Monday, June 18, 2018

Hang In The Air, We Don't Dare: Rob Clough reviews THE LIE AND HOW WE TOLD IT by Tommi Parrish

It's hard not to see Tommi Parrish's The Lie And How We Told It as a continuation of their first book, the 2dcloud-published Perfect Hair. Or perhaps, if not a direct continuation, then certainly a series of echoes. Perfect Hair is a series of loosely-connected vignettes involving a couple of different characters that explore gender identity, desire, the emotional ramifications of sex work, and the desperate desire to connect. In particular, Parrish explored the ways in which adherence to culturally defined sexual and gender identities prevents authentic action and causes cognitive dissonance. Parrish used a variety of visual approaches in that book, but they mostly settled around a thick, blocky character design with heads of changing sizes (though usually much proportionately smaller than the bodies they sat atop of).

For The Lie And How We Told It, Parrish simplified their approach while creating a more emotionally complex narrative. The plot is simple: a man named Tim runs into his old friend Cleary working at a grocery store, and they awkwardly catch up over the course of an evening. Along the way, Cleary finds a comic about a stripper's ill-fated romance with a customer that she reads while waiting around. The red-headed and bespectacled Cleary is a dead ringer for the character of Nicola in Perfect Hair, and another character is named Cleary in that book. Cleary is such a strongly-designed character that it's no wonder that Parrish chose to use her again; interestingly, her template character in the first book was a sex worker.
The title of this book is also the name of a Yo La Tengo song. Its brief lyrics notes that “Talking words, angry words/Hang in the air, we don't dare”, and The Lie And How We Told It is very much about words hanging in the air that are too dangerous to ponder. Tim is clearly reluctant to spend time with Cleary, who puts him in a corner by forcing their reunion. At first, there's a certain brightness to it, reflected in Parrish's beautiful backgrounds. What they share is on the surface, as Tim reveals he's going to get married soon and makes vague noises about having her over. After Cleary reveals that her love life was terrible, Tim brings up a mutual friend that Cleary used to date. It's one of many references to a past that the reader isn’t privileged to see, making it both intriguing and frustrating. After an early confrontation, Tim goes off to get some wine, leaving Cleary to find “a novella by Bumf McQueen” entitled One Step Inside Doesn't Mean You Understand. It's about the limits of empathy and its crisp, angular, black & white art is both the opposite of, and a commentary upon, the actual story.

The next 44 pages are dedicated to this story of a stripper who decides to have sex with one of her club's patrons. Echoing the relationship between the escort and john at the end of Perfect Hair, the beginning of this story is about an all-too-familiar set of rituals. In an attempt to sell intimacy to the man, the stripper takes off her wig in front of him, much as the escort is willing to go along with saying and doing certain things to provide the “girlfriend experience”. Meanwhile, the desperate and lonely men in these scenarios mistake their money for virtue in an effort to “help” these women, acting out white knight fantasies that have more to do with saving their own egos than actually connecting to another human being. The ways in which capitalism and materialism interject themselves into the story plays out at the end of the first part of the novella, as he picks her up at her modest apartment that she cherishes and tells her not to feel embarrassed. It was a profoundly misplaced, arrogant and entitled expression of contempt disguised as pity.
When the book shifts back to Cleary and Tim (and Cleary putting away the book), their conversation grows more intense, but their initial reconnection begins to fray. For example, when Cleary relates that she used to be so insecure in her attraction to women that she would make out with them at parties to pretend it was a show for the boys. Tim replies, “That was hot”, in a completely tone-deaf manner. The more that Cleary regrets her hiding her bisexuality when she was younger, the weirder Tim gets until he reveals his own bisexual side in a language of constant self-negation. First, he tells her about an old friend that he hooked up with when they were in high school. In telling this story, he stresses that he's not gay and “always the top anyway.” Then he reveals that it is something he does all the time, something “he just has to do”. 

These exchanges reveal Cleary and Tim in diametrically opposed emotional states, as Cleary has come to terms with who she is and Tim is in denial. Parrish spotlights Tim's self-loathing as a result of his lack of authenticity when he immediately runs away to cry after confessing to Cleary that he was hooking up with men. The next scene, where an attractive man in the bathroom asks him if he's OK is almost comedic as Tim panics and runs into a stall. The act of facing up to his true nature is just too much for him. Even when he abruptly left Cleary, he made some noises about hitting on the (female) bartender, a delusion that fooled no one, least of all himself. 

This is all in a club that Tim likes, and Parrish's large page size really pays off here, depicting the visceral quality of the sheer number of brightly colorful bodies in a small space. In the context of how Parrish draws bodies, they are attractive and fairly oozing sweat and pheromones in a sexually charged atmosphere. It's implied that Tim has picked up more than one man here, something his fiance' is completely unaware of. Prior to revealing his proclivities to Cleary, he utterly shut down a fishing expedition on her part as she asked why he thought they had never hooked up back in high school. His revulsion is visceral and obviously hurtful, though he tries to play it off as thinking of her as a sister.

Cleary subsequently goes from that low moment to meeting an attractive female bartender who listens to her story, has some sage words of wisdom and winds up giving Cleary her number, much to her delight. It is the kind of event that happens when one is ready to move on with one's life instead of being stuck in a perpetual and unresolved adolescence like Tim. There are a series of brilliant panels where Tim apologizes for being weird about talking about sexuality where they are hunched over their drinks, their heads shrunken down to a tiny size, representing the way in which both of them retreated emotionally in the moment. However, any chance of repairing their friendship is over, as both of them are in vastly different headspaces. Indeed, there seems to be a connection between the size of the characters' heads and their emotional states, as though the way Parrish draws people reveals inner thoughts and feelings.

As Cleary picks up the book to finish it after the evening is over, she picks up where the stripper understands how she's being humiliated and resents the man for it. However, it also gives her clarity, as she stands in his big, featureless house that's part of row after row of identical homes: being with him was “eavesdropping on a type of life I had never wanted for myself”. She tried on the role of being the girlfriend of a typical white, heterosexual male whose concept of sex began and ended with his penis—as did his sense of self, seeing the world as a series of things that could be bought and sold for his pleasure. She had been lying to herself about wanting this life of morally and aesthetically bankrupt ease, just as he was lying to himself about being a benevolent savior when all he wanted was to own her in a way he couldn't possess his ex-wife or their children.
With this, Parrish provides an epiphany, or, perhaps, just a moment of much-needed affirmation, for Cleary. Cleary understands that she doesn't have to lie about herself or what she wants anymore and to do so would only bring harm to herself and others. Furthermore, seeing Tim trapped in a hell of his own making makes it even clearer that living a life of lies is no longer a viable way for her to live her life. 

In both Perfect Hair and The Lie And How We Told It, authenticity is essential to living a meaningful life, with the caveat that one must have the emotional space and self-acceptance to make that authenticity possible. Unlike existentialist thought that posits authenticity as a singularly individualistic idea, Parrish counters that our connections to others always contextualize our choices. In this regard, ontology (who we are) and ethics (how we deal with others) are inescapably connected and lying about this connection to ourselves is self-negating bad faith. Or to quote RuPaul: “If you can't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?
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Rob Clough has written about comics for Cicada, the Comics Journal, Sequential, tcj.com,
sequart.com, Savant, Foxing Quarterly, Studygroup Magazine, as well as for his own blog, High-Low (highlowcomics.blogspot.com).

Friday, June 15, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 6/8/18 to 6/15/18

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

COMICS CRITICISM

* Tom Murphy writes about GENEROUS BOSOM #3 by Conor Stechschulte, "a mature and engrossing bit of work that repays -- and even demands -- repeated reading. It's fractured sense of reality and focus on the unpredictability of memory and perception keep the reader as off-balance as the main characters."

* Greg Hunter on Michael DeForge's A WESTERN WORLD which "conveys a worldview, configuring DeForge's comics into an argument about what's broken and what's still at stake."

* Ryan C. takes a look at Katie Skelly's THE AGENCY, "it's fast, fun, fluid, fantastic fuckery."

* Andy Oliver reviews Jayde Perkin's WHAT A LIFE, writing "Perkin is concerned in these pages not so much with a structured narrative as with bringing the reader into a state of mind; in creating a dreamy, languid sense of place and occasion."

* Cecelia Larsen on Melanie Gillman's AS THE CROW FLIES, a book she calls "quietly magnificent."

* Edward Haynes takes a quick look at Martin Rowson's illustrated version of THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO.

* Seamas O'Reilly reviews ALL THE ANSWERS by Michael Kupperman.

* Rodney Ortiz writes this light review of KABUL DISCO by Nicolas Wild.

* John Seven reviews Cyril Pedrosa's PORTUGAL, "a parable of finding oneself within what already exists but is not known, of seizing your identity through what came before you and your effort to connect the lines between yourself and everything else."

* Robin Enrico has this mixed review of IS THIS GUY FOR REAL?: THE UNBELIEVABLE ANDY KAUFMAN, stating right at the outset that this is "a graphic novel that should work, but on many levels does not."

* Keith Silva points out all that is good and all that fails in ALGERIA IS BEAUTIFUL LIKE AMERICA by Olivia Burton and Mahi Grand, writing "Issues of immigration, colonialism, xenophobia, social and religious tolerance are all filtered through her lens. She provides snapshots, misses the bigger picture and leaves it for the reader to piece it all together."


WHATNOT 

* CHUCK FORSMAN and MICHEL FIFFE share this amazing conversation.

* Alex Dueben interviews BETH EVANS about the release of her first book, I Really Didn't Think This Through, "her influences and process, Eurovision and more."

* Ben Yakas interviews JULIA WERTZ.

* Someone at Pipedream Comics interviews TIM BIRD about his new book from Avery Hill, The Great North Wood.

* Swapna Krishna gives us all a list of 8 COMICS TED TALKS YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT which you should ... you know ... check out.

* Seo Kim's new comic TRUST FALL over on Vice is so simple, yet it's amazingly complex and does so much within the confines of the medium that it's brilliant.

* Speaking of brilliant, the always brilliant Leslie Stein has a new comic up on The New Yorker site called DREAMING OF A READING BAR.

* Roman Muradov made a list called PEOPLE I LIKE -- which I like. More people I like should tell me whom they like so I can see if I like them too (and then add them to my list of people I like). By the way, if you haven't checked out Muradov's new book, On Doing Nothing, you should correct that. I like it.

* Sarah Rose Sharp takes a critical look at and presents some spectacular images from photographer Dave Jordano's new book A DETROIT NOCTURNE -- which looks absolutely stunning.

* Robert Rand talks about the unique place The Diary of Anne Frank has in Japanese culture in his piece over on Tablet called, THE DIARY OF ANNE.

* Lucy Bourton interviews CRAIG OLDHAM about the new publishing venture, Rough Trade Books, which hopes to bring together "the very highest calibre of artists, writers, poets, musicians, photographers, illustrators and thinkers producing work relating to their relationship with the counter-culture."

* Finally, if you're one of those poor saps that can't help but make spectacular comics, you might want to check out the CREATOR RESOURCE site. It claims to be "a site dedicated to providing comic book freelancers with as much information about the industry as possible... [where] you’ll find information on the latest rates that creators are being paid, and resources to help you navigate comic book contracts, copyrights, trademarks, and more."

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Review: DADDY DAY by Samuel C. Williams


There are life-affirming, life-changing, life-defining moments that occur in all of our lives, powerful in their arrival, profound in their intensity. Memorable. Momentous. Monumental. Often these are the moments to which we reach back in order to make sense of who we are, where we have been, where we might go. When we meet new people, these usually become the stories we tell.

But then there are the quiet moments. Those small, day-to-day affairs that we often breeze by on our way to something else. There are those who claim that it is the aggregation of all these little points in time that truly claim ownership of our identity -- that these small, seemingly inconsequential experiences are really the ones that make all the difference. Sometimes it is the moments which we thought were trivial or not worthy of notice that end up being the ones we miss the most when things change.

Parenthood is something that encapsulates both of these ideas -- combining both the momentous and the inconsequential. DADDY DAY, Samuel C. Williams’ new mini-comic from UK-based micropublisher Good Comics, encapsulates that encapsulation.

In his introduction to Daddy Day, Williams lets the reader know that the strips making up the book acted as “a form of therapy” for him as he dealt with the breakup of a serious relationship and having to transition “from being a full-time parent to mostly seeing [his children] on the weekends.” Both of these things challenged his identity, forced him to reassess how he envisioned life and his role in it, and compelled him to understand the importance of the little moments he had. In this 28-page series of vignettes, Williams is able to grant his reader access to the fruits of that process.
Combining both joy and sadness, Williams takes the time in the components of Daddy Day to not only chronicle each particular moment that he cherished with his kids, but, through his cartooning, register its emotional weight as well. There’s a real grasping in Williams’ work in this book, as if he is trying to both hold on to the enormity of his responsibility while at the same time being fully conscious of the impermanence of each moment.

There’s a couple of pages that are particularly striking in this regard. The first consists of a seemingly simple sepia-washed sequence of four panels in which his daughter plays on a swing. Here, Williams uses the power of the medium to create motion and time out of static images. The final panel of his daughter leaping off the swing with a smile on her face is indicative of so much -- Williams’ hopes, his pride in his daughter, his amazement at the young woman she is becoming. But it also points to the fact that each of these moments, precious though they may be, are just part of a cycle, a continuum of growth and change that no one can control. The small moment writ large.
The same sensibility can be found in a strip devoted to Williams’ son asking his father to “measure how much I’ve grown.” Once again, Williams celebrates his son’s development and, just through the act of documentation, points again to the vicissitude of each moment, that these little snippets of acknowledgment can carry as much weight as the major upheavals do and that both deserve attention and understanding.
Daddy Day is slight but deeply personal. Affecting in a quiet way, Williams expertly uses the medium of comics to transmit ideas and convey an emotional state. While it is one man’s story of healing, it ends up being a reminder to all of us to embrace life for what it is, not what we want it to be, and that every moment is an opportunity to create memories and to move forward.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Interrogating the Questions: Review of ARTSY FARTSY CRY BABY by Ron Hotz

Reading Toronto-based artist Ron Hotz’s 2018 book Artsy Fartsy Cry Baby has left me with many unanswerable questions.

To wit: Can you map the creative process? For whom do artists create? What exactly is the nature of and the responsibilities inherent in the relationship between an artist and their art? When a creator has no confidence in what they create, is what they create still art? If an artist tells you that what they have created is a narrative, is that enough for there to be a story?

I could go on. But this is a review, right? I mean, I’m telling you it is, so, therefore, it becomes one. Yes? The very nature of a review means that I should be the one doing the work, though -- the “reviewing” as it were -- instead of putting the onus on you, the reader. You’ve come here looking for direction, purpose, hoping that I will tell you about the merits of that which I am purporting to review.  Criticism is, at its heart, a statement of the critic’s sense of how a particular thing either meets or fails to meet a certain set of criteria that the critic believes to have value. The reader is supposed to take in the statements of the critic and then judge for themselves whether or not the critic has done an adequate job of convincing them of the particular stance vis a vis the merits of the work at the center of the work of criticism.

Right?

Starting reviews with questions undercuts that relationship from the get-go. Questions admit uncertainty, it points to the fact that aspects of thinking are left unresolved. Does a critic lose credibility by revealing to the reader that their authority only goes so far? Does this undermine any authority the work of criticism claims to carry? 

I know. More questions.

Artsy Fartsy Cry Baby is a question in and of itself. Is it one book or two? Is the first half of the book the process of creating the second half, a story about the search for a story? Is it the prejudice Hotz expresses towards his own art that gives him the creative push he needed to create the book itself? Is this, as Hotz suggests “style without content … [using] word bubbles to fill up space”? And, if so, why is the second part of Artsy Fartsy Cry Baby entirely wordless? Is the unifying theme of the whole thing just that it IS a whole thing because Hotz has bound it all together and therefore the form dictates its function?

Answers are hard to come by. 

Remember in 2012 when Keith Silva wrote an entire review of The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred #4 all in questions? That made sense, right? I mean, the questions there WERE the answers. Weren’t they?

And it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t interrogate Artsy Fartsy Cry Baby itself. Isn’t that what criticism does? I’ve got to ask: is this even comics? It’s certainly not traditional comics -- there’s no panels or closure. The art and dialogue aren’t working in harmony to convey action, time, or character. Rather, the text seems to be commenting on the art, as if Hotz is standing next to you as you flip through his portfolio talking about each piece as you turn the page. But there is continuity in both image and idea. There’s narrative. There’s an ending -- actually, there are two endings -- but is the first ending really the beginning of the second story, the one that ends on a note that strikes one as the beginning of something else?

Hotz is taking his reader someplace interesting, though. The question (of course), is it a journey through the process of making art, the art itself, or the apperception of the art? On such a safari, who controls the narrative? Which story is being told? Who’s responsible for cutting back the jungle and how does anyone know when they’ve reached the destination? The second half of the book seems to suggest something other than the first half. Or does it? Is the arrival dependent upon who’s guiding us through? Can art itself dictate its own understanding? Can an artist unaware of purpose be counted on to find a way home? Can an audience lost in uncharted territory find its way out of the labyrinth? 

Also, why a duck?

Who gets to answer these questions? More importantly, am I the one who should be asking them in the first place?

Does this make ME, the critic writing this piece, the artsy fartsy crybaby in this scenario?

Finally, a question I have an answer to. The answer is, of course, NO.

It’s not me. It’s probably not even Ron Hotz.

Assuming you’ve read this far, you’ve probably discovered that, in the end, artsy fartsy crybaby has been inside of you all along...


Friday, June 8, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 6/1/18 to 6/8/18

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

COMICS CRITICISM

* Rob Kirby presents an excerpt from THE LIE AND HOW WE TOLD IT by Tommi Parrish, which "relentlessly interrogates issues of gender and sexuality, pointing out that strict binaries are mostly jerry-built and easily broken."

* Michelle White on Rosemary Mosco's BIRDING IS MY FAVORITE VIDEO GAME, "a collection of fun, quasi-educational comics combining weird science, cute visuals, sweet wit, and a strong environmental message."

* Chris Ware reviews SABRINA by Nick Drnaso, calling it "a perspicacious and chilling analysis of the nature of trust and truth and the erosion of both in the age of the internet -- and especially, in the age of Trump."

* Dominic Umile on the recent graphic novel, WEEGEE: SERIAL PHOTOGRAPHER, by the Belgian cartoonists Max de Radiguès and Wauter Mannaert, a "portrayal of a vulnerable man starved for fame." 

* Brian Nicholson takes a quick look at DOGNURSE by Margot Ferrick, "a gorgeous book..."

* Rob Clough on BLACK EYE NO. 3, Ryan Standfest's black humor anthology from Rotland Press, in which "there's a running theme of visceral failure and humiliation, of things coming to a crashing halt."    

* Austin Lanari on Patrick Kyle's NEW COMICS #6, saying "what makes Kyle's comics experimental is a strange division of labor wherein a visually lush, strange world is largely left up to the reader to interpret as characters stop, fully aware, to talk to the reader and explain rules that nobody could have ever inferred."

* Ryan C. reviews books by Kalen Knowles and Pat Aulisio in his WEEKLY READING ROUND-UP.

* John Seven looks at Michael Kupperman's ALL THE ANSWERS, "a multi-faceted memoir of the collision between the public and the personal, how the tremors move through the decades, and how we would all do well to pop through our cultural bubbles to look back and trace the origins of who we are, why we are this way, and why it sometimes hurts so much when we don’t feel like we actually did anything to make it hurt."

* Austin Price on LAND OF THE SONS by Gipi, calling it "a book that feels ultimately arbitrary, unconvinced of its own arguments or point because they are so confused."

* Alex Hoffman reviews Molly Mendoza's THE WORST, calling it "an absolute must-read."

* Sam Ombiri on Jon Chandler's JOHN'S WORTH #3.

* And finally, Philippe LeBlanc has made a return to his SMALL PRESS AND INDIE COMICS GALORE round-up posts over on The Beat (which I can never decide if they are Criticism or Whatnot). LeBlanc does such a better job at this sort of thing than I do (probably because he is Canadian), and it is really great to see him return. Now I just need to convince him to write for YCE again.

WHATNOT

* Sam Jaffe Goldstein interviews ELI VALLEY, covering "the chaotic farce that is the relationship between the American Jewish community and Israel ... as well as the inherent male toxicity of Zionism, and the endemic hypocrisy in justifications for Israel's actions."

* Daphne Milner talks about and to GEORGE WYLESOL over on It's Nice That.

* Dakota McFadzean has a new comic up on Topic called SOON WE'RE BOTH SCREAMING.

* Gina Wynbrandt has a new comic up on Vice called JUSTIN BIEBER'S TOILET.

* Over on WWAC, Tia Kalla writes this very informative piece called DON'T EAT THAT: TAPAS'S INCUBATOR PROGRAM giving us a point-by-point breakdown of their "shitty contracts."

* This week's MUST-READ is Transmyscira: ¡No Pasarán! bVéronique Emma Houxbois -- a deep dive into conservatism, superheroes, Comicsgate, and more.

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Psychogeography of Change: Michael Bettendorf reviews THE GREAT NORTH WOOD by Tim Bird


We tend to lose a sense of playfulness as we age. Nothing, in particular, is necessarily at fault. Adults have more responsibilities and obligations that get in the way of our curious inclinations. It’s the natural order of things. Slowing down takes diligent practice. It could be a sort of rigidity or lack of flexibility acquired by long work days and fleeting spare time. Maybe it’s complacency. Are we just too old for this shit?

Tim Bird’s The Great North Wood, recently published by Avery Hill Books, invites readers to slow down and wander. To frame the story, it’s worth noting Tim Bird’s interest in psychogeography, a technique developed by the French philosopher Guy Debord to study architecture and urban environments. In essence, it’s how an environment influences emotion and behavior. Psychogeography often emphasizes wandering or playfulness. Debord used the term ‘drifting’ because environments have intended paths and unintended paths. For example, you might walk from point A to point B in a city, following street signs, buildings, and certain architectural contours while being discouraged from entering other areas or zones within the city. Debord would encourage someone walking from point A to Point B to be drawn to natural attractions (curiosity) and encounters along the path. Drift. Wander. Play.
The North Great Wood begins with a full-page image of a map of Southern England, the setting of the story. Southern England was, at one time, covered in a dense forest which has progressively been cut down and developed throughout its history. Patches, thickets, and ancient oaks still remain sprawled between the suburbs and landmarks where the archaic eldritch magic of the ancient Great North Wood can be felt. 

As a book, The Great North Wood is composed of several segments, each focusing on a different area and the effects development has had on the forest using historical events like World War I and regional folklore and folktales including bandits, fairies, and gypsies.

The opening sequence of The Great North Wood shows a fox eating a piece of fried chicken under a streetlamp in a dark, urban environment. Bird’s placement of a woodland creature into an urban setting, eating an unnaturally prepared meal, is a beautiful, albeit a touch sad, set up to the story. Bird juxtaposes the organic and inorganic throughout the story, here using a nine-panel grid for this first sequence with the only text being in the middle of the page. It’s a close up of the fried chicken box that reads, “Long ago, this was all rock and ice.”
The fox hops on some trash cans and over a brick wall, leaving the city behind into an expanse of woods. It doesn’t force us to follow. The fox doesn’t bother to look back during the sequence. It does what it always does – wanders. It’s up to us to follow. We’re invited to step into the moment and drift over the urban barriers and take an unintended path. 

Tim Bird’s color palette, comprised primarily of pastel pink, blue-grays, and just a touch of orange, is visually striking in The Great North Wood. The colors imbued throughout the comic aren’t commonly associated with forests and nature. Really, there is a complete lack of earth tones. This has a sort of lucid, balmy effect on the reader. Bird, like the fox, wants us to experience the forest in a different way. They want us to experience the forest period, to feel the magic residing within.

The color orange denotes the magic of the forest and is represented by numerous subjects throughout The Great North Wood. We see in Queen Elizabeth I’s hair, a girls’ bicycle, a buggy, a bus, parts of the city such as fences and facades of buildings, and most obviously - the fox. The contrasting orange guides readers through the blue-gray backgrounds, giving us motion through the story. It’s not only functional but meaningful, as the color orange is emblematic of the lingering magic permeated throughout the region.

The grid system Bird uses to set the pace of the story tends to work in extremes. The pages of The Great North Wood are full of twelve-panel grids or full-page images with little variety in-between. The best comparison I’ve got is a bit on the nose, but it’s like taking a hike. The twelve-panel grids draw readers into the environments, be it the woods or the urban environments. They put focus on the flora and fauna, the street signs and trash cans, while the larger panels and full-page images depict cities, ships, buildings, or the forest as a whole. The twelve-panel grids force readers to slow down and experience the environment. It begs readers to wander and explore. 

Bird’s linework is loose, but bold, focusing on outlining the forms in The Great North Wood rather than detailing, allowing the focal point to be on the vibrant color palette.

We’re supposed to be consumed by the forest. Bird forces us to look at the patterns of the bark on the trees. Look at the leaves. Look at the mushrooms and animals and how the roots break through the earth. Be a part of the story. Observe. As you keep reading and break through the edge of the forest, take in the cityscape and the fields and the open air.    
Naturally curious, playful, and representative of transformation, it’s only fitting that a fox would be our guide through The Great North Wood. The fox appears to be as timeless and ancient as the forest itself as it helps us navigate our way through its history. It’s interesting that the positive interactions in the story happen as individuals interact with and experience the forest, such as the girls speaking with the gypsy and Doctor Gardiner receiving safe passage from bandits. Most of the negative interactions are a result of society/humans changing the forest, i.e. World War I bombings and the deforestation to build ships with the advancement of trade routes. Despite mankind’s propensity to cause destruction, The Great North Wood shows the forest prevailing. Throughout the story, man-made creations, like the Crystal Palace, rise and fall while the forest continues to regrow. It illustrates a constant state of growth and decay, but through the fox, highlights a reaction to the changes.
If psychogeography is all about how an environment affects us, Bird wants us to be aware of our environment and react to it within the universe’s perpetual state of flux. That means being able to slow down and recognize the state of our surroundings and see the changes. To allow ourselves to be affected by it. We are a part of the cycle of growth and decay, but it’s up to us how we interact within that cycle. 
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Michael Bettendorf is a freelance writer, editor, and educator based in Nebraska - a place he will vehemently argue is not a flyover state. You can find some of his previous comics criticism at Comics Bulletin and his current ramblings on Twitter @BeardedBetts

Friday, June 1, 2018

ICYMI -- Small Press Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 6/1/18

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

COMICS CRITICISM 

* Kawai Shen reviews L'ODYSSEE DU VICE by Delphine Panique, a very NSFW comic that "was a 100% pleasure to read."

* John Seven on Dominique Osuch and Sandrine Martin's NIKI DE SAINT PHALLE: THE GARDEN OF SECRETS which "reveals De Saint Phalle and her work together as inseparable from each other, as well as the life they both inhabited, and makes an important mark in our art history knowledge while doing so."

* Robin Enrico reviews OUR MOTHER by Luke Howard, calling it "a masterpiece on all levels."

* Rachel Cooke on THE NEW WORLD by Chris Reynolds, "a collection that isn't only beautiful to look at and to hold; turning its pages, it strikes you that though these ineffably strange strips were written in another time, they work better in ours."

* Hillary Brown reviews Gipi's LAND OF THE SONS and has a lot of positive things to say about it. So much so, that it's now on my "to read" pile.

* Mel Schuit looks at THE IDEAL COPY by Ben Sears.

* Andy Oliver reviews NORTHS by Alsion McCreesh, writing "there's a delightful contradiction at the core of this book -- that something so profound can be expressed in the trappings of something so ephemeral."

* Brian Salvatore on ALL THE ANSWERS by Michael Kupperman.

* Kevin Bramer reviews GOITER #1 by Josh Pettinger, "a quietly haunting mini..."

* Rob Clough on THE COMPLETE BADLY-DRAWN COMICS by Martha Keavney, writing "Keavney's interest in (and self-mockery for) self-reflexive humor that often self-consciously explains the joke to the reader (creating even more tension) is a large part of her appeal."

* Ally Russell looks at Nick Drnaso's SABRINA, writing "Not only does Sabrina see Drnaso tackle the emotional complexity of a family, a wider community, and later an entire nation struggling to navigate the aftermath of a highly publicised disappearance. He also manages to root his story int he unique anxieties of today, communicating a paranoid, desperate climate via visual storytelling and steady pacing."

* Alex Hoffman reviews SKIN TO SKIN by Jia Sung, "a beautiful and compelling work from a creator [he'd] love to see more from."

* Rob McMonigal on Charles Forsman's AUTOMA.

* Ryan C.'s WEEKLY READING ROUND-UP features mini-comics by Brian Canini and PAt Aulisio.

* Alenka Figa has a round-up sort of review thing about some of the artists they found at this year's CHICAGO ZINE FEST

* Jordan Stillman on M. Dean's BABYFAT, "a story about the struggle between wanting to grow up and what growing up actually entails."

WHATNOT

* Steve Morris talks to DEBBIE TUNG "about her work, interests, and goals within comics through the next few years."

* Nick Hanover's editorial, ON BRANDON GRAHAM, WEAPONIZED LOYALTY AND RECOGNIZING ABUSE TACTICS is probably this week's MUST READ piece. So go read it.

* Wesley Yan has a piece up on Tablet called THE SHOCKING TRUTH ABOUT JORDAN PETERSON which I highly recommend that you read as I would love to hear what you think about it.

* And finally, Christopher Jug George has a new piece of writing up on his site called THE STAND-INS

Monday, May 28, 2018

Review: GREENHOUSE by Debbie Fong


Maybe it’s because I’ve been spending so much time alone lately. Maybe it’s because I’ve gone days at a stretch without uttering a word to another human being. Maybe it’s because the world outside is seemingly more and more hostile and merciless. 

Or maybe it’s because it is a really great work of art.

Whatever the reason, reading Brooklyn-based cartoonist Debbie Fong’s new risograph-printed mini-comic GREENHOUSE was a keenly visceral experience for me. In 24 pages of panels awash in black, white, gray, teal, and straw-colored art, Fong lays bare withdrawal and madness and delves deep into both obsession and botany with equal skill. In Greenhouse, Fong asks questions about the ramifications of a life steeped in a technology that allows us to disconnect from others as we connect to the world. When we no longer step outside, what becomes of our world within? If our inner self has collapsed in a world that asks little of us outside, where do we reach for help?
Everything in Greenhouse works in tandem to define both tone and theme. Fong’s thin lines suggest the fragility of her narrator. Her layouts expand and contract adding to the sense of pacing -- speeding up and slowing down as needed. Panel frames have rounded corners or sharp edges as need be, or disappear altogether. Fong’s use of a limited color palette heightens the isolation and claustrophobia inherent in the story she is telling. 

Fong also breaks up the narrative of Greenhouse with meticulously rendered pages from The Botanist's Guide to Tropical Plants 3rd Edition. Here, too, she is making artistic choices to further her intent. When I asked Fong about these choices, she wrote back saying, “I wanted to use those as a way to kind of benchmark the girl’s mental decline as the first few entries are mundane, common plants and then they get progressively more exotic and surreal-feeling. The two exceptions are the Albizia Saman and the Nightshade at the end -- these are both meant to reveal plot elements in the story.”
Ultimately, Greenhouse offers little in terms of solutions, rather, it serves as a cautionary tale. As actual human interactions become less and less necessary -- from Grubhub to Amazon Fresh to Netflix to Comixology to Etsy -- not to mention the ubiquity of social media -- there becomes fewer and fewer reasons to leave your house. Fong’s character even remarks, “It’s hard to believe what you can order online these days.” This convenience comes at a cost, though.

The safety networks that face-to-face interactions provide slowly disappear if you never leave your house. Someone suffering from a severe mental health crisis can stay locked away, isolated, with nobody being the wiser until, perhaps, it becomes too late.

 I sometimes wonder in my loneliness about what would happen to me were I to choke on my dinner. How long would it take before someone would wonder where I was? How long would it be before someone discovered my body?

Greenhouse reminds the reader of the importance of connection, of the need to be seen, of the paramountcy of mattering to someone other than ourselves. It posits the truth that we grow best in the open among other flourishing things, not confined to a limited sphere, shut in, regulated, alone. 

It also reminds us that mental health, at times, can be as delicate as a Nymphaea tetragona.

Greenhouse will be available soon from Pommo Press.