Thursday, September 26, 2019

Luke Pearson's Hilda And The Mountain King

There's no question that Luke Pearson is one of the most talented cartoonists of his generation. The sixth and final (for now) volume of his beloved Hilda series, Hilda And The Mountain King, not only caps off the cliffhanger ending of the previous volume but also ties together a lot of narrative threads from the very beginning. NoBrow very clearly knew what they had in Pearson from the beginning, as these books have always been printed at a size that allows his multi-panel pages to really breathe and flow. Of course, the care that NoBrow takes with their color and production values that mark each of their books has always been a highlight of the Hilda series, but the colors are far more muted and varied than in many NoBrow books. Indeed, Pearson uses a lot of negative space on his pages as a way to highlight individual character moments.

Color tends to dominate many NoBrow books over the quality of the line itself, but that's not the case for Pearson. His beautiful, expressive, and cartoony line takes precedence in every panel. The color simply accents and highlights the line. While his backgrounds and nature drawings are lush and warm, it's his use of gesture and body language in his character designs that truly draw in the eye. Pearson clearly looked at a lot of Chris Ware's work as well as Tove Jansson's, but there's also a lot of Donald Duck in there as well. The only contemporary who depicts panel-to-panel action on the same level is Jeff Smith, but Pearson has a more aesthetically-pleasing style.

The Hilda books center around the title character, a young girl living with her mother. First, they lived out in the woods in a forest filled with strange creatures like invisible elves, mountain-sized giants, and trolls who turn to stone in the daylight. Their existence and motivations sparked the first Hilda book and became a running part of the narrative, although mostly in the background. The key turning point in the series came when her mother moved them into the nearby city of Trolberg, whose whole purpose was to keep the trolls away. Hilda loves her mother but is also extraordinarily strong-willed, and that tension is at the heart of the entire series. Her mother worries about her and starts to feel Hilda pulling away from her, unwilling to share her life with her. That came to a head in the previous volume, Hilda And The Stone Forest, when they were trapped inside the mountain with trolls. All seemed to end well until the end when Hilda woke up as a troll with the troll-mother they had met, and Hilda's mom dealing with the troll-baby they had met.

The new volume picks up from that surprise twist and introduces a number of other plot twists while still conveying the sheer joy that Hilda learns to experience as a troll. She misses her mother and being human, but being a troll conveys a little of the wild experience she wants out of life, one absent of responsibility and expectations. Balancing that wild quality with the safety and comfort she feels at home is at the core of the story, as well as balancing fear with compassion and understanding. The big, epic ending simply recapitulates the series' themes: the relationships between mothers and children (but especially daughters) and the desire from all to have a place to call home. Those themes are writ both large and small throughout the series, though this book makes it big and splashy. The final images display the kind of balance that Hilda and her mother achieved with each other in a joyous fashion.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Artists To Seek Out At SPX 2019

Here's my usual dive into artists that SPX-goers should definitely check out. As always, I try not to repeat names from previous years and other shows.

1. The Triangle's Finest (Table W67) That would be three excellent cartoonists from the Research Triangle in my state of North Carolina: Andrew Neal (Hillsborough), Adam Meuse (Cary), and Max Huffman (Carrboro). Neal is the former owner of the excellent Chapel Hill Comics and the artist behind the hilarious and strange Meeting Comics. Meuse has been producing funny, strange, and touching minis for years, including the classic Sad Animals and Square. Huffman is a fairly recent grad of the School Of Visual Arts, He's a wild stylist with comics like Plaguers Int'l and Garage Island. This will be one of the best tables at the entire show.

2. Lance Ward (Table J9). I've been a fan of Ward's scorched-earth autobio for years, and I'm pleased to see his work get wider recognition. His new book, Blood and Drugs, is a harrowing and honest look at how an injury forced him to adapt to using a scrawled, almost manic style. He'll be at the Birdcage Bottom Books table, but all of his work is highly recommended.

3. ShortBox (Table W8).  The cutting-edge publishing concern of Zainab Akhtar will have a major presence at SPX. Like any smart publisher, she's way ahead of the curve with regard to up-and-coming talents; she was one of the first to become aware of Rosemary Valero-O'Connell, for example. This table will be jam-packed with great comics you may not have seen before. Zainab herself will not be there, but the books will be!

4. Diskette Press (Table I14). Carta Monir & Co. have quickly become a force to be reckoned with on the publishing scene. Come check out the work of Ignatz Award nominees Emma Jayne and Mar Julia in particular, but there's a wide variety of material to choose from.

5. Eleri Harris (Table L9). This Australian and graduate of the Center For Cartoon Studies is also a Nib editor and find historical/editorial cartoonist in her own right. Her historical comics are consistently well-sourced, funny, and fascinating.

6. Rachel Masilamani (Table A6a). I've been following her career since her Xeric Grant days, and her personal, poetic, and sometimes enigmatic work is better than ever. I'm excited that she has a chance to show off her work to a new audience.

7. Kate Lacour (Table H8-9). Her brand-new book Vivisectionary is out from Fantagraphics, and this is an engaging, witty, and visceral bit of body horror. Lacour's dry sense of humor is ever-present in this collection of drawings that were previously published in minicomics form, but the production values on this book make it a bizarre, beautiful art object.

8. Mary Shyne (Table I13a). This recent CCS grad is coming armed with her new book, Get Over It. Shyne's work is a perfect combination of top-notch production design and color, a playful line, and dialogue that mixes fantasy and verisimilitude. This will be one of the best books of the show.

9. Rikke Villadsen (W68-69). One of many Danes attending the show, Villaden's The Sea was a surreal, erotic, and terrifying mix of tropes and genres. Her pencil work, in particular, is dense and visceral. She'll also be at the Fantagraphics table.

10. Breena Nuñez (E11b). Her personal and political comics are playful, expressive, and powerful. Her comics about being Afro-Guatemalan often delve into family stories, but she's just as adept in using dynamic and innovative techniques in talking about injustice.

11. Glom Press (W6). Marc Pearson will be repping this excellent Australian Risograph publisher in their first SPX appearance. Bailey Sharp's My Big Life and Aaron Billings' Mystical Boy Scout #4 are particularly great.

12. Keren Katz (C13b). Katz is one of the most brilliant cartoonists working today. I haven't taken the deep dive into her work that I've wanted (I've only reviewed one book out of her extremely prolific output), but the way she works dance, abstraction, and comics-as-poetry into her narratives is relentlessly fascinating and confounding. There aren't many artists with a more sophisticated color palette, either. Her new book, The Backstage Of A Dishwashing Webshow, will be out from Secret Acres.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Small Press Comics Critics Announce Formation Of Nonprofit Publishing House Fieldmouse Press

Grass Valley, CA: Today, veteran comics critics Daniel Elkin, Alex Hoffman, Rob Clough, and Ryan Carey announced the formation of a new, non-profit publishing company, Fieldmouse Press, establishing a visionary, ambitious, and dedicated multi-venue publishing initiative within the burgeoning small press comics community. The company’s first publishing project, SOLRAD (, will publish comics criticism, essays, interviews, and new comics as a part of a larger effort to serve the public good. SOLRAD will launch at the beginning of January 2020.

Fieldmouse Press will be operated by President Daniel Elkin, long-time publisher and editor at Your Chicken Enemy, with Alex Hoffman, publisher of Sequential State serving as Secretary/Treasurer. Rob Clough of High-Low Comics and Ryan Carey of Four Color Apocalypse round out the company's initial board of directors. The aim of Fieldmouse Press is to emphasize its four pillars of "comics, critique, community, and collaboration" by presenting challenging, unique, and diverse material to as wide an audience as possible.

Of the press’ founding, Secretary/Treasurer Alex Hoffman said, “Our goal is to provide a space for readers, artists, and the general public to explore the comic arts in the many forms they come in. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, our goal is to serve this community that we love and do something we think hasn’t been possible before now. And as a nonprofit organization, we can take chances that other publishers haven’t.”

Fieldmouse's first major publishing project will be a new website, SOLRAD (, which will be a comics journalism hub featuring all-new and original content ranging from comics criticism, original comics, essays, interviews, and the promotion of small-press events and releases. Further publishing projects will be announced in due course, and will likewise share in the company's expansive, inclusive, and innovative vision.

Interested parties are encouraged to contact any of Fieldmouse's founders with questions, comments, and any business-related correspondence at:

Daniel Elkin:
Rob Clough:
Alex Hoffman:
Ryan Carey: