Tuesday, August 14, 2018

These Are Butchers After All: Daniel Elkin reviews THE AMATEURS by Conor Stechschulte

(Editor's Note: This is a reprint of a review that originally ran June 2014)

Violent dreams unnerve the dreamer. They discombobulate as much as give pause. Does the dreamer secretly harbor a savage side? Does the repression of murderous tendencies which are inherent in our gizmo, a repression foisted upon us by the needs of societal stability, find an outlet in our subconscious and, when it does, cause us to stare horrified at our own riotous reflection there in the morning mirror?
We are beasts, after all.
The Amateurs
And yet, as with all of the discomforting aspects of our brutishness, we manifest our Cartesian Dualism through an exploration, the creative act, stamping universal truths on the forehead of the ape, smug in our control, distancing ourselves from ourselves through judiciousness.
Once we cage our chaos in form, the art therein becomes a gift for other apes to ponder as they secretly shudder at the self-portrait it casts back.
Such is the stuff of Conor Stechschulte's debut graphic novel, The Amateurs, a book that explores the nature of self as defined by action, as much as it reveals the simian beneath.
Ostensibly, The Amateurs is about two butchers who have forgotten how to do their job. It is encased in a framing device hinting at witchcraft and burgeoning female sexuality, and is sub-plotted by a brief commentary on the repression inherent in the roles we are expected to place in our day-to-day. It is surreal, it is engaging, and it is violent.
It is also art.
Stechschulte's black and white, kinetic, and inky pages push you through the narrative. His main characters, Jim and Winston the butchers, are amplified through their abstraction. As they are less specific in detail, they become more universalized. Thus, though they are themselves, they are all of us together, stumbling through the miasma having lost the specific knowledge of who they are as they no longer recollect what it is that they do. Having lost the spurs of their social definition, they resort to their true selves, violent, petty, and brutish. They descend, awash in offal, blood, and horror.
These are butchers after all.
The Amateurs
In the absence of experience, we are all amateurs. But unlike the Blakean sense of Innocence asking us to pipe a song about a lamb, in Stechschulte's world, here in our innocence we are monsters. When we forget how we are supposed to act, he is suggesting, the horrors we do.
Everything about The Amateurs verges on the taboo, yet Stechschulte is able to teeter on the scaffolding to keep us engaged in his construction. The idea of memory is the refrain. His framing device is excerpts from the diary of Anne E. Nemeth, student, Lyre School for Girls. As all diarists know, the act of writing down experience helps keep the past alive in some manner. It is a document of memory, a written recollection of who we were to provide us access into who we have become. It is important only insomuch as it maps our definitions.
As the framing device, the excerpts from Anne's diary are full of clues to the larger narrative. The first excerpt recounts her experience finding a severed head on the banks of the river which spoke to her, admonishing her to “Look Back”. While a severed head on a river bank is already teeming with metaphorical heft, its forewarning provides the necessary context as introduction.
Her next diary entry documents when she stumbled upon two of her fellow students carving a love message into the shell of a live turtle. This experience too spurs reflection not only about Anne's own development, “What have I to look forward to in my oncoming maturity? What other abominations have I yet to see...” – but it also echoes the ape within, adding commentary to the larger story of the butchers who, by then, are covered in blood and shit, having lost chunks of themselves in the process.
The Amateurs
The final diary entry completes its function as a framing device. Here is ritual, rite of passage, the demarcation between innocence and experience. “What binds is what scatters, what scatters is what binds.” This is the central construct of this book and, through its exploration, The Amateurs is revelatory. Rivers and ribbons, innocence and experience, social constructs and our bestial nature, Stechschulte spelunks the dichotomies inherent in imposition, constructed through memory.
Were Stechschulte to have chosen to only give us the story of our amnesiac butchers, then The Amateurs would be nothing more than satire, farce, or even low comedy. But Stechschulte has more than this in mind. As an artist, he seems inherently to understand that his role is not only to provide access and create a reaction, but also cup his hands, hold the water, and dare us to drink.
In an interview he did with CBR, Stechschulte describes his book off-handily as “a horror/comedy story about two butchers with amnesia. Also I might say it's 'weird,' and maybe 'a little gory.'” This is your access, easy to define. But as the interview continues, he says, “I felt I had to approach its themes from an oblique angle. It worked best to place the content of the book in the space between those two or three stories.” Here is the water he is offering, this is the dare he is tendering.
The Amateurs
Be forewarned, though, there are consequences to drinking this water, cool and revitalizing, fresh from the river in the woods. After a feverish night, you may wake up the next morning forgetful of how you are supposed to act. Once so unencumbered, you are free to be who you are.
And who are you? Well, that may just be the subject of another horror/comedy story, my friend.

Daniel Elkin is the EIC of Your Chicken Enemy, the Former Small-Press Comics Editor for Comics Bulletin, and has Bylines at Loser CityPsycho Drive-InWinkFactionalWWAC, and PanelXPanelHe's a High School English Teacher in Northern California. He'll talk to you about Sandwiches.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Why Art?, Indeed: Ryan Carey Reviews TINTERING by Conor Stechschulte

"Art is always about 'something hidden.' But does it help us connect with that hidden something? I think it moves us away from it."

So begins anarchist theorist John Zerzan's widely-discussed (in some circles, at any rate) essay "The Case Against Art." Zerzan, being one of the leading scholars and spokespeople of the "anarcho-primitivist," or "Green Anarchist" movements, essentially extrapolates upon the conclusion that he serves up in the first paragraph of his essay for several pages, but as ludicrous as his central premise may seem on its face to most readers coming to it from outside his milieu, he manages to advance some reasonably thought-provoking, if fairly basic, arguments in defense of the idea that art --- indeed, all forms of symbolic representation --- are inherently inferior facsimiles of actual things already-extant in the natural world (a painting of a sunrise, no matter how gorgeously executed, will never be as awe-inspiring as an actual sunrise, etc.), and that the idea of reducing something or someone of infinite complexity to lines on paper or strokes on a canvas is necessarily tyrannical almost by definition.

Still, "The Case Against Art" loses me more quickly than most of Zerzan's other work, simply because I think he misses the essential truth of why art is created: Zerzan sticks doggedly to his preconception that art is about reproducing something --- a place, a time, an event, a feeling --- while most folks, myself included, are more of a mind that art is about interpreting any/all of those things, and the artist subsequently expressing that interpretation to others. Truth be told, I'm surprised that Zerzan, as a dedicated anarchist, doesn't (or can't) understand that the creation of art is about as unique and singular an experience as one can undertake. I can see a far more intellectually-sound case being advanced against, say, looking at or otherwise experiencing someone else's art rather than creating your own, but we're getting into some fairly tall and tangled metaphorical weeds if we go down that road, so I'll probably just table it for another time.

Still, I hope it's clear that while I harbor no particular pretensions toward being an art scholar myself, I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about art --- not just various works of art, but the nature and purpose of art itself, the reason for its existence in the first place. Along those lines, it’s particularly interesting that modern archaeological scholarship has essentially overturned the time-honored notion that the first things primitive man did were, in order, finding something to eat, finding somewhere to sleep, finding somewhere to shit, and finding a handy cave wall to record it all on. Modern scholarship now posits, instead, that humans didn't adopt any sort of symbolic culture at all for somewhere in the neighborhood of a million years? That means something, in my view, even if I'm not entirely sure what. Maybe art may not be as essential to human existence as I always thought. Maybe Zerzan's more right than I gave him credit for. Maybe art's existence does need to be justified, on some level.

You know who else has given these questions --- or ones very much like them, at any rate --- a lot of thought? Conor Stechschulte.
Regardless of whether or not Stechschute has read Zerzan’s essay (or any of his work, for that matter), his 2017 self-published comic Tintering (its title spliced out of Agnes Miller's unintentionally anarcho-primitivist statement that "artwork has only a tintering of what it attempts to represent to the artist or responsive observers") makes it clear that he's definitely tuned his mind to the question of "why even bother with this shit?" in regards to the creation of art on many occasions, and that he's had some thoughts on the subject.

A key word there: "thoughts". This is no polemic, by any means, and Stechschulte doesn't even suggest any particular answers. Instead, he relates a series of five, for lack of a better term, vignettes, each concerning an artist who invested a tremendous amount of time, energy, probably even money, into highly idiosyncratic projects designed to convey deeply personal messages in public spaces --- only for their creations to ultimately be destroyed. Sometimes by authorities. Sometimes by heirs/surviving family members. And sometimes by the artists themselves.
The ostensible "narrators" for these tales (all of which begin with the word "once") are a succession of inanimate objects in various states of disrepair or decay (a smashed window, a broken-down wheelbarrow, a rotten apple with a bite taken out of it, an inoperative sink, etc.), each designed to highlight Stechschulte's theme of the impermanence, maybe even outright transience, of all things --- artistic inspiration included. His cartooning is no doubt lush, his choice to riso-print it in largely-faded (or, at the very least, fading) shades of blue is not only artistically apropos but downright gorgeous --- this is illustration imbued with a sense of loss to match its melancholy precis. There's something else going on here, though, beneath the surface level, that I think bears some consideration, as well ---

These windows, wheelbarrows, apples, and sinks aren't/weren't works of art, but objects of utility designed not for something so indulgent as interpretation, but for specific purposes. There's no debate over whether or not they once had essential functions, they clearly did --- and if even these objects don't stand the test of time, what chance does something as mercurial as art, which may not even have much value to its creator a few years down the road, have?
Meditations don't come much more --- well, meditative --- than this, but there's a distinct and consistent authorial viewpoint that's apparent throughout. It's one of constantly taking stock of not only the ultimate purpose of artistic creation, but of the need or impulse that gave rise to the said act of creation in the first place. It asks not only "what are we doing?," but "why are we doing it?," and is unflinchingly honest enough to admit that not only are there no "good" answers to those questions, there are no real answers at all apart from those you come up with yourself, of course. Yet even those are likely to be shifting, transitory, maybe even entirely different every time you re-read this comic. And trust me when I say you're going to re-read it a lot.

Tintering sells for $8.00 and is worth ten times that much, at least, in terms of sheer philosophical weight. It can be ordered directly from Conor Stechschulte via his "Crepuscular Archives" Storenvy site.


Ryan Carey lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He writes about comics for Daily Grindhouse, Graphic Policy, and at his own blog. He also maintains a long-running film review blog, Trash Film Guru.

Friday, August 10, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 8/3/18 to 8/10/18

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


* John Seven on THE DANES by Belgian cartoonist Clarke in which he writes "We know that race is a construct — in particular, a construct of white humans who created a deep-seated form of differentiation often for purposes of control, enslavement, colonialism, and, of course, as a justification for hate that often evoked pseudo-science."

* Jenny Robins looks at ANUBIS by Joanna Karpowicz, which "is nothing short of a masterpiece, achieving arguably what can only be done by an accumulation of images – what has been called the aim of all Art – a mirror of reality."

* Brian Nicholson on ANGLOID by Alex Graham, writing "The book's structure, as an account of a life, never feels like a simplistic parable or fable, the way attempts at imparting spirituality often do. It's not that the book is walking a line between the spiritual and the abject, so much as walking all around the territory of a life to explain that the idea of a border between the two is false."

* Ian Keogh has a short review of Tim Bird's THE GREAT NORTH WOOD.

* Rob Clough is now over at the Wow Cool blog with a review of Mimi Pond's OVER EASY. 

* Megan Fabbri on Dami Lee's BE EVERYTHING AT ONCE: TALES OF A CARTOONIST LADY PERSON, saying "Lee’s style is uniquely her own, soft, easily digestible, and concise."

* Ryan Carey continues reading Elijah Brubaker's REICH -- this time talking about issues nine through twelve.

* Alex Hoffman looks at DULL MARGARET written by Jim Broadbent and illustrated by Dix who "have created a comic that reads like a play written for one person."

* Daniel and Mark Oppenheimer write letters to each other about Michael Kupperman's ALL THE ANSWERS making for one of the more interesting reviews I've read.

* Philippe LeBlanc on WHERE SHE WALKSthe result of a collaboration between siblings and artist Erin Millar, a poet, and Nathan Millar, a comic artist, saying that it "remains a frustrating read, the work of a collaboration between two siblings and accomplished artists searching for a proper way to coexist in the same environment. It almost works, but eventually it falters, It’s cut too short and is too ambitious for its own good."

* Matt Vadnais explores self-monstrification in MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS by Emil Ferris.

* Finally, my dear ex-friend Keith Silva has written about REVISITING DAKOTA NORTH which is something you should read. And do. And then be a better person for having done both. Now, if someone could only convince Silva that Tusk is a better album than Rumours.


* Robin McConnell interviews SLOANE LEONG over on Inkstuds

* You know I'm always going to link to any new Seo Kim comic I can. Especially this one called DUCKING LIKE RABBITS.

* Noah Van Sciver has a comic up on Popula called MORMON BOY.

* Speaking of Popula, Sarah Miller is slowly becoming one of my favorite writers -- not just because she lives in the same town as I do, but because she can write things like MOVIEGOING IN THE AGE OF ANXIETY.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018


In the sixteen pages of what may be one of the best titled responses to the current wave of xenophobia, antisemitism, and racism that is cresting on a global scale, Minnesota-based artist Jenny Schmid tries to put the human face back on the dehumanizing language of the alt-right and other hate groups (including the current US administration). White Supremacists Are Human Farts features Schmid and her adopted daughter in conversation about topics that, because of the world in which we live, more and more parents are having to have to have with their children.

It’s a conversation that has no easy answers. And new questions seem to arise every day.

Using the story of Anne Frank as a framing device, Schmid is able to focus on the ideas that hate is a learned thing, that children have a basic goodness, and that power and concepts of “otherness” are two sides of the same coin. Juxtaposing “Pathetic Posters of the ‘Alt-Right’” and the words of President Trump with the protests that came in response and her own daughter’s questions around hate allows Schmid to put the heavy weight of messaging in substitute hands. This choice not only adds to the themes that the artist is exploring but also helps the reader feel the impact of both the hate engendered by fear and the love possible through understanding and empathy.

Schmid tells the stories of her “Immigrant” friends and daughter by focusing on their inherent goodness and accomplishments. And she chooses to end the book with her daughter reciting Anne Frank’s final words: “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are still truly good at heart.” 

This final decision brings a note of hope. As bleak as things can seem sometimes, whether you are hiding from Nazis in a secret annex in Amsterdam or you are cleaning swastikas off of the walls of your synagogue or you are just inundated by a 24-hour news cycle that survives by highlighting the worst in us, there are still people who will fight back, not succumb to fear and division, and bring joy into the world.
In the face of all the rhetoric, Schmid seems to be saying that we all need to stand up and let the children lead the way. This sort of simplistic seeming sentiment almost reeks of being a meaningless platitude. But, at its heart, it’s true. As brutal and stupid and unreasonable as White Supremacists are, if we all remember that they are just pathetic, frightened Farts, we can play joyful music to drown out the vibrations that emanate from their ass-faces, and we can release the embracing scent of love to deodorize their shit stench.

And if that doesn’t work, I’m all for you punching them right in their fucking face, twice. Fuck Nazis.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Owning Midnight: Matt Vadnais explores Self-Monstrification in Emil Ferris’s MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS

In her 2011 collection of poems and essays, Songs and Stories of the Ghouls, Alice Notley examines the corrosive power by which canonical literature has traditionally used an overlapping vocabulary to define monsters, women, immigrants, and people of color. Notley’s poems and essays mention a number of monstrous character but focus primarily on the child-murdering Medea, a 2,500-year-old character marked by Euripides both as a raced immigrant and as a woman who fails to be appropriately feminine. By examining the durability of the Medea story and our resistance to accepting an ending in which the children survive, Notely locates monstrosity and otherness as codependent categories. We are more inclined to believe Medea killed her children because of her immigrant status and her failures to properly perform Athenian womanhood. For Notley, modern fear and loathing of outsiders is the fruit of trees planted by our canonical authors. The terms by which outsiders are defined as monsters and monsters are defined as outsiders are baked into our narrative traditions. For Notley, such valences cannot be escaped through conventional narrative forms or even sentence structure: language shaped by a colonial legacy cannot help but to reify a worldview that accepts, as its most basic fact, the notion that difference is evil. Stories about monsters exist primarily to codify power in the hands of elements of society who – in a white-supremacist heteropatriarchy – aren’t supposed to have it as coterminous with monstrosity. Notley populates her text with ghouls, real and fictional people who exist in an undead space because they were written wrong by history or literature; any hope ghouls have for something like life lies with witches, whose job, Notley tells us, is to break time, a construct she defines as the relationship between language and the history it inscribes and is inscribed by. 

Emil Ferris is, by Notley’s definition, a witch. 

Ferris’s acclaimed 2017 graphic novel, My Favorite Thing is Monsters, features Karen Reyes, a queer, interracial child investigating the suspicious death of a neighbor armed only with what she has gleaned from monster movies and horror comics, genres that, when understood through the lens of Notley, are over-determined to define monsters by terms that apply much more easily to Karen than the white citizens of her native 1967 Chicago. However, Ferris hasn’t simply created a character in Karen Reyes who justifiably identifies with a monstrosity that is feared and reviled in many of the same ways that she is. 
The genius of My Favorite Thing is Monsters lies in the way that Ferris uses – and, as a Witch, breaks or ruptures – the technologies inherent in comic books to grant Karen Reyes, as the book’s implied author, the ability dictate the terms by which we understand her as a monster. Throughout the book – with two exceptions – readers only see Karen Reyes as a wolfgirl, a hybridized form that retains markers of her identity but adds fangs and an Eddy Munster haircut; more importantly, though, because the graphic novel begins with a cover that marks it as the journal of Karen Reyes, the reader sees Karen exactly how she has drawn herself. 

On the one hand, Karen’s artistic rendering of herself as a wolfgirl speaks to the power of the media she has consumed, stories in which mobs of “normal” citizens hunt down and exterminate deviant creatures that lurk in the moonlight. We see this in the opening scene of My Favorite Thing is Monsters where, in her “villager dream,” she listens to the Troggs, transforms from the wolf-girl to a full-fledged werewolf as defined by horror comics, and emits a howl that causes white neighbors to leave their houses with torches and domestic implements – irons and spatulas – to “smoke that freak.” On the other hand, however, Ferris creates the book, using journal entries, sketches, and drawing, to imply Karen is solely responsible for all of the art through which she is defined. When Ferris draws Karen recovering from the dream in which she was a mindless, keening wolf – with the implication that it is Karen who drew herself – she is not a little girl curling up with her mother: though the wolfgirl form she returns to after the dream is less threatening than the wolf terrorizing Chicago’s west end, Karen still depicts herself as a monster. By allowing Karen Reyes to subvert conventions of horror comics, Ferris offers self-monstrification as a means by which Karen is not only able to position herself as a protagonist in a story involving forces of oppression much older than she is, but is also able to modify the traditions by which her monster story is told so that her identity as “monstrous other” becomes more than a category deserving of the hegemony’s fear and pitchforks, it becomes a cite of self-fashioning and reclamation. 
From the beginning, Karen’s dreams, fears, and regular life are all contained and defined by her ability to create artistic renderings of them. Surreal horror, including the villager dream, is juxtaposed with more mundane realism. Next to all of the monster drawings, the reader gets a full-page depicting a still-life of the burger and fries that Karen is supposed to be eating. She draws the meal while eavesdropping on the conversation happening between her brother and mother that lays out the suspicious facts regarding the supposed suicide of her upstairs neighbor and Holocaust survivor, Anka. Though these two scenes do much to initiate a semi-conventional detective story with Karen at the center, the fact that they are rendered on lined notebook paper – complete with metal spiral and holes for a ring binder – draw attention to the collapsed space between Karen’s experience of these events and her artistic rendering of them. 

From the outset, through the drawings of the wolf and hamburger, and through the creation of mixed-media Valentine’s Day cards that feature painted macaroni noodles as the ventricles of a heart, Ferris defines Karen as an artist; it is this role that allows her to draw, and therefore define herself, as a wolfgirl. However, My Favorite Thing is Monsters also begins by positioning Karen in two additional roles. First, she is a critical consumer of horror comics, commenting directly on ways that traditional formulas – “monster + boobs = horror” – create the category of the monstrous. Second, she is positioned as a kind of art historian, explaining visual theory to the reader and reinterpreting – by re-drawing museum pieces in her notebook – famous paintings. Beyond simply occupying these roles the way a character in any book might, Karen inhabits these roles explicitly through the formal capacity of the text: readers experience her burgeoning insights as a critic through her own artistic renderings of herself, horror covers, famous paintings, and – once she starts listening to audio recordings of Anka’s life story – flashbacks that bring Anka back to life as Karen illustrates Anka’s words several pages at a time. 
The potency of Karen’s wolfgirl form – not simply as a culturally constructed cite of monstrosity consistent with her stepping on the “cootie step” that her classmates use to identify the tainted but also as an artistic rendering of that monstrosity – is developed through the formal innovations that create My Favorite Thing is Monsters, innovations that, because of the conceit of the notebook, are attributed not just to Ferris but to Karen herself. Despite never having published MFTiM serially, Ferris breaks the narrative into chunks that look a lot like single issues, complete with cover art. However, these sections – which appear to be single issues of fictitious horror comics, all created by Karen – are not of uniform pagination, suggesting that Karen isn’t just rendering her life according to the rules of an accepted genre, but modifying those rules as she pleases. Likewise, the absence of traditional panels gives Karen additional power to modify the form in which she is rendering the exploits of herself as a werewolf detective. These deviations are ways for Ferris, through Karen’s pen, to answer Alice Notley’s call to break the structures that hold story. 

Through her own artistic intervention, Karen not only monstrifies herself in an act of self-creation and delineation, she alters the entire world of MFTiM: white Chicagoans are depicted with distorted, animalistic mouths and eyes; Karen’s brother, one of the only characters whose faces is colored in a way that suggests he is fully alive, is presented with a body inscribed by language and story in the form of tattoos interpolated by Karen’s rendering of them; finally, the murdered Anka – othered by Karen initially as “insane” – is rendered blue throughout the text and eventually given a bloody teardrop and marked as mythological creature. Karen is not just the protagonist working to solve a mystery that is of no interest to the Chicago Police Department, she is the creator of the world in which she is doing so. As the story progresses and she learns things about her brother that he fears will cause her to hate him, it becomes clear that part of her power as creator of her own story is not only to dictate the terms by which she is monstrous, but to do the inverse, creating a visual and narrative language by which the monstrous or deviant might be understood as fundamentally human. 
The terms of Karen’s self-monstrification and its ironic power to humanize are best understood in a scene in which her brother – desperate to get Karen to face the reality of their mother’s cancer and impending death – forces her to look at herself in a mirror. She draws the two of them together, herself as a wolfgirl, for several panels while he uses language to strip away the illusion and she finally sees/draws herself as a girl. In the next panel, Karen immediately reverts to her self-created form and says, “You’re the one who always says that people should get to be the people they are! Not who people tell them they are!” In this juxtaposition, it is the human face that is dismissed as a construction; it is no accident that, immediately upon returning to her real form – itself an artistic rendering – Karen confronts Deez with the fact of her queerness. Though he responds to her coming out with kindness and never resumes his task to de-wolf her, he tells her to be careful with whom she tells her secret. 
In addition to this coming out scene, Ferris demonstrates ways in which outsiders can use art to humanize themselves and other outsiders throughout the extended sections of the graphic novel in which Karen collaborates with Anka’s voice recordings to tell a story that happened years before Karen was born. Anka’s intersectional identity as a young survivor of the Holocaust sex trade is mitigated and made real by the same pen that allows Karen to inhabit and navigate her fantastical, mundane, and horrifying rendering of Chicago. Through the process, Karen comes to understand her dead, blue neighbor and their different-but-related identities and experiences serve as foils. 

When Karen’s mother dies and her relationship with her brother is strained, Karen has so fully internalized Anka’s story that it is Anka who visits her dreams to provide advice and revelation as she leads Karen into Hades and the literary trope of the katabasis. In the underworld, in the final “issue” of the first volume, Anka reveals that the monsters Karen has turned to for help and guidance – embodied most fully by the Werewolf Saint who is demonstrably Catholic – have deceived her and have “a hidden agenda” consistent with Notley’s depiction of monstrosity as a hegemonic agent of oppression. Anka warns Karen to “Never let anyone’s darkness provoke you into your own midnight,” but Karen intentionally mishears the emphasis of the sentence and loves the idea of a midnight that belongs to her, a proposition of power that induces her to a murderous spree as she stakes, shoots, and otherwise smites the monsters from other midnights. Even as these actions result in her being able to confess fears she had been avoiding for hundreds of pages – an act of accountability that readers have been taught to associate with humanity and adulthood – she does so as the werewolf detective. Destroying monsters, here, is not a rejection of the monstrous so much as it is the vanquishing of one particular source of monstrosity: Karen survives the encounter in a better position to solve the mystery of Anka’s death and her brother’s involvement by understanding that she has always been the source of her own wolf. 
Throughout My Favorite Thing is Monsters, Ferris breaks time by conjoining two historical stories, neither of which is a part of history as it is usually taught. Weaving two seemingly unrelated narratives together is hardly a new one; Ferris’s innovation is that both threads of the woven story comprise Karen’s drawings. Ferris further breaks time by disrupting the narrative conventions that typically govern comics. First, she implies that a character is responsible for its art. Second, she allows that character to experiment with issue length while making up her own rules for panels and lettering. As a physical artifact, My Favorite Thing is Monsters is large, beautiful, and a little unwieldy. One should expect no less of a tome created by witchery.
Matt Vadnais has taught college literature and creative writing classes for twenty years. He is the author of All I Can Truly Deliver and a contributor at covermesongs.com. For more comics coverage and the occasional tweet about Shakespeare, follow him @DoctorFanboi. For short takes on longboxes, subscribe to his channel of video essays. 

Friday, August 3, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 7/27/18 to 8/3/18

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


* Ryan Carey is a little confused by THE ENEMY FROM WITHIN by Austin English, but writes "Coming to terms with the idea that everything and everyone has an effect, even just a passive one, on everything and everyone else means negation is a real possibility at all times, maybe even an ongoing process, whether it comes our way via relationships, consumerism, employment, schooling — no form of interaction is safe. Everything you do means someone or something else “gets in” on some level."

* John Seven reviews THE STRANGE by Jérôme Ruillier, writing "In many ways, the immigrant in the story is a blank slate, but aren’t so many immigrants in our current reality? We are able to attach whatever we want to them for our own purposes, but the nuts and bolts of their experience supersede whatever we decide to force on their motivations. That’s what Ruillier depicts so skillfully."

* Alex Hoffman looks at GRIP #1 by Lale Westvind and says, "The comic is an incantation, its intense images keywords to a greater power locked in the ether."

* Chris Mautner has a piece about Michael Fiffe's COPRA on The Smart Set called "Unrestrained Analogs" which brilliantly states that Copra "is a comic that the Suicide Squad, by virtue of existing in the DC Universe can never be because it is a comic fundamentally suspicious of, derisive of, dismissive of the underlying message of superhero comics: that power can be used responsibly, that our world has space for heroes, that violence can solve problems."

* Rob Clough on CATBOY by Benji Nate, a book that "eschews conspicuous consumption and the culture surrounding it, but it also avoids the kind of privileged nihilism and aggression that's marked punk at other points in time."  

* Rob Clough also reviews SHIT IS REAL by Aisha Franz, writing "Kindness is a binding social agent while competitiveness aims to separate and isolate. Capitalistic fetishism makes us want things without understanding why, as the forces of scarcity push us into a zero-sum game. Franz asks the reader to consider that choosing empathy is intuitive and requires no enticement other than the feeling itself, though choosing to get off that treadmill after a lifetime of conditioning is difficult to achieve."

* Henry Chamberlain examines ALPHA: ABIDJAN TO PARIS by Bessora and Barroux.

* Philippe LeBlanc writes about Alexis Beauclair's VANISHING PERSPECTIVES. "There’s something absolutely fascinating about this book. It is a formalist experiment, it forces the reader to get comfortable with the suggestions of space, movement and perspective. Each page is meticulously designed so as to force the reader to understand perspective and it’s effect on reading. How do we identify what constitutes space and movement on a page. Beauclair posits that a series of panels with simple lines are enough to construct a physical space and showcase movements within that space. As we read each comic, those designs become more and more abstract, but the reader understands each page, it never strays too far into abstraction as to be unable to discern what we see."

* Andy Oliver on OWL GOES FOR A WALK by Ed Stockham, saying of it, "Building up to a finale that hints at possible existential metaphor (or may just be a neat visual resolution!) Stockham’s amiable little tale feels both ephemeral and yet somehow teasingly profound as well."

* Paul Gravett makes a case for THE 10 GRAPHIC NOVELS EVERYONE SHOULD READ over on The Guardian. I'm always wary of any piece that has a title that is trying to tell me how to live my life, but ... you know ... whatevs.

Robert Kirby presents excerpts from CASINO SON by Mark Campos.

* More new comics by Tara Booth on Vice -- this trio of strips is titled TOXIC ENERGY and there is also CHASES A BUTTERFLY.

* New comic by Seo Kim called FEEDING TIME.

* Just read Austin English's latest 10 Cent Museum column on TCJ titled FALL INTO DEGRADATION.

* The MNT website has published Ardo Omer's powerful essay from April 2017 called CRITICIZING COMICS WHILE BLACK.

* Philippe LeBlanc is back with his SMALL PRESS AND INDIE COMICS GALORE roundup feature over on The Beat.

* Marjorie Ingall writes about The Fable of the Ducks and the Hens, an anti-Semitic 1959 children’s book written by the founder of the American Nazi Party, George Lincoln Rockwell, in a piece on Tablet called THE NAZI CHILDREN'S BOOK YOU CAN STILL BUY ON AMAZON: A REVIEW. A book like this adds another layer to the title of this particular website. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Books in Bites 19: SUMMER BREAK by Lottie Pencheon, HOMUNCULUS by Joe Sparrow, and KING-CAT #78 by John Porcellino

Quick Reviews of Three Books you may be interested in.
By Lottie Pencheon 
Published by ShortBox 
Utilizing all the tricks inherent in the medium, Lottie Pencheon’s Summer Break is an intimate exploration of the dissociation and detachment that so often occurs with clinical depression. Pencheon uses soft pastel colored pencils on top of her evocative and mutable drawing style to convey and emphasize the disconnect from the world her narrator feels as moments seem to uncouple from accepted reality and voices in her head pummel her with doubt and self-loathing. In the journey to understand cause and deal with effect, Pencheon ends with the statement “and I needed help making my way back home” emphasizing the healing value of community and connectedness that depression does everything it can to rob us of. Summer Break is a subtly beautiful and powerful work of art that resonates and comforts anyone who has had to confront mental health challenges such as this. 

By Joe Sparrow 
Published by ShortBox 
The term Artificial Intelligence is an oxymoron. Intelligence, once achieved, is genuine. The capacity to think is an established reality, no matter how it is processed. But Intelligence is a long way from Consciousness, and as technocrats race to build conscious machines, they rarely consider the implications of such an act. Joe Sparrow’s Homunculus is about those implications. Told from a single point of view, that of a manufactured consciousness named Daisy, Homunculus measures the growth of understanding as a static sensibility watches the inevitable results of the chaos inherent in all human society. There’s some obvious darkness in this exploration, but, in the end, there’s an affection expressed that transcends entropy and speaks to possibility. Sparrow’s cartooning helps soften the blow and, in its deceptive simplicity, tackles complex issues of morality. 

By John Porcellino 
Published by Spit and a Half 
It’s hard to say anything about John Porcellino’s King-Cat series that hasn’t already been said. By reducing cartooning to its bare essentials, Porcellino succinctly captures the philosophy of being in the moment, seeing the beauty in the mundane, and celebrating the cycles of nature while exuding a quiet peace and a gentle humor that, while occasionally interrupted by the noise of the world, is at the center of a life well lived. King-Cat #78 continues Porcellino’s focus on his family, his animals, his community, and the various books, music, and film that have brought him recent joy. Reading King-Cat is a meditative act, a celebratory revelation, and a discovery of an artifact of an artist living life with purpose.