Saturday, June 10, 2017

In Lieu of Reviews Two: Eight Books For You

Elkin’s note: I’ve been busy with end-of-the-school-year shenanigans, and now I’m going on a two-week vacation. I have a bunch of books that are mostly spectacular which have been piling up on my “to-review” stack. I kinda want to come back from my trip relaxed, calm, and unconcerned, so I’m just gunna dump a whole bunch of these books in this week’s column. Know that if they are featured on this list, they are worth your time and money. I may come back to them again for full-length reviews in the future.

WHAT IS A GLACIER?
By Sophie Yanow
Published by Retrofit/Big Planet
Available HERE

Retrofit writes: Sophie Yanow, acclaimed creator of War of Streets and Houses, returns with another autobiographical tale of her trip to Iceland. Air travel in our environmentally fraught times is juxtaposed with her reflections on a relationship that ended a year prior.

Simply stated and drawn, emotionally powerful, this short book demonstrates why Sophie Yanow is one of the best cartoonists working today.

THE MAN WHO CAME DOWN THE ATTIC STAIRS
By Celine Loup
Available HERE

Celine Loup writes: Inspired by film noire and the works of Ira Levin and Shirley Jackson, The Man Who Came Down the Attic Stairs is a horror comic about motherhood and post-partum depression. Emma is excited to start a family in her new home, but motherhood brings far more isolation and despair than she is prepared to handle. If only her husband could understand, but he hasn't been the same since that day...

Highlighting Loup’s art, this one deals with some serious issues and takes the reader deep into the experience she is exploring.

THE CHRONICLES OF FORTUNE
By Coco Picard
Published by Radiator Comics
Available HERE

Radiator Comics writes: Originally published as a series of minicomics, The Chronicles of Fortune is a quirky and idiosyncratic adventure of Fortuna, the greatest superhero who could do anything to improve the world, but is tragically stricken with ennui. Coco Picard’s The Chronicles of Fortune follows the lives of Fortuna, and her alter-ego, Edith-May as they learn to cope with loss and recruit a team of friends along the way! Discover a temperamental stove, a nosy mountain, a goofy crocodile, a loner moth, and a singing goldfish as they lead Fortuna on her greatest adventure! At once charming, sad, funny, poignant, and bizarre, The Chronicles of Fortune keeps one foot in mundane reality.

Kinda bonkers, kinda sweet, kinda sad, this one is definitely a keeper.

COSMOS AND OTHER STORIES
By Rozi Hathaway
Published by Good Comics
Available HERE

Good Comics writes: Cosmos and Other Stories examines themes of loneliness and longing, with Hathaway’s uniquely expressive and dreamy paintwork taking the reader on a journey through various cities, towns, bedrooms and celestial realms. If you’ve ever been lost in a crowd, stayed up all night to talk to someone long distance, or felt the ache of an absent love, then this collection will speak to you.

More like comics-poetry than a straight narrative, this book demonstrates Hathaway’s evocative use of color and pacing to capture mood, tone, and theme.

PRETENDING IS LYING
By Dominique Goblet
(Translated by Sophie Yanow)
Published by New York Review Books
Available HERE

New York Review Books writes: In a series of dazzling fragments—skipping through time, and from raw, slashing color to delicate black and white—Goblet examines the most important relationships in her life: with her partner, Guy Marc; with her daughter, Nikita; and with her parents. The result is an unnerving comedy of paternal dysfunction, an achingly ambivalent love story (with asides on Thomas Pynchon and the Beach Boys), and a searing account of childhood trauma—a dizzying, unforgettable view of a life in progress and a tour de force of the art of comics.

This book is spectacular. Buy it.

EVERYTHING IS FLAMMABLE
By Gabrielle Bell
Published by Uncivilized Books
Available HERE

Uncivilized Books writes: In Gabrielle Bell’s much anticipated graphic memoir, Everything is Flammable, she returns from New York to her childhood town in rural Northern California after her mother’s home is destroyed by a fire. Acknowledging her issues with anxiety, financial hardships, memories of a semi-feral childhood, and a tenuous relationship with her mother, Bell helps her mother put together a new home on top of the ashes. A powerful, sometimes uncomfortable, examination of a mother-daughter relationship and one’s connection to place and sense of self. Spanning a single year, Everything is Flammable unfolds with humor and brutal honesty. Bell’s sharp, digressive style is inimitable.

It’s Gabrielle Bell. It’s good. Of course it’s good.

EARTHA
By Cathy Malkasian
Published by Fantagraphics
Available HERE

Fantagraphics writes: Eartha is Cathy Malkasian’s fourth graphic novel — a metaphorical fable that resonates with contemporary themes. For a thousand years the unfinished dreams from the City Across the Sea came to Echo Fjord to live out their lives. Sex fantasies, murder plots, wishful thinking, and all manner of secrets once found sanctuary in Echo Fjord. Emerging from the soil, they took bodily form and wandered the land, gently guided by the fjord folk who treasured their brief and wondrous lives. But recently, city dreams have stopped coming to Echo Fjord, and without their ethereal tourists the fjord folk suddenly feel lost. Has their ancient way of life ended for good? Has something happened to the city? Are all the dreamers gone? One of Echo Fjord’s inhabitants wants answers: The story’s eponymous protagonist Eartha wants to visit the City Across the Sea, but how will she get to a place no one’s gone to for a thousand years? The city isn’t on any map, or in anyone’s memory. Without thought or hesitation she ventures into the limitless waters, hoping to find the City and solve the mystery. Cathy Malkasian’s Eartha is an expansive tale of pastoral life, city corruption, greed, and addictions, and reverberates with questions plaguing us today, such as the alienating effects of hyper-connectivity and the self-destructive obsession with novelty. Malkasian’s drawing is notable for its rigorous draftsmanship, stunning landscapes and depictions of nature, the gestural nuances of her characters, and her sophisticated storytelling, all of which are on display in Eartha, making this the author’s lushest and most impressive graphic novel yet.

I’ve been working on a full-length review of Eartha in fits and starts for the last couple of months, but I just can’t seem to make it stick. My thoughts on theme keep falling apart. Regardless, this is a beautiful book. Malkasian’s pencils are breathtaking and, while it doesn’t entirely hold together, in the end, it’s worth owning just to look at.

THEN IT WAS DARK: A PARANORMAL ANTHOLOGY
Edited by Sarah Benkin
Published by Peppermint Monster Press
Available HERE

Have you ever seen something you can't explain? Heard a voice speak a warning to you as you drifted off to sleep? Ever see a woman with no face singing to herself on a long, empty road? Ever talk to a serial killer? From the strange, nighttime experiences of a man deployed in Iraq to the story of a house haunted by a slightly mad old Jewish matriarch, from a chaplain's experience performing an exorcism to the history of spiritualism, to a ghost that seems to love LARPs, Then It Was Dark collects a variety of strange experiences from talented and diverse voices. A collection of personal paranormal experiences, true ghost stories, friend-of-friend tales and brushes with the unknown.
Check out the now-funded Kickstarter for further details. This book has many spooky, scary, and unnerving tales. As with many anthologies, the contents are hit-or-miss, but those that do hit, hit hard and well.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 5/29/17 to 6/4/17

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

* Sam Ombiri on Joe Daly's HIGHBONE THEATER.

* Rob Clough is just killing it this week. Too much good stuff to link individually, so just go to his HIGH-LOW blog and see what I mean. AND THEN, over on TCJ, Clough reviews SUNBURNING by Keller Roberts.

* Philippe LeBlanc reviews some more books he picked up at TCAF 2017, including Prison Girls Deterred by Michael Comeau, Peripherea and Untitled Deer Comic by Katie So, and Shit and Piss by Tyler Landry.

* Meg Lemke presents an excerpt from HOSTAGE by Guy Delisle. 

* Paste Magazine presents THE 20 BEST COMICS OF 2017 (SO FAR), which is a pretty wide-ranging sample of some amazing titles that came out this year (so far).

WHATNOT

* Mike Dawson and Zack Soto interview JOHN PORCELLINO on the latest edition of Process Party.

* Robin McConnell interviews LAURA KNETZGER about her Bug Boys book from Czap Books.

* Alex Wong interviews GUY DELISLE about his new book, Hostage.

* Lucy Bourton talks to The New York Times Magazine's editor-in-chief JAKE SILVERSTEIN about the 2017 issue of New York Stories, an all-comics issue.

* Is it weird to link to another site's same sort of round-up column? Do I really care if it is? Anyway, seems that Philippe LeBlanc is doing a SMALL PRESS AND INDIE COMICS NEWS GALORE round-up thingy for The Beat. Maybe this means I can quit doing this column and start smoking again? I wonder if anyone would even notice? Sadly, I think I know the answer. Thanks for starting me smoking again...

* One of my favorite things right now is Carta Monir's TINY LETTER SELFIE EMAILS because of its raw honesty, its empowerment, and its celebratory nature.

* Rob Trevino has this short look at WE DOUBT THE CALL EVEN AS WE ANSWER IT by Meghan Rose Morrison.

* THE MEMORY OF TIME by Jonathan Marcantoni.

* Daphne Merkin's essay, MY VIRGINIA WOOLF DOLL.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 5/22/17 to 5/28/17

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

* Hillary Brown on Fabrizio Dori's GAUGUIN: THE OTHER WORLD, in which "he crafts a story that draws on the Symbolist aspect of Gauguin's artistic practice."

* Rob Clough continues his look at Comics-As-Poetry with his review of Derik A. Badman's MADINKBEARD.

* Alex Hoffman reviews SPOOKYTONGUE by Hetamoe', which "seems like a window into a future world passing you by."

* Sarah Rose Sharp on Mohamad Sabaaneh's collection of political cartoons WHITE AND BLACK, "a graphic telling of the human rights abuses perpetuated by the Israeli state against citizens of Palestine."

* Nick Hanover on Jen Lee's GARBAGE NIGHT, "an expressive, emotionally rich post-apocalyptic work."

* Alenka Figa reviews a number of zines in her piece on 2017's CHICAGO ZINE FEST, including work from Adam Jason Cohen, Cam Del Rosario, Mia Cruz, and Beth Hetland and Kyle O'Connell.

* Philippe LeBlanc takes a look at THREE COMICS FROM TCAF 2017 including books by Keelin, Priya Huq, and Kaeleigh Forsyth and Alabaster Pizzo.

* Sam Ombiri on Noah Van Sciver's FANTE BUKOWSKI TWO.


WHATNOT 

* Caitlin McGurk interviews NOAH VAN SCIVER about his new book, Fante Bukowski Two, plus living in Ohio and more. 

* Tobias Carroll interviews GABRIELLE BELL about her new book, Everything is Flammable.

* Drew Van Genderen and Julia Greer talk to J.T. YOST from Birdcage Bottom Books about his Kickstarter for Bottoms Up.

* Rebecca Fullylove features a brief chat with Paris-born illustrator and cartoonist ANTOINE COSSE' and uses the opportunity to highlight some of his work. 

* Aaron Meyers and Andrea Shockling are BACK doing their podcast, COMICS THERAPY.

* Ardo Omer went to TCAF2017 and compiled this list of COMICS CREATORS YOU SHOULD LOOK OUT FOR.

* Jessica Plummer's DICK GRAYSON VS. TOXIC MASCULINITY.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Review: JOSEPHINE BAKER by Jose'-Louis Bocquet and Catel Muller

JOSEPHINE BAKER
Written by: José-Louis Bocquet
Art by: Catel Muller
Published by: SelfMadeHero
Available HERE

Daniel, Josephine Baker was a fascinating woman. Her life was one of incredible highs and even more unbelievable lows. As an African-American woman growing up in St. Louis, “the northermost city in the South,” Baker witnessed her home being burned down by an angry mob and experienced deep racism nearly everywhere she went in our country. But Baker was a transcendent star far from the institutionalized hatred of the South. Her light shone brightly in the theaters of Broadway, and Baker became a towering figure on the world stage when she moved to France in order to pursue her career.

All of this intense real-world drama would make for a spellbinding graphic novel exploring the ideas of racism and international relations, or broken marriages that lead to massive adoptions, or the story of the rise and fall of an incredibly talented woman, or all kinds of fascinating stories people have told over the years about Josephine Baker.

Too bad this book doesn’t tell any of those stories.

Josephine Baker by Catel and Bocquet is an illustrated Wikipedia article, a dutiful and occasionally charming chronicle of an important life presented in a plain and ordinary manner, with high moments and low moments all chronicled with the same sort of steadfast monotony and midlevel distance.

Though Catel Miller’s art is often sweet and empathetic, it also is in service to a pedantic presentation. We want to get inside the head of this most marvelous musician, but instead, this graphic novel actually distances the reader from Baker. It makes her more mysterious and less relatable. We watch these events happen, but we are placed far from them, as if writer Jose-Luis Boucquet is having Baker parade across a stage, reciting facts and incidents about her life, but ultimately never revealing herself to the reader.

The back of the book is filled with a timeline (of events we just read about) and an eye-popping eighty (yes, eighty!) pages of biography about incidental characters in Baker’s life, from her mother and sister to ex-husbands and admirers like Man Ray and Le Corbusier to people like Charles De Gaulle and Martin Luther King who require no biography. I was scratching my head at the pointless placement of these sketches. Isn’t it the job of a good narrative to fill in these blanks for the reader?

Daniel, I wanted so much to love this 500+ page tome. Instead, I was dreadfully bored by it, as if I was watching a performance by a second-rate Josephine Baker imitator who narrated her songs rather than singing them to me.


Sacks, you may have been dreadfully bored, but I was just exhausted by the end of this thing. A biography should inform you about the subject, enlighten you to the inner workings of the mind of this individual, and give you insight into how the forces of history helped shaped their accomplishments. You should put down a good biography and feel that you have come to understand who that person was, not feel like you’ve aged 68 years as you have plodded through every damn moment of Josephine Baker’s life.

I chose the word “plodded” with great intention here. As you have pointed out above, Sacks, this book has the pacing you need to climb a mountain -- slow and steady -- and yet it never offers the rewards of a magnificent and expansive view from the top.

So why make the journey at all? Because it was there? Pffffffffftttttttttt….

And all that backmatter there at the end of the book? Geez. Why include it as it only repeats what came before and points to the fact that this bio probably would have functioned better as a solid prose piece, not a graphic collaboration?

I firmly believe that you can be exhaustive without being so exhausting.

For example, I’m currently reading Calvin Tomkins’ Duchamp: A Biography. It’s 465 pages of text, followed by 40 pages of Notes, a two-page Appendix, 12 pages of Selected Bibliography, two pages of Acknowledgments, and 22 pages of Index. And yet, at 548 pages total, it’s gripping, explorative, fully realized, and fascinating to read. Both the artist and his art are evoked with clarity and lucidity, and I have a hard time putting it down when I get started into it. Tomkin’s work is exhaustive and exhilarating. It beautifully demonstrates the possibilities of telling a great story through great storytelling.

And this only highlights the failure of Catel and Bocquet’s Baker biography. A rich and important life such as Baker’s should lend itself well to comics, as her image was so tied into her talent. Much like that Bowie book we reviewed earlier, Sacks, this one missed the mark entirely (interestingly, both of these books are published by SelfMadeHero).

I respect the amount of work these creators invested into bringing this book to life. As well, I really wanted to like this book because of the power that Baker’s biography could impart in our modern times. Unfortunately, all I got was a heavily researched, painfully plodding, missed opportunity.


-- Daniel Elkin (@DanielElkin)

Sunday, May 21, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 5/15/17 to 5/21/17

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

* Leon K on Keren Katz's THE ACADEMIC HOUR, "one that is tender and conflicted and which pushes the material towards a type of whimsical theatricality that favours an exploration of the emotional exchange at the heart of this romance over the foregrounding of the abuse of power."

* Rob Clough continues his look at the work of SIMON MORETON, this week, focused on Moreton's self-published SMOO # 8 - 10.

* John Seven reviews THE INTERVIEW by Manuele Fior, which ends with Seven drawing the conclusion that "[t]he human condition becomes a constant quest for meaning, and each time that quest is solved, another one inevitably takes it place, because meaning is not a tangible item you can hold in your hand."

* Sam Ombiri on SPIDER MONKEY by Austin English and Jesse McManus, "a fantastic read, and it continues to be an even more fantastic comic to keep re-reading."

* Aimee Levitt unpacks Kristen Radtke's new book, IMAGINE WANTING ONLY THIS, which "explores the idea of loss."

* Austin Lanari on 2dcloud's latest anthology release, MIRROR MIRROR II, "an outright challenge to your own personal space."

* Greg Hunter takes a look at ON THE CAMINO from Jason, his surprising new autobio comic. 

* Philippe LeBlanc reviews THREE COMICS FROM TCAF 2017Smartphone Comics #1, Baba Yaga's House, and Slomeau.

* Andy Oliver on DIRTY ROTTEN COMICS #10, an "introductory taster to the fabulous talent of the UK small press scene."


* Robert Kirby presents an excerpt from SUNBURNING by Keiler Roberts.

WHATNOT

* Dean Steckel interviews EMMA HOUXBOIS, resulting in one of the most erudite and enjoyable reads I've had in awhile.

* Chase Magnett on DOCTOR MANHATTAN'S DING-DONG, which features the line, "There's not a thematically significant point being made in Watchmen about tallywhackers."

* Kim O'Connor's reflections on SPENCERGATE

* Kieran Shiach's IS MARVEL'S FASCIST CAPTAIN AMERICA LOSING COMMAND OF HIS FANS?

* HOW TO GO FREELANCE: NEED-TO-KNOW ADVICE FROM CREATIVES WHO MADE IT.

* Kenneth Steven writes about THE POEM THAT ENDED NORWAY'S CONSTITUTIONAL BAN ON JEWS

* Two FLASH FICTION pieces by Frederick Foote.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 5/8/17 to 5/14/17

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

* Ally Russell reviews Eleanor Davis' YOU and A BIKE and A ROAD, "a remarkable achievement for both the cartoonist and the amateur cyclist behind it."

Rob Clough continues his look at the work of SIMON MORETON, this week looking at What Happened from Kilgore Books, and his self-published Rain and Other Stories.

* Rachel Davies on YOURS by Sarah Ferrick, a book that "seems concerned with yearning, mostly." 

* Andy Oliver looks at GOATHERDED by Charlo Frade, a book "replete with loose metaphor that actively solicits interpretation from its audience; a comic for the individual reader to make their own connections with and take their own meaning from."

* John Seven reviews THE CHRONICLES OF FORTUNE by Coco Picard, which "stands as a confirmation of the misfit's path in life."

* Alenka Figa takes a look a Jen Lee's GARBAGE NIGHT.

* Robert Boyd on Jesse Jacobs' CRAWL SPACE, where "he supplies the reader with eyeball kicks while warning against their easy pleasures."

* Alex Hoffman reviews DIANA'S ELECTRIC TONGUE by Carolyn Nowak, "a visually and emotionally compelling masterwork."

* Chris Kindred on Wai Wai Pang's RIPPLES, "a Lynchian mystery, where elements of the absurd are casually framed within the mundane."

* Dan Schindel reviews MIRROR MIRROR II, the new anthology from 2dcloud, which he says is "like a porn stash you'd find in the cupboard of a medieval demon."


WHATNOT

* Philippe LeBlanc interviews ALABASTER PIZZO. 

* Jason Sacks interviews JASON SHIGA.

* Not small press, but worth a read: Rosie Knight's NICK SPENCER, THOR'S HAMMER, HYDRACAP, AND SUPREMACIST ICONOGRAPHY.

* And, while we are on THAT topic, Kim O'Connor has put together A PRIMER ON NICK SPENCER'S SHITTY POLITICS.

* Three Poems by TARA DEAL.