Sunday, August 20, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 8/14/17 to 8/20/17

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


* John Seven on CRAWL SPACE by Jesse Jacobs, in which "Jacobs does a great job in walking the line between an emotionally realistic teenage drama and an abstract cautionary fable about the different things people want out of life." If you've never experienced a Jesse Jacobs book, you should correct that oversight as quickly as possible. This seems like a good place to start.

* Helen Chau Bradley reviews GETTING OUT OF HOPE by James Cadelli which she describes as "a romp, at once lighthearted and unexpectedly serious". This looks like an interesting book that was totally off of my radar. I'm also fascinated suddenly by the word "romp" and what all that actually entails. 

* Robert Kirby reviews GREEK DIARY by Glynnis Fawkes, "a work that's more vivid, immersive, and entertaining than any vacation slide show could ever be." Travel comics of this type seem to always unlock something in my brain that causes me to look around my apartment and think to myself, "I should get out more."

* Nola Pfau's dislike of FAILSAFE clearly demonstrates the idea that a negative review sometimes more fully reveals the positive aspects of the medium by pointing out how a particular work fails to deliver them. Pfau's takedown is on point and fully realized. It's also engaging as fuck.

* Lucy Bourton introduces us to the four-panel comics of PEPA PRIETO PUY that wordlessly translate haikus written by her grandfather, a fascinating concept which I would love to see more cartoonists take on if for no other reason than for the expanse it creates in the heads of the reader.

* Isaac Butler on Yeon-sik Hong's UNCOMFORTABLY UNHAPPILY. The tone of Butler's writing is all over the place in this one, but he constantly sticks ideas in here that land on their feet which add remarkable insight into Hong's cartooning. 

* Andy Oliver dives into EVERY HOUR IS SAVED by Chloe Elise Dennis, "a visual record of interviews she conducted with her grandmother." I especially admire the way Oliver deals with the nascent rawness of Dennis' talent, how he looks past its missteps and sees in them their potential. Oliver is a great flag-waver for burgeoning talent, and his critical eye is certainly one to be trusted.

* Rob Clough reviews IN-BETWEEN DAYS by Teva Harrison which he calls "bracing, powerful, and achingly honest." This review made me recall my fondness for Sharon Lintz's Pornhounds. Cancer fucking sucks, y'all.

* Just go read Carta Monir's LARA CROFT WAS MY FAMILY, and you'll understand why I put this link first.

* Alex Dueben talks to SHANNON WHEELER about his new book SH*T MY PRESIDENT SAYS and the idea of illustrating Presidential Tweets. I'm personally on the fence here, as I see a certain value in this (exploding the insanity, for instance), but I also see how this could be mildly dangerous, as if holding 45 up as an object of ridicule in some ways normalizes him and lessens the impact of the implications. Strange times bring their own set of responses, I guess.

* Alex Dueben also interviews SETH about the final chapter of Clyde Fans, "what he's working on next, and some thoughts on the film Seth's Dominion."

* Greg Hunter interviews KATIE SKELLY on the latest episode of Comic Book Decalogue.

* If you're a fan of small press comics, you probably already have seen the list of IGNATZ NOMINATIONS released this week. If not, click on the link as it will lead you to said list and a couple of comments by Heidi Macdonald.

* Kim O'Connor has three words for us: "HORNY CHRIS WARE". Here, O' Connor takes a solid gaze at Ware's representations of women in his comics, and how "he mistakes all human experience as interchangeable in a way that would only ever occur to white men." O' Connor has given us a lot to chew on here in this relatively short piece, and it's enough of a mouthful to make me second guess every time I start conceiving any aesthetic or thematic reaction I have as being "universal" and "speaking to us all".

* MUST READ OF THE MOMENT: Speaking of Kim O'Connor, once again she and Nick Hanover get together to have a DISCOURSE ABOUT DISCOURSE -- this time they focus on comics criticism. I'm certainly intrigued by Hanover's idea that the best critics demonstrate a "constant pursuit of understanding." As well, O'Connor's observation that "The spirit of real criticism requires doubt more than conviction or certainty" reframes much of my thinking in an enormously positive way.

* Andy Warner and Jackie Roche present SOCIALISM: AS AMERICAN AS APPLE PIE.

* Liel Leibovitz dives into the archives of Tablet in order to address the issue of THE ALT-RIGHT AND THE JEWS.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 8/7/17 to 8/13/17

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


* Andy Oliver reviews ENTITY REUNION by Alexander Tucker. From the images Oliver ran alongside the review, this book looks spectacularly bonkers (and I am a big proponent of things spectacularly bonkers). Of that, Oliver writes that it requires "an engagement from the readership that can deal with the non-linear and cope with sequential art that bends the very definition of that term to its own will." That alone should get your juices running. Then he calls it "esoteric, enigmatic and inscrutable" and I'm all in, baby. Often times the most profound aesthetic experiences are the ones for which you have to work. That's what makes Batman vs. Superman such a work of great cinema.

* Andy Oliver also reviews (who has this kind of time) SOUND OF SNOW FALLING by Maggie Umber. Umber's work is something to behold; its silence speaks loudly through her art -- or, as Oliver writes, it "emphasizes the reader's role as observer, always that one step back from a world we can never truly be a participant in." 

* Zainab Akhtar reviews Jillian Tamaki's BOUNDLESS, saying it "is many things -- contemplative, cynical, amusing, surreal -- but it mainly anchors Tamaki as a formidable essayist of modern life, and undeniably one of the finest cartoonists of this generation." I wish I could write like Akhtar, as she's pretty much spot on about most everything she turns her critical eye towards.

* Brian Nicholson on Keren Katz's THE ACADEMIC HOUR, a book I absolutely keep meaning to read but, for some reason, keep forgetting about (is this some sort of subliminal act my brain does in order to keep me in a state of depression?). It's hard to tell if Nicholson likes this book, as his review if full of adverbs and adjectives which indicate a profound befuddlement on his part. I often wonder why a critic would take on a work that they don't fundamentally understand (although, geez, how many words did we all write about Stray Toasters?), but part of the charm of this piece, I guess, is seeing Nicholson come to terms with his confusion.

* Katie Skelly reviews MY LESBIAN EXPERIENCE WITH LONELINESS by Kabi Nagata, a book where "satisfaction doesn't come from setting up equations or crossing off notches. It's the experience, and what it brings out, that counts." It's this sort of insight into theme and purpose that makes Skelly as great a critic as she is a cartoonist.

* Greg Hunter reviews GHOSTS, ETC. by George Wylesol, and, in the end, says: "readers may be unsettled by Wylesol's comics while delighting in their effects." Hunter picks up on much of the same ideas that Alex Mansfield did back in May (look at me plug work that I edited!!). This is one of those books that sticks, long after you put it down. I'm excited to finally meet the Avery Hill people (the publishers of this book) at this year's SPX because they deserve hugs for the spectacular books they publish.

* Greg Burgas (how many Greg's write comics criticism anyway?) takes a look at MISTAKEN IDENTITY by Gordon Harris. There's a lot of words in this review, but the ones that best suit the purpose of this column are: "Harris does a nice job showing how we invent ourselves and how we move from one section of our lives to another. He also casts a critical eye on the things that others think are important and want us to believe are important, even if we don't feel that way." Like I said, a lot of words. It's hard to tell if Burgas likes the book by his use of the words "nice" and "critical eye" -- but rest assured, he does.

* MariNaomi presents an excerpt from Nichole J. George's graphic memoir FETCH, which she recommends "for both animal lovers and those who hope to understand their animal-loving friends."

* John Seven reviews Yeon-Sik Hong's UNCOMFORTABLY HAPPY and really likes it for its optimism. As I just wrote that sentence, I realized how few times in life we completely admire someone for their optimism. Often times, we regard positivity in the face of challenges as either an act of denial or ignorance. And when you think about it, that's really pretty sad. It's too damn easy to be cynical, people. As Jackie DeShannon said, "Put a little love in your heart."

* I know this is from last week, but I missed it then because I was probably drunk or asleep, but anytime Rob Clough writes about comics poetry, I want you all to read it. This time he reviews INKBRICK #3. Inkbrick is a comics poetry anthology curated by Alexander Rothman, Paul Tunnis, and others and is my go-to when people ask me about the genre. I've been writing extensively about comics poetry since I got my first issue of Inkbrick (it was my gateway piece), but I will never be able to write as well as Rob Clough.

* Oliver Sava reviews PANTHEON: THE TRUE STORY OF THE EGYPTIAN DEITIES by Hamish Steele which "spotlights just how strange mythology can be, adapting ancient Egyptian folklore in all of its absurd, grotesque glory." I like how Sava keeps reminding you that this is not a kid's book by using some pretty graphic examples of Steele's choices.

* Alenka Figa on NOT MY SMALL DIARY 19: UNEXPLAINED EVENTS, an anthology edited by Delaine Derry Green. Figa has a lot of great things to say about this book, and since I trust her taste, I imagine this is worth your time. My favorite thing about this review, though, is when, at the end, Figa acknowledges what is best about anthologies altogether by talking about her excitement seeing artists she knew alongside artists that were "entirely new" to her. Nothing helps a reader discover great new talent than a well-curated anthology. We need more of those. Get on that, everyone.

* Nick Hanover takes a long look at Rupert Everton's I ROVED OUT, a book which "showcases a beautiful world where problems are caused and just as often solved by immense amounts of fucking." There's a pitch you don't get every day. Or maybe you do? I guess it just depends on the circles in which you operate. Maybe I just need to get out more.


* Mike Dawson and Zack Soto talk to creator and critic DARRYL AYO on the latest Process Party. Ayo is someone you should listen to (unless he is shit-talking sandwiches, then fuck that guy) about comics. Follow Ayo on twitter @darrylayo. You'll be glad you did. Also, the whole conversation that Dawson and Soto have about being dads at the start of this episode makes me feel really, really old.

* Philippe LeBlanc interviews XIA GORDON about her new book from 2dCloud, Kindling, as well as her "use of colours (sic) and her upcoming comics." While the interview suffers from the lack of further development (and Canadian spelling) inherent in an interview that isn't conducted live, LeBlanc asks some good questions and, regardless, I'm really looking forward to this book.

* Joseph Schmidt talks to AUBREY PLAZA about dancing on Legion. I link this for a number of reasons. One, I like Legion a lot and Aubrey Plaza is probably the best thing in it, and two, I like Joe a lot and I like to watch him try to make this an actually interesting interview.

* Check out the CARTOONISTS OF COLOR DATABASE and the QUEER CARTOONISTS DATABASE, both a labor of love, created and maintained by MariNaomi. Then hire some of these amazing cartoonists.

* Cartoonist JULIA GFRÖRER went to the hospital after being ATTACKED BY A FERAL CAT. I realize that sentence sounds a bit sensational, which is a shame, as the story is rather mundane. All I can say about this whole story, though, is thank goodness for the Affordable Care Act.


* Finally, here's some really great news: 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 7/31/17 to 8/6/17

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


* If you support Sarah Horrocks' Patreon (and really, you should) then you've already read her RANXEROX: HOLY FUCKS FOR THE PEOPLE. If not, she just made it available for everyone. Reading this made me buy these books. I regret nothing.

* Andy Oliver writes about Simon Moreton's MINOR LEAGUES #3. If you've been following my writing at all (and for fuck's sake, why would you be doing that?), you know that Moreton is one of my favorite cartoonists going presently (#8 on the list last year). What Oliver writes here, though, is the kind of writing that would make anyone want to read Moreton's work. This is personal and beautiful criticism at its best.

*Hillary Brown on Gary Panter's SONGY OF PARADISE which she seems to like (I guess?), but sounds kind of painful to me. I haven't read it, so I should probably do that before I make any more comments about it, right?

* Now I know Bob Levin has been doing this for years now, and his latest review of PURGATORY ("A REJECTS STORY") by Casanova Frankenstein is a quick dash-off, but give an old man his due. Even when he doesn't give a shit, he makes you BELIEVE he gives a shit. And that, my friend, is some good writing.

* Lucy Bourton introduces us to the FOUR PANEL COMICS of Paris-based illustrator Loïc Movellan. It's great to see an artist have so much fun within the constraints of this self-imposed dictate, as well as see how such an experiment lends itself to notions of expectation and perception.

* Irene Velentzas reviews THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS WRONG by Mimi Pond, a book that "explores the nature of how others' stories shape our own and forge our relationships ... [and] ... reminds us that what happens to us, how we remember a certain place, a certain time, who we were or are, is all a matter of perspective." These are good things.

* I'm always glad when I get great writers to write about interesting books by inundating them with cowboy emojis and Gifs. This time, I got Alex Mansfield to write about HEAVENLY BLUES by Ben Kahn and Diego Hidalgo. Mansfield peppers his criticism with a lot of unanswerable questions which is a style I am quite partial to, as it reveals the struggle of the critic to make sense of much larger issues.


* Alex Dueben talks with MAGGIE UMBER about her recent book, Sound of Snow Falling, as well as her deeply moving essay "Getting Divorced In Comics". While this interview is a bit stilted and suffers from what I assume is the constraints of an email interview, it is still worth a read. Maggie is one of the good people in comics, and her work is beautiful and meditative and undulating.

* Zack Soto and Mike Dawson talk to GINA WYNBRANDT over on Process Party this week. Wynbrandt's comics are great, and my review her book, Big Pussy, consistently gets hits on my blog (although I don't think it's because of my writing based on "Search Terms"). The conversation spans "a variety of topics including Justin Beiber, dating, getting derailed after finishing a book, her art style, and her writing process!"

* Zainab Akhtar is Kickstarting issue 2 of CRITICAL CHIPS packed full of comics essays and criticism! Some of the best writers writing their best writing. Kick it!

* Speaking of Kickstarter, the amazing folks at 2dCloud are funding their SUMMER 2017 collection which looks absolutely stunning. 2dCloud is one of those publishers that I trust absolutely and know that, if they are publishing it, I'll want to read it. Kick it!

* Philippe LeBlanc has once again upstaged me by putting out his much more comprehensive (though less regular and profanity strewn) SMALL PRESS AND INDIE COMICS ROUNDUP. I wish Philippe would make this more of a scheduled feature on The Beat so I could just point to it every week and say -- "Go look at this. It's good." Then again, he would have to add more profanity and/or references to sandwiches to make it really good. Also, maybe he'll link to one of my reviews once I start writing them again...

* I know there have been some issues with Oh Joy Sex Toy recently, but I gotta say that Jess Fink's SEXY DRAWING LESSONS is informative and funny.

* The specificity of the rules to this one are kinda bonkers, but what it might unearth creatively could be spectacular. Yes, I'm talking about THE COMICS WORKBOOK COMPOSITION COMPETITION 2017.

* Megan N. Liberty looks at THE AMME TALKS by Ulf Stolterfoht and Peter Dittmer in her piece called "How a Chatbot Became a Conceptual Poet" which features the sub-heading, "In a conversation with poet Ulf Stolterfht, a chatbot pushes language towards its breaking point in a way no human could." If that doesn't get your attention, then you're fucking dead to me.

* Sure, it's not small press related (then again, this is the "whatnot" section anyway, so go fuck yourself), but Brian Hibbs has some choice words about MARVEL LEGACY.

* Finally, you might want to read Simon Yisrael Feuerman's SEARCHING FOR ROMANCE -- but then again, who am I to tell you what to do.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 7/24/17 to 7/30/17

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


* Greg Hunter reviews IMAGINE WANTING ONLY THIS by Kristen Radtke.


* Alenka Figa and Melissa Brinks discuss Benji Nate's CATBOY.

* Sam Ombiri on Gabrielle Bell's EVERYTHING IS FLAMMABLE.

* Jenny Brewer on the work of EVAN M. COHEN.

* Andy Oliver on SUNBURNING by Keiler Roberts.

* Rob Clough reviews FANTE BUKOWSKI 2 by Noah Van Sciver.

* Alex Hoffman on Keren Katz's THE ACADEMIC HOUR.


Mike Dawson and Zack Soto interview CARTA MONIR.

* Sarah Horrocks interviews KATIE SKELLY.

* Chase Magnett and Joe Schmidt talk to BEN PASSMORE about his work and Ron Wimberly's Prince of Cats.

* Rokhl Kafrissen on director Joshua Z. Weinstein's new Yiddish mumblecore film MENASHE.



Sunday, July 23, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 7/17/17 to 7/23/17

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


* Megan Purdy and Kat Overland have this great conversation about Kabi Nagata's MY LESBIAN EXPERIENCE WITH LONELINESS.

* Dominic Umile on Ellice Weaver's SOMETHING CITY

* Hillary Brown takes a look at Andrea Pazienza's ZANARDI which she calls "foul, rude ... and not wholly without merit."

* Robert Kirby on I WISH I WAS JOKING by Tom Van Deusen.


* Keith Silva takes apart his reaction to METAL GODS: A TRIBUTE TO JUDAS PRIEST from Decibel Books.

Rob Clough reviews a few releases from the MINI-KUS! series, including: 
                      -  mini-Kus! #14: The Pernicious Kiss by Tiina Lehikoinen.
                       - mini-Kus! #16: Runaway Dog by Emilie Ostergren.
                       - mini-Kus! #42: Alien Beings by Laura Kenins. 


* Greg Hunter talks to MICHEL FIFFE on Comic Book Decalogue.

* Joe McCulloch interviews KATIE SKELLY on Inkstuds.

* Zack Soto and Mike Dawson talk to ERIC HAVEN on Process Party.

* Elana Levin interviews REBECCA EPSTEIN on Graphic Policy Radio about her new book, Gently Murder Me.

* RJ Casey talks to JASON MURPHY about "his evolving style, childhood symbolism, and his new short story "The Character".

* Emma Houxbois' powerful unpacking of the death of CHESTER BENNINGTON.

* Iris Cushing on poet NIKKI WALLSCHLAEGER's new book Crawlspace, which "discovers the violence embedded in our most familiar structures: mortgages, meals, rooms, houses, family relationships, and language itself."

* Joan Nathan makes a perfect DAIRY BORSCHT for these hot summer days.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 7/10/17 to 7/16/17

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


* David Fairbanks on M. Dean's STRANGE MAGIC, a short work that feels "more expansive than its eight pages should be capable of, to linger in the mind." 

*Dominic Umile takes a long look at The New York Times Magazine COMICS ISSUE.

* Philippe LeBlanc reviews Zoe Taylor's JOYRIDE, a book "about escaping, multiple types of escapes, whether from the personal, the social or the emotional."

* Here's Rob Clough looking at a number of books from one of my favorite new publishing ventures of the last few years, SILVER SPROCKET.

* Andy Oliver reviews A CUP OF TEA WILL SORT YOU OUT by Andy Poyiadgi, "a collection of tea-related cartoons masquerading as beverage-based advice and wisdom that positively revel in the absurd."

* Addley Walker has a list of COMIC MAKERS AND ARTISTS HE FOLLOWS AND ENJOYS. It's a pretty diverse and solid list. 



* Alex Dueben interviews KEILER ROBERTS about her new book, Sunburning. Dueben also interviews NOAH VAN SCIVER about Fante Bukowski Two.

* Riki Robinson interviews MARINAOMI about "the progression of her art journey."


* Kim O'Connor's really well written ANOTHER FAKE CONVERSATION, which basically revolves around the premise: "There's nothing immature about saying that something makes you feel upset. Nor is it anti-art to interrogate whether that feels earned."


* Is it time to start making lists? We are in SDCC media glut time. It's the summer. It's going to be 100 degrees here today. I guess that's what happens. Anyway, here's 100 FAVORITE COMICS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS from NPR Books.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 7/3/17 to 7/9/17

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


* Keith Silva reviews REVENGER AND THE FOG by Charles Forsman, which "proves pastiche without purpose grows stale."

* Kat Overland on WHAT IS A GLACIER? by Sophie Yanow, "a story that's more than the sum of its parts."

* David Nieves reviews Becky Cloonan's, BY CHANCE OR PROVIDENCE, a new collection of her previously published mini-comics, now colored by Lee Loughridge and released through Image.

* Jon Day reviews Eleanor Davis' YOU AND A BIKE AND A ROAD, "a quiet celebration of what Davis calls the 'sovereign body' pitted against the landscape and 'god's thrilling indifference.'"

* Ayla Angelos presents RIPPLES by Wai Wai Pang. 

* Rob Kirby presents an excerpt from Teva Harrison's IN-BETWEEN DAYS.

* Rob Clough on Greg Farrell's HIPSTER!


* Andy Oliver interviews ELLICE WEAVER about her career and her new book, Something City

* Dash Shaw interviews GARY PANTER about Panter's new book, Songy of Paradise.

* Hillary Brown interviews JEN LEE about process, disaster preparations, anthropomorphic animals, and her book, Garbage Night.

* Dan Nadel has a conversation with SIMON HANSELMANN.



* Greg Hatcher on the perils of publishing, SWIMMING WITH SHARKS, PART ONE.

* B. Lana Guggenheim writes about A NEW BALLET MATCHES JEWISH JEWLIET WITH NAZI ROMEO and "it's as terrible and offensive as it sounds."

* Jenny Brewer talks about how Greenpeace has enlisted SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS AS AN ECO ACTIVIST.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

KILGORE QUARTERLY #7: The Art of The Self

Edited by Dan Stafford
Featuring works by Summer Pierre, Tim Lane, Joseph Remnant, Sam Spina, and Leslie Stein
Published by Kilgore Books

Here’s something that you probably already know: putting together anthologies is a tricky business. It usually takes a certain level of editorial intent in order for a collection to hang together on its own. As far as Kilgore Quarterly #7 goes, though, editor Dan Stafford says this one “focuses on longer works from artists who have orphaned stories. Some of these appeared elsewhere, have gone out of print, and need to be read by more people, some are from forthcoming works, and some just needed a home.” Throwing together something palatable with this sort of junk-drawer editorial construct strikes me as akin to the meals I make at the end of the week using all the leftovers in the fridge. Sometimes it tastes disgusting, sometimes transcendent. You just don’t know what you’re going to get when you throw it all in the pot.

Amazingly, though, Kilgore Quarterly #7 tastes great.

In the end, the disparate voices and styles complement each other by bringing out thoughts and themes that stand out through their juxtaposition far greater than they would have by themselves. Though separate and contained, each piece is magnified by its relationship within the whole. Through what may be happenstance, this anthology ends up being thematically sound -- an exploration of the relationship between art and the artist.

Reading Kilgore Quarterly #7 makes me think that it would benefit by the subtitle: The Art of The Self.

The collection opens with Summer Pierre’s “Dappled Light”, a five-page, thickly inked rumination on the connection between “sitcoms from the 1950’s and 1960’s” and the author’s creative output. Pierre reflects on her past, spending “hours after school drawing to old TV shows” and the escapism that activity provided, an exercise that transported her not necessarily out of time but out of place. A jarring two-panel sequence halfway through “Dappled Light” indicates a certain level of abuse Pierre suffered as a child. This abuse provides the impetus for the connection Pierre feels for these long past TV shows, “a place filled with dappled light -- uncluttered by secrets or rage.” The final horizontal panel of the artist as a young girl curled up on a couch emits the feeling of comfort inherent in escapism. The correlation between the acts of her watching those old shows and of her creating art demonstrates a sense of purpose behind the two endeavors. Here, escapism is at the core of creating the self. Pierre is, in effect, stating clearly that her art is what allowed her to define the person she longed to be.

The next piece in Kilgore Quarterly #7 is “Steve McQueen Has Vanished” by Tim Lane. Drawn in straightforward, naturalistic style, Lane’s use of light and dark elements, plus his choices of perspective and tight close-ups, give the piece a vaguely noir sensibility. Ostensibly, the narrative revolves around a stranger showing up at a roadside motel. The stranger may or may not be the actor Steve McQueen who, according to news reports, has disappeared from public view -- perhaps due to a feud with Paul Newman regarding billing in the film Towering Inferno. Where narrative ends, theme begins, as Lane becomes more introspective regarding the nature of identity, exploring how everything we do, especially creative acts, defines how the world sees us, and how that self is as much a creation as the act itself. Where the true self lies is somewhere altogether different, a place of solitude, reflection, and contemplation. In Lane’s piece, art is a mask the artist wears in public, a persona created by the audience who have projected their own desires and needs onto its face. For the artist, that mask is either something to hide behind or be suffocated by. In the end, Lane’s story becomes more about the narrator than the characters it describes. In that, “McQueen” takes the universal and localizes it to the experience of a stand-in for ourselves.

Would I have read “Steve McQueen Has Vanished” along these lines had it not been for Summer Pierre’s piece prior to it? I don’t think so. Such is the power of putting these pieces together.

Likewise, Joseph Remnant’s “I Told You So” continues the framing theme of the art of the self. Remnant’s propensity to fill his panels with small diagonal lines belies the influence artists like Robert Crumb have on his work, but it also adds a certain dingy foreboding to his cartooning, as if filth and darkness are constantly threatening to engulf everything. This is another story about understanding a person through the work they create. To be honest, it’s my favorite piece in Killgore Quarterly #7, and it’s heartbreakingly sweet, the kind of comic where you end up smiling a teary-eyed grin at in the end, though the process to getting there is a painful journey to walk. Remnant is able to turn the sad-sack upside-down and unpack its heart. There’s every reason not to root for the protagonist in this piece. After all, he’s a moody, mopey, privileged white boy whose actions, though well-intentioned, smack of, at best, social awkwardness. And yet….

And yet in “I Told You So” Remnant exposes that one’s true self can be found in their art, as long as it speaks to the truth of the heart. If art is pushed out because of some obligatory grasp at what others have expressed is true, then it smacks false and reveals nothing but a void within. When it speaks of the self, though, it is revelatory, worthy of encapsulating that which is the real “you”.

Sam Spina comments further on this idea with his contribution to Kilgore Quarterly #7, “K. Trout Makes His Move”, which wraps itself in an absurd metatextual bind. This comic begins with a down-on-his-luck fish who uses his name, which also happens to be Sam Spina, to get laid. It then pulls back to the “real” Sam Spina who is incredibly pleased for having created “another perfect comic” in a coffee shop, where he is summarily beaten for being a “lanky little freak”. At the end, a fish which had been living in human Spina’s knit-hat comments, “Wow! Your comics just get better and better!” Here the relationship between the artist and his art is bundled into a self-awareness that nobody outside of himself can conceptualize. Art is a lie that serves to bolster the self, to give it power and meaning in a world that is chaotic and draining. Spina’s comic is only of value to himself, empowering him to a moment where the true self is given voice and agency. Though the human Spina is physically repulsed of this idea through the agency of others, the fish in his hat, the idea of self that Spina still grabs hold of, continues to be unswayed. Whatever humor it is intended to convey and/or contains, “K. Trout Makes His Move” is a complex bit of business.

Rounding out Kilgore Quarterly #7 is Leslie Stein’s “The Desk”. In “The Desk”, Stein features her semi-autobiographical character, Larrybear, from her Eye Of The Majestic Creature series. Here, a young Larry builds a desk in the doorway of her room using oversized fake bricks. As her family members walk by, she says, “Hello! Larry’s room! How can I help you?” -- though neither her mother nor her sibling pay her any mind. While this is, on the surface, a simple childhood reminiscence of “playing adult”, there’s still that undercurrent of how artists use their art to define themselves.

There’s a lot to process in “The Desk”. The image of a child using bricks to seal up half of the entrance to their bedroom in order to become something more than they are is the stuff that post-Freudian analysts dream of. The fact that her family ignores her assumed identity, this “false self” that Larry has created through an act of imagination, also speaks volumes as to Stein’s own sense of herself. Larry eventually has to pee. Because of this physical need, she has to break through the wall she has created with her artistry, clearly demarking the line between the self as a corporeal thing and the self as a conceived thing. The body as form must break through the barrier of art in order to satisfy its needs, showing its predominance in the cartesian duality that plagues us all. “The Desk” ends with Larrybear cleaning up her bricks and focuses on a shattered picture frame that holds a portrait of herself. The line between who she is and who she wants to be is clear. It is only through an act of sheer artistic endeavor that she will ever become actualized as her desired self.

Again, Kilgore Quarterly #7 would benefit by a subtitle: The Art of The Self.

All my interpretations of each piece are only brought to the fore through its interaction with the pieces that preceded it. This is the mark of a coherent anthology. Dan Stafford has collected all these “orphans” and has given them a home in Kilgore Quarterly #7. They become a family by the proximity they share. These leftovers only become a truly harmonious meal when they stirred together in the same pot, and I, for one, have become more aware of myself for having tasted this dish.