Wednesday, December 30, 2015

SANDMAN: BRIEF LIVES


Over on Comics Bulletin, Ray Sonne and I do a little parsing dance around Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN: BRIEF LIVES.


Sonne does most of the heavy lifting in this piece. I just soft-shoe around the edges.

The need to create is at the core of what makes us human, even more so than our need to understand or our need to feel safe.
The history of humanity is painted on the walls, mixed in our kitchens, conveyed through songs and gestures. We harness the chaos through imposing purpose, and yet, through the creative act, unleash even more uncertainty.
Everything else is petty meanderings in comparison. In Brief Lives, this is Destruction’s message. Change is inevitable, regardless of intent, and in that we transform our lives and the lives of those around us. With each change, we adapt. As we adapt, we create. As we create, change occurs — and in this cycle we become what we are. In the mythos of Gaiman’s Sandman, Destiny has every moment written in his book. Each moment is in reaction to the moment before. It is story. It is art. It is us.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 12/21/15 to 12/27/15

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


COMICS CRITICISM

* Robert Kirby on Glenn Head's CHICAGO
* Keith Silva recently reran his piece OBSESSIONS, HARD TRUTHS, AND A STUFFED AARDVARK on his blog. Worth a re-read
* Kate Tanski's FAT POSITIVITY IN COMICS: WHAT I NEED FROM FAITH
* Austin Lanari's ANATOMY OF A PAGE: NAOKI URASAWA'S PLUTO
* Sarah Horrocks' FAVORITE COMICS OF 2015
* Kawai Shen on Sam Alden's NEW CONSTRUCTION
* Chase Magnett and Mark Stack discuss the age old conundrum of BETTY VS. VERONICA
* Jason Sacks really goes long form in his discussion of SANDMAN: FABLES AND REFLECTIONS
* Sam Marx's BEST OF 2015: INDIE COMICS
* Zainab Akhtar's 2015 IN COMICS: A READING GUIDE


WHATNOT


* Angouleme Festival releases the OFFICIAL SELECTIONS FOR ITS 2016 SHOW
* Ray Sonne's WHERE QUEER APPROPRIATION IN SUPERGIRL FILLS IN FOR DC COMICS' PAST HOMOPHOBIA 
* Adam Kirsch on THE POETRY OF YEHUDA AMICHAI
* Richard Brody on DOUGLAS SIRK'S GLORIOUS CINEMA OF OUTSIDERS
* Chris Gavaler's ANALYZING COMICS 101: RHETORICAL FRAMING
* David Brothers' TALKING TO MYSELF, DIVERSITY AND COMICS 
* Jennifer de Guzman's THE HOUSE THAT SILENCE BUILT: HARASSMENT IN THE COMICS INDUSTRY
* If you think comics are weird, check out the world of "fine art" -- that shit's crazy. Here's ArtNetNews' 30 MOST EXCITING ARTISTS IN NORTH AMERICA RIGHT NOW

Monday, December 21, 2015

Stranded on The Planet of the Absurd: Reading Steve Gerber’s Guardians of the Galaxy


I’ve been feeling heavy of late, burdened by the seriousness of intent and thick with the art of the alternative. Maybe it’s a product of age. Maybe it’s a result of feeling the solemnity of maturity. Maybe it’s a lack of sleep or a preponderance of drink. Whatever … suffice to say it’s been a bit of a rough go of late.
Casting about for distraction from this lethargy, I sent a message to my dear brother-from-another-mother and avuncular comic book historian Jason Sacks that read something along the lines of, “Dude, I need airiness before I bore a hole into the earth.” His quick response was cast in the form of a dual syllabic yawp, “Gerber.” This, he followed with a wistfully whispered, “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Sunday, December 20, 2015

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 12/13/15 to 12/20/15

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


COMICS CRITICISM

* Anya Davidson on Carlos Gonzalez's TEST TUBE
* Cathy Camper on WHAT'S YOUR SIGN, GIRL?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Top 10 Comics (I reviewed) of 2015

Click on the titles to read the full reviews.

10. DHARMA PUNKS by Ant Sang. Published by Earth's End Publishing.

While Sang is working deep within a philosophical construct, at its heart Dharma Punks is a character driven story. Sang uses all sorts of temporal tricks to not only tell his story, but also to unfold motivations and emotional ballast in each one of his characters. It pulls you in as it smacks of the way we actually learn about the people in our lives. Traditional “Origin Stories” are lazy, simplistic, and false – we get to know people through layers of time, we understand them in pieces and through that, formulate the whole. Sang breathes this sort of life into Dharma Punks and thus engages his audience on a level more true to experience than narrative convenience.

9. HOUSES OF THE HOLY by Caitlin Skaalrud. Published by Uncivilized Books.

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.

8. VACANCY by Jen Lee. Published by NoBrow Press.

The experience of Vacancy is one that fills the gap and suffuses the emptiness that its title suggests. It peers through the hole in our fence and fills our minds with the possibilities of what might be on the other side.

7. FEDOR by Pat Kelley. Published by Hic + Hoc Publications

This is a book about connecting as much as it is a book about outsiders. It touches on questions of identity and appearances, but also sacrifices and longing. Kelley’s beautiful and light cartooning adds a distance to its heavy subject matter, and the brown watercolor washes that cover every page augments both its historical conceit and its sense of grounding in the real world.

6. PLANS WE MADE by Simon Moreton. Published by Uncivilized Books.
Longing is a human construct that is saturated with hope. It is the wellspring from which arises disappointment as much as it slakes desire. Within all discontent comes the impetus for change. Morton takes this all apart in Plans We Made through narrative, through pace, but mostly through his simple lines and layouts. In Morton’s pages, forms are dissolved into naked shapes through which the reader makes meaning, attempts closure, overlays the self. Here, what is less becomes more; the silence echoes reflections like a placid lake seen from above. Each moment is about that which is unsaid and undrawn; it leads to the cacophony of silence and an emotional center that holds tight insomuch as it becomes universal.

5. CASANOVA: ACEDIA by Matt Fraction and Fabio Moon. Published by Image Comics.

Sure Casanova Quinn is all mid-70’s Mick Jagger swagger, but at its heart, Casanova: Acedia grooves with the strum und drang of Ziggy Stardust’s impossible mission realized, to become a rock and roll star by just being a rock and roll star. You show up in a stretch limo, gonked to the nines on rails of cocaine — you step out in your fashion with a guitar in your hand and people start taking notice, people start taking pictures. Suddenly you climb up on stage and everybody wants to sing along with your songs, everybody wants to be you, and they feed and they feed on your dream until there is nothing left to do but escape to the Eastern Block wearing Jimmy’s pants, crank up the electronica mood inducers, and start howling into the microphone all that is left of your soul.

4. BORB by Jason Little. Published by Uncivilized Books.

Borb is infinitely accessible and incredibly hard to swallow. It confronts the idea of homelessness full on, relentlessly, and, although presented in humor comic format, it doesn’t candy-coat. In fact, the choice of exploring an issue of such gravity in the style of something that evokes a light-hearted expectation is what gives Borb so much of its power.

3. GENEROUS BOSOM #1 by Conor Stechschulte. Published by Breakdown Press.

See, there’s a thickness to every aspect of this book, as if gravity itself is exerting some different type of influence on these pages. There’s a disturbing weight to it, as if it were a singularity unto itself, composed, metaphorically, of an infinite density.

2. SAINT COLE by Noah Van Sciver. Published by Fantagraphics.

Because Saint Cole is part of the long tradition of the balladry of brutality. It sings the song of the sink hole caused by a life lived in response to expectations it could never fulfill. It's the chant you hear in the places people gather to drown out their sorrows, it echoes in the alley behind the neighbor's house whom you've never met, it rings in your own head from time to time, that is, if you are sensitive to it.

1. ANN BY THE BED (FRONTIER #6) by Emily Carroll. Published by Youth in Decline.

In this book, Carroll manipulates conventional narrative with a surgeon's scalpel cutting through cause and effect, bouncing her reader through time and space, disconcerting as she disconnects, adding a layer of displacement to the tone of its entirety. Then there's her apt choices of art style and color use, each of which adds another emotional hue. As well, she varies the thickness of her inking to contract and expand, and her lettering changes to resonate with the mood she is working with. In Ann by the Bed, Carroll uses all the evocative tools that comics offer in order to concentrate the tenor and the feel of the reading experience.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

HOLLOW IN THE HOLLOWS by Dakota McFadzean. Published by One Percent Press

PERPLEXING STORIES by Jonathan King. Published by Eel Noir.

BIG PUSSY by Gina Wynbrandt. Published by 2D Cloud.

SUPERCAKES by Kat Leyh. Published by Yeti Press.

ABSTRACT KIRBY 1 and 2 by Mark Badger.

BOOKS I LOVED BUT HAVE YET TO REVIEW

UNDERSTANDING MONSTER #3 by Theo Ellsworth.

SHADOW HILLS by Sean Ford


Sunday, December 13, 2015

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 12/6/15 to 12/12/15

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


COMICS CRITICISM


* David Brothers on Tite Kubo's BLEACH 
* Tasbeeh Herwees interviews Leila Abdelrazaq about her book BADDAWI
* Paste Magazine picks their BEST COMIC BOOKS OF 2015
* Ray Sonne and Chase Magnett on PLANETARY #13
* Andy Oliver picks his BEST OF 2015
* Jason Sacks on FORTY WHACKS AND OTHER STORIES by Jack Kamen
* The AV Club picks their FAVORITE ONGOING AND SERIAL COMICS OF 2015
* Craig Neilson-Adams on I LOVE THIS PART
* Ian Williams picks the TOP 10 UNCANNY GRAPHIC NOVELS
* Scott Cederlund on Caitlin Skaalrud's HOUSES OF THE HOLY
* Loser City's THE 100 BEST COMICS OF THE FIRST HALF OF THE 2010'S
- 20 - 1
- 40 - 21
- 60 - 41
80 - 61
100-81



WHATNOT


* Leslie Stein's DIARY COMICS on Vice
* Amanda Petrusich's amazing CAN WE ESCAPE THE DIABOLICAL CLICHES OF COLDPLAY?
* J.A. Micheline's WHAT IT MEANS TO REMEMBER PIONEERING AFRICAN-AMERICAN ARTIST MATT BAKER
* A GUIDE TO PROTECTING YOURSELF FROM ONLINE HARASSMENT
* Paul Berman on TRUMP AND THE JOYS OF HATRED
* RJ Casey on the work of painter J.M.W. TURNER
* HERE COME THE PUBLIC SCHOOL CONSULTANTS 
* Chris Gavalar's ANALYZING COMICS 101 (LAYOUT)
* THE VELVET UNDERGROUND IN CALIFORNIA
* Ann Price on THE STRUGGLE WITH RELUCTANT READERS
* THE RISE OF NON-BINARY PRONOUNS
* 35 DEBUT AUTHORS OVER 35 (just to give you hope out there)
* Jim Zub shares SOME THOUGHTS ON COMIC KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGNS 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Loser City's THE 100 BEST COMICS OF THE 2010s (con't)

The fine folks over at Loser City are running 
an audacious list laying out 
THE 100 BEST COMICS OF THE 2010s
It's been quite a list so far, and they kindly asked me to contribute 
a couple of blurbs about a few of my particular favorites.


If you scroll down you'll see I wrote about both
#4 DAYTRIPPER

and #1 PRINCE OF CATS

Friday, December 11, 2015

Loser City's THE 100 BEST COMICS OF THE 2010s

The fine folks over at Loser City are running 
an audacious list laying out 
THE 100 BEST COMICS OF THE 2010s
It's been quite a list so far, and they kindly asked me to contribute 
a couple of blurbs about a few of my particular favorites.


If you scroll down, you'll get to #30 in which I get to shill (once again)
 for the greatness of DEREK VAN GIESON'S 
EEL MANSIONS

Monday, December 7, 2015

Books in Bites 9: Two Comics Worth Your Attention

Quick Reviews of Two Books you may be interested in.


PLANS WE MADE by Simon Moreton
Published by Uncivilized Books
Available Here


Sometimes you really need to step back and listen to the quiet. In the silence, sporadically, the loudest admonitions can be heard. “Go forth.” “Conquer.” “Be afraid.” “You are in love.” -- such are the sounds reverberating in the hush. Artists who can make the most of silence, pauses, lulls in the frenetic pace of the day-to-day, often deal in that which we most need to hear.


So it is with Simon Moreton’s Plans We Made. Here is a book saturated with those in-between moments that occur between thought and expression (wherein, as Lou Reed reminded us, lies a lifetime). His simple lines coalesce into each juncture, uncomplicated and absolute, conveying all that the mind conjures -- be it joy, disappointment, or confusion -- as steps are taken from here to there.


Plans We Made is about looking back. Moreton is remembering youth and longing, capturing those liminal instances of what might be possible in the next moment. While specifically exploring his British and suburban experiences, Moreton, through his minimalism and erasure, transcends that which is individual and broadens his reach to the universal.


Longing is a human construct that is saturated with hope. It is the wellspring from which arises disappointment as much as it slakes desire. Within all discontent comes the impetus for change. Morton takes this all apart in Plans We Made through narrative, through pace, but mostly through his simple lines and layouts. In Morton’s pages, forms are dissolved into naked shapes through which the reader makes meaning, attempts closure, overlays the self. Here, what is less becomes more; the silence echoes reflections like a placid lake seen from above. Each moment is about that which is unsaid and undrawn; it leads to the cacophony of silence and an emotional center that holds tight insomuch as it becomes universal.


There is solace in solitude as there is beauty in simplicity. Moreton masters the lyrics to this song. In each of its pages, Plans We Made sings softly that which could have been, quietly humming a backbeat of instances of regret and of unadulterated joy, paring it down to the shadowline between substance and articulation.


This, my friends, is a beautiful book.


Plans We Made is available through Minneapolis publisher Uncivilized Books here.

INKBRICK: A JOURNAL OF COMICS POETRY Volume 4
Available Here


The possibilities of what is termed Comics Poetry continues to fascinate me, intersecting, as it does, so much of what I use to define myself and the world around me. Alexander Rothman, Paul K. Tunis, and Alexey Sokolin, the editors of InkBrick: A Journal of Comics Poetry, keep pushing the genre(?) to the forefront, gathering the wheat into their barn, as it were, and burning the chaff with the unquenchable fire of omission.


I’ve written quite a bit about this anthology in the past (see here and here), trying to understand how this hybrid form functions and what new sensibilities it brings to the table. I’ve loved and lauded what Rothman et al. are attempting and producing with each issue. Volume 4 continues my unpacking and pasting on the wall, but with just a little less enthusiasm than before.


Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s when the shiny new begins to tarnish with use.


Don’t get me wrong, though, there are many spectacular pieces in this issue. My favorite piece is “Eight Bells” by Alexey Sokolin and Angel Chen which uses both an evocative pastiche of nautical imagery along with a poem presented with its sentences diagrammed in the traditional grammarian’s method (such stuff sings in my heart and soul). There is strength in the visual acknowledgement of how the words of each sentence bind to each other, their function flowing into form, hinging upon each other -- diagramming in this manner expresses the mathematics of language, gives added pauses to the work of each word. The poem here cascades and the art floats along with this conceit. Here the poetry throbs with a tighter heartbeat because of its intersections with the visual plane.


Another addition to InkBrick 4 that maximizes the possibilities of comics poetry is “August in Pasikuda” by Isuri Merenchi Hewage and Deshan Tennekoon. In this piece, panels are overlaid on intricately detailed watercolor and ink backgrounds (abstracted and awash in color) giving the illusion of sequence, of story. Sporadically placed, the words inhabit corners, giving breath and life to their meaning. On its own, the art performs one story, the words another. Together, though, they create something beautiful, they create comics poetry.


But the fourth volume of this anthology stumbles a bit in its overall cohesion to its intent. While the idea of comics poetry is expansive, there have to be some agreed upon guidelines and,  in this volume, there are a few pieces that just step outside the wide circle. Not that they aren’t interesting in their own right, but are they comics poetry if they are wordless or only have one word? Where do you draw the line? If everything is comics poetry then why make the distinction at all?


For me, the decision by the editors to expand the scope of what they include weakens the overall sensibility of InkBrick. Compared to the previous issues, Volume 4 feels watered down, as if it was rushed to print or subject to late night editorial boozing.


Still, InkBrick is the go-to for what is happening in the world of comics poetry. It is overall a spectacular world, more than worthy of a journey.

You can pick up a copy of InkBrick: A Journal of Comics Poetry Number 4 here.