Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Books in Bites 17: THRILL MOUTH #1 by Theo Ellsworth, MINOR LEAGUES FOUR by Simon Moreton, AFTER LAUGHTER by Jonathan Djob Nkondo, and LITTLE GODS by Leda Zawacki

Quick Reviews of 4 Books you may be interested in.

THRILL MOUTH #1
By Theo Ellsworth
Available HERE


Theo Ellsworth creates books that pivot and place you in spaces wildly psychotomimetic and yet deeply affecting. Drawn in mostly straight ballpoint pen, this 36-page black and white zine defies unloading in terms of narrative, and yet, as is typical of an Ellsworth book, seizes your attention, as if pleading with your subconscious to recognize limitless process as well as marking the path to some recognition of healing. As is also part and parcel of an Ellsworth book, there’s a tension towards resolution and an understanding of the importance of the unknowable self. Ellsworth provides guides to cosmic understanding. Thrill Mouth #1 sets the stage for something new, something important. As always, it is Ellsworth’s dense art that captures this perfectly.


MINOR LEAGUES FOUR
By Simon Moreton
Available HERE


The draw of a Simon Moreton comic is his ability to reduce everything to its most basic elements and, in that, expose its emotional core. Like much of Moreton’s work, Minor Leagues Four is introspective, scrutinizing the past, breaking down that which was into those beats that linger, paring the entirety to gestures and capturing the lines that outline experience. Moreton seems to see summation as story, and his linework prunes the personal into universal tokens, allowing his readers to mirror encounters of their own existence, their self on top of his. Cartooning combined with short fiction and photographs, Minor Leagues Four is both zine and rhetoric, and once again proves that Simon Moreton is an artist of and for our times.


AFTER LAUGHTER
By Jonathan Djob Nkondo
Published by ShortBox
Available HERE


One of the best things about Zainab Akhtar’s quarterly curated ShortBox releases is she consistently introduces us to artists to whom we might not otherwise have access. French animator, designer, and artist Jonathan Djob Nkondo is one such creator. His book After Laughter is, perhaps, perfect. This wordless 44-page, black and white book reads as if it were a short film, reflecting movement and time, focusing attention and perspective in a manner not often found in comics. Parsing story into sequential static images, as Nkondo does here, makes that which could be a passive experience,the act of viewing an unfolding as told by another, into an active engagement -- the reader lingers as long as they feel necessary on panel or page, focusing on whatever element that draws, each creating cadence of an intrinsically personal reflection. Then, in that moment of closure only found in the experience of comics, the reader ends up having a unique interaction with the text, revealing in that, themselves. Nkondo’s use of negative and positive space adds to what he is seeking to convey. Here, solid truths, those of the agreed upon black and white variety, seem to fluctuate through the choices of the artist, and yet, even in this, an agreed upon reality is pushed to the forefront. This is an amazing book from an amazing talent, and it’s one that should be on the shelf of anyone who considers themselves a fan of the medium.


LITTLE GODS
By Leda Zawacki
Published by Tinto Press
Available HERE

In order to talk about Leda Zawacki’s Little Gods, it may be best to just quote from the solicitation from Tinto Press. It was “originally inspired by the Northwest Native American creation mythology Mount Shasta and the Grizzly Bears. Sky Gods closely follows the Native American myth and uses much of the original text. With Little Gods, the story is diverted into an alternate, female-focused mythology while embracing some of the main themes and symbolism from the original story.” Zawacki’s art in this book is beautiful, taking full advantage of possibilities watercolors offer cartoonists. As well, framing the story to focus on love, acceptance, and empowerment adds a further dimension to a rich mythology. This is gentle comic, one to be enjoyed and shared with those needing a voice, a community, and a sense of purpose.

Monday, December 11, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 12/4/17 to 12/10/17

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 

* Caitlin Rosberg reviews Niki Smith's CROSSPLAY, "an emotional, evocative read about finding yourself and finding love". 

* Tessa Strain on I AM NOT OKAY WITH THIS by Charles Forsman, "a complex piece of work and one of the most honest depictions of the emotional telescoping effect of both depression and adolescence."

* Matthias Wivel on THE GREEN HAND AND OTHER STORIES by Nicole Claveloux, "symbolist comics evoking internal states, giving fantastic flight to common emotions in colors and landscapes that border on the surreal. They are glimpses of a road not taken, in which comics evolved differently, sending their green shoots off into modalities that I would be loath outright to call feminine, but from which comics would certainly have benefitted had more women been attracted to and accommodated within the form at an earlier stage in its history."

* Tom Baker on the anthology MIRROR MIRROR II from 2dCloud. "a sexy, creepy book which is daring in the topics it addresses, its creators eliding conservative platitudes or easy explanations for parts of human behaviour which psychologists have spent decades struggling to get to the bottom of."

* Zachary Littrell on MICKEY'S INFERNO, a Disney version of Dante's 14th-century epic poem which features Mickey and Goofy going to Hell. I mostly link this because I love it when reviewers use the word "bonkers" in their reviews. Spoiler: Littrell uses the word "bonkers".

* Shea Hennum looks at PROXIMA CENTAURI by Farel Dalrymple, a book that "is as fun to rread as it is dizzying, and it's as dizzying to read as it is gorgeously drawn."

* Andy Oliver lauds praises on AS THE CROW FLIES by Melanie Gillman, saying "there's a pacing here that asks the reader to slow down their reading speed and immerse themselves in each single, evocatively coloured panel, creating a sense of lingering time as each day of the hike passes."

* Bryce Davidson introduces us to a strange book he found at a library book sale, ILLUSTRATED SALARYMAN IN JAPAN published by the Japanese Travel Bureau in the 1980s.

Ryan C. reviews ANTI-GONE by Connor Willumsen, which "returns how much you're willing to invest in it, and ends up being 'as good as you want it to be.'

* Greg Hunter on OLD GROUND by Noel Freibert, where "readers find presences where they'd expect absences, along with questions about how much agency the things they're seeing possess."

* Rob Clough on the comics of HANNAH KAPLAN, "one of a younger set of autobiographical cartoonists whom are especially frank about their mental health, their overall existential position on the world, and their sex lives."

* Alex Hoffman reviews BOTTLED by Chris Gooch which, "uses the interpersonal failing of family and friends to reflect the economic, political, and social unease of the millennial generation...".

* Finally, Emily Lauer looks at MANGA SHAKESPEARE: TWELFTH NIGHT as a jumping off point to discuss and dissect comic book adaptations of "classics".

WHATNOT

* Dash Shaw interviews CONNOR WILLUMSEN about Anti-Gone. This is a pretty amazing conversation. You should read it.

* Brian Hibbs talks to CHARLES FORSMAN about his new book I Am Not Okay With This as part of the Comix Experience Graphic Novel Club (which you should join!)

* The Slate Book Review and the Center for Cartoon Studies announce the sixth annual CARTOONIST STUDIO PRIZE.

* Phillipe LeBlanc pens THE BEAT'S HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE: FOR THE INDIE AND SMALL PRESS COMICS ADMIRER -- a title which really could have been pared down to "What To Get The Best People In Your Life" if you were to ask me.

* DO YOU FEEL LUCKY, PUNK? Five Cartoonists on Guns.

* Jenny Brewer on the 2018 PANTONE COLOUR OF THE YEAR (hint: it's not brown).

* Alex de Campi has this Storify called ADVICE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF featuring Comics Professionals discussing what they would go back and tell themselves at the beginning of their careers if they could.

* Erick K. Ward's FORCEFULLY OPPOSING ANTI-SEMITISM MUST BE A CORE PRINCIPLE OF THE MOVEMENT TO COMBAT WHITE SUPREMACY.

* James Aho's WHAT IS THE AMERICAN FAR RIGHT?

Monday, December 4, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 11/27/17 to 12/3/17

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

* Ryan C. looks at November Garcia's MALARKEY, and writes, "it's honest, it's self-deprecating, it's witty, it's smart, it's superbly illustrated, and it's utterly devoid of pretense. Ir you were to strip away the layers of bullshit so many cartoonists surround themselves with in their portrayals of their 'real' lives, boil down the essence of the thing they get right, and filter it through a lens that sees the humor inherent in just about everything, this is what you'd get."

* Rob Clough writes what has to be the definitive review of Tillie Walden's SPINNING. Clough approaches this book with both a critical mind and an open heart, and his writing here reflects that. He ostensibly quests after meaning, but along the way comes to understand Walden as an artist on a fundamental level. This is one of my favorite bits of writing on comics that I've read in a long time.

* Etelka Lehoczky pens this plot-heavy review of I AM NOT OKAY WITH THIS by Charles Forsman. I link it mostly because this book is pretty great, and second because I'm glad to see NPR getting its feet wet with small press coverage.

* Leopoldine Core reviews THE GREEN HAND AND OTHER STORIES by Nicole Claveloux, which are "darkly humorous, existential, erotic, trance-inducing -- these comics wield a rare and innovative power."

* Dominic Umile on STREET FIGHTING MEN: SPAIN VOLUME 1 which, "features reported essays on [Spain] Rodriguez's work, his reproduced art, exclusive photos, and his comix. The challenge, however, lies in coming to terms with the artist's innovative repertoire and the extent to which some of his comix revel in the sexism regularly broadcast in the era's male-authored strips." This sort of re-evaluation of the works of creators can be painful, but is absolutely necessary as a means of moving into a more inclusive future.

* John Seven praises Dave Ortega's DIAS DE CONSUELO, saying "Ortega realizes his personal vision with an art style dominated by clarity, with clean lines that capture humans and landscapes perfectly and plainly, complimented by some muted coloring that give the story the feeling of the distance past..."

* Matt Seneca reviews SHOWTIME by Antoine Cosse', saying "Books that encourage this much of a breakneck pace and still feel substantial are rare."

* Claire Napier also reviews SHOWTIME, writing "some pages -- or alright, the entire comic -- may demand or allow consideration of interpretation but there's a difference between playing Where's Wally and proofreading a document." I'm not exactly sure what Napier means by this, but I'm all in.

* RJ Casey looks at KLAUS MAGAZINE 3 by Richard Short which is "gentle without ever being cloying."

* Alex Hoffman doesn't like  IT'S NO LONGER I THAT LIVETH by Francisco Sousa Lobo, finding it "overwrought and flowery without any meaningful purpose."

* Oliver Sava on ZEGAS by Michel Fiffe.

* Douglas Wolk points out a few books on the New York Times' THE LATEST IN GRAPHIC NOVELS.

* Robert Kirby presents an excerpt from DIAS DE CONSUELO by Dave Ortega.

* Phillipe LeBlanc once again has his Canadian-flavored (?) SMALL PRESS AND INDIE COMICS GALORE over on The Beat. 

WHATNOT

* Hillary Brown interviews LESLIE STEIN about her new book, Present, and "expressing the most with the least."

* Alex Dueben interviews SOPHIE GOLDSTEIN about her new book, House of Women.

* This conversation with all the folks at PEOW and ZAINAB AKHTAR about Zainab's new position as editor just fills me with hope, joy, and excitement, three emotions that have become harder and harder to fill myself with as 2017 grinds down to an end.

*Speaking of hope, joy, and excitement -- Andy Oliver previews all of the 2018 releases planned by AVERY HILL BOOKS and they all seem pretty spectacular. Check them out! 

* Jeremy Sigler's PETER SAUL SABOTAGES EVERYTHING, INCLUDING HIMSELF.

* Helena Fitzgerald's 20 AUTHORS I DON'T HAVE TO READ BECAUSE I'VE DATED MEN FOR 16 YEARS

* Sian Gibby on THE DIARIES OF ITALIAN RESISTANCE FIGHTER EMANUELE ARTOM.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 11/20/17 to 11/26/17

Highlighting some great small press comics criticism being published, as well as other random things that have caught my eye over the past week. 
(Editor's Note: This is a short week for me, Thanksgiving and whatnot, so if I miss anything from Thursday on, it is not because of any ax to grind.)

COMICS CRITICISM

* Caitlin Rosberg on Melanie Gillman's AS THE CROW FLIES: VOLUME ONE from Iron Circus Comics, "an emotional and intimate comic, restrained in many ways and deeply personal, with a backdrop of stunning mountain vistas."

* Megan Fabbri reviews MIS(H)ADRA by Iasmin Omar Ata, calling it "the product of a new era, one where people of all genders, races, and minds are breaking into publishing and sharing their voices."

* John Seven reviews Marcelo D'Salete's RUN FOR IT, in which "he wraps the human emotion of the events around the reader, personalizing the larger experience through smaller instances of fear and despair."

* This uncredited review on Women Write About Comics of MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS by Emil Ferris, calling it "an intensely ambitious work, with a scope much larger than its Chicago apartment block-setting implies."

* I usually make a point of staying away from corporate comics in this round-up, but I can't say enough good things about what Chase Magnett has done with his four-part series, THE CASE AGAINST DOOMSDAY CLOCK -- dissecting the situation between DC Comics and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, and leading to its relevance on a much larger political scale. This is an example of what great criticism can be. CHECK IT OUT.

WHATNOT

* Gabriele Di Fazio and others interview CONOR STECHSCHULTE over on Just Indie Comics in order to "introduce him to the Italian Audience." It's an amazing interview that really drills down deep into Stechschulte's process and work.

* Alex Dueben interviews GG about her new book from Koyama Press, I'm Not Here.

* Paul Lai interviews JASON SHIGA about the end of Demon.

* Austin English is back at TCJ with an essay he calls FEININGER'S GRANDKIDS talking about the possibilities of comics created outside of the language of comics. It's a great read. So. Go read it.

* Simon Moreton, perhaps my favorite cartoonist working today, has just released MINOR LEAGUES 4. If you've never read a Moreton comic, add that to your life now.

* Jessica Campbell's cartoon on Hyperallergic, THE BAD BEHAVIOR OF MEN IN COMICS.

* FOUR POEMS by Jessie Tu.

Friday, November 24, 2017

CARTOONS SHOULD BE ON SOON: A Round-table Discussion about Bill Sienkiewicz's STRAY TOASTERS

(Editor’s Note: This “conversation” between myself, Justin Giampaoli, and Keith Silva about Bill Sienkiewicz’s Stray Toasters originally ran on Comics Bulletin on April 18, 2013 -- after four and a half years, I thought it would be nice to revisit. Some minor changes have been made to the original posting.)


Daniel Elkin: There are just some things you can't shake, like the image of your child being born, the eyes of your first love, the smell of the hospital room where your grandfather died, a really good club sandwich, eczema. For me, Bill Sienkiewicz's Stray Toasters is one of those things. It haunts me.

Since 2008, I've been toting the Image Comics trade paperback of Stray Toasters through one failed marriage, two changes of career, and three apartments. Throughout all these permutations, this book has stuck with me as a thick mystery, deep in its intent, heavy in its import. Somehow, I've begun to conceive of this book as a fundamentally profound question whose answer, upon arrival, will solve a myriad of my life's issues.

For me, Stray Toasters has become a koan of sorts, testing my progress as a reader, as a thinker, as a seeker of truths. But as of now, the answers it contains have remained shrouded, viscous, fecund, unavailable, and frustrating. I return to this book over and over again trying to unpack its contents and put together its pieces, but time and time again I've only ended up with new questions, slanted thinking, or reverie askance.
Originally published as a four-issue miniseries in 1988 for Marvel's Epic line, Stray Toasters was one of the first books Sienkiewicz both wrote and illustrated. It came on the heels of his collaborations with Chris Claremont (New Mutants), Frank Miller (Elektra: Assassin), Andrew Helfer (The Shadow) and Alan Moore (Brought to Light). Working with these gentlemen seems to have taught Sienkiewicz how to tell a story. In Stray Toasters, he gets to tell his story.

But what is the story? Ostensibly it's a murder mystery. Eleven boys have been drained of all of their vital fluids and have had their brains liquefied and sucked out. These victims are then left in various locations around town, the latest being on the couch of Ed and Alice Crewel, propped up and watching reruns of Star Trek. In addition to these horrors, there's been a woman murdered. Her killer has drilled her eyes out and "wired her system up like a machine." As the officer on the scene says, "She would've worked … if the guy who did this hadn't crossed some wires." Grizzly stuff this — the murder of children and mothers is fraught with all sorts of emotional, psychological, and mythological resonance. In this, Sienkiewicz is not subtle.

Into the mystery of these murders comes criminal psychologist Egon Rustemagik who has only recently been released from the Bosley Mental Institution, having been put there by his former lover, Abigail, who claimed that he abused or killed their child. Rustemagik is also an alcoholic who has the requisite Pink Elephant hallucinations following him around.

From there the plot turns around and into itself, introducing characters like bondage fetishist (and shark enthusiast) Assistant District Attorney Harvard Chalky, a toe-headed lad named Todd, a bloated and festering Doctor Montana Violet, Rustemagik's current lover Dahlia, a lord of the underworld named Phil, mechanical butlers and crows, the aforementioned Pink Elephants, and Mona.

Stray Toasters is an art book. Sienkiewicz pulls out all of his tricks here and as a visual piece of storytelling it is unparalleled — beautiful, horrific, confusing, stunning, enigmatic, uncanny — in this Sienkiewicz shows his mastery, and this book is unquestionably his masterpiece. But it is the story that leaves me with that feeling that I can't shake. It is in this story that my answers lie. I just can't figure them out.

So after working on unpacking The Coffin and Eel Mansions with my fellow reviewers Justin Giampaoli and Keith Silva, I felt it time to turn to them to try and make sense of this book, and thereby, perhaps, make sense of my life.

Fellas?


Justin Giampaoli: First off, I want to thank Elkin for inviting us as fellow archaeologists of the sequential arts on this particular grail quest. It takes some gumption to publicly tackle something that's a persistent personal puzzle. I also think it takes stones as a critic to admit that, although you may be intensely drawn to a work, you don't fully grok all of the intricacies of said work. I've always believed in my role as a critic that if life is a mysterious maze, artists are constructing the walls of a labyrinth trying to make order of it all, to build a way out toward some cosmic meaning, so perhaps critics can help navigate that byzantine chaos, continually looking toward that literary North Star. Let us together bring order to the chaos, gentlemen.

Personal anecdote, in 1987 I remember sitting on the floor of my room (in a house that subsequently burned down, the acrid smell of burnt toast filling the air) when I was in eighth grade. At this point, I'd come up reading a steady diet of Marv Wolfman and George Perez's New Teen Titans, Jim Starlin's cosmic opus Dreadstar (also from Marvel's Epic line), and I'd somehow gotten my hands on early issues of their in-house magazine Epic Illustrated. This was most certainly for mature readers, but my counterculture parents always encouraged such things. I recall seeing a full page ad for Sienkiewicz's Stray Toasters. I knew only peripherally (growing up largely a DC kid) that he was that "weird" artist on that book New Mutants that I didn't read. I highly doubt my 13 year old brain could have successfully navigated what would have then seemed little more than a word collage, nor was my eye yet visually attuned to such stylized art, but the memory was something I couldn't shake. It imprinted because it seemed so foreign. It's now mysteriously reentered my life 26 years later. Everything happens for a reason. Is this why I met Daniel Elkin? I wonder if Elkin likes his sandwiches toasted?

That said, this was my first (three) read(s) of Stray Toasters. While maddening at times for reasons we'll surely get to, I'll say for now that I was immediately drawn in by the fascinating central mysteries the work offers, and by the superimposed blend of genres Sienkiewicz was working with. There's this neo-noir detective procedural skimming the very surface. There's a PKD sense of sci-fi futurism, with sentient robots, low female survival rates, 97 dogs left on the entire planet, and the dystopian visage of a bleak, tagged-up Statue of Liberty. We've got this creepy-as-hell torture porn swimming in horror elements, all wrapped up like Laura Palmer in a Se7en style psychological thriller that predated David Fincher's filmic escapades by a decade. Sienkiewicz shoving these disparate genres together was quite avant-garde, nobody was really blending genres in mainstream comics back then.

I think you guys know that I started out professionally working in federal law enforcement, so I tried to engage with the work like I was legendary FBI profiler John Douglas, to approach it somewhat forensically and recreate the narrative, which is obtuse and non-linear. My mind tends to work in bullet points, so, if I may, I'd like to identify some of the walls in the maze, to reassemble what I believe the sequence is in order to answer Elkin's semi-rhetorical question "But what is the story?" for my own benefit, for the benefit of our mutual understanding as a launch platform, and perhaps for the benefit of any readers coming into this cold. If you can establish a timeline, you can infer causality, with causality you can consider motive, establishing motive leads to identity, and somebody said this was a murder mystery. That said, uhh, spoilers ahead, I guess?!

Dahlia has a baby. She wants Dr. Montana Violet to kill it because she believes it is evil due to her misguided religious zealotry. The baby is Todd. He's not evil. He's autistic.

Dr. Violet does not kill the boy. Despite conducting arcane and unethical medical experiments, he saves Todd out of a dichotomous sense of dedication to the Hippocratic Oath.

Todd's Savant Syndrome compels him to create robot guys in the image of Tuxedo, his cat, whom his mother killed. The robots provide warmth and an interpersonal connection (both items literally and figuratively) to Todd, in lieu of his absentee parent(s).

Todd ends up with a woman named Dissler who secretly attempts to raise him. She's ultimately killed by a Toaster (one of the stray robots).

Todd is then taken in by Abby, who is Dissler's psychologist.

Abby had a prior relationship with Egon Rustemagik. They lost a child together. Abby blames Egon for this and was instrumental in having him institutionalized for a time.
Dahlia is killing children in a psychopathic effort to excise the "evil" Todd, who she suspects is still alive and "coming for her."

Tuxedo Toaster is basically sentient and is killing what it believes to be unworthy mothers in a misguided effort to protect Todd and serve as a surrogate parent.

Egon Rustemagik, the criminal psychologist, is called in to investigate these murders (everyone mistakenly assumes there's a single killer). Egon is an alcoholic who sees flying pink elephants.

Egon has a current sexual relationship with Dahlia.

Egon had a former romantic relationship with Abby.

As a bonus, we have The Devil himself traveling the Earthly plane on vacation, sending postcards back to his loving family.

It takes a long circuitous route to get there (in fact, I'd submit that for most audiences it's too obtuse for its own good), but ultimately Stray Toasters is the story of Dahlia and Todd getting back at each other for slights, both perceived and quite real respectively, while Egon, Abby, Dr. Violet, and everyone else are all just caught in the middle. Yes, "the family circle is a triangle," with many hard edges.

I have so much more I'd like to discuss in terms of themes, storytelling flaws, influential aesthetics, and the core mysteries that propel reader engagement with Stray Toasters, but for now I'll defer to the resident scholars. Does that about sum up the basic narrative thrust as you guys interpreted it?


Keith Silva: "Follow the bouncing ball … oh-the itsy-bitsy spiiider …"

If my body ever ends up wrapped in plastic or on the edge of a lake or some muddy estuary with a Death's-head Hawkmoth stuck in my gullet, I hope, Justin, you are there to walk back the cat.

Elkin, my friend, I don't know what to say except to lean on my penchant for an insider's weak-ass defense, the wise-ass witticism: "I think my colleagues … we have a quote problem unquote."     

As I have already pledged undying fealty to Mr. Sienkiewicz, there seems little at stake in this confession, so here goes: until pushy Elkin (like some mechanical mama-bird) force-fed us his agenda, I choose not to drift too close to this Scylla, this Charybdis, this Stray Toasters. Instead, I choose to cleave to the familiar (The New Mutants,) and the conventional Daredevil: Love and War.

Yes, Elkin, this is Sienkiewicz's masterpiece, his David (who shows up here), his "Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea," — the art of the possible. Why did I stay away for so long? Have you seen Stray Toasters? "I mean shit — appliances? Whud izzissshit?" To pile cliché upon cliché: next to the phrase, "this may not be for everyone," in the comic book critic's omnibus, slouches a picture of Phil, of the electric boy and of the entire Bolle-Happel catalog. I like what you said Elkin, this is Sienkiewicz's "art book." Perhaps, it should hang in a gallery?

My apologies, I'm sputtering on. You want to build some scaffolding around this bitched type, to "[re]introduce this bastard [of a book] to some structure," make some sense of it. Giampaoli provides the forensics: who, what, where and when. (All) we need sort out is how, more, why. Easy, yeah?

Giampaoli sez author, artist and text tasks the critic to "help navigate that byzantine chaos" in search of the proverbial lodestar. Okay. What if (at first) the narrative appears less like fiction and more like life? More like Stray Toasters? In our otaku, we talk (a lot) about the "the unlimited potential of the comic book form" and yet this capacity remains (for the most part) chimerical in the week-to-week and month-to-month cavalcade of the stale and the pedestrian. I know Stray Toasters rests within your ken, Elkin. No one carries something with them through life that doesn't resonate on some level at some frequency.

Where I think Stray Toasters succeeds (and fails) is that it presents as un-plotted, messy, life-like, but in the end for all its many intricate folds and switchbacks, Stray Toasters forms a tight, pre-creased construction; it begins flat — all potential — and by the end, origami-like, it becomes something else, something recognizable, a story, a plot, a narrative. Now, I'm not saying it's not without its raggedness, its wandering plot threads and over cooked narrative crumbs, but the answers — which is, after all, the expectation, the covenant one makes with fiction — appear in the end. Oh, before I forget, I can't imagine anyone would read this in singles. Stray Toasters is, as it's said, "of a piece."

So, Elkin, where to next? Let's go further. Do you want to ask about Phil? Rustemagik's questionable choices in sexual partners? How about what Sienkiewicz has against noses?

Quote unquote.