Sunday, February 28, 2016

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 2/21/16 to 2/28/16

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


COMICS CRITICISM


* Nick Hanover on Jamaica Dyer and Eddie Wright's LAKE IMAGO
* Andy Oliver on David Ziggy Greene's SAVE OUR SOULS
* Eszter Szep on Rob Davis' THE MOTHERLESS OVEN
* Zainab Akhtar on Jill Thompson and Evan Dworkin's BEASTS OF BURDEN
* Alenka Figa on Sophia Wiedeman's THE LETTUCE GIRL
* Ray Sonne on Roz Chast's CAN'T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT
* Logan Dalton on THE DARK KNIGHT III #3
* Mark Stack and Chase Magnett on PREACHER: UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD
* Chase Magnett on OLD MAN LOGAN #2
* Chase Magnett writing about BATMAN: THE CURSE OF BRUCE WAYNE 
(Chase hit the trifecta this week)

WHATNOT

* Shreya Durvasula on WALTER WHITE: ULTIMATE SUPERVILLAIN OR MISUNDERSTOOD ENTREPRENEUR
* Sarah Horrocks' SOME THOUGHTS AFTER SEEING THE WITCH
* Noah Berlatsky's THE AUTHENTICITY OF HACKWORK
* Tom Murphy interviews CONOR STECHSCHULTE about his comics
* Mark Stack interviews JAKE SMITH about his new Kickstarter and other things
* Joseph Kyle Schmidt talks to MICHEL FIFFE
* Jason Viola on the construction of the self in autobiographical comics, MY SELF AND I

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Scrolling To The New World: Stela, Digital Comics, and ROME WEST -- a review

Before even beginning this review, I feel I must make full disclosure: Justin Giampaoli is a friend of mine. He has bought me drinks and tacos. He introduced me to Eel Mansions and helped me unpack Stray Toasters. I admire him as one of the great comics critics of our time and consider him a role model for the kind of man I hope to be.


I’m 48 years old. I’m the wrong person to be writing about apps. That said, here I am. Writing about an app.


Stela launches today. Stela is a new subscription service digital comics platform featuring exclusive, “digital native” content for the iPhone that, unlike other available options, is specifically configured for a smartphone screen, utilizing scrolling instead of tapping or swiping (if you had told me that I would eventually write that sentence 20 years ago, I would have looked at you as if you were insane and, subsequently, either hidden the knives or punched you in the throat). Stela is a free app available to download through the Apple App Store. All first chapters of each of the series it will be publishing will be free for everyone, so it's a no-risk read. Monthly subscriptions, though, are priced at $4.99 (US) for a limited time.


In terms of why all this is significant or ground-breaking or interesting or whatever, check out what Brigid Alverson wrote for CBR or Luke Brown wrote for Comics Alliance. They seem to understand this shit. I’m an old man who has trouble enough trying to figure out how to change my ringtone (can someone help me put “Cat Party” on it).


Yeah. I’m that guy.


For me, though, what’s exciting about Stela are the comics. According to Alverson’s article, “The initial lineup consists of five series: Rome West, written by Brian Wood and Justin Giampaoli, illustrated by Andrea Mutti, and colored by Vladimir Popov; Teach, by Stuart Moore and Greg Scott; Inheritance, by Ryan Yount, Kidman Chan and Yumiki Hong; Out with a Bang, by Stuart Moore, Tony Talbert, John Heebink, Chris Marrinan and Marissa Louise; and Afrina and the Glass Coffin, by Irene Koh.” It’s my understanding that there’s going to be even more original content from top names coming down the pipe.


Stela seems to be investing in their content as much as they are investing in their mode of delivery. This ain’t comic book money we are talking about either. This is tech money. These guys have piles. It’s the great nerd wealth distribution.


Regardless of all this digital hootenanny and whatnot that I really don’t understand, though, what I really want to talk about is Rome West.


As Alverson mentioned before, Rome West is co-written by Brian Wood and Justin Giampaoli, illustrated by Andrea Mutti, and colored by Vladimir Popov. The concept behind this series is, “What if the Roman Empire came to the New World 1,000 years before Columbus?” The story starts in 323 AD (and is scheduled to run to the present day), and it begins, dramatically enough, with Roman galley ship, tempest tossed, lost at sea.


There is, of course, a great literary tradition of beginning a story with a boat in the midst of huge storm. Shakespeare, for example, understood both the dramatic and symbolic resonance of such a hook. Most of the action of the first “issue” of Rome West is embroiled in this man vs. nature literary conflict, and while Wood and Giampaoli use this to develop their characters (in the classic mode of showing how they respond in the midst of trauma), artist Andrea Mutti and colorer Vladimir Popov do most of the heavy lifting in terms of moving the action along.


Together, this art team conveys not only the struggle of the men on the boat, but, more importantly, the sheer force of the natural world unleashed. Here, the rain stings and the lightning burns and all of man’s ingenious riggings and supposed mastery over nature is ripped asunder and torn to shreds. Each image almost induces the nausea and vertigo of seasickness as the waves crash over the bough.


If this is the kind of storm we are going to see more and more of thanks to climate change, then I, for one, am moving to higher ground.


Battered and despondent, though, the Romans finally spy land. And Mutti and Popov fully render the, as Fitzgerald called it, “fresh green breast of the new world” and we, as an audience, come “face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to (our) capacity for wonder.” This land, this nascent country, is an Atlantis to the eyes of the bedraggled Romans, with its spoils ripe for plunder and conquest, a Rome West. The only problem is that there are already people there, the Lenape tribe, innocent and curious., ready to be overwhelmed and subjugated by a superior force destined to rule.


It’s an old story, but given Brian Wood’s ability to transform history as demonstrated in works such as Rebels and Northlanders, Rome West is bound to bring something entirely new to the trope, and the additions of Giampaoli, Mutti, and Popov to his team seem to guarantee this.

Rome West is a brave new world available through what seems to be an interesting new distribution model that may speak to the future of comics.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Books in Bites 10: Two Comics Worth Your Attention

Quick Reviews of Two Books you may be interested in.

CRETIN COMIX #1 by Haleigh Buck
Published by Hey Boy! Press
Available Here

In order for autobiographical comics to be of any value, they must transcend the individual into the universal, tap into the zeitgeist, or play with the collective unconscious. The narrator must either be an exemplar in terms of who we want to be or who we’re glad we’re not. You got to relate, man.

Dig it?

In her 2015 self-published Cretin Comix #1, cartoonist Haleigh Buck digs it. Here, she holds up the cold morning mirror to her unwashed face and the reflection it holds is a simulacrum of ourselves. The harder you stare, the more imperfections you notice -- blackheads on your nose, food stains on your chin -- yet still, as you count all the things that you would love to change, you can’t help but acknowledge your humanness, and, in that process therein, end up kinda loving yourself a little.

Cretin Comix is a confessional as much as it is an anthology of moments. Buck has no compunctions about talking about abusive relationships, drunkenness, depression, anxiety, and poverty. There’s a loneliness and isolation that inhabits much of her stories that pushes back even as it compels. Her work breeds empathy, not sympathy, and, through that connection, embraces us and reassures us that we are all in this together.

Buck oscillates between half-page vignettes and longer multi-page tales of self-aware self-deprecation full of pathos and humor told in word heavy panels punctuated by perfect moments of silence. Her dense cross-hatched backgrounds and tight-lined character rendering accentuate the illumination of her intent. Everything seems slightly damp, moist with flop sweat and saliva. In Buck’s art, even in open spaces there is still a claustrophobic sense of the cages erected by judgement and reflection.

Yet in all that, there’s still an underlying beauty and sweetness and humanity to even her worst moments. The fact that she was able to draw and print Cretin Comix #1 in the three weeks before SPX 2015 speaks to her talent as a cartoonist and an artist.

Cretin Comix #1 is available through the Hey Boy! Press site HERE.

NOW NOWHERE by elevatorteeth
Self-Published
Available Here

How do you write a review of a book, when all the best words about it have been taken already?  If you missed Justin Giampaoli’s amazing review of elevatorteeth’s Now Nowhere, go read that first before you go any further here.

See, among the many challenges I have in assessing my own critical reaction to this book is to bring something new to a table Giampaoli has already strewn with delicious sweetmeats and cucumber gimlets. But that’s my problem, not yours. Your problem now probably has more to do with deciding to keep reading this or not.

Regardless…

Now Nowhere is not narrative as much as it is musings. Geometric shapes and human silhouettes interplay to express thought, beg for an understanding of that which may, ultimately, be unfathomable, all reaching out to connect point A to point B, while holding your hand to lead you through. This is a piece about movement and stasis, conceptualizing meaning, risographed in red and blue overlaying negative space.

There is something profound in its asking. Its conclusions pat, yet transformative. In his review of Now Nowhere, Giampaoli writes, “our reality is always susceptible to enhanced scrutiny and disappointment,” yet elevatorteeth reassures by saying, “I can create my own arrangements”. The question remains, we feel comfortable on the continuum. It’s not so much comics poetry as it is comics philosophy -- simplicity in the act of being complex, absence of form providing structure -- functioning as a diagram to the nexus. Each of its 28 pages are motivational posters hung in the staff lounge of modern consciousness.

Now Nowhere exists in a realm of koans fermented in Western questions of ultimate meaning. It asks us to step up in order to step in, deceptive and clever in its restraint. It is of the eyes as much as it is of the head, while the emotions associated with isolation and confusion (our deepest fears sculpted into world view) are put aside in an attempt at a moment of understanding, awakening, enlightenment.

It is a book that calls for rich re-readings. It rewards through unpacking, and it trailblazes through the flummox of each mistaken moment of reality.

Now Nowhere is available through elevatorteeth’s webstore.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 2/15/16 to 2/21/16

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


COMICS CRITICISM


* John Seven on Nick Drnaso's BEVERLY
* Anya Davidson on Brian Chippendale's PUKE FORCE
* Andy Oliver on the anthology WHAT'S YOUR SIGN, GIRL, edited by Robert Kirby
* Robert Kirby on Derf Backderf's TRASHED
* Ray Sonne's 7 (AMONG MANY) AMAZING ART MOMENTS IN MIDNIGHTER: OUT
* Dominic Umile on the work of ANUJ SHRESTHA
* David Large's PALIMPSESTS AND INTERTEXTS: THE UNWRITTEN
* RJ Casey on WEIRDO #1
* Jason Sacks on PREACHER VOLUME ONE: GONE TO TEXAS
* Matthias Wivel on Daniel Clowes' PATIENCE


WHATNOT

* Are you ready for SMALL PRESS DAY 2016 on July 9th?
* Virginia Paine announced that SPARKPLUG BOOKS is closing up shop
* Philip Eil interviews A.O. Scott about his new book BETTER LIVING THROUGH CRITICISM: HOW TO THINK ABOUT ART, PLEASURE, BEAUTY, AND TRUTH
* Sean T. Collins interviews BRIAN CHIPPENDALE about Puke Force
* RJ Casey interviews NICK DRNASO about his book BEVERLY
* THE SECRET LIVES OF TUMBLR TEENS
* David Brothers talks to ZAINAB AKHTAR about comics and stuff.
* Nick Hanover on the new HBO series VINYL
* THREE POEMS by Davon Loeb
* Claire Napier on MISTY KNIGHT AND THE CASE OF THE RIDICULOUS MALES

Friday, February 19, 2016

Review: THE END OF THE FENCE by Roman Muradov


I wrote a short review for Wink Books about THE END OF THE FENCE by Roman Muradov and published by Kus! 


Ostensibly, in The End of a Fence, Muradov is asking profound questions about modern life. “What if we were segregated by compatibility? What if we agreed on everything from haircuts to philosophy? What if we had no sides to take? What would remain in the middle?” But this isn’t fodder for pollsters or social media managers. Muradov is working the fringes, because it’s on the peripheries where the real action is.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 2/7/16 to 2/14/16

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


COMICS CRITICISM


* Mark Dickson on CRY HAVOC #1
* Alex Hoffman on Benjamin Urkowitz's THE BEAUTY THEOREM
* Greg Hunter on Jacob Canfield's I FELL ASLEEP



WHATNOT


* Kim O'Connor's MARRIED TO COMICS (there's a lot to digest here)
* Tillie Walden's WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE GAY IN AN ALL-GIRLS MIDDLE SCHOOL
* Andy Oliver talks to Off Life editor DANIEL HUMPHRY
* 55 MORE THOUGHTS FOR ENGLISH TEACHERS by Nick Ripatrazone
* Sarah Grey's OPEN LETTER TO GLORIA STEINEM ON INTERSECTIONAL FEMINISM
* THREE POEMS by Strummer Hofston
* Ta-Nehisi Coates on THE ENDURING SOLIDARITY OF WHITENESS

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Artist in the Biography: Examining Elijah Brubaker’s REICH



Over on Comics Bulletin, Jason Sacks and I discuss what we loved about Elijah Brubaker's 12 part series REICH from Sparkplug Books.


"Biography is tricky business, and graphic biography, I would imagine, even more so. Presenting a person’s life in this sort of format requires not just extensive research, but large choices — what to put in and what to leave out, not to mention pacing, layout, and design. Expand that over 12 issues and then stretch that over (in the case of the Sparkplug books) seven years and choices of consistency and intent have to also be factored into the equation. Just as Reich seemingly transforms, so too does Reich. In the course of creating this series, Brubaker is developing his prowess as an artist. The Elijah Brubaker of 2007 is not the same cartoonist as the Elijah Brubaker of 2014. By reading this art, we also are reading the artist.  Which now, I guess, brings us back to your earlier questions of “artistic ambition, of youthful enthusiasm colliding with mature approaches, and of the commitment that an artist owns for completing his work.”"

Sunday, February 7, 2016

ICYMI -- Comics Criticism and Whatnot for 1/31/16 to 2/6/16

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


COMICS CRITICISM


* Zainab Akhtar on Valentine Gallardo's SOFT FLOAT
* Scott Cederlund on Tom Hart's ROSALIE LIGHTNING
* Nick Hanover on KENNEL BLOCK BLUES #1
* John Seven on Meags Fitzgerald's LONG RED HAIR
* Jason Wilkins on Alex Demetris' DAD'S NOT ALL THERE ANY MORE
* Chase Magnett on HUCK #1-3
* Amy Diegelman on FAITH #1
* Jacob Monir Canfield and Alex Hoffman discuss Riad Sattouf's THE ARAB OF THE FUTURE


WHATNOT

* Tom Spurgeon on THE FAKE AWARDS AT ANGOULEME
* Sarah Horrocks on Guillermo del Torro's CRIMSON PEAK
* Chase Magnett on VIOLENCE IN SUPERHERO COMICS
* TWO POEMS by David Morgan O'Connor
* ROUNDING UP HOURLY COMICS DAY 2016
* Noah Berlatsky's #OSCARSSOWHITE: HOW QUESTIONS OF DIVERSITY ARE INEXTRICABLY LINKED TO TASTE
* Laura Kenins on COMICS AS LITERATURE
* Chris Gavaler on HOW WORDS AND PICTURES WORK TOGETHER IN COMICS
* Paul Tumey's THE MINICOMIX REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Smart “Dumb” Comic or Putting Out A Fire … With Gasoline!: Benjamin Marra’s TERROR ASSAULTER: O.M.W.O.T. (One Man War On Terror)


Keith Silva and I put our collective noggins together and try to figure out what the hell is going on in Benjamin Marra's TERROR ASSAULTER: O.M.W.O.T.


"But hard times deserve hard commentary and slick Swiftian satire, right? And it appears O.M.W.O.T. fits the bill of fare here in this pre-apocalyptic hash house serving, as it does, crude crudités, moist meatballs, and a thick apple pie with a slab of cheddar stuck in it like a caseiculture hammer. There’s a jukebox in the back corner stocked with the entire discography of both Ted Nugent and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Every waitress is named Blanche and they all have an ax to grind about Syrian refugees.

Sweet gibbering gobstopper, it sure does take a thick stomach full of hot bile to macerate what Marra is cooking, doesn’t it? But we breed them big here in America. I mean, it unquestionably takes a capacious, dumb mouth to ingurgitate and bloviate simultaneously. Thank goodness we have a 24 hour news cycle to provide us with role models in that game."