Friday, May 18, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 5/11/18 to 5/18/18

Highlighting some great small press comics criticism being published, as well as other random things that have caught my eye over the past week.

COMICS CRITICISM 

* Elias Rosner reviews SEA URCHIN by Laura Knetzger, writing "This comic is achingly truthful and meditative and filled with moments that resonated with me when I first read this and resonate still."

* Robin Enrico on Ada Price's CALIGULA, "a work that while non-functional as a history lesson is deeply evocative as a piece of historical fiction."

* Alenka Figa looks at Jessica Campbell's XTC69, "a pure delight all the way through."

* Meanwhile, over on his High-Low site, Rob Clough ALSO takes a look at XTC69, calling it "a delightful balance of satire, absurdity and sharply-observed witticisms."

* John Seven reviews Reid Psaltis' KINGDOM/ORDER. "It suggests that barriers between humans and the natural world are real because we have made them so, but that doesn't mean the experiences in either are necessarily doomed to be exclusive.".

* Kevin Bramer takes a short, plot-heavy look at BALD KNOBBER by Robert Sergel, which was never on my radar but now suddenly is.

* Henry Chamberlain reviews M.F.K. by Nilah Magruder, calling it "one of the most unusual and mysterious comics I've ever read."

* Edward Haynes on Luke Healy's PERMANENT PRESS, writing "Healy innovates and pushes the boundaries of comics while mocking those that put too much weight in just deconstruction, and manages to keep the book personal, funny and emotional."

* Over on the site coolyeahalright, there's a very short review of ORANGE CHEST by Nou, a book that seems very interesting by a cartoonist whose work I love.

* Nathan Chazan reviews DIE LAUGHING by Andre Franquin, saying "Franquin does not put himself or anyone else above the calamity he plays for laughs."


* Brett Schenker has this video review of ALL THE ANSWERS by Michael Kupperman, "a fascinating account of mid-century radio and early television history, the pro-Jewish propaganda entertainment used to counteract anti-Semitism, and the early age of modern celebrity culture."

* Sam Ombiri a story by Gabrielle Bell from Kramer's Ergot 8 called "CODY".

* Andy Oliver reviews YOU DON'T NEED THIS by Elizabeth Querstret, which "explores our relationship with the thing we own, the advertising world that tells us we need them, and invites us to think about whether they truly enhance our existences or help us define ourselves."

* Way back in early May (so, not technically posted between 5/11 and 5/18, but whatever, and thanks to Dominic Umile for pointing me in its direction), Ed Park wrote about THE COMICS OF CHRIS REYNOLDS for the Paris Review. It's pretty great. 

* And finally, though not about a small press or self-published title, Nick Hanover's look back at the Steve Gerber character FOOLKILLER is a MUST READ. In it, Hanover writes, "The best commentary Gerber provides in Foolkiller is this notion that white male rage can justify any target it wants to, that the men who succumb to it are capable of transforming reality so that they become not only the true victims but also the only people with the ability to 'save” reality.' Given this, and so much more, you can see why I'm all in on this piece.


WHATNOT 

* The great comics critic and YCE contributor Rob Clough conducts a two-part, wide-ranging interview with JOHN PORCELLINO that is nothing short of spectacular.

* All of Jamie Coveille's recordings from the PANELS AT TCAF are available over on The Beat. Of particular note is Ronald Wimberly and David Brothers talking about the "Radical Application of Black Aesthetics".

* Speaking of TCAF, writer for the Beat (and YCE contributor) Philippe LeBlanc has posted his NOTES FROM THE FLOOR.

* In this short video from Tinto Press, JOSH BAYER talks about his book RM.

* Greg Hunter interviews the publisher at Uncivilized Books, TOM KACZYNSKI, about "the New Gods, comic shops, memes, nostalgia, and more."

* Priya Sridhar interviews HOPE LARSON about her new book, All Summer Long.

* Eric Farwell interviews MICHAEL KUPPERMAN about his new book, All the Answers.

* There are Tara Booth comics up on Vice called COMICS ABOUT COMPANIONSHIP AND SELF-CARE.

* There is also a Margot Ferrick comic there called PETSO.

* Over on WWAC, Corissa Haury breaks down the latest trash-fire in comics that is #COMICSGATE

* And speaking of the latest trash-fire in comics, Pia Guerra has this cartoon on The Nib called #COMICSGATE SPEAKS TRUTH TO POWER.

* Daniel and Mark Oppenheimer write MICHAEL CHABON, STOP BEING THE WORLD'S BEST DAD, YOU'RE KILLING US in response to the author's collection of essays, Pops.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Pool is Now Our Prison: Austin Lanari reviews ARCHITECTURE OF AN ATOM by Juliacks

+3 
I can’t write about comics. 

Ok, that’s dramatic: I find it very difficult to sit down and write about comics anymore. 

At the beginning of this year I told myself I’d write something every week, and if I failed to do so, I’d quit. In my lack of writing about comics qua art as was intended, you could say I have unintentionally followed my own ultimatum. Instead, I’ve become a serial tweet-threader; a semi-professional micro-blogger with mostly one thing on my mind: the stale (to be generous) economic position of cartoonists, and a culture that is implicitly hell-bent on distributing resources—including the two most precious ones, time and attention—to everything except this very same staleness and immobility: 

A most mundane plundering. 

And so, every time I try to start writing—every time I try to put my fingers to my 1980’s Diamond Flower Inc. keyboard and try to evince some semblance of some kind of opinion about something artsy—all my little doubts and ticks and procrastinations spiral, inevitably, into a question: Why do I do this? 

-2, +2, +4, +6 
Published by 2dcloud, Architecture of an Atom by Juliacks opens with a love affair—or, at least, one side of one. Two of the story’s more important characters—Frida and Cohl—contemplate a move to France from the nebulous version of Winnipeg they may or may not be inhabiting in the opening pages. Cohl’s affection for Frida and his uncertainty about both her future and his future with her are the subjects of several densely poetic pages before the characters arrive in France. 

Once there, we meet all eleven characters. Eventually, I think readers will agree, that there is a twelfth character as well: “The Metal”—or, “The Infinite Whistle.” If I were to follow the atom analogy through and be a little too on the nose, I would suggest that the human characters are themselves electrons and The Metal is a big fat proton: it lies at the center of the story in a way that is hard to miss, but is impossible to explain beyond its existence as a powerful, compelling force that pushes the characters in directions that are hard for us to understand. 

In order for me to explain any of the plot--in order for me to explain The Infinite Whistle, or the adult children, or what death means in this book—requires being able to speak Architecture of an Atom’s language. 

Luckily, fairly early in the book, Juliacks offers us some clues. 

+4 

I guess I write about comics because so many have moved me in ways that, over time, have felt more and more tangible. As the medium began to make sense to me and I felt like I could share that connection with others, what better way to evangelize people than to yank at the threads that weave together the most exciting work of the medium and jam them in the eye-sockets of unwitting friends who… probably… probably aren’t going to read this anyway. 

I didn’t keep writing to make other people excited about comics. I very much doubt and am skeptical of my capacity to do that at a scale that is significant, even when I’m at my best. Even if I did have a further reach, I’m also skeptical of that being worth anything, especially as a critic. After all, I’m not in marketing… am I? 

And even after all of that, surely I didn’t go into this trying to get others excited, for before I dove in and started writing, I didn’t know how any of this worked. Why did I start doing this again?… 

-3, +3, +5 

Early on, Juliacks makes use of a rectangle in the middle of her composition, filled with amorphous shapes that just barely come together to form a four-sided shape taller than it is wide. When it first appears on the second page of Frida and Cohl’s prologue, it is an ephemeral destination: a cross-section of the horizon, a doorway to open-ended possibilities for the characters as they drive off into the distance. Just a few pages later it encases the coagulated “red and purple” that make up our organs, “healthy, beating hard.” 

Once all of our characters are together in France, the rectangle is revealed in its true essence (or at least the truest one that Juliacks gives us for free): a swimming pool. All of the students—our eleven strange characters—are not considered to have a sufficient amount of integration within France, and so they must naturalize by taking a course. The curriculum? “Swimming Pool.” 

After reading the letter of naturalization, the reader turns the page, seeing a two-page spread dedicated to generic images of children swimming, separated by a banner of words from more detailed renderings of the characters below. The words in the banner read: “Today we learn to breathe.” 

The sequence that follows is my favorite in the book. An admittedly strange but otherwise mundane scenario of kids learning to swim in order to obtain citizenship rapidly descends into madness. The tone of the sequence largely speaks for itself, thanks to Juliacks’ ability to iterate on the liberties she takes with any given page. Some of what thrills me is hard to describe without sounding pedantic, but one obvious thing that carries through in the sequence is the continuous callback to that same rectangular stamp: 

The Swimming Pool. 

By the time the students have ended up lost in the mountains and crashed, they come upon an abandoned pool. Suddenly, the very image that Juliacks has been using as a callback is now something that yanks the reader into the characters’ present circumstance. Just then, when the characters register the presence of the abandoned pool, the readers are treated to a spread that depicts the new pool, fleshing out the splotchy rectangle with the colors one might expect to find in a mountainous forest. The pools are vertically flanked by the words “There is a pool in the mountains; There is wind in your nostrils.” 

Earlier, when trying to naturalize into a man-made nation, the children had to learn to breathe. Here, in the mountains, the wind is just… in their nostrils. There is nothing to learn. “Your hair blooms like flowers,” it says, on the bottom of the same page. The world of these children has changed from an imperative one to a declarative one, and the very next moment, along with all moments that follow, spin out of this dichotomy. The closest I can get to speaking the lyrical-yet-broken language of Architecture of an Atom is in fully witnessing that first breath of fresh air. 

+3 

How ironic that I should finally publicly confront this material tension in the comics discourse when I have the chance to write about a book that would largely not exist if not for a series of internationally, governmentally funded residencies, during which time Juliacks composed not only the conceptual nucleus of this entire work, but swaths of the work itself. The context Juliacks offers at the book’s end—that this is part of a larger project featuring an hour-long film, a series of short films, individual paintings and collages—nests it even further inside of contexts which begin to look like a Russian doll the more you take them seriously. 

Once you have the context [once you touch the metal], Architecture of an Atom becomes more than a comic: it is a series of comics; it is a comic and a coffee table book; it is a window into museums all over the world; it is one part of a larger, interdisciplinary, multimedia art project; it is the best temporal cross-section of the very same overall art project it partially comprises at a single temporal point (its own publication); it is a relic that would not and could not exist without the explicit and sustained support of public art institutions; it is a hard-bound, shiny-black-leaved love letter to comics publishing by a publisher getting the piss beaten out of them by several different brands of toxic comics culture— 

It is a critical paradox. 

That any number of these contextual anchors for Architecture of an Atom are things that would typically only come up in an interview with Juliacks and not in any kind of independent critical investigation of the work itself is an indictment of both the pretentious, hardline anti-intentionalism of people like me and the dry intentionalism of any one of several reductive attempts at reverse-engineering any given comic or comics page. 

-3, +3, +5 

Your body shakes when you touch the metal.” 

There is something lumberingly evocative about this book. Pages of more traditional-appearing, halting sequentials crescendo suddenly into spreads that themselves give way to poetic breaks in what once seemed to be building action. Architecture of an Atom frequently steps back from itself, explicitly putting a pot of feelings built up from groups of atomized character expressions on simmer so that the reader can sit with them in a way that is more self-reflective. 

Various two, four, six, and eight-page sequences could easily appear within anthologies like Ink Brick or kus’s s series and readers wouldn’t think twice. Architecture of an Atom has been instrumental in smashing my cold, formalist, admittedly prescriptivist ideas about the medium regarding whether or not a comic can be comprised of proper parts that we might also consider comics. To focus, as a critic, on ontological nitpicking and “rules of the medium” in the case of Architecture of an Atom would be a great example of the kind of steadfast critical perching that we need to forcefully shed. 

It is a fact that this book is made up of several different narratives that were packaged together, regardless of whether the author took the time to make them more internally cohesive. It is a fact that several of the proper parts that stitch this all together were distinct works of art hung in a gallery setting. 

And what a challenge that presents to us as readers! What an absolute dare. This book dares you to open it to any sequence you like. It dares you to use your imagination to piece together the very language of each character, both as they appear on the page and in their literal words. It dares you, at its end, to actually consider what it meant for the creator to produce it. For many of us, this is the dare which we will ignore. 



I started writing about comics because I wanted to be a comics writer, or a comics editor: anything but an artist (I do not enjoy drawing). And that’s fine, yeah? Everybody loves something. Everybody has to make a living. 

But this means-to-an-end-ism is a major strain in the culture of comics, arguably one of the largest, and it is, by its very nature, only ever (at best) tangential to the nature of producing comics, at least in any way that centers and sustains creators. Architecture of an Atom is significant in that it recenters comics as a medium within a broader multimedia context at a time when comics at large are treated as launchpads to multi-billion dollar franchises and multi...thousand dollar festivals for everybody EXCEPT cartoonists. 

No individual critic is at fault purely for focusing on art or on craft when dissecting a work; but, we are collectively at fault when we collectively ignore this kind of radical manipulation and recentering of context: in ignoring the real circumstances of this kind of project we shift the focus and the discourse in and around the medium in such a way that it ends up necessitating these kinds of context-shifts in the first place. And this is part-and-parcel with our active support of the plundering of cultural capital from comics, both intellectual and economical. 

-1, +1, +3, +5, +7 

Just before Frida and Cohl die, the book steps into a more free set of poetic sequences that, despite their more experimental nature, function as the same kind of higher level syntactic thread you would find in a more traditional, meticulously outlined comic. The mode of communicating with loose watercolors accompanied by hasty, hand-lettered poetry is a formal and thematic callback to Frida and Cohl’s interactions in the prologue. Here, it is a much more brisk calm before the storm: it is used to transpose a sensuous naivety with the chaos that immediately ensues. That Juliacks manages to string together threads that hold up this well within a work that both belongs to a larger work that is not a comic and has scattered pieces of individual works within it is a feat. 

Architecture of an Atom is a feat. 

Eventually, the abandoned pool becomes a metaphorical prison, situated next to a literal prison whose mainstay is the survivalist of the group, Sergei, by far my favorite visual rendering of any single character. Death follows at least one more character in addition to Frida and Cohl. The loss of a nation, the loss of their friends, and the complete fracturing of their language and points of reference for anything resembling society turns each individual character into an arbiter of their own reality. To wit, Juliacks closes the story by rendering each character with their own spread, one by one. 

The intentional depiction of each character--or at least, the ones who lived--in a context in which they are thriving at something in spite of the obvious state of alienation that has defined their existence is so strangely comforting for a book that, at times, leans rather hard into what you might call “Dadaist Lord of the Flies”. it jams together primal themes of idol worship and survivalism with strangely-veiled contemporary political puzzles: these kids are refugees from sensible time and space itself. In many ways, Architecture of an Atom is a bare rendering of that qualia of stepping into a new place for the first time, only in a strange, stirring world where that feeling never actually leaves. 

+4 

I can’t write about comics.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Austin Lanari is a programmer by day and a writer by day also. He likes to sleep at night. He’s got a master’s in Philosophy and he’s gainfully employed, so shut up. You can find his writing on Comics Bulletin, Loser City, Comic Bastards, and mostly these days on his own site at fuckupsomecomics.com. Follow him on Twitter .

Friday, May 11, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 5/4/18 to 5/11/18

Highlighting some great small press comics criticism being published, as well as other random things that have caught my eye over the past week.

COMICS CRITICISM

* Katie Skelly reviews MEAN GIRLS CLUB: PINK DAWN by Ryan Heshka, writing "Heshka swerves into pop surrealism and sly satire, touching on both the gorgeous and grotesque with equal ease."

* Michelle White on Carol Swain's GAST in which "Seeds of darkness add up over the course of the narrative, evoking a prevailing mood that, while far from sprightly, doesn't descend into bleakness either."

* Mexi Gremillion looks at TSU AND THE OUTLIERS by E. Eero Johnson, "a strange reality of urban legends."

* Rachel Sheir on Aline Kaminsky-Crumb's reissued and updated collection, LOVE THAT BUNCH, "a satisfying epic of modern feminism."

* Megan Purdy reviews EARTHA by Cathy Malkasian, writing "Its combination of gentleness and fierce social and political commentary makes it a surprisingly affecting read."

* Shea Hennum on LAND OF THE SONS by Gipi. "Presenting itself in an anarchic parade of anger, impulse, and violence, [it] moves with a rare energy."

* Ryan C. reviews Georgia Webber's DUMB, saying "It takes guts to lay yourself bare like this, but there's not an ounce of self-indulgence on offer here, and that puts it a good few steps ahead of many autobio comics right there."

* Kevin Bramer has this short, plot-recap heavy review of Katherine K. Wirick's NERVENKRANK #2. I link it here because I'm intrigued by the work Wirick is doing.

* Rob Clough on Josh Pettinger's GOITER #2 in which "Pettinger's deadpan drawing style makes the humor in this comic extra dry, as he lets the events themselves drive the humor, rather than funny drawings."

* Robin Enrico reviews CUIDANDO by Kelly Fernandez which "has Fernandez examining how the work of childcare has had an impact on both her life and the lives of members of her family."

* Jason Sacks on Agustin Comotto's PRISONER 155, "a compelling graphic novel that displays a remarkable empathy for its subject in a series of subtle gestures and small moments of strength."

* Sam Ombiri looks at BACK IN BLECK by Johnny Ryan.

* Elisa Shoenberger has a list of 50 WEBCOMICS YOU HAVE TO CHECK OUT NOW over on Bookriot, and, while I more often than not hate it when someone tells me how to live my life, Shoenberger has a pretty diverse and interesting list.

WHATNOT

* The amazing WOMEN WRITE ABOUT COMICS (from which many links on ICYMI have come throughout the years) needs to change web hosts due to "a lot of downtime, broken links and images, loss of ad revenue, and a lot of frustration." Check out their Indiegogo campaign to see how you can help. And in further WWAC news, with the departure of Megan Purdy and Claire Napier, Wendy Browne has stepped up to become the site's new PUBLISHER.

* Speaking of Megan Purdy (for the third time in this post), read her and Jon Erik's piece on The MNT site called SIX DEBUT BOOKS AT #TCAF WE'RE EXCITED FOR and then remind her she shouldn't end sentences with a preposition. Actually, screw that petty shit. Instead, tell her to buy a copy of that new Richie Pope book and send it to me.

* Alex Graham has a comic up on Vice called BABY CLOWNS IN A CASTLE KEEP GETTING FIRED that you should probably read. Once you read it, you'll know why I told you to go read it.

* Rob Kirby presents an excerpt from cartoonist Elizabeth Beier's THE BIG BOOK OF BISEXUAL TRIALS AND ERRORS.

* Alex Dueben interviews ZACK SOTO about his Kickstarter for The Secret Voice and his work in general.

* Hillary Brown interviews HOPE LARSON about All Summer Long, "music, inclusiveness and being a 'big dork' as a teenager".

* I enjoyed reading Francesca Segal's personal piece over on The Millions titled MY WINTER WITH EDITH WHARTON. Maybe it's because of that amazing winter I spent in Lenox.

* According to a REPORT recently released by the Anti-Defamation League, from the end of January 2017 through January 2018 there were 4.2 million Anti-Semitic tweets posted on Twitter which underscores "the powerful harassment that exists and the ease with which a relative handful of users can infect our shared social media environment with negative stereotypes and conspiracy theories about Jews."

TWO POEMS by Cal Freeman.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

2dcloud Spring Collection 2018 is available for Pre-Order



One of the best small press publishers in comics is 2dcloud. They have consistently published books on the leading edge of the medium and have an eye for works from new and established cartoonists that are transformative and beautiful.

Instead of doing a Kickstarter as they have in the past, for the 2018 Spring Collection, they have chosen to do a 

2dcloud celebrates 11 years of existence with this sublime collection of publications, containing offset and risograph printed works.

Lush colors, abstracted lines — discover the richness of the comics medium in this finely curated collection. 600 pages divided neatly into 8 different titles. Pre-order now to save $48 off the cover price and receive an exclusive Tara Booth print (a $25 value) with your order.

Driving through distant horizons — spring is here and summer is not far off. All of the books are printed or are actively printing. It will take approximately 2-3 months for the last batch of titles to ship from the printer in South Korea, to our distributors warehouse in Jackson, Tennessee, to our offices in Chicago, Illinois and finally out to you. Delivery of this collection is scheduled for sometime in August.


BOOKS
Nocturne by Tara Booth
NOCTURNE by Tara Booth 
Fluorescent Mud by Eli Howey
FLUORESCENT MUD by Eli Howey 
270º by Maggie Umber
270º by Maggie Umber 
Vanishing Perspective by Alexis Beauclair
VANISHING PERSPECTIVE by Alexis Beauclair

ZINES


Wander Maunder by Justin Skarhus
WANDER MAUNDER by Justin Skarhus 
A Tunnel to Another Place by Apolo Cacho
A TUNNEL TO ANOTHER PLACE by Apolo Cacho 
It Felt Like Nothing by Fifi Martinez
IT FELT LIKE NOTHING by Fifi Martinez 
Gustave Flaubert Trois Contes by Christopher Adams
GUSTAVE FLAUBERT TROIS CONTES by Christopher Adams

Once again, check out all the info on the 2dcloud site and then 


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Focus For Funding: BIRD BRAIN by Chuck Mullin -- "a comic about mental health ... staring pigeons!"


London-based cartoonist Chuck Mullin is seeking
funding on Unbound for her 
"comic about mental health ... staring pigeons" called 

Of Bird Brain, Mullin writes:

Anxiety is a wild ride. There’s a slew of complex emotions and experiences that accompany mental illness; nerves, fear, tentative happiness, the never-ending quest to convince yourself that you deserve to be content, the arduousness of forming human connections, and so on. In ‘Bird Brain’, I’ve illustrated comics showing what it’s like living with the unfaltering rollercoaster that is mental illness...using pigeons. In particular, anxiety is explored through three themes - negativity, relationships, and positivity.
There seems to be a general assumption in society that anxiety and depression just involve sitting in bed crying. There is an element of truth to that, of course, but it’s much more nuanced. Sometimes, I’m walking around and crying! In the six or seven years since my anxiety started manifesting, I’ve had my fair share of negative experiences. Panic attacks in supermarkets, debilitating existential dread, constant scrutiny of every word that leaves my mouth, you name it. The first section of Bird Brain showcases all the forms that self-hatred can display itself in, and hopefully drive home that what may seem minuscule to most can have catastrophic implications for someone with anxiety.
As you might guess, the above aspects of mental illness make it exceedingly difficult to establish meaningful and strong relationships with others, both romantic and platonic. The second section, ‘Relationships’, is composed of comics inspired by real conversations and anecdotes in my attempts to explain mental illness to those around me, and how anxiety has affected the connections I share with those I love.
Although I feel that my mental health has improved drastically over the years (partly due to medication, a subject that is broached in several comics) there’s still a long way to go. However, I believe that anxiety doesn’t have to doom you to misery for the rest of your existence - there are infinitely more good times than bad, no matter how far-off the former may seem sometimes. The final section, ‘Positivity’, concludes the book with comics that look on the bright side, expressing my core belief that life is still worth living despite what you may go through.
Overall, in Bird Brain I’ve attempted to display the complexities of living with anxiety, in ways that hopefully make you think about the intricacies of mental illness whilst also having a bit of a laugh. If it also helps you have a bit more sympathy and love for pigeons, as well, then my life’s work is complete.
Check out Bird Brain's Unbound funding page

Monday, May 7, 2018

An Experiment in Vulnerability: Rae Epstein reviews PERMANENT PRESS by Luke Healy


Our society does not appreciate the arts. Humanities departments in universities across the U.S. are struggling to maintain student numbers. Admirers of STEM subjects talk down to those outside the industry. Parents tell their artistic children to pick practical careers. Become a doctor, a lawyer… an accountant. 

Luke Healy’s Permanent Press is one man’s inevitable implosion in the face of an apparently stagnating artistic career. The comic features a frame narrative, providing context for two other comics that both focus on artists struggling with their work. The storyline is paced according to the original narrative, which contains two sides of Healy’s conscience. One side, evoking his neuroticism, depression, and artistic abilities, is represented by a cartoon version of the artist that slowly morphs into a rat. The second takes the form of the fictional Healy’s shadow, which represents his exasperation with himself. Filled with self-deprecating humor, the frame has a straightforward, simple aesthetic style that highlights the absurdity of its parts. Healy seemingly cannot help but mock himself and his high self-consciousness, which is possibly the only valid reaction left in the face of the inability to control one’s fate. 
The comics within his comic, however, are not primarily emboldened by humor. In fact, the first mini-comic, “The Unofficial Cuckoo’s Nest Study Companion,” is by far the high point of Permanent Press. It’s a puzzle of contemplative elements and unlikely occurrences which satirizes plot as well as critiques how art is formally recognized. Like with Healy’s career, the creators in “The Unofficial Cuckoo’s Nest Study Companion,” find their work unappreciated. 

Robin, the main character, is a playwright, who is asked to adapt a little known, award-winning novel called “Cuckoo’s Nest” for a BBC stage play. After a failed adaptation of Macbeth, she fears another disaster. Secondary characters include A.B. Cadbury, who is the writer of said novel, and Wally Milk, the “Cuckoo’s Nest” play’s set designer. Cadbury, it turns out, is a teacher who finds himself teaching his own novel to a very bored and very “not-getting-it” high school class (the story of “Cuckoo’s Nest” is included with thoroughness, making Permanent Press, at one point, a narrative within a narrative within a narrative). Wally, although he builds a brilliant set for the play, finds himself fired by Robin due to his slowness. 
“The Unofficial Cuckoo’s Nest Study Companion” is a highly psychological work. What motivates and irritates each character is always clear to the reader even if it isn’t always apparent to the characters themselves. Healy does this in many incredibly skilled and subtle methods, all based on his ability to seamlessly meld seemingly disparate elements and media into one story. Photorealistic elements are inserted in the middle of pen-drawn illustrations, creating a striking contrast between what’s happening to his characters both on the surface and underneath. He often intersperses his work with scripting format, which carries longer conversations between the characters, leaving only the most pointed parts of these conversations within panels. And, of course, he still punctuates the comic with humor, which normalizes the absurd parts of the story. 
Ironically, after Robin finds herself struggling to adapt the ending of “Cuckoo’s Nest,” the weakest part of “The Unofficial Cuckoo’s Nest Study Companion” is its own ending. It lands on a trite note, forgivable only by the endearment of its characters, all of whose arcs find smooth pacing and resolve satisfactorily. Of course, one could call this ending purposeful. After all, Robin finds the acclaim and apathy to the acclaim that Healy desires throughout Permanent Press

“The Big and Small,” the second mini comic in Permanent Press, unfortunately doesn’t hit the same notes in terms of stylistic choices nor pathos. Inspired by Healy’s father, who apparently often pressures Healy into becoming an accountant and believes that numbers are “reasonable… [and] have nothing to do with us and our bullshit,” “The Big and Small” is directed by numbers and how they relate to its two characters. Ultimately, although small details about Amir and Mo rapidly paint a strong picture of each of them, the numbers never truly connect to the rest of the story. They’re not thematic nor do they ever step outside the narration. Without the context of Healy’s frame storyline, one reading the comics would wonder why they were there at all. The only thing they represent are their creator’s deep frustration with his unsupportive father’s viewpoint. 
This is reflected in Amir, who plays trumpet in an orchestra. Neither the conductor nor Mo, his neighbor, appreciate his playing. He doesn’t seem to either, to be fair—he would much rather be making fetish videos where he eats tiny breakfast foods, which also nobody appreciates. Healy doesn’t delve any further into this, as he repeatedly interrupts with his conscience characters in the frame narrative, then abruptly ends the comic in the middle of the story. The end of the page literally tapers away as if to reflect the tapering of his fictionalized version’s mind as he falls further into a mental breakdown, represented by him transforming into a rat. 

“The Big and Small” has neither “The Unofficial Cuckoo’s Nest Study Companion”’s formal ambition nor its humor, presumably because the fictionalized version of Healy is too emotionally exhausted at this point to attempt either. By the time Permanent Press ends, he’s in full rat form and sitting on the cliche psychiatrist’s couch, talking to his shadow. And it’s understandable how he got there—his main channel of communication, his art, is devalued by his parents, by his lack of awards from the comics community, and, ultimately, by himself. 
It would be nice to say that Permanent Press offers a “fuck you” to society and all of its dismissiveness toward arts and the humanities. But truthfully, it’s more of a message to other artists. Whereas it would be nice to have Robin’s apathy to her ultimate success or Amir’s persistent interest in making online videos, we’re all affected by external praise or criticism, or, worse, complete silence. Permanent Press is an experiment in vulnerability. It’s an artist’s book, an aid in laughing at one’s own self-doubt.
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Rae Epstein is the writer of comics Gently Murder Me and Rubies, and has written criticism under the name Ray Sonne. You can find her previous work on The GuardianWomen Write About ComicsLoser City, and Comics Bulletin. Her bark is worse than her bite. Find Gently Murder Me and Rubies at gumroad.com/rebeccaepstein. Follow her on twitter @REpsteinWrites