her flitting all over the landscape in a single panel, as though she had clones of herself. The last connection to BONE is actually a connection to Jeff Smith's twin inspirations of Walt Kelly & Carl Barks. Like Kelly, the island swampland is its own character of sorts, informing the lives of every character. Like Barks, there's a constant propulsiveness to the cartooning, especially with regard to Birdy but with other characters as well. Klein transcends his influences with his own unique mythology and grounding of the fantasy elements of the story in history.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Tomine's work is about authenticity and the way people desperately avoid authentic speech and action. The artist's eye and pen are harsh judges of inauthentic action, especially in himself. That shows in his harsh assessment of 32 STORIES, a new edition of his minicomic version of OPTIC NERVE. Tomine goes into great detail as to his reluctance to have this material reprinted because of its rawness, but relented if it could be reprinted in its original format. He didn't pretend that this approach was any less self-aggrandizing (coming in a fancy box and even featuring the Optic Nerve sticker from #4), but he did think it was a more honest approach--warts 'n all. Tomine's demolition of his own author's statement from 1995 is hilarious, as he calls himself out for copying Dan Clowes and David Mazzucchelli, being vain and having no sense of humor about himself. To that end, he reprinted an embarrassing photo of himself from his high school yearbook that someone tried to humiliate him with on the web a few years ago.
What stands out about these seven minicomics was his astounding ambition as an artist at a very young age, having published the first when he was sixteen. His earliest strips were crude but bursting with energy, dealing with small and often brutal moments. While the sort of emotional distancing that Tomine would make his trademark was present, these stories frequently had a visceral quality that would fade as his line became more sophisticated. They felt a bit like Tomine going through his R.Crumb/Julie Doucet underground phase. Still, his early autobio was frequently hilarious, especially when he started grappling with the idea of reporting "truth" in these stories. Early on, it became quite clear that, like many authors, Tomine revealed more of his true self through fictional characters than his own autobio persona.
Indeed, that latter persona was as deliberate and artificial a creation as any of his fictional characters. His character Amy was a combination of extrapolating the life of someone he saw at a bookstore and his own yearnings as a loner. His own self-caricature had an appropriately blank expression, his eyes always obscured by his glasses. That figure was an apt representation of the impotence he felt in expressing his rage; "Adrian Quits His Job" featured him apparently screaming at his own boss, his face dissolving in a bit of Ralph Steadman-esque scribble, until we see that such an expression of anger was simply a fantasy.
The fifth issue saw him start to move into his mature style, and the sixth issue featured two significant stories in "Smoke" and "Leather Jacket"--distilled but restrained expressions of despair and freedom with regard to relationships. The seventh and last issue saw him go into full-on Clowes mode in terms of both line and narrative style, but the best story was "Happy Anniversary", the kind of examination of a doomed relationship that would become Tomine's trademark.
Fast-forwarding to SHORTCOMINGS, we find Tomine's line and voice honed to a razor's edge. By this time, he had shed the slickness that had started to infect his work around the time of OPTIC NERVE #7, simplying and clarifying it while at the same time adding a level of sophistication in his character expressiveness and understanding of gesture and body language. Indeed, a big part of the storytelling in this book consists of body language belying actual speech, especially on the part of the putative protagonist of the book, Ben Tanaka. The story finds the stuck-in-his-ways Ben taking his girlfriend Miko for granted and not-so-secretly pining for sexual encounters with white women--his forbidden fruit.
The character of Ben is an obvious Tomine stand-in (they even share the same allergies down to olive bark), but it's a stand-in that feels almost like self-flagellation--or perhaps self-exorcism. It's a character that's a mass of insecurity, self-hatred, wheel-spinning and paranoia. His intelligence and lack of tolerance for fakeness in others (especially with regard to race) is constantly undermined by his relentless negativity and blindness to his own hypocrisy. With Tanaka, we get a character who engages in arguments with his girlfriend that have an almost painful verisimilitude, gets off hilarious and vicious one-liners but winds up being the butt of a particularly nasty joke, courtesy of fate.
The central conflict of the book is really Ben's conflict with himself and lack of willingness to embrace or even approach change. He doesn't want his girlfriend to explore her racial identity; he doesn't want his best friend to move to New York; he doesn't want to think about why he's managing a movie theatre instead of taking a hard look at his life. He not only doesn't want to think about the mire that his life has become, he wants everyone in it to stay mired with him. It's not til he comes to the final punchline of the book that he faces up to this fact, not allowing his best friend to speak ill of his now ex-girlfriend, saying "We all have our reasons".
What makes this book more than just a nuanced look at the end of a relationship is Tomine's fearless handling of race. He zeroes in on stereotypes, forbidden fantasies and desires publicly denied. Tomine plays these for awkward, uncomfortable laughs in brilliant scene after brilliant scene. His control both over his line and over character dialogue & interaction gives his comics a powerful tension between restraint and boiling-over passions. SHORTCOMINGS is proof positive that Tomine found his voice as one of the best naturalistic, slice-of-life cartoonists in comics. He's not a brilliant formalist, but rather sticks to his strengths and has refined them to a level that make every page and panel pleasurable to simply look at without reading dialogue.
Friday, June 26, 2009
During my last trip to Manhattan, I wanted to be sure to drop by Forbidden Planet because I knew that Austin English was ordering for and stocking their minicomics aisle. English is an interesting cartoonist, critic and editor; his WINDY CORNER MAGAZINE combines all three impulses in a quirky, personal package. As a critic, he's introduced me to a number of artists that would later become favorites of mine (Juliacks and Lilli Carre', to name two). As such, I was curious to see what he might recommend for me to read from FP's huge selection. The aisle is organized by title and would take at least a solid hour to go through from top to bottom as a browser.
Dropping by on a busy Saturday afternoon (the already-cramped store was practically shoulder-to-shoulder in some spots), I was lucky enough to spot Austin right away. He was gracious enough to take the time to be my personal minicomics shopper: if he recommended it, I was buying it. There were some things that he recommended that I already had (like an old Megan Kelso mini or various issues of PAPERCUTTER), but I wound up with a nice stack of comics mostly by cartoonists I had never heard of. What follows is a set of brief impressions of the comics that Austin suggested for me.
RATTLETRAP #1 and #2, by Jerry Smith. This was one of my favorite discoveries of this batch. Smith crams dozens of panels on a page with minimalist artwork (barely even stick figures for most of it) as he relates mostly funny stories from his everyday life. Once you adjust to the rhythms of this comic, it becomes almost hypnotizing: one wants to read more and more. These comics' biggest highlights come when Smith and his wife talk to, tease and/or yell at each other. It's amazing how much affection one feels on the page for these characters despite their ultra-simplified depiction.
Romero Burruel's EMPTY #3, by John Frizzelle. This is a fascinatingly scratchy will-to-power of a comic. The main character is a down-and-out artist struggling to find reasons to keep going and rediscover discipline and passion regarding his art. After an initial dream, the comic shares his internal monologue on his tour through his distractions and excuses until he stands at a point where he's out of time and has to make a decision on what he's really all about. What I thought was interesting was his struggle with the conflation of being an artist with being bourgeois. Were the two inseparable? He eventually rejects the only idea of authenticity as living under a bridge, completely divorced from consumer culture, and comes to an uneasy internal truce. I'm curious if the other issues all deal with the same ideas, or if it's something different every time. I quite liked the way Frizzelle shifted between his scratchy art for his characters and the paintings the character created.
ASBESTOS WICK, by Eamon Espey. The cartoonist behind WORMDYE was one of my favorite discoveries last year. This mini is a collection of nightmarish, hallucinatory yet ultimately funny images depicting worship, dismemberment, ritual sex, myths, and rollicking high adventure. There's not a narrative, per se, but there is a disturbing internal logic that draws the eye to slowly peruse every corner of every page for all of the weird details. I'd recommend reading WORMDYE--and thoroughly absorbing its less straightforward sections--before reading this comic.
TALES OF BLARG #9, by Janelle Hessig. This is a jam-packed, old-school, rock'n'roll sort of zine. Hessig and friends expound hilariously on sex (best is "Ugly People I Wanna Do It To"), drugs, exhibitionism, weird desires, weird people they've met, people from bands they like, hipsters, crusties and much more about the world that surrounds them in Berkeley. It's a very personal zine that still seeks to entertain and/or disgust on every page--the perfect antidote to the more cloying personal zines of people like Nicole Georges. It's rare to read a zine that reveals so many embarrassing personal details that doesn't feel like tedious navel-gazing or whining. Hessig is someone who laughs at the world no matter the situation, and that's how things play out in her comics.
RAMBLE ON!, by Calvin Wong. This is another entry in the new school of alt-fantasy/gamer comics that includes stuff like DUNGEON, Alex Robinson's delightful LOWER REGIONS comic, Jesse Reklaw's BLUEFUZZ, the ELFWORLD anthology, etc. The hallmark of that school is a genuine affection for fantasy tropes and narratives, a good-faith effort at establishing same, and the sort of mockery for this genre that can only come from an insider. RAMBLE ON! succeeds on all three fronts, and throws in video-game tropes as well. The bard-like protagonist seeks membership in a band, has a guitar battle with an Ent that resembles Guitar Hero as much as anything else, and finally gains entrance. The backup story, about the quotidian affairs of an evil sorceror, was even funnier. Wong's art works because he's so deft at character design & interaction, as well as panel-to-panel transitions. The scratchy nature of his line adds some nice texture to these pages--not unlike illustrations from an old Monster Manual.
ESCHEW #1, by Robert Sergel. Simplicity is the key to this comic's success. Sergel uses a stark, bold style that reminds me a bit of John Hankiewicz's line, minus the cross-hatching. Sergel uses a clear, thin line in all of his work, and gives it depth in some strips by contrasting it with a lot of blacks and lightness in others by removing blacks altogether. The stories are funny vignettes that appear to be autobiographical, with "Thirteen Bad Experiences Involving Water" being the centerpiece of the issue. There's a dry sense of humor in each strip as Sergel never forces a punchline or ever uses a funny drawing; indeed, the source info for the gags is often in the title of the strip. There's nothing revolutionary about this comic, but it is a fine read by an artist who has very quickly found his voice.
NIGHT BUSINESS #2, by Benjamin Marra. Austin mentioned that Sammy Harkham told him how much he liked this one. Reading this book felt like someone had dropped a slapped-off comic from the black & white explosion of the 80s in my lap, and it's either a brilliantly deadpan parody of 80's erotic thriller cliches or an unabashedly gleeful celebration of same. Honestly, I don't want to know. It is pretty funny, in a crudely-executed way, but isn't the sort of joke I'd care to hear again and again.
PANPIPES #3, by Jesse McManus. This was my "what the hell is this" experience of this batch, not having read McManus's stuff before. These are weird fairy tales of sorts featuring goblins, odd children, anthropomorphic animals and other such creatures engaging in all sorts of violent shenanigans. This is a fascinating-looking series of drawings of characters in constant motion, with the slight sheen of someone who seems as though they're at home with animation as well as comics. There's a slickness to the weirdness, a clean line used for dirty purposes, not unlike a Kevin Scalzo. I found my eye falling off the page a bit because it was so slick, but it was sure fun to look at.
IN THE TALL GRASS #3, by Tessa Brunton. Brunton writes and draws some sharply funny autobio stories, told somewhere inbetween the style of Vanessa Davis and Julia Wertz. There's a great page called "Comix Fer Yer Wall" that pleasingly stacks a bunch of short strips of varying length (ranging between 2 and 8 panels), with subjects ranging from a crackhead's persistent phone calls to a memory of her "telepathic" babysitter to her dog's to-do list. Brunton uses shifting vantage points to her advantage: strips about dating, embarrassing anecdotes from her past, the perils of city life and what it's like to be a young person with no particular attachments. Brunton uses a scratchy style that focuses on her very expressive faces--eyes and mouths in particular.
CROOKED TEETH #2, by Nate Doyle. This is a mish-mash of brief stories, drawings, ramblings and other ephemera by an artist with a great deal of potential. Doyle's line is a bit rough and ramshackle at times, but the spontaneity of his line leaps off the page. A few things in particular stand out: the way he balances character against background (especially panoramic shots); the way he spots blacks to manipulate a story's tone; and the way he draws gesture, body language & character interaction. It's interesting to look at his work now, but I think it will be downright exciting to see it five years from now. Doyle is a fellow employee of Forbidden Planet, by the way.
WARMER, by Aidan Koch. Koch's smudgy style brings an almost uncomfortable intimacy and immediacy to the page. There's a deliberate awkwardness to the way she juxtaposes word and image that forces the reader to slow down and consider each image and the way they unfold over time. Koch's art is emotionally evocative as well; in this case, expressing exasperation and claustrophobia.
EGO, by Dunja Jankovic. Jankovic's star has risen rather quickly in the world of alt-comics, with a book just published by Sparkplug. She brings a fine artist's eye to her work, varying her visual approach from panel to panel: sometimes a stick-figure sketch, sometimes a cartoonish figure, and sometimes figures with naturalistic musculature. In "Addiction", that musculature proves to be an important part of the story as we meet a woman who hoards words and hauls them around; eventually the panel structure becomes part of the story as she "wins" a game of tic-tac-toe. "Plastic Bags" is even more striking, as it deals with a nightmarish scenario where a woman's own paranoia threatens to do her in. Jankovic dips slightly into Immersive Comics territory in terms of the way her art needs to be read, but not quite to the same degree given that text is still very separate from story. Anyone one looks at this mini, there's no question that Jankovic is a great cartoonist.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
LOW MOON feels like a sharp right turn from Jason's other recent work, both in terms of content and presentation. The previous Jason books from Fantagraphics have been softcovers, all done with a design sense that made each volume look similar. Debuting with a hardback seemed to be a bit of an unusual departure. Either artist and publisher wanted to start a different look for these volumes, or else perhaps Fantagraphics wanted to capitalize on the story "Low Moon"'s appearance in the Sunday New Times Magazine. It's certainly a move that makes some sense if that's the case, especially for the bookstore market.
The book itself is a strange read, with a number of tonal & emotional shifts that are sometimes jarring. There's always a touch of melancholy in everything that Jason writes, but there's a bleakness in some of these stories that I haven't seen since HEY...WAIT. For example, "Emily Says Hello" has a grim noir feel to it in a tale about a woman delivering a series of escalating sexual favors to a man in exchange for him murdering several men. Part of the deal involves the killer telling the victims, "Emily says hello". The story's structure is unusual for Jason in that he witholds more information than usual from the reader, and obviously quite intentionally so. We never learn how and why the couple made the deal, why the woman wants revenge, or even whom Emily is. We're introduced to a situation, are quickly made to understand the nature of the deal, have tension escalated through variations on the situation, and then are given an ambiguous but downbeat ending. There's no comic relief, no jokes, no turning ideas on their head like in all of his recent books--just a bleak and brutal set of power relationships. This is underscored by Jason's use of color in the story. Set solely in the woman's apartment, we see that all of her walls are painted black. This underscores that for all intents and purposes, she's already dead.
"Low Moon" is an extended bit of silliness, riffing off wild west tropes turned on their heads. This story was much more in the vein of books like THE LAST MUSKETEER, THE LEFT BANK GANG, and I KILLED ADOLF HITLER in that it mashed together several genre conventions and then flipped around a couple of key elements for comedic effect. In this instance, the haunted sherriff and the black hat riding back into town had a memorable showdown over a chessboard. A fight breaks out in the saloon over a bad cup of espresso. Horses are replaced by unicycles. Jason downplays all of the ridiculousness with a deadpan emotional narrative; every character approaches every (laughably cliched) situation with deadly seriousness. The pacing of the story in book form is a bit different than in its original format, which breaks up the jokes a bit more. It doesn't ruin the story, but it is a bit jarring for someone who read the strips in the Times. That said, the ending of the story actually scans better in the book than in the Times, where it fell a bit flat as a big final episode. Without that sort of external temporal pressure, the ending in the book feels natural.
"&" feels like a story whose genesis came from its ending: two strangers, sitting in a bar next to each other. With that image, one might ask: how did they wind up sitting next to each other, with such weary expressions on their faces? The story as such involves the two men taking desperate measures to achieve their goals. For one man, it's getting enough money to pay for an operation for his mother. For the other man (with a Chaplin-like moustache), it's getting a particular woman to marry him. The story, much like "Emily Says Hello", stacks gag on top of gag as the first man bumbles his way through a robbery and the other man resorts to increasingly byzantine schemes to kill off the woman's various suitors. When they finally attain their goals (and the woman exasperatingly saying "Sure, why not?" after a story's worth of flowery denails and appeals to friendship was a nice touch), they find things didn't quite work out as they expected. Both men were in a shaggy dog story and didn't realize the joke was on them until the end. This story was amusing but emotionally flat. Jason seemed more interested in the gag than in making the reader care about these characters, which felt a bit out of place for one of his longer stories. In something like SHHHH!, that thinner characterization didn't seem to matter much, but it made this story neither fish nor fowl.
"Proto Film Noir" is another story that works much like "Low Moon" in that it very deliberately deconstructs a cliched genre and puts it back together with several weird twists. Here, we are introduced to a caveman who happens upon a house with a lonely wife, and they inevitably (rather quickly, actually) have sex. In classic noir style, the interloper decides that it's time to kill the husband...only it turns out to be much harder than expected. Jason then pulls off another example of escalating repetition of a joke until we're rewarded with a punchline that's not only the best in the book, but it's also a last bit of metacommentary on the subject of film noir. Note the bright, cheery colors in this tale of repeated homicide, underlining the humorous nature of this story--as opposed to the grimness of "Emily Says Hello".
The final story in the book, "You Are Here", doesn't have much in common with the rest of the entries. Sure, there are genre elements (an alien kidnapping a man's wife and his subsequent, life-long effort to build a rocket and find her), but they're more background fodder than something Jason's commenting on. The centerpiece of the story is the son of the couple in question, and the way's in which his father's obsessiveness first alienated him and then later drew him in when he faced the same sort of relationship woes. The father's obsession clearly derived from guilt (he and his wife had quarreled before her abduction) an emotion he felt to the exclusion of anything else. I liked Jason's use of word balloons here: the arguments we're shown have just black blogs in the balloons, signifying that what they were arguing about wasn't relevant; indeed, such screaming matches frequently find two people arguing past each other anyway. The ending, unsurprisingly, was heartbreaking, even if there was a shaggy-dog character to the way the story was paced. What made this story so much more affecting than the others in this volume was that each detail the reader was shown added to the emotional weight of the narrative. When we see the boy avoiding taking girls back to his house, or quickly suggesting that he move in with a girlfriend, then avoid his father altogether with a variety of excuses, we can feel the character's alienation that was never acknowledged or healed by either party. It was those moments that packed more of a wallop for me than the actual conclusion of the story, the sort of moments that enriched books like I KILLED ADOLF HITLER.
"Low Moon" and "You Are Here" were both top-notch Jason, while the other three stories faltered at times in terms of execution, purpose, emotional depth and/or tone. I liked everything about the way Jason set up "Emily Says Hello", but it lacked the emotional resonance of his darker stories. "Proto Film Noir" was a goof of a story that was redeemed by its punchline. "&" didn't always seem consistent in the kind of story it wanted to tell. The stories are somewhat tenuously linked in that they depict crimes and punishments in various forms. The first and second stories are directly about both topics; the third story punishes the crimes obliquely, while the fourth story punishes the crime ironically. In the last story, both crime and punishment were a bit more abstract: the crime was alienation, the punishment was loneliness. All told, this is still a book every Jason fan should read, but it's one that I perhaps wouldn't recommend to a reader new to the Norwegian's work.
Monday, June 22, 2009
When I first became aware of the lineup of talent in Ed Choy Moorman's ambitious new anthology GHOST COMICS, I could hardly believe my eyes. Zak Sally? John Porcellino? Warren Craghead? Jeffrey Brown? Allison Cole? I wondered if the contributions of the bigger names would be strictly perfunctory, but (happily) for the most part, this was not the case. This anthology deservedly won a Xeric grant for its publication, and its stated purpose is as a benefit for RS Eden, a "multifaceted agency" that assists with chemical dependency and "correctional residential programs".
Its noble aims aside, Moorman put together this anthology around the theme of ghosts. He really managed to strike a nerve, because this topic evoked a startling range of interpretations. From the funny autobio recollections of Corrine Mucha to the straightforward myth-making of Sean Lynch to the comics-as-poetry of John Hankiewicz, I've rarely seen a themed anthology with this much variety and quality. One thing that no artist did was actually try to tell a scary ghost story, which I thought was interesting. The other interesting thing about this comic is how Minnesota-centric it is. This makes sense, given Moorman's time as a student at MCAD (Minneapolis College of Art & Design), but this book just goes to show how deep the roster of talent is running in that state. It's giving the cartoonist-rich cities of New York, San Francisco and Portland some serious competition for the best region crown already, even as much of its talent is still incubating. Fourteen of the artists in the book have direct connections to Minnesota, and a number of others are based out of another cartooning hotbed: Chicago. In particular, it was nice to see Will Dinski's "Mind-Mapping" as part of this anthology; I previously reviewed it in its original minicomics form and it's yet another solid effort from the artist who introduced me to the Minnesota scene.
Some other highlights of the book include Toby Jones' darkly humorous account of the death of his partner's mother and all the familial weirdness that insued; the ever-delightful Lucy Knisley's sharply amusing story of the dubious joys of capitalism; the welcome return of Allison Cole as she detailed popping ghosts like balloons; Hob's tale of a brontosaurus' ghosts staying on earth, looking for something mysterious; Moorman's own touching tribute to his family; Kevin Cannon's funny mash-up of architecture and the Transformers; Tuesday Passen dying happy; book designer Jenny Tondera's clever text/visual experiment with a ghost in the snow; and most especially the piece by Warren Craghead.
I greatly erred in omitting Craghead's name from the list of Immersive artists in prior articles on the subject; that is, those that play upon and around with the formal qualities of text in combination with image to force the reader to think about each letter of text and how it relates to both the other letters around it as well as the images. Indeed, Craghead was a pioneer in this regard. He also shares much in common with comics-as-poetry cartoonists like Hankiewicz, where the visuals form their own sort of rhythm and language that's meant less to be looked at than engaged by the viewer/reader. Craghead is distinctive because of the way he uses so much white space, using a small number of distinctive drawings to face off against the void. Here, the text, (spilling out on the page) comments on the way we see and experience ghosts as a sort of manifestation of memory and identity. The way images "rhymed" across pages and feelings were grudgingly exchanged created a delicious tension, forcing the reader to take in each detail as they were presented. The reader strains to try to get glimpses at that which is hidden as the cascading text has to be teased out a bit to understand--which is the whole point of the piece.
Moorman wisely kept it simple in this volume. It's a nicely-designed (Jenny Tendura was the graphic designer for this comic) book, but not distractingly so. The author isn't given a lot of bells and whistles, which mean that some pros came over their tables and gave them some ideeas. He ordered the stories well, always managing to balance longer stories with shorter ones that served as palette-cleansers. He balanced humor with adventure, lighthearted flights of fancy with grim drama, pondering the afterlife and mocking it. There's a healthy mix of just-graduating students and old hands here, and what's remarkable is that neither side suffers from the juxtaposition. My only regret is that Zak Sally didn't contribute something more substantive than a single page that was really just an illustration. I thought his page was poorly placed with the actual stories in this book, rather than as a spot illustration (like the David Heatley frontispiece). It's a forgiveable enough misstep, especially given that Sally was one of Moorman's teachers at MCAD.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
About a decade ago or so ago, I first became aware of Michael Kupperman's work in dribs and drabs. There'd be a few pieces here and there on random websites, perhaps a strip or two in an anthology. As a cartoonist and humorist, it was obvious that he was the total package: awesome chops, clever design sense, and a refined sense of timing for gags all served his absurdist sense of humor. Paired with his appreciation (and homage-laded appropriation) of the history of comics and illustration, he rattled off strip after crazy strip that worked on several levels simultaneously. The drawings were dense, beautiful to look at and often funny on their own--though he rarely relied on "funny drawings" to get across a punchline. He wasn't afraid to work at any number of levels to tell a joke: conceptual, scatological, deadpan or mining the fields of popular culture. Even when drawing a more conventional gag, Kupperman always avoided the easy punchline in favor of something that subverted the expected, often confusing his own characters in the strip.
His first collection of strips, SNAKE 'N BACON'S CARTOON CABARET, was one of the best books of this decade. It was unfortunately widely ignored, coming just a couple of years before graphic novel mania hit the publishing industry. That is perhaps the densest collection of gags I've ever seen; Kupperman insists on filling nearly every inch of space with either his main joke narrative, a throwaway gag or a funny decorative touch. Every inch of that page demands reader attention. In his earlier work, his cross-hatching was much more dense and his commitment to crafting strips in the style of classic comics made reading this book a sometimes dizzying experience. Reading the whole thing in one sitting was akin to having one's reality slowly rewritten with crazy new rules. Running out and looking for the nearest sex blimp suddenly seemed like a reasonable proposition. His work is sublime in the truest sense of the word, speaking to me as a reader in ways that can be discussed and broken down but not quite fully communicated in their Rightness. It's my ultimate goal when experiencing art, this feeling of sublimity, and while it's quite rare in general, it's even rarer when dealing with comedy. About the only other humorists who have affected me in the same way were the Marx Brothers.
With TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE, Kupperman actually had the perfect delivery system for his work. Each issue was just long enough to leave a lasting impression, but was short enough to not have that dizzying effect. The first collection of this series addresses that density of his work by using color. There are some pages where color is clearly just being used to provide some variation so as to soften the backgrounds and dense cross-hatching of the art. This is especially true when he reprinted some of his older work here, with that use of color being rather perfunctory and being used to balance out the page rather than enhance the strip. Those older strips are jammed at the bottom of newer gags to fill up space, giving the reader their money's worth on page after page. It's as though Kupperman is afraid to let down his readers if there aren't twenty gags crammed in on every page.
For other strips, the use of color is a revelation. This is especially true with gags that are parodies of children's book illustrations, advertisements or of old, mediocre four-color comics. He doesn't pile color on to strips where it would hurt, like his lovely Granpa strips that are as much flights of fancy as they are gags. The hatching and use of blacks look perfect as is. Kupperman is careful to try and retain the experience of reading each issue individually, both in how the original covers were kept in the reprint and the way he'd add a couple of purely decorative pages to either encourage a reader break or at the very least refresh their palate.
It's encouraging to see Kupperman go from being a cult favorite to someone who's started to receive a lot more attention and recognition. In particular, he's done work with the great Robert Smigel back on his much-missed (by me, at least) TV FUNHOUSE show, and recently had a pilot of SNAKE 'N BACON air on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim (it's currently available at their website). Hopefully this collection will draw yet more attention to a unique humorist and the Human Sneeze, Twain & Einstein, the Scaredy Kids, Pagus and the ever-licenseable Fireman Octopus. Kupperman saturates each page with crazed ideas, bizarre connections, and references that aren't really references. Even a reader who may not be familiar with what Kupperman's (often obliquely) mocking is still pulled full-tilt into the gag. No matter what the concept, once Kupperman's laid his hands on it, it's no longer recognizable as anything but his.
Friday, June 19, 2009
SUNWARD, by Jason Viola. This is a curious little mini about a group of three friends, one of whom has become unstuck from gravity and threatens to fly off the face of the earth (and inevitably, as his friends note, into the sun). The way that the cartoony characters are introduced, the reader almost has a sense that these are established dramatic personae whom we should know all about. Viola plays it straight the whole issue, now matter how absurd the set-up gets or crazy the ideas become in trying to solve the bedraggled hero's dilemma. The most interesting thing about the comic is the way that whom the protagonist actually is shifts from page to page. Is it Dave, who's in danger of flying off? Is it the pensive Felonious Monk? Is it the rambling Sebastian?
I enjoyed the weirdness of the premise so much that I was a bit disappointed when there was a kind of explanation as to what happened to Dave that wound up being the on-the-nose receptacle of the mini's main theme. That theme was the need to define a direction to one's life before it slips completely out of control--especially when one is experiencing near-total freedom. The figure work is fairly simple and ranges from expressive to slightly stiff and clunky. Viola seemed to really enjoy drawing short-haired and chunky Sebastian; at the very least, he comes alive a bit more than the book's other characters. Viola does well with keeping things deadpan, and as a result, there's plenty of sly humor in this comic. It just could have done with either more or less control over its line: more would have given the book a greater sense of restraint, heightening the tension of the situation; less would have been a nice chaotic counterpoint to the artist's dry humor.
THE RED STILETTO, by Marc Sobel. This is the first mini written and drawn by my former Sequart.com stablemate Sobel. Sobel is best known for his ultra-exhaustive, issue-by-issue take on LOVE & ROCKETS, an effort that I hope is one day published in a more permanent form. Sobel brutally critiqued his own art on this mini at the link above, and he's pretty much spot on. The problem for me was not that he used too much photo reference (including some direct traces). The problem was that he didn't go far enough in one direction or another. That is, it would have been preferable to see a shaky but spontaneous & expressive line or go the other way and play up the story as though it was a series of photographs, emphasizing the still & stiff nature of the images. That would have been perfectly appropriate for this story, which was about images & memories, both lost and found. Instead, we got something in-between whose linework was indeed stiff and awkward.
That said, this was a cleverly designed and composed comic, especially for such an early effort. There's no question that Sobel is a fine writer, and he really went to town adding layer upon layer of metafictive aspects in this story. THE RED STILETTO is a story about one man's memories of his best friend growing up. This friend lost contact with him many years prior but had moved to get back in touch with him for reasons that were initially unclear. Much of the issue's narrative involved a reminiscence juxtaposed against the actions of the friend, some of which confirmed his beliefs and others of which belied them. The climax of the comic was a text short story that led the friend to want to reconnect, a story written by her father who had killed himself. The story was about missing motivation and ideas that haunt creators, and it seemed both autobiographical and prescient in unusual ways. The shock ending of that story and the shock ending of the mini itself mirrored each other, creating spectacularly violent endings for mysteries that could never really be resolved. It's obvious that Sobel already has a firm grasp on visual storytelling, and that it will simply be a matter of repetition and refinement. I'm eager to see what he publishes next.
MAXIMUM SUPEREXCITEMENT #2, by Robin Bougie & Maxine Frank. This is a sharply drawn bit of filth and fluff. Bougie is best known for his Cinema Sewer magazine, celebrating the sleaziest examples of grindhouse films and culture. He's also a fine cartoonist who isn't afraid to go to some pretty extreme places with regard to sex, violence, gore and gross-outs. This comic is a collaboration with Frank, one where the two artists traded off panels and sometimes collaborated within the same panel. The results are amazingly seamless, which no doubt reflects their similar sensibilities. The story is a mishmash of postapocalyptic shenanigans, rapacious sex slaves, maggot-inducing viruses and the destruction of all human knowledge. There's gunplay, S&M, worms exploding out of assorted body parts and an (anti-) heroine dressed smartly in an old WAC uniform. This is gleeful gross-out, not really meant to shock or disturb, but rather to point out "Hey, isn't this exploding head awesome?" This comic is a fun drawing exercise by the artists--no more, no less. Its potential audience would seem to be a rather self-selecting one.
APARTMENT 307, by Josh Blair, Pete Borrebach & Nick Marino, and Noah Van Sciver. This little mini-anthology hit upon a coincidence of circumstance shared by the three artists: they all lived in apartment 307 in each of the different cities they inhabited. Both Blair and Van Sciver complain about going up three flights of stairs. I liked Blair's visual treatment of this, using numbers and crossed lines to break up what is otherwise a mundane story. He's obviously not a very confident draftsman at this point, but he worked his way around that cleverly. Van Sciver engaged in a bit of navel-gazing here as he reflected on the ways in which his social anxiety has made him want to retreat to his room (and his stuff) more and more. Van Sciver's self-caricature is fascinatingly ugly, a point that he not only plays up in this story, but spreads to his art in general. There's a sloppy ugliness to his line that's starting to grow on me. I don't think he's really found his voice yet as an artist, but it's clear he's determined to do so. The Borrebach/Marino piece breaks up the introspection with a tale of why it's really best not to get involved in other people's business in Miami. It's a funny concept, but Marino's art manages to be both crude and drab.
MINIMALIST COMICS COLLECTIVE, by Agnes Anger, C. Che' Salazar and Abel Jimenez. This is the sort of comic that will draw a strong reaction from its audience, be it positive or negative. It's a conceptual exercise in comics narrative storytelling, with each of the three involved artists using a different technique. Jimenez crafts comics using only the most basic of geometric shapes as his characters, and they spout dialogue as though they were drawn in a perfectly naturalistic style. His are actually the most conventional comics in this anthology. Salazar uses text and panel-to-panel transitions to tell stories, a slightly more abstracted approach but still fairly straightforward. For Salazar, the iconography of the text becomes the image; words bend, dip and wrap around each other in a way that gives the reader information at both levels. Anger repurposes photographs to act either as word balloons or actual captions. Jimenez's comics are sort of like Matt Feazell's stick-figure comics taken to their logical end.
It's important to note that the stories in this comic aren't abstract. Indeed, with the exception of Anger's image-only comics, the storytelling is rather easy to follow. The grid on each page is standard, the Jimenez's drawings are obviously made with a simple computer program, and the lettering is also done by computer. The whole thing should be entirely dull to look at, and yet I found to be a compelling read. That was especially true in the stories where the three artists collaborated and combined their techniques. "A Typical Comics Story" combines Salazar's "expressive text" to create the characters and Anger's appropriated (but public domain) photographic images to create word ballons: text and image are cleverly inverted to tell a story that itself is a commentary on genre stories.
I think this comic succeeds because the artists made a deliberate conceptual choice to work using these techniques. It owes as much to dada artist Marcel Duchamp as it does any cartoonist. Anger in particular appropriates images with a particular (often charged) meaning and recontextualizes them in a manner similar to Duchamp and his ready-mades. In "Blink And You'll Miss It", horrific images literally blur into each other when the page is held up to the light; the formal properties of both page and image are integral to seeing these images in a new way.
Jimenez is much more playful, as in "Great Panels in Comic Book History", where he reduces motion and emotion from famous comics and breaks them down to circles and rectangles. The cascading rectangles depicting R.Crumb's "Keep on Truckin'" is particularly clever, evoking a different Duchamp work: "Nude Descending A Staircase".
Duchamp's work crossed a number of media, making it hard to ultimately classify as a particular sort of art or literature. His art was both funny and whip-smart, thinking through concepts and laying them bare in ways other artists never considered. It should be noted, however, that once he told a "joke", he rarely lingered on the same sort of material for long. Along those same lines, I'll be curious how long the thinkers from the MCC will be content to work using these same techniques. One can only tell the same joke so many times, even when it's deadly serious, before the punchline gets stale. That said, this comic was an enormously clever dissection of the relationship between the formal qualities of comics art and craft. Those who conflate the craft of drawing with the art of creating comics will no doubt be enraged by this comic, but its sheer audacity as both an act of provocation and meditation made me chuckle throughout. Hopefully we'll soon get to see what the MCC has in mind for a second transmission.
Monday, June 15, 2009
ESTRUS #7, by MariNaomi. The Bay area artist specializes in confessional stories from her love life, but after the rather dramatic account that capped her previous issue, MariNaomi decided to fill this issue up with bits and pieces from various sources. Some are illustrations for various zines and anthologies, the most notable of which was a panel that was reproduced on well-known USA Today writer Whitney Matheson's blog. MariNaomi repurposed one of those assignments to hilarious effect here, adding captions to illustrations designed to make children less afraid of needles. Photos of cheerful children with captions like "I sure hope there aren't any bubbles in that syringe, or you're gonna die!" reveal her dark sense of humor.
While there was a fictional story in this issue, MariNaomi's strength is autobiography. "In Case Of Emergency" saw her ponder the notion of having to save everyone's life on a subway car in case of terrorist attack, and the ways in which she'd fall short. "Not My Celebrity Story" is a funny anecdote about her ex flitting from new crush to new crush and getting burned when his new girl turns out to be a porn star lying about her identity and intentions. The most revealing piece was "Euphemisms = Love", a one-page strip where her lover makes MariNaomi feel better about drinking too much with a well-placed euphemism. What's most interesting about this comic is the number of visual styles she uses, depending on the assignment. some are more naturalistic, others are steeped in the deep blacks that are her usual trademark, others are more spontaneous and cruder, while others still are deliberately cartoony. Her brand of wit seems to do best with a non-naturalistic style; there's something about her authorial voice that seems to "sound" best with a more fluid, cartoony style. There's a fluidity to her narrative style to begin with, so it only makes sense that her line should match it.
DATER'S DOZEN, by Melaina. Melaina lists MariNaomi as her comics mentor, and it showed in this mini about the artist dating different men. The kicker here was that it was a deliberate, chronological pursuit after a difficult break-up, and the dates came from the internet or were blind dates set up by friends. In terms of a visual approach, Melaina's work is very much unlike MariNaomi's in that she doesn't do much in terms of spotting blacks. Instead, she presents a flatter page and relies solely on her minimalist but expressive linework to tell her story.
Overall, this was a charming, breezy read. Melaina is a nurse by profession, and that sort of no-nonsense attitude found in nurses surfaced in the way she approached her dates. At the same time, she found ways of expressing her vulnerability and pain in a manner that was forthright and honest but not whiny or self-pitying. Regarding her art, she displayed a lot of cleverness in solving certain storytelling problems, with her panel composition in particular being fun to look at. In terms of her figure drawing, her self-caricature is distinctive & expressive as well as being a funny drawing. Her biggest weakness as an artist is in how she presents gesture and character interaction. There's a real stiffness there that could be aided by spotting blacks to establish mood, which would force the eye to see how characters are reacting to each other more clearly. What I liked most of all about this mini was that it was a warts 'n all examination of her dates and relationships, one in which she took herself to task as much as she did those men who didn't quite measure up. The power of her comics personification's personality combined with her ability to cleverly lay out a story will no doubt continue to lead her to create some interesting work.
TOO NEGATIVE #9-11, by Jenny Gonzalez. Gonzalez is a long-time mainstay of the minicomics world, working roughly in the tradition of underground comics. Gonzalez employs a cute, cartoony style to depict a "halfway house in hell". These minis seems to be fairly crude reproductions of strips originally printed elsewhere, and the copies don't do her work any favors in the way they chop of border edges and even dialogue at times. That's unfortunate, because her rubbery figures, over-the-top sense of humor and thinly-veiled fictive self all pack a powerful punch. While the series is ostensibly about a group of characters living in hell and either recovering or helping to treat others, it's mostly about the experience of living through mental illness. More to the point, it's about the experience of living through institutional treatment for mental illness.
As such, the Devil Dahlia character is obviously a liberating fictive construct, both for venting on this harrowing set of experiences and also as a powerful id-figure. She's quite matter-of-fact about her grip on reality, never preventing it from living her life freely and to the max. She's in a band, she freely expresses her libido, and she reaches out to others for friendships and connections. Gonzalez freely experiments with formats and story goals in these minis. One issue is nothing but dark four-panel gags. Another issue features an extended story of how Devil Dahlia wound up in an institution. Both of these issue flattered her strengths for the most part. Gonzalez's comics were less compelling when she was venting against crummy bands, whiny hipster cartoonists and other more ephemeral complaints. These tended to feel a bit dull and flat in comparison to those strips that flexed a sharper, darker sense of humor or depicted a nightmarish experience with wit and more than a little detachment. Her comics certainly deserve an extensive repackaging that flatters her expressive line to a much greater extent.
8 STORIES, by Rob Jackson. Rob Jackson is an artist with a pleasingly loopy sense of humor whose art is rapidly starting to catch up with his ambitions. His use of grey and black in depicting a city that fell in love with its own reflection nicely established the story's mood, and the way he both anthropomorphized the city and displayed the collateral damage it inflicted on its people was quite clever. Jackson's cruder stories tended to be more autobiographical, though these stories all had humorous content. "Rob Jackson's Rules of Life #6" was a brief bit of deadpan silliness that subverted its own initial conceit at the end. "Blood and White Water" amusingly told the story of his one and only attempt at white-water rafting, a story that played up his own ineptitude and humiliation to great effect. "Show Me Your Insect Hooves" was about his experience going to see his favorite band, drawn more-or-less on site. While I appreciated the spontaneity of this piece, it was so rough that it either needed to be left in the sketchbook or else redrawn.
My favorite two pieces in this comic couldn't be any more different. "My Nearest Mountain" finds him experimenting with what looks like a brush to tell a more serious story about a particular day trip. His line here is thicker and more expressive and gives the reader a real sense of the terrain. "Math-Ro-Mancer" is the sort of absurd, violent genre comic that Jackson does so well. It begins as a fantasy tale as two children seek out the Math-ro-mancer to help them multiply fractions, and the title character teaches them with the gruesome use of a corpse that induces them to vomit. Pulling back, we see that this is an educational TV show and our hero pensively wishes that he could do math without terrifying children. Jackson takes a ridiculous premise and then subverts it in the weirdest way possible. About the only thing I could have wished for in this story was a line that was either more deadpan or funnier looking. Jackson's line here falls short of the situation he creates. It serves well enough to understand the joke, but what separates Jackson from being a great humorist is that he doesn't yet have a fine enough control over his line to go the extra mile to sell his joke. Given his improvement in composing a page, he will likely soon reach a point where his line catches up to his ambition.
DARK CLOUD COMIN', by Ed Choy Moorman. This mini feels strongly influenced by ED THE HAPPY CLOWN-era Chester Brown in terms of its line, the ambiguity of its narrative and its bleak view of humanity. More specifically in terms of the art, the way Moorman uses oversized heads and straightforwardly engulfs his character in a world of nightmare logic also recalls Brown. There are a number of striking images in this comic: the mute giant who must swallow children to live and in turn (supposedly) protect a value; the way he feels haunted by this proposition and scrawls his tortured confessions on the side of a mountain; the girl/boy child Elona stopping the giant's heart from the inside; the final page where we see the interaction between Elona, a baby tadpole and the wind whistling through a tree's long branches.
This story feels like a splinter from a longer epic, pared down to a few important emotional beats. While the character of Elona and the giant maintain a certain delightful mysteriousness, the other principals are all frustratingly bland: the deceptive priest, the helpful newfound friend, the earnest but impotent mother. It felt like Moorman either gave the reader either too much information or not enough, and I am actually leaning toward the former. Moorman might have been better served removing a few pages of exposition in favor of forcing the reader to work harder to engage the many striking images in this comic. Still, it's obvious that Moorman is bursting with ideas, and each successive comic of his I read is better than the last. He's one of many comics in Minnesota who are making a name for themselves.
FROGHEAD HANGOVER, by William Cardini. Despite this comic's absurd title, it is absolutely an accurate description of its contents. Reminiscent of somewhere between Mat Brinkman and Sam Gaskin, Cardini tells a story of a video-game playing humanoid who wakes up from a bad hangover to find that a large froghead has somehow wound up in his house. It's 12-pages of well-designed silliness and a vibratory line that winds up teaching us not to play Dr. Mario with mysterious shamen, lest one find oneself at the receiving end of a powerful magic spell. Cardini doesn't bother with set-ups, explanations or other extraneous details to get to his eventual punchline; once reached, the story's over. His line is so appealing (yet idiosyncratic) to my eye that every page is a pleasure to look at. Unlike a number of artists influenced by Fort Thunder & Paper Rad, there's a great deal of clarity and confidence in his line. I could easily imagine a collection of a number of stories like this one making an impact in the world of comics.
WATER AND FALL, by Martine Workman. This is a charming series of drawings that loosely work together to form a narrative of sorts about water. Mostly, it's about water spraying people in weird and unexpected ways. At times, it acts as comics-as-poetry, creating a certain rhythm of images on the page to get across the visceral sensation of floating and/or being splashed. I particularly liked the way that Workman diligently stippled drops of water while crafting figures that were small blobs in the face of nature. This comic is a beautiful trifle; it doesn't aspire to deliver a powerful emotional statement but rather simply creates an atmosphere and details a singular and similar set of experiences. It fits quite nice into the overall aesthetic of comics & zines published by Little Otsu.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Pomplun was devoted to providing a wide arrange of visual approaches in this volume. From Farritor's moody naturalism we veer off into the crudely humorous art of humorist Johnny Ryan adapting a Jules Verne short story. It's an interesting choice and a clever one, given that this is a story predicting things about the far future (a thousand years) that came true fewer than 200 years later. The bright, simple colors add to the tongue-in-cheek presentation of this adaptation. On the other hand, "A Martian Odyssey" is straight-up pulp, and the ultra-slick art of George Sellas, while off-putting at first, did wind up to be a great match. The story itself is nothing special, but Sellas keeps things moving and the red tint to the story really drew the eye in. This story would have been a disaster in black & white. Antonella Caputo & Brad Teare's "The Bureau D'Echange du Maux", an adaptation of a Lord Dunsany story, gave the book a dirtier art style that was appropriate given the more supernatural nature of this entry. The story's idea was clever: a shop where one could exchange one evil for another (the men who traded wisdom for folly was especially clever).
The two standout pieces in the book were "The Disintegration Machine" (originally by Arthur Conan Doyle) and "The Machine Stops" (by Forster). While they were the best-written pieces in the book, they were also superbly illustrated. Choosing the great Roger Langridge to humorously illustrate the Doyle piece was an inspired choice, and writer Rod Lott left Langridge plenty of space to do what he does best: cleanly and smoothly tell a story with charm, humor and a touch of anarchy. Langridge's clear-line works quite well with color, making this story a pleasure to look at and read. Langridge in particular excels at selling the humor of a story through character facial expressions alone.
Ellen Lindner, one of my favorite young artists, teamed with Pomplun to adapt the Forster story. It's interesting that for a distopian story, Lindner chose to go with a lot of soft, bright colors. It gave the underground world run entirely by an all-powerful machine a cheerful but queasy feeling. Linder focuses on facial expressions above all else in her work, and her slightly thick and exaggerated line was an especially nice fit for this story of a mother detached from her son--and reality. Forster seems to be making a none-too-veiled attack on modernity and technocracy with this story, exaggerating its influence on the societyof his time for effect. Of course, the kind of social isolation suggested as a side-effect of the machine's influence is quite relevant in today's world. It's a clever character piece with an intriguing concept, and Lindner's stylish art feels well-matched with the more restrained style of Forster. Overall, this is the most successful of the GRAPHIC CLASSICS books. Color was absolutely necessary to pull this book off, and Pomplun made sure that the stories chosen would really pop out at the reader. That made every story flow organically as something to read and look at simultaneously. This is something that should happen naturally on the comics page but is often an issue when adapting a story to comics.