Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Sorting This Shit Out --1,087 Words on POOP OFFICE #6


I have a complicated relationship with my understandings of Poop Office. This has been a comic that has been eating into the periphery of my intellectualizations for the last couple of years. With each subsequent issue, I have seemingly snatched at hyperbole as justification for my comprehension and my unease. As if it’s not a joke. As if it is important.

To whit:

May, 2013: Poop Office #1 -- “Is Poop Office a modern take on the absurdity of the bureaucratic system inherent in a top down profit seeking corporate structure where people are stripped of their individuality to the point where they constantly exist in such a perpetual state of self-loathing that they become nothing more than talking turds? Has Ben Pooped written a 21st century update of Kafka's Metamorphosis? Is Poopert the Gregor Samsa of 2013?”

December, 2013: Poop Office #2 -- “Poop Office #2 is genius. The deadpan nature of the writing mixed with the absurdity of the situation, the fact that this is an office staffed by poop, elevates this simple shit joke into social-political commentary. It's not satire, it's something else. It rejects the rational, it rejects the culture, it embraces the disgust, it inverses the process.”

February, 2014: Poop Office #4 -- “Much like we shame-hide our defecation from the eyes of others, we keep our confrontation with the existential angst of twenty-first century existence veiled behind digital distractions, weird sexual deviations, and the bending of psychoactives. This comic kicks open the bathroom stall and shines the Ty-D-Bol of truth in your eyes.”

Wow.

I worry that in my need to make sense of the world, I had lost my critical distance and had covered this comic from the perspective of what I wanted it to be, more so than for what it actually is.

After all, it’s a comic about an office staffed by poop.

Now issue #6 of Poop Office has just come out on Comixology and, in the interim, I’ve become a much more jaded and cranky individual. Lately, much of my sense of the world has come through the apprehension of Corporate Comic Book Crossovers and grading high school freshmen essays. My brain is a scary place nowadays and those who love me have unfortunately been subjected to the various harsh manifestations of my moods. It happens. I’m sorry. I do love you so.

Given all this history and my present perceptions, does Poop Office still stand up to my new cantankerous critical sensibilities? Is it really a Dada deconstruction of the dehumanization of modern life, or is it, in fact, just a shitty one-note gag comic?

Somehow Poop Office #6 manages to be both. Yes, it is a one-note gag comic full of puerile puns such as “Staph Meetings” and “Poochase Orders” and “Repooption Desk” and often times the “jokes” fall flat on the sidewalk like the defecation of a Great Dane with the runs. Yes, it is crudely drawn and crudely conceived and just plain all-together crude at times.

But underneath it all, the corn kernels in the turd, there still floats a level of commentary that is merciless and remorseless. Ben Pooped is pointing a finger at you and there, in the whorls of his print, you can see both his condemnation and his empathy.

Like Dave Bowman says, “My god, it’s full of stars…

Life is so often a series of compromises and concessions. Here, in the system, you learn the rules and, more often than not, abide by them out of fear or laziness or just wanting to get along. Almost every big decision requires hoops to be lept through, some of them large enough to pass a Buick through, some of them seemingly tiny … and on fire. There’s a compact that’s a trade-off and most of us don’t even know we signed on the dotted line. There is a bureaucracy in all structures and when we gather together in order to proceed, a pact is drawn up to which we abide.

But when things shift out of cries for safety or the desire for profit or the need to be loved, sometimes … most of the time … that pact wobbles and a deadening absurdity starts to saturate interactions. It becomes fecund with folly.

We find ourselves working in a Poop Office.

Poop Office reeks of the stench of this gassy image. Each frustration that Poopert, the main character in this comic, encounters as he tries to navigate the seemingly Kafkaesque narrative of office politics mirrors the daily irritations and grievances that we all experience, those random roadblocks that result as we apply contact cement to the veneer of order on the substrate of chaos that we use to build our existence. We laugh at the humor of Poop Office in the same way that we engage in schadenfreude and laugh at another’s misery -- “better them than me” we think to ourselves while knowing all along that it’s happening to us all the same.

Poop Office speaks to the cynic in us, the one resigned to the fact that this is the sum of our lives. We sometimes begrudgingly, sometimes passively make trade-offs to stay sane and keep moving forward. With each cop out and compromise we fall further and further into the bureaucratic funk that provides the rhythm to our endless ennui. Each page in Poop Office echoes that song. The dance floor is full. It begins to buckle under all that weight.

Poop Office #6 is a bamboozle. It wears its stench hidden behind the mask of levity, of childishness, of mockery and buffoonery. But Ben Pooped is the Jonathan Swift of 21st century, slinging the scatalogical satire of the void. Instead of taking on those responsible, though, he casts us the shit we have become due to the small pieces of our humanity we trade daily in order to exist in this world.

When we laugh at Poop Office, and yes, you will laugh (it’s funny, don’t ya know), we do so with a grimace. Sometimes, they say, it’s best to laugh at yourself.

I think they say that because otherwise all we would be doing is screaming.

So grab yourself a copy of Poop Office #6 on Comixology or on your Kindle -- then head on over to the Naked Grape site and get yourself some Poop Office swag (who doesn’t need a poop plushie, after all). We are all in this together, after all, floating in the bowl, stinking up the joint, waiting to be flushed into the void.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Books in Bites 6: Three Comics Worth Your Attention

Quick Reviews of Three Books you may be interested in.


IKEBANA by Yumi Sakugawa
Published by Retrofit/Big Planet
Available Here


Let’s face it, art about making art oftentimes runs the risk of being like writing about not being able to write. It can be self-indulgent, bordering on pathetic, and perhaps your struggles are not really as herculean as you may conceive them to be. Performance art also suffers from too many “types” having to spend far too much time explaining themselves rather than letting the experience speak for itself. When your artist’s statement sounds like it was generated by an algorithm, you may want to find another form of expression.


Luckily, Yumi Sakugawa’s new book from Retrofit/Big Planet avoids the traps of pretentious “try hard” by being engaging, keeping you on your toes, and mocking itself all while having a hard statement driving its narrative. Ikebana is ostensibly the story of Cassie Hamasaki’s presentation of her art school senior thesis. Beginning by standing in a bowl of water wearing white briefs, flower pasties, a lotus crown, and a single wing made of palm leaves,it is her “artistic intention to embody Ikebana on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level.” Ikebana is the Japanese art of floral arrangement in which, according to Ikebana International, the arrangement is a living thing where nature and humanity are brought together.


It is when Cassie takes her performance outside of the confines of the classroom that the story transcends whatever easy mockery the reader might be thinking. It is not just the journey from the small bowl to the larger ocean that churns with import in Sakugawa’s telling, but it is also the interactions that Cassie has along the way that speaks of cycles and intent. Everything seems to be operating along a binary plane, in which each reading demands access to other thoughts premeditatedly, with intention and purpose.


Finally, as much as we wear guises otherwise, we all are in it together. By the last two panels summing up Sakugawa’s thesis, the reader is fully aware of where he or she has been, and what it has taken to get there. It’s one of those quiet comics that you keep coming back to because you suddenly realize that your initial reading wasn’t quite complete.


You can pick up a copy of Ikebana here.


THE NECROPHILIC LANDSCAPE
by Tracy Auch
Published by 2dCloud
Available Here.


I’m going to come right out and say that I didn’t like Tracy Auch’s The Necrophilic Landscape on my first read, and I liked it even less on the second. It’s messy and disjointed and thick. But I am including it here because it is utterly fascinating -- not in a “can’t help but rubber neck a car wreck” way, but instead because it is so far out of my conceptions of storytelling and because of the secret truth it reveals, a dark truth that we all know, but don’t want to face.


2dCloud says of The Necrophilic Landscape, “Drawn in 2010 and never completed or published, Tracy Auch's gothic, grotesque, and fragmentary epic is presented for the first time in this riso-printed ashcan edition. The anxious and darkly comic narrative takes place in an all-male world in which sexual reproduction does not exist and the primary class division in society is between men and children. With the thematic sensibility of Nikolai Gogol's short stories and the suggestive, world-building scope of British roleplaying fantasy art, The Necrophilic Landscape is certain to enthrall and disgust readers who can finally encounter it for the first time.


Enthrall and disgust -- an apt description which speaks to that part of us we often mask, the one who is fascinated by that which abhors. It speaks to the duality of our soul, the constant struggle between the ego and the id, the Apollonian and the Dionysian, order vs. chaos. The Necrophilic Landscape works in that liminal realm, and reading it reminds us of this struggle.


I didn’t like the experience of The Necrophilic Landscape, but, because of what it is and what it says, I am convinced it is something we all should read.


You can pick up a copy of The Necrophilic Landscape here.


HOUSES OF THE HOLY
by Caitlin Skaalrud
Published by Uncivilized Books
Available Here.


The monomyth can always be interpreted as a process of self-actualization. The descent into darkness and the struggle with the ordeal stand as metaphors for facing our fears, overcoming the lies we convince ourselves of, understanding that which we need to move on. Last year, Retrofit/Big Planet published Anne Emond’s Debbie’s Inferno which took this metaphor one step further. This year, Uncivilized Books has published Caitlin Skaalrud’s Houses of the Holy and, by doing so, has jumped into the abyss.

Houses of the Holy is a beautiful, horrible, unyielding, noble, and ferocious diary of self-introspection in which the narrator journeys through her pain, the damage at the heart of her psyche. Everything is alluded to in page after page of art installation metaphors laid inky thick in panels, in splashes, forcing the reader to piece together fragments into wholes that never fully gel because outside in the periphery there are still moments to be confronted.


Doors and rooms. Passageways into spaces caged, cribbed, and confined. The detritus therein to be sorted, to be feared, to be saved. Confront, process, continue -- this is potent, weighty. Houses of the Holy is not for the timid or the fearful. It is a big-handed comic that reaches for you. It can choke, it can punch, it can pull you in and caress.


Uncivilized’s solicitation reads: “A young woman’s descent into the depths of her psyche in hopes of repairing the damage takes the form of a Dantean journey. Each stage a macabre installation of everyday objects and animals (dead and alive) arranged in occult patterns. Abandoning the false self leads her through despair, self-surrender, and an encounter with the inner void. Houses of the Holy by Caitlin Skaalrud is a nightmarish vision of a damaged psyche trying to be reborn.


Each time I read through this book I find something new, something fascinating, horrifying, all-too real. And so I read it again, and again.

You can pick up a copy of Houses of the Holy here.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 10/18/15 to 10/24/15

Debuting a new column here on YCE, inspired by Tom Spurgeon's Random Comics News Story Round-Up over on The Comics Reporter. I just wanted a venue to highlight some great comics criticism being published, as well as other random things that have caught my eye over the past week.


COMICS CRITICISM

* If you haven't had a chance to read Keith Silva's review of Katie Skelly's MY PRETTY VAMPIRE over on Loser City, correct that error right now. This is comics criticism at its finest.

* The New York Times Sunday Book Review put up something called THE COMICS ARTIST CHALLENGE in which a number of cartoonists try to answer the question: "Can the power of graphic storytelling be communicated in one comic panel?" 

* ALWAYS THE SIDE CHARACTER NEVER THE MAIN: INVADER ZIM'S GAZ by Ray Sonne over on Women Write About Comics

* INFLATABLE DOLLS by Kim O'Connor. Women, or the lack thereof, in Adrian Tomine's KILLING AND DYING

* Colin Smith continues his SUPERHERO 101 series. This time looking at The Authority and The Ultimates. Even though I'm no fan of superhero comics, I love reading Smith's erudite enthusiasm.

Fantastic set of interviews with Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba about comics, DAYTRIPPER, and their new book TWO BROTHERS 


OTHER STUFF


* HABIT 2 is available for pre-order from Oily Comics. 52 pages of madness from Josh Simmons and collaborators!

TWO FLASHES: A COMPARISON AND THE TIME IN BETWEEN by T.E. Cowell -- a couple of flash fiction pieces about those pivotal junctions in life.

* FOUR WAYS SANDERS IS A BETTER CANDIDATE THAN CLINTON by the poet Okla Elliott -- when poets start covering politics, you know shit is real.

* VOTE GOAT.

* RJ Casey writes about the artist MISAKI KAWAI.

* Gustave Dore's illustrations for Dante's INFERNO.

Monday, October 19, 2015

How I Learned to Love Cosmic Odyssey and Still Hate Superheroes


After some cajoling, I agreed to take part in Comic Bulletin's retrospective review of Jim Starlin and Mike Mignola's four-part DC Comics Crossover Event COSMIC ODYSSEY. I was tasked with taking on issue three.


So when asked to participate in this series of reviews of Cosmic Odyssey, I agreed out of some sort of sense of obligation (and also because I was drunk and Chase Magnett is so darn cute when he gets excited about these things), rather than any actual interest. Because, really, sometimes it boils down to a simple question: When you already know how the story is going to end, how do you muster up the interest to care? This is the concern of every high-pitched marketing plan and is the fundamental problem I have with Corporate Owned Intellectual Property Superhero comics. These books are so suffused with the bright colored bombast of a simplistic and jingoistic morality wrapped snuggly around an underlying and frightening hypocrisy in which a single definition of “good” triumphs constantly and consistently over a single definition of “bad”. They can’t help but run the gamut from being predictable to being tiresome as they hamfistedly lurch through the trappings of the monomyth, stripping it of any universal truths or insights into the human condition.
And yet these stories persist, desperately so, as if their existence fulfills some sort of human need. They become the talk of the town under the illusion of the new, as PR chattel churn out promises of nothing will ever be the same again and you can’t possibly miss this, sadly ecstatic that their heroes are news.

Friday, October 9, 2015

This Is Me

Eleanor Davis accepts the Outstanding Anthology or Collection Ignatz for, "How To Be Happy." Award presented by Whitney Leopard.