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.