Monday, May 20, 2019

The End Of The Tour: Noah Van Sciver's Fante Bukowski 3

It's funny to think of Noah Van Sciver as a grizzled veteran of the comics scene, but that's truly what he's become. The guy who once wrote a strip fantasizing about winning an Ignatz award was just nominated for two Eisners. He's among the most versatile of cartoonists, equally at home doing satire, historical fiction, autobiographical comics, gags, and literary fiction. He's someone who clearly takes his work seriously but can also poke fun at himself and his own ambitions. That's most clearly evident in his series of Fante Bukowski books, which are about the world's worst and least self-aware writer. The magic in these books is not that Van Sciver hilariously satirizes the literary and art worlds, but that he manages to craft sympathetic characters along the way.

Each book in the series has been carefully designed to mimic a classic paperback design. This time around, it's meant to mimic David Foster Wallace, down to a "Genius Award" sticker on the cover. That attention to detail is thanks to Keeli McCarthy, one of the best book designers in the business. The subtitle of the book is "A Perfect Failure," and that sums up Fante's character to a T. The vain, glory-seeking, and delusional Fante set out to be a writer because he wanted to be famous, not because he wanted to actually do the work of being a good writer. He was more obsessed with the macho but sensitive trappings of what he saw as writing (hence his love of Charles Bukowski and John Fante) than actually coming up with coherent ideas. At the end of the second book, he and one of his zines got a degree of fame and success thanks to a critic Fante had done a sordid favor for.

At the beginning of the third book, Fante receives an offer to be a ghostwriter for a Disney starlet's autobiography. After leaching off his family (including a disapproving father), he actually got paid for his work, but he immediately ignored the parameters of the assignment. For the first time, Fante's own bizarre sense of integrity came to the fore, even if what he chose to write instead was nonsense. Indeed, while Fante continues to be a blowhard, Van Sciver does have him complete a sort of emotional journey. To be sure, Fante remains a privileged asshole who on the one hand rejected his father's career path in law, but didn't reject his desire for the trappings of wealth. He simply wanted it not only on his own terms but generated entirely from his own talent. A lifetime of living with someone who constantly put him down resulted in Fante (nee' Kelly) coping by creating his own fantasy world where he was actually good at something.

The structure of the book is interesting because while there's actually a tight plot and structure, Van Sciver allows many of his pages to act as separate vignettes, complete with their own punchlines. While the reader is exposed to Fante's essential incompetence and vanity, the flashbacks provided establish a bit of context for his behavior, to the point where his willingness to live in the scummiest of environments and associate with the worst of people is more than just a pose. It's part of his own essential nature to vacillate between comfort and disruption, self-absorption and sympathy. Indeed, the key relationship in the book is that of the friendship between Fante and Norma, a weirdo performance artist with an unsettlingly dark background. She has her own subplot where she's in conflict with the other major performance artist in Columbus, Ohio that winds up being murderous (art is cutthroat!) but tender with regard to Fante. His return to see her last performance is humanizing for both of them. Fante has sort of figured himself out, Norma made a collection that lasted, and even the prostitute who manipulated Fante's career behind the scenes gets her own reward. It's both genuinely earned as a happy ending as well as a parody of same, and Van Sciver's skill mixing sincerity and satire makes it all work.

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Minicomics Of Elise Dietrich

Elise Dietrich is in that cohort of autobiographical cartoonists that includes Glynnis Fawkes and Jennifer Hayden--women who started to do comics as a kind of second act in life. Dietrich has actually done work at the Center for Cartoon Studies, and these minis show how quickly the confidence in her line has progressed thanks to a great deal of work. Looking at the work in Pine Pitch Perfume, for example, one can see that her character design is a little shaky. Balancing space in her panels is also an issue at times, leading to some clutter. That said, she has a keen observational eye and a low-key wit. Her storytelling is also excellent throughout, especially when paired with an interesting conceptual gimmick. For example, "Partial Anatomy Of A Fabric Stash" uses a nine-panel grid with a different pattern of fabric in each panel. Each pattern told a different story, with a different piece of her past by way of clothes she made or wanted to make.

She also told stories about her daughter, her dog, her childhood and traveling to Brazil. Dietrich wields narrative captions pretty hard in these comics, but even her earliest stories have a witty visual vocabulary as well. In panels where her daughter is trying to fool her into staying awake or where she's trying to listen to headphones on a plane and draw but keeps getting loudly interrupted, Dietrich's use of gesture and exaggeration makes those panels effective. Birth Story unlocks and unleashes Dietrich's easy charm as a storyteller in a story that's paced a little like a Summer Pierre comic, only with much more rubbery visuals. Like any kind storyteller, the charm of this piece lies in its details. For example, Dietrich refused to wear any clothing while waiting to give birth. The lactation staff was away when she gave birth because they went to a Jimmy Buffet concert. Those details allowed her to connect the reader to the wave of emotions she felt at different points. Dietrich mostly stuck to a grid in this comic but wasn't afraid to modify it, collapsing rows into a single image or making single panels into a mini-four panel grid.

Key West Diary is Dietrich's longest and best comic to date. Travel is usually good fodder for diary comics, given the narrative aspect of having a finite period of time one's writing about. Dietrich went the extra mile but traveling alone with her toddler daughter down to her old stamping grounds in Key West with old friends. That gave the comic an interesting emotional resonance, as Dietrich revisited not just an old place, but an old way of life. There's also the New Hampshire in winter vs. sunny paradise juxtaposition, which led Dietrich to increase her degree of difficulty by going out as much as possible with her daughter. There's some disconnect on her part with her friends, who rarely think about their scandalous adventures with Dietrich, especially since she was trying to prove to herself that motherhood hadn't changed her that much. This is a rich and detailed comic that sees Dietrich examine her past, present, and future as an individual apart from her marriage. Her line is expressive and loose as spontaneity was a key aspect of the diary, yet there's greater overall control. The ambitiousness of her trip was matched by the ambitiousness of this comic.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Minis: Jennifer Hayden's A Flight Of Chickens

A Flight Of Chickens is a collection of Jennifer Hayden's earliest work on the web, and it's a series of four-panel autobiographical panels. This was not unusual for the time (the early 2010s), but there was a lot that stood out about her work, even early in her career. For one thing, her level of detail, including elaborate decorative flourishes, pain-staking stippling, and intense cross-hatching, was unusual for the average autobio comic. She backed off a little bit on this later in her career, which was all for the better because some of the panels were overly dense. It was clear that she was trying to juxtapose her stylized and stripped-down character designs with those details to give her work a bit more weight, but the panels just weren't big enough to allow her work to breathe properly.

That said, it was still fun to watch her cut loose with her full bag of tricks as she unleashed her acidic sense of humor on the world. Hayden is an inveterate smart-ass in a house full of them, especially her very funny husband. Barbs fly between Hayden and her husband and children, yet there's a powerful sense of warmth and love suffusing the comic. Hayden also has a wonderfully whimsical sense of humor that she explores visually, like imagining herself as Patti Smith or Frida Kahlo. Hayden always draws herself with a distinctively long, conical nose, so seeing that pointy schnozz on Kahlo was especially amusing. There's another strip where she attends a Pablo Picasso exhibit and imagines that he's there, hitting on her teenage daughter. It was an incredibly clever way of working out her feelings with regard to the artist over time.

There's a celebration of her deceased friend Shirley, bringing her to life with her eyes peeking out over her spectacles. Hayden also has a raw, frank, and funny approach to sex, like in strips where she reminisces about the early days with her future husband and about getting a vibrator as a gift from a talk at an "Edgy Mothers Day" event. There were two extended narratives here. One is about a couple of women running a tea shop that doesn't quite hang together on a strip-by-strip basis. Another is about meeting a man who used to live in their house, leading to various reminiscences. One can see the progress made from one strip to the next in terms of pacing and storytelling, as Hayden was figuring things out for her long-form autobio book The Story Of My Tits. Hayden worked on other autobio material as a side-project while working on her book. She's someone who came to comics later in life, and her work has always felt like she's trying to catch up on a lifetime not spent on this kind of storytelling. Her work is restless as a result, as she's trying to tell a thousand stories all at once. It's taken her some time to slow down a bit and focus on what she really wants to do in the moment, but it's thrilling to see her truly unleashed here with this early work.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Minis: Ryan Cecil Smith's Songs Of The Field

It's always a genuine pleasure to get a new S.F. comic from Ryan Cecil Smith, as it may be my favorite genre comic. There's a pleasurable clarity in storytelling that comes straight from certain kinds of sci-fi manga traditions, but Smith is a restless formal innovator who tinkers with visual and verbal structures in fun ways. For example, he loves playing on the "S.F." initials in various ways; this is the continuing story of the Science Fleet, but this particular comic is a Supplementary File titled Songs of the Field. Endlessly reiterating that structure, often in terms of dialogue or narrative, is all part of the fun. Of late, Smith has taken to doing endless Supplementary Files following one of the main characters or a side character on their own long adventure.

This one follows Alward the Lizard, a solo adventurer who has no love for the "lawful" Science Fleet nor for the "chaotic" pirates at war with them. Here, in this meaty 74-page mini, Smith uses the letters L.K. to describe things related to Alward: he flies his low-fuel kruiser into a zone and uses a latch klaw to get fuel. He turns out to be the son of the Lizard King and an invincible outlaw who skirmishes with a bunch of redneck types in a small mining operation. It's fast-paced, funny and vaguely philosophical in a sort of Stan Lee/Silver Surfer kind of way. Alward bemoans his lonely fate and is puzzled at the relentlessly hostile nature of humans while exploring space. The real treat here is Smith's candy-like use of color in this risograph-printed zine; indeed, the production values on a typical Smith comic are well above that of the average minicomic.

What's remarkable is the way Smith saturates each page with color but never loses the integrity of his line nor the clarity of his storytelling. The use of zip-a-tone effects has something to do with that in terms of maintaining structure, but the bigger key is Smith's ability to balance one or two complicated elements with several simpler ones. His line is simple and cartoony, giving it the flexibility to work in a number of different formal contexts. While there are a lot of colors, there are all carefully balanced on a panel-to-panel basis. He's careful to balance no more than three colors against each other in a given panel, but then he might use three completely different colors in the next pattern. The overall effect is kaleidoscopic, but broken down it looks quite intuitive. That cartoony and colorful nature of his work allows him to go big in terms of exaggerations and expressiveness without ever losing control over the page. The overall effect of the S.F. series is that of an extended lark in frothy genre fiction, but Smith's relentless attention to detail is what sets it apart from other such series. He's less concerned about the overall goal than he is in the flavor of the details that support the overarching plot. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Catching Up With Caitlin Cass

Let's catch up with some recent work by Caitlin Cass, one of the most original and prolific artists working in minicomics today. Her Postal Constituency service offers a subscription to her comics, and she puts something out every couple of months. The comics vary in terms of length, size, content, and ambition. However, she frequently writes about history, philosophy, culture, and politics.

Pre-History (Volume 8, Issue #6 of the P.C.) is a nice example of her work. It's a folded, small square comic that makes great use of its format by showing, one page/panel at a time, how various species evolved and were then wiped out by something. Cass has a snappy sense of humor and keeps things moving as she also alternates text and image on some of the pages. On other pages, she uses multiple unfoldings to tell a story.

"Give People Light And They Will Find A Way" (V9, #4) is a more straightforward story done in a standard format. Indeed, the comic was adapted from a presentation she gave at the school at which she teaches. Using a mostly open-page layout instead of a grid, the comic focuses on the women of the Civil Rights Movement. Cass noted that historically, women of color are usually at the forefront of every resistance movement but tend to get less credit than the men. This comic is both a remedy to that and a simple history. She talks about Jo Ann Robinson, who was the leader of the Alabama bus boycott. Using a simple, effective line, she relates the history of Ella Baker, who was one of the key founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. That organization would be key in pushing for the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Finally, Fannie Lou Hamer was brought to life in discussing her role in getting people registered for the vote and the violence she faced in doing so.

Rest Stop Brochures For The Not-So-Distant Future (V9, #1) finds Cass working a gimmick for comic effect. This is indeed a group of brochures in comics form, bound by a light cardboard sleeve. This is Cass at her most conceptual, with gags like "Digital Red Tape," which is an app that makes it difficult to use one's phone; it's designed to help with phone addiction. "The Forum" is a brochure for an app that provides a crowd that will cheer you on publicly, no matter what you have to say. It's the ultimate echo chamber effect. "Rainbow Boat Tours" offers people a chance to sail through garbage, picking out plastic stuff one might have some affection for. "Drone Eyes" allows people to see the world through a drone's camera, while "Amazon Truck Share" spoofs the fact that most trucks are half empty, and it offers a free trip to a mystery location. The brochures range from silly to brutally satirical, but every brochure speaks to the ways in which we consume and regurgitate information and resources.

Finally, Myths (V9, #2) sees Cass using a slightly bigger format, slick brown paper and full color in conjuring up modern myths. One story is about a tear in the sky that people tried to sew up, paint over, protest against, and patch over. It turned about to be a funny metaphor for the ways in which crises (existential and otherwise) are treated by those who have money and those who don't. Another story was about people who refused to give offerings to those In Charge, and they were put in a window, depending on the generosity of others for food. It's a clever metaphor for those who choose to live apart from being ruled by capitalism (like many artists) depending on the whims of others for support--until it's all too much and one wastes away. There's a whimsical quality to all of the stories here, but it's ultimately a grim comic that's fatalistic with regard to our fate in society.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Minis: Daniel Spottswood

Daniel Spottswood usually does amusing and fictional slice-of-life comics, but in Son of Nix! and April 2018, he focuses on life with his wife and toddler son. The latter comic is printed on light cardboard stock and folds out like a calendar, with each day's slot containing either a four-panel strip or a single image. Spottswood's cute style is juxtaposed against his frustrations with his job and the difficulties of raising an active toddler. Some days are cute, like when his son gave him a good-night kiss but not for his mom. Some days are filled with emotion, like when he unloads on his wife for being so messy and then is immediately filled with shame. Some days are filled with having to bend to the iron will of a toddler who demands a certain kind of play. Spottswood also manages to read eight books in the month in addition to drawing this strip, finding the energy despite having a job that clearly enervates him. Working as a store dealing with shelving and organizing products is actually made worse by working for a friend as a manager, who is wishy-washy in terms of leadership. Despite all of the frustrations, one can sense a great deal of joy in this work, especially when he sees his son delight in something. The cute, spare line Spottswood uses is ideal for this kind of work when a lot of art is crammed into a small space, though some of the lettering is hard to read.

Son Of Nix! focuses in on Spottswood's son, Philip, in a standard minicomic format. There's a variety of work to be found: naturalistic drawings of his son, four-panel strips (in a size that lets them breathe), single-page gags and expressions of frustration, and more. Some strips are written taking Philip's point of view in mind, like how upsetting it is for your first birthday, surrounded by strangers and your food on fire. There are gags about play telephones that are very funny because Spottswood knows how to sell them both to the reader and his son. There's a lovely silent strip where he comforts Philip when he has a fever, falling asleep with him in his bed. There are more funny expressions of frustration, like when Philip knocks over his coffee in order to play with his cup or when Philip bashes him to wake him up before the sun rises. What I like most about these strips is their sense of being in the moment. There's a presentness in Spottswood's approach, especially in this mini, that focuses on the moment-to-moment life of being a parent. That gives them an almost visceral impact, both in terms of their humor but also their anger and frustration.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

CCS Extra: Reilly Hadden

Somehow, I missed that Reilly Hadden had sent me the final issue of his Astral Birth Canal series when I was covering his work last December. Issue #13 wrapped up some storylines and left some questions open as well, which will be picked up in his follow-up series, Astral Forest. This has been one of my favorite-ever CCS-related series, packing fantasy, horror, slice-of-life intimacy and even women's professional wrestling into a single and often bewildering package.

This issue is subtitled "Ghosts Stories," and it is a self-contained story that also acts as a framing device for last issue's cliffhanger ending. It all sort of hooks together a number of elements present in the series without quite explaining them all the way. For example, it follows the story of Bork, the god-warrior and his lover Valentina, a human pro wrestler. Bork was on earth to capture a "disgraced god-king" but was decapitated by him in the previous issue. This issue follows Bork's rebirth and Val's apparent death. The framing device is a series of stories told by a bird-creature and his apprentice on a boat, sailing the titular Astral Birth Canal. This is the first time that the series' title has been addressed since the 0 issue that brought humans to another realm by way of a video game. The bird-creature is similar to the sort we've seen in the other main storyline of the series, and it's clear that he has some sort of influence over life and death.

What makes this issue so effective is that Hadden doesn't burden the reader much with details and continuity. Instead, the focus is on the bird-creature's storytelling, which is almost folksy in tone. In many respects, this issue recapitulates the running theme for the series: the thin veil between life and death. The Canal actually being real and accessible for travel is a manifestation of the series' many deaths, resurrections, and reincarnations. It's an incubator for myths and legends, but what makes the series fascinating is that Hadden depicts these stories as being terrifying rather than heroic. People are thrown into the middle of a horrifying and inexplicable magical world and forced to attempt to survive. The reader is thrown into the middle of an epic storyline with no backstory, meaning that one simply has to accept the absurdity of the situation when reading it. This issue brought a small amount of clarity while creating any number of new mysteries. Throughout the series, Hadden kept the reader guessing and constantly entertained as he pursued his storytelling whims, and I'm curious to see what the tone of the new series will be like.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Minis: Aatmaja Pandya's Phantom

Aatmaja Pandya's Phantom is a fascinating, autobiographical look at the immigrant experience and gentrification. Pandya's family emigrated to Queens from India, and she was born and raised in that borough, "the most diverse city in the world." Returning to live in her old neighborhood as an adult, Pandya explores her feelings regarding gentrification and young white hipsters moving in. Her anger and frustration are palpable, in part because Queens made her (and other people of color) feel rooted. The young people moving in aren't looking to put down roots, in her mind; they're there for the experience and will move on after a couple of years. She explains that she understands why they're moving in and can't fault them, but she still feels frustrated.

That frustration is related to being a daughter of immigrants and a person of color in America. She noted that being in Queens allowed her to feel "invisible, in the right way." She didn't stick out, nor was she made to feel different by others, because she was one person of color among many. In turn, that helped her feel rooted to this area. It was where she grew up and learned how to ride a bike like any other American kid, but it's also where her mother taught her Gujarati. It's a place that belonged to her and people like her.

The fear is that as Queens continues to change, she won't have a place that roots her anymore. At a certain point, she may be forced to concede that "it doesn't belong to me anymore, either." This is a measured but emotional howl at forces beyond her control and the ways in which spaces that once were claimed by marginalized people can be taken away from them. It's about how colonialism is intrinsically bound with gentrification in ways that are often invisible to those moving into neighborhoods that are suddenly considered to be desirable. Pandya's use of colored pencils (the comic is printed solely in blue) is subtle and expressive, like in depicting the bemused smile on her face when she tells a friend "I like Queens, too." The sequence that ends the book is a memory of learning the alphabet of Gujarati. There's a lovely drawing of young Pandya on a single page, her form taking up the lower right-hand corner of the page. On the final page, she says, "Then we left, and I forgot it all." The same image is repeated, only it's now smudged and partly erased. It's a lovely but bittersweet encapsulation of someone who is trying to come to terms with the ways in which rootedness is often a luxury that immigrants and people of color in the US do not enjoy.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Uncivilized: Dash Shaw's Structures 57-66

The Structures series of minicomics from Uncivilized speak to publisher Tom Kaczynski's professional interests as an architect. Of course, the nature of structures--especially man-made ones--has also always been a part of Kaczynski's personal, aesthetic project. In particular, the ways in which we interact with structures and how they explicitly and implicitly represent aspects of the wider culture and interests of capitalism is at the center of his work. The relationship between evolution and civilization vs. humanity's basest instincts also informs everything he does. As such, it's clear that when he assigned an artist an issue of Structures to do, he was interested in seeing how they would interpret the concept. In a sense, it's a kind of anthology series, riffing on a single theme in radically different ways.

Dash Shaw did Structures 57-66, and his take on the concept was surprisingly clear and linear. Earlier in his career, Shaw went heavy on coded symbolism and metaphor in his comics. In more recent years, his storytelling has become more straightforward in some ways, especially his use of line and narrative. His use of color is what's become the interesting wild card for him, using a wildly expressionistic style to convey emotion and meaning. It's interesting to see him return purely to line and not color in this comic, especially since it's so straightforward and even whimsical. Each drawing is a sort of fantasy of a building project outside his house. The first is a "Monument To Jane," his partner. The monuments utilize a thick but simple version of his line, laid out as a kind of sculptural montage. For Jane, we see her from various angles engaged in various activities with an assortment of instruments.

There's a warm and loving monument to his parents, engaged in a hug that merges their faces. There's a soaring monument to Tezuka, a funny and solid monument to Gertrude Stein, a monument to Francis Picabia that mimics that artist's drawings and even a monument to "the kicker of the monument." Shaw's sense of humor can be dry at times because he's so committed to the reality of whatever scenario he creates, but the reality is that a lot of his work is whimsical and sometimes emphatically funny. This comic is a nice workout for him that allows him to explore a number of different shapes and align them with concepts that gently tweak the art world.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Minis: Jason Bradshaw's Things Go Wrong

Robyn Chapman continues to release interesting minicomics as part of her Paper Rocket Minicomics publishing concern, and Jason Bradshaw's Things Go Wrong is one of the most recent. Visually, it's in the same kind of rubbery, bigfoot style favored by artists like Sean Knickerbocker and Rusty Jordan. The characters are exaggerated and have odd dimensions; and the main character, James, takes up a lot of space on the page. This is by design: he fills up panels, bleeds over into other panels and essentially forces the reader to really examine him carefully from top to bottom. Though much of the story is done in a naturalistic fashion, Bradshaw's aim is to make the reader aware of the composition of each page. He wants them to see not just a character but also the process of what makes up the character: lines and shapes. The idea is to feel the way the character takes up space so that when he gets sick, the reader's reaction is a visceral one.

All of this is in a story about disease and depression. James is a sign painter and artist suffering from a debilitating parasite. This is a comic about how mental and physical illness can form a devastating synergy, with each affecting the other in turn. James is in pain, a feeling that initially inspires him to do paintings about this experience. However, given a chance at a cure, he opts not to take his medicine and stops doing anything but his work murals. He becomes suicidal by way of self-neglect, wanting to die but not being willing to actually kill himself. He's content to simply stop taking of himself in the hope that he'll be gone at some point. The blue wash for this comic speaks to that melancholy, as the reader is forced to watch him experience intense, unsettling pain along with losing control of his bowels. It's a resignation that's not just lacking a will to live, but rather it's almost a kind of self-punishment. James feels like he doesn't deserve to live because he has nothing to offer as an artist (and by extension, as a person).

The first issue ends with James at a low point, waiting for his death as he does nothing to take care of himself. That said, a future issue is mentioned, which means that this story is not yet over. I'll be curious to see how Bradshaw resolves this story and if James can find a way out. Notably, James has no friends or family to help him; that solitude is glaringly clear as he struggles through life. It's also a commentary on how the lack of human connection can accelerate depression and how our worst self-images and self-talk can bring us down. The slight touch of the grotesque in the drawings served to emphasize the ugliness that James felt.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Minis: Suzy & Cecil

Gabriella Tito and Sally Ingraham's mini Suzy & Cecil is a cute, sincere and low-key series of vignettes about a girl and her dog. Produced by Frank Santoro's Comic Workbook program in Pittsburgh, one can definitely see evidence of Santoro's influence. There's a strict four-panel grid that Ingraham never deviates from. There's also a highly expressive use of color throughout the comic, using colored pencil.  That includes color being extended to the actual line, giving the entire comic a larger-than-life feel that contrasts with the low-key stories and stripped-down pencils. The comic follows the adventures of Suzy and her dog Cecil, as they poke around the city and hang around the diner where her mom works. Cecil is a floor-cleaner, going after scraps when they fall on the floor. The pigtailed Suzy is an adventurer, going on boat rides, long walks, car rides and sojourns through back alleys with her dog. 

The results are pleasantly meandering and remind me a bit of Melissa Mendes' Freddy Stories. That's a comic about a tomboy and her dog, negotiating the world on her own terms thanks to a number of understanding adults in her life. This is similar and despite the expansive use of color, the essence of each strip is rooted in rock-solid cartooning fundamentals. There's an emphasis on the relationship between figures in space, even when the figures themselves are quickly sketched out. For example, drawings of hands and feet are basic--even crude at times. However, the emotional relationship between characters is made clear thanks to body language and gesture. Indeed, Ingraham probably could have stripped things down even further for the sake of clarity, as some lines looked overly fussy. 

Of course, the use of color is the most eye-catching aspect of these comics. In a comic that aggressively sticks to fundamentals in every other aspect of page design, the use of color is strikingly expressionistic. One page is colored all in lavender. Another features a yellow-orange ground and a purplish night sky. Other pages mix pink, blue and yellow. It's fun to look at and provides a great deal of variety. The enliven the small moments of the story, like Cecil encountering squirrels and birds, Cecil or Suzy snoring loudly and ruminations on youth and mortality. This is very much a comic that's about celebrating the smallest of moments of youth and preserving them. It builds a balance between being totally unaware of time, like Cecil, and feeling like you have all the time in the world, like Suzy. In the case of both, there's an awareness passed on to the reader that time's march is inexorable, and so we should particularly enjoy the smallest of moments. 

Monday, March 4, 2019

Koyama: Chris Kuzma's Lunch Quest

Chris Kuzma's book Lunch Quest is sort of like Paper Rad decided to do a children's comic. The color scheme is toned down from "visual assault" to "vivid," but the big, black eyes and roundness of the character design are very similar to that aesthetic. The page layout is also quite simple, with a base 2 x 3 panel grid that is collapsed into fewer panels as well as splash pages. It feels like the book is a mash-up of several different ideas, cleverly linked by a framing device that sets up what is non-stop motion.

It's about a hungry rabbit character dressed in a business suit who comes home looking for his lettuce. Kuzma quickly establishes a premise and then exhausts it as he leads the reader around the page, then quickly adds an absurdist premise that turns the story upside down. In this case, it's finding a portal to another world inside of the lettuce bin, which shows him a couple of skateboarding kids getting into a series of escalating challenges with a rabbit master. Kuzma slips between standard panel-to-panel transitions and flattened, full-page open layouts that twist and turn through a variety of distinctive visual cues. The same pattern is repeated in the second half of the book, where the suited rabbit happens to witness an epic dance battle.

Kuzma does a version of Keren Katz's approach to comics here, which is strongly related to her own dance background. Kuzma thinks a lot about bodies in motion and the ways in which they flatten and become distorted. Kuzma seizes on that distortion and freezes it, creating a tension between the relentless motion and that momentary pose that's a slice of that motion. The use of color and the pleasing, friendly character design make that distortion friendly and cool for a young reader, as they lead up to fun resolutions for the frenetic action on the pages. The final part of the book is a recapitulation of the first two sections, as the rabbit frantically searches for lettuce and discovers a half-dozen new worlds that get just a panel each. The final reveal is funny and sweet, but Kuzma also adds a gag on top of it. This comic is a great way of introducing non-naturalistic storytelling to young readers, reconnecting them to basic concepts of shape and showing them how it can tell a story. It's also funny, good-natured and very slightly scatological, making it a perfect read for kids between seven and ten years old.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Minis: Brandon Lehmann's Womp Womp

Brandon Lehmann's Womp Womp is a magazine-size mini that shows off his solid gag chops on page after page. He's at his best when he digs into a subject and then comes at its concept from a variety of different angles. The funniest strip in the book is "Double Dragon," which posits the existential question of what video game flunkies do to pass the time when they're waiting for the heroes to come fight them. In this particular case, I spent a lot of hours playing that game years ago, and so I was familiar with the flunkies in question. There's one guy holding a knife, yearning for someone to throw it at. There's another guy perpetually holding a barrel over his head, who would put it down if he wasn't known as "the barrel guy," where "the pain in my muscles lets me know that I'm truly alive." Lehmann nails the awkwardness of their poses while strip-mining the concept for every laugh he can.

"Bad Veterinarian" takes that titular premise and runs with it. It's not just that the vet, in this case, is bad; but his relentless and clueless cheerfulness is also maddening. After mistaking a cat for a dog, he goes on to ask the customer if he should do some shots and then suggests putting the cat to sleep. The contrast of the increasingly angry and baffled customer and the blissfully clueless vet drives the humor. Lehmann deliberately uses a static character design and layout style in order to create this particular comedic rhythm, with eight panels per page. When the customer's eyes start to bulge in rage and disbelief, the vet's dull eyes heighten the gag.

"True Cat Confessions" is an extended riff on a cat's shame and eventual acceptance in using a litterbox, complete with a desert dream sequence. "Some Random Guy Falls Into An Abstract Nihilistic Misery Hole" is exactly as advertised, complete with a being telling the guy that everything is meaningless. It winds up being a commercial for Subway sandwiches. There's a comic about a cool cop trying to peddle the notion of going back to using flip phones in what winds up being an ad. There's an exaggerated, lengthy story of a stereotypical rich dandy being forced to wash dishes and then recalling the incident. Lehmann's comics border on being shaggy-dog stories at times, which works better in some instances than others. That said, the cumulative effect of those strips makes the comic greater than the sum of its parts, with that relentless but dry conceptual absurdity creating expectations for greater silliness on every page. There's a deliberate stiffness to the art that's off-putting at times, but Lehmann varies his approach enough that it's not a distraction. Lehmann definitely shows the potential to be an excellent humorist in the vein of Michael Kupperman or Martha Keavney.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Catching Up With Aaron Lange

Aaron Lange's talent is far-reaching, especially as a draftsman. He can work convincingly in any style, though he's a humorist at heart. Despite reaching out for pornographic and "edgy" punchlines at times, he really is just a solid gag man underneath it all. Lange is more than that, however. He's a take-no-prisoners autobio artist who's willing to look at his worst excesses, past and present, and portray them in an unflinching manner. All that said, I think his greatest strength is as a biographer. He has a way of taking even the most unsympathetic or difficult figures and laying their humanity bare for the reader, generating respect if not affection for them. Lange is an excellent writer and gets at the heart of events and achievements while never losing sight of the underlying and often tortured humanity of his subjects.

His Cash Grab series of minis is a perfect sampler of Lange's interests, plucked from sketchbooks and older publications. Issue #7 is a sketchbook sampler, mixing in gags, brief biographical comics and portrait sketches. A page about a high school friend who just passed away absolutely nails his bemused sense of curiosity, and the text Lange wrote about him is detailed without being too florid. Then Lange turned around with a gag titled "MK-Ultraman," combining the Japanese character with the CIA mind-control program. Then there's a study on logos and rides from an amusement park from his youth in Ohio, combining quotes from Sherwood Anderson and his own childhood recollections. There's a joke about a public service announcement-style character named "Cis" which is funny because Lange keeps piling on details, and that's followed by a drawing and brief bio of the actress Kari Wuhrer. There's a savage comics parody involving Emil Ferris and Ed Piskor, followed by a loving portrait of Lange's wife Valerie. Lange looked like he was channeling Gene Colan a bit there. This is a great introduction to Lange's general interests, and his use of color adds a lot of depth to his drawings.

Cash Grab #8 is all black and white, and Lange labels it as a "Deep Cuts" issue. There's a fascinating story he titled "The Aesthetics Of Grief" about the public appearances of Nick Cave and Susie Bick after their son Arthur died. It's about how they maintained their sense of style even in the face of grief because that's simply part of who they are. Later, he talks about his own alcoholism and how he wished at times the decision to stop would be someone else's, like a doctor. A note regarding his comics in general: Lange is one of the best letterers in all of comics. He is adept at using multiple, personal fonts, line weights and spaces between letters to create a number of different effects and add to the mood of each piece. His portraiture is truly superb, with his drawing of comedian Janeane Garafolo being a case in point. Using key squiggles, lighting effects, hatching, and some spotted blacks, Lange breathes life into a drawing that goes way beyond the photo reference he used for it. Most of the rest of the issue is devoted to portraits of comic book figures and characters from the film Boogie Nights. Lange could make a career out of these portraits in the way that Drew Friedman does; Lange is almost as good at it as Friedman is.

Issue #9 is in his wheelhouse, as it's most gags and stories about the world of porn. Instead of simply doing porno gags, Lange does a series called "Porn Stars I Like." He provides biographical data, quotes, and reasons why he likes them in descriptive and almost poetic terms. Those pages are interspersed with drawings of cats "speaking out" about various topics, as well as collages of porn images with jarring effects. It's a voyage through Lange's id, to be sure, but it feels honest instead of glib. Some of the images (like of a random asshole) are odd, to be sure, but fit into what he's doing in this comic. It's less titillating than it is raw and honest, and he counterbalances exploitation with exploration and humanization of his subjects. To be sure, Lange still attempts to be transgressive at times, with mixed results, but his increasing level of craft as a writer is what's taking him to the next level as a cartoonist.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Minis: By Mom, By Me

By Mom, By Me Volume 2: Tales From Our Early Twenties has an absolutely ingenious central conceit: artist Rachel Scheer adapts an autobiographical vignette from her mother Karen and then does a story of her own based on the same topic. For example, the mini begins with the topic "My First Apartment After College." For Karen, that was in Atlanta in 1973, and there were all sorts of interesting events that happened around getting that apartment. When she and her friend arrived, they went over to the offices of the local underground newspaper for advice and got a place in a drug-riddled area. Rachel then followed up with her own story in 2006 near Washington, D.C.

Each vignette is two pages, four panels per page. Scheer is clearly still finding her footing as an artist, as some of the drawings in the panels looked a bit clunky. It's not unusual for a young artist when they're trying to find the happy medium between naturalism and their own style. That said, Scheer is an excellent storyteller and knows how to create a striking image. She favors a single image that works in tandem with the text over traditional panel-to-panel transitions, and it's a technique that successfully gets across a great deal of information in a small amount of space.

Other topics include "traveling in college" and "something I'll never do again." For Karen, it was hitchhiking. For Rachel, it was smoking pot at Rehobeth Beach. There's a wonderful sense of connection between mother and daughter, as both clearly had a lot of freedom to make their own choices. It is subtly implied that this freedom is part of what bonds her to this mother. That's not just because of the collaboration (although that's part of it), but it's hinted in other ways, like when Rachel mentions moving back in with her mom after college for a while. This is a relatively brief mini, but I could have read a book full of these gentle, funny stories.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Minis: Forever and Everything #3

Forever and Everything #3, by Kyle Bravo. This is more autobio work from an artist who previously just went by "Kyle." Bravo uses a simple, stripped-down line not unlike Kevin Budnik, emphasizing character expressiveness above all else. Bravo's line weights don't vary much, nor does he add much in the way of effects like spotting blacks, hatching or shading of any kind. He's fully committed to a 12-panel grid and keeps it simple as a way to keep his vignettes briskly moving. The captioned titles for his vignettes are very much in the style of a Jeffrey Brown, who is another clear influence.

There's a sweetness to these strips as Bravo writes about daily life with his son Ollie and his wife Penny. The strips with his toddler son are excellent, as Bravo's joining a growing number of cartoonists who express the day-to-day joys and frustrations of raising a child in a realistic way. The extreme mood swings of children as they are developing can be frustrating, but Bravo keeps it in perspective as he documents it. Bravo also documents the new pregnancy of his wife in a poignant manner, acknowledging the fear that can be a part of early pregnancy when miscarriage can occur. One thing I liked about this comic is that Bravo treats it as a sort of document regarding his self-improvement as a person and artist. He struggles with how to address the subject of his parents, with whom he had some unresolved issues. He takes a writing class to improve in that area. He's constantly working and puttering to improve his New Orleans home. He goes to therapy and tries to process the trauma of hurricanes.

Finding ways to cope is a constant theme in his work. For example, after a positive experience at SPX, he still found himself overwhelmed by a weekend of intense stimulus. So he walked to a church service on the Sunday after the show, finding a way to clear his mind. This particular issue ends with the birth of their second child, as they take their time trying to figure out a name for her. That whole sequence is both amusing and slightly poignant, as his wife in particular struggles to settle on something, even after they've officially recorded the name. It's all part of the gentle quality of this comic, as Bravo navigates conflict with grace and honesty. Bravo approaches amusing quotidian moments with his family with the same quiet directness as he does bigger emotional issues, and it's that even-handed narrative quality that lends the comic its charm. Bravo has a strong storytelling sense, giving even the smallest moments a rock-steady framework that entertains on a beat-for-beat basis, especially as he intentionally runs each moment together on the page. That results in a reading experience that feels fresh on page after page, despite the fact that his visual and emotional narrative structure never varies.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Minis: 100 Life Hacks & Life Hacks 2

These aren't really comics for the most part. Rather, they're crudely-drawn illustrations with lots of jokes regarding the subject: humorous "life-hacks." I've noted in the past that illustration and cartooning are two related but different disciplines, particularly when I'm looking at a crudely-drawn comic that is nonetheless rock-solid in terms of design, character interaction, transitions, etc. In this case, the cartoonist (who just goes by "Ben") barely seems interested in cartooning. Many of the illustrations hardly have anything to do with the jokes. The jokes are typeset, with some pages just featuring a couple of dozen gags with one illustration.

Life Hacks 2 is better in that Ben at least shows more dedication to actually illustrating his jokes. There's a "paid advertising section" with gags like "Shaq Daniels" as the label on a bottle of bourbon. Ben's sense of humor ranges from the absurd to low-hanging fruit like scatological humor, with the former being funnier than the latter in terms of structure and thought. Ben did a kickstarter for this project and so crammed each issue with as much extra material as possible, though the effect was to prolong a comic that didn't have much substance to begin with. There's a guest gag panel by Meghan Turbitt, an artist who uses a similarly crude style. In her case, her commitment to the drawing has always been primary, and it shows in her gag here about an extra long straw. It also looks like Ben is drawing a basic computer program and coloring it the same way. The result is not just something crude but also something lifeless on the page. Ben is unquestionably funny, but these comics speak to his need to rethink his approach and even if he wants to make comics.

Friday, February 22, 2019

CCS Extra: Mannie Murphy

Mannie Murphy's continuing zine series I Never Promised You A Rose Garden has been a fascinating, essential read. It can be best described as a thorough, detailed history of Oregon (and Portland in particular) and its problematic, white supremacist roots. In light of the mainstream rise of white supremacist movements in the US since Murphy began the series, it's all the more instructive and important to read. This isn't so much a comic as it is an illustrated zine, but Murphy's handwritten approach (in cursive, even) gives the zine a high level of intimacy. It also helps that Murphy is simply an excellent writer, matching an evenhanded approach with a slow, simmering passion.

Issue #3 is titled "Hatemongers," and it's about Murphy watching a 1988 episode of the Geraldo Rivera show that featured a white nationalist riot. A chair was thrown and broke his nose, but what really threw Murphy was realizing that some of the people on the show were local to Portland. In fact, they were key figures in the second issue of the series. The show was a white nationalist blueprint: find an excuse for provocation and then engage in extreme, shocking violence. It's also proof positive that there is no such thing as civil, rational discourse with white nationalists. They have a particular worldview based around the paranoid belief that they are the real victims, and everything they do and say is defensible because of this. Giving them any kind of attention and allowing them to act out is giving fuel to the movement, emboldening violence and even murder. Circling back 'round to Portland (and other police departments), such activities often go unpunished or even encouraged and sometimes propagated by the very police departments that are supposed to protect its citizens.

Issue #4, "Flood," is an account of an attack by local Cayuse native Americans on the settlement in what would become Portland. It was retaliation for the flood of white settlers intentionally bringing in disease in order to wipe out the natives. They also poisoned native food in an effort to bring about genocide, rather than try to convert the Cayuse. This was all part of establishing Oregon as a "white utopia," and it continued with laws specifically forbidding black people from staying in Oregon or Asians from emigrating there. Murphy carefully provides primary evidence regarding the ways in which public officials were cozy with the Klan and then connects it with the Bundy family's absurd "siege." The titular "flood" in the title refers to a flood of white settlers, but it also refers to a literal flood that destroyed the shoddy housing of Vanport. That was a small black town that popped up thanks to a new for labor in booming Portland, wiped out by a flood. Those black citizens trying to relocate were forced into a section called Albina, thanks to "white banks, realtors and homeowners systematically denying rights based on skin color."

Murphy notes that Albina became a tight-knit community that thrived in spite of its disadvantages, but capricious police murders of black citizens went largely unpunished. Even when officers were suspended or fired, the cops would assemble en masse to protest in a show of force, usually effecting the reinstatement of these cops. Even one police captain was reinstated after definitive links to Nazi groups were established. What Murphy does best is connect the dots: relentlessly, grimly, and with great precision. Terms like "white supremacy" aren't simply thrown around; they are grounded and documented with a powerful grip on history and the way it echoes and ripples down to the present. Murphy is also quick to note the history of resistance and resilience to oppression and is careful to document this resistance in as much detail as they do the sheer, naked brutality of white supremacy. This zine is a document of that history and is an act of resistance in the sense that it seeks to prevent revisionist history from obscuring the real truth of Oregon's history, as well as expose the real and obvious connections to the white supremacist scourge that is openly rearing its ugly head.

Friday, January 25, 2019

CCS Extra: Carl Antonowicz

In volume one of Buer's Kiss, Carl Antonowicz built a world mired in disease, arbitrary religious and political authority and a total lack of respect for the humanity of others. In volume two, he burns it all down--quite literally, in some cases. The protagonist, Felecia, was thrown out of her village thanks to receiving "Buer's Kiss"--a leprosy-like disease created by a demonic creature. She's surrounded by a number of characters with competing points of view. There's the village doctor, who reveals her plan to get revenge on the church and state by infecting every village. There's the naked chief of the outcast colony, who idiotically embraces his disease. There's the Moor on the colony's edge, decrying heretics of every stripe. Finally, there are the soldiers looking to kill the doctor. One of them is gay and quickly lost his patience by the needling comments of his superior officer and his doltish assistant. Put all these characters together, and you have a volatile situation.

The care with which Antonowicz detailed Felecia's new life in the first volume sets up the horrific events of this book. This is an unpleasant world where compassion is not rewarded. The crux of the second book is Felecia discovering the doctor's plan and trying to stop it before she poisons her old village. At the same time, the soldiers happen across the colony and burn it to the ground after killing the leader. The gay soldier finally has enough of the others and rides off on his own. The climax of the book comes when Felecia comes across the soldier's pass, begging him for help. His response is to push her out of the way. The book's format is the same as the first volume: twelve panel grid that collapses at times, dense hatching and cross hatching, heavy use of blacks with a consistent use of background white for contrast. There's no shading or gray-scaling here, as Antonowicz builds the book around his linework and use of spotting blacks. It's mostly successful, though his line felt a little more wobbly in this volume than the first at times.

This book is about dignity, empathy and agency. Felecia is the only character who possesses all three traits. Her sense of dignity leads her to blaze her own trail and abandon the alms plate she was given. Her agency led her to want to learn the doctor's craft, strike out to save the village, and any number of other acts that displayed her willingness to act. Her empathy led her to show kindness to the Moor, to let down a guy who had a crush on her easily, and to try to save her village despite the way they treated her. The gay soldier has dignity and agency, but his lack of empathy doomed the village. The doctor had the same flaw, as she was consumed by vengeance. The chief lacked dignity and agency, making him a useless mound of flesh. The Moor lacked agency, or rather, it was taken from him. The other soldiers lacked all three qualities, making them callous killers who had no clue as to how to navigate the terrain. In the end, Felecia is stripped of her own agency and dignity as she's forced to become a beggar, making this story a tragic one.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

CCS Extra: Laurel Lynn Leake

Laurel Lynn Leake has been slowly building up an interesting body of work since her dynamite debut, All Rumors Are True. Her latest, Suspension, is reflective both of her sensitive and humane approach to character and world building as well as the craft of design. With a metallic green cover, she immediately conveys a sense of mechanization with the images of not just characters, but their identification badges for their job. It's an important image because the story discusses the way that capitalism at its heart reduces labor to pure commodities instead of valuing them as human beings.

The story is set in an unspecified future where a number of different people are construction workers laboring on a new project. Pointedly, the cast is a diverse one, as the job clearly drew people from a wide socioeconomic spectrum. There are a few pages of establishing material, as the reader learns about the job, the workers' dependence on their high-tech suits for safety, and the perilous nature of the job. Leake uses a single tone (a metallic green), mixing spot colors and washes. She creates depth and contrast by using white for negative space, putting the emphasis on the characters above all else.

The meat of the comic comes when one worker makes fun of another for eating hearty lunches. As it turns out, the company provides the gear for free but doesn't pay for "wear and tear"...which includes staying within whatever weight class you entered into the job with. It's a staggering revelation that truly reduces each employee to their weight and little else. Leake lets that incident speak for itself without elaborating too much on it, other than a lingering close-up on one employees's wrist counter. It reveals how many hours they've worked and how much they've earned. It's a brutal calculus that reveals the workers as nothing more than a means to an end--especially since the penalties for "wear and tear" are not immediately evident. As always, Leake is an excellent character designer whose expressive figures are the key in restoring humanity to this problem.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Minis: John Hankiewicz' N for Nadelman

It's been a while since I've written about John Hankiewicz, who I consider to be one of the greatest cartoonists in the world. He came out with a book (Education) and a short mini within the last couple of years which I haven't reviewed yet, so I did want to get to his latest release as soon as I could. That comic is N for Nadelman, which is a meditation of sorts on the sculptor, artist and collector Elie Nadelman. He was active in the burgeoning avant garde scene in the early 20th century as a sculptor and later put together (with his heiress wife Viola Flannery) a huge collection that focused on folk art. His own work was forgotten during his lifetime, and there's one detail in particular that Hankiewicz zeroes in on: he put all of his pre-1935 work up in his attic to slowly rot away.

Hankiewicz (along with Warren Craghead) is the premier practitioner of comics-as-poetry. His approach has always been to use the familiar framework of comics in an oblique manner, creating rhymes through repeating certain panels and lines of dialogue. It is a narrative, but it's an oblique narrative whose meanings must be teased out and contemplated closely. In this comic, Hankiewicz defaults to a six-panel grid, 2 x 3, and he collapses them from time to time to emphasize certain images. He also uses his super-dense cross-hatching technique here to help create the atmosphere not just of darkness, but of being lost in the dark. The story begins with the image of a duck juxtaposed against the darkness as a woman approaches a house during a thunderstorm. She has a small pin in the shape of a duck in her hand, and these are key figures because they are representative of the kind of folk art that Nadelman collected and created himself.

The comic is set in 1944, two years before Nadelman's death. The woman spells out some details: she works for an art gallery and they borrowed a pie plate with two carved owl heads as handles from his collection for a folk art show. Her narrative captions only loosely match the accompanying image, as though she was thinking about these memories from the future and she was dictating a parallel narrative. She notes that his house was mostly bare from losing a lot of money in the stock market crash, and that only plays into Hankiewicz's hands. The house is bizarre as a result: dark and empty of almost everything except sculptures.

Throughout the comic, Nadelman is never literally seen. Instead, his works and objects stand in for him, a kind of visual metanym for the reserved, defeated but proud artist. Along with that visual bit of reality shifting, the narrative itself shifts in terms of causality, confusing even the narrator as Nadelman himself is confused. Was she there to bring back the pie plate or to take it? She wanted him to tell him a fable associated with the owls while simultaneously flashing forward and back in time and experiencing déjà vu. Nadelman in this book is about precision of language even as his form changes from one of his famous busts to his Dancer piece to his Tango piece. There's a joy of movement in these pieces that translates into cartooning, animating the page more than the other drawings. 

All along, she's wondering where she had seen him before, even as the tale of two owls staring at each other in desolation played out on the page. She and Nadelaman were those two owls, talking themselves into being other than they were in the desolation of life. However, she couldn't quite let go of that nagging sense that she knew him. Know him she did, because as she saw him literally as an impression of his works, she had "seen" him through one of his works that she saw in the city. In a sense, all that was left of him was his art--at least in her eyes. His world was dark and fading from existence, yet he would live on. 

Accompanying this comic is Notes for N, featuring "unwanted text" and "sketches from the beach". The text was excised from the comic and paired with sketches (some of them in Nadelman's style) that he made at the beach. The juxtaposition of art and image here in a setting that is not-art because it was only a precursor to something larger is fascinating. Like with any ready-made and repurposed use of art, the juxtaposition changed the meaning of both word and image. sketch of a bird is captioned "The rain has stopped, so I ask that you leave". It's fascinating, because the images that Hankiewicz drew are folk art images: just people and animals at the beach. Some of the images were then repurposed for drawings of sculptures, but it's all part of the overall project: reconciling fine art, folk art and the role of the artist in treading these two worlds. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Minis: Coin-Op Special: Karl Marx Bolan

The Coin-Op brother-sister art duo of Peter & Maria Hoey is well-known for their fastidious approach to their comics' aesthetics. Their smaller-run comics, the "45 rpm" line, both mimics their fascination with music in terms of form and content. They are designed to look like sleeves for 45 rpm records, best known as short-playing records with a single song on each side. The comics also are a mix of music history and something else. In the case of Karl Marx Bolan, it imagines an afterlife where rockers Gene Vincent & Eddie Cochran conspire with Karl Marx to change the world. The Hoeys have the uncanny ability to draw naturalistic caricatures of famous people without losing any expressiveness; indeed, they lean into the caricatures to emphasize their larger than life qualities.

The story follows Marx using the event of Elvis Presley's death as a distraction in order to send Vincent and Cochran to save Marc Bolan. He claimed that "We need a working class hero who knows how to boogie!", and Bolan's music destabilizes the Soviet Union and leads to crushing defeats of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. What makes the comic so much fun is the way that the Hoeys are so obviously conversant both in Marx's political ideas as well as the stories of each rock star. In just eight pages, they tell a story with an epic sweep that touches on raw early 50s rock, 70s glam rock and funk. It's a funny statement about the potential power of music apart from its status as capitalist commodity. The whimsical qualities of the comic are grounded by its naturalistic approach and roots in reality, but at heart it's still a fun bit of subversiveness.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Minis: Maia Matches' Incelocalypse

Dutch cartoonist Maia Matches' comic Incelocalypse is a hilarious, over-the-top satire of so-called InCel culture done in the style of a Jack Chick tract. From the eye-catching black and red cover and landscape page layout, Matches captures the frenetic, weird qualities of Chick's old religious pamphlets while adding exaggerated sex and violence. She even nails odd, mechanical quality of the lettering and the frequent footnotes in these comics, replacing references to the bible with "verses" from Gmail, Apple and Google Maps.

The story details a femme dom named Bitch and her search for proper cum providers. She finds them via a couple of InCels ("involuntarily celibate" men), who were in the news for their sheer, raw misogyny and belief that they are somehow owed sex by women. Bitch, an unforgiving and all-powerful figure, gets all of her prey to submit. That includes the Straw Feminist, a hilarious parody of what InCel-types purport to be feminist beliefs. The end includes the typical Chick "who will you choose" features and instructions on the "one way to fuck". Matches keeps the comic short and in-your face, aggressively engaging the reader in Bitch's world from the very beginning and dropping pointed and funny attacks on her targets. Considering that Chick parodies are not uncommon, Matches is careful to make hers stand apart, both in terms of its visceral impact as well as its message.